A bold challenge

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A bold challenge

A Seoul National University (SNU) professor’s ambitious challenge has drawn our attention. Lee Jin-kyu, a chemistry professor who had tenure at a top university, recently left to take a job as a senior researcher at the Central Research Institute of LG Chem, Korea’s leading chemical company.

Even though he took an executive position with a much higher salary, it must have been a tough decision for him - he had to give up the honor and security guaranteed by his professorship in order to embark on a journey to commercialize materials based on nanotechnology, his academic specialty.

In fact, there have only been a small few from SNU who have migrated to the corporate sector once gaining tenure.

Lee said he took the position for the greater good. “There are a number of cases in which new materials technology developed by university laboratories do not see the light of the day in the market,” he said.

While serving as a professor, Lee applied for as many as 97 patents. He developed technology for commercializing a quantum dot - a nanocrystal made of semiconductor materials that is small enough to exhibit quantum-mechanical properties - for television panels for Samsung Electronics. Based on that technology, an internal foundation aimed at facilitating university-industry cooperation at SNU launched a start-up called Nanosquare. Lee explained that though the market had not been ready to apply the advanced technology to the production of high-tech TV panels, he believed an enterprise would make a difference.

Korea ranks sixth in the world in investments in research and development, but the country ranks No. 1 when it comes to the amount of R&D investments per gross domestic product. And yet, it heavily depends on foreign countries for cutting-edge technologies, mostly because of a critical lack of communication and cooperation between industry and academia.

Inorganic materials based on nanotechnology is an area with tremendous potential. To achieve the symbiotic development of new technologies and industries, it is essential to combine universities’ competitive technology with enterprises’ ability to apply technology to real products.

Lee joining LG Chem will likely help the company gain momentum in its R&D capabilities. On the other hand, companies should be able to describe promising changes in the real world to universities. We look forward to seeing Lee’s contribution to improving the relationship between universities and Korea Inc.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 21, Page 30

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