Faculty Profile: Sanghyun Lee
By: Shelby Fintak
On a sunny Sunday morning, you decide to bust some suds and clean up a bit. Wash your car, do the dishes, give your hair the shampooing it deserves. When you go to pour dish soap in that oil-covered bowl or stream shampoo straight into your palm, you might be lucky enough to see something truly intriguing: a self-propelling, soap-shooting fountain! This mesmerizing phenomena is caused by the Kaye effect, a property of certain fluids that inspired Sanghyun Lee, Ph.D. to embark on a career solving real world problems. "Not only [do] I think math professors were influence me, kind of telling me how the fundamental science is important, but also, [seeing] how these studies could be applied to real applications in computer science was fascinating." This understanding would ground Lee in research solving problems related to numerical methods for partial differential equations (PDEs), especially those PDEs coupled with multiphysics and multiscale phenomenons. Lee is constantly looking for a 'good problem' to dedicate himself to, including hydraulic fracturing, sinkholes, and seawater intrusion, now focusing on the problems in the state of Florida.
A big portion of research is going to workshops and conferences for researchers. This is a good opportunity to get all these method people together and see their recent advances so we can try to improve them together, if we can Sanghyun Lee
During his undergraduate at Sogang University, Lee began searching for ways to take his studies away from the desk and into real world equations. "To apply math to the real world, we need to have some simulation techniques, which means it's based on all the computing techniques." After double majoring in mathematics and computer science, Lee moved to Texas A&M, where he received his Ph.D. from the Department of Mathematics. His postdoctoral studies put him in collaboration with Mary Wheeler, modeling the propagation of fractures in porous media to improve the techniques of oil and gas production. Penetrating deep into the subsurface with lots of water and high pressure leads to seemingly unpredictable results. One initial cut could spur numerous spidering fractures with no way to predict, observe or study their growth. This lead the researchers at the Center for Subsurface Modeling to develop a simulation. Scan data, such as the toughness of the ground material, allowed Lee and associates to study fractures, how they propagated, and predict how and where they were likely to form. "The gas price is really cheap now, right? This is one of the main reason. We have new technology."
Lee admits he's no experimentalist, so his research is predicated upon collaboration with chemists, mechanical engineers and even hydrologists. "Otherwise I'm just sitting down and making up the problem," he says. At every level, creative researchers find the most compelling topics and innovative solutions by engaging with reality. What problems can I solve in the world around me? Who has searched for a solution already? What did they find? "Researching is often re searching. It's not always finding something very new but I can try to re search what people already did and tweak a little idea and see what happens next."
Researchers, like Lee, gather throughout the year at symposiums and workshops to meet friends, exchange new ideas, find collaborators and most importantly, good problems. To help facilitate productive conversations pertaining to his research, Dr. Lee organized two mini-symposiums at the upcoming SIAM GS conference in Houston, Texas. One on the fracture work, and another on seawater intrusion. "A big portion of research is going to workshops and conferences for researchers. This is a good opportunity to get all these method people together and see their recent advances so we can try to improve them together, if we can." The tricky task of finding interesting problems with feasible solutions couldn't be accomplished without this open dialogue of research and ideas.
Lee has adjusted the focus of his research towards local problems since accepting the faculty position at FSU. "I want to find a really good problem in Florida. I think sinkholes and the seawater control might be some of the good problems here." With all the groundwater pockets, springs and sinkholes spotting Florida, the thread of geophysical fluid dynamics and subterranean phenomena continues throughout Lee's research. "We can not really prevent [sinkholes], but ...what I'm trying to do now is find how we can model the sinkhole so we can use this as a forecast tool... We still don't know the dominating factor, so we have to figure that out first." He remains active in the geophysics community, giving talks, organizing mini-symposiums, and even collaborating with UCF's sinkhole institute to find new solutions.
When Dr. Lee isn't modeling sinkholes and fractures, he enjoys fishing off the panhandle and camping with his wife and two kids. "We are adjusting to the life in Florida." Luckily, our beautiful swampy state offers plenty of research-worthy problems and peaceful places to cast a line.