Archive for the ‘National Academy of Science’ Category

On the DPRK’s University of Natural Science

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth): The National Academy of Science and what I believe is the Natural Science Academy (University of Natural Science) on the border of Pyongyang and Phyongsong.  If any readers beleive the facility is in a different location, please let me know. See in Google Maps here.

Choi Sung writes in the Korea IT Times:

The University of Natural Science which is a North Korea’s science education university is located in Eunjunggu in Pyongyang. It used to be in Pyeongseong-si with the National Academy of Science, where the university is affiliated to, but it was moved to Pyongyang to benefit scientists as a citizen of Pyongyang. The National Academy of Science is North Korea’s best scientific research complex. Every year, Kim Il Sung University hosts a science competition in early January. The competition subjects include Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and English and a thousand students who already passed previous competitions in local institutes participate in the final competition.

Students who win first, second and third places in this competition are eligible to enter any Natural Science university of their choice. Also twenty to thirty top students are awarded and are given a chance to sit for an exam at Kim Il Sung University, The University of Natural Science or Kim Chaek University of Technology. However, the top students gets additional points in their admission, so virtually, seats for them are already secured. North Korea’s top talents usually choose between Kim Il Sung University and the University of Natural Science, but the formal is more for the social title and the latter is more for improving science research skills.

The Best Science Educational Institution

The University of Natural Science, where North Korea’s science and technology talents receive full scholarship (including meals, clothes and even underwear) from the government, is affiliated to the National Academy of Science and is nurturing professional science researchers. The National Academy of Science is North Korea’s top scientific research complex, having the University of Natural Science as a branch.

This University was established on 27 January 1967 by Kang Young Chang, the then director of the National Academy of Science and a member of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, and his determination to foster bright scientists. It was rather an unexpected move in the time when the environment variation theory (Lysenkoism- a theory that believes genetic abilities can be changed depending on the circumstance) that doesn’t admit the existence of the gifted was overflowing through the society as well as it was in other socialism countries like Eastern Europe and China. However, as a result of the establishment of the university, North Korea had a significant turning point in its science and technology development.

The University of Natural Science started from Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology departments in Kim Il Sung University, and all of the professors were members of The Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. Furthermore, this university was financed by the ruling party’s finance and accounting department as its direct institution and was received special treatment until October 1985. Since then, it became a branch institution of the National Academy of Science, and has established its firm foothold as the top science educational university in North Korea up to now.

Admission Process

Generally, in North Korea, which family one comes from or what kind of social background one has is more important than academic records, however, the ruling party’s Central Committee ordered to select students solely by their academic performance or excellence since 1984. Consequentially, the university has more students who just graduated from high schools, and famous for its young graduates’ scientific achievement after their graduation.

Every university in North Korea has to receive certain percentage (twenty to thirty) of discharged soldiers (served longer than three years) or workers (employed longer than five years), however the University of Natural Science is an exception. It means the university education is focused more on academic performance than ideology, so talented young students can study in this school no matter how old they are. If a gifted student achieves early completion from a high school, he or she can enter the University of Natural Science. Most of the professors at school have Doctorate degree from this university and thirty to forty percent of them have studied in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Generally, the admission process is divided into two parts, and the first part is that the government sends the university’s professors to the high schools that are considered to be the best in each region, and give top thirty students who want to enter the University of Natural Science a pre-exam. The exam subjects are Mathematics and Physics and top five students are selected to proceed to the next part. In the second part, students take extra Mathematics and Physics exams specially set by the professors of the University of Natural Science in July to August which is the same time as the general university exams are conducted. Students who get ten out of ten in any of those extra exams are specially chosen even if their general exam scores are not as good. For the students who graduate early from high schools are only allowed to enter the University of Natural Science.


Six to seven hundred students a year are entered the university and they study at six departments including Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Electronics and Automation, Computing and Biology, and three thousand students are studying at the graduate school, and four thousand researchers and university personnel are working at the research center, and female students account for fifteen percent.

Most of the professors have degrees from this university and currently forty to fifty percent of the professors have studied in China or Eastern Europe, and almost all of them studied abroad at least from six months to a year and they are mostly teaching modern science theories. The University of Natural Science is famous for being the first university to have higher degree graduates in their twenties and the graduates are known for their excellent performance, so now they takes up the major part of North Korean research centers.

Especially, the graduates are the mainstream in the scientific recerch centers of military agencies and the special agencies. The textbooks used in classes are usually written by professors from this university and original books in English. Since 2005, major subjects have been taught in English and the university has quickly adapted revolutionary measures like South Korean style discussion classes and presentation sessions to provide world-class education system.

It takes seven years to receive bachelor’s degree, the longest school system in North Korea and the graduates get the Expert Qualification which is only given to the natural science graduates from Kim Il Sung University while the graduates from other universities are given the Engineer Qualification. Especially, the University of Natural Science requires one to one and half years to finish graduate dissertation, and students conduct research at the research center at the Nationa Academy of Science. Thus it is the only university that has academic-industrial collaboration system which resembles that of South Korea.

In general, foreign books are not allowed to read without permission in universities in North Korea, the University of Natural Science is an exception. The students in this university can read any natural science books even if that was written by authors from capitalism countries, and it is well known that its graduates have no problems in reading in three or more languages.

As for examinations, getting one F means the student will be flunk, and getting two F mean getting expelled automatically. Because there are only ten students in one class, the competition in classes is so intense that one to three students are flunked or kicked out before graduation. It is the only university in NK where actual experiments takes up thirty percent of curriculum and the exams mainly consist of essay questions. Recently, even though major science research institutions welcome its graduates, students in South Korea tend to choose different majors other than natural science because of the economic recession, and the same phenomenon is also found in North Korea.

All of the students in the university live in dormitories. They wake up at five in the morning (six in summer and winter) for stretching and jogging, after that, they line up and sing while they are going to a cafeteria. Every university in North Korea has the same system and lifestyle as those in military base, and the University of Natural Science is not an exception there. After all that, students take ninety-minute-long classes from eight in the morning.

The main text books are written by professors at the university and original English books are used as a subsidiary. Students are not allowed to read foreign books of Social Sciences without permission but they have free access to foreign science books. The library has foreign books mostly from Japan, Russia and the United States. Also, students learn English, Russian and Japanese, mostly focused on reading, and read books written in those three languages fluently.

The exams are taken at the end of semesters in August and January. If a student gets an F in one subject, he or she will be flunked, and two F means getting expelled. Generally, two to three people among fifteen students in a class get flunked and one to two people are expelled before graduation. Because there are only selected intelligent people in the school, competition could get tough.

Educational Achievements

The graduates from the University of Natural Science can have chances to work at special government agencies such as the National Defense Commission, The Central Committee, Ministry of People’s Security and Ministry of State Inspection and also work as a professor at other universities. These incentives seem to attract more students year by year. Especially, it is confirmed that the graduates play the main role to develop strategic technologies such as missiles, nuclear technology and computer hacking.

For example, it was reported in South Korean and international scientific journals that North Korea announced their success in thirty new generic engineering development including embryonic transplant, polytcocia and sex control of goats, and it is known that the graduates from the University of Natural Science are in the center of these cutting-edge scientific achievements.

Recently, a company in South Korea advertised their newly developed Finger Key, a fingerprint recognition system operated by computer, so that people with registered fingerprints can only open the door. However, North Korea already received a gold medal from 22nd International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva with the same technology in 1994, four years ahead of South Korea. NK has also developed a medical program that can diagnose people’s health by the computer-recognized picture of their faces. All these program development projects were led by the first graduates from the computer engineering department in the University of Natural Science.

The GPS system which was the core technology in recent NK’s rocket launch was the work of software developers at the university, collaborating with China.

Read the full story here:
NK’s Top-Notch Science Education and Research Institute
Korea IT Times
Choi Sung


DPRK weapons scientist arrested

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

A senior researcher at North Korea’s National Academy of Sciences has been arrested on espionage charges, it emerged on Tuesday.

A high-level North Korean source quoted rumors that Kim So-in, who is believed to have been in charge of the North’s nuclear and missile development, and his family were arrested by the State Security Department and taken to the notorious Yodok concentration camp in May.

A math prodigy who received his doctorate in his early 20s, Kim was said by the state media to have been behind the supposed launch of the North’s first satellite — an event widely believed to have been a long-range ballistic missile test.

The source said Kim is accused of assisting his father Kim Song-il, a researcher at the Yongbyon Nuclear Complex, in delivering top secret documents on nuclear development to a foreign agency.

The security department is nervous because many senior officials in various areas are suspected of attempting to earn dollars by selling confidential information, with top secret documents about the regime’s nuclear and missile development being leaked abroad, the source added.

Pak Kyong-chol, an official in the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, has also recently been sent to a labor camp for spying, and Kim Won-bom, the chief of the Wonsan office of the North Korean military bureau in charge of earning hard currency, has been arrested after US$1.5 million was found at his home.

And a senior official at the Kumgang bureau of the Majon Mine has been taken into custody for stashing away $100,000 after selling confidential information in conspiracy with military officers.

Senior officials are trying to sell confidential information because of economic difficulties since the botched currency reform late last year and the Chinese government’s recent crackdown on drug and counterfeit dollar transactions.

The security services have been ordered by regime heir Kim Jong-un to look out for “unusually rich” senior officials, the source added.

Read the full story here:
N.Korea’s Chief Nuke Scientist ‘Held for Spying’
Choson Ilbo


DPRK Economist: Currency reform caused instability

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 10-04-20-1

Ri Ki Song, a professor at the Institute of Economics, a part of North Korea’s Academy of Social Sciences, acknowledged during an interview on April 18 that the North’s currency revaluation of last November had caused some instability to unfold across the country. Professor Ri emphasized during an interview in Pyongyang with Kyoto News, “there was some temporary unrest in some areas . . . but there was absolutely no social upheaval and unstable situations were immediately controlled.”

Professor Ri, in answering questions for the Japanese news agency, was the first North Korean to acknowledge the problems caused by the reform. Regarding foreign media reports of the currency reform, Ri stated that the articles did not reflect the reality of the situation, and that the reforms had not destabilized the North Korean society. These comments were in line with those he made on April 1, when he stated at an APTN press conference, “Many people outside of North Korea have been noisily prattling on about problems emerging during exchange rate fluctuations, but there is no social unrest of the kind they speak of.”

He explained that some instability had occurred because price controls and other measures had not immediately followed the revaluation, and that “markets did not open for a few days [after the currency reform],” acknowledging that preparations for the measures had been insufficient. He also explained that following the currency reform, North Korean authorities had taken steps such as reducing prices on some foods and slashing unproductive expenditures. The government also encouraged women to take up jobs in light industry and in the service sector, and repaired the transport system. In an effort to develop the economy in 2010, the North Korean government boosted the budgets for the light industrial sector by 10.1 percent, and that of agriculture by 9.4 percent.

Professor Ri went on to say that authorities had reduced the price of a kilogram of rice from 40 won to 24 won, had lowered the price of eggs to 8 won, and had cut the prices on cooking oil and soap, as well. He added that this trend will continue for the near future.

The currency revaluation, the first of its kind since 1992, was aimed primarily at increasing the value of the North’s money and harnessing inflation, but despite the reform, the government is still managing foreign exchange rates. While keeping exchange rates under control, Ri stated that authorities could still adjust the value of the won, depending on economic developments as well as other domestic and international conditions.

In both the APTN and Kyoto interviews, Professor Ri called foreign coverage of the North’s economic situation “exceptional,” and insisted that nothing was wrong with the DPRK economy.


US academics and businessmen visiting DPRK

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

UPDATE:  Culture clash when North Koreans want to talk business and US general has other ideas
By Michael Rank

It was a clash of cultures, an accident waiting to happen, when the four-star United States general and his entourage of American business leaders came to Pyongyang to discuss security issues and the North Koreans wanted to talk business.

The North Koreans had assumed the general and his colleagues wanted to talk about investing in their isolated country, and were dumbfounded to discover that was one thing the visitors had absolutely no intention of discussing.

It wasn’t entirely the North Koreans’ fault – retired Air Force General Charles “Chuck” Boyd and his pals were from a high-powered Washington-based think tank called Business Executives for National Security (BENS), so business is definitely part of their brief – but not when it comes to North Korea.

The North Korean ministers whom Boyd met made no attempt to hide their shock when they discovered that the visitors had not come with thoughts of investing a handful of dollars at least in their country, even if it is under international sanctions, and that they were there to discuss the nuclear issue instead.

“I think they had a little bit of a misunderstanding about the nature of our objective, ” Boyd told North Korean Economy Watch in a telephone interview.

“I think they believed that we came with business leaders who were interested in investing in North Korea, and of course that we had to make that clear to them right from the outset that nobody [in the BENS delegation] had any intention whatsoever of making any investments in North Korea and in fact could not” due to international sanctions.

“They were not particularly pleased to hear that. They wanted to talk about investments, they didn’t want to talk about the linkage of those investments to a resolution of the nuclear issue,” said Boyd, who has been president and chief executive officer of BENS since 2002 and steps down at the end of the year.

“There were some tense moments as we worked our way through that, but i think there was clarity in everybody’s minds when we left” that the group had come not to discuss investment but “in a larger context of trying to talk about the benefits of leaving their isolation and entering into the globalised world.”

Boyd said the tone of the conversations he held with North Korean officials “varied a bit…some were softer in their argumentation, some were harsher. I suppose the tone of the meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs [Pak Ui-chun] was really quite warm.”

Kim Yong-nam, president of the Supreme People’s Assembly, told him how threatened North Korea felt by its neighbours. “To the extent that I could I think I tried to relieve him of some of his anxiety about the external threats to the country,” Boyd said. He told Kim that the division of the Korean peninsula was the fault of the Soviet Union, not the United States, and he hoped a Russian would attend their next meeting in order to underline this fact. “I think  at the end of it we parted on pretty good terms,” Boyd said of his meeting with Kim, who is often reckoned to rank number two in the North Korean hierarchy after Kim Jung Il.

The delegation also included Ross Perot Jr, chairman of the board, Perot Systems Corp, Maurice Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co, Inc, and Boyd’s wife Dr Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Boyd said BENS had tried to arrange a visit to North Korea for several years,  and after being rebuffed numerous times “almost out of the blue they contacted us and issued an invitation.”

He acknowledged that his visit last week had not achieved any meeting of minds between the US and North Korea, but noted: “Progress comes about in tiny little steps from a broad front, and it may be that we had some tiny bit of influence. And if we didn’t is the world worse off for having gone there? I don’t think so.”

The North Koreans were “certainly left with [an impression of] the firmness with which the private sector is in support of the need for resolving the nuclear issue,” he added.

Boyd was a combat pilot in Vietnam and survived 2,488 days as a prisoner of war. He is the only POW from the Vietnam war to become a four-star general. He will be succeeded at BENS from January 1 by former US Army General Montgomery C. Meigs.

The official North Korean news agency KCNA, which rarely lets the facts get in the way of a good story, reported that the BENS group “had an exhaustive discussion with officials in the economic field of the DPRK on the issues arising in creating environment for investment.”

See group photo here.

ORIGINAL POST: According to Yonhap:

The six-member delegation from the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS), led by Peter Agre, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, had traveled to Pyongyang on a mission to explore future opportunities for collaborative research activities in various fields.

The U.S. team “left here for home by air on Tuesday after discussing the matter of cooperation and exchange in the field of scientific research,” the Korean Central News Agency said. It gave no further information.

Agre, director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute and president of the AAAS, said earlier that his delegation would meet with scientists, university and science policy officials in the North. He also planned to give a lecture for North Korean officials and students at the Kim Chaek University of Technology in Pyongyang.

While in Pongyang Agre suppsedly gave a lecture at Kimchaek University of Technology.  According to Yonhap:

The broadcast aired by the non-profit corporation said Agre and other U.S. scientists will visit the Kimchaek University of Technology to give his lecture and hold talks with representatives from North Korean academia to discuss ways to advance bilateral scientific cooperation

Agre is a medical doctor and molecular biologist who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of aquaporins. He is currently the chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Also in the Yonhap story:

Another U.S. delegation visiting North Korea, consisting of businessmen, met with the North’s Vice Premier Ro Tu-chol on Tuesday, state media said in a one-sentence dispatch. The team from the Business Executives for National Security (BENS), a non-partisan Washington-based organization led by Charles Boyd, a retired U.S. Air Force four-star general, arrived in Pyongyang a day earlier.

Michael Rank contacted BENS and received the following statement:

Regarding the North Korea trip: Following initial contact several years ago, the North Korean government recently invited a small group from Business Executives for National Security (BENS) to visit North Korea.  BENS is a not-for-profit group of business executives with an interest in national security and foreign policy issues.  BENS is not a trade organization.

The group hopes to learn first-hand the views of government officials in North Korea.  The trip is solely for educational purposes and was coordinated with appropriate U.S. government agencies.  The traveling party is now in North Korea.  The travelers are: BENS President and Chief Executives Charles Boyd, Maurice Greenberg (Chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co., Inc.) Corinne Greenberg, Ross Perot Jr. (Chairman of the Board, Perot Systems Corp.) Mark Newman (Chairman and CEO, DRS Technologies, Inc.), BENS Board Chairman Joe Robert and Dr. Jessica Mathews.  Greenberg, Perot, and Newman are also board members of BENS.  Ms. Mathews is President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Charles Boyd’s wife.  Reggie Gibbs, a BENS staff member is accompanying the group.  Further details about the trip will be available when the group returns next week.

UPDATE 1: According to the Joong Ang Daily:

[Stuart Thorson, professor of political science and international relations at Syracuse University] spent five days in the North Korean capital, meeting with faculty members at the Kim Chaek University of Technology and the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, and officials from the State Academy of Sciences. Kim Chaek University is the school that has maintained cooperation with Syracuse since 2001. The delegation included Peter C. Agre, the 2003 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry. […]

Thorson said the Americans talked with North Korean scientists on issues such as developing young scientists and bringing more women into the field. The faculty at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology gave presentations on their research work. “We were quite impressed by it, especially since the level of their physical equipment is below what we have [in South Korea] and in the United States,” Thorson said.

The faculty “responded very well” to the Americans’ presence, he said.

“We were all delighted to have the young scientists [in North Korea] talking with us about their research,” he said. “A lot of [science] has been just kind of old people talking to old people about what they’d like to have happened. There were actually young people talking about what they’re really doing.”

The unlikely science partnership between the United States and North Korea dates back to 2001. With the help of Donald Gregg, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea serving then as head of Korea Society, Syracuse University contacted the North Korean mission to the United Nations in New York. Often called the “New York channel,” the North Korean UN mission links the United States and North Korea.

Thorson said his previous experience in dealing with China helped him get started with North Korea.

“I had worked on a similar collaboration with China in the 1990s, so we were comfortable working with countries whose political system was very different than our own,” the professor said.

Thorson added that in working with China, he learned that science and technology are “very much based on shared protocols.”

“That helps us build trust,” he said. “As we share things in common, then I think we can begin to talk about other things sometimes, or perhaps even more importantly, people who talk to us can learn and begin to be more comfortable.

“This is especially important, in my view, to political science regarding North Korea and the United States, where in both countries, the other has been demonized and viewed as something other than a real place with real people,” Thorson added.

Syracuse found its partner in the Kim Chaek University of Technology. They’ve since cooperated in building a digital library at Kim Chaek in 2006, and Syracuse has helped North Korean students at the International Collegiate Programming Contest, run by the Association for Computing Machinery.

Their partnership led to the founding of the U.S.-DPRK [North Korea] Scientific Engagement Consortium in 2007. It’s made up of the U.S. Civilian Research & Development Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Syracuse University and the Korea Society.

Thorson pointed to the digital library as an example of a positive outcome for the U.S.-North Korea science exchange. When the New York Philharmonic visited Pyongyang in 2008, some accompanying journalists went to the library and even accessed their Facebook pages from computers there.

Though Thorson realizes U.S.-North Korea relations do have an impact on science exchanges, he also thinks the worse the situation, the more such non-traditional diplomacy becomes necessary.

“My impression is that as relations get worse between the two countries, both countries realize that these informal channels are all the more important,” Thorson said. “It’s all the more reason to keep at science diplomacy with North Korea. The more difficult the problem, the more effort it takes to try to resolve that.

“If it were easy, it wouldn’t be much fun,” he said. “It’s frustrating sometimes. It’s also rewarding.”

UPDATE 2: According to the Joong Ang Daily:

The Business Executives for National Security (BENS) is an American nonprofit organization established in 1982 by American entrepreneurs whose top concern is national security. Eight BENS members recently visited North Korea, led by the organization’s current president, former Air Force Gen. Charles G. Boyd. The U.S. delegation included AIG’s former CEO Maurice Greenberg, Chairman of DRS Technologies Mark Newman and Chairman of the Board of Perot Systems Henry Ross Perot, Jr.

They are said to have visited the North at the invitation of North Korean authorities, which have been in contact with BENS for several years. It is likely a coincidence that they visited Pyongyang after U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth’s visit to the North two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, we are paying special attention to their behavior because BENS helped abolish nuclear weapons in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time, the U.S. removed more than 7,000 nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus. In return, the CIS countries were promised safety, economic incentives and incorporation into Western society, in accordance with the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (CRT) in 1991.

Companies under the control of BENS were responsible for removing and destroying the weapons and other nuclear materials, after securing a commercial contract with the U.S. government.

The resumption of the six-party talks is still clouded with difficulties, but if North Korea decides to give up its nuclear weapons, there is a high possibility that the U.S. companies will spearhead their removal.


North Korea shuffles cabinet in effort to build a strong and prosperous nation

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Institute for Far Esatern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 09-22-1

In order to meet the goal of building a ‘Strong and Prosperous Nation’ by the year 2012, North Korean authorities are reshuffling some positions within the Cabinet, which is its ‘Economic Headquarters’. During the first session of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) last April, Kim Jong Il launched his third regime, and now less than 6 months later, is restructuring the Cabinet. For example, the National Science and Technology Council, which was merged into the Cabinet Academy of Science (now the National Academy of Science) in 1998, has been re-established.

North Korean media briefly reported on the 19th that the SPA Standing Committee brought out the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea National Science and Technology Council” through the announcement of Government Ordinance # 301. The press did not follow up with specifics concerning the announcement, but the recent position of North Korean authorities that “without scientific and technological development, there is no independence, no national defense, and no economy,” it appears that the recent cabinet order is related to attempts by the North to strengthen its economy.

The first National Science and Technology Council established in the North was created in 1962, and was intended to support the national defense industries. The Academy of Science, which had been established 10 years prior, was put under the control of the council, and the council was responsible for the creation and implementation of a national science and technology plan, as well as for providing guidance over research activities. However, as the North’s level of science and technology improved, the council, which was not made up of experts on science and technology, was unable to appropriately guide the research carried out by the academy. In 1982, the academy was separated from the council, and its status was boosted to that of an independent entity.

North Korea is currently in its 3rd 5-year plan to “develop new national science and technologies” by 2012. Currently, North Korea is prioritizing the modernization of factories, enterprises and other industries, and Kim Jong Il has stressed modernization and the introduction of vanguard technologies during his on-site inspections of the nation’s economic facilities. Therefore, it appears that the newly established National Science and Technology Council will be responsible for overseeing cooperation between mechanical and chemical industries and the modernization of the industrial sector, while the National Academy of Science will focus purely on research.