State: Seoul, South Korea

High School: Private School, 400 students in graduating class

Ethnicity: Asian / Gender: Female

GPA: 4.0 out of 4.0

SAT / ACT: Reading 800, Math 800, Writing 720 SAT

Extracurriculars: Research in greater horseshoe bats at Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Genomics Lab (Kangwon National University), Korean archery club founder and president, Dream and Act Volunteer Club vice president, mock trial

Awards: Ji In Yong award (given to the best student of the year), third prize in National Youth Korean Archery Championship, U.S. National Merit Scholarship semifinalist

Major: Integrative Biology


Language is not the sole domain of humans. Animals also talk, and over the last few years I have been fascinated by learning two new languages that even foreign language school students have never heard of. Studying animal languages is very different from learning Korean, Chinese, or Spanish. There are always dictionaries to refer to when I learn human languages, but when learning animal languages I don't have a Google translator to spit out satisfactory answers. In fact, I have to use my own judgment, which combines my mind, heart, and instinct to interpret what I hear.

Tree frogs, specifically Japanese tree frogs and Suweon tree frogs, use songs not just to express their amorous intentions but to survive. While these two species may look physically identical, they are sexually incompatible. So in order to lure the right female, male frogs sing serenades that are distinguishable from other species. Analyzing these serenades at an ecology lab with spectrograms and waveforms, I decoded every pulse of sounds emitted by these ravenous tree frogs into the patterns of numbers to let humans understand their lyrics.

Unlike frogs' mating songs, bats use language not only to communicate but also to navigate and locate insects at night. While flying, bats shoot out biosonar sounds and listen to the echoes that bounce off obstacles to grasp the world around them. Visualizing a world just with sound, I was enchanted by their invisible language when I studied the Greater Horseshoe bat's supersonic echolocation at a wildlife conservation lab. When bats cast nets of invisible words every millisecond during free flight and ziplining experiments, we captured and revealed their dialogue that had neither conjugations nor grammar.

After eavesdropping on tree frogs' and bats' conversations, I discovered that they use languages for survival. The language of the frogs exemplifies power — the stronger and bigger a frog is, the louder it can sing, scaring off all its prey and bravely exposing itself to predators. And for bats, their invisible language is their vision. They silently scream out for help and listen carefully as nature's echoes guide their path. In a sense, animals communicate with other species and with nature.

On the other hand, humans have developed esoteric words, convoluted sentences, and dialects to express their sophisticated ideas and feelings. This amazing evolution has, I believe, isolated us from nature. Now we prefer to live away from wildlife, tending to communicate only among other Homo sapiens sapiens through texts, tweets, and e-mails. Taking a page from Dr. Dolittle's pocket diction, I hope that my work helps us broaden our anthropocentric minds and understand animals who also share our biosphere. If our souls are reconnected with nature, maybe we could hear Mother Nature whisper some secrets about her mysteries that we are too wired or unaware to heed.

Early explorers boldly left the comforts of their homeland to learn the languages and traditions of other cultures. Due to their dedication, these self-taught bilinguals were able to bridge cultures and share values between different communities. In the same way, I want to take risks in learning to communicate with other species beyond human beings and become a multilingual biologist who connects human and animal realms. I wish to venture into the animal kingdom and become a pioneer in mastering and sharing nature's occult dialects with our species. When we finally learn to comprehend and harmonize with nature, we humans might become more humane.