The thunderous roars of tanks rang through my ears as I rolled 200-pound petroleum barrelsinto a colossal fuel storage. I squinted as the foul, gray smoke blocked my vision and invaded mynose and lungs. When I became the logistics squad leader of the 15th Tank Battalion of the KoreanArmy, I was amazed by the sheer number of petroleum barrels that were required to mobilize the50-ton K-1 tanks: nearly 100 barrels a month. The putrid smoke emanating from the monstrousvehicles made me wonder at how we could decrease their pollution. It was not the first time that Ihad felt the deleterious effects of petroleum fuels on the environment. As the son of a gas stationowner, I was always wary about petroleum energy.
Ever since my father started a gas stationbusiness, I have witnessed the rampant emission of smoke to the cloudless sky. My personalexperiences as a logistics squad leader and exposure to the petroleum industry have informed andfostered my desire to study ways to combat harmful carbon emissions. As a result, I chose chemicalengineering as my major with the lofty ambition to resolve the problem of pollution. My interestin resolving this issue grew as I researched possible remedies in the field of sustainable energy:electrochemical energy devices.
Given this aspiration, I sought out research opportunities to become more knowledgeableabout electrochemical energy engineering. After a year-long search, I worked with Professor HoSeok Park in the Energy Systems and Environmental Methods lab at Sungkyunkwan Universityafter getting discharged from the army. I began working with Professor Park to synthesizegraphene materials, and thereby familiarized myself with laboratory procedures and equipment.After a month of intense studying, Professor Park gave me a project that suited my interests: theintegration of metal oxides into graphene materials for improved supercapacitor performance.
Although the uses of metal oxides had been studied extensively, the professor recommendedutilizing a new synthesis method protocol developed by his group. Thus, my first project was tosynthesize highly porous CoO/graphene electrode via an ozone treatment and ice templatingprocess. My experimental contributions on the project resulted in a co-first authorship on themanuscript reporting our results in Ceramics International Journal. The three months of researchat Sungkyunkwan University prepared me with an extensive technical and laboratory repertoireand competency in electrochemical energy.Although I left that group to continue school, I was excited to continue my studies inelectrochemical energy. At Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), I found that Professor ShawnLitster’s work coincided with my research work.
In his lab, I was given a project studying thewater activity dependence and the deactivation mechanisms of IrO2-integrated reversal tolerantfuel cell anodes during fuel starvation. Because of my previous research experiences, my workbecame much more independent, and I was able to use basic principles learned in class to designexperiments. After almost one year of searching for the mechanisms, I found that there is a linearrelationship with water activity for IrO2, while carbon corrosion increases exponentially with wateractivity, suggesting that the carbon poisons the catalyst at a higher rate in the high water activityregime.
Eager to continue my work during the summer, I applied for the Summer UndergraduateResearch Fellowship at CMU. To receive the fellowship, I drew on my experiences in fuel cellsand graphene, and proposed the idea of replacing the traditional carbon black-based electrodeswith corrosion resistant graphene to diminish the effect of the catalyst deactivation. While pursuingthe project I designed, I desired to continue research and broaden my perspective by fulfilling myinterest outside of the laboratory. So, I joined the ChemE Car organization as a member of the newdriving mechanism team, researching thermoelectric generators. After one year of designing achemically driven thermoelectric motor, my team became a separate driving mechanism teamnamed Thermoelectrics Team, for which I was elected team leader. Currently, I direct five studentsin constructing a thermoelectric motor driven by magnesium oxidation.
After four years of specializing in Chemical Engineering, I am applying to Yale’s ChemicalEngineering PhD program because of the applicability of my background knowledge to theresearch being undertaken by its faculty. Additionally, I would value the potential crossdisciplinaryexperience I would gain related to electrochemical energy devices since my researchwork was done in the Mechanical Engineering department at CMU. Much of the work I haveperformed is directly related to current research at Yale: Professor Jaehong Kim and Shu Hu’sunprecedented works related to the hydrogen peroxide production using solar cells, ProfessorAndre Taylor’s development of new electrocatalysts for fuel cells, and Professor Lisa Pfefferle’ssynthesis of carbon nanotubes for various energy applications. These research works areparticularly salient to my future research goals, related to the integration of energy storage andconversion mechanisms that could lead to insights that allow us to commercialize cheap energyconversion devices with minimal carbon dioxide emission.At CMU, I have been blessed with a wide variety of technical skills and the opportunitiesto hone my investigative inclinations.
Further study at Yale will provide me chances to resolve thebottlenecks of practical applications of electrochemical energy devices and start my careerdeveloping the devices that will render the pervasive use of fossil fuels obsolete. After completingmy PhD program and post-doctoral fellowships, I hope to start my own research group andcontribute to advancements within the field of electrochemical energy engineering. My passionfor investigation and collaborative research converge perfectly with this career path, and it islogical for me to choose a university that is at the forefront of research to achieve my goals. I amconfident that I am endowed with substantial research experience and unbounded scientificcuriosity to flourish in and contribute to the Yale and its engineering community.