A DREAM COMES true at last. He once looked up at the dark sky and wondered where the satellites would float past. Park Jong-ook ('84, Dept. of Astronomy) has fulfilled his high school dream to study satellites and is now the Principal Director of space geodesy at the Korea Astronomy Observatory. He is now calculating and measuring the mass and radius of the Earth, which Atlas once carried on his shoulders.
What is Geodesy?
Geodesy is the scientific discipline that deals with the measurement and representation of the Earth, including its gravitational field, in a three-dimensional time-varying space. Geodesists also study geodynamical phenomena such as crustal motion, tides, and polar motion. They design global and national control networks, using space and terrestrial techniques, while relying on data and coordinate systems.
What is Global Positioning System (GPS)?
The GPS satellite network is operated by the U.S. Air Force to provide highly accurate navigation information to military forces around the world. The network is also adopted in a growing number of commercial products.
Give us an introduction of your field: space geodesy
In brief, I'm applying GPS to science. By using extraterrestrial objects like satellites, I can accurately measure the shape, axis of rotation, and its exact coordinates in three-dimensional spaces. This is possible because the satellite is not affected by the Earth's movement. Many people think GPS is only used in automobile navigation but it’s more related to a variety of fields that affects our daily life. For example, it is used in predicting the weather, with the knowledge of the normal duration for microwave signals to reach the earth from the satellite. When it differs by 0.003 seconds from the normal duration, we can predict that there are more vapors in the troposphere region and thus know that a storm is approaching. Long-term research that lasts more than ten years can provide climate data and predict global warming. GPS plays a crucial part in communication in space and on Earth. It works like a telephone operator between the space shuttle and the headquarters on Earth. GPS is also used in measuring even the miniscule movement of the Earth’s plates. The outlook of its development appears limitless in the future.
Starting life as a scientist in the field of astronomy
In the 1980s, the whole nation was focused on raising heavy industries, and the Apollo project and the famous sci-fi animation Astro Boy (Atom) were very popular among us. As a child, I was exposed to all this scientific interest. I still remember watching Apollo 11 landing on the moon and humans taking a small yet big step to the future. When I got into high school I started thinking that I wanted to decide my major in university to be in the scientific field, especially related to satellite systems. After graduating high school, I was looking for the right place to study satellite systems, and I found Yonsei Univ.’s Dept. of Astronomy. There was no curriculum based on teaching satellites in any university except for Yonsei Univ.
When were you the most proud as a space geodesy researcher?
I'm one of the pioneers in researching space geodesy. Fifteen years ago, we started with two and now we have 28 researchers. We basically started from a zero base. There has been a lot of development in the past 15 years. Last year, the division of Universe Geodetic Survey was elevated to become a department and more people and budget were allotted. Moreover, we are now more internationally acknowledged, and with such increasing status we are having more personal exchanges with research centers overseas. Most of all, I'm personally very proud that our department has numerous international exchanges with other countries’ institutions.
What attitude will be most needed as a researcher?
One has to have a clear view of what he/she wants to do in the respective field. There will be many social problems, but to be a researcher, you have to dig only one well. In short, be a dal-in (expert) in your major. Also, you have to keep track of what is going on in the society and the economy. Although I did say that you should “dig one well,” it doesn’t mean you must devote your whole life to your research only. You must broaden your view to look at the world. There will be a lot of adjustments needed if you don’t know today's headline news.
What do you think of students avoiding science and engineering as a major?
I believe there are three main factors that make our society advance: liberal arts, science, and religion. The field of liberal arts is growing fast and deeply, as well as having commercial qualities. However, the scientific field is losing its place as a critical factor to maintain the society, because many students are avoiding jobs related to science and engineering. To make a robot walk, two legs must have same length, shape, and mass. While the area of liberal arts is fattening its leg in both weight and size, making it bigger and bigger, science is going on a diet, and there are not enough supplements to catch up with the liberal arts. If this condition continues, the robot, representing our society, would not able to walk anymore. Korean society will not advance to a new level until science and the liberal arts are equivalent again.
People slightly look down at engineers, differentiating them from doctors and lawyers, even though engineers do the same amount of heavy work. In politics, the situation is worse, as only a small percentage of National Assembly members had majors related to science and engineering. It is hard to expect them to be our spokespeople. So we shouldn't wait and depend on other people to be our representatives; we have to speak with our own voices to elevate our social positions and gain importance in society.
What are the difficulties as a researcher?
I have to study constantly for my research; there is no finish line in my field. I can't really predict when the work will be finished. Study and research are just like a part of my life. When I go to bed, my head is filled with the work; when I go to a bar my head is still filled with research that I have to finish. It is such a stress in my life. I have to become a workaholic to survive in my field.
Any last words to Yonseians?
I recommend them to read a lot of books during their college lives. It's important to read a variety of books to broaden their views in their lives. Humans are not machines, so students should work hard on their social relationships, as much as they study their majors. Since you can't study all day and night, you should also have your own hobbies to relieve stress.