Professor Jae Kyoung Kim of the Department of Mathematical Sciences has won one of the Young Investigator Grants of the 2017 Human Frontier Science Program (HSFP). Professor Kim won the HSFP grant, sometimes referred to as “Noble Prize Grants”, alongside his international collaborators Professor Robbert Havekes from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, Professor Sara Aton from the University of Michigan in the United States, and Professor Matias Zurbriggen from the University of Düsseldorf in Germany.
HFSP is regarded as one of the most competitive research grants in the field of life sciences. Founded in 1990, it has been annually awarding researchers pushing beyond standard research to obtain remarkable breakthroughs in biology. 26 out of their 7,000 recipients have gone on to receive Nobel Prizes, giving the program’s grants their nickname. In the 2017 competition, out of around 1,000 applicants, nine teams were awarded the Young Investigator Grants and 21 teams the Program Grants. Each of these 30 teams will be awarded yearly with an average financial funding of 110,000 to 125,000 USD.
Originally educated as a mathematician and having received a doctoral degree in Applied and Interdisciplinary Mathematics from the University of Michigan, Professor Kim has jumped over the boundaries of his field to tackle problems in biology aided by his knowledge and experience in mathematics.
Along with his fellow researchers, he studied the effects of a molecular circadian clock on the neurophysiology of mammals. In mammals, processes such as sleep, blood pressure, and hormone secretion exhibit circadian rhythms. Through mathematical modeling and analysis, Professor Kim was able to explain the hierarchical structure of the mammalian circadian clock, allowing him to trace up to the ruling clock in a miniscule region of the brain in the hypothalamus, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus.
Professor Kim regards interdisciplinary research crucially and has called for more researchers to follow his path; “I hope collaborations between the fields of mathematics and biology, as yet a rare phenomenon in the Korean scientific community, will become more popular in the near future.”