James K. Hahn is currently a professor in the Department of Computer Science with a joint appointment in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences at the George Washington University where he has been a faculty since 1989. He is the founding director of the Institute for Biomedical Engineering and the Institute for Computer Graphics. His areas of interests are: medical simulation, image-guided surgery, medical informatics, visualization, and computer animation. He has over 25 years of experience in leading multi-disciplinary teams involving scientists, engineers, and medical professionals. He received his Ph.D. in Computer and Informations Science from the Ohio State University in 1989.
1. Why did you decide to become a university professor?
I think I wanted to become a professor from an early age. My father was a physics professor and I guess that rubbed off on me. There is something special about the relationship between a professor and a student. And seeing my dad getting ready for graduation ceremonies every year had a deep impact on me. I am always proud of my students whom I have mentored through the years. For example, Bill Westenhofer who won the Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects twice (for “The Golden Compass” and “Life of Pi”) was my student who did a thesis on computer animation. Seeing him give the commencement address at the School of Engineering and Applied Science at GW was a very proud moment.
2. What computer science/biomedical engineering project that you’ve worked on did you find the most engaging and rewarding?
The research field I am in involves applying technology from computer science to problems in medicine. I have worked on many projects in the past. But being in the operating room observing a procedure where what I did would have an impact on people’s lives is always exciting. Our work on cryotherapy to treat prostate cancer was an especially rewarding experience.
3. Are you working on any interesting projects right now?
I am currently collaborating with faculty from the Children’s National Medical Center. We are developing a virtual reality system to help transition clinicians from the medical simulator to real neonates in the neonatal intensive care unit. It is a perfect blend of compute graphics, which was my doctoral work, with medicine.
4. Did you have any key mentors in your life? If so, what impact did they have on your professional and personal development?
My dad, like many in his generation in Korea, went through unspeakable challenges in his life. He lived through two devastating wars and narrowly escaped from North Korea. Yet, he was able to achieve so much. Whenever I feel like I have an insurmountable challenge, I think of him.