Texas Tech University

Dr. Myoung-Hwan Kim Receives Emerging Inventor of the Year Award from Texas Tech University


10.25.2023 | Jenna McAlister

Innovation is the cornerstone of progress, and it is innovators like Dr. Myoung-Hwan Kim, assistant professor of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. As this year's recipient of the Emerging Inventor of the Year award from Texas Tech University (TTU). The award is presented to junior faculty members of TTU and TTUHSC in recognition of their recent innovation contributions at their respective institutions. Dr. Kim's work in the field of condensed matter physics has earned him a well-deserved place in the spotlight.

Dr. Kim's invention, the "long-wave infrared phase modulator," represents a major leap forward in the field of optics and photonics. This invention introduces a novel approach to optical phase modulation that works at long-wave infrared light frequencies.

Traditionally, optical phase modulators have relied on piezo technology to manipulate the optical path length of a crystal. However, this method presented limitations when dealing with longer wavelengths of light, as the required expansion of the crystal exceeded practical constraints. Dr. Kim's invention elegantly solves this challenge by introducing active nanostructures on the surface, specifically designed to operate with long-wave infrared light. These nanostructures control the reflection phase of light, creating what is essentially an optical phase modulator. This innovation not only addresses a critical roadblock in the field but also opens the door to numerous applications in optics, telecommunications, and materials science.

The journey to this groundbreaking invention was both serendipitous and driven by a deep passion for advancing the field of condensed matter physics. Dr. Kim's quest was rooted in the exploration of long-wave infrared Hall conductivity, a vital tool for unlocking the secrets of the remarkable electron properties in novel quantum materials. The initial spark for this invention came during a colloquium talk at the State University of New York at Buffalo in May 2022. A student's question about the device's potential to change the polarization of light ignited the innovative idea.

Upon returning to Texas Tech, Dr. Kim and his dedicated Ph.D. student, Zachary Brown, embarked on a mission to turn this concept into reality. Their relentless efforts led to the invention's realization in late 2022, followed by an invention disclosure to TTU and the filing of a U.S. Provisional Patent in March 2023.

When asked about his feelings on receiving this prestigious award, Dr. Kim expressed his gratitude and pride. He remarked, "This is my third invention disclosure, with the first at the University of Maryland College Park and the second at Columbia University, which has successfully transitioned to a U.S. patent. My two post-doc advisors conceived the two prior inventions, whereas this invention is entirely my own idea. The recognition is indeed an honor."

In addition to his groundbreaking work, Dr. Kim also acknowledges the invaluable contributions of his Ph.D. students Zachary, Satya, Imtiaz and Yejin. He specifically acknowledges Zachary, as he played a pivotal role in bringing the invention to life and has been named an inventor on this invention. Dr. Kim's commitment to mentoring and guiding the next generation of scientists is evident in the success of his students and his laboratory's collective achievements.

Dr. Myoung-Hwan Kim's recognition as this year's Emerging Inventor of the Year is not just a celebration of his achievements but a testament to the power of innovation, mentorship, perseverance. Dr. Sung-Won Lee, Department Chair of the Department of Physics, echoes this sentiment, stating, "I sincerely appreciate his efforts and passion for his dedication to innovation, and I expect that he will continue to pursue his quantum research and innovative endeavors in the Department of Physics and Astronomy." Congratulations, Dr. Kim, on this well-deserved recognition!