[VIEWPOINT]To see hope for our future, go to PohangI visited Pohang last week. I thought there was only Posco and guamegi, dried mackerel pike, in Pohang, which turned out to be wrong. There is also the Pohang Light Source, a synchrotron radiation source developed by the Pohang University of Science and Technology (Postech).
The name gave me the impression of a radioactive facility. But then, after hearing it explained, I found it to be a different device. The Pohang Light Source, I was told, is a device that can examine how atoms or molecules are arranged in matter by accelerating electrons through magnetic fields near the speed of light. The Pohang Light Source was created through the tenacity of former Posco Chairman Park Tae-jun and the late Kim Ho-gil, the first dean of Postec. Starting in 1987, they spent eight years and 150 billion won ($163 million) to develop the project.
I am ignorant about advanced science. So I asked abruptly, “Did you make both ends meet?”
Ko In-soo, the director of the Pohang Accelerator Laboratory, responded, “Do you know, by any chance, our country’s first thesis to make the cover of the science magazine ‘Nature?’” Then he said, “You know Viagra is made by Pfizer, don’t you? Our bio-venture business unraveled the secret in this very synchrotron radiation source and the discovery was posted on the cover of the journal in 2003.”
In other words, the device helped decipher the principle of how Viagra works at the molecular level and opened the way for the development of an excellent drug for erectile dysfunction.
My next remark proved to be a typical underestimation of the work at the facility: “The industrial effect was not that great, though, as you focused on the basic science only.”
At this, Mr. Ko became upset. He said, “We feel all the more unfairly treated because of such misunderstandings.” He then enlightened me on the institute’s contribution to “Anycall,” a cellular phone made by Samsung. In 2001, when Samsung developed optical communication semiconductors, the core of the cell phone, the product’s defect rate exceeded 70 percent. Unable to find the cause, Samsung eventually took the problem to Postech. An analysis of nondestructive transmission test images found out that a few circuits were slightly more twisted than the original design. Since then, the defect rate of the communication chips plummeted to 10 percent, allowing Samsung to make inroads into the high-quality mobile phone market. The director was proud of the fact that he had also indirectly played an important role in creating the “myth of Anycall.”
Pohang has another noteworthy site of experimentation: Handong Global University, nestled in a remote valley near Chilpo beach.
Established in 1995 by a businessman who works in industrial waste treatment in Pohang, Handong is an independent university. Handong boasts a faculty of which 30 percent are foreign professors who conduct a substantial part of their courses in English. More than 20 of its graduates have passed bar examinations in the United States. Jung Yeon-woo, deputy publicity manager at the university, told me, “These days, large companies such as Samsung and LG are vying to recruit our students starting their second year, while giving scholarships to dozens of them.”
This is because the university provides customized courses according to the demands of the companies, whether in semiconductor design or liquid crystal displays.
Of course, Postech and Handong have money problems, too. Posco’s foreign shareholders are pressuring Postech, asking, “Why should the company’s profits be uselessly invested in the university?”
Postech is making efforts to find a profitable model during the lifetime of its founder, Park Tae-jun, who provides moral support. With a meager foundation, Handong Global University also relies on tuition fees and contributions. Fortunately, the university was recently relieved of financial difficulty thanks to an infusion of 4 billion won from the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development.
Frankly, we have no other lifeline than exports, which recently exceeded the $300 billion mark, and constant research and development. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development announced this year that China’s investment in research and development ranked second in the world, surpassing Japan. The entire world is striving to preempt the future. The Roh Moo-hyun administration has so far poured 251.8 billion won into digging up the past. I wonder what would have happened had he used the money to support the development of the fourth-generation synchrotron radiation that Postech dreams of, or to support the local university that has achieved its own distinction. I hope my taxes will be used to support these places.
Would it be an exaggeration to say that I saw hope for the future in Pohang when I paid a short visit? These days President Roh and presidential candidates for the next term are interested only in going overseas. How about going to Pohang to see our future and a direction for the country? The guamegi is in season in Pohang.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chul-ho