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Women @ Energy: Young-Kee Kim

March 19, 2013 - 3:37pm


Young-Kee Kim is the Deputy Director of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and a Louis Block Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago

Young-Kee Kim is the Deputy Director of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and a Louis Block Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago

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Young-Kee Kim is the Deputy Director of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and a Louis Block Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago. As an experimental particle physicist, Young-Kee’s research focuses on understanding the origin of mass for fundamental particles. Since July 2006, she has served as Deputy Director of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.  In this role, she leads and manages development and implementation of the particle physics strategic plan at Fermilab. She previously served as co-spokesperson for the CDF experiment at Fermilab’s Tevatron, a premier particle physics experiment with more than 600 physicists from around the world. Young-Kee earned a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Rochester, and a B.S. and M.S. in Physics from Korea University. Her postdoctoral research was completed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In 2005, Young-Kee received the Ho-Am Prize, Korea’s award given to “those who have made outstanding contributions to the development of science and culture, and enhancement of the welfare of mankind”, and the Guk-Min Po-Sang from the South Korean government in 2008 for her contributions to science and community.

1)   What inspired you to work in STEM?

As far as I can remember, I have always enjoyed doing mathematics.   However real experience in science, and in particular, my interest in physics, came only when I was in middle school.  I had a fantastic science teacher who handpicked me to participate in a science competition.  The hands-on experience I received during this period, as well as winning the competition, gave me confidence about my abilities.  It certainly helped to keep me from being intimidated by various challenges throughout my career.  So, I owe a great debt to a wonderful teacher and the chance to experience hands-on science at an early age.

2)  What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?

The National Laboratories provide capabilities and competencies (ideas, people, and tools) to tackle science-intensive problems of national interest and significance.  The labs undertake problems that are typically too large and complex for individual investigators or universities to attack on their own.  It is very exciting for me to see talented diverse teams of scientists and engineers, assembled from both the National Laboratories and Universities, tackle great scientific and technical challenges to create the new tools that enable us to push the boundaries of our scientific knowledge.  Some of the wonderful examples of such complex facilities that can only be created by large collaborations are the high-energy particle accelerators and the intricate detectors that measure the results of the particle collisions.  I am thrilled to see the beautiful physics emerging from these facilities.

3)   How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

  • By providing them with opportunities to meet and interact with positive role models who are active in math, science and engineering careers
  • By making the workplace friendly to women and other underrepresented groups
  • By providing exciting and fun hands-on learning experiences
  • By showing them the benefits of STEM education and its relevance to their lives
  • By fostering awareness of opportunities in science and math related careers

The middle-school years are an ideal time to encourage career planning in adolescents.  A national study of longitudinal data showed that 8th-graders who said they expected a career in science were more likely than other 8th-graders to go on to earn a baccalaureate degree in science (Science, May 26, 2006, “Planning Early for Careers in Science,” pp. 1143-1144).  Thus, it is very important to expose students at this formative age to career opportunities in science and mathematics.

4)   Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?

If you like it, stick to it. The exciting or big “ah-ha” moments do not come every day – in fact, they come very rarely.  Thus, you should make sure you enjoy the daily work even if the progress is slow.  In the area of particle physics, you will find collaborators from all over the world with very diverse backgrounds and culture.  Personal interactions with this diverse group of scientists can be extremely enjoyable and can lead to life-long friendships.

5)  When you have free time, what are your hobbies?

Since childhood, dancing has been my passion.  As a child, my primary training was in Korean traditional dance.  I continue to dance although not on a regular basis.  I very much enjoy learning different types of dance (such as modern dance, samba, salsa and tap-dance) and through the dances learning a little of the culture from which they come.