2016: Brinda Malhotra

Brinda Malhotra
Carnegie Mellon University
Sophomore, Mechanical Engineering
Expected Graduation: May 2018
Host Lab in Japan: Takeuchi Lab, Toyota Technological Institute
Research Project Abstract and Poster: The Effects of Ag on the Thermoelectric Properties of Higher Manganese SilicideAdobe_PDF_file_icon_24x24

Why Nakatani RIES?
The Nakatani RIES Fellowship is an opportunity for me to diversify both personally and professionally. I will gain international experience that I have never had before. In the past, traveling abroad has either been a vacation or a family-related affair, but this time it would be 100% on my own and for myself. It would be long enough to have a lasting emotional and intellectual impact on me. This opportunity relates to my overall undergraduate education because it will complement what I am learning in the class room. For instance, it will provide me with a chance to work in an esteemed lab on a project focused on practical applications of Nanotechnology. It will teach me how research is conducted to address real-world problems. I hope to learn skills to succeed in a research environment. I believe that any aspiring researcher in engineering and physics would benefit from this experience.

For me, the challenges and opportunities offered by the Nakatani RIES Fellowship are to: (1) gain an in depth understanding of Nanotechnology and its applications in automotive and aerospace industries; (2) learn Japanese language, culture and customs; and (3) learn the process of applied research by completing immersing myself into it for 3 months.

Goals for the Summer

  • Network with fellow students conducting research as well as with mentors and superiors
  • Learn about the Japanese language, culture, and customs
  • Try all kinds of new foods both in Texas and in Japan (I am known to be a picky eater sometimes but want to change this)
  • Gain knowledge and insights into the world of nanotechnology
  • Travel and see places in Japan

Meaning of Nakatani RIES Fellowship: Post-Program
I have so many new people and gained connections that are far stronger and everlasting than I could have ever imagined. At first, I thought this experience would strictly be based around the research I conducted and the results I would gain from this research, but now I realize that the whole study abroad experience means so much more to me.

Research Internship Overview
My research was based around the idea of thermoelectric materials and the thermoelectric effect, the idea that you could essentially apply heat or a temperature gradient around a system, use this to create electron flow and thus an electrical current. I was told to create bulk samples of both n-type and p-type materials, the former containing an excess of electrons and the latter containing a deficiency of electrons. However, creating bulk samples of both materials was quite difficult. We found that adding a slight amount of Ag to both the compounds for n-type and p-type materials made it plausible to create bulk samples of both the material compounds. We were, however, concerned that this may negatively affect the thermoelectric properties and parameters of the material, namely the figure of merit or ZT of the compounds. Therefore, our project basically involved the creation of both n-type and p-type samples both containing and not containing Ag. We then tested the different materials properties of each sample to see if the addition of Ag was a worthwhile action or if it simply degraded the desirable properties of the materials.

Excerpts from Brinda’s Weekly Reports

Week 01: Arrival in Japan

My initial reactions to Japan are quite varied. I immediately feel very comfortable around people here, for they are quite welcoming and polite. Even as a foreigner with little to no experience regarding Japanese culture and language, I still feel like I can connect and be understood by the locals within Japan.

Prior to arriving in Japan, I did research about its customs and culture as well as day to day behavior and activities. I learned basics, but a couple of things that I did manage to grasp that also stood out to me regarded the politeness and high regard for treating guests with the utmost respect as well as the cleanliness of the entire country, including more urban areas like the city of Tokyo where I am currently staying. I immediately felt that these two aspects about living in Japan greatly applied once I stepped off of the plane in Narita. In the airport and at the Sanuki Club hotel alone, I was greeted with much joy and appreciation by the Nakatani Foundation staff as well as by the hotel employees, and I immediately felt comfortable with where I would be staying for the following three weeks. The staff and hotel employees also asked many thoughtful questions, knowing we were foreigners, in order to ensure our comfort and make sure we had our bearings together. I am aware that the employees and foundation had obligations to take care of me and the other 13 selected members, but I genuinely felt at home with these people even though I had just met them.

Eating On Steps Outside Tokyo Station - Submitted by Brinda Malhotra
Eating On Steps Outside Tokyo Station – Submitted by Brinda Malhotra

Some things that did surprise me, however, was the size of and efficiency in general regarding all sorts of things around the country in general. The Japanese use their space and time with maximum efficiency and allocate work and effort in such a way that renders maximum results. For instance, I noticed that many of the convenience stores and restaurants while still producing great profit, generally do not take up much space. They will also often times merely be shoved into tiny vacancies in some building or a corner between 2 streets. I really appreciate the Japanese morale to make the most of the space given and not waste any additional land on big stores like in the United States, and this really took me by surprise. I also noticed, especially in busy areas such as the train station or the airport, people have a set system for moving up and down escalators. People not walking in Tokyo while on one automatically move to the left and allow those walking or running up to move on the right side. This is much more convenient and practical than in the United States. While this system is more pragmatic, I had originally been so used to the United States, so this still took me by surprise.

I am learning a lot in my language classes. Some tactics that are working for me in these classes are having the professors speak Japanese to me and the other students even while we are not necessarily doing an exercise or activity. Another tactic that is working out for me is the activities themselves and how they are carried out. The professors guide us through the activities and exercises, but they are primarily carries out in such a way that the students interact together to elicit maximum understanding and results.

The Introduction to Japanese culture and Society Seminar talks are very informative and helpful, especially as a foreigner in this country. I learned about the basics regarding how to interact with strangers such as not staring, for this can be considered offensive. I also learned about how to interact in public areas such as not being too loud in places such as trains and restaurants. We were also informed of past incidents where students may have offended others or acted incorrectly for reference.

We also spoke to some Japanese students regarding the United States presidential debate, and I learned that they have many afflictions against Donald Trump. We also learned about some of the business transactions that would be at risk if he were to get elected, I found it interesting looking at the presidential debate from another country’s point of view.

Question of the Week
A question that I have regarding Japanese culture would be about their outlook on nature and whether it is valued as both important in religion and in life within Japan?

Introduction to Science & Engineering Seminar Overview
The Intro to Science and Engineering Lectures and Lab Tours that we experienced this week were very informative. I found that I learned some interesting material regarding the research I will be doing this summer in a couple of weeks on Thermoelectric Materials. I honestly was only able to understand a little bit of the material covered over the last week’s presentations, but I still gained a lot of insight into how much of the topics covered may relate to the things I will be studying and researching this summer. I also found that much of the material covered will also relate to some of the works my fellow Nakatani peers will be studying and how it relates to their fields of study whether it is theoretical, related to production or analysis or anything else, and I found this quite interesting as well.

Initial Research Project Overview
I will be studying thermoelectric materials. Thermoelectric materials can turn a temperature difference into electricity by using the flow of electrons. They can theoretically turn waste heat into a power source. An efficient thermoelectric material has to conduct electricity well without conducting heat well, because the temperature across the material would equalize, and this material would become futile. Most materials that are good electrical conductors are also good thermal conductors. In order to be a good thermoelectric, materials must have high electrical conductivity and low thermal conductivity which is rare. The extent to which electrons flow from a hot area to a cold one in an applied temperature gradient is determined by the Seebeck coefficient or thermopower. In order for a thermoelectric to establish a large voltage while in a temperature gradient, its thermal conductivity must be low. This means that when one side is made hot, the other side is cold. Low thermal conductivity can be achieved by creating nanoscale features such as particles, wires or interfaces in bulk semiconductor materials. These nanoscale features lower the thermal conductivity of the semiconductor and do not affect their strong electrical properties. The efficiency of thermoelectric materials is found with the “figure of merit” z. A large z is important in creating an efficient thermoelectric generator.

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Week 02: Trip to Akita

Akita Weekend Trip - Submitted by Brinda Malhotra
Akita Weekend Trip – Submitted by Brinda Malhotra

While visiting Akita last weekend, I experienced many things that I had never seen or heard of before this trip. Some particular things that stood out to me the most were the trip to Lake Tazawa, bathing in the natural onsen we stayed in and the overall experience of living with the Japanese students over the entirety of the weekend trip. These specific aspects of the trip had the greatest impacts on me because they presented great opportunities to really immerse myself within the unique Japanese culture and distinguishing aspects of Akita.

The weekend spent at the Ryokan was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. First off, living with people who I had never met before in a place I had never traveled to or lived in before lends to being such a unique experience. I really enjoyed meeting the Japanese students and discussing their culture and pastimes at night with them during the weekends. This in particular made the biggest impact on me. I was particularly intrigued hearing about their experiences as college students in Japan and comparing and contrasting those to my own thoughts as an American student. I thought it was so interesting that other students going through such a similar life experience and even studying similar or related material in college could go through such a different overall experience in their learning. I feel as if Japanese students may even in fact handle the stress culture of college better than American students even with their esteemed work ethic and technological advancements.

Discussion With the KIP and Akita students - Brinda Malhotra
Discussion With the KIP and Akita students – Brinda Malhotra

Overall, I found that, through experience with talking to some of the locals and people at the hotel as well as the students, people are very modest, tending to stray away from self-centered wording or topics. For example, people tend not to use words or phrasing that specifically talks about themselves. Instead I felt that many of the students and adults would ask me questions about my own experiences with the Nakatani Foundation or as a college student. I also found that Japanese people are very particular about habitual customs such as greeting and goodbyes for example. Every time I am greeted in the same three ways with the same phrases and both sides of a conversation say thank you after any kind of confrontation, even those with someone such as a cashier at a convenient store. I feel like these behaviors and cultural values reflect the focus on modestly in Japanese culture very well.

Exploring a Samurai House in Akita - Brinda Malhotra
Exploring a Samurai House in Akita – Brinda Malhotra

The biggest challenge of this trip for me was the onsen experience. For one, I am not used to public bathing and secondly, I had only just met most of the other students that I bathed with over the weekend which made the experience a little awkward at first. However, once I got to the onsen and experienced it for myself, I let go of all my prior judgments or reservations about the idea, accepted it as a part of the Japanese culture and did the best I possibly could to enjoy the experience. The hot water in the onsen made it very easy to relax, and the tranquility of the night simply augmented the whole experience altogether. I even learned some fun facts about the onsen during my experience. There are minerals within the onsen that apparently help with the cleansing process, and it is said that some of these minerals even help deal with certain ailments such as back pain.

I learned just how well the Japanese treat their guests this past weekend in Akita. Every member at the hotel, the students as well as mere people who I interacted with for only a few moments all equally took care of and helped me out in Akita in terms of both learning and becoming acclimated to the new environment way out there.

Week 2 Overview

Taiko Drumming - Brinda Malhotra
Taiko Drumming – Brinda Malhotra

My favorite experience this past week was our group venture out to do Taiko drumming. I learned very much about a Japanese custom and even got to experience it first hand for myself with the other Nakatani members. For about an hour, we learned different drumming routines, and by the end of the session, we were able to piece together all of the routines into a complex and enjoyable musical sequence that lasted for a couple of minutes. Our teacher even gave us his own performance at the end of the session which was quite impressive.

My Japanese classes are going quite well. We are carrying out more activities to help us learn, and we have started to learn Katakana. My writing in Japanese with both Hiragana and Katakana has made great advancements over the past week as well.

Question of the Week
One question I have at the end of this week about Japan is how prominent children’s cartoons, books and other such products play a part in a child’s upbringing and moral development the way they seem to in the United States?

  • Most bookstores in Japan have an extensive children’s book section and you may notice children reading books on the subway when they are commuting to/from school. You can often find popular American children’s books translated into Japanese, often with the English below, and these can make a great gift for any younger siblings or cousins you may have back home. You may want to ask the KIP students or your labmates in Nagoya what their favorite children’s books or folktales/stories were to gain more insight on this question.

Introduction to Science & Engineering Seminar Overview
I found the Introduction to Science and Engineering lectures quite intriguing this week. I found the topic of how our work relates to research within Japan quite interesting. I always like to hear about how I may be contributing to a greater cause. I would like to learn more about what other research topics are being studied by Japanese students at some of the universities the Nakatani RIES Fellows are going to be working at this summer.

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Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences

Tokyo Skytree - Brinda Malhotra
Tokyo Skytree – Brinda Malhotra

I have noticed that people in general are very quiet during every part of the day while on public transportation. People are also quite okay with sitting next to strangers on public transportation just so long as there is space to sit down. There is no awkwardness involved in such a situation. People are also quite polite when it comes to boarding and leaving public transportation. I have noticed that people with wait for passengers to leave a train before boarding as to avoid chaos of any kind. I have not found that there is any distinction or change in these rules depending on time of day or the number of travelers.

There is no loud phone usage during any part of the day. People will often browse or listen to music with their phones, but they will never do anything such as having or making a call that others will hear while on public transportation. Typically, people are polite to make space for one another, and they engage in quiet activities or none at all while on public transportation. People do not talk loudly to others at all while on public transportation.

There do not seem to be different rules or norms for issues such as politeness and appropriateness. Overall, I have found that Japanese people are very nice and polite to one another and to foreigners, so I do not believe that the etiquette on public transportation is much different. The only thing I can think of is that people do not make a spectacle out of greeting, saying goodbye or having much of any sort of conversation while on public transportation at all.

People are much quieter overall in Japan. They are also much more efficient in terms of boarding and leaving a vehicle while on public transportation. There is also no awkwardness with sitting next to strangers so long as there is enough space.

I feel like Japanese culture reflects more modesty and politeness overall when in comparison to American culture. People’s feelings are well accounted for regularly when taking any sort of action. One Japanese core value that is reflected while on subways is harmony. The quietness and efficiency of boarding and leaving a subway train constantly maintains this notion of harmony.

Week Three Overview

I particularly enjoyed the very last talk we had with the Japanese students regarding the human genome project and what it can be used to accomplish. We learned of the recent accomplishments of this project and how it has recently been used to raise an embryo for at least 14 days for the first time in history which I found quite remarkable. We also discussed some topics related to science ethics and how to carry through with research in this area, which I found quite intriguing.

This week of language classes also went very well. We continued to utilize the tools of games and exercises in class to help us learn Japanese properly. At the end of the week, on our last class, each of the Nakatani RIES Fellows gave a speech lasting between 2 or 3 minutes to exemplify the knowledge we had learned throughout the 3 weeks of language classes.

Question of the Week
One question I have about Japan or Japanese culture is, “What is the stress culture like for Japanese students around my age in high school and college? Is it better or worse than that of students in the United States?”

  • This is a great question to ask the KIP students or perhaps the students you will meet in your lab at Nagoaya. What do they think of the Japanese education system overall and did they find high school or college more stressful?  To learn more, see the “Education in Japan” section on the Life in Japan resources page.

Intro to Science & Engineering Seminar Overview
This week, we had a seminar with Professor Jonathan Bird regarding and integrated circuits as well as the prospect of grapheme being used to replace silicon in transistors and why this is so. I found the slides containing physical representations and drawings of the material discussed quite helpful and insightful in terms of understanding this difficult material discussed. I would want to know if there is a possibility of creating an alloy of graphene with another material to help replace silicon in transistors and compensate for its own setbacks.
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Week 04: First Week at Research Lab

Visiting Nagoya TV tower in Nagoya - Brinda Malhotra
Visiting Nagoya TV tower in Nagoya – Brinda Malhotra

My first day in the Takeuchi Lab at the Toyota Technological Institute was great. One of the other lab members who is a graduate student at the Toyota Institute of Technology was very accommodating and walked me over to the lab. He, along with other members of the university also gave me a full campus tour. Meeting all the other lab members and my professor was also very great. Everyone was very kind and showed a lot of excitement when greeting me. I was included in my very first lab meeting the first day I was there where the other lab members introduced their research and discussed the work they were going to be doing the following week. This is a regular procedure for every Monday morning, and it felt great to be included in lab routines on the first day itself. They also walked me over as a group to the cafeteria for lunch and even helped me with ordering. It is somewhat normal for everyone in the lab to walk over to the cafeteria and eat lunch together at around 11am or 12pm. I really appreciated how close they all are with one another, and I already felt as if I had a group that I could confide in right off the bat, which was quite comforting. I even got invited to hang out with some of the other lab members later on in the week to eat and to Despite being very busy himself, he put time aside in his day to ask me how I was doing and even help me plan a couple of events to participate in around campus in the upcoming weeks including meeting other people and going out into some parts of Nagoya. I was also interviewed by a couple of other students of the university. They told me that they were very excited to meet an American student who would be doing research over the summer at their school. Their excitement and intrigue really felt heartwarming. I already felt as if I had made friends at the school even though I had just arrived the day before. Overall, I really like the university. It is a small yet convenient campus, and the people here are very kind and eager to help.

Lizuka Takuya is my mentor in the lab right now. He is very nice and helpful. The first day, he picked me up from the train station and took me out to lunch to eat ramen. He walked took me to a supermarket to grab groceries and gave me many recommendations regarding what to buy based on healthiness and price as well as from his own personal experience. He also gave me a brief rundown of the campus layout, including the lab the day before my official tour around campus, and I found this very helpful. Luckily, we live nearby, so I can also confide in him again if I need any kind of help. Later on in the week, he showed me briefly some of the work he is doing in the lab along with some of the laboratory procedures he performs to carry out his experiment. The other lab members are much like my lab mentor, kind and helpful. They are all very excited about an American undergraduate students doing research abroad with them this summer. They have all reached out to me, letting me know that they are available regarding any kind of questions or concerns. Some of the other lab members have also showed me the work they are doing in the lab and have also explained their own personal research in order to give me a better idea of the lab equipment and what kind of work I will be doing in this particular lab.

My Japanese is quite limited. I have only been learning Japanese for a limited amount of time. However, this is not quite an issue for me because all the other students in the lab speak very good English, so my limited ability to speak Japanese will not negatively affect my ability to work effectively. While being given tours around the lab and being introduced to some of the complex equipment that will be used throughout the summer, I was able to very effectively understand what my other lab mates were saying even while throwing around numerous scientific terms and ideas. My professor in the lab has been also giving me routine morning lectures that last between 1 and 2 hours. Even while explaining some very tough scientific theories and properties, I am able to understand him and communicate with him quite effectively. In fact, some of the other students working in the lab are also from other countries outside of Japan including France and India. Two of the other students, who are Indian, were actually very excited to see me when I arrived. One even recognized me being Indian simply by hearing my last name which I thought was quite cool.

I walk to my lab every day. It is about a 5 or 10 minute walk. My housing is great. I live in the guest housing for researchers in one of the university’s main dorm houses. The dorm house is very new and clean as well as accommodating. It contains areas to work, play instruments if I so choose, cook and simply hang out. My room is also great. It is very large. It contains a bathroom, living room, a kitchen, and a shower area along with a place to sleep. It is so much more than I could have asked for, and I am very thankful for it. It is also very easy to have wifi access, and I can clean my room very quickly with the vacuum that has been provided. My floor is pretty quiet as well, so I am never bothered by other people being loud in their rooms or outside.

So far, I have not been able to begin working on my research project. I know I am working on thermoelectric materials which I have done some research on, but the specific project along with its goal have not yet been decided. My professor told me that the goals and specific project will be decided upon next week. Right now, he is trying to introduce me to more useful material that may help in the future with my project, and the other members of the lab are guiding me through by showing me their own work, for mine may well be related to theirs, so I can confide in them and their research in the future if I need any help. The material I am dealing with here is quite advanced, so I actually believe this to be the best course of action.

Overview of Orientation Program
Personally I found the orientation program to be helpful in some ways and quite tedious in other ways.  I do believe that I would have thrived better in the orientation program with a bit more free time and freedom to myself in the afternoon and evenings after the language classes. Sometimes after the day was over and I finally had free time to myself, I was too tired to go out and do anything fun or memorable. Some of the best experiences I had wile in Tokyo involved being left to choose what to do with my own day whether it was eating out with my friends, visiting specific sites throughout Tokyo, going shopping or simply just exploring the city. I do overall believe that the orientation program was helpful. It helped me understand Japanese language and culture better through experience, but I just believe that the time spent doing organized things could have been a little bit less and therefore allocated better towards having more free time and freedom to explore Japan on our own. After all, we are going to be quite independent for the remainder of and most of the trip this summer, so building independence skills in a foreign country would be considerably useful.

I found the interaction between people of different positions to be quite useful to learn. Through personal experience I learned just how to interact with people of different occupations and stature, but I also learned that Japanese people are very understanding when it comes to having difficulty communicating due to being a foreigner. They are very patient when it comes to foreign interaction, and they often times are very excited to hear foreigners attempt to speak in Japanese, even if it is a mere sentence. At first, when I was just learning Japanese, I had some restraints on speaking Japanese due to fear of sounding clueless or silly. But I actually learned about myself that I have quite the growing interest in learning foreign languages, even outside of Japanese. I also learned, on quite the unrelated note, that I also have a passion for ramen, sumo wrestling, Taiko drumming, green tea flavored products, Japanese ice cream as well as Japanese anime. I am not sure how long or how seriously I will continue to explore these other aspects that have peaked my interest, but for now I find them quite enjoyable anywhere that I have visited in Japan where they are present. In fact, my professor and I are going to be attending a sumo tournament together next month once I arrive back from the mid-program meeting in Kyoto.

I have learned quite a bit with the AJALT teaching we received for the last 3 weeks before arriving in Nagoya. I can now manage the basics when it comes to the essentials and day to day conversations which is actually quite a bit. I have goals to fluently remember both hiragana and katakana by the end of this program, for I still have a little bit of trouble with those, and I would like to expand my vocabulary range and oral skills.

Question of the Week
What is typical breakfast food for a college student or any kinds of younger person living by himself or herself? I have gone out numerous times to numerous places for both lunch and dinner, but I am still having trouble grasping what normal breakfast food is outside of the perception is have gained from eating Sanuki club food for the past 3 weeks.

  • This  is a great question to ask your labmates!  You’ll probably get a variety of answers as what to eat for breakfast is usually a pretty personal preference and likely depends a great deal on whether the student lives alone or still lives with their family.

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Week 05: Critical Incident Analysis – Life in Japan

One example that comes to mind is the discussion the Nakatani Foundation had with the Japanese students regarding the upcoming presidential election and particularly Donald Trump. I remember particularly touching upon the fact that Donald Trump would, in my opinion, not be a good president if he were to be elected primarily based on the fact that he is both xenophobic and homophobic, and fails to see others fairly unless they meet his standards for what is good or acceptable. I observed that this point had little effect on some of the Japanese students that I was having this discussion with, and they seemed a bit more focused on the Japanese- American business relations that would be severed if he were to be elected president. I was slightly surprised by the fact that our viewpoints, although in agreement with not wanting Donald Trump to be president, were based on such different arguments, and I found this quite interesting.

I believe that what caused both me and the Japanese students to act so differently was based around the fact that we were solely giving our opinions based around what was both related to us and represented our country. In my opinion, it was in my best interest to portray the fact that a president shouldn’t be so hateful and subjective when it comes to people’s life choices and points of view, and in the case of the Japanese students, it was in their best interest to touch upon the fact that Japan is such an industrial country in which political and economic choices can have such a huge impact on the outcome of the entire country. Therefore, it was in their best interest to argue that he would not be and good president due to his likelihood to ruin the political and economic ties with Japan.

I realized that there was a different point of view between me and the Japanese students when they started clearly focusing more on the politics of the situation rather than taking about much else. I, rather than provoking an argument with the Japanese students, simply waited for them to finish their side of the argument so as to get a better understanding of their point of view. The Japanese students granted me the same privilege when listening to my opinions of Donald Trump as well. The situation resolved itself without any issues. They, as well as I simply lend more of our attention to certain issues over others based on our own unique lifestyles and beliefs, and this is completely fine. It does not mean that we cannot all agree with and understand one another.

I came to the understanding that while the Japanese students did not focus as much on the social issues that Donald Trump would provide as a president, it does not mean that they do not care about them; it simply means that these students have other ideas and issues that draw more of their attention and are more vital to both them and their country which I totally understand now.

Question of the Week
What sort of activities are common on the weekends for younger people such as teenagers or college undergraduate students in Japan? In what ways is the social culture in Japan both similar and different to that within the United States?

Research Project Update

Working with my labmates. ~ Brinda Malhotra
Working with my labmates. ~ Brinda Malhotra

My research involves the investigation into the effects of Ag on the thermoelectric properties of higher manganese silicide and the development of a high performance thermoelectric device. I am conducting this project with two graduate students who help me and overlook the entire process. The incentive of all of this is to create n-type and P-type material. Manganese silicide compounds are used to create such materials, but what the other researchers in my lab have found is that the ratio of such a compound can change just a bit and still be effective. In fact, other elements can even be added into this compound to make it work even better, but we have found that Antimony cannot be added into other compounds. So far, at this moment, I am creating different compounds of slightly different structure, testing on them and tabulating their material properties such as density and specific heat using the apparatus in the lab I am working in. Some advantages we have dealt with so far is that Mn and Si are both very cheap materials, but some other elements that we are adding into the compounds such as Rhenium are quite expensive. Rhenium for instance is only about 2% of most of the compounds that have been synthesized and tested on, and it is still far more expensive than any of the other, far more abundant elements introduced into the compounds. An overview of the whole situation is that recently a big problem arose where the samples or compounds containing W and Ta showed good thermoelectric properties and cheaper material costs, but they also showed a lower crystallization temperature. This lower crystallization temperature prevented me and my other lab mates from obtaining bulk samples of the material, which was the whole incentive of this project because these bulk samples need to be tabulated and tested upon. The lower crystallization temperature prevented bulk samples from being produced because precipitation of the solid solution samples would occur at too low a temperature.

This week when creating the compounds, a process which involves many steps including mixing the different elements, grinding them into fine powder, using an arc furnace to melt them together into a pellet and then cutting and sintering the pellet into fine pieces to be tested upon, I had a couple of setbacks. One was when I was melting the elements together into a pellet. The pellet while melting got contaminated because a component of the machine that was not supposed to touch it did. I also by mistake spilled the powdered elements after mixing them for 30 minutes on the ground later on in the week while making another pellet,

Arc Melting ~ Brinda Malhotra
Arc Melting ~ Brinda Malhotra

and I had to start the entire process over again. However, by the end of the week I was able to finish the entire process correctly for 2 pellets, and when we tested these pellets, we found that they were fit for the job of making the module at the end of the project. The pellets will be used to resemble both n-type and P-type materials for the module based upon the 2 types of chemical compounds used to compose them. Next week, I am going to continue making both n-type and P-type pellets for my project, so that we can finish making the module in a few weeks.

So far, everything that has been discussed and carried out this week has been made quite clear to me. I have a good idea of what I am going to do for my presentation in Kyoto, and I understand the work that I will be carrying out next week as well as well as the function and point of all the projects I have done so far and will continue to do in the future. Therefore, I do not have any pressing research questions for your U.S. co-advisor so far, but I will be sure to ask if anything comes up that is unclear of confuses me.

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Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting

Outside of my research, over the past couple of weekends, I have both become a member an attended a badminton club about 45 minutes by subway away from where I live. This club takes place well within the city, and the travel to go to practice exposes me very much to the city of Nagoya and what it has to offer. I think that immediately becoming part of a group or club and traveling the way I have is quite the accomplishment because I means that I am making a lot out of my time here rather than simply just focusing on my research.

My biggest personal challenge up to this point in Nagoya and in Tokyo has been dealing with directions around the areas that I live in, whether it be around the Sanuki club or near the university dorm that I am currently living in within Nagoya. Particularly in Nagoya, I live in a very residential area, and I find it quite difficult to figure my way out of that area in order to get to the grocery store or to a restaurant near my dorm. Finally, last week I was able to figure out my way navigating out of the area I live in to get to the busier, local area where I can shop, dine and enjoy myself with friends.

I am progressing quite well with my research. My lab mates and I have developed an effective method to make the samples for our P-type and n-type samples. Making each sample individually takes about an entire day. We need to develop about 20 samples, so this is quite a bit of work. However, my lab mates and I have developed an effective method where we split up the work so that each and every single person mainly focuses on the steps or methods that he or she is most comfortable and good at. This way, we reduce the amount the amount of time and stress required to complete this whole process. This week, we have finished about 10 samples, making us halfway through the process. Before I leave for Kyoto, we should be done with all 20 of the samples, putting me right on track for the timeline in terms of finishing the project appropriately in order to carry out my research. Aside from a few setbacks due to personal mistakes in the lab, which can be accounted and compensated for, I do not have any issues with my research that anyone needs to be made aware of. My powerpoint presentation is coming along quote well for Kyoto, and I look forward to presenting it next week.

There are no other issues that I would like to discuss during the Mid-Program Meeting that are related to the success of the rest of my summer in Japan, but I will be sure to reach out to someone if need be and something arises that is urgent.

Working with my labmates. ~ Brinda Malhotra
Working with my labmates. ~ Brinda Malhotra

Question of the Week
What is the Japanese pop culture like in Japan? Do artists such as these have the same stature or amount of influence as pop artists in the United States?

Research Update
Next week, I will finish making the samples for the n-type and P-type samples in order to finish my module for my project. This week, we have gotten through about half of the samples needed for our project. There were no major setbacks. I learned a lot from the mistakes I made in the lab last week when preparing a couple of my first samples, and so I haven’t made any big mistakes like those this past week, which I great because it saves quite a lot of time for me. As I said earlier, this week I simply tries to finish and did successfully finish about half of the samples needed in a couple of weeks to prepare my module. As of right now, I do not have any pressing research questions for my U.S. co-advisor, but I will be sure to reach out for help if something should come up that requires another person’s attention.

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Week 07: Overview of Mid-Program Meeting & Research Host Lab Visit

Malhotra, Brinda_Week 07_Kyoto
In Kyoto ~ Brinda Malhotra

I saw my other Nakatani members and friends. I got to hear about how their experiences in the lab were going and the projects they were doing and carrying out which was both intriguing and exciting for me. I was in Kyoto for the Mid- Program Meeting, and I was privileged enough to experience the well renowned historical aspects of the city for myself. We got to visit both shrines and temples around the city and I also did quite a bit of souvenir shopping as well for my family. I also bought some crackers and snacks for my lab mates, and I was very happy when I realized how much they enjoyed their gifts.

The most impactful part of the trip for me was definitely the shrine visit we had on the second to last day in Kyoto. One of the people who helped organize the trip has actually had familial cultural ties to the specific shrine for quite some time, so, as a result, we got to experience the shrine in a very special way, gaining access and experience to parts of the shrine that were typically restricted to other visitors. I also really enjoyed the tea ceremony on the same day. The meticulous nature of the whole ceremony gave me a whole new appreciation for Japanese culture and it was very humbling to have been able to experience this for myself.

I expected a very cultural experience when I visited Kyoto, and this is exactly what I got. The main attractions of the trip were primarily based around cultural connections. This trip gave me a new appreciation for Japanese culture, for prior in the trip, I had not had much time to think about the history and ceremonial nature that is deeply rooted in Japan even today.

The biggest challenge of this trip for me was probably returning back briefly to showering with others in the bath house. I am not used to being this exposed physically around other people, and in the past, I have not been very comfortable with the idea of it either. However, I dealt with it by embracing the modestly and humbleness of Japanese culture. I accepted the fact that I am in Japan, and I let this nature become a part of myself, and after that, showering around other people was not as daunting as it had been before.

I learned from some of the other members of the Nakatani Foundation about dealing with lab situations. A lot of the other members talked about how they were having a tough time communicating with their lab in terms of effectively receiving work and having a planned out schedule. Some people complained about how they may have felt that they were not able to use their time in the lab to its fullest potential. Although I feel as if I have dealt with downtime in my lab quite effectively, whether it be by exercising or doing other work, I learned new techniques and ways to approach other people in my lab from my mentors of the foundation, who provided great insight on how to handle these kinds of situations. I feel that, now since I am back in Nagoya, I will be able to use this new knowledge to maximize the productivity of my time usage when both in and out of the lab, thus making the whole experience more effective and thus enjoyable.

I actually believe that my lab visit went very smoothly. I was able to effectively explain the concepts of thermoelectric materials to the members of the Nakatani Foundation when they came to visit me. Not only that, but I was also able to also explain the processes as well as the machines to other people. I not only understood how to use the machines properly but also how to explain their functions effectively. I have always believed that the best way to learn something is to properly explain it to other people. After this experience, I learned that I may actually have a good future in the realm of teaching, and I may in fact look for a job in being a TA at Carnegie Mellon later on in my college career.

Question of the Week
How are typical Japanese classrooms taught, and what is the workload like for each lecture or class that college students are expected to take in order to obtain a degree?

  • You may want to review the ‘Education in Japan’ section on the Life in Japan Resources page for more on how education in Japan compares to that in the U.S.  This is also a great topic to discuss further with your Nakatani RIES Japanese Fellows when you are all together in Tokyo and in Houston at the end of the summer.

Research Update
Describe your work in your research lab and/or on your project this week.  What worked? Were there any setbacks or difficulties with your project? What will you do next week? Do you have any pressing research questions for your U.S. co-advisor?

This week, I was only able to attend my lab for a day on Thursday when the lab visit took place. This is because I arrived home in Nagoya very late on Wednesday night due to the planning of the Mid-program meeting. On Thursday, I was mostly occupied explaining the work I had done. However, I did get started successfully creating a new pellet, and I got as far as the Arc Melting process which I completed. I was not able to go to the lab on Friday because the president of the college I am working at, Toyota Technological Institute, had planned for me to go on a cultural excursion with other American students who were at TTI for a brief weekend visit. I will be sure to resume my lab work next week and inform you of any necessary details.
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Week 08: Research in Japan vs. Research in the U.S.

Sumo tournament in Nagoya ~ Brinda Malhotra
Sumo tournament in Nagoya ~ Brinda Malhotra

There are not particularly any strict rules between the different lab mates. However, it is imperative that our professor be addressed with the utmost respect and regard. People address each other with “san” and everyone is friends in our lab, so interaction is quite normal and easy going. Everyone has his or her own lab desk and even a lab locker to put stuff in at the end of the day, so belongings do not need to be lugged around too much. There is even a desk for keeping gifts, typically food, once someone returns back to the lab from a short excursion or break, and it is allowed for anyone to grab food or snacks from this desk. Coffee materials are also shared amongst people within the lab as well. We all also have a tacit agreement that on Fridays right before everyone is about to leave before he or she goes home, we all help one another clean up the lab together. I like how this process works so effectively without anyone bossing one another around or arguing with one another about the messiness of the lab or work areas.


I believe that the work I am doing compares quite well with what I was informed of during the orientation program and what my alumni mentor shared with me. I am both doing work behind a desk, creating eloquent results and presentations while also getting my hands dirty in the lab and learning how to use some pretty complex equipment, and I believe that the proper balance I have between these two is what makes this lab experience so great.

I believe proper understanding and honest work is valued in academic research in Japan, and I believe that this aligns quite well with the same values in the United States which makes them both such great places to do research in.

I have never done big lab work in the United States. I have only done literature review but not a serious and big lab project such as the one I am completing this summer. I have, however, taken classes that require us to do smaller labs relating to more theoretical concepts used to consolidate knowledge, but the equipment is much simpler to use than the one I am using her in Japan. I believe that the virtue of teamwork is emphasized a lot more in Japan, and I can see this though both my own interactions as well as my lab results that I have gained this summer.

One time, I accidentally forgot to clean my lab equipment after I was done. I had been working in the lab for a very long time that day and had been very frustrated with my results as well. At the end of the day, I was both exhausted and slightly irritated with my day’s work. When I arrived back the next day, I had remembered that I had forgotten to clean the Arc Melting machine, and so I rushed over to clean it properly. Once I arrived at the machine, it was spotless. Nobody had criticized me or even told who had completed my job for me. It was as if my lab mates were simply very understanding and also looking out for me. This was very comforting, and I have loved this experience as a result of situations such as this one.

Question of the Week
Is it ever appropriate to wear a yukata or kimono to work if the weather presents itself quite nicely on a particular day? I was just wondering after we got our own yukatas what it would be like to wear them in public and how bizarre it might be to see someone with one in the lab.

  • Yukata are tradditional summer attire in Japan and are often worn when visiting an onsen town or to summer festivals or hanabi (fireworks) matsuri.  If you’ve made friends with any female students at your host university or in your lab, ask them if there are any upcoming festivals or events in Nagoya that you could wear your yukata to.  They may even want to join you!

Research Project Update
This week, I have cut a sample using the process I displayed last week for the lab visit. I also measured out the components of a compound, mixed the compound and used the arc melting machine for the compound as well. Along with all of this, I am learning to effectively use the liquid quenching machine with one of my lab mates. After this, I use a ball milling machine and SPS to create an ingot. At the end of this experiment, I need 8 ingots in total to be made, 4 for n-type materials and 4 for p-type materials. Before this week began, I had already created 2 ingots, so 6 more must be created and tested upon by the end of my time here at the Toyota Technological Institute. This should give me plenty of time to finish my project comfortably and effectively.

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Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning

Monkey spotted while hiking. ~ Brinda Malhotra
Monkey spotted while hiking. ~ Brinda Malhotra

I thought that the language classes at the beginning of the internship for the first 3 weeks were very insightful. They taught us new material through activities and games, helping us interact with more real life situations, so we would know how to better apply our Japanese language skills. However, I am alone here in Nagoya in relation to all the other Nakatani students. Everyone in my lab, including my professor speaks English quite well, so I have been speaking to them in English, and this has been working out quite fine. Speaking to someone in Japanese using science terms, in my opinion, is as difficult as it gets when learning a new language and trying to apply it. I have made only a little headway in terms of discussing such topics in Japanese with my research lab and professor.

My most challenging linguistic experience since I have been in Japan was definitely when I got lost in the subway coming back from Kyoto to Nagoya. I was alone, and I had to ask complete strangers, some of whom couldn’t speak Japanese very well how to get back to the Toyota Technological Institute. Eventually, I was able to get into contact with my professor and find a way back safely. This was a very scary incidence for me, but I learned that it is always good to have somebody to contact in case of a situation like this, and luckily I did.

I have been quite caught up with my lab work, so my further studying of Japanese has been quite limited, but I am learning very much about Thermoelectric Materials and the lab that I am currently working in. I am learning a lot about some of the other projects going on in my lab right now, and this is helping me learn a lot about the different equipment and apparatus being used in the lab, including the ones not necessarily being used for my project alone. I love learning more and more about these kinds of topics. Right now as a college student, I am simply trying my best to soak up as much knowledge about Thermoelectric materials during this summer internship, so I have enough information to talk about and learn once I get back home.

I realize that being able to speak to others in a different language is quite the privilege. The excitement I see on someone’s face when he or she discovers that I am simply not just some clueless foreigner but that I actually know a bit of Japanese is so rewarding for me. When I reach back home, I will try and learn a bit more Japanese in my down time. I actually have a couple of friends back at Carnegie Mellon University, who are Japanese, and they can probably help me learn a bit more as well. I may also try and take a basic class at Carnegie Mellon to help me learn a bit more Japanese as well.

Testing Material Properties ~ Brinda Malhotra
Testing Material Properties ~ Brinda Malhotra

Question of the Week
What are people’s opinions based on different locations and financial situations around Japan regarding the very recent election that took place?

Research Update
This week, I have done liquid quenching on n-type materials. I have finished 2 samples, and now I need 2 more samples for p-type to finish my project. I plan on making those samples sometime next week. I have also carried out ball milling and spark plasma sintering for the 2 n-type samples that I have made in order to finish producing them. Also, once I am done making the products, I must also learn how to test upon them for material properties such as conductivity, thickness and density. I am learning how to use the materials in the lab to do this, and I have tested upon the 2 p-type materials in the lab successfully this week.

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Week 10: Interview with Japanese Researcher

My lab mentor ~ Brinda Malhotra
My lab mentor ~ Brinda Malhotra

Takuya Iizuka, my mentor, has a degree in Material Science Engineering. He has received a Ph.D. He decided to study this field of engineering because he enjoys science because it makes sense and it is logical. If there is an unknown phenomenon, it can be solved and explained somehow using science. He chose material science studies because he would like to use this knowledge to apply in his own life and in the lives of those around him. He wants to use his skills in the field of thermoelectric materials, for instance, to improve cars and the lives of those using these vehicles. Being a student in Japan is less challenging in terms of opportunities in relation to other countries. Almost all Japanese high school students end up going to some sort of university. He believes, overall, that most high school students are allowed an opportunity to study at some university later on in their lives. He would like to pursue life with an academic career, preferably as a professor sometime in the future. He is in fact inspired by our own sensei and Professor overlooking our lab.

He has not studied in a lab within the US, so he cannot contrast this with one in Japan. However, his work environment at the Toyota Technological Institute consists of a lot of expensive equipment, so he is very lucky. Everything around him is available. He has full control over his schedule and the progress of the experiment he is carrying out. There are few deadlines or rules he has to follow. The lab is quite laid back. People in the lab are helpful with one another, especially in this particular laboratory. The people in this laboratory come from many different fields of study, amount of experience and all over the world. He is very thankful for this opportunity and believes that this lab is even better than most professional laboratories elsewhere.

When he was a student at other universities, he attended numerous international conferences. Some of these took place in Korea, Germany and Switzerland. After finishing his Ph.D as a post-doc, he went to Germany for 2 ½ years by himself where he studied optical conductivity. In Germany, there is a special technique to measure low energy conductivity. He did this to gain further insight in his field of study. Aside from myself, there are 3 other international researchers working in this lab. Two are from India and one is from France. One Chinese post-doc will join within a few months. They have impacted the research work a lot. All of the weekly seminars are now in English. All the Japanese students are now learning much more English than ever before and are constantly applying their knowledge of the language regularly in the lab. Sometimes the hard work of the international students is very impressive or inspiring for Takuya and some of the other Japanese students. Witnessing the work ethics of other people from different countries is often very intriguing. Sometimes, the lab has barbeques on the weekend, and the international students will often times bring their own ethnicity’s food, which is very tasteful and enjoyable for the other students.

In terms of the U.S., he is interested to know about the structure of universities in the United States. In Japan, students have a very structured curriculum where they automatically go from year 1 to year 2 to year 3 and then to year 4 after taking the necessary classes. He is interested in learning about some of the opportunities that US students have such as taking gap years to study abroad, summer research study or internship, transferring, switching majors, retaking classes and graduating in more than 4 years. He also would like to know when and how I decided upon majoring in engineering growing up. He entered into science and engineering in college as well and was wondering how our interests in our fields of study were similar and different from one another. He is also wondering if the research scientific community amongst universities in the US can get involved with the military service and to what extent and in what situations this may or may not take place. In Japan, the researchers in universities cannot get involved with the military service under any circumstances.

Question of the Week
How involved are Japanese people when it comes to sports or sports entertainment and general interest? How does this compare and contrast to the situation in the United States?

  • This is a great question to ask your labmates, what is their favorite sport to follow/watch or what team/player is their favorite? Most people in Japan have a favorite baseball team and if you haven’t already been to a baseball game in Japan this is definitely a fun experience you might want to try.  Also, sumo wrestlers can be stars in their own right with commercial or media careers after they retire.  Japan’s soccer team is also regularly a contender in the World Cup and, like in most countries worldwide, it seems like the whole country follows the tournament when it is being played. Similar to the U.S. and other countries, you’ll likely find a mix of people who are passionate about sports – particularly their favorite sport, those who follow major sporting events like the World Cup or Olympics, and those who really aren’t very interested in following any sport. See Sports in Japan for more information or check out the Japan Times Sports News page to see what is trending now.

Research Update

I have finished my project. I finished preparing the last 2 samples that were p-type HMS materials. I used the liquid quenching, ball milling and spark plasma sintering techniques to finish off these last 2 pellets. Now I just need to finish comparing the results of my tests that were made on both the n-type and p-type materials and continue putting together my research presentation. I do not have any current questions for my U.S. co-advisor, but I will be sure to ask any if any should arise.
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Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab

One time, I was unaware of how punctual the Japanese expect each other to be. I had made a meeting with my professor at 10 AM one morning when I first arrived in Nagoya. He was going to give me one of his routine morning lectures that he gave me for about a week or two when I first arrived in Nagoya to better help me understand the material I would be studying.

When I arrived in the lab area, I stopped by his office, and I heard and realized that he was actually on a phone call with someone. There was about 3 or 4 minutes before our scheduled meeting, so I figured he would be running a little late. His office is actually right next to the lab area in which I work, so I went right next door, set up my work space with my laptop and my notebook. I did some routine things that I tend to do every morning such as check and respond to my emails.

I decided to wait a couple extra minutes past 10 AM before walking into his office because I figured he’d be running late, so I decided to give him some space. However, at exactly 10 AM sharp, he arrived in the lab area where I work and informed me that we had scheduled a meeting. He was exactly on time which I did not expect, but he is very polite and was not mad or irritated at the fact that I had not yet arrived in his office. I actually think he believed that I had forgotten about the meeting when it had been quite the opposite. I told him of the whole situation afterwards, and he simply laughed informing me that he’d planned everything exactly so that we would be able to meet on time.

Despite his busy schedule and the large expectations of him, I feel like he has his whole life and work planned out just perfectly so that everything falls into place very well which I personally find very impressive. I learned, from there on out, never to underestimate the timeliness and punctuality of those in Japan, especially of someone of such high and respectable stature.

Question of the Week
What is the significance or reason for the Japanese typically using stamps instead of signatures written in pen at the end of a document or paper? My professor actually informed me of this and gave me my own personalized stamp that he purchased for me a few days ago.

Research Project Update
Now since we have finished the project’s physical part in terms of preparing the samples, I just have to finish testing upon all the materials of the n-type and p-type samples. I don’t currently have any question for my US co-advisor, but I will be sure to reach out if I do. I have started my poster presentation and am really excited for the final product.

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Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab

Receiving my TTI hat and jacket as gifts from my lab. ~ Brinda Malhotra
Receiving my TTI hat and jacket as gifts from my lab. ~ Brinda Malhotra

What has changed the most about your perceptions and attitudes towards Japan?
I believe that what has changed most for me about my perceptions and attitudes towards Japan is mainly in regards to my perceptions of the work ethic. I thought people in Japan would mostly just work and not allow enough time for fun and other activities or leisure. However, especially after getting to know both my lab mates as well as my professor here at TTI, I have found that people do also know how to have fun out here in Japan. I realized that my own misconception was due to the simple fact that I perceive fun in a certain way coming from a suburban town in Massachusetts and going to a college with thousands or other people. I perceive fun to involve some relatively packed social gathering on the weekends whereas people in Japan are far more modest about how they spend their time, but they still do enjoy themselves regularly. Having the barbeques with my fellow lab mates and professor made me realize this. While they were small and quiet gatherings, we still enjoyed each other’s company and were able to distress together while talking about many topics such as sports, books and even some of the research we were doing in Nagoya.

What has changed the most about your perceptions and attitudes towards the US?
After experiencing Japan for the past 3 months, I have come to realize just how wasteful the US is of many things including its space, recyclables and many other amenities. I cannot even begin to explain how awestruck I was by how efficient the Japanese are with their space, money, time and effort. My outlook on Japan is that it stresses quality over quantity, a mantra I have been repeating and explain to both family and friends back home as they ask me what Japan is like.

What has changed, if anything, about you personally? Are you different in any way from when you first came to Japan?
I have come to appreciate my opportunities as a privileged college student in the US a lot more, thanks to this opportunity. Had I not been going to Carnegie Mellon University, I may never even have heard of this opportunity and I would have never applied and ended up here. At first when I came here, I was not really sure what to expect and I think I may have even been a bit unaware of how great this summer would end up being. However, as I began to tell friends and family around the world how I would be spending my summer, they immediately would rejoice and congratulate me; with awe and even envy at times. Oddly enough, it was the little nuanced moments like this over the phone and through email and Skype that I began to realize just how lucky I really was. As my research began to unfold, I started learning so much in the lab and gaining so much insight into what I want to do not only next summer for an internship but also with the rest of my life. I have already seriously started contacting some companies that I am interested in working for next summer, and many contacts of mine have shown much delight with the fact that I am studying out here in Japan and have been for the past couple of months which is great.

Eating lunch with some lab mates. ~ Brinda Malhotra
Eating lunch with some lab mates. ~ Brinda Malhotra

What were the most common daily frustrations you experienced with living in Japan? What did you learn from these experiences?
I did at times become a little frustrated with my situation out here in Nagoya, particularly because I am isolated from all the other US Nakatani members, but this has taught me to put myself out there more, which I have successfully done, as I have built close connections with all my lab mates as well as other students here at TTI. We have done activities together including eating out, going shopping together, visiting shrines, hiking, going and experiencing the late night atmosphere in Nagoya’s city district as well as some spontaneous adventures planned last second but still very rewarding.

What will you miss most about living and working in Japan?
I really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere that my lab had. We did not have anyone eying us like a hawk, but the people in my lab including myself all worked very hard. It was a sort of tacit understanding that although we were not under many regulations or guidelines, a lot was still expected from us, and we never failed to deliver when our professor asks for something. My lab mates also inspire me quite a bit as well. Their hard work in the lab is almost always imminent, and I have come to find myself working harder than ever due to simply being around them and being inspired by them. I also really like how our lab’s professor has a way of being very insightful and critical of our work including presentations lab work and other forms of assessment with saying things in a way that can be perceived as rude. Oftentimes, with my experience dealing with US professors, it is hard not to be offended by the wording or tone of voice a person of higher stature uses with you when criticizing my work. Sometimes I leave feeling ashamed, offended or even embarrassed, but I have found that with my experience in Japan, I am void of any such feelings when discussing my work with my

Conveyer belt sushi. ~ Brinda Malhotra
Conveyer belt sushi. ~ Brinda Malhotra

professor even when we both know that I have made a mistake.

How did this experience affect your attitudes towards academic research and your career goals?
I have really come to appreciate and take the research process a lot more seriously here at TTI in Nagoya, Japan. I had never before done any lab research that directly corresponded to producing a poster presentation before in my life; and this experience has taught me to do that both effectively and properly. My previous impression of research mostly involved simply learning topics out of books and from the internet and slapping them together in a more cohesive and concise presentation need it be a powerpoint or a written report. However, this experience has taught me that I cannot do this. Rather I had to pace myself with my work throughout the summer, planning out the experiments I would be doing each week, and prepare for any kinds of setbacks. Then and only then would I be able to even consider doing my lab abstract and poster presentation. I actually remember, at one point, not even being able to finish my poster because I had not yet completed my experiment and garnered up all the lab results. This made me realize the importance of carrying through each step of the process rather than skipping to the end to complete the assignment.

Describe your final week in the lab.
We actually have quite a funny event planned for my going away party. As I reached the end of this interview, I have realized that, despite some of my previous comments, I have missed the US quite a bit. Aside from the generic response that I miss my family and friends, I actually have to admit that I miss some of the fast food chains, especially those that sell pizza. A couple of days ago, I asked someone to order pizza for me from Pizza Hut because I was missing this kind of food from the US. I had previously tried to order it over the phone because the restaurant is too far away for me, and I had trouble because I could not understand what the person on the other end of the line was saying at all. He was speaking fluently and much too quickly for me to comprehend what he was saying. This actually happened quite a few times to me. So, after realizing my longing for the US and its food, my lab mates decided to throw a surprise pizza party for me the day before I planned to leave Nagoya to reunite with the Nakatani Foundation members which I found both very thoughtful and funny.

I have arranged to say goodbye by individually thanking each of my lab mates. As I have mentioned earlier, we have a kind of desk where we put all of our gifts for one another, and I am going to buy some food for my lab mates. I had planned on buying some food for them which I will bring to our pizza party.

How did you close out your research project and do you plan to remain in contact with your research group and/or host?
I closed my research project effectively. I got solid input from my lab mates and professor. I have also made sure to give my resume out to my professor and a couple other contacts around the university to help with networking and in case I want to return back to Japan for more work possibly next summer. I do plan on staying in contact with my research group and host. I have also done a lot of social network connecting via Facebook as well to stay in touch with my fellow lab mates. I have also exchanged my email and phone number with both my lab professor as well as my lab mates. I do plan on continuing this kind of research, possibly through some sort of automotive internship next summer. I have also mentioned to many other prospective employers about the research work I have done here to appeal to them as a potential employee.

What are your plans for your final weekend in Japan?
I want to spend my final weekend with my fellow Nakatani members. I am not entirely sure what I will do once I arrive back whether it be climbing Mount Fuji or simply hanging out around Tokyo, but either way, I look very forward to it.

Question of the Week
Is the arcading and gaming atmosphere here used as a sort of stress relief for working class people, or is it merely a pastime that has become very popular around the country?

2016 U.S. Fellow Brinda Malhotra (Carnegie Mellon Univ.) presenting on the research she did in the Takeuchi Lab at the Toyota Technological Institute in Nagoya.
2016 U.S. Fellow Brinda Malhotra (Carnegie Mellon Univ.) presenting on the research she did in the Takeuchi Lab at the Toyota Technological Institute in Nagoya.

Final Research Project Update
Research Project Abstract and Poster: The Effects of Ag on the Thermoelectric Properties of Higher Manganese SilicideAdobe_PDF_file_icon_24x24
Host Lab in Japan: Takeuchi Lab, Toyota Technological Institute
Mentors: Takeuchi-sensei or Tsunehiro Takeuchi, Iizuka Takuya

Introduction: The objective of this project is to investigate the effects of Ag on the thermoelectric properties of higher manganese silicide and to develop a high performance thermoelectric device. This is to be achieved by creating both n- type and P-type bulk materials to create thermoelectric modules used for testing. We also want to develop thermoelectric materials with high ZT values consisting of cheap and environmental friendly elements. The samples containing W and Ta have good thermoelectric properties and have cheaper material costs, but they have lower crystallization temperature resulting in unwanted precipitate. This prevents us from obtaining bulk samples. It was found that slight amounts of Ag work as a sort of “glue” and help us obtain bulk samples with lower temperature sintering, the pressure used to heat and make bulk samples.

Approach: The process of this project involved measuring out and mixing both n-type and p-type compounds, pressing them together to form a firm compound, arc melting the material together as one, cutting the sample, using liquid quenching to create fine metal strands, mixing Ag with the compound, using spark plasma sintering and them finally testing out the compound for criteria such as the Seebeck coefficient, thermal and electrical conductivity as well as the figure of merit, ZT.

Results: We found that adding even a little bit of Ag changes many of the material properties, and this helps to create bulk samples without the materials precipitating which is a huge success.

Discussion: Adding Ag helps to both create bulk materials as well as increase the figure or merit, ZT, for both n-type and p-type materials.

Future Research: The next step for this project would have been and still are, even though I am leaving very soon, to create enough n-type and p-type pellets to later create a low scale but still effective thermoelectric module.

Conclusion: I have learned very much about thermoelectric materials and their properties throughout my research this summer. Not only have I conducted lab experiments that have numerous times been successful and complete failures, but I have also read and researched a lot of past reports and poster presentations made by people in my lab to better understand the internationally competitive work and research that is being conducted here at TTI.

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Week 13: Final Report

Symbol on Nakatani shirt. ~ Brinda Malhotra
Symbol on Nakatani shirt. ~ Brinda Malhotra

The Re-entry program in Houston was very helpful. I gained lots of insight prior to the poster presentation that helped me a lot with gaining new insight into what it was that I had learned over the summer about how to explain it to others. I really liked the hotel we stayed at as well. It was very spacious and provided us with lots of activities to do with the Japanese fellows such as going out for lunch or dinner. It was also very accommodating as well, and I particularly enjoyed the free breakfasts they provided to us every morning. I draw comfort in knowing that the Japanese fellows will be staying there for the bulk of their research, and I believe they will enjoy Houston and Rice University very much.

When speaking to a family member, what would you say were the most important things you learned from Nakatani RIES?

The most important thing I learned was, in my opinion, how to interact with Japanese and other foreign people in not only an environment outside my home and comfort zone but also in one that delved into science and technology. Being able to talk to someone else of a different culture and custom is one thing but being able to do it in a different country while discussing scientific topics is a whole new challenge that I was glad I was able to experience this summer.

When speaking to a professor, what would you say were the most important things you learned from Nakatani RIES?

I learned a lot about the Japanese outlook on science and technology, particularly from a women’s perspective, and I also learned about thermoelectric materials as well as their potential to help advance efficiency and performance in the motor vehicle industry. I would also mention what I said earlier about being able to conduct research related to science while also enduring the fact that I was working with people from a different country and culture altogether.

Visiting Odaiba Toyota City Showcase. ~ Brinda Malhotra
Visiting Odaiba Toyota City Showcase. ~ Brinda Malhotra

When speaking to an employer, what would you say were the most important things you learned from Nakatani RIES?

I would mention a combination of my previous 2 answers to an employer. I would particularly delve into the fact that I was one of the only women in my laboratory and was still able to conduct research at a high level with the rest of my lab mates during the summer.

When speaking to a student at your university, what would you say were the most important things you learned from Nakatani RIES?

I would mention perhaps the experiences I gained from sightseeing and visiting places such as Akita, Kamakura, Kyoto, Tokyo as well as Nagoya. I would also mention the fact that while working at my research lab, I had a lot of freedom whether it be related to the time I would come in and out of lab, the places I would visit on the weekend, the amount of money I would spend. I would likely stress how I was able to manage my time and money well for the 3 months I was out in Japan while also conducting very enticing research while also in a foreign country.

I will try and use the many contacts I have been blessed to have made this summer to further network and perhaps gain a position with a company for an internship next summer. I will also try and further study into topics related to thermoelectric materials in the future while also trying to further improve my public speaking and presentation skills which were implemented during the poster presentation. There are already a couple of notes I took down regarding parts of my poster that I could have done differently to improve its academic and aesthetic appeal.

Visiting Odaiba Toyota City Showcase. ~ Brinda Malhotra
Visiting Odaiba Toyota City Showcase. ~ Brinda Malhotra

Follow-on Project
I am planning on joining the American Society for Mechanical Engineers (ASME). A couple of rising juniors have decided to restart this club once again back on our campus. I have a good connection with these students, as they are all a part of my class of rising juniors. I plan on obtaining a high position such as secretary once I am back on campus, and I have actually already applied for this position. Whether or not I get this position, I would like to schedule an information session with the rest of the club, as I still plan on being a part of it regardless.

Here, at the information session, I will hand out fliers and show them some of the work I did while doing research out in Japan. I will show them my weekly reports and give them the URL link to the Nakatani website, so they can look at all the work that the past Nakatani and Nanojapan members have done and become inspired by it. I will also compile a PPT to show them some of the cool adventures I had while out in Japan including the work I did at my lab, visiting cities and temples all over Japan and hanging out with the fellow Nakatani members.

I will also try and appeal to the more cultural and language aspect of working in a foreign county. Some students will be particularly interested in this, as I will mention the language and cultural orientation we underwent while in Tokyo for the first 3 weeks of the trip, and I will also discuss the language classes we all partook while in Tokyo at the beginning of the program.

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Tips for Future Participants

What Gifts to Bring: T-shirts, food, mugs will all work

What to Eat: Miso soup, sushi, fried chicken, ramen, udon noodles, bento box

What to Buy in Japan: 100 yen store gifts, food for friends at home, yukata (maybe), little statues or plates at gift store, souvenir aren’t too expensive

What to Do in Japan: Visit historical places, baseball game, sumo tournament, J-pop concert, shrines, museums, shopping

Places to Visit in Japan: Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, Odiaba, Harajuku, Nara etc.

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