Sang Yup Lee Calls for Creativity and Collaboration to Solve Global Problems

Sang Yup Lee | Via Northwestern McCormick News | January 26, 2015

More than 2 billion people will be age 60 or older by the year 2050, according to a United Nations report. Sang Yup Lee, distinguished professor and dean at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), shared this stunning statistic during his visit to Northwestern University this week.

“This is scary,” said Lee (PhD ’91). “If seniors are not healthy, then society will be in trouble.”

Hosted by the McCormick School of Engineering’s Dean Seminar Series, Lee discussed several global problems that KAIST is actively working to solve, including the potential economic and social burden of the aging population, the energy crisis, and climate change. “Bio, Nano, and Beyond: Unlocking New Ideas through Collaborative Research” took place Wednesday, January 21 in the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center.

Lee said KAIST researchers approach big problems by working collaboratively and thinking creatively. To combat age-related issues such as Parkinson’s disease, for example, biologists, physiologists, chemical engineers, and medical doctors are working together to pioneer new solutions. This interdisciplinary angle has led to finding a new way to deliver light therapy to improve the motor function of animal models with Parkinson’s disease.

“It’s a better solution than administering chemical drugs, which can raise a patient’s tolerance and eventually stop working,” Lee said. “And this work cannot be done solely by medical doctors.”

Buildings at KAIST are designed to facilitate collaboration. Many have open floor plans and no walls, encouraging professors to share lab space and interact more often. The KAIST Institute hosts six interdisciplinary research institutes and six research centers that cover fields ranging from biology, nanotechnology, and information technology to complex system design, optical technology, and disaster studies.

In addition to its 1,500 faculty and staff members, KAIST has 11,000 students who participate in a system called Education 3.0, which promotes creative thinking.

“Professors can do anything in the classroom except for one thing: lecture,” Lee said. “The classroom is for discussion, debate, and group work.”