They say the couple that plays together stays together, but what about the couple that works together? Hoon Suk Rho and Yoonsun Yang are not only happily married but also teamed up to carry out research at the University of Twente. This week they defend the dissertations that they hope will bring them their coveted doctorates. Theirs is an interdisciplinary marriage that spans two UT research institutes – MIRA and MESA + – and that is geared towards producing relevant technology.
The couple met in 2007 in the lab at Auburn University in the US. Rho was conducting research as part of his Master’s programme and Yang was a guest researcher. The two researchers, both born in South Korea, have different scientific backgrounds: Rho is a mechanical engineer while Yang is a biologist. They were united not only by love, but also by mutual specializations: microfluidics and lab-on-a-chip technology.
After tying the knot in Korea in 2010, the pair went looking for a PhD position in Singapore or Europe. Having secured a variety of offers, they ultimately opted for Twente. The decision was based on Twente’s sterling reputation in the field of lab-on-a-chip technology and the state-of-the-art facilities at the MESA+ NanoLab, which Rho describes as “amazing”.
Rho was the first to find a position in Twente, with the Department of Mesoscale Chemical Systems (MCS) at the university’s MESA+ research institute. Yang followed soon after, accepting a post with the Department of Medical Cell BioPhysics (MCBP) at the MIRA research institute. However, since Yang managed to sort out the necessary paperwork more quickly, she was able to start a month earlier. “That was fine with me!” Rho jokes. “By the time I arrived, accommodation and all the other practical arrangements had already been sorted out.”
Within their PhD studies, the couple worked on lab-on-a-chip applications: miniscule laboratories that you can use to separate and analyse organic mixtures, among other things. Rho’s main focus was on developing the requisite technology: “Above all else, I enjoy making things.” At Twente, Rho has developed microfluidic chips and various component parts with the aim of identifying and researching proteins. One of the major advantages of this technology, Rho points out, is that you can analyse very small samples: particularly advantageous if the materials you work with are very scarce or highly expensive. While Rho devoted himself to manufacturing methods for technology, his wife was dedicating her efforts to its application: “I firmly believe that my research should contribute to society as a whole.” In her research project, she worked on technology to analyse individual cancer cells taken from the blood.
During their PhD research, the couple jointly published two scientific papers and their dissertations have two chapters in common. They both agree that scientific cooperation comes naturally to them because they understand each other well. However, they are determined to make sure that their private life does not simply centre on science and research.
That said, they fully intend to continue collaborating. Rho has been appointed as a postdoctoral researcher with the Cancer-ID project. Yang is hoping to obtain a new position at the University of Twente in the near future.
The couple carried out their research projects within the departments of Mesoscale Chemical Systems (MCS) and Medical Cell Biophysics (MCBP) at the University of Twente’s MESA+ and MIRA research institutes. Rho and Yang will defend their doctoral dissertations at 12.45 and 14.45 on 6 April in Lecture Room 4 of the Waaier Building on the University of Twente campus.