Physics Communicator Kim Beom-jun: He Who Puts the Fun in Physics

Transportation cards and smartphones are two examples of objects that are products of physics. Physics has permeated through our lives, so, it should be familiar to us. Physics, however, is still challenging for people because of its difficult concepts. Kim Beom-jun, a professor of Physics at SKKU studies the nature of physics that can be easily found in our daily lives, such as “What would be the most ef­ficient strategy to implement when playing the traditional Korean board game Yut-nori?” Furthermore, he meets the public and communicates with them through publishing books and giving lectures. This month, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) decided to meet Professor Kim Beom-jun, who is striving to popularize the fi­eld of physics.

Kim Beom-jun, as a Physicist

Q1. Please introduce yourself to Kingos.

I am Professor Kim Beom-jun from the Department of Physics at SKKU. I research various topics under the branch of statistical physics and also educate students.

Q2 What is so special about statistical physics among various fields of physics?

By the time I graduated from university, I was determined to study physics at graduate school. I chose to major in statistical physics without much thought, because experimental physics was difficult for me. While studying statistical physics, it was interesting to see that statistical physics has a wider range of research subjects compared to other branches of physics. Pursuing astrophysics entails studying celestial bodies through the medium of physics. Does that mean to pursue statistical physics means studying statistics? The answer is no. In statistical physics, statistics is used as a research method and is not the subject of research. The fact that scientists can study anything if the subject matter involves numbers is what I personally feel makes the field very attractive. The satisfaction of studying statistical physics is getting stronger over time.

Q3 What is the most interesting research you have conducted?

After reading a paper on the relationship between the density of public facilities and the density of a population, I was curious whether this really rang true. While confirming that research, I conducted new research about the pattern of the density of public interest institutions such as schools and for-profit institutions such as coffee shops that have direct relationships with population density using the previous research. The number of coffee shops was proportionate to the population due to their profi­t-seeking purposes. Schools, however, should consider various conditions such as the distance of the people, which resulted in the relationship between population density and school density being low. This research is memorable because it is meaningful to society and the research itself was interesting.

Professor Kim Explaining the Formula (seoul.co.kr)

Kim Beom-jun, as a Physics Communicator

Q4 In your books and writings, you reference many interesting studies from various fields.

How do you usually find material and connect it with physics? I usually fi­nd research topics around me. For example, I started the study of the correlation between blood type and personality after talking about blood types with my wife. Also, I write articles in Kyunghyang News* to link my thoughts as a physicist with general humanistic imagination. The reason why I write about physics first and write my thoughts afterward is that I wish to share my thoughts as a physicist with the public.

* Kim Beom-jun’s Next Door Physics

Q5 In your books, you include many details on social phenomena such as the civil resistance movement. Are there any similarities between physicists and sociologists?

That is an important question. The questions that sociologists and physicists ask about social phenomena are similar. However, there are differences in the methods they use to approach the study of social phenomena. Sociology is the study of phenomena caused by social life. Therefore, sociologists begin their studies from macroscopic relationships. On the other hand, physics is a science that explores the reasoning of objects through microscopic concepts. What a sociologist sees differs from what a physicist sees, but there is no right or wrong answer. As a physicist, I personally think that social phenomena can be caused by microscopic interactions between individuals.

Q6 You are often seen communicating with the public through various activities such as publishing books and giving lectures. What do you wish to gain from this?

I want to increase the number of contact points between science and the public. I think that if people try to have a scientific mindset such as using quantitative data in the real world, our society could be led toward a better direction. Thus, I try to endorse the scientific mindset as a common way of thinking. However, I am not talking about simply injecting scientific knowledge into the public. I want to familiarize the public with the scientific way of thinking. My goal is to make the public think “Why is that?” after observing a phenomenon. Would it be simpler to say that I want to help the public become less avoidant towards the idea of science? The learning is not one-sided, though, as I do learn a lot when meeting the public, and I want to continue doing this as a way for me to grow on my own. Also, meeting the public is much more fun compared to meetings at conferences (laughs).

Q7 What is one of the most memorable questions you have received from the public?

The fi­rst thing that comes to mind is the question I got when I was giving a lecture about the distribution of Korean surnames. The question was, “How does understanding the distribution of surnames help our society?” It was a heartbreaking question. It seemed that the audience thought science should be of direct help in realities such as economic development. While scientists also want science to be helpful to society, we do not exist to provide practical help to society. The collective goal of scientists is to broaden the public’s understanding of the world.

Q8 What have you felt while simultaneously working as a writer, physicist, and professor?

What is unclear can neither be written nor taught. By having three jobs that all collectively strive to deliver knowledge, I study the ambiguous parts and organize them again and again. Through this process, I have developed the skill to be able to explain these concepts well to others. Furthermore, giving lectures in a university setting, meeting with the public after publishing a book, and having discussions with people at conferences all give me the opportunity to communicate with people who have various perspectives. These activities help me diversify my thoughts.

Q9 What is your own unique secret to success?

I just kept doing what I had to do and reached success during the process. I am not sure whether there is a unique secret (laughs).

(Left) Professor Kim Reading the Book That He Wrote (news.unn.net) (Right) Professor Kim Giving a Lecture (news.imaeil.com)

Kim Beom-jun, Talking About The Future of Physics

Q10 Do you have any future research plans?

The team that I am working with now is thinking of a theoretical model that can understand the spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Also, there are some interesting topics that have yet to be researched. For instance, I would like to ­find a way to chronologically list words in Korean dictionaries based on their etymology.

Q11 The public generally tends to feel intimidated rather than interested in physics. How can one easily befriend physics?

I think people’s perceptions of physics are much like physical barriers. Physics is a mathematical science, and there are reasonable grounds for one to feel overwhelmed. To learn physics, one would need to become familiar with the mathematics that is used in physics. This is because when actual research is conducted, the research is conducted entirely with quantitative data. However, it is wrong to assume that physics is daunting merely because of its initial appearance. Mathematical methods can be learned later. Physics can be a fun and interesting discipline for students who have learned to not be concerned about technical barriers.

Q12 How do you wish to help physics further develop in the future?

Physics is under the broad concept of science, not engineering. A society that makes physicists ask themselves whether there are practical values in their current research cannot develop physics well. I wish to contribute to an atmosphere that allows physicists to do the research they are passionate about, rather than feel pressured by society to constantly release ­findings that are destination-oriented and helpful to society.

Q13 Any last words for the Kingos?

Regardless of what it may be, be faithful to the major that you have chosen. Your eyes will learn to see the world from various perspectives. When diverse eyes work together, we will be able to understand the world from different angles. Understand that there is no superiority or inferiority to the eyes of individuals. Try to study your majors in-depth and avoid being trapped by a narrow gaze.

Professor Kim Communicating with Students (hankookilbo.com)

이채림  leecl3524@naver.com

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