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Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Kyungeun Sung
Sustainable Consumption Research Group
School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
A Review on Upcycling:
Current Body of Literature,
Knowledge Gaps and
a Way Forward
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Table of contents
 Introduction
 Method
 Results
 Discussion and conclusion
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Introduction
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Industrial Upcycling as Improvement of Existing Businesses
Cradle to Cradle Principles:
 Material health: Value materials as
nutrients for safe, continuous cycling
 Material reutilization: Maintain
continuous flows of biological and
technical nutrients
 Renewable energy
 Water stewardship
 Social fairnessSource: www.mbdc.com (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry)
McDonough,
William, and
Michael Braungart.
Cradle to cradle:
Remaking the way
we make things.
MacMillan, 2009.
Towards eco-efficiency + eco-effectiveness (McDonough and Braungart, 2009)
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Industrial Upcycling as a New Business
Tom Szaky.
Outsmart waste:
The modern idea of
garbage and how to
think our way out of
it. Berrett-Koehler
Publishers, 2014
Part of waste management strategy and for sustainable production (Szaky, 2014)
Source: http://www.terracycle.co.uk/en-UK/
Source: http://www.freitag.ch/
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Individual Upcycling as a Lifestyle
Cristin Frank. Living
simple, free &
happy: How to
simplify, declutter
your home, reduce
stress, debt &
waste. Betterway
Books, 2013
A lifestyle of reduction and towards sustainable consumption (Frank, 2013)
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Growing Publications in Upcycling
Google Books search:
 “upcycle” OR “upcycling”
 About 9,290 pages with
overlapping and irrelevant
search items
 After page 31, hardly any
relevant books found 
search stop
 120 out of 310 books were
identified as relevant
 96% (n=115) published
between 2008 and 2014
 62.5% (75) published
between 2012 and 2014
A number of the searched books per year between 1999 and 2015
(from Google Books search conducted in September, 2014 by the author)
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Growing Publications in Upcycling
Google Scholar theses search:
 [“upcycle” OR “upcycling”] AND
[“dissertation” OR “thesis”]
 About 423 pages with
overlapping and irrelevant search
items
 After page 25, hardly any
relevant books found  search
stop
 41 documents are relevant based
on abstracts
 90% (37/41) published between
2009 and 2014
A number of the searched theses per year between 2001 and 2014
(from the theses search on Google Scholar conducted in September, 2014 by the author)
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Aim of the Paper
 Rising interest in upcycling manifested by industrial
interest + increased publication levels
 But no major academic review
 this paper analyses and summarises the current body
of literature on upcycling, focusing on:
 different definitions
 trends in practice
 benefits
 drawbacks and barriers
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Method
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Method
1. Select research questions
2. Select bibliographic databases
3. Apply practical screening criteria including search terms
4. Do the review and synthesise the results
Source: Arlene Fink. Conducting research literature reviews. Sage, 2014
Following the concept and systemic approach of literature review (Fink, 2014)
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Step1: Select research questions
1. What has been the trend in upcycling publication over time?
2. What is the definition of upcycling?
3. What are the trends in practices?
4. What are the known benefits, drawbacks and barriers?
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Step2: Select bibliographic databases
Acknowledging the relative newness of the term, upcycling, a
wide range of major digital academic databases were selected:
 Elsevier
 Emerald
 Google Scholar
 IEEE
 Metapress
 Scopus
 Springer
 Taylor & Francis
 Web of Science
 Wiley
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Step3: Apply practical screening criteria including search terms
1. Search keyword: “upcycle” or “upcycling”
2. Only English publications
3. Including: journal articles, conference proceedings, academic
books and book chapters, research institute reports
4. Excluding: theses, book reviews, editorials, working papers,
self-published books and practical books
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Step4: Review and synthesise the results
1. Search in July, 2014
2. 297 items dating from 1994 to 2014 with overlapping results
3. Removed duplicate results
4. Assessed content relevance by reading abstracts
5. 47 relevant pieces of literature
6. Added 8 highly relevant materials
7. 55 (=n) relevant publications used for descriptive analysis and synthesis
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Results:
Descriptive Analysis
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Descriptive analysis: Trends in Upcycling Publication
(from the literature search conducted in July, 2014)
 N=55
 26 journal articles
 11 conference proceedings
 9 book chapters
 5 books
 3 periodicals
 1 report
 Steady growth between
1994 and 2007
 Rapid growth since 2008
Cumulative frequency of the number of the sampled publications
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Descriptive analysis: Trends in Upcycling Publication
(from the literature search conducted in July, 2014)
 Conceptual papers or books
(36%; n=20)
 Case studies (21%; 12)
 Experimental studies (16%; 9)
 Literature review and document
analysis (13%; 7)
Approaches adopted in the sampled publications
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Descriptive analysis: Trends in Upcycling Publication
(from the literature search conducted in July, 2014)
Subject areas of the sampled publications
 Engineering and technology
(40%; n=22)
 Design (31%; 17)
 Business (16%; 9)
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Descriptive analysis: Trends in Upcycling Publication
(from the literature search conducted in July, 2014)
 Unspecified (29%; 16)
 Fashion and textiles (25%; n=14)
 Plastics recycling (16%; 9)
 Construction (7%; 4)
 Organic waste treatment (5%; 3)
Sampled publications distribution by industrial (sub)/sector
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Descriptive analysis: Trends in Upcycling Publication
(from the literature search conducted in July, 2014)
 USA, UK and Germany take
the lead as single countries
 North America (USA only 44%)
and Europe (42%) are the
main publication regions.
 Asia (11%) and Pacific Islands
(3%) minor roles in
publication
Sampled publication distribution by country
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Results:
Synthesis of the results
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Synthesis of the results: 1. Definitions of Upcycling
1. First recorded use of the term, upcycling: “Recycling, I call it down-cycling.
They smash bricks, they smash everything. What we need is upcycling, where
old products are given more value, not less.” (Pilz, 1994)
2. More popularized used of the term since McDonough and Braungart: “A
technical nutrient is a material or product that is designed to go back in to
the technical cycle, into the industrial metabolism from which it came. […]
Isolating them from biological nutrients allows them to be upcycled rather
than recycled – to retain their high quality in a closed-loop industrial cycle”
(McDonough and Braungart, 2002)
Two most frequently cited definitions
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Synthesis of the results: 1. Definitions of Upcycling
1. Material recovery of which the major aim is to maintain value and quality of
materials safely in their second life and beyond by the improved recycling or
remanufacturing
2. Product (re)creation for higher values and qualities by transforming,
repurposing, or refashioning waste or used materials/products either by
companies or by individuals
(30 with explicit definitions or descriptive statements; 19 implying the meaning
within the context)
Two dominant viewpoints in the sampled publications
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Synthesis of the results: 2. Trends in Upcycling Practices
1. Practices in material recovery emphasise the importance of initial design and
process innovation in companies for higher upcyclability and safety.
2. Practices in product (re)creation with used materials at the individual level
claimed to be deep-rooted collective human behaviours.
3. The commercial perspective of product (re)creation with used materials
recently acknowledged and known scope of new products by upcycling is
broad despite the questionable market potential of most of these product
categories.
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Synthesis of the results: 3. Benefits of Upcycling
Environmental benefits Economic benefits Social benefits
1. Solid waste reduction
and prevention
2. Landfill space saving
3. Raw materials use
reduction
4. Energy use reduction
5. Greenhouse gas
emission reduction
Cost savings and new
profit opportunities for
 Manufacturers
 Entrepreneurs
 Consumers
1. Poverty alleviation in
developing countries
2. Psychological well-
being and socio-
cultural benefits in
developed countries
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Synthesis of the results: 4. Drawbacks and Barriers of Upcycling
Many and varied, depending on the level of the upcycling (industrial vs.
individual), types of industry, and contextual situations (e.g. market dynamics,
regulations and policies, socio-cultural background, etc.)
For industrial upcycling For individuals (consumers, makers, entrepreneurs, etc.)
For example:
1. Possible trade-offs (e.g.
durability/reliability vs. how easy to
disassemble)
2. Immature upcycling streams
3. Inefficiencies in collecting, cleaning,
sorting, homogenising
4. Low awareness and knowledge level
For example:
1. Relatively low-volume solution for waste
reduction/prevention
2. Small current market size
3. Niche status of upcycled products
4. Limited number of consumers who are willing to
separate and clean waste for upcycling purposes
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Discussions &
Conclusion
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Future research areas
1. Comparative study to clarify the fundamental differences/similarities
between upcycling and other similar constructs
2. Case studies of real-life industrial practices in material recovery
3. Historical study on individual upcycling as deep-rooted collective human
behaviours
4. Research into potential of households as a group of sustainable producers
and consumers based on individual upcycling
5. Feasibility and marketability studies focusing on specific industry and product
category
6. … 10.
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Limitations
1. A search results discrepancy on half of the databases: Google
Scholar, Taylor & Francis, IEEE, Elsevier and Emerald (case
sensitive)
2. Keyword-based identification  excluding similar concepts with
different terms such as Cradle to Cradle or Circular Economy
 Cannot claim that the findings can be generalised beyond the
reviewed literature body
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Contributions
 A generic understanding of the neologism, upcycling, and
how it has been understood and practiced
 A number of unexplored avenues worth investigating
Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Thank you!
Any question?
Kyungeun.sung2013@my.ntu.ac.uk
http://kyungeunsung.com/
https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Kyungeun_Sung

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A Review on Upcycling: Current Body of Literature, Knowledge Gaps and a Way Forward

  • 1. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Kyungeun Sung Sustainable Consumption Research Group School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment A Review on Upcycling: Current Body of Literature, Knowledge Gaps and a Way Forward
  • 2. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Table of contents  Introduction  Method  Results  Discussion and conclusion
  • 3. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Introduction
  • 4. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Industrial Upcycling as Improvement of Existing Businesses Cradle to Cradle Principles:  Material health: Value materials as nutrients for safe, continuous cycling  Material reutilization: Maintain continuous flows of biological and technical nutrients  Renewable energy  Water stewardship  Social fairnessSource: www.mbdc.com (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry) McDonough, William, and Michael Braungart. Cradle to cradle: Remaking the way we make things. MacMillan, 2009. Towards eco-efficiency + eco-effectiveness (McDonough and Braungart, 2009)
  • 5. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Industrial Upcycling as a New Business Tom Szaky. Outsmart waste: The modern idea of garbage and how to think our way out of it. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2014 Part of waste management strategy and for sustainable production (Szaky, 2014) Source: http://www.terracycle.co.uk/en-UK/ Source: http://www.freitag.ch/
  • 6. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Individual Upcycling as a Lifestyle Cristin Frank. Living simple, free & happy: How to simplify, declutter your home, reduce stress, debt & waste. Betterway Books, 2013 A lifestyle of reduction and towards sustainable consumption (Frank, 2013)
  • 7. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Growing Publications in Upcycling Google Books search:  “upcycle” OR “upcycling”  About 9,290 pages with overlapping and irrelevant search items  After page 31, hardly any relevant books found  search stop  120 out of 310 books were identified as relevant  96% (n=115) published between 2008 and 2014  62.5% (75) published between 2012 and 2014 A number of the searched books per year between 1999 and 2015 (from Google Books search conducted in September, 2014 by the author)
  • 8. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Growing Publications in Upcycling Google Scholar theses search:  [“upcycle” OR “upcycling”] AND [“dissertation” OR “thesis”]  About 423 pages with overlapping and irrelevant search items  After page 25, hardly any relevant books found  search stop  41 documents are relevant based on abstracts  90% (37/41) published between 2009 and 2014 A number of the searched theses per year between 2001 and 2014 (from the theses search on Google Scholar conducted in September, 2014 by the author)
  • 9. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Aim of the Paper  Rising interest in upcycling manifested by industrial interest + increased publication levels  But no major academic review  this paper analyses and summarises the current body of literature on upcycling, focusing on:  different definitions  trends in practice  benefits  drawbacks and barriers
  • 10. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Method
  • 11. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Method 1. Select research questions 2. Select bibliographic databases 3. Apply practical screening criteria including search terms 4. Do the review and synthesise the results Source: Arlene Fink. Conducting research literature reviews. Sage, 2014 Following the concept and systemic approach of literature review (Fink, 2014)
  • 12. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Step1: Select research questions 1. What has been the trend in upcycling publication over time? 2. What is the definition of upcycling? 3. What are the trends in practices? 4. What are the known benefits, drawbacks and barriers?
  • 13. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Step2: Select bibliographic databases Acknowledging the relative newness of the term, upcycling, a wide range of major digital academic databases were selected:  Elsevier  Emerald  Google Scholar  IEEE  Metapress  Scopus  Springer  Taylor & Francis  Web of Science  Wiley
  • 14. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Step3: Apply practical screening criteria including search terms 1. Search keyword: “upcycle” or “upcycling” 2. Only English publications 3. Including: journal articles, conference proceedings, academic books and book chapters, research institute reports 4. Excluding: theses, book reviews, editorials, working papers, self-published books and practical books
  • 15. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Step4: Review and synthesise the results 1. Search in July, 2014 2. 297 items dating from 1994 to 2014 with overlapping results 3. Removed duplicate results 4. Assessed content relevance by reading abstracts 5. 47 relevant pieces of literature 6. Added 8 highly relevant materials 7. 55 (=n) relevant publications used for descriptive analysis and synthesis
  • 16. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Results: Descriptive Analysis
  • 17. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Descriptive analysis: Trends in Upcycling Publication (from the literature search conducted in July, 2014)  N=55  26 journal articles  11 conference proceedings  9 book chapters  5 books  3 periodicals  1 report  Steady growth between 1994 and 2007  Rapid growth since 2008 Cumulative frequency of the number of the sampled publications
  • 18. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Descriptive analysis: Trends in Upcycling Publication (from the literature search conducted in July, 2014)  Conceptual papers or books (36%; n=20)  Case studies (21%; 12)  Experimental studies (16%; 9)  Literature review and document analysis (13%; 7) Approaches adopted in the sampled publications
  • 19. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Descriptive analysis: Trends in Upcycling Publication (from the literature search conducted in July, 2014) Subject areas of the sampled publications  Engineering and technology (40%; n=22)  Design (31%; 17)  Business (16%; 9)
  • 20. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Descriptive analysis: Trends in Upcycling Publication (from the literature search conducted in July, 2014)  Unspecified (29%; 16)  Fashion and textiles (25%; n=14)  Plastics recycling (16%; 9)  Construction (7%; 4)  Organic waste treatment (5%; 3) Sampled publications distribution by industrial (sub)/sector
  • 21. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Descriptive analysis: Trends in Upcycling Publication (from the literature search conducted in July, 2014)  USA, UK and Germany take the lead as single countries  North America (USA only 44%) and Europe (42%) are the main publication regions.  Asia (11%) and Pacific Islands (3%) minor roles in publication Sampled publication distribution by country
  • 22. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Results: Synthesis of the results
  • 23. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Synthesis of the results: 1. Definitions of Upcycling 1. First recorded use of the term, upcycling: “Recycling, I call it down-cycling. They smash bricks, they smash everything. What we need is upcycling, where old products are given more value, not less.” (Pilz, 1994) 2. More popularized used of the term since McDonough and Braungart: “A technical nutrient is a material or product that is designed to go back in to the technical cycle, into the industrial metabolism from which it came. […] Isolating them from biological nutrients allows them to be upcycled rather than recycled – to retain their high quality in a closed-loop industrial cycle” (McDonough and Braungart, 2002) Two most frequently cited definitions
  • 24. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Synthesis of the results: 1. Definitions of Upcycling 1. Material recovery of which the major aim is to maintain value and quality of materials safely in their second life and beyond by the improved recycling or remanufacturing 2. Product (re)creation for higher values and qualities by transforming, repurposing, or refashioning waste or used materials/products either by companies or by individuals (30 with explicit definitions or descriptive statements; 19 implying the meaning within the context) Two dominant viewpoints in the sampled publications
  • 25. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Synthesis of the results: 2. Trends in Upcycling Practices 1. Practices in material recovery emphasise the importance of initial design and process innovation in companies for higher upcyclability and safety. 2. Practices in product (re)creation with used materials at the individual level claimed to be deep-rooted collective human behaviours. 3. The commercial perspective of product (re)creation with used materials recently acknowledged and known scope of new products by upcycling is broad despite the questionable market potential of most of these product categories.
  • 26. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Synthesis of the results: 3. Benefits of Upcycling Environmental benefits Economic benefits Social benefits 1. Solid waste reduction and prevention 2. Landfill space saving 3. Raw materials use reduction 4. Energy use reduction 5. Greenhouse gas emission reduction Cost savings and new profit opportunities for  Manufacturers  Entrepreneurs  Consumers 1. Poverty alleviation in developing countries 2. Psychological well- being and socio- cultural benefits in developed countries
  • 27. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Synthesis of the results: 4. Drawbacks and Barriers of Upcycling Many and varied, depending on the level of the upcycling (industrial vs. individual), types of industry, and contextual situations (e.g. market dynamics, regulations and policies, socio-cultural background, etc.) For industrial upcycling For individuals (consumers, makers, entrepreneurs, etc.) For example: 1. Possible trade-offs (e.g. durability/reliability vs. how easy to disassemble) 2. Immature upcycling streams 3. Inefficiencies in collecting, cleaning, sorting, homogenising 4. Low awareness and knowledge level For example: 1. Relatively low-volume solution for waste reduction/prevention 2. Small current market size 3. Niche status of upcycled products 4. Limited number of consumers who are willing to separate and clean waste for upcycling purposes
  • 28. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Discussions & Conclusion
  • 29. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Future research areas 1. Comparative study to clarify the fundamental differences/similarities between upcycling and other similar constructs 2. Case studies of real-life industrial practices in material recovery 3. Historical study on individual upcycling as deep-rooted collective human behaviours 4. Research into potential of households as a group of sustainable producers and consumers based on individual upcycling 5. Feasibility and marketability studies focusing on specific industry and product category 6. … 10.
  • 30. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Limitations 1. A search results discrepancy on half of the databases: Google Scholar, Taylor & Francis, IEEE, Elsevier and Emerald (case sensitive) 2. Keyword-based identification  excluding similar concepts with different terms such as Cradle to Cradle or Circular Economy  Cannot claim that the findings can be generalised beyond the reviewed literature body
  • 31. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Contributions  A generic understanding of the neologism, upcycling, and how it has been understood and practiced  A number of unexplored avenues worth investigating
  • 32. Kyungeun Sung, Sustainable Consumption Research Group, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment Thank you! Any question? Kyungeun.sung2013@my.ntu.ac.uk http://kyungeunsung.com/ https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Kyungeun_Sung