Pioneer SNU professor is a methodical original

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Pioneer SNU professor is a methodical original

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Junpei Kimura

Junpei Kimura, the first Japanese professor at Seoul National University, has once again broken new ground by obtaining tenure.

“The society of Japanese professors is so conservative,” Kimura told the JoongAng Ilbo. “I wanted to study in a more liberal and international atmosphere, so I applied for the SNU position.” In an interview Oct. 10 at Hoam Faculty House, Kimura appeared to be more of a craftsman dedicated to the methodology of his work than an innovator with cutting-edge technologies.

As a professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Kimura passed an inspection to obtain tenure last month. He began teaching at SNU in December 2007.

He got a master’s degree at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology in 1983, then received an appointment as a research fellow in animal hormones at the Washington University. In 1985, he returned to Nihon University to be an assistant professor and obtain a doctorate in veterinary medicine.

His specialty is animal anatomy, and when asked if it is too easy for him he said, “It is true that my major is easy to study in the sense of its method. But it can be difficult to analyze the observations and obtain a certain outcome.”

During his time at SNU, he has toured all of the museums and universities in Korea in search of wild animal specimens.

Specimens displayed at the museums were in good condition, he said, while others that were in storage were shoddy.

Museums in the United States and Europe have specimens in storage whose condition is as good as those displayed, he said, adding that what they have in storage could produce an excellent thesis fit for a Nobel Prize.

So he finally decided to make specimens himself. He called animal protection centers in Korea and asked them for dead animals, such as those killed by cars, to study. He narrowed his subjects to raccoons dogs and water deer.

“Raccoons dogs also reside in Japan, so I could launch a joint study with researchers there,” he said. “But water deer reside only in Korea and China, so I thought it would be meaningful to study them.”

His career goal is to complete a comprehensive road map of wild animals in Korea.

“Korean raccoons have a more developed jaw than those in Japan,” he said. “It means they are more carnivorous. So if Korean raccoons become extinct, they can’t be replaced by Japanese raccoons. We really should cherish Korean raccoons dogs.”

His study of water deer also drew attention from academia for its value in helping to protect Chinese water deer, which are at risk of extinction.

“I plan to study leopard cats and Eurasian otters as well,” he said.

Korea has few researchers whose field is animal anatomy, and Kimura said the academic atmosphere here differs from that in Japan.

“Korean researchers enjoy developing a certain field step by step, gradually, toward a certain goal,” he said. “However, my study has no goals. I just go forward out of pure curiosity only. For instance, Korean researchers in space technology aim to develop a rocket; I want to know the secret of space.”

BY LEE JEONG-BONG [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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