Albert is leading the Valley of the Khans project, a search for the lost tomb of Genghis Khan. After earning his doctorate in Materials Science from the University of California at San Diego, Albert took his explorations out of the classroom. In 2009, he led a National Geographic-funded expedition to a place in Mongolia’s Hentiy Province called Ikh Khorig, known by outsiders as the “Forbidden Zone,” to survey the area and find the Khan’s burial place.

But Albert is not your average Indiana Jones. Using unmanned aerial vehicles, satellite imageryground-penetrating radar, and GPS, he remotely surveyed parts of the Forbidden Zone he couldn’t reach by foot. Back home in the lab at UCSD, he puts on his 3D glasses and explores this data in a virtual reality environment called the StarCAVE.

The satellite imagery and ground-penetrating radar allow Albert to see “deep into the historical record. Looking beneath the land, we can see where a river may have been diverted. Satellite images can help us see patterns that we can’t see from the ground.”

Albert is enthusiastic about the search. “We’re talking about a man who conquered the greatest swath of land in the history of the world. From Mongolia, to China and India, all the way to Europe. His grandson, Kublai Khan, met with Marco Polo. In fact, Marco Polo’s travels were made possible by Genghis Khan [and the trade routes he established].”

EARLY WORK

“I always wanted to be an explorer,” Albert says.

When he was a kid, Albert wanted to be a National Geographic magazine photographer. He wanted to travel and take beautiful photographs of exotic places and the people who lived there. “I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this,” Albert says, “but as a kid, I was totally obsessed with Dances with Wolves.” Like the protagonist of that movie, he wanted to live among indigenous people.

Albert was inspired by Maurizio Seracini. Like Albert, Maurizio Seracini is also an engineer from the University of California at San Diego. Maurizio applies his knowledge of bioengineering to the study of art: using multispectral imaging, he noninvasively analyzes and diagnoses art. Albert realized that he could put his knowledge of technology to work to study history and culture.

“Sometimes, it seems like we are trying to make ourselves obsolete” with all the high-tech gadgets, Albert says. “Using the same skills, I realized I could unveil some aspect of my cultural past.”

“So, I sold everything I had, set up a bed in my car, put my money where my mouth was. I kept repeating to myself that I was going to search for the tomb of Genghis Khan. I just kept saying it, over and over. If you say you’re going to do something, eventually, you will.”

MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

“All of it. I’m living my dream.”

MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

“Nothing. I’m doing what I love.”

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

“We need to think about the fourth dimension of geography: Time. Geographers can study climate change, populations, migration patterns. . . . Geography is more of a palette that has guided human and animal migration.”

GEO-CONNECTION

The Forbidden Zone is near Mongolia’s mountainous northern border with Russia. According to legend, Genghis Khan wished to be buried in these mountains, said to be his birthplace. After his death in 1227, a small group of zealous supporters were assigned to guard the sacred area and forbid any outsiders from entering. The area has only been open to some exploration for the past few decades.

Albert isn’t quite sure what he will find. “Genghis Khan died in 1227. He died far away from his home. There isn’t likely to be a body. His sons and grandsons were supposedly buried in the same complex. It’s all legends.”

Mongolians have mixed reactions to the search for the tomb of Genghis Khan. Some people remain superstitious. “He’s the greatest shaman who ever lived,” Albert explains, “and they don’t want his spirit disturbed.” When Albert’s team returns to Mongolia, they won’t disrupt the land or potential gravesites with digging. Instead, they will use noninvasive imaging technology to investigate interesting places discovered in the StarCAVE.

SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . RESEARCH SCIENTIST

“What you dream of as a kid, you need to pursue it as an adult. Follow your passion. If we all followed a paycheck, we would lose what makes us human.”

Research Scientist and Engineer: Albert Yu-Min Lin
Albert Lin is a research scientist and engineer.
analyze
Verb

to study in detail.

Noun

layers of gases surrounding a planet or other celestial body.

chemical property
Noun

unique identity of a substance expressed by its type and arrangement of molecules.

Noun

gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet.

divert
Verb

to direct away from a familiar path.

engineer
Noun

person who plans the building of things, such as structures (construction engineer) or substances (chemical engineer).

enthusiastic
Adjective

excited.

exotic
Adjective

foreign or strange.

exploit
Verb

to use or take advantage of for profit.

fourth dimension
Noun

mathematical concept expanding the three physical dimensions of length, width, and height. Time is sometimes considered the fourth dimension.

gadget
Noun

device or work-saving tool.

Genghis Khan
Noun

(1162-1227) founder of the Mongol empire.

ground-penetrating radar
Noun

method of providing an image of an area beneath the surface of the earth, using sound waves.

indigenous culture
Noun

languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods of people who are native to a specific geographic area.

inevitable
Adjective

certain to happen, unavoidable.

Kublai Khan
Noun

(1215-1294) leader of the Mongol Empire and founder of the Yuan dynasty in China.

Noun

the geographic features of a region.

Marco Polo
Noun

(1254-1324) Italian explorer.

materials science
Noun

study of the properties and uses of materials such as glass, plastic, or metal.

Maurizio Seracini
Noun

Italian engineer and art diagnostician.

migration
Noun

movement of a group of people or animals from one place to another.

mineral
Noun

inorganic material that has a characteristic chemical composition and specific crystal structure.

mining
Noun

process of extracting ore from the Earth.

Noun

protection from use.

radar
Noun

(RAdio Detection And Ranging) method of determining the presence and location of an object using radio waves.

ROV
Noun

remotely operated vehicle.

satellite imagery
Noun

photographs of a planet taken by or from a satellite.

shaman
Noun

a religious leader who uses magic to treat illnesses and help followers.

sophisticated
Adjective

knowledgeable or complex.

swath
Noun

path or line of material.

technology
Noun

the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.

tomb
Noun

enclosed burial place.

unveil
Verb

to reveal or decode.

zealous
Adjective

very enthusiastic or obsessive.