Kyung Hee Lunar Scientist in the Global Spotlight

2019-09-09 Academic

On July 20th, the fiftieth anniversary of the historic Apollo lunar landing, Nature profiled five young researchers who are shaking up the next generation of lunar exploration

A Korean researcher, Professor Chaekyung Sim, a research fellow at the Department of Astronomy and Space-Science of Kyung Hee College of Applied Sciences, was named among the aspiring space scientists from the US, the UK, China, and India, the powerhouses of space exploration.

Professor Sim said, “I am pleased that Korea, a late-comer to the lunar research, has been recognized as a leading country for lunar exploration.” She also added, “I would like to thank all my colleagues the Korean planetary scientists for their passion and hard work.”

A Soil Sleuth, specializing in space weathering and polarimetric observations of celestial surface
As it introduced promising scientists from around the world, Nature called Professor Sim the Soil Sleuth. She started lunar research in 2014, and created quite a stir in 2017 when she became the world’s first scientist to prove that space weathering on Moon’s surface is mainly caused by solar wind. Recently, Professor Sim also discovered that the brightness of Moon is linked to the amount of iron in the lunar soil, and that the color and brightness of Moon reflect changes in the iron disposition caused by space weathering.

Professor Sim is involved in the national lunar exploration project by developing a polarimetric imager called the PolCam, which will be mounted on the Korean Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO). The imager measures the amount of sunlight emanating from Moon's surface. Professor Sungsoo Kim at the School of Space Research is also part of the team. Professor Sim said, “This is the first attempt in history to utilize polarimetry to observe the Moon. The study could reveal the details of the lunar surface, such as the size, structure, and characteristics of dust particles. This is important information for future missions and probe landings.

In addition, Professor Sim is also conducting a research fellowship project for the National Research Foundation on how solar wind and micrometeoroids contribute to space-weathering by observing craters. Since June, she has been expanding her research area to other planets in the solar system as a leading researcher for the NRF-funded basic research in science and engineering project entitled “Study on the space weathering characteristics of the Mercurian surface by using observational data from the MESSENGER spacecraft.”

Kyung Hee’s research-specific environment in a free and open atmosphere
Professor Sim received her bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees at Kyung Hee and now is a research fellow at Kyung Hee University. It has been 19 years since her undergrad study began, so she has spent half of her life at Kyung Hee. “There were more than a few opportunities to move to other institutions during the years, but I always decided to stay because Kyung Hee has the best research environment and a free and open atmosphere,” she explained.

She then added, “I feel that Kyung Hee is a place that encourages and actively supports research. This atmosphere has empowered me to shift my research focus from Titan, a moon of Saturn to our Moon. Kyung Hee was the best and most appropriate choice for me.”

I will contribute to building Korea’s own research capabilities
During her Ph.D. studies of Titan, Sim saw that there was a huge gap in knowledge and data between Korea and the major space powers. When she was observing Titan that appeared as a tiny dot through her Korean-made telescope, her American and European counterparts were drawing a satellite map of Titan. Whenever she prepared a thesis, she had to rely on data from other countries. She also regretted that Korea had no strong presence in any of the space-related research fields.

Professor Sim has a clear goal: contributing to the development of space research in Korea and narrowing the gap between Korea and the leaders of space research. "Space research has played a hidden role in the technological success of today’s developed countries." Sim continued, "Before, I felt that I was in debt every time I received research data from abroad. I want to share Korean data with scientists from other countries.”

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