Chemistry Graduate Student Minjung Son describes her research and answers 20 random questions as part of the Graduate Student Spotlight series.
Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Minjung Son has been at MIT for three and a half years. Minjung’s current research in Professor Gabriela Schlau-Cohen’s group focuses on uncovering how green plants smartly utilize sunlight so that they efficiently convert absorbed sunlight into biomass and biofuel, yet don’t get sunburn by regulating the amount of sunlight they take in. Because the absorbed energy travels on timescales as fast as a few billionths of a millionth of a second, Minjung shoots femtosecond laser pulses on my light-harvesting protein extracted from spinach leaves and map out how the energy gets funneled down towards the site of energy production, or dissipated as heat when there is too much sunlight.
As the subject of February 2019’s Graduate Student Spotlight, Minjung shares the holiday she would like to make up, her silliest fear, the inconsequential super power she’d most like to have, and more!
- When you are old, what do you think children will ask you to tell stories about?
What life is like without smartphones and AI.
- How did you decide to do the work you are doing now?
I’ve always been thrilled that lasers can take snapshots of really fast (we call it “ultrafast”) processes that our eyes can’t follow. Also, a basically empty optical table with nothing but a brand-new laser on it in Gabriela’s lab when I arrived here got me really excited, because that meant I could build my own experiment myself and do cool science with it.
- If you could make a holiday, what would it be like? What traditions would it have? Studying It’d be the first day of snow every fall/winter, to grieve the beginning of the awfully long winter season in Boston. People would eat Wiener Schnitzel (just because that’s one of my favorite foods) and not go to work.
- Where would you like to travel next?
- What app has changed your life a lot?
The iPhone health app. I always obsessively check how many steps I have.
- What is the silliest fear you have?
That all the liquid nitrogen dewars sitting in the hallway outside my lab will explode and kill me someday.
- What’s the most amazing place in nature you’ve been?
Bergen, Norway. It’s got amazing fjords and also the Northern lights!
- What did you believe for way too long as a child?
That all grown-ups knew what they were talking about.
- What unethical experiment would have the biggest positive impact on society as a whole?
Gene editing experiments?
- What scientific discovery would change the course of humanity overnight if it was discovered?
Teleportation. Although I am not sure whether it counts as scientific discovery or it is superpower.
- What’s the best thing about the place you grew up?
Seoul is such a huge city you can never get bored of it. There is always new places to visit and new things to do.
- What inconsequential super power would you like to have?
The ability to wake up at a certain hour regardless of what time I go to bed.
- What’s the most ridiculous animal on the planet?
- What would your perfect bar look like?
Good music, really good French fries and lots of other good snacks.
- What is the scariest monster you could imagine?
- What is your guilty pleasure?
I sometimes have some ridiculous K-pop songs on my playlist while working in lab.
- What song always puts you in a good mood?
Dancing Queen by ABBA.
- What bit of trivia do you know that is very interesting but also very useless?
The longest word in English is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis.
- What movie, picture, or video always makes you laugh no matter how often you watch it?
- What movie universe would be the worst to live out your life in?
Many thanks to Minjung for these thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for more Graduate Student Spotlights in the months to come!