Fall 2019 > IAS Scholars

IAS Junior Fellow Jeong-Won LEE

Fascinated by the beauty of physics from a young age, Dr. Jeong-Won LEE, IAS Junior Fellow, has immersed himself in the world of geometry and symmetry, with its simple yet complicated rules. After receiving his Bachelor’s degree in Physics from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Lee went on to pursue graduate studies at the University of Michigan, where he obtained his PhD in Physics in 2012. He then returned to Korea and worked as a research scientist at the Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science, the national metrology institute of South Korea. A few years later, he took up a postdoctoral fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Now, he is at HKUST.

Dr. Lee, whose influence can be felt across Asia and North America, tells us how he developed his passion for physics—a sentiment, perhaps, that only scientists like him can share.

Why Physics?

Physics is beautiful. The complex universe can be broken down into 100 more elements, and all of these “God-made objects” are the same no matter where they are found. In physics, things seem to be built on top of each other, and scientists rely on principles to keep searching for the unknown. The transparency and laws of physics define our world and allow us to make predictions. It is almost as if we, as physicists, are magicians!

Which field of physics are you in?

I am an experimental atomic, molecular and optical (AMO) physicist. Simply put, I study how atoms and light interact, and particularly the coherent manipulation of atoms and molecules using laser beams, which provides a powerful platform for precision metrology and quantum simulation.

One emerging field of study within AMO physics is to simulate how electrons behave in solids by using atoms. Solid materials have a crystalized structure with electrons moving around inside. Using laser beams to form a crystalized, egg carton-like structure, the so-called “optical lattice,” we are able to add and hold atoms. Offering complete control, the parameter of this technique allows us to build any crystalized structure simply by changing the angle of the light. This is exactly what I did as part of Prof. Wolfgang KETTERLE’s research group at MIT. We utilized ultracold atomic gases with highly engineered laser light potentials to capture atoms and create a new form of matter called “supersolid,” which combines superfluidity and solidity. The findings gave us insights into superfluids and superconductors.

What brought you to HKUST? How has your experience been so far?

What brought me here was definitely HKUST’s good reputation! Some scholars shared with me the University’s research orientation before I joined the big family. Although Hong Kong is very geographically compact, HKUST’s performance is comparable to that of other prestigious science and technology-focused universities in the region.

When I am not brainstorming new research ideas, I go to the lab to mentor students who are graduate students majoring in Physics, and they are fast learners! Their intellectual standard is similar to those in US universities. However, US students tend to be more willing to challenge you, whereas here only senior students are more outspoken. I am learning various teaching approaches, and so far my experience at HKUST has been very positive.

What is your current project? Any future plans?

I am a member of the HKUST Laboratory for Ultracold Quantum Gases led by Prof. Gyu-Boong JO, Associate Professor of Physics. The lab studies quantum dynamics in synthetic quantum matter made by ultracold fermions/bosons using various experimental AMO tools.

I am currently studying ways of combining quantum simulation with machine learning. We image clouds of atoms and extract fractions of information to come up with predictions and study their specific features. We then machine learn all of the features, in the hope that the data will lead to new knowledge.

Physics has also taught me to see things from different angles. As a goal-oriented person, I seek to follow my passion and achieve results that surprise people. My ultimate goal is to ensure that these newly discovered physical rules lead to laboratory-based experiments with real-world applicability.