"I always try to stress to the students that they're very likely doing things nobody else has done before."
One day, you might find Charles Kim working on a design for a lens-edging machine that will make eyeglasses more accessible in the developing world. The next, he and his students could be developing a snake-like robot that's both strong and flexible — like a tree limb or a fly's wing.
In collaboration with Associate Professor of Management Jamie Hendry, Kim and his students are developing tools and a sustainable business plan to diagnose vision deficiencies and manufacture and distribute eyeglasses in remote villages. Piloting the program in Guatemala, Kim and Hendry's team sees the project as a micro-financing opportunity that includes training village residents to run the business — giving exams, diagnosing problems and making the proper corrective lenses. || Related News: As far as the eye can see
Kim also studies the design of compliant mechanisms — mechanical devices that are strong yet flexible.
"Man-made designs that are strong tend to be stiff," says Kim, "but things like flies' wings or tree limbs have an innate flexibility. Yet they are also very strong."
Working with Bucknell students and the Compliant Systems Design Lab at the University of Michigan, Kim is looking to make flexible mechanical devices that can withstand a lot of pressure. "Compliant mechanisms may be the next class of instruments that will go into machinery," says Kim. "It's a field rich with possibilities for research. I always try to stress to the students that they're very likely doing things nobody else has done before."
Kim says his research areas, both of which contribute to the field of machine design, offer his students a sense of purpose and inspire them to embrace the spirit of innovation. "They get to work on things that are new and novel," says Kim, "and they also get to see how their work can benefit humanity at large."
Kim says that whether students travel with him and Hendry to Guatemala or design next-generation machines, they get to see firsthand how profoundly other people benefit from their efforts: "That is highly motivational. If students see that they can succeed with research in the field, they see how their training at Bucknell fits into their future."
Posted October 2012
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