Albert Lin: From Genghis Khan To Generation T


June 23, 2017 | BY Marianna Cerini

A bionic leg won't stop this modern day explorer


Albert Yu-Min Lin is a 21st-century Indiana Jones—and so much more. He’s explored the remote highlands of Mongolia on a quest for the tomb of Genghis Khan, delved into the Guatemalan jungle to search for long-forgotten Mayan temples, used crowdfunding to finance his inventions, applied technology to his archaeological finds and bounced back from a tragic accident with impressive determination.

For our 2017 Generation T launch party on June 23, Albert Lin will be travelling all the way from the US to give a special keynote speech for our guests. Ahead of his arrival, get to know him a little better as he tells us about the thrill of discovery, his bionic leg and that “aha” moment:

You’re an Emerging Explorer of the National Geographic Society, a serial entrepreneur and a research scientist at the University of California-San Diego (UCSD). How would you summarise what you do?

I think of myself as a person who applies technology to pursue curiosity and tell tatler_stories. From searching the tomb of Genghis Khan to trekking solo through Pakistan, Cambodia, China, Tibet, Mongolia and exploring the jungles of Guatemala, I always look at how I can use cutting-edge tools like satellite imagery, sensors and ground-penetrating radar to discover places in new, more in-depth ways—and to respect the existing environments I work in.


Photo: Courtesy of Albert Lin

What does exploration mean to you?

I think exploration is about two things: science, and how it can be applied to history, and my own mental landscape. By exploring new places or archaeological sites, I also explore my ideas, hopes and fears.

Technology is a major part of the archaeological and investigative work you do for National Geographic and as a UCSD scientist, but it also plays a big role in your life. Were you always drawn to it?

I was—I hold a degree in engineering after all—though I developed a deeper, more personal approach to it after I lost my leg in a car accident last year. Since then, I’ve been looking at how tech is changing the very nature of what it means to be human and redefining boundaries. I now wear a bionic leg, which, in a way, makes me an extension of technology—or, more accurately, part of it. I’m at the interface between body, mind and robotics.


Photo: Courtesy of Albert Lin

How did you get where you are today?

It might sound clichéd, but through hard work and ambition. I've wanted to be part of National Geographic since I was a kid. After I got my PhD in engineering, I asked myself what my real goal in life was, what I really wanted to be. I realised my childhood dream to become an explorer was still there, so I went for it.

I gave myself one year to raise funds for my first project, the Valley of the Khans, which proposed to search for the tomb of the Mongolian ruler and conqueror, applied for grants non-stop and finally was asked to pitch my ideas to National Geographic in Washington DC, where it is headquartered. The rest is history.

What’s your greatest asset?

Positive thinking. I’ve faced a lot of what most people would think of as insurmountable barriers in my career and my private life—trying to get into a place that’s been closed off for 800 years or learning how to walk again after losing my leg—and I’ve realised that the power of positive thinking can literally transform the world you live in.

What motivates you?

That “aha” moment. There’s nothing more exhilarating then making a discovery or getting a new, groundbreaking perspective on something. It’s what has driven human exploration since the very beginning. I’m always looking for that next “aha.” 

What are the projects you’re most attached to?

Hard to say—I’m really quite passionate about everything I do. Perhaps the work I enjoy the most is the kind that makes me feel like a five-year-old again, like anything is possible. 

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in their career?

Write down what your instinct tells you, talk about it and set yourself on a route that commits you to it. Just follow through, really, because it can change the course of your life. It certainly changed mine.