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How does it feel to work as a scientist in the DPRK

The search for the means that will allow the leaders of the country to eat and not get fat, life under the clock security and rare meetings with foreign colleagues.

Years later, the authorities announced that Huey’s research did not help increase the stock of chufa, but on the contrary, the plants began to decrease. After that, the party criticized the activities of the scientist. Her fate is unknown.

Fighting Prejudice

According to Hyon-Soo, most modern North Korean scientists know how to use a computer and use SD cards or, more rarely, flash drives to store data. They are sometimes brought from China with data from the outside world. Despite these opportunities, scientists try not to speak openly about their activities. If a person enters the scientific department of nuclear physics, then friends and colleagues can never hear about him again.

Without the Internet, doctors and residents of the DPRK can not access medical research. This gave rise to the popularity of traditional medicine in the country: for example, jewelery from various minerals are considered to be a medicine. “They say that when you wear it in sunny weather, it purifies the blood,” says Heidi Linton , head of the Christian Friends of Korea non-profit organization (provides medical care to people in North Korea).

North Korean doctors usually believe in such things, she adds. They offer foreign volunteers to take the crystals to Stanford University in the USA and test their effectiveness. As in Vietnam or China, North Korean doctors prescribe plants to their patients that supposedly have healing properties.

Representatives of the “Christian Friends of Korea” in the DPRK. Photos from the organization’s twitter


Linton argues that doctors in the country sincerely want to help the sick, but most of their attempts end miserably. Volunteer visited North Korea more than 50 times, helping people suffering from tuberculosis and hepatitis – the country’s epidemic of these diseases. She brings Western medicine to doctors, including antibiotics, but they are not as popular as traditional medicine.

According to the observations of Western doctors who spoke with North Korean colleagues, they know how to perform complex surgical operations on the brain or heart. “Technically, they are not worse than any surgeon that I have seen. They are conscientious, pay attention to small details and are very careful in caring for patients. They think things through, ”says American neurosurgeon Kee Park.

Working in Pyongyang, he noted that local specialists use very simple microscopes, at a price of 10-12 thousand dollars. At the same time in the US, according to a neurosurgeon, in most hospitals there are microscopes for 500 thousand dollars. Although in fact the two countries are close to the state of war, Park gets along well with colleagues: after the operation, the hospital employees offer him coffee and snacks, he has lunch with the North Koreans. “We are no longer enemies, we are united,” says Park.

Although most scientific papers come from Kim Il Sung University and Kim Chak Polytechnic University, there is also Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. There are mainly foreign specialists working there – they teach the children of the North Korean elite.

Students of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology in the classroom in chemistry. Uri Tours Photos

Computer scientist Wesley Brewer worked in the institution after the opening, from October 2010 to May 2017. He hoped that computer science and science will help the younger generation to become more open to Western culture and reduce the degree of tension between the DPRK and the United States. Mainly at the University of Pyongyang, they study agriculture, the effects of pesticides and the methods of growing edible plants.

Students also investigate plant-based cancer drugs to predict the likelihood of a person developing the disease. In the magistracy of institutions studying the means of renewable energy and once came up with a small lamp, working from the sun. About three million people in the country own mobile phones, but since electricity outages in the DPRK are not uncommon, many use solar-powered batteries.

In 2011, the Pyongyang University began to hold international conferences. That year, researcher Robert Shelton had to give a speech: he was asked to say a few positive words about the Kimov family before announcing the results of his research. Despite the request, the scientist reacted positively to the North Korean colleagues in the hall: he was interested in working with them.

“Contrary to the restrictions that may confuse Western researchers, North Korean scientists have achieved some success,” – wrote Shelton in a report on scientific cooperation with North Korea. With his help, he hoped to attract more European and American specialists into the country.

However, in the current situation it is very difficult. In September 2017, the United States banned its residents from traveling to the DPRK. The law was a reaction to the death of the American Otto Wombiera, who had been in a North Korean prison for a year and a half and died on arrival at home. Looking at the current state of affairs, Shelton sees no prospects for creating cooperation between the United States and, possibly, one of its main enemies.

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