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Associate Professor of Engineering
The Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science
years ago, when Chang-Jin Kim suddenly decided to switch his doctoral
studies at UC Berkeley from robotics to an obscure new area called
microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), friends told him he was making
a horrible mistake.
the 40-year-old engineering professor is one of the world's most
prominent researchers in a cutting-edge field with seemingly unlimited
possibilities. Kim doesn't rub his friends noses in it, but he does
enjoy the occasional I-told-you-so moments.
love to prove that I was right," he says.
work is big because it's so small. The micro-fuel injectors, micro-nozzle
pumps and micro-slider actuators he and his graduate students cook
up in his Micro- Manufacturing Laboratory in the Department of Mechanical
and Aerospace Engineering could fit on the head of an ant. The fact
that the micro-manufactured devices are so innovative they have
yet to find commercial application apparently doesn't bother Kim.
like when you find a way to make steel, and you ask, 'What's the
application?' It can be anything,"nexplains Kim.
the microaccelerometers that currently activate automobile airbags
in a crash. Soon, other micro-devices will enable aerospace companies
to send mini-satellites into orbit and shrink chemical-analysis
equipment so it can be taken out of the lab to process DNA samples
at a crime scene.
and raised in Korea, Kim knew he wanted to be a scientist long before
he came to the United States in 1983. His family had academics,
lawyers and doctors -- but no engineers.
got no advice from anyone around me," Kim says. "But I
was lucky to be like that. I wasn't tainted by conventional engineering.
The way I think is different from a typical engineer."
instance: Typical engineer thinking would focus on problems of weight
in a micro-device, because that is a dominant concern in traditional
engineering. But it is almost meaningless in MEMS. What is a problem
is the slightest hint of moisture. It would be a negligible factor
in regular-sized machines, but it can completely shut down a submillimeter-sized
device. Such problems to Kim are like child's play -- literally.
in a world where nobody else has been before. It's like being a
child, playing with Legos, creating something every day," says
Kim. "I'm one of the luckiest guys in the world."