Dr. Jihyun Kim, Assistant Professor of Science

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September 17, 2019 | Academics, Faculty, Faculty Feature, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Research, STEM

Professor Ji Kim

Professor Jihyun Kim in the lab.

“Don’t bring a negative attitude [to what you’re doing] – you’ll be the one to lose out. Have a positive outlook!”

It certainly takes a specialist to see potential in biowaste: an expert like Guttman’s Assistant Professor of Science Dr. Jihyun Kim, who has a Ph.D. in Organometallic Chemistry from Georgetown University and over 20 years of experience in research and teaching. In fact, she and Dr. Lawrence Pratt from Medgar Evers College, CUNY, were awarded a three-year National Science Foundation grant toward the development of a new biofuel from a mixture of brown grease and waste plastics. Student participants in the CUNY Research Scholar Program work under Dr. Kim’s guidance to transform brown grease – not cooking oil, she emphasizes – into biofuel. “We collect this fat in the wastewater and then we isolate only the fat.” Using lab space and equipment at the CUNY Advanced Research Science Center, “we heat it up to 400 degrees Celsius and convert it to green fuel.”

In a related project, Dr. Kim has found a way to repurpose the copious waste collected during the production of Greek-style yogurt. Once extracted from the refuse, nanomaterials called carbon quantum dots can be used for bioimaging, among a wide range of practical applications in scientific research. “Converting any biomass, biowaste to an important material you can use in science” is critical to “how we handle this environmental issue,” Dr. Kim explains. “The goal is to convert trash to treasure.”

While Dr. Kim works with students in the Liberal Arts and Sciences Program’s Science Concentration on applied research, her Introduction to Chemistry courses are geared for non-Science majors, who may fear the subject or perceive it as irrelevant. Dr. Kim rises to the challenge of engaging this audience by revamping her materials and methods of delivery “semester in, semester out” and developing inquiry-guided lab activities and experiential learning assignments. When studying the chemistry of water, students take a guided tour of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. Viewing the facility connects often esoteric chemical processes with something as familiar as water. Characterizing non-Science majors in her classes as “public advocates” for communicating the importance of chemistry in daily life, Dr. Kim involves them in outreach. Each year during the fall semester, they join in commemorating the basic measuring unit in chemistry – the mole, Avogadro’s Number (6.02 x 1023) – at the Hall of Science in Queens. Through such stimulating opportunities, Dr. Kim urges her students to “open your heart and mind to what you’re learning.”