‘Drinking beer and brainstorming together’

| Rense Kuipers

On April 6th, Korean couple Hoon Suk Rho (38) and Yoonsun Yang (34) will obtain their doctoral degrees from the UT. Both carried out their PhD research using lab-on-a-chip technology. A few questions.

How did you meet?

Yoonsun: ‘We met in 2007 at the Auburn University in Alabama, where Hoon was studying for his Masters' degree. Initially, we were colleagues and friends. He often visited me. We were both single, far away from home and we got along well. That's how it developed.’

Hoon: ‘Two years later it became a long-distance relationship. I was doing research in Arizona, while Yoonsun was still in Alabama. That was a difficult period because a flight took about four hours. We wanted to be together, so we went back to South Korea and we got married in Seoul, in 2010. Shortly after, we started doing research in Singapore on the recommendation of a Leiden professor and we often came - quite by accident - in Holland Village (a neighbourhood in the city-state, ed.).’

Why did you choose to do research at the UT?

Hoon: ‘I already knew the UT's research institute MESA+ by name because of the latest technologies. I was very keen, therefore, to continue my research at MESA+. So, I flew here to apply for a PhD position. The tour of the NanoLab was great, the people were very nice and I thought the downtown area of Enschede was very beautiful and friendly!’

Yoonsun: ‘I could't stay behind, of course, so I had an interview via Skype. I even arrived here a month before Hoon, so I had to arrange all sorts of things during that time.’

Hoon, laughing: ‘That sure made it very easy for me to get started here.’

What was your research about?

Yoonsun: ‘Hoon has a technical background, mine is in biology. For both of us, lab-on-a-chip technology was the focus of our research. Hoon worked on systems for improving separation and analysis of proteins at the MCS department of Han Gardeniers. I did research on the analysis of certain cancer cells at the MCBP department of Leon Terstappen. By gaining a better understanding of their properties, you may be able to adjust medication accordingly.’

Were you able to use each other as sounding boards?

Yoonsun: ‘Absolutely. Together we wrote two publications and because we both have a proper understanding of each other's research, we can always talk about it. Two chapters in our - otherwise completely different - theses are the same. ‘

Hoon: ‘On our way back from the campus to our house in the city, we often talk about research. Even after a few beers in the evening we brainstorm about it. The next day I often understand very little of my notes, haha.’

How special is it to defend your thesis on the same day?

Yoonsun: ‘It does indeed feel special, but it wasn't what we had initially planned. I actually wanted him to support me with my defence, but then it turned out that his defence would be scheduled on the same day.’

Hoon: ‘I will be the first one, next week. In the evening we'll be having a party with friends in the Box.’

Yoonsun: ‘First I have to be nervous for both of us, haha.’

What have you got planned after that?

Hoon: ‘On 1 February I started with a postgraduate degree with the cancer identification project of Leon Terstappen.’

Yoonsun: ‘I hope I'll get the green light soon for a postgraduate degree, working on the same project.’

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