Albert Yu-Min Lin’s explorations are groundbreaking, because they never break ground. He uses noninvasive computer based technologies to gather, synthesize, and visualize data without disturbing a blade of grass.
“Exploration has always been about going where we haven’t been able to go before,” Lin notes. “Environmental, cultural, or political obstacles may have prevented us from exploring certain places. Today technology helps us navigate past those old barriers.” For Lin, cutting-edge tools such as satellite imagery, ground-penetrating radar, and remote sensors permit him to make archaeological discoveries while respecting the traditional beliefs of indigenous people.
Today Lin and other researchers from a cross section of fields have at their fingertips a veritable high-tech toy store. It’s called the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2). Created by the University of California to foster interdisciplinary collaboration, it allows Lin to access an unparalleled array of digital 3-D immersive technologies and then link his efforts to those of other scientists.
A case in point is Lin’s search for the tomb of Genghis Khan, a quest that has eluded scientists and historians for centuries. Many Mongolians consider the tomb an extremely sacred place and believe any desecration of it could trigger a curse that would end the world.
“Using traditional archeological methods would be disrespectful to believers," Lin says. "The ability to explore in a noninvasive way lets us try to solve this ancient secret without overstepping cultural barriers. It also allows us to empower Mongolian researchers with tools they might not have access to otherwise. Today’s world still benefits from Genghis Kahn’s ability to connect East with West. He forged international relations that have never been broken. By locating his tomb, we hope to emphasize how important it is for the world to protect such cultural heritage treasures.”
Lin’s passion for exploring and preserving “our collective cultural heritage” was inspired by his last ten adventurous summers spent trekking solo through Pakistan, Cambodia, China, Tibet, Mongolia, and other remote regions.
Pondering the power of new technologies, Lin offers, “Exploration is part of it, but another big aspect is conservation. In many ways technology has created problems for our planet. One of the greatest things we can do is better use these tools to actually give back to the planet—preserving wildlife, cultures, history, and habitats. I think we have to decide why progress is important. Is it just to become faster, better human computers—or to become more human?”
Lin was named Adventurer of the Year last year, and also has been inducted into the Explorers Club.