University of Texas at Austin


Observation, Inspiration, and Collaboration: Profile Donghwan Kim

By Aira Balasubramanian

Published Jan. 19, 2024

Donghwan Kim. Credit: Joanne Foote

Pauling, Schrodinger, and Heisenberg’s biographies filled the shelves of Donghwan Kim’s childhood home. Now, as a Peter O’Donnell, Jr. Postdoctoral Fellow, at the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, he aspires to reflect their tenacity as he explores new scientific questions.

Donghwan’s Ph.D research focused on quantum dynamics and spectral function at Harvard alongside Eric J. Heller and Bertrand I Halperin. At the Oden Institute he studies the physics of electron-phonon interaction from first principles with Feliciano Giustino, director of the Center for Quantum Materials Engineering within the Institute. His work specifically focuses on polarons, which are particles in combination with the induced polarization of their surrounding lattice.

Though polarons have been studied through simple model systems, they had yet to be explored in real systems until the recent development by the Giustino Group. Now their work has the capability to predict electronic and optical properties of materials, including polaronic effects - a novel and unique advancement in the field.  “I was introduced to polaron physics thanks to presentations by Professor Giustino, my current PI, at a conference and a summer school,” shared Donghwan. “I’m glad I was very naturally led to this field.”

Since his early childhood, Donghwan has drawn inspiration from accomplished scientists, and never shies away from seeking advice and insights. “Actions speak louder than words,” he noted. “Closely observing how renowned scientists approach their work has given me the chance to glean invaluable lessons and methodologies regarding the attitude required to excel in this field.” 

However, despite his appreciation for individual accomplished scientists that preceded him,  Donghwan is committed to dispelling the mass-media perpetuated misconception that scientific progress rests solely on the result of individual efforts. “The reality, as I’ve come to appreciate, is that science thrives on collaboration and diverse perspectives,” he said. “Actively engaging with fellow researchers and exploring intriguing topics has greatly enhanced the quality and depth of my research endeavors.”

The reality, as I’ve come to appreciate, is that science thrives on collaboration and diverse perspectives,

— Donghwan Kim

Donghwan’s recognition of the importance of finding connections is not limited to his professional life. “Meeting new people is a source of joy for me,” he shared. Outside of work,  Donghwan is committed to prioritizing his overall well-being. Weightlifting and tennis play a “crucial role in maintaining a balanced and fulfilling lifestyle,” he said. As he aspires to be a scientist that makes profound advancements in his field, Donghwan Kim highlights the balance, collaboration, and discipline required to thrive in his field, as he seeks to encourage the next generation of scientists.