University of Pittsburgh

Gio-bin Lim (ENGR ’89G)

Engineer and industry influencer

Portrait of Gio-bin Lim

Photo credit: Jeong Yi

At Pitt: He earned a PhD in chemical engineering from the Swanson School of Engineering.

In South Korea: Lim is a professor of engineering at the University of Suwon and a collaborator with government and private industry, particularly in the technology and pharmaceutical sectors. His work advances research, economic development, and commercialization, helping to marshal billions in research and tech funding to support innovation and advancement.

 

The little boy growing up in Seoul loved to discover how things work. He would take apart watches, disassembling and reassembling their delicate machinery until they whirred back to life. As he got older, the curious Gio-bin Lim thought his interests might lead to a career in engineering.

“Our country did not have enough chemical engineers, and petroleum was a growing field,” says Lim, who initially thought he’d go into oil and gas research and join a new generation of South Korean students emerging with fresh ideas and possibilities.

In 1974, Lim went off to Yonsei University in Seoul ready to learn how he might prepare to advance his nation and the world. “I was the student who didn’t like to memorize. I loved hands-on and not history,” he recalls. “I was going to follow the path of something hands-on.”

He majored in chemical engineering. Yet, a seed had been planted in him years before, when he was growing up the inquisitive son whose father owned a small business. He came to believe that commerce intertwined with research and innovation could be transformative.

Lim’s father sold piping, did printing, and worked in photography. He taught his son about selling and product development, lessons that followed the boy to college. As Lim dove in to the academic investigations taking place at his university, he became increasingly intrigued by the ways that classroom research, when partnered with business, could develop products that help people heal, work more efficiently, and live better lives.

“I’m an engineer,” he says, looking back at his school days, “but I’m always thinking about life and how you design products that matter in everyday life.” Many researchers don’t look into that dynamic element, he adds, “so the gap between knowledge and commercialization is like Death Valley.”

Lim’s next steps would be to help narrow that gap. He was a junior in college when he decided he wanted to study outside of South Korea. After graduating with a master’s degree in chemical engineering, he applied to Pitt as a doctoral student in the Swanson School of Engineering. Pittsburgh’s industrial past reminded him of Korea.

Gerald D. Holder, now dean of the Swanson School, became Lim’s professor and mentor. They met once a week during Lim’s dissertation research on supercritical fluids, or fluids that have properties between those of a gas and a liquid.

But in Pittsburgh, Lim gained more than just scientific knowledge. Charismatic and outgoing, he served as president of Pitt’s Korean Student Association. The leadership role gave him practice in the techniques of person-to-person business. He learned how to network, he says, and how to build bridges across groups for the sake of common goals.

After earning a doctorate in 1989, Lim conducted post-doctoral study at Cornell and at Princeton, where his research on supercritical fluids and nasal spray was licensed by a pharmaceutical company and considered for product development. By the time he returned to South Korea, he was filled with innovative ideas that blended research with business to bring engineering advancements to the public.

Today, Lim is a professor of engineering at the University of Suwon outside of Seoul, where he has built relationships with the government, private industry, pharmaceuticals, and technology enterprises to further collaboration that promotes research, commercialization, and economic development.

He’s worked with the government’s Ministry of Science and Technology, and its Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy; the Korea Biotech R&D Group; and the Korean Society for Biotechnology and Bioengineering, a group of 7,000 professors and researchers seeding next-generation productivity and innovation. Through his leadership, he marshaled researchers in biotechnology, bio chips, pharmaceuticals, and engineering, and drew government support and other grants to oversee nearly a billion dollars in funding to advance university research and commercial collaboration.

Standing on a sturdy educational foundation, Lim has brought advancements to research and development on drug delivery systems, organ xenotransplantation, and in moving biopharmaceutical tests from animals to humans. He has overseen breakthroughs in allergy screening, as well as in a vaccine to address cancer in the womb. In the past few years, he has chosen to focus on the new industries of bio-, nano-, design, and conversion technology.

“The ideas I learned about engineering and applying research, and building synergy to do something for human life came to me at Pitt,” says Lim. “We need to turn ideas into products, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices to do something for human life.”

And that’s just what he’s doing.