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Professor Yong Sik Ok becomes the first Korean President of the International Society of Trace Element Biogeochemistry (ISTEB), a Prestigious Global Society

Elected during its flagship conference in Germany, Professor Ok will serve a two-year term as president of ISTEB, beginning in 2024

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Prof. Yong Sik Ok, ISTEB President-elect


Prof. Yong Sik Ok was elected President of the International Society of Trace Element Biogeochemistry at the 16th International Conference on the Biogeochemistry of Trace Elements held in Wuppertal, Germany. 

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Credit: Professor Yong Sik Ok

Founded in Austria in 1999, the International Society of Trace Element Biogeochemistry (ISTEB) is a non-profit scientific organization of scientists and professionals who are interested in trace elements and key minerals research. The organization advances research on trace element biogeochemistry mainly through its flagship conference, the International Conference on the Biogeochemistry of Trace Elements or “ICOBTE,” which is held biannually. The ICOBTE is a world-renowned conference on trace elements, including key minerals such as cobalt, nickel, and manganese.

The highest governing body of the ISTEB, the Executive Board, is headed by the President of ISTEB, who also serves as its Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The Executive Board members and the President are chosen for a term of 2 years. At the 16th edition of ICOBTE, which was held in Wuppertal in Germany, Professor Yong Sik Ok was chosen as the next president of ISTEB. Professor Ok will assume office on the 1st of January 2024, thereby becoming the first Korean to serve as president of the society. 

Professor Yong Sik Ok is the HCR Professor and Director at Korea University in Seoul. He is primarily interested in developing cutting-edge waste management strategies and sustainable technologies to reduce the environmental impact of pollution. He is a renowned and highly accomplished scientist and the only person to have been a Highly Cited Researcher (HCR) in three separate research fields—Environment and Ecology, Engineering, and Biology and Biochemistry in 2022, according to Web of Science. Professor Ok wears many hats in an administrative capacity. He is the Director of the Sustainable Waste Management Program for the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU), which is co-chaired with Prof. William Mitch from Stanford University. He is also the President of the International ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) Association (IESGA).

The ISTEB has held international conferences every two years in Taiwan (1993), France (1995), the United States (1997), Austria (1999), Canada (2001), Sweden (2003), Australia (2005), China (2007), Mexico (2009), Italy (2011), the United States (2013), Japan (2015), Switzerland (2017), and China (2019).

The 16th International ICOBTE conference (Chair: Prof. Jörg Rinklebe) in Germany was a joint affair with the 21st International Conference of Heavy Metals (ICHMET), which was attended by many renowned scientists and professionals from around the world. The event had a number of symbolic meanings, not least because it was held in Wuppertal, a former mining center and was patronized by the German Federal Minister of Education and Research, Bettina Stark-Watzinger. It also attracted international attention with the presence of Hendrik Wüst, Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, and Professor Uwe Schneidewind, Lord Major of the Wuppertal City Council.

The ICOBTE seeks to advance our understanding of the movement and accumulation of trace elements across many levels in the ecosystem, such as soils, sediments, plants, water, air, organisms, and humans. Trace elements (metals and metalloids) play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy mineral composition in the environment. However, the mineral balance can be affected by natural processes like volcanic eruptions and, to a much greater degree, by human activities such as mining, smelting, electroplating, wastewater discharge, deposition of industrial fumes, etc.

Exposure to high amounts of trace elements can negatively affect the health of humans and the environment. Therefore, the discussions hosted by ICOBTE assume vital importance at a time when pollution and environmental degradation are at their peak. With Professor Ok, a researcher with considerable experience tackling pollution, at its helm, the ISTEB will have able guidance in hosting and directing critical conversations on the effects of pollution and trace elements on our environment. 

The World Congress also announced that the 2025 ICOBTE-ICHMET will be held in Seoul.

As a world-renowned scholar in the field of sustainability and environmental studies, Prof. Yong Sik Ok is expected to further enhance the research capabilities and position of Korean scholars through this important role. Meanwhile, the International ESG Association (IESGA) and APRU Sustainable Waste Management Program will host the 6th International Conference on ESG Management and Sustainability at Korea University in November, where IUCN Director General and ISTEB President Prof. Jörg Rinklebe will participate in an in-depth discussion of various practical implications related to the environment and sustainability.

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