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Yong-Ki Kim, 74; Expert on the Atom

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By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 7, 2006

Yong-Ki Kim, 74, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology who conducted seminal work in nuclear fusion and plasma science, died Sept. 9 in a car accident while vacationing in Fairbanks, Alaska. He was a resident of Germantown.

During his 20 years at the institute, Dr. Kim became an authority on the calculation of atomic structure and collision properties and its application to a variety of practical problems, such as semiconductor processing, lighting and plasma diagnostics. His advice was sought by groups around the world, and he published more than 110 scientific papers in his field.

Carl Williams, chief of the institute's Atomic Physics Division, said one of Dr. Kim's most notable achievements was the development, with Eugene Rudd of the University of Nebraska, of the Binary-Encounter-Bethe theory. The theory allowed the precise calculation of ionization cross sections for numerous atoms, ions and molecules relevant to fusion research.

Dr. Kim also clarified and provided a detailed analysis of the structure of highly charged ions by developing a fully relativistic atomic structure theory, he said.

"Numerous physicists at NIST have learned from him," Williams said, noting that Dr. Kim was always willing to teach others and to collaborate with many scientists.

Dr. Kim had a unique ability to develop theories that connected, and had applications for, different branches of the sciences, such as physics, chemistry and some areas of biology, geophysics and engineering. The results of his work served in the development of nuclear power sources (fusion reactors) that would be non-polluting and dramatically reduce the dependence on fossil fuels, said his daughter, Charlotte Kim of Boston.

Dr. Kim was born in South Korea. Fluent in English, Korean and Japanese, he served as a Korean-English interpreter for the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He received a bachelor's degree in physics from Seoul National University in 1957 and was an instructor in the physics department of the South Korean Air Force Academy from 1957 to 1959.

He then came to the United States to pursue graduate studies in physics, receiving a master's degree in 1961 from the University of Delaware and a doctorate in 1966 from the University of Chicago.

He then began working at the Argonne National Laboratory in 1966, advancing from research associate to senior physicist working on atomic spectroscopy and fusion-related research. In 1983, he began working at NIST and immediately joined an Energy Department project. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1975.

Dr. Kim received the NIST Sustained Superior Performance Award, the U.S. Department of Commerce Silver Medal and the U.S. Department of Energy Appreciation Plaque.

In 1979, he was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society, an honor bestowed annually on fewer than 1 in 200 members.

Dr. Kim was a longtime member of the Korean-American Scientists and Engineers Association.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife, Yong-Hee Kim of Germantown, and a son, Edward Kim of Odenton.

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