All gloom at Seoul National University

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All gloom at Seoul National University

Last week, the most talked-about topic among the professors at Seoul National University was the Nobel Prize. When I met with them, the conversation often turned back to the Nobel Prize. Regardless of their specialties, they felt embarrassed and were highly aware of Korea’s research crisis. They found it especially shocking that the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three Japanese scientists.

I thought Korea had made considerable progress, but the news of the Nobel Prize in Physics made me realize the obvious gap between Korea and Japan in our levels of scientific research.

One engineering professor said such feats proved science in Japan was solid, from education to research funding. “A professor developed a theory on blue LED, and he worked with his student at the university and succeeded in the experiment,” he said. “And a researcher at a company commercialized it. It’s important to note that Japan already had an environment that allowed scientists to work on blue LED research more than 20 years before it became a familiar subject.”

Another professor told me about his conversation with a student who was a former aspiring scientist and had attended an elite high school. He said, “Professor, I am tired of science. I want to choose a career other than science.”

But the professor said, “Winning a Nobel Prize is only possible when scientists are crazy about their research. Standardized education couldn’t help this student keep his passion for science.”

Both professors said that unfamiliar and seemingly absurd research could lead to success. If Toyota and Nichia Corporation hadn’t supported the research, the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics may have been awarded to another scientist or team.

However, Korea’s science policy is headed in a different direction. A professor in liberal arts said, “Korea’s policy is to concentrate on funding promising scientists and even inviting Nobel Prize candidates to Korea.”

Instead of preparing the soil for the seed of the Nobel Prize to bloom, authorities are trying to plant a sapling.

The Nobel Prize is proof that a country has excelled in a certain field, but it cannot be the ultimate goal. It is more important to have more researchers and scientists working in specific fields and establishing a system to support them. When a student who grows tired of science can turn to science again, we can hope for a Nobel Prize.

*The author is a national news writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 15, Page 33


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