Grad student Katherine Kim spends summer researching in Korea

ECE News

Darlene Naolhu, ECE ILLINOIS

Story Highlights

  • ECE graduate student Katherine Kim spent her summer in Korea doing research in renewable energy.
  • She was there through a National Science Foundation East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes fellowship.
  • While in Korea, she studied low transient-sensitivity photovoltaic control schemes.

ECE grad student Katherine Kim visited a wind farm in Korea as part of a NSF EAPSI program this past summer.
ECE grad student Katherine Kim visited a wind farm in Korea as part of a NSF EAPSI program this past summer.

ECE graduate student Katherine Kim spent her summer doing two things she absolutely loves: research in her field of renewable energy in power electronics and singing in the karaoke rooms of Seoul, South Korea.

Kim was a recipient of the National Science Foundation (NSF) East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) Fellowship award, and spent nine weeks during the summer researching at Seoul National University under Professor Bo-Hyung Cho.

According to the NSF, the EAPSI program is designed to provide U.S. graduate students with the opportunity to travel to other countries and gain first-hand experience with research from different perspectives. The primary goals of EAPSI are to introduce students to the East Asia and Pacific science and engineering research environment and to encourage students to collaborate with their foreign counterparts.

“I’ve always been interested in going to Korea. I’m half Korean, but I wasn’t able to learn much about the culture when I was little. So I’ve been trying to take opportunities to go back there and learn the language. This was the perfect opportunity for my research and cultural experiences,” said Kim.

Kim, who is currently pursuing her master’s degree under ECE Professor Philip T Krein, first heard of the program when a previous recipient of an NSF EAPSI Fellowship from Illinois suggested that she pursue it. Kim was required to initiate contact with Cho and develop a research proposal to submit as part of the application to the program.

“I was pretty excited when I found out that I got in. They flew everyone to D.C. for an orientation where they announced that we had officially made it into the program.” said Kim.

Kim’s research in Korea focused primarily on low transient-sensitivity photovoltaic control schemes. She looked at a control scheme that uses the natural characteristics of the photovoltaic cell to provide near maximum power under changes in temperature and light. Her goal is to create a simpler control that will make solar cell power systems more efficient and more stable for transients, which have the potential to disrupt optimal operation and can even shut down entire systems temporarily. Kim was able to confirm that there are a couple simple of control types that are better suited under transients.

Moreover, doing research in a different country had definitely been an eye opener for Kim.

“Culturally, there are some things that are different from how you would do things in the U.S. There is a really clear hierarchy and respect for people who have more seniority or experience, so the relationship with a professor is very respectful,” said Kim. “However, I was very surprised at how close a lab group becomes. They really are like brothers and sisters, so it’s like a family. We ate lunch and dinner together every day and were very close to one another. I felt very at home, even though I was a foreigner.”

Though most of her time was spent in research, Kim felt her experience in Korea was exactly what she wanted.  During an NSF EAPSI week-long orientation, she had the opportunity to travel and visit places such as the city of Gyeongju, the Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO) facilities, and other historical and modern places in Korea.

“My favorite memory was a field trip they took us on to a Korean wind farm,” said Kim.  “It was very hilly and beautiful, and it was all renewable energy, which got me excited. It was great to be with members of my lab and see the beautiful scenery in Korea.”

Kim also spent a good amount of her time at the Korean karaoke rooms, nore-bangs in Korean, which are currently very popular in Korea.

“It was really fun! I ended up learning and memorizing a lot of Korean songs while I was there,” said Kim.

Overall, her experience in Korea has definitely made an impact on her future aspirations.

“I know that I enjoy teaching and want to eventually become a professor, but I always thought that I was going to stay in the U.S.,” said Kim. “But after going to Korea, I’m seriously considering teaching or doing my post-doctorate there. It has definitely changed and expanded my prospects. Whether it’s short or long term, I know for sure I want to go back to Korea.”

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