An editorial board member perspective: An Interview with Dr. Minah Seo

An interview with Dr. Minah Seo, Editorial Board Member for Communications Physics.
An editorial board member perspective: An Interview with Dr. Minah Seo

Dr. Minah Seo is a principal research scientist at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST, South Korea). She received her Ph.D degree in Physics from Seoul National University including a period as a visiting scholar at Delft University. Her major is Physics with a specific interest in optics and spectroscopy of various materials in the ultrabroadband wavelength regime (visible to Terahertz). Prior to joining the KIST, she was a director’s postdoctoral fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory in USA (2010~ 2013) working on ultrafast optical microscopy on semiconductor nano materials. After she joined the Sensor System Research Center at KIST, learning that current optical tools are rather limited in real immediate applications especially for detection of small molecules, she has started to develop a hybrid type of terahertz optical sensing technique using nano scale metamaterials for highly sensitive and selective molecule detection. 

Q: What is your current research focused on?

Since 2013, we are conducting research on optical and terahertz spectroscopy using ultrafast lasers at the Sensor System Research Center in Korea's KIST (Korea Institute of Science and Technology). The research topic covers various spectroscopy techniques in ultrabroadband wavelength regime including visible, infrared, and terahertz, to investigate optical characteristics of various semiconductors, metals, and bio/chemical materials. Especially, a novel concept of a hybrid optical spectroscopy system with nanoscale metamaterials can provide highly sensitive and selective detection performance, which can be applicable for non-contact and label-free molecule sensing. The work also includes observing cellular reaction involved in the signal transaction system and conformational change of membrane protein where outer stimulus exists. We are also studying the electro-optical properties occurring in ultrashort time in various semiconductor films and applying them to fabricate various devices.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge and your greatest achievement in your career so far?

What is the smallest hole size through which can light pass through? Due to the limitations of nature, the distance between two objects smaller than light half wavelength is indistinguishable. Because of this diffraction limit of light, we had a great difficulty to do terahertz research in the nanoscale world. Under supervision of Professor Kim, in Seoul National University in 2008, we were able to overcome this so-called puzzle by interacting terahertz waves with nanoscale metamaterials for the first time, and published it in Nature Photonics in 2009.  The intensity of the terahertz wave can be enhanced more than a million times near the small hole. Finally we could use the enhanced terahertz signals to detect small molecules in low concentration that were previously impossible to observe without labeling. Ever since the first success, this concept has been widely used to enhance light to induce nonlinearity or to promote research in the related fields, such as thin film studies and improve device efficiency.

I think that the core driving force behind my continued research is ‘courage’, in the sense that I was not discouraged by an unfamiliar environment, and did not hesitate to start a new subject. There has been no boundary for me to learn and to know, which has been a source of strength for over 15 years. Whenever I have been traveling around several different research groups in Korea, Netherland, and USA, I have encountered completely unfamiliar and challenging situations. But I just learned any new technology from the beginning, even though it was kind of hard. To start with it was such vague idea and it was difficult to see that it might be useful someday in the future, but now it satisfying to see that it properly works and to begin such applications in my current research lab. What we need to do at current stage is not only basic knowledge and science, but also we need to bridge it to commercial use stage. It is surely a long term project that requires tenacity. But I do believe that with continuous determination we can produce a technology that is conducive to the society. 

Q: Why did you decide to become a board member and what do you like most about being a board member for Communications Physics?

I joined an Editorial Board of Communications Physics in spring of 2018, as it was just launched. It was my great honor to be a member at such an early stage, as I can learn all about journal publication process step-by-step and share the experiences with other editors. I expected to get the valuable opportunity to input my effort to promote active exchange of idea and discussion among researchers, serving the research community. I admire in particular all-out efforts to fairly judge and evaluate other’s academic achievement by our editorial board team in Communications Physics. I hope and believe that this journal will be able to rapidly grow leading the physics based interdisciplinary research area.

Q: What advice would you give to a Korean author wishing to submit to Communications Physics?

In Korea, the optics and photonics research fields have been actively engaged in interdisciplinary research area, as well as physics, chemistry, biology, and most of engineering science. We look forward to having more opportunity with people from optics and photonics to contribute to Communications Physics, and share the recently obtained great results.

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