When Kyungseok Cho was ordered in 1990 by his boss at Halla Climate Control Corp. to invent a quieter cooling fan for cars, he thought the task would be simple enough.
"I thought it would take about five years," Cho recalls.
It took 14.
In pursuing "homelike" ambience for car cabins, Cho had to reinvent himself as an aerodynamics specialist, then as an acoustics expert. Day in, day out, he obsessively measured airflow over 200 minuscule points on a fan a little wider than a dinner plate.
He discovered previously unknown pressure fluctuations that are a significant source of noise, vibration and harshness. Aiming to tone it down a notch, Cho devised a radically different-looking fan that draws less power, produces less noise and costs less to produce.
His design has transformed the world of automotive cooling systems.
Larger cars previously had to use two small cooling fans instead of one big one because large fans are inherently noisier than small ones. But by slashing the fan's decibel output, South Korean parts supplier Halla has made it possible to get by with only one.
Cho called his breakthrough the wave-blade fan and saw-tooth shroud. PACE judges nicknamed him "Dr. Fan."