Korean Contribution to the Progress of Science and Humanity

Dong-Pil Min

Note added by the Editor. William Barletta, FIP Chair, submitted the text of this important invited talk by Professor Min for inclusion in our newsletter. This is a lightly edited version of the presentation in session H4 at the April Meeting. The text will be enhanced by having the visuals in front of you as you read it.


Werner Heisenberg, one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics (QM), once predicted that science had to play the role of the driving locomotive of modern civilization covering not only the western countries but also the whole world, east and west, south and north. The world today is much wealthier than a century ago mainly thanks to QM. (See the figure from Wikipedia on the Industrial Revolution.)


However, science has not yet solved the urgent and prominent issues we actually encounter today to make our world safe and sustainable: climate change, water, energy and health, to name a few. Moreover, the benefits of scientific knowledge are not yet readily available across the globe as is shown in the figure. The distribution of wealth, i.e., the benefits of scientific knowledge, has become an urgent issue to be resolved. I’d like to focus on one area of efforts by Korea in creating and sharing knowledge. The reason why I chose this subject is not purely to advertise the Korean endeavor, but to emphasize that the world needs much intelligence and collective attention to move toward a better world. I want to concentrate on what scientists can do to contribute to the expansion and distribution of knowledge, and therefore, to contribute to finding answers to global issues. And I will introduce which direction Korea wants to pour its efforts. I believe strongly that the progress of science should go hand in hand with the progress of humanity.

Low Carbon Green Growth and Knowledge Sharing

In recent years, our attention has focused on how to encourage humans to convert from a brown economy to a green economy, that is, towards sustainable development while keeping our environment healthy. For such a conversion to succeed, not only a few countries but the entire world must participate. Not only a specific discipline but also whole disciplines should collaborate. To shed light on the solution to the energy, pollution and other problems as well, scientists have a heavy responsibility. They should spend their time and efforts on these issues.

The distribution of wealth and technology is not 'even' yet, and developing countries don't have the wherewithal for cutting edge research and development. Many developing countries focus more on growth by any means, even at the cost of their natural environment. Therefore climate change would not resonate enough in their policy-making. Many advanced countries, however, claim that we should convert to a green economy without considering how to solve the thorny issue of wealth distribution. They may want to achieve the wealth through new technological dominance over the world market. This may be the reason why their claim does not ring true in developing countries. Certainly to solve the climate change problem, the entire world should participate to limit the emission of CO2. We know that the crises of today affect the entire world. We need to respond by exchanging ideas and sharing knowledge, because what developing countries need is the appropriate technology to make their countries wealthy enough to reconsider CO2 emission and forestation. It is important to reach a level playing field first to solve climate change.

Unless the present situation is changed, the damage caused by climate change will impact first and foremost the poor living in developing countries. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimated that people suffering from malnourishment will increase to 600 million by 2080 due to declining agricultural output; an additional 1.8 billion people will suffer from water shortage, and 330 million people will be displaced due to climate related disasters such as flooding. Billions of poor people in developing countries are vulnerable to climate-induced risks. We realize that many issues are entangled and connected. Issues like energy and food security, biodiversity, poverty and population change will shape this century. There is no 21st century counterpart of what Quantum Mechanics did for 20th century. A wise voice says that we’ll get poorer unless we get smarter. We should think seriously about the links between the creation of knowledge and sustainable prosperity through knowledge sharing.

What is a smart idea? I believe that making the world "flat," as suggested by Thomas Friedman, is a solution or a path leading to a solution.

Science and Technology of Korea

Korea proclaimed that green growth is the national objective, a new paradigm and a new coordinate of economic activities. This is since 2009. Korea has been running to catch up with other developed countries and to join in world efforts for a sustainable green economy with science and knowledge sharing. This effort of ‘science for humanity’ may suggest the way to the solution to health, energy, environment, leading ultimately to green growth. Let me discuss how this vision is supported by Korea.

The annual growth of R&D investment reached 3.75% of the GDP in 2011, about 60 billion USD, which is about 50% more than the forecast made in 2004. In terms of R&D investment as a portion of the GDP, Korea ranked 2nd in the world after Israel in 2011. The growth rate of annual publications reached 12%, which translates to 4th in the world. And the brute growth rate of R&D expenditure ranks first among the OECD countries and 5th in the world. IMD, an international evaluation organization, ranks the science and engineering competitiveness of Korea in the world as 3rd and 14th, respectively.

However, publications are not yet penetrating into the world academic society. This means that Korea has not produced enough influential papers yet to be visible. This is the reason why Korea launched an ambitious national project in 2009 to support basic science and to build a solid knowledge ecosystem, to establish a healthy circulation of knowledge among the pure/basic, applied and development research skeleton. This project is called, “International Science Business Belt Project (ISBB)”. ISBB includes a plan to construct an accelerator, the Korea Rare Isotope Accelerator (KoRIA). KoRIA will be built in Daejeon City, in the center of South Korea. This signals that Korea is ready to take on yet greater responsibilities as an integral member of the global science community. The goal of this plan is to create an environment conducive to developing a knowledge-based society in Korea for the new millennium, by advancing basic science and technology.

KoRIA is a multi-purpose machine. It includes both ISOL and IFF methods to produce rare isotope beams as well as stable ion beams. Why does Korea want to build this accelerator? It is to:
  • participate effectively in world efforts for the progress of science,
  • help scientists work across academic disciplines and national borders,
  • encourage the intellectual exchanges,
  • save resources and invest effectively for the world future facilities, and
  • find more effective way to extend the frontiers of natural knowledge.
KoRIA will adopt the universal principles of operation as at other world user facilities. Therefore the operation should be based on the following principles:
  • It is for the scientific discoveries.
  • It is for users who will contribute to the purpose of the facility.
  • It is for the spirit of cooperation.
  • It is to respect the intellectual property right.

What can be said with confidence now is that KoRIA will become a truly international venue for the kinds of experiment that will shape the course of scientific exploration. We are soliciting the participation of international researchers and scholars even during the initial planning stages. We will not deviate from this philosophy of joint venture and camaraderie and will steadfastly maintain an open door policy for partnership and mutual cooperation.

Sharing Knowledge by Technology Transfer

Long term prosperity and its sustainability stem from the equity of knowledge. The "flatness" of knowledge is what we should try to achieve first to share its benefits. This is the proverbial ‘teach-how-to-fish-rather-than-giving-fish' strategy. When sharing technology, we should also study and know the recipient's society and environment. You do not provide the know-how of sea-fishing to those who have only a small pond, because the knowledge is not appropriate for them. In fact, today’s multifarious crises call for an innovative blueprint to improve our existing program of sharing knowledge. To make the program successful, we need to align science and innovation with global challenges and shape them to be appropriate in this context. We may need to have a permanent institution to share knowledge efficiently, to coordinate efforts. The most important factor would be, I believe, how to coordinate our efforts and resources. There are many international organizations that try to do this. But they tend to cover many other issues than focusing on effective transfer of appropriate technology.

Korea is preparing for a green economy future by investing R&D into basic and applied research, especially by increasing the portion of governmental R&D to applied research on green technology. Since 2008, Korea's development strategy to induce ‘low carbon green growth’ has focused on creating more jobs in the sector of green technology and innovation, improving enterprise’s competitiveness, and maintaining efforts without deteriorating the overall quality of life. All OECD countries are more or less running in this marathon. US invests by a higher order of magnitude for 10 years, EU no less, Japan wants to be 3rd by itself, and China is a new strong runner. Indeed, the Korean government is determined to set up a strategy to invest massively to fund the green-growth engine. We are very excited to put a quarter of government R&D investment with a goal to place Korea among the top 7 in the world in green technology competitiveness by 2020, and in the top 5 countries by 2050. Korea wants to invest more in sharing of knowledge with other countries. Also Korea wants to put more emphasis on orchestrated international research efforts to produce collaborative outcomes.

Proposals to Overcome Barriers

However, as for the sharing, we realize that we face some tough barriers. We make some proposals to overcome these barriers.

One of the main obstacles to overcome for technology transfer concerns the issue of intellectual property protection. Although intellectual property right is a delicate issue intertwined with corporate profit, we have recently seen positive trends which include multinational pharmaceutical companies enhancing access to and openness of the research related to neglected tropical diseases. The proposal made by GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) in 2009 is a good example. The company suggested the creation of a relevant patent pool for drugs and manufacturing processes that can be used to develop new treatments, made available free of charge to the world's 50 least developed countries. To overcome the barrier of intellectual property rights, it may be worth establishing an open technology platform from which the least developed countries could draw needed technologies at low or no cost.

The second obstacle is the difficulty to develop appropriate technologies which fit the recipients’ socio-economic conditions. Even if the developed countries provide the knowledge to a southern country which lacks R&D capacity to absorb and use knowledge, without adequate adaptation, developing countries will face difficulty using the technology due to a significant difference in social environment. The technology that is developed, for example, must not be overly expensive to operate in the market of developing countries. The technologies will become useful only by adapting to the characteristics of developing countries. The technology platform may find the knowledge for proper adaptation. However, a sustained collaboration between recipients and donors is required. This collaborative research should be supported. Korea will increase its Official Development Assistance fund from 0.1% of GDP in 2009 to 0.25% in 2015. This should be efficiently employed on the basis of ‘teach-how-to-fish’ strategy.

The third obstacle is from almost the same reason that developing countries have no wherewithal to develop the appropriate technologies. From a long term perspective, we observe that assisting developing countries to build the capacity to develop independently the necessary technology is more effective than transferring technology. We must also consider how to invigorate not only adaptation of northern technology to the south, but south to south transfer of technology as well. For this purpose, we must establish a mechanism to transmit knowledge and to establish training. However, the research support extended by developed countries to the developing countries, in many cases, may be confined to collection of data for articles to be written up by scholars from developed countries. This is known as a 'parachute science support.' Or worse, we observe the phenomenon of brain drain where talents from developing countries are mobilized to solve problems facing developed countries. These are the temptation which should be overcome by developed countries. Korea established an institute, Green Technology Center, to help build the capacity of developing countries in the spirit of equal partnership.

The last obstacle lies in the fact that developing countries are not intimately included in the research network to get access to the most updated information. To achieve the cooperation, even with permitting free use of some technologies, the simple existence of a database is not enough. Instead, they must find ways to maintain the continuous development. For cooperative research support to obtain practical effects, it is crucial to increase the level of mutual understanding from the perspective of a long term partnership. This is why we need a wide and solid network or a platform to help them to evolve for themselves to create the proper business with the appropriate green technology. Korea wants to collaborate with other nations and, for that reason, initiated the establishment of an international organization, Global Green Growth Institute.

In view of those obstacles and proposals to overcome them, I hope that we can give more effort towards sharing the benefits of global R&D programs. In this context, the programs to overcome obstacles will need to serve as an open platform of appropriate knowledge. The platform can ensure the practical exchange of outstanding human resources, information on socio-economic conditions and on technology availability, as well as sharing of the results to low income countries. Once this program of exchange and sharing is in full swing, I am confident that the end result will be invigorated international development and a healthier global economy. I believe that we need to create a sustained mechanism of technology transfer, named as a ‘common technology platform’ to which low-income countries shall have free access.

In summary, the 21st century presents us with many challenges. There are environmental issues such as global warming and deforestation, economic issues as eradication of poverty and health issues as pandemics and intractable diseases. These challenges call for concerted and creative efforts by all countries across the world and all experts across disciplines. More specifically, we need to respond by promoting creation, exchange and sharing of new knowledge and ideas. Experts in science and technology, economy, policy making, and other fields must work together to find solutions to pressing global problems. This is why Korea wants to provide an arena where such collaboration can take place. One of such efforts is the establishment of a knowledge platform inside of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI). GGGI is established to support developing and emerging countries for green growth development, and to facilitate public and private cooperation. As for the science and technology side, Korea is trying to establish a knowledge platform, called as Common Technology Platform.

I hope that scientists can continue to work together for new discoveries of knowledge and its fair distribution. I ask for your support and cooperation for the Common Technology Platform, as we seek sustainable socio-economic development and answers to global problems.

Dong-Pil Min , DSc, is Professor Emeritus of Seoul National University and Ambassador for Science and Technology Cooperation of the Republic of Korea.

Disclaimer - The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on International Physics Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.