Sophomore, Computer Engineering
Expected Graduation: May 2018
Host Lab in Japan: Tonouchi Lab, Osaka University
Research Project Abstract & Poster: Characterization of Carbon Nanotubes by Parallel Plate Waveguide Terahertz Spectroscopy
Why Nakatani RIES?
Studying abroad has always been a goal of mine in college, and Japan has always been a place of special interest to me. I got interested in the unique culture because I am a 4th-generation (yonsei) Japanese-American, and I began studying the language last summer. Studying abroad in Japan, however, seemed like an impossible goal before I heard about the Nakatani RIES Fellowship. It almost seemed like it was made for me. Not only does it give me a chance to go to Japan, but it also lets me be involved with a hands-on project in my field of study. Like many college students, I’ve been searching for a career in my field of study, and I’d been seeking hands-on experience to get a sense of where my degree can take me and what excites me. The Nakatani RIES Fellowship gives me a chance to accomplish so much of what I want out of my college experience all in one summer.
Working in an international laboratory will certainly be a growing experience for me and all the other participants. Not only is it a chance to work with the most advanced technology in the field, but it also gives us exposure to different cultures and ways of thinking that we wouldn’t see in a domestic work experience. The exchange of ideas across cultures is a powerful force in engineering, and I’m glad to have a chance to be a part of it. I could not have asked for a better opportunity this summer.
Goals for the Summer
- Apply what I’ve learned in Japanese classes, and learn to use conversational Japanese comfortably.
- Be able to understand and contribute to the research in the Tonouchi Lab and gain knowledge that I can use when I return to Purdue
- Attend at least one Nippon Professional Baseball game
- Get lost in Japanese culture and explore as much as possible
- Have the best stories to tell to all my nerdy friends back home
Excerpts from Daniel’s Weekly Reports
- Week 01: Arrival in Japan
- Week 02: Trip to Akita
- Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences
- Week 04: First Week at Research Lab
- Week 05: Critical Incident Analysis – Life in Japan
- Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting
- Week 07: Overview of Mid-Program Meeting & Research Host Lab Visit
- Week 08: Research in Japan vs. Research in the U.S.
- Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning
- Week 10: Interview with a Japanese Researcher
- Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab
- Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab
- Week 13: Final Report & Tips for Future Participants
Week 01: Arrival in Japan
When we first landed in Tokyo, my initial reaction wasn’t the big shock I thought it would be. Once we got off the plane and managed to slip through customs, Narita airport felt like any other airport I’d been in. Maybe I was too jet lagged to pick up on cultural differences at this point. Maybe we had just been so well prepared for this that all the things I feared could go wrong felt like nothing in the face of how smoothly we operated. Either way, all I could tell that was different from America was that all the signs were in Japanese (a bit of which I could read) with English on the bottom sometimes, the fact that everyone around us looked Japanese, and some interesting architecture in coastal Tokyo.
But then we got to Azabu-Juban. And we started walking around. And oooooohhhh boy. The only way I can think to describe it is “sensory overload.” Our temporary hometown here has so many small buildings clustered tightly together, so many crowds of people walking around even as it was getting dark, so much Japanese text on bright signs inviting me to places if only I could understand what they were saying! I could feel my jaw dropping further and further as we walked and I was too in shock to do anything about it.
My suburban hometown of Aurora may be near Chicago, but it can’t compare to actually living inside a big city. Especially one as big and bustling as Tokyo. But what really struck me about being in Tokyo was the amount of Japanese everywhere. Or more accurately, the lack of English everywhere. Almost all the writing I see means nothing to me. If someone tries to talk to me, I probably won’t be able to respond to them. If I try to talk to someone else, I can’t expect them to be able to respond to me. This is the most out-of-place I’ve ever felt. I have huge respect now for anyone who’s ever moved to a new country. At least I’m expected not to be perfectly integrated, and I know that I’ll eventually be back to a place I’m familiar with. That doesn’t stop me from exploring, though! Having the rest of the Nakatani-RIES fellows experiencing this with me is a great help. We stick together to survive the big city and understand each other’s culture shock. We also feed off each other’s excitement and find new things to explore, like the amazing ramen shop we ate at on day 1, or the insanely lively neighborhoods of Shinjuku and Akihabara.
Japanese language classes haven’t been too hard for me so far. Most of it has been review of things I’ve already learned, although the review is definitely helpful as Japanese grammar is very hard to keep straight and there’s no way I could remember all the vocabulary I’ve learned. The format of the class is very nice. It’s 4 hours every day but not so rigidly structured, so there’s a lot of time for us to ask questions about grammar structures we don’t know, kanji, words we’ve heard used, etc.
Our 3-person class has a unique dynamic because Roni and I have taken Japanese classes before and know a lot of vocabulary and grammar, whereas Haihao has less Japanese experience but knows the English meaning of almost any Kanji because they’re mostly the same as Chinese. We all learn from each other a lot both in and out of class, and each of us has a unique understanding of language because we’ve all learned different languages growing up. I like how this is an exemplary benefit of the diversity of the Nakatani-RIES group – we all get to learn from each other because we all have different experiences.
This came in handy when a large group of us including Haihao and me took a trip to Shinjuku. Between the two of us, we were able to translate enough Kanji and Kana to navigate our way around, reading the menus of all the local restaurants as we tried to find a place to get dinner. However, after we finally decided on a gyoza restaurant, our group had to split into two tables, with Haihao and me splitting up so we could each help a table with ordering. There was a lot on the menu that I didn’t recognize, and speaking with the waiter was my first time using conversational Japanese in a real-world setting, with added pressure because I had others counting on me to help them out… and we ended up ordering mostly in English. Luckily, our waiter was very friendly and understood enough that with some pointing at the menu and a few interpretations of Japanglish, we were able to get our food with no problem.
What I’ve learned from experiences like this is not to be afraid to ask questions. I don’t typically ask a lot of questions in conversations, even in English. I hate feeling like I’m burdening someone else with my ignorance. However, my experience with Japanese speakers has been that they’re very understanding of someone who is trying to learn, and that’s something that I definitely appreciate.
Sumo time! Entering the stands at the Sumo tournament was another jaw-dropping moment for me. So many people packed into the stadium! And the arena in the middle was beautifully set up with decorations akin to the many shrines we’ve seen around Japan. The sport itself was a little hard to get into at first. There’s a lot of ceremonial preparation before each match, which Packard-san explained is meant to be like the ceremonies performed at a shrine. Then the matches each only last a few seconds, all that buildup to only a short burst of intensity. However, over time I came to appreciate the long buildup of tension before each match, especially as the higher-ranked Sumo wrestlers began entering the ring. Japanese must have an appreciation for this kind of patience for Sumo to remain as popular as it is. I wonder if that same patience applies to baseball and why it is so popular? The slow buildup of tension between pitches as the batter and pitcher stare each other down (I still need to find a day to see a ballgame).
Finally, there was Akihabara. After eating some amazing food that I don’t know the actual name of (beef in a bowl of rice with egg on top. So good), our group decided to wander around looking for a cat café. But while strolling through the electric zoo that is Akiba, we noticed a different kind of place on almost every corner: Maid cafés. I knew they were a thing in Akihabara, but I had no idea they were so prolific. Plus, every one of them had a platoon of cute girls wearing skirts standing outside and trying to hand us flyers. The very idea of maid cafés made most of us uncomfortable, myself included. In fact, when we actually found a cat café on the fourth of a small building filled with a café on each floor, we turned and ran after finding a maid café on the third floor.
Why does this idea seem so weird to us tourists when it’s so popular here? Personally, my problem with them is just how… fake they feel. I don’t want to be served by some girl who’s trying to present this false appearance of a cute maid just because it might be aesthetically pleasing to me. It wouldn’t feel like I was talking to a human. I hate the idea of someone reducing themselves to an image for my pleasure, especially something so superficial. In America, we hear all the time about how terrible it is to objectify someone because it devalues who they really are. Yet in the Akiba district, this idea is totally fine. I believe this is because Japan puts less value on individualism than America. It might be acceptable or even honorable for someone to sacrifice their individuality for a customer’s pleasure. I think Japan’s dependence on social hierarchies also comes into play, and wait staff aren’t meant to be seen as equal to the customers because they put themselves lower in the hierarchy. Maybe this leads to polite, efficient service, but it makes it harder for customers and staff to relate to each other as people. Is that really worth it? Does this same hierarchical system make it more okay to objectify women than men because women are still considered ‘below’ men? Akihabara and I will have to agree to disagree on this one (though I do still want to see a cat café. Cute cats are always good).
Introduction to Science & Engineering Seminar
The scientific content of my research honestly still has me intimidated. Back in Houston, I got to be part of a tour of Kono-sensei’s lab. When the grad student leading us found out I was going to Tonouchi-sensei’s laboratory, he got excited and said that I would be doing experiments very similar to the ones that were set up at Kono’s lab. My response was an awkward “Oh… great…” because I had understood so little of what I’d seen so far. Fortunately, as the tour progressed I started to understand the basics of what spectroscopy is (shooting things with lasers) and the appeal of Terahertz as a field with unexplored applications.
Once we got to Tokyo, Kono-sensei’s lecture on physics helped me understand more as well. What I found most helpful was his explanation of how 2D materials exist. They are materials, such as graphene, that are so small in a one dimension (flat) that they operate on quantum mechanics. 1D and 0D materials are small in more dimensions. I also found his explanation of quantum physics helpful, as I don’t know much about that coming in. And finally, there was his discussion of how this all relates to my major of Computer Engineering. As devices get smaller and smaller, the quantum properties of their materials come into effect, and quantum properties of materials like graphene and carbon nanotubes can be used in devices on the nano scale.
Seeing the labs at Tokyo University was a confidence booster as well. First of all, the projects they had there were just amazing! Most of them could be interacted with directly and had very visible applications. I need to email George Takahashi back at Purdue about the Yamamoto Lab. The Yamamoto projects had a lot of potential to add physical feelings (haptic feedback) to simulations, and George runs the computer simulation lab at Purdue. International dream team, anyone? Anyway, the other benefit of our visit was getting to talk with Japanese research students. All of them were very friendly with us, and most were interested in practicing English with us and helping us learn Japanese. There were also a few international students from the likes of Germany and China who had to learn Japanese when they came over. They seemed very well integrated into the lab community and encouraged us that we would love doing research abroad. The whole experience made me more confident about meeting my lab mates at Osaka University.
Initial Research Project Overview
I’ve been in contact with my lab mentor, Manja, who’s been letting me know about my project. It will be characterizing aligned and non-aligned carbon nanotubes using parallel-plate waveguide terahertz spectroscopy. Well, that was a lot of science-y words at once, so why don’t I break it down a bit? First, carbon nanotubes: these are a 1-Dimensional material made by rolling a sheet of graphene (which is 2-Dimensional) into a very thin tube. Depending on how the tubes are rolled up and gathered into a single wall of nanotubes, they can be metallic or a semiconductor. We’ll be performing spectroscopy on samples of carbon nanotubes in different alignments, which basically means we’ll be shooting them with a laser and analyzing the effects to determine characteristics such as conductivity. The laser will have a frequency in the Terahertz range, which is a frequency range greater than that used by electronics but less than that used by optics, meaning its applications are less known but have a lot of potential. The sample’s absorption of the THz beam can be maximized by placing it inside a parallel plate waveguide, which is a thin tube composed of two plates that can guide the laser smoothly.
Research Paper Summary
In preparation for this research, I’ve been reading Manja’s doctoral dissertation from Osaka University, “Development of a Parallel Plate Waveguide Terahertz Spectroscopy System for the Evaluation of Ultrathin Conductive Films.” In it, he discusses the development of a new method of parallel-plate waveguide spectroscopy. Typical Terahertz time domain spectroscopy is very useful because it can find the conductivity of a sample with little noise interference and without interfering with the sample itself. However, the current method has its drawbacks. When analyzing ultrathin materials, the THz laser only interacts with the material for a very short amount of time. Therefore, very little of the wavelength is absorbed and the properties of the sample material are not very noticeable.
The theory tested was that placing a material inside of a parallel plate waveguide, suspended between the plates and aligned such that the THz beam runs parallel to the flat surface of the material, would absorb the THz beam with a higher sensitivity. This would make it easier to characterize materials that have a lower conductivity where the conventional method would only yield results that are difficult to distinguish from a control result.
The experimental setup used a typical spectroscopy setup, but added a parallel plate waveguide mounted on a moving stage, with the sample suspended inside of the waveguide. This additional piece of the setup was simple to manufacture, meaning the experimental method used can easily be applied to existing THz spectroscopy setups. The setup was first tested using ultrathin gold films, a material with known conductivity, to determine the sensitivity of the setup. It was found that the setup did indeed have a higher sensitivity than the conventional method while still yielding accurate results with little noise. Then the setup was tested on 2-Dimensional graphene. In this case, sensitivity was again higher, this time to the point that the low-conductivity material of graphene yielded a result significantly distinguishable from the control, allowing it to be more confidently characterized.
The conclusion is that using this setup, using a parallel plate waveguide containing a sample suspended between the plates, improved on the shortcomings of traditional spectroscopy while retaining its benefits. The new method finds the same parameters as the old while having a higher sensitivity to allow for characterization of materials with conductivity that differs only slightly from the control. It is easily compatible with any other standard THz spectroscopy system and can be implemented in other labs to run improved experiments using this new method.
Week 02: Trip to Akita
The first thing you need to know about Akita is that there are rice fields everywhere. I mean EVERYWHERE. If you are driving through any populated area in Akita, there will never be a time when you cannot see a rice field nearby. Akita lives and dies by rice. By the end of the trip, just about all of us were getting sick of rice. Even though it did make up most of the amazing food that we ate at the Ryokan. Still, the Ryokan was one of the most amazing travel experiences of my life. The owner was so hospitable to us and gave us generous amounts of delicious (mostly rice-based) food. Using the onsen was an experience that I was looking forward to, but also nervous about for the whole trip. Getting naked along with everyone is weird and awkward, but once everyone just goes ahead and does it, the awkwardness melts away and the water is just very relaxing. We also had Japanese KIP students making sure we didn’t do anything horribly wrong while we were there. They were great guides during our stay and very open to conversation in both English and Japanese.
Donald and I shared a room with Tetsu from KIP. Tetsu was really friendly to us and took the chance to practice his English on us while we tried to use our Japanese on him. The result was a lot of awkward bilingual small talk because that’s the only stuff we’ve learned vocabulary for. Still, the practice was good and Tetsu was understanding of our limited speaking skills. Our other roommate Kiyo, from Akita University, was also a good sport in putting up with our broken Japanese. However, the night he arrived, as soon as he found out I was a computer engineer, he started asking me about drones (after some help from google translate). We ended up having a conversation on how agriculture students at Akita University are interested in using drones on farms to help harvest fruits and how viable that could be. It was a much deeper conversation than I expected with the language barrier between us.
But whether I was discussing the applications of drones in farming, hearing about efforts to revitalize Akita’s agricultural industry, or watching the agricultural high school students’ presentation about how they found solutions to Lake Tazawa’s acidity level (seriously why are these high schoolers so much cooler than us?) my main takeaway was this: There is a lot more to agriculture than just tending to the fields all day, every day. I think this is an experience that not only most visitors to Japan wouldn’t get, but really most Americans in general wouldn’t get. When discussing agriculture’s place in education with our whole big group of students, I had to come to terms with the fact that I don’t get much exposure to agricultural at all. And this is in spite of the fact that I go to a University that is surrounded by cornfields.
I got the chance this week to visit two similar destinations two nights in a row: the Sky Circus at the top of Sunshine City Mall in Ikebukuro and the top of the Tokyo Sky Tree in Oshiage. When I first heard about these places, I wasn’t expecting much beyond simple observatories – A really high spot with a really nice view of Tokyo from above, plus maybe a gift shop. However, as soon as I got to the top floor of Sunshine City Mall, I found that to be far from the case. Sky Circus didn’t just have a great view, it was also packed with technological attractions from dancing lights tricks with mirrors to even a virtual reality tour of the Ikebukuro area from the sky. Sky Tree boasted a similar range of gimmicks such as a big musical performance involving both live players and animations displayed on the windows as well as the Sky Café, where you could purchase some overpriced food to eat while looking out at all of Tokyo.
Admittedly, all these things were cool experiences and I enjoyed them while I was visiting. But in the back of my head, I couldn’t help but classify all these colorful gimmicks and attractions as “things that my dad would hate.” There was something that felt not genuine about the fact that all these random little attractions were being used to draw tourists instead of using the amazing view of the sky observatories (and the views were definitely amazing. Tokyo expands far past the horizon in every direction. It never ends!). Granted, everything was still themed around Tokyo and being high up, but none of it had to be in the observatories. You could put that VR tour or that musical performance in the first floor of any random building and still get mostly the same experience.
I’ve been trying to think of an aspect of Japanese culture that might lead to this kind of commercialized tourist bait being more acceptable in Japan than America, but I can’t come up with any. Maybe it’s a uniquely American idea that causes these thoughts in me. Something to do with our desire for straightforward honesty? Either way, I tried not to let it bother me much while I was there and enjoyed both Sky Circus and the Sky Tree for what they were, both the attractions and the amazing views.
Science lectures are still progressing. I got lucky in that two lectures this week by Professor Stanton and Ishioka-sensei happened to be directly about Terahertz spectroscopy. It gave me some additional insight into how the lab might work. Specifically, I remember understanding how the setup of the labs we saw back at Rice make sense. Mirrors are set up that divide the THz laser into two, a pulse and a probe, with the probe arriving at the sample just after the pulse. The pulse causes a reaction in the sample, and the difference between the response to the pulse and the response to the probe shows how the material changed.
Several more mirrors and lenses can also be set up for purposes such as controlling noise. Noise is caused by things like phonons, which are essentially just the small vibrations caused by heat that are only noticeable at the quantum scale. It is because of phonons that the material must be cooled to extreme low temperatures. In Kono’s lab at Rice, they used liquid helium for this, and I imagine Tonouchi Lab’s procedure will be similar.
To be honest, a lot of the science lecture content still flies over my head. Things like crystal structure and momentum-energy graphs still baffle me. The physics discussed in these lectures makes me worry that I’m somehow not qualified for this research. However, it may just be me being worried. Kono-sensei said in his feedback of last week’s journal that I have a good understanding of my research. Also, “shooting things with lasers” is an acceptable description of spectroscopy. Hooray!
A question that still lingers for me is: how is the information gained in spectroscopy applied to devices? I guess what I need is a layman’s explanation of THz spectroscopy applications. How might I see this research affect everyday life?
Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences
Oh my gosh… writing these is getting hard. There’s just so much happening, all overwhelming my brain, it’s hard to keep track of everything that’s happened throughout the week. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed all that we’ve done in Tokyo, there’s just so dang much of it that when I try to recall everything I kind of get writers block, y’know? If anyone’s here reading through all my journals, maybe you noticed that a bit in the week 2 reflection (and maybe also by the fact that this one is a week late). But this was our last week in Tokyo, so we had to pack in ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING that we wanted to do here into what little time was left.
First was one more trip with the KIP students to Kamakura. I’m so thankful we got to meet the KIP students this summer. This whole time they’ve been friendly, fun, and great guides. They led us around Tsurugaoka-Hachimanju Shrine for some lovely sightseeing (and some delicious melon pan in the shopping center), then brought us to Enoshima Island where we got a quick but beautiful view of Tokyo from afar before we all rushed over to regroup at the Daibutsu before it closed. Truly a great (if tiring) day.
During the week I took a trip to Akihabara on my own to do some shopping and quickly learned that I should never go to Akihabara on my own to do some shopping or else I will drop more Yen than I’m comfortable admitting on a rare video game soundtrack because I’m a nerd. I hadn’t gotten to explore Akiba’s shops that much the last time I was here, and I figured it would be a great place to look for omiyage because all my friends are nerds too. I was right. Too right. There’s just so much STUFF in Akihabara that after visiting Radio Kaikan, Super Potato, and the complete insanity that is the giant Yodobashi Camera, my brain had been fried by all the nerd culture that was screaming at me to buy it. Luckily I managed to show some restraint after the aforementioned soundtrack incident in Radio Kaikan (Okami’s OST is legendary. I regret nothing) and still walked out with some good things to give out back home. Just… never let me do that again. I don’t know if locals are just used to insanity of shopping in places like Akihabara or if the whole district is funded by crazy tourists, but I am not a strong enough shopper to survive there.
Saturday was the official “Oh my god we’re about to leave better do everything NOW!” day of the week. My first order of business on our last free day was actually the first thing anyone suggested for me to do in Japan. My dad told me from the moment I was accepted into Nakatani-RIES that I needed to see Tsukiji Fish Market. It’s being moved to a different location after this year to make way for the Olympic Stadium, so this would be my only chance to see the original market in all its glory. We managed to get a pretty sizeable group of interested people together to go in the morning (though not early enough to see the auction. There was just no way we were going there at 3AM) and strolled through wooden stand after wooden stand of seafood, all the while vendors calling out to us that their food was “おいしいです！“ (Delicious). Although it was in no way high tech, the atmosphere actually reminded me of Akihabara and other shopping districts in Japan. The tightly clustered shops alive with signs and noises beckoning you to come buy something. It seems to be the Japanese way whether you’re selling old electronics or fish fresh from the sea. Fresh fish that made delicious sushi, by the way.
And most important of all: I WENT TO A BASEBALL GAME IN JAPAN — LIFE GOAL ACHIEVED! Big, big shout-out to Shimizu-sensei for giving us a great and entertaining lecture on Japan and America’s baseball relationship and (besides schooling me on baseball trivia) drumming up a ton of interest among the whole group to see a ballgame. I found myself taking responsibility for planning the trip because I was the one who had literally introduced himself to everyone as the guy who wants to see a baseball game in Japan. This included figuring out how to buy tickets on a 7-11 machine with no English option, getting 12 people to pay at once to make sure we were all in the same section (making change was a nightmare), and getting everyone to the stadium on time. I may not be as talented an organizer as Erica, but at the end of it all we made it to the game in one piece.
As we entered Jingu Stadium, I was busy worrying about whether everyone else would enjoy this event that I had been hyping up for nearly a month get that I wasn’t quite getting excited about it myself. But then we started walking up the concourse and towards the stands. I could see the light of the sky above and hear the muffled roar of the crowd through the walls. I went silent and simply continued forward as my heart started to beat faster. One more step, and suddenly the light of the open sky hit my eyes all at once as the crowd’s cheering exploded into my ears. I gazed out in awe at the field with pro players out there finishing up their warmups, completely surrounded by distinctly blue seats that were filled to the brim with screaming fans decked out in Yakult Swallows gear. It felt like I was at a baseball game for the first time again.
We ended up sitting in center field with a surprisingly good view of the action. But perhaps more importantly, we were right between the home and visitors’ cheering sections. Every half-inning the gigantic, team-spirited crowds in the left field and right field stands would take turns standing up and belting out organized, musical, player-specific cheers to spur their sluggers on. I must have spent at least half the game watching them in awe instead of the field. Sasha in particular approved of the Swallows’ massive, trumpet-blaring, baton-clapping, giant-flag-waving anthem for reigning MVP Tetsuto Yamada (another shout-out to Tetsu from KIP for giving me a crash course on the Swallows’ star players). And whenever the Swallows scored a run, the stands would suddenly blossom into a sea of umbrellas bobbing up and down in celebration. Yes, this is a thing that Swallows fans do and it is called the “Umbrella Dance.” I even bought my own (comically small) umbrella as a souvenir.
And finally, it was time for us all to split up. Our big Nakatani group will be keeping in touch through Line messages for now. I’m lucky enough to have Donald, Erica, and Mayssa coming with me to Osaka, though. If we put all our heads together, we can sometimes make one functional Japanese person. Though apparently not functional enough to use the baggage delivery service like Sarah suggested. None of us could begin to wrap our heads around the forms we had to fill out for it, so we all decided to just save $20 and carry them on the bus with us. IT WAS PURE PAIN DO NOT FOLLOW OUR EXAMPLE. The four of us stuck to each other for support, dragging our baggage through the Shinkansen station, actually managing to successfully ask for directions a couple times (thank you AJALT classes!), and finally made it onto a nearly-empty Shinkansen car bound for Osaka. Finally able to relax, we turned a row of seats around (a little trick we learned from the KIP students) so we would have two whole rows facing each other to ourselves. Then we stowed our luggage, shared some taiyaki and sushi we had brought from Azabu-Juban, and collapsed in our seats. But… not before I accidentally fed Donald a wasabi-filled sushi roll. I’m sorry, man! I didn’t know!
I’ve noticed that everyone else on the train or bus always keeps to themselves, like they’re trying to take up as little space as possible. (The group of 4 Americans all carrying gigantic luggage bags, taking up the priority seating and most of the aisle space on the bus didn’t really fit in with that picture). Eating on public transportation is a no-no, and I can see why with how crowded it can get. Imagine trying to eat a snack and dropping your crumbs all over some poor bystander’s shoulder. But what’s kind of astonishing is how all these rules still apply even when the train is not crowded. I think this may have to do with something Packard-san told us this week: Japanese people tend to be ritualistic, even if it’s not practical. Americans are generally fine with breaking some small rules if they’re sure it won’t harm anyone else. For example, jaywalking when no cars are around or trespassing some old, abandoned property. But in Japan, all the rules are always in play, no matter how minute or unnecessary at the time. If you can’t follow the rules when no one’s around, how can you be expected to obey them when they’re needed?
Another thing I’ve noticed on public transportation: many, many people playing mobile games (Mwahaha I’ve found an excuse to talk about video games). And these aren’t just Candy Crush or Angry Birds. The games I see on strangers’ phones are often in-depth RPGs or strategy games, and many have some impressive visuals and art direction that I wouldn’t expect on a phone. It’s been a worldwide trend that as gamers have gotten older and their lives have gotten busier, casual mobile games that are easy to pick up for a short amount of time have become a more popular way to get a video game fix. Japan seems to be exemplary of this, with adults often expected to work extremely long hours and subway rides providing a perfect opportunity to get some playtime in. It explains why many Japanese game companies, especially Konami, have been focusing a lot of resources into mobile gaming recently despite American outcries about them losing touch with the “true” video game fanbase. Come to think of it, Konami’s sudden fixation with making Pachinko machines based on its most popular franchises also makes more sense after seeing the ridiculous popularity of Pachinko-Slot arcades here (which I may never understand).
Introduction to Science & Engineering Seminar
This week’s lectures from Professor Bird have honestly been some of the most understandable throughout this orientation. I felt like they explained basic things I had been confused about from the beginning such as band gaps, how electrons and holes work, and how the heck you read those bandstructure graphs we’ve been seeing. It seems as though these talks would have made more sense to put at the beginning of orientation, but then again it may just be because I’ve been exposed to these ideas for weeks and now it’s finally starting to click.
But anyway, the main idea is something that is extremely relevant to me as a computer engineer: devices are getting smaller at an unsustainable rate. Specifically, Moore’s Law: For the past 50 years, the amount of processing power [transistors] you can fit into the same amount of space has doubled every 2 years. At this rate, it won’t be long before a transistor is a single atom in size, impossible to get any smaller. But before we even get to that point, there’s another obstacle: quantum physics. Transistors are becoming so small that they are reaching the quantum regime, where classical laws stop working and quantum physics takes over.
Throughout all this uncertainty, though, there is a material that shows potential to unlock new powers of computing at a smaller scale than ever before. This material is graphene, a 2-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal pattern with remarkable properties. Graphene’s main draw is that it is a semiconductor – a material with a small band gap that is needed to make transistors – but its band gap is exactly 0. Because of this, electrons move through graphene at nearly the speed of light even at room temperature. In addition to this, graphene is also very small, as small as physically possible in one dimension, and able to be reduced to ribbons, nanotubes, and quantum dots by reducing the other dimensions. It is also flexible, durable, and transparent, suggesting the possibility of devices that could retain these properties.
There’s just one problem. Because graphene’s band gap is exactly 0, it is impossible for a graphene transistor to be turned off. It’s just too easy for electrons to be excited to a higher state when they’re not supposed to. Turning on and off is kind of the whole point of transistors, so this puts a damper on plans to use graphene as the future of computing. However, this hasn’t stopped researchers from trying workarounds such as double- or multi-layer graphene, graphene ribbons, or carbon nanotubes (which I will be studying) in an effort to retain graphene’s useful properties while giving it the bandgap it needs to work as a transistor.
One last thing before arriving at the lab… I’m writing this on Sunday night right now. Tomorrow morning I’ll meet my mentor Manja, as well as Professor Tonouchi, and then all my labmates. I’m honestly kind of scared. I’ve been emailing back and forth with Rebecca, my alumni mentor. She’s got nothing but praise for everyone at the lab and how friendly they all are, but I feel like there’s a lot of expectations on me as the only American in the lab. After all, I won’t be part of the Nakatani-RIES group anymore. I won’t be one of “those Americans.” I will be “the American.” Everyone’s going to be judging me (and my school and my country) based entirely on what I do. Including the first impression I’m about to make. I… hope I can pull it off.
Week 04: First Week at Research Lab
The Osaka University group of 4 left the hotel together Monday morning, but after riding the metro a few stops with Erica and Mayssa, we split up so only Donald and I were left together. We would both be meeting our mentors at this station, and I was getting nervous about the first impression I would make on my mentor, Manja (pronounced Mahn-zah). Since he’s from Madagascar, it was pretty easy to spot him – sitting on a bench, arms crossed and wearing sunglasses. I gulped one last time and we walked up to him. When Manja saw the two of us approaching, he got up, removed his sunglasses, and said to us:
“Wait, who is Daniel?”
All three of us burst into laughter before I raised my hand and exchanged a bow and a “hajimemashite” with my mentor. We decided to wait for Donald’s mentor to show up so we could all walk together, when suddenly the tall, stocky Japanese man who had been standing in the corner walked up to us and said:
“Wait, is one of you Donald?”
After our brilliant and extremely professional introductions, Manja and I walked together to Tonouchi lab’s office. Manja’s a great guy who’s been guiding me through the theory and procedure of the Tonouchi Lab’s experiments, and he’s been understanding of my lack of prior knowledge. On our way to the lab, he even offered to carry that giant luggage bag I’d been hauling around for the past two days (THANK YOU). Though I was a bit shocked to hear that he didn’t know much Japanese and wasn’t very interested in learning it. After 3 consecutive weeks of language classes and lectures on Japanese culture, it was jarring to realize that someone can live in Japan without being fluent in the language. On the bright side, it was a good sign that I would be able to survive in the lab with what I’d learned so far, and Manja assured me there would be plenty of people I could practice with if I wanted.
I arrived at the lab office only to walk right back out as Tonouchi-sensei had graciously decided that he was treating us to lunch at La Scena. At lunch, I also got to meet Kawayama-sensei, the assistant professor, and TJ, a PhD student who mentored Rebecca last year. It was an odd feeling. I was by far the youngest person there but I still felt like I was being treated as a fellow adult. I never did research in the U.S., so I wonder if it would feel the same there or if this is unique to Japan.
Tonouchi-sensei is an amiable and hearty fellow who’s easygoing and loves to laugh. He and Kawayama-sensei speak Japanese to each other but have very good English that they use to talk to the rest of us. They were pleasantly surprised to see that I could read part of the all-Japanese menu (though admittedly not much), but I ended up copying almost everyone else at the table and ordering the steak dinner, because when else will I get steak in Japan? I made sure to thank Tonouchi-sensei as politely as I knew how to in Japanese afterward.
A while after we ordered, we were joined by Ohashi, who had just come from class. Ohashi is a grad student who will be working with Manja and I in the lab. He knows some English but mainly speaks Japanese, so I tried speaking with him in Japanese, and with a little effort we were able to introduce ourselves to each other and make fun of TJ’s basketball skills together. Ohashi’s a bit softspoken, and so am I, but Manja, evil genius that he is, forced us to bond by telling us both to come to the lab one morning and then waiting until mid-afternoon to meet us there and ask, “so, is communication easier now?”
It was great to chat with everyone over lunch about how I was enjoying Japan so far and what the lab was going to be like, but soon after the meal Tonouchi-sensei, Kawayama-sensei and TJ had to leave because they had a flight to San Francisco to catch. Turns out they’ll be gone at a conference for a week, so my welcome party will have to wait until they return. Still, once we got back to the office, I got to meet many more of the lab’s students and went through more Japanese introduction. I warned everyone that I was probably going to forget all their names, but I will try to talk to them a lot so I can learn quickly. The next day, I also met Iwami-san, the lab secretary, and she took me around Suita campus to help me get my student ID as well as visit the foreign student center and learn about their summer events. She has a very chipper and warm personality, and she’s very willing to help me with any Japanese words I don’t understand.
I’ve noticed one thing that Rebecca talked about in her reports last year – the language divide between Japanese- and English-speaking lab members. In the office, I’m essentially bunched together with Manja, TJ, and another PhD student named Roy, who is from Bangladesh. Everyone in the lab knows at least a little English so that everyone can communicate, but in general the 4 of us in the corner speak primarily English while everyone else in the room is typically speaking Japanese. In fact, with how our work stations are set up, I actually have my back to the Japanese-speaking part of the lab for most of the day. If I want to use the language I’ve been learning for so long (and learn people’s names), it looks like I’m going to have to force myself out of my shell.
Osaka University is divided into 3 campuses: Suita, Minoo, and Toyonaka. Suita is the engineering campus where all of our labs are located. Erica and Mayssa are staying at Minoo while Donald and I have a dorm in Toyonaka. It feels a bit weird for the university to essentially be in 3 different towns, but traveling from Toyonaka to Suita every morning isn’t hard, as there is a free shuttle service that comes every 20 minutes on weekdays.
Now, about the dorm… every time someone has asked me about my housing, my first response has been “Amari… kirei ja nai” (It’s… not very clean). Toneyama dorm is the only dorm on Toyonaka campus with no cleaning service, which means the students must clean all public areas, which means all public areas are never cleaned. Okay, I suppose the bathroom floor gets mopped and shower mats get changed, but there are still colonies of bugs living on the first floor, rusty shower stalls, and a public fridge that I’ll just say I never want to touch ever again. However, the dorm rooms themselves are fairly well-furnished with a new bed and desk along with air conditioning and Wi-Fi, which I absolutely cannot complain about. So after scrubbing down a dusty old bookshelf with kitchen wipes and using a shoe to savagely murder two spiders that had taken up residence, my room is pretty comfortable. The building is also in walking distance of Ishibashi station, from which we can take the Hankyu metro line to downtown Osaka or Kyoto for day trips.
Donald lives in the same building only a floor above me, so the two of us have been sticking together while commuting to lab and exploring the area around campus. On the first night, we went out to find dinner around 7:10 pm only to find that every cafeteria we came across had closed at 7:00. We wandered in a circle around the unfamiliar campus, hoping desperately to find something to fill our bellies until finally Donald pulled aside a random passerby with “Sumimasen, tabemono wa doko desu ka?” (Excuse me, where is food?) The bystander, probably holding back his laughter, checked his watch before telling us (in Japanese) that there was a cafeteria in the basement of the library, then carefully gave us directions until we confirmed we understood. That evening, I ate my dinner of katsu and rice while thanking Japan for its hospitable culture and willingness to help someone who “sumimasen”s you off the sidewalk.
However, Donald and I quickly realized that if only the library cafeteria was open by the time we got back to Toyonaka campus each day, we would easily get sick of eating there every night. So a couple days later we decided to put our high school cross country/track & field skills to work and explore the area around campus on a run. We jogged through a small strip of restaurants not too far from campus and found a couple of supermarkets about a mile out. It was then that we discovered that supermarkets are magic. They’re like conbinis or 100-yen stores, only much bigger and with better, cheaper food! The two of us stocked up on supplies for the week and decided to stop by a restaurant on the way back for dinner.
We walked down the road, grocery bags in hand, passing several places that we deemed too expensive until we reached a point where we were out of restaurants to choose from and simply walked into the nearest one we saw, a Nepalese place called Timbuktu. When we sat down and saw the menu, we weren’t very proud of our decision. The food looked good, but to get a full meal we had to pay a lot more than we were hoping to that night. After each of us ordered curry and naan bread, we sat there lamenting our poor decision-making, trying not to make ourselves feel too bad about it until the waiter came back with OH MY GOD THAT IS A GIGANTIC NAAN BREAD. The bread was enormous, comically so. Bigger than the table, even! We were laughing about it throughout the whole meal. And not only was the food delicious but we even had enough naan leftover for breakfast the next day. Suddenly, we had gone from an unfortunately pricey meal to our favorite restaurant in Osaka. As a wise painter once said, “There are no mistakes in life. Just happy little accidents.”
Back on Toyonaka campus, Donald is intent on joining a club (or clubs!), insisting that it would be the best way to learn conversational Japanese. Lucky for him, it seems that every club at Osaka University is located on Toyonaka campus, and every evening the whole campus is alive with music blaring from all corners and large groups of people dancing in whatever open space is available. Donald’s heart was set on guitar club, as he has a guitar back home that he didn’t bring with him. And despite the extent of my guitar knowledge being 4 chords on ukulele that my uncle Ted taught me years ago, I agreed to come with.
After lab, we trekked up to a building simply called “the clubhouse,” an old, white building with an open first floor and several small club rooms all around the second, each containing a different kind of music. I recognized the katakana for “guitar” on one door, Donald and I exchanged a nervous glance, and he knocked on the door before slowly creaking it open. In the tiny room, we saw countless guitar cases piled up in the corner and even a contrabass case laying across the couch. On the other side were bookshelves filled with sheet music labeled in Japanese, and sitting at the table was just one guy strumming a few notes on his guitar. His name was Tomoya.
It was quickly apparent that there was a stronger language barrier here than either of us had encountered in lab, but after we explained that we were American students, Tomoya casually got up and handed each of us a guitar from the pile in the corner. I insisted, repeatedly, that I couldn’t play, but he wouldn’t let me get out of it that easily. Using only the names of the chords and modeling on his own guitar, Tomoya taught me finger positions for one chord at a time. While I practiced, he would turn back to Donald and teach him a slightly more advanced melody. This went back and forth for quite a while, and I found myself enjoying it a lot. Eventually, I was able to make something that sounded sort of musical, and Donald had learned a full canon, all with minimal verbal communication.
Then the door opened again and in walked… the entire guitar club! Nearly a dozen Japanese students all fascinated to see Americans in their club room. A small crowd started to form around us like we were some kind of spectacle, and we got to talking with everyone about the club and ourselves. Admittedly, it was a bit terrifying to be the center of attention like that, and I’m glad Donald was there because I never could have handled it alone. Still, everyone was very nice to us, but after a while, most of the crowd had to go home and we were left with just a few members. Like before, there was little communication by word, and we bonded simply by playing together. Donald even got to play the canon he had just learned in a duet. Eventually, we said our goodbyes, learned as many names as we could, and promised to see the club’s performance on Sunday (which we did. It was a great classical guitar concert featuring multiple groups). The entire experience at guitar club was an interesting chance to see the ways in which Japanese people react to meeting foreigners when they don’t expect it.
Overview of Orientation Program in Tokyo
If I could say nothing else about our language classes, I would say this – they were dead on about what we would be making small talk about. Every time I meet someone new, I seem to give the same self-introduction as in class. Then we talk about hobbies, I’m asked what sports I like, I talk about my hometown and explain how I came to Japan and went from Tokyo to Osaka. We’ve been rehearsing all of these conversations for the past month. It’s amazing.
As for the orientation in general, not only did it give us a chance to have some of the greatest experiences I personally have ever had, it also gave us a safe environment to learn how to be a foreigner in Japan. There’s a big difference between taking a Japanese class at Purdue where your only practice is with classmates and taking a Japanese class in Tokyo where you walk out of class and immediately use what you learned to get lunch that day. Ogawa-san, Endo-san, and especially Packard-san did a great job of keeping us out of trouble. I’m sure we drove them crazy at times as we unwittingly broke cultural norms while adjusting, but they always made sure we were safe to make and correct mistakes. And having the whole group together allowed us to work with each other to figure out how to survive before being left on our own.
Question of the Week
Are foreigners in Japan (especially those staying long-term) encouraged to assimilate by learning the language and culture? Or are they always expected to be different?
- Japan is one of the most homogeneous countries in the world and has very low rates of immigration. This is very different than the experience of the U.S. which portrays and idealizes itself as a ‘nation of immigrants’. This means that foreigners in Japan, and Japanese of foreign origin such as Japanese-Koreans, are often ‘seen’ first as foreigners – no matter how long they or their family have lived in Japan. This is also often true of hafu in Japan though last year Ariana Miyamoto was named Miss Universe Japan. However, each individual’s experience varies and you may want to ask some of the international students in your lab what their experience has been living in Japan long term and if they feel at home or think they will feel at home there in the future. You can also read articles written by expats on sites like GaijinPot.com and Tofugu.com for various perspectives on living in Japan.
Research Project Overview
The goal of my project is to characterize carbon nanotubes (CNTs) through parallel-plate waveguide terahertz spectroscopy. The setup for this experiment may look like a jumbled mess of mirrors and lenses, but it can be broken down to a few basic pieces. First, two thin glass plates are prepared: one with a sample of carbon nanotubes on a substrate and one with just the substrate. The CNT samples that I will be using are being made at Rice University (I even got to tour the lab where they’re made while I was there!), but since they haven’t arrived yet, I’ve been training using a sample of graphene with MgO as the substrate. The plate with only the substrate is placed on top of the sample plate so that the sample is sandwiched directly between the two substrate layers. This sample-substrate sandwich is then sandwiched again between two blocks of gold-coated aluminum that make up a parallel-plate waveguide. Then the super-sandwich is placed on a stage for spectroscopic analysis.
When conducting the experiment, a femtosecond pulse laser is fired and split using a half-silvered mirror into two paths of equal length. The first path hits an emitter, which then emits a terahertz wave. Using two parabolic mirrors, the terahertz wave is collimated to a size small enough to hit the two-dimensional sample along its flat edge. After passing through the sample, the terahertz wave is de-collimated through two more parabolic mirrors and then hits a detector. The second path of the split laser acts as a clocking signal for the detector, striking it at the same time as the terahertz signal so that it can be read. This is why it is important that the two paths to the detector are of equal length.
When I asked Manja what specific characteristics we would be looking for, he said, “I don’t know. Anything.” Terahertz spectroscopy is typically used to find a material’s conductivity, so I know that is one parameter that I will be calculating. There may also be other properties of CNTs that can be derived, but I don’t know what specifically we may find or how. However, we know so little about CNTs that any information we can derive will be good.
Manja has given me and Ohashi tour of the lab and taught me how the experimental setup works, how to operate the laser, and how to adjust the PPWG. Ohashi already has some experience with this, so he has also been teaching me how to get data from the experimental setup. I’ve been asked to create a MATLAB program to convert the data I’ve collected from time domain to frequency domain (basically, a way of looking at a signal that lets you see what simpler signals it is composed of). However, I will still need to be taught how to interpret this data and the mathematical process of extracting parameters from it.
Week 05: Critical Incident Analysis – Life in Japan
Early this week, I was asked to make a small PowerPoint presentation about my project to make sure I understood what I was doing. Manja and Ohashi watched, along with two other post-docs at the lab, Sakai-san and Serita-san. I’m glad to say I felt pretty comfortable speaking in front of this small group, and each of them had feedback to give me that helped me clear up some misunderstandings I still had about the work. I’ve never had to do progress reports like this for a long-term project, and I appreciate how it helps me check my understanding as I go. I also like the excuse to talk with some of the upperclassmen who I don’t often see in the lab.
In the lab, I usually have Ohashi with me to make sure I don’t burn down the entire building (or at least I don’t damage any samples or equipment). I’ve probably called the poor guy “Ohashi,” “Ohashi-san,” and “Ohashi-kun” multiple times within a couple minutes. “Ohashi-san” is probably the most appropriate because he is older than me (he’s a Master’s student, after all), but I don’t want to seem too formal so I often say just “Ohashi.” But then sometimes one of the post-docs or senseis will say “Ohashi-kun” and I find myself reflexively adding “-kun” onto his name because I’m trying to imitate what I hear other people say. Lucky for me, Ohashi is just too nice and he’s been a good sport about my bad honorifics (as well as all the times I’ve nearly ruined equipment by touching something I’m not supposed to touch).
When Tonouchi-sensei and the others returned from San Francisco, they decided to throw a welcome party for me, and I have to say it certainly made me feel more integrated into the lab group. At the start, I sort of quietly slipped into the lab without calling much attention to myself from people who didn’t interact with me regularly. That’s kind of just how I tend to be. But giving everyone an excuse to talk to me got a lot of my lab mates to open up, and it seems a lot of them are just a bit insecure about their English skills. Now that it feels like the ice has been broken a bit, it makes me want to learn more Japanese on my own so I can have more conversations with them. As shy as I am sometimes, it’s fun to talk about things like the difference between McDonald’s menus and how green tea-flavored everything is considered weird in the U.S.
I also got to talk baseball with Tonouchi-sensei. It turns out he’s a big Hanshin Tigers fan, and so is everyone else in the lab. And the Tigers’ most hated rivals are… the Yakult Swallows. So… maybe I shouldn’t mention that I may have accidentally converted the whole Nakatani-RIES group to Swallows fans? When I said I was a Chicago Cubs fan, several people were familiar enough with American baseball to know about them (Tonouchi-sensei: “Oh yeah! They never win!”). Everyone was happy to hear that Japanese player Munenori Kawasaki had joined the Cubs this year, and they all knowingly nodded their heads as I described his karaoke performance outside the stadium. I find it so cool that Japanese players have such a following even when they leave for America.
I gave Tonouchi-sensei his American omiyage – a small goodie bag that I filled with some Chicago chocolates, a Purdue magnet, and a Chicago Cubs cap. He was happy to receive it, but then he started to look a little sad. He told me that he can’t eat the chocolates because he can’t open the bag until the Cubs win the World Series.… I hope he enjoys his chocolates this October!
Luckily, I haven’t really had any critical incidents outside of the lab. I generally don’t need to interact with other Japanese people for a long time when I’m out sightseeing aside from asking for directions and ordering at restaurants, and so far that’s all been going pretty smoothly (and I haven’t been attacked by a monkey yet). In that case, I hope it’s okay that I talk about something that happened inside the lab this week.
At the welcome party, Tonouchi-sensei told me that because I’ve said I don’t drink alcohol, we had a party with sweets instead of osake (to Manja’s dismay). He also mentioned that it was rare to have an American student that doesn’t drink. For some reason, at this moment, I internally panicked. It suddenly occurred to me that drinking is a common way for coworkers to bond in Japan, and by not taking part in it I thought I was somehow distancing myself from the group, not putting in enough effort to socialize, not living up to standards set by previous NanoJapan students, etc. I had never felt so insecure about not drinking before.
In retrospect, this was a pretty ridiculous thought. I’ve never felt anyone in the lab pressuring me to drink, and in fact as far as I know there hasn’t even been a group Izakaya trip since I got here. Tonouchi-sensei’s comment was probably just an innocent attempt at conversation, and I wonder if I’m trying to read too deep into the Japanese style of communicating through subtle implications. I brushed it off with, “Sorry! You got a weirdo this year!” and we all went on eating delicious cake without much awkwardness. Still, I kind of want to mention to someone that if the lab ever wants to take a group trip to an Izakaya, I’d love to come along and be that weirdo who drinks water and watches everyone else go crazy. I’m just not so sure how to bring it up…
Question of the Week
To what extent are adults in Japan expected to drink alcohol? Is it a common life choice not to? Given the lax enforcement of the drinking age, is underage drinking much more common than in America?
- There are people in Japan who don’t drink or drink very little; either by a personal choice or often because they are allergic to alcohol. However, it is common that people will still join their colleagues out at night even though they might only drink a little or choose non-alcoholic beverages. Indeed, saying you are allergic is a socially acceptable and understood way of declining alcohol or only have a one smaller drink. Overall though, drinking is quite common in Japan and it is rare that anyone would be asked to show ID when ordering or purchasing alcohol.
Research Project Update
The CNT samples for my project still haven’t arrived, so Manja is taking the opportunity to make sure I get more training in. This week, he had me and Ohashi measure graphene on a silicon substrate using a more traditional terahertz spectroscopy setup (no parallel plate waveguide). I got to place the samples on my own this time, and I nearly gave everyone in the room a heart attack before Ohashi showed me how to hold the sample so that it wouldn’t be precariously off-balance between the tweezers.
Afterward, I got to use the MATLAB program I made last week to derive frequency domain data again. However, just when Manja was getting ready to teach me how to extract conductivity from this data, Ohashi popped by to tell me that our data was bad. He had been analyzing it on his own and found that the transmission of the signal through the sample was greater than 1. This would mean the sample somehow amplified the signal, which is impossible. Manja took a look at the data and agreed, so now we would have to run the experiment again. Except it was already Friday afternoon, so it’ll have to wait until next week.
Getting invalid results is frustrating, but it’s a part of doing research, and no one else seems to get down about it. After all, there’s no way to help it besides picking yourself up and doing what needs to be done (and redone). Hopefully next week the new trial will go well, and after that I can learn parameter extraction for traditional terahertz spectroscopy. From there, we will move forward to parallel plate waveguide spectroscopy and parameter extraction from. I want to be comfortable running an experiment on my own by the time the mid-program meeting rolls around. Ohashi has another experiment to run on his own, and I feel bad for dragging him back to the lab with me every time I need new data.
Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting
This week’s prompt is to talk about a personal accomplishment outside of research. Actually, that’s quite timely. I feel like I accomplished something this week. It’s not research related. In fact, it’s something that seems so utterly miniscule that it might make me look weird to say I was pumping my fist in celebration once I got back to my room afterward.
It had been a slow day at the lab, so I spent a lot of time reading reports from past NanoJapan students. I waded through paragraphs and paragraphs of cool things that happened in Japan, issues that arose with cross-cultural communication, and advice for future study abroad students. It got me thinking about what I might want to say here for students after me to read about, and I realized I would probably say a lot of the same things I had read. Be yourself, but don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Try to make as many meaningful connections and experiences as possible.
Later that night, Donald’s lab was keeping him busy until much later, so I walked back to the dorm alone, not planning on having a busy evening. On the way back, I passed by the clubhouse area (where we met the guitar club earlier), and I noticed a small crowd of people gathering around a telescope pointed up at the night sky. As I walked past them, I wondered if there was something interesting in the sky tonight, so I tried to follow the telescope’s line of sight and found a red star that I figured must be Mars. “Oh, that must be really cool,” I thought as I continued to walk away from the interesting event full of Japanese students my age that I could talk to and-
Wait. Wait, wait, wait. Did I not just say it must be cool to look through that telescope? Have I not been saying in my previous reports that I need to come out of my shell and practice using Japanese? Was this not exactly the kind of thing that I’d been telling myself to do all summer, the thing I’d want to tell future students to do – stepping out of my comfort zone and not letting my nerves and my shyness stop me from doing something that I knew would be a good experience? It took a few moments of deliberating, but I turned around, marched back toward the stargazing crowd, and…
Walked right past them again. Holy crud what am I doing this is insane I can’t talk to this random group of strangers I can’t even speak Japanese well enough to have a conversation with my lab mates and I don’t even know much about space anyway and why are my feet carrying me back toward them oh boy we’re doing this now aren’t we holy cruuuuuuud!
There was a small line of people waiting to use the telescope, and I managed to simply slip in without drawing much attention. It seemed like most of the people there were meeting each other for the first time, so there was a bit of small talk. It sounded like they were asking each other about their major and what year they were, but they weren’t using words I had learned like senkou or ichinensei. Instead, I heard a lot of gakubu and ikkaisei. I could only guess it was Osaka dialect, and I was trying to figure out what those words actually meant when one girl turned to me and asked, “Ikkaisei desu ka?”
Uh… yes? Maybe? I think I managed to say that I’m a freshman (which I’m not), and that I had no major (kind of true because I’m not taking classes at Osaka University?), which confused the heck out of everyone until I managed to blurt out the fact that I’m a study abroad student. That cleared things up immensely, and from there we got into the kind of introductory small talk that I’m used to in Japan. Where are you from? When did you get here? How long are you staying? I’m always amused when I get to explain where Chicago is by drawing a map of the U.S. in the air and pointing at the middle of it.
All of us got to use the telescope eventually. The astronomy club had brought it out because it was an exceptionally clear night, so we got to see Mars (Kasei), Saturn (Dosei), and one of Jupiter’s moons (Mokusei no tsuki). In between, there was more talking, and I found that astronomy club was a lot more talkative than guitar club. It was a bit hard for me to keep up, since I’m not much of an astronomer myself. But I think I won points for telling them about my cats, whose names are Moon and Star. There were also a couple students who were excited to practice English with me, such as Kent, who is majoring in English and lived in Cleveland for a short time, and Sawa, who is studying abroad in Australia this August.
This seems like something really small, and it really was. But it’s something I never would have tried to do if, say, I had been walking past a random club at Purdue last semester. I would never try to put myself in a social situation where I had no idea what would happen. I would never introduce myself to a group of strangers that I could have just walked past. I believe the decision to walk up to that group was a good one, and I’m proud of that.
In addition making friends in random school clubs, I feel like I’ve been slowly integrating into the group of Master’s students in my lab (the youngest here besides me). There was one beautiful moment where I looked over my shoulder and saw everyone crowded around Ohashi’s computer. I scooted over to check on them, and I wondered what kind of project would require everyone to be working together on one–YouTube. They were on YouTube. With the sound off to avoid disturbing the PhD students and Post-Docs still working. Well, hey, I like watching YouTube too! Once I pulled up a seat with the rest of the group, we ended up watching Smosh’s Pokemon in Real Life video with Japanese subtitles. I had seen the video before, so I was laughing along with everyone else at every joke even with no sound. It feels good to be included in these small moments of fun at the lab.
As for challenges, I think adjusting to the schedule has been tougher than I expected. I often don’t get back to my dorm until well after 8:00 pm, which is later than it seems because I need to go to bed early if I want to wake up at a decent time to get to lab. I’m not used to having so little time in the day, so I’ve tended to stay up later than I should. It hasn’t affected my lab work greatly because this lab is very flexible with schedule. I can sleep later than usual and still walk into the office before most of the other students, but I still try to wake up early to keep myself from getting complacent.
I’ve dealt with sleeplessness before (I’m a college student after all), but now I haven’t been using the weekends to catch up because I’m in Japan and I need to do things! This Saturday Youssef came to visit from Sendai, so I met up with him to explore Sumiyoshi Taisha and Den Den Town, where we found all sorts of nerdy things to bring back to our friends who are obsessed with Fire Emblem / Magic: the Gathering / Waluigi / anime / Vocaloid (“We have too many friends who are obsessed with things” – Youssef). Afterward I gave him a quick tour of Namba, where we found some of Osaka’s signature okonomiyaki and kishi-katsu. Weird how I feel like a tour guide here even though I’ve been to Namba only once, but it was good to see Youssef again and fun being there for his reactions to the things I first experienced only a couple weeks ago.
Running around Osaka left me wiped out for Sunday, so I didn’t wake up until noon. I took the opportunity to catch up with some friends over Skype, which was nice because I haven’t been able to make much time to hear their voices this summer. At one point, I told the person I was currently chatting with that I had to go get lunch and that I would be back later. After putting on my running clothes to go for a jog down to the supermarket, I suddenly realized it was mid-afternoon and I hadn’t done anything yet today. In a panic, I somehow ended up not in the supermarket but in the monorail station next to it and rode the train all the way to Expo City.
Expo City’s a pretty modern-looking tourist spot with plenty of wide open park space. It’s easily identifiable by the giant Ferris wheel on one side of the highway and the iconic Tower of the Sun on the other. The bus between Toyonaka and Suita campus actually passes by this place every day, so I had to come at some point. I arrived there with no plan and was late enough that the huge open park area called Expo Memorial Park was closed, but there were still plenty of open attractions available in Expo City. I was still in my running clothes (I must have gotten so many weird looks on the train), so even though the park was closed, I figured I would start by running around the shopping area’s perimeter! Yeah, dumb idea considering I still hadn’t gotten lunch and hadn’t bothered bringing a water bottle. But afterward, I refueled myself with a fancy plate of pancakes (a post-race tradition back in high school. Lucky there was a Hawaiian-style breakfast place in Expo City). Then I got to peek inside the Pokémon Center and got completely lost in Expo City’s mall before finally plopping myself down inside Starbucks and using the free Wi-Fi to message the person I had ditched mid-conversation a few hours ago.
All in all, this is probably the busiest I’ve ever been, but I want to keep myself busy. I want to do all the sightseeing I can. I want to contribute to my lab’s work. I want to write the best reflections I can. I want to keep in contact with my friends and family back home. But I feel so pressured to keep doing things that I can never take a day to just calm down and let myself recharge.
Question of the Week
I read in an article this week that Japanese people don’t believe in having free time on the weekdays, only weekends. Does the younger generation agree with this idea? Are the many clubs on Toyonaka campus the students’ way of ensuring they have time carved out for something they like or are they another obligation on the daily schedule?
- You might want to ask some of the graduate students in your lab what life as an undergraduate was like as compared to graduate school (or what they anticipate life will be like after they graduate). You can also look over some of the information and links on Education in Japan that you can find on the Life in Japan resources page on our website. The article “Japanese college, the spring break of life” might be especially relevant to your question.
Research Project Update
In order to repeat the experiment that went wrong last week, I went back to the lab with Ohashi and started up the traditional spectroscopy device. This time, however, Ohashi didn’t need to show me how to perform each step beforehand, and I was able to set things up without much help. The experiment ran much more smoothly this time, and despite the fact that I handled the equipment mostly on my own, our data actually made sense this time!
Upon our return to the office, Manja gave the two of us some math homework to derive the mathematical formula for material conductivity (I thought I didn’t have classes this summer). After figuring out how to make a sort-of-bilingual study group together and a bunch of trial and error, Ohashi and I showed our final answer to Manja, and from there it was just a little more MATLAB programming to get a plot of graphene conductivity! Finally, a result! Well, for graphene at least. I haven’t done any measurements on the carbon nanotube samples that are supposed to be my experiment, and before that can happen I still need to be trained to extract parameters from a measurement on the parallel plate waveguide system.
Last week I erroneously stated that my samples hadn’t arrived yet, but Manja and Kono-sensei Cc’d me in an e-mail conversation confirming they’ve actually been here for more than a week. When I found out about this, I got really frustrated by the fact that I haven’t made any progress on my actual experiment even though all the materials are available. Why don’t I just practice using the samples I need to measure later anyway? But after I gave it some thought, I realized why I need to use graphene. The results of an experiment on graphene are already known, so I can tell if I’ve done the experiment and calculations right or not. With a new sample like the CNTs, there’s no telling what good results look like. Training is a long process, but it can’t be rushed. Hopefully when I start my experiment proper, I’ll be more independent so progress can happen faster than it is right now.
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Week 07: Overview of Mid-Program Meeting & Research Host Lab Visit
Well, I had been told that I would be giving another presentation to my labmates at the start of this week. I figured it would be pretty much the same as last time, an informal speech to a small audience to demonstrate what I knew so far. Yeah, nope. Turns out it was a formal speech to the entire lab, including Tonouchi-sensei and the other senseis, and some of the Master’s students also gave formal presentations on their experiments after me. I felt so unprepared that I got nervous in front of the crowd and flubbed a few sentences, but it gave the senseis and post-docs a chance to give their feedback on my presenting skills.
Afterward, I went to get dinner and bumped into some of the lab members at the cafeteria. I was prepared not to sit by them because they were almost ready to leave, but they all waved me over to join them. We spent an hour talking about anime, comparing Japanese and American jokes, and exchanging sightseeing recommendations. Totally worth missing the last bus that night. Kameo-san, an M2 student, gave me a one-liner: “Ohsho, oishii? Oh, sou.” This was his way of telling me I should eat at Ohsaka Ohsho, a famous Chinese food chain with a location on Toyonaka campus. After some bad directions from Google Maps and getting help from some other students, I was able to find Osaka Ohsho and… I had already eaten at it last week without even knowing! But was it oishii? Oh, sou.
Overview of Research Host Lab Visit
The presentation feedback from earlier came in handy on Friday when Kono-sensei suddenly walked in the room and said, “So why don’t you show us your mid-program presentation?”
“Huh?” I responded as I added one last picture onto the mid-program presentation I had just finished preparing. Happy as I was to see the Nakatani-RIES staff again, getting caught off guard by all these presentations was not making me feel confident about the mid-program meeting! But having an early audience turned out to be another blessing in disguise, as Sarah, Kono-sensei, Ogawa-san, and Endo-san all had helpful advice for me to apply before the real thing. Once that was out of the way, I got to give everyone a quick lab tour while Kono-sensei and Manja nerded out together over laser equipment. It was an interesting feeling knowing my way around the lab well enough that I could explain how the setup worked and what we did with it. It gave me the impression that the time I had spent in the lab was paying off.
And even after that, the festivities continued as the Osaka labs and the Nakatani-RIES staff all converged for dinner and bowling. Tonouchi-sensei is fantastically lively when he gets a chance to have fun. His first order of business was getting everyone to order giant mugs of beer, but he was quick to find the non-alcoholic drinks section of the menu for me. One of my favorite moments of the night was when Ogawa-san came in, saw my mug full of Coca-Cola instead of beer and said, “Ooh… Weak!” It was great to be around some of my lab’s senior members in a no-pressure situation. I think it’s humanizing to see each other outside of the lab for once.
With one day left til the mid-program meeting, we had one more adventure in Osaka when some more Nakatani-RIES came to visit. Donald and I met up with Shweta, Chandni and Brianna as they planned to go see Nara and Dotonbori. Unfortunately, we found out that all of us are notoriously bad at planning and realized that by the time we had gathered everyone at the train station, the Nara deer park would be closed by the time we got there. However, I remembered that Expo Memorial Park was nearby and I knew we had just enough time to get there before the last entrance time. So there was a point to me learning the park’s closing time the hard way last week!
The 5 of us quickly charted a course for the park and hopped on the monorail. We barely managed to slip in 30 minutes before the park closed – right when they officially stop letting people in for the day. So we had just barely made it on time, ostensibly with half an hour to explore, if not for the fact that Expo Memorial Park is just enormous! We spent two hours wandering around walking through bamboo groves, climbing stone structures, admiring flower gardens, discovering waterfalls, and finding amazing viewpoints. Most of the park patrons had left at closing time, so we had the whole park almost all to ourselves to explore. It was an amazing experience, and even after we finally let ourselves out we hadn’t even seen half the park. I’m glad our botched plan turned into another happy little accident, and I recommend this place to anyone who comes to Osaka.
While strolling through Expo City’s mall afterward, Shweta and I walked into a few random shops, where some employees seemed excited to have a conversation with foreigners. In particular was a guy at a pillow store (this is apparently a thing and they can measure your back to find out exactly what size pillow you should sleep on). After he found out we were American, he mentioned that he loves Major League Baseball. I of course told him that I do too, so he asked me if I knew who Munenori Kawasaki is. Turns out we’re both Cubs fans! Woo! You really can find them everywhere! We carried out a whole conversation in Japanese about Japanese players in the MLB and our favorite Cubs players from the past. It was a proud moment for me as a language learner and a baseball fan, and a throwback to Shmizu-sensei’s talk on how baseball unites us across cultures.
Mid-Program Meeting in Kyoto
Before meeting with everyone in Kyoto, I wanted to come a little early so I would have a chance to visit the famous Fushimi Inari shrine near Kyoto Station. Donald, Mayssa, and Shweta came along as well. It’s quite an impressive sight, scores of bright orange gates lining the path all the way up to the top of the mountain to create a long uphill trail that tourists challenge themselves to hike. Now, the “terrible hot” of Kansai region summers had just set in, it was midday, and the crowd was huge, so we only planned to–
“I want to run to the top.”
What. Donald. No. That’s a terrible idea. The path’s longer than it seems and we have to be back at the station in 20 min–
“Are you coming or what?”
*sigh* Alright, what the heck?
Well, in what was probably the greatest display of physical effort and mental fortitude we’ve shown all summer, Donald and I sprinted up countless stairs, through the crowd, under and around gates all the way up to… not quite the top of the mountain because if we didn’t turn around when we did, we would have missed our train back to Kyoto station. So we caught our breath for a few seconds, took a celebratory “we tried” selfie, and ran all the way back downhill to make it to the train station with just a minute to spare. And that’s the story of how I greeted everyone at Kyoto station drenched in sweat and on the verge of passing out.
Now finally at the mid-program meeting proper, what struck me the most was how immediately comfortable the Nakatani-RIES fellows were with each other. Both the students and the staff. As soon as we saw each other at the station, it was like we had never left Tokyo. Right away we all started sharing stories from our host universities, talking about sightseeing goals, opening up about concerns in lab. It stood out to me how deep the bond was between all of us even though the time we had actually spent together was relatively short. Normally, I would expect it to take several months before I felt so comfortable around a group of people, but all of us had only met a couple months ago, and I hadn’t seen most of them for half that time.
And really, looking back on the time in Kyoto, it kind of just all blends together into one long good time. We had a giant sleepover on tatami mats in the hotel, we got to hear about each other’s experiments and how they were coming along (I aced my presentation in exactly 5 minutes, that trial run earlier paid off!), we toured several shrines and temples, we grilled up teriyaki barbecue for 4th of July, we got to dress up in Yukatas and take photos together, we played with hanabi fireworks, we got our nerd on at the manga museum, we got an amazing tour of the Sysmex research lab.
It’s a little hard to talk about any of it specifically because I remember it all as time we were together. Even though each event was so much fun on its own, that was what made all the difference. Besides, I’ve rambled on about enough things in this journal so far. I guess my big takeaway from the meeting was that I hope this connection between everyone in this program is long-lasting.
Research Project Update
Back on the business side of things, I was finally able to complete the measurement and analysis of a graphene sample using the parallel plate waveguide setup. Ohashi guided me through the experimental process that I’ll be using on each of my carbon nanotube samples, and it takes about 7 hours to measure one sample. Yup. 7 hours of fun. The reason it takes so long is that we must first measure the terahertz response of the parallel plate waveguide’s substrate portion to make sure that it is properly aligned. After this, the environment needs to be nitrogen purged to reduce humidity, which requires sealing the emitter, waveguide, and detector in a box of plastic casing and pumping nitrogen into it for about 2 hours. Only once this is complete can we begin the process of sitting there for hours slowly moving the waveguide from position to position and waiting for all the measurements to be taken.
After I collected a full set of data this way, Manja gave me another, more complicated math lesson on extracting material conductivity from the PPWG setup. Unfortunately, I simply do not know enough of the theory behind this to understand why all these numbers relate to each other the way they do, but Manja gave me enough of an explanation that I was able to create another MATLAB program that could create a frequency-dependent plot of material conductivity and got reasonable results for the graphene sample. Those results made for some nice graphs on my mid-program meeting presentation.
From now, experimentation on the actual carbon nanotube samples can begin. I have samples of both aligned and unaligned CNTs, on a substrate of either MgO or silicon. This makes 4 different types of samples, and there are 2 of each type for a total of 8 samples to be measured in both the PPWG and classical spectroscopy setups. So… this is going to take a while, and hopefully I won’t have to start taking a sleeping bag with me to the lab (like TJ). Realistically, I’m not sure if I can get through all the measurements in only a month, especially since I will still need to share the lab equipment with other lab members. But I will still try to contribute as much as I can to this experiment before I leave.
Week 08: Research in Japan vs. Research in the U.S.
I can’t really speak to what research in the U.S. is like because this summer is my first ever research experience. However, based on what I learned about Japan before coming here, my lab is a lot more casual than I expected, possibly even more casual than what I expected of an American lab. All the Japanese-speakers use casual form with each other (save for students speaking to professors), and I often see people pull up a chair next to someone else to chat for a bit while in the office or in the lab with an experiment running in the background. No one is bound to be in the office or lab at certain times of day; the time everyone arrives and leaves varies. There’s not even a formal schedule for when experiments should be conducted or finished by. At times it almost slips across the line between casual and disorganized. But then again, it could be that I’m a foreigner here for a short time and some of the rules just aren’t being applied to me.
When there’s disagreements, generally the more senior member of the lab is considered correct and that’s that. I tend to follow this principle too, but since this research is outside my field of study and I’m the youngest student here it only seems natural that the other members of the lab would know better than me. To be honest though, I wouldn’t really expect things to be much different in a U.S. lab. I feel like students who are interested in research will have a lot of respect for anyone with more experience in that research than themselves.
There was a moment that stood out to me this week when some students (not me this time) were giving presentations on their research plans. A 4th-year undergraduate student had just finished his presentation on what research he is planning to do, at the moment he is still constructing his experimental setup. There was some time at the end for everyone to ask questions, so one of the professors asked how much time he would spend each day on research. The answer was 3 hours a day.
At this, our professor seemed somewhat incredulous. He didn’t show that he was upset, but I could tell he was put off. “Typically, when you are a student, you need to work hard,” I heard him say, his voice unusually level and humorless. “10 hours a day maybe. Otherwise, you won’t get good data.” His voice started to raise as he went on and on, interrogating this student on how dedicated he should be and how he expected to accomplish anything if he doesn’t put the hours in. The amount of hours you spend here in a day is, in my experience, the only way everyone else can easily quantify your contribution on a daily basis. I’m in lab for about 8 hours a day, but that’s without any classes or other obligations that an undergraduate student might have. With how long my experiments take, I can see how 3 hours a day may not be enough, but it sounded like the expectation was for students not to have a life outside the lab. And of course the student in question couldn’t say anything in his defense. He just had to stand there and take it.
I remember our professor using the phrase “I have been working for a long time…” to justify his views, and it got me thinking about Japan’s work culture. Could the pressure to work long hours be driven by the traditional respect for authority? If a professor (or any other workplace boss) reaches their position after putting in long hours of work earlier on, then they would think it’s important for their students to do the same, because that’s obviously what works, right? And of course the students will take it to heart because they respect their sensei. I think I understand better how Japan’s reliance on hierarchical authority makes it so hard for their culture to change. Those with experience will strongly hold the values they were taught, and it’s expected for the younger generation to willingly receive those teachings themselves. It gives the way of thinking a rigidity that we wouldn’t see in the U.S. This system of course has its advantages, but the way everyone is pressured to overexert themselves is unfortunate.
Research Project Update
This week I got to analyze the data I collected at the end of last week and found that it was… weird. For some reason, at a certain frequency the conductivity of our sample seems to shoot up to infinity, almost like a step function. Manja told me to keep analyzing the data for a reason why it was happening while he tried running another experiment. The only problem was that I had no idea what to look for. So after scanning through variable after variable in MATLAB, I couldn’t find anything inherently bad about the data before Manja came back with the results of two more tests and told me to just disregard the first one.
One of the tests had been done on the same sample that I used before, and it showed the same weird vertical asymptote. The other one used a different sample of unaligned CNTs on MgO, and its conductivity graph was more what we expected. At this point, Manja simply told me that the asymptote was caused by the sample and reference responses having misaligned phases, which was caused by small mathematical errors due to the limited number of data points we can take, and it was safe to ignore any measurements that caused such an anomaly.
He also let me know that he would be performing the experiments on each of the samples so that I would have time to do more data analysis. I have to admit that I’m a bit frustrated about this. It took 4 weeks for me just to learn how to properly do a full experiment, and I don’t even know what my goal is for data analysis beyond finding conductivity because that’s all I’ve learned how to do. It seems like a waste of Manja’s time if he has to be the one trudging through experiments that I’ve practiced doing while I spend all day sifting through data that I can barely wrap my head around. Supposedly I could learn to process the data if I keep at it for a while, but I’m feeling the pressure to contribute something meaningful to this experiment and it seems like it’s too late in the game to still be figuring out how stuff works.
Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning
Something that I’ve told my labmates a lot this summer is that their English is much better than my Japanese. Speaking English tends to be the easiest way for everyone to communicate, especially since a lot of the other international students in the lab don’t know much Japanese at all. That still hasn’t stopped me from trying to practice, though. My labmates have been pretty accommodating with letting me practice Japanese on them. Typically it’ll just be a small conversation about what I did over the weekend or how the experiment is going. I’ll try to explain as much as possible in Japanese before I eventually have to switch to English because there are just too many words I don’t know.
The Japanese lab members also like to practice their English on me, though some are more confident than others. Kameo-san walked up to be me during at the end of the day Thursday and exclaimed, “Daniel, let’s lunch!” I laughed a bit and asked if he meant dinner. “Oh yeah, let’s dinner!” So as the small group of Master’s students plus me walked out to the cafeteria, I explained to them that we usually say “Let’s eat lunch” or “Let’s get lunch” instead of “Let’s lunch.” Everyone stopped talking for a moment. Apparently, “Let’s lunch” is one of the first phrases that everyone learns in English class here. They all looked heartbroken and I felt so bad for telling them that their whole world was a lie!
Outside of lab, I don’t need to use a whole lot of Japanese. Getting around on the train system only requires that you look up the route on Google Maps beforehand and pay attention to the stop names which are always listed in kanji, hiragana, and romaji while on the train. Most travel issues are just a result of my own bad planning rather than the language barrier, but there was one instance where I had to use Japanese (to make up for my bad planning, no less). Donald and I decided to meet up with Brinda between Osaka and Nagoya and climb up Mt. Gozaisho, a 1212 meter mountain that we figured would be good practice for Fuji. En route, Donald and I pulled out our rail passes to get on the Kintetsu Limited Express Line and – wait, what are these seat reservation vouchers for? Oh shoot, we were supposed to reserve seats for this. Crap.
Already at the platform, and with the next train not coming for an hour, we had no choice but to get on the train anyway. The train wasn’t very full, which meant we found a pair of open seats pretty easily, but then the guard came through to check everyone’s tickets. When he got to us and saw we didn’t have seats reserved, he tried to explain to us how to fix the issue – in Japanese. And when we asked, we found out he didn’t speak English. I’m at that weird level of language skill where I can’t understand every word as it comes out of a native speaker’s mouth, but I can sometimes pick up enough key words to piece together enough words to piece together the meaning. That, combined with my ‘I-think-I’ve-heard-this-word-in-anime-before’ knowledge of the word kangaeru (exchange), was enough to figure out that the guard wanted us to get off at the next stop, exchange our vouchers for seat reservations, and get back on the train before it leaves.
Right. No problem. “Arigatougozaimasu!” We told the guard. Donald and I got off at the next stop with only 4 minutes to find the seat reservation booth and get back on. We spent all 4 of those minutes running around aimlessly with no clue where to go before jumping back on the train without actually accomplishing anything. Then the guard walked by us again and… just assumed we had done what we needed to and didn’t say anything. Gaaaah, people in Japan are too nice!
After the travel troubles, making it to Mt. Gozaisho was totally worth it! It’s in a rather sparsely populated area, which meant there wasn’t much of a tourist crowd there. After catching up with Brinda and filling ourselves at a local restaurant, the three of us followed the road up the mountain while looking for the hiking trail. After some time on the road, we used Japanese to ask a stranger where the trail was, and he walked us a short distance over to the trail’s entrance (again, too nice!). Gozaisho’s trail is narrow, rugged and natural, so it involved a lot more actual climbing, finding ways over rock faces, and pulling ourselves up with ropes than simply walking up a trail. When we reached the peak, we couldn’t see much because we were inside a giant cloud, but we got to explore the natural park they had there, saw some local deer, and ate some of the best ice cream we’ve had in Japan before taking the ropeway down.
Research Project Update
Since Manja is taking charge of the experiments now, my main goal has been learning more about carbon nanotubes while I wait for him to run the next test on unaligned CNTs on Silicon. At Manja’s suggestion, I asked Tonouchi-sensei if he recommended any papers, and he directed me to some papers from Kono-sensei’s lab, pointing out two in particular that he had helped publish. I still have trouble wrapping my head around these scientific papers, so I ended up flicking back and forth between reading and modifying my analysis program in a way that didn’t help me absorb much information.
The next day, Manja gave me a new task and told me to look up Drude and Drude-Smith model fitting and see if I could apply it to my data. He gave me a brief outline of what that meant, but left me to figure out the details with the magic of Google-sensei. While I was trying to figure that out, Tonouchi-sensei came up to me and asked if I had compared my data to what the set he gave me. Wait, what? I didn’t remember him giving me any specific data to compare mine to. Tonouchi-sensei (getting a bit frustrated, I could tell) pointed me back to one of the papers he had shown me the day before and said he had wanted me to compare my findings to the data there, which gave the transmittance (but not the conductivity) of carbon nanotubes in a traditional spectroscopy setup.
I was so confused. I didn’t know if I had just misremembered what Tonouchi-sensei had said to me or if it was some Japanese-style instruction where I was just supposed to infer it without him telling me explicitly. I simply thanked him and said I would get on it, but I have to admit I’m getting a bit frustrated here. I’m getting multiple sets of instructions from different people and struggling to figure out how to do either of them because I’m so unfamiliar with this material. Googling scientific papers doesn’t really feel like an effective way to learn. On top of that, it took Manja nearly a week to get proper results on the silicon unaligned CNT sample because not only is he busy, but it’s easy to get invalid data if the very finicky waveguide isn’t properly aligned, and it takes a full day to do another experiment if it fails. I feel like I ought to help with these experiments because I spent 4 weeks learning how to do them, but instead I’m trying to juggle all this new information that I can barely understand.
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Week 10: Interview with Japanese Researcher
For the interview this week, I decided to interview my mentor, Manja. His name is short for Razanoelina Manjakavahoaka, but everyone calls him ‘Manza’ because that’s way easier (the j is pronounced like a z). He is a post-doctorate student at Tonouchi Lab, having come to Japan on a scholarship after earning his Master’s in his home country of Madagascar.
Manja tells me that in Madagascar, everyone is lazy, which is a stereotype that Tonouchi-sensei loves to make fun of him for. To give an example, when Manja accepted his scholarship to come work at Tonouchi Lab, a Japanese representative came to meet with him and the other Madagascarians who won the scholarship, and every single person involved showed up at least 20 minutes late for the meeting. They all laughed about it once everyone showed up, but the representative had to make sure to warn them that that would never fly in Japan. Overall, Manja’s impression of Madagascar’s work culture is extremely laid back, which I can see reflected in himself. He’s not one to stress out or micromanage, though he will drop an occasional “merde” under his breath when things go wrong.
Manja has also researched abroad in France. He says the culture there is closer to Japan than Madagascar, but with one key difference: In France, you are not allowed to stay at the lab past 8 pm. Everyone will force you to go back home before you break yourself. It’s the complete opposite of Japan, although it seems to come from the same value of collectivism – making sure all members of the group are performing well. I find it interesting how America seems to fall in between France and Japan here as a result of its individualism. You are not expected to work into the late night, but if you do, no one will stop you. You do whatever works best for you.
Since coming to Japan, Manja says he hasn’t tried to learn a lot of Japanese. He uses English to communicate in the lab, which works because it’s an international lab, but outside he knows just enough Japanese to survive (and hit up the night life). English is already his second language (French is his first), so being able to use a third day-to-day is already impressive to me, but I had to wonder why he chose to came to Japan without knowing any Japanese. He told me that scholarship to work at Tonouchi Lab was simply the best career opportunity he got, and that was that. No regard for culture shock or language barriers; he had no doubt that he could handle himself. Manja talked about moving to Japan like it was no big deal, but I’m amazed by how bold he was to just pack up and head off to a country so far from home where he doesn’t even speak the language and work there for several years. In the future, he’s thinking of moving again to the U.S. or U.K. to try and find work either as a professor or in industry. If he does come to the U.S. I’ll be sure to come visit him!
Tenjin Matsuri was this weekend, and it’s one of the biggest festivals in Osaka! I got to join a bunch of Tonouchi lab members on a duck tour (you know, those boats that can go on land or water) so we could see the whole city getting into the spirit before exploring the festival at night. The streets were lined with colorful stands full of festival food, and as the sun set, people filled up all the space in between. River boats abounded on the water, stacked with local men dressed identically in traditional white outfits, dutifully rowing the boats as lanterns lit their path along the river. It was a special experience to see the festival with Japanese locals, and I’m sure they all got a kick out of me going wide-eyed and taking pictures of everything.
There was an interesting tradition that I observed with all the boat-rowers and float-carriers, including the ones I saw at Gion Matsuri last week. A leader would shout out “Yoisha!” Then everyone else would respond with “YOISHA!”, creating a constant, powerful chant of “Yoisha!” “YOISHA!” “Yoisha!” “YOISHA!” I couldn’t help but find this a little funny because I’m actually quite familiar with this word. My mom says it whenever she lifts up something heavy (usually one of our cats). Hearing it repeated over and over here made me realize it’s an actual part of Japanese dialect, but I don’t know if it’s considered a word. I don’t think it has a literal definition, but it seems to convey the feeling of “I am exerting great effort,” or (when my mom uses it) “oh god, why do you weigh so much?”
It’s interesting to think of how languages can include things that aren’t even words. For example, English speakers say “whoa!” when something sudden happens, whereas Japanese speakers might say 「おっと！」 (“o-tto!”). There’s also “ouch!” versus 「いてて。。。」(“itete…”) for when you get hurt. I like picking up on little subtleties like these. It makes me feel like I’m learning to think like a Japanese speaker.
Research Project Update
At the end of last week, I mentioned in the report that I was getting frustrated with all the tasks I had that were seemingly going nowhere and not helping with the experiment. Well, it seems like my associate professor Kawayama-sensei took notice. Early on this week, he sat down with me and Manja to lay out a plan for finishing up as much of the experiment as possible in what time I have left. Obviously, at the rate we’re going now there’s no way we’ll be able to measure all 8 samples before I leave. However, we may be able to measure one sample of each type (a total of 4 measurements) by the end of next week. We decided on having me do the next experiment this week, and if all goes well with that, Manja can complete the final one early next week, which leaves about a week and a half for data analysis and making my poster. I’m really thankful to Kawayama-sensei for stepping in. Once he brought up the problem, I felt much more comfortable bringing up my own concerns. That’s a pretty common issue for me, but I think it’s positive to see other members of my lab showing concern and hopefully that will encourage me to address issues more independently next time. It also just feels much better to have some kind of plan laid out now instead of just going day-by-day and hoping to get as much done as possible.
With that, I stayed at the lab late on Thursday to conduct an experiment on our sample of aligned CNTs on MgO. As Manja likes to tell me, “Yeah! You get to stay here ‘til 10 p.m. alone doing experiments! Aren’t you excited? This is research!” So after having the time of my life I came in the next morning and handed him my flash drive with data on it, but when he took a look he immediately thought something was wrong. The conductivity of the CNTs was no different from the control. It was as if the nanotubes weren’t even there.
Clearly the proper response for me was to start panicking! Because of course when I finally get to do an experiment on my own of course it goes wrong! But the problem actually had nothing to do with what I did. The experiment had gone perfectly fine, but we expected the aligned CNTs to show very high conductivity based on past results like the papers Tonouchi-sensei had pointed me towards. So why was the conductivity essentially zero? For that to happen, it would have to mean that…
That the nanotubes are aligned in the wrong direction.
“Merde,” Manja swore under his breath.
“But Manja!” I said, “Aren´t you excited? This is research!” 🙂
Manja e-mailed Weilu, who fabricated the samples back at Kono Laboratory, to ask what direction the CNTs were aligned when he made the samples, but Weilu didn’t know, so I had to ask Kameo-san to measure the sample using his setup. On the bright side, I got to see another cutting-edge spectroscopy setup in action! Kameo-san’s rig is like a conventional THz-TDS setup, but he is able to adjust the alignment of the THz electrical field passing through the sample. We measured transmittance at a few different alignments, and confirmed that the CNTs are indeed aligned perpendicular to the THz electrical field generated by the PPWG setup. That is, unfortunately, the wrong way.
Because the samples are on rectangular plates and the PPWG is set up such that beam can only be aimed through the sample in one direction, there’s no way we can re-align the samples such that the CNTs are parallel to the E-field. So we can’t test the conductivity propagated through the length of the sample like we wanted. We also won’t be able to compare the results of aligned CNTs on silicon and MgO. It would be a trivial comparison since the silicon result should also just be zero conductivity. As always, the setbacks are disheartening, but oh well. We will keep moving forward.
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Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab
Something I’ve had to grapple with when it comes to communicating with people in Japan is figuring out how people approach each other. Typically, they kind of just don’t, at least from what I see. There’s only a few small, private conversations in the lab sometimes. Usually most people are off at the lab running experiments or in class in the case of the Masters, and the people who are at the office are absorbed in whatever they’re working on.
In the first few weeks here I had a really hard time approaching people. In the United States, I’m used to people just wandering over and settling down next to me to have a conversation whenever they’re bored, or someone would just invite themselves into my room just to say hi and try to get a laugh out of me. Here, everyone else is as silent as me most of the time. It doesn’t help that I don’t know how much respect to show, being the youngest and all.
The breakthrough moment came when one of my senpai, Hamauchi-san, randomly came up to my desk while I was reading some research and just asked me how I was doing. I felt like I had gotten caught off-guard at first, but I was happy to have someone to engage with. He seemed a bit nervous about approaching me too, he kept twiddling his hands and spoke softly, but he still made the effort. Our conversation fumbled around awkwardly for a while as Hamauchi and I figured out if we should speak English or Japanese, how much Japanese I could understand, etc. Eventually, we found a bit of a groove and talked about what kind of stuff I was learning, how Osaka and Tokyo compared, and I even got to hear a passionate explanation of Hamauchi’s research and how his work is helping to make solar panels more efficient. In the end, I came away with two important points.
- Walking up and starting a random conversation is awkward as heck for everyone involved.
- It is totally acceptable to walk up and start a random conversation anyway.
It reminded me a bit of being a freshman. Everyone was shy and nervous, in part because we were all trying to be polite and there was both a culture gap and a slight age gap, but I wanted to make friends and Hamauchi had just demonstrated that the rest of Tonouchi Lab wanted to get to know me too. In that case, screw it. I’m going to break the awkward ice, talk to all my labmates and practice Japanese while I’m at it! Since then, I’ve gotten a lot better at talking to people in the lab and spending time with my labmates.
Of course, one of the first things that everyone got to know about me is that I love baseball. Our lab secretary Iwami-san helped me find the Hanshin Tigers’ schedule and we found tickets available for a game on Thursday this week against… the rival Yakult Swallows! Remember them?
The Tigers are the preferred team for every person at Tonouchi Lab, whether they casually root for the team or bleed black and yellow. By far the biggest fan in the lab is Kawayama-sensei, who unfortunately couldn’t come with us that day, so we promised to cheer extra loud for him! We went with a group that included me and 4 of the Masters students with a mix of seasoned fans like Kameo-san and baseball newbies like Piya-san, who had never been to a baseball game before. I assured him that I’d help him understand everything that was going on.
“Do you at least know what balls and strikes are?”
“…Okay, we can figure this out.”
The Hanshin Tigers are one of the most historic teams in Japan, and the same goes for their ballpark, Koshien Stadium. In addition to the renowned Tigers’ regular season home games, Koshien Stadium hosts the national high school baseball championships (aka the Koshien tournament) in the spring of every year, making it one of the most famous locales in Japanese sports. Much like when I went to the Swallows game in Tokyo, I could feel the energy of the crowd throughout the grounds when we walked in, and walking up from the concourse into the sunshine of the outfield stands filled me with the same sense of awe. A sea of yellow and gold undulated all around the stadium, chanting and cheering in unison, and we were part of it! Each of us got a free Tigers shirt when we walked in thanks to a special promotion.
One thing I wasn´t expecting was that the Tigers have a lot of players who used to play for the Cubs! It made me nostalgic to cheer for names like Kousuke Fukudome and Kyuji Fujikawa again. And unlike last game, the home team was kicking butt for 9 innings straight. They got on the board early with contributions from Fukudome and a pair of home runs by foreign star Mauro Gomez, sending the crowd into an elated frenzy that seemed to last all game long. With every run, the entire stadium rang out with cheers of “Hanshin Tigers! Fure! Fure, fure, fure!” Apparently “fure” (フレー) is supposed to sound like “Hooray!” I think the translation wasn’t quite exact, but it stuck, and the fans pour their hearts and souls into it.
Where the Swallows had their signature umbrella dance, the Tigers have the balloon release every game in the middle of the 6th inning. Long balloons of various colors (mostly Tigers yellow) are distributed to the crowd, and fans start blowing them up and holding onto them in the top of the inning. Then, between frames, the mascots come out and direct everyone to release their balloons at the same time. A legion of balloons erupts from the stands, and they fill the sky in a chaotic, glorious dance. It’s a bit weird to put into words, but it’s impossible not to get swept up in the excitement when you’re smack in the middle of it.
Big ありがとうございます to Okada-san, Kameo-san, Ohashi-san and Piya-san for coming with! Any day you get to see baseball is a good day, but being there with friends makes it the best kind of day.
Research Project Update
I wanted to leave myself plenty of time next week to create my poster, so this week was crunch time on the experiment. Moving forward with the plan we had laid out earlier, Manja went into the lab early to run an experiment on a sample of aligned CNTs on silicon substrate, and he confirmed that just like the aligned MgO sample last week, the CNTs were aligned in the wrong direction. Zero conductivity observed. Well, at least we had the data. That just left a measurement of unaligned CNTs on silicon substrate to make sure I had a full set of data to analyze and present. I offered to measure the last sample myself, and Manja happily agreed. With luck, I may be able to measure some relevant data by myself.
And so it was that I spent another long night in the lab, running the setup for hours and hoping that I would see some good results in the morning. You know, the progress bar for the experiment’s program is represented by a picture of a student passed out over his keyboard. I relate to that picture. I really do.
In the morning, I got the good news that there was actually a significant result! Turns out passing the electric field through CNTs on a silicon substrate actually had quite a big effect. Much bigger than what we saw with the MgO substrate, in fact. So it appears that carbon nanotubes on a silicon substrate are more conductive than on an MgO substrate. Why was this the case? I tried asking both Manja and TJ about it, and they both offered a few possible explanations, but we don’t know of an exact reason why. In any case, the results need to be taken with a grain of salt, since I was only able to measure one of each type of sample. However, the information I have now is still presentable as preliminary findings. Manja is going to help me with making my data presentable, formatting graphs and whatnot, and I will give a small presentation of my findings to the lab group next week. This ought to help me get prepared for the poster symposium presentation that I’ll be making once I return to America. Oh boy, that’s coming up soon, isn’t it? Time is moving too fast!
Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab
Wow. Uh… wow. I didn’t think I would be so unprepared to leave. This whole week, the feeling of “I’m going to be gone soon” has been creeping up on me as I turned in my student card, ate my last bowl of Tenshin Mabo, and bought an Osaka Daigaku t-shirt for the road. Still, I wasn’t ready for it to hit me the way it did in the end.
Before I came to Japan, I was really trying to be modest about my expectations. I expected a lot of the stereotypes about Japanese culture to be proven untrue by my experience. After all, we’re all the same humans no matter where you go, right? Instead, I found a lot of the truths that those stereotypes are rooted in. Japanese people really are super polite. The cities are densely-packed and lively. Collaborative effort and dedication to group work are greatly valued while individual efforts and goals are deemphasized. Nerd culture in Japan is totally vibrant and weird. All the ways Japan was different from what I know were suddenly very visible.
In hindsight, I think I was minimizing, trying to ignore the differences in my culture and Japan’s so that I could adjust more easily. But as soon as I started to experience the real Japan, that whole mindset blew me away. I loved exploring places that were different from what I knew. I loved feeling the unfamiliar atmosphere and figuring out how I can integrate into it. I loved meeting people and talking about our cultures and what was different and why. Sure, communication was difficult and frustrating to figure out at first, but the best thing to do for that is to just keep trying. I struggled to learn to use Japanese in the lab and in turn, the lab members gladly struggled to help me. We all wanted to open that line of communication, so we put in the effort, and I think it’s a worthy payoff to be able to speak to someone in their native language.
I think the biggest thing I learned from coming here is how different two different groups of people can be. The way things are done in Japan – the cultural values, the different expectations, and of course the language itself – it’s all so different from anything I’ve experienced before. It felt like being on another world. And it’s okay for people to be different like that. It’s wonderful. Being different is how we have ideas worth sharing and gain new experiences. I hope that moving forward, I’ll be able to approach people who are different from me with a more open mind, more willing to explore those differences and grow from them.
Last weekend, the whole lab went out for shabu shabu together as a going away party for me. It was the biggest outing I’d seen in this lab, with nearly every member coming along, including our always-busy professors and post-docs. Okay, I think some of them might have just been excited to drop everything and come along for awesome food and drinks, but hey, I’m happy to be the cause of that! I was sitting near Manja, Tonouchi-sensei and Murakami-sensei, but I didn’t get an imposing sense of authority from them the way I might at work. Instead, the lab felt like a big (and drunk) family together. I find it so interesting that the same group of people can treat each other professionally and functionally, but then switch to loose and friendly when they move to a different context. I think that’s a skill I should try to learn.
Of course, they weren’t going to let me have a party in my name without me giving a speech, so at the behest of a chanting crowd I stood up and faced the people I had called ‘friend,’ ‘labmate,’ and ‘sensei’ all summer. That was when I realized that these people are amazing. They brought a foreigner into their lab with open arms, made me a part of something they had dedicated their lives to, and helped me learn and grow both as a researcher and as a person. I was proud to feel like a part of the family. And I told them just that.
Gilmore, Daniel_Week 12_Movie-15gbm0o
In the lab this week, I was mostly just fumbling around with the poster in PowerPoint. It was a bit tricky to figure out what I should report on, considering some of our data was trivialized by the carbon nanotubes being misaligned. At one point, Manja suggested just omitting the report on the aligned nanotube samples since they didn’t give any information besides “the conductivity is zero.” However, Kawayama-sensei and Tonouchi-sensei both took a look at my poster and were okay with keeping that information in. I ended up keeping it. Even if it only offers confirmation of what seems obvious, I figured that any information provided by the experiment was worth showing.
This week has been a crash course in ‘Formatting Lab Posters with Manja’ class. Manja is still busy working on other projects, but he’s found time to over my shoulder for hours and show me how to make my graphs and data readable. “Make sure all the text on your figures is bolded so it’s more readable.” “Use black and bright red so no one mixes up the two data sets.” “Align these two graphs by their x-axis. What do you mean their dimensions are different? Merde…” TJ came over to help out too, and several other labmates gave it a thumbs up before I finalized it. Then, I went out for one final “Let’s dinner!” with the M1 and M2 students. We went off to Kujiraya dining court and chowed down delicious on curry together. I’m lucky to have had such a great group of guys in the lab with me. Because of them, I feel like I really became an Osaka Daigaku student for 3 months, part of the group.
On the eve of the final day, I stayed up all night writing personal thank you cards for every lab member thanking each and every one of them for what they had done to welcome me, encourage me and push me to be better. I was also busy wrapping up little goodie bags filled with Purdue magnets, Chicago Cubs pencils and other little omiyage. I spent so much time on this that I actually got to the office a bit late on the last day, but I dedicated the game to finding every member of the lab I could and giving them one last omiyage to remember me by.
Before I left, they gave me a gift, too. A small book titled “Memories from Tonouchi Laboratory.” It was filled with pictures of me working at the lab, exploring Osaka with my labmates, and partying with Tonouchi-sensei and company, all with captions translated to English by Piya-san in a way that made it read like a storybook. And in the back of it were little notes from every member of Tonouchi Lab thanking me for joining them and wishing me well in the future. Reading that little book… was amazing. It is my most prized possession in the world now. All those little notes… I hope I get to see all these people again and tell them their well-wishes for me came true.
I said my last goodbyes to everyone I could find, grabbed my bag, and as I took my first step out the door, I turned back and said, “行ってきます！” (I’ll be back!)
Walking out for the last time, I actually started choking up. Tears were pushing against the back of my eyes for the first time all summer. I started walking quickly. I wanted to leave before I broke down, but as I passed through the campus for the last time I had to stop and take pictures of everything. The lab and research buildings that I worked in every day, the restaurants and dining courts where we would go out to lunch, the bus as it came to pick me up one last time. All of it burned into my memory. On the final bus ride, I hid my reddened face from the other passengers and kept the waterworks contained. I didn’t want to make myself sad because it was over. I wanted to be happy because it happened. Heh. Don’t you love clichés? Of course I was sad, but that was just a sign of how much I loved it. All the more reason to be happy, right?
There’s still something to look forward to in Japan, though. This weekend, I reunite with the Nakatani fellows, and together we will conquer Mt. Fuji!
Final Research Project Overview
Research Project Abstract & Poster: Characterization of Carbon Nanotubes by Parallel Plate Waveguide Terahertz Spectroscopy
Host Lab: Tonouchi Laboratory
Host Professor: Masayoshi Tonouchi
Mentor: Razanoelina Manjakavahoaka
Introduction: Single wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) are an exciting ultrathin material notable for their flexibility, durability, and high electron mobility. These properties make them potentially useful in electronic devices. However, the electrical properties of SWCNTs can change depending on characteristics such as the alignment of the nanotubes and what substrate the sample is prepared on. We want to observe the difference in electrical conductivity of SWCNTs caused by changing the alignment and the substrate of SWCNT samples.
Approach: For this experiment, we used a parallel plate waveguide to perform terahertz spectroscopy. Because carbon nanotubes are ultrathin, projecting a THz beam through the sample’s smallest dimension as in typical spectroscopy would have too small of an interaction length to produce a valid result. Using a parallel plate waveguide allows us to project the THz beam through the length of the carbon nanotubes.
We had four different samples of SWCNTs: Unaligned on MgO substrate, aligned on MgO substrate, unaligned on Si substrate, aligned on Si substrate. Both aligned samples were aligned with the length of the SWCNTs perpendicular to the direction of the electrical field produced by the THz wave. For each of these samples, the electrical absorptivity of the sample was measured by comparing the amplitude of the THz beam after passing through the sample to a control measurement of the THz beam passing through only the substrate. Absorptivity is then used to calculate electrical conductivity.
Results: In the case of unaligned SWCNTs, the sample on MgO substrate had much lower conductivity than the sample on Si. This effect was especially pronounced at lower THz frequencies (0.5-1.0 THz)
In the case of aligned SWCNTs perpendicular to the electrical field, conductivity was observed as zero regardless of substrate.
Future Research: We will repeat this test with different samples to see if the results can be reproduced. Additionally, we want to perform the experiment on aligned SWCNTs with length parallel to the electrical field. The expectation in this new case is that the SWCNTs will exhibit very high conductivity.
Conclusion: The results of this experiment should be considered preliminary because only one sample of each type was tested. As it stands, using a silicon substrate appears to result in a higher conductivity than an MgO substrate, and it warrants further research to see if this result holds. The zero conductivity exhibited by perpendicularly aligned SWCNTs supports the conclusions of previous experiments.
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Week 13: Final Report & Tips for Future Participants
Alright, before I start talking about re-entry and all that, please, please allow me to recount the misadventure that was getting to Mt. Fuji – not even climbing it, just getting there – because oh boy, it is a story. Donald, Erica, Sasha, Rony, and I had decided to hike up the Fujinomiya trail. We were to meet up at Shin-Fuji station and take the bus to the trail on Saturday night so we would be able to see the sunrise from the peak Sunday morning. Perfect. A rock-solid plan.
The first step for Donald and me was to clean out our dorm rooms so we could check out on Saturday morning and head back to Tokyo. Unfortunately, my dorm room always looks like a typhoon picked up all of downtown Namba and dumped it into a single tiny room, so I was up all night shoving my things in my bag and throwing whatever I didn’t need in the garbage. Come morning, my room was spotless, the building manager declared both of us free to go, and Donald and I were ready to – wait, where was my Shinkansen ticket?
The two of us spent over an hour tearing apart my suitcase and rifling through the garbage in the hopes of finding the ticket that I had received over two months ago in Tokyo, but it was no use. しょうがない。Eventually, I decided I would just eat the cost of a new one. Climbing Fuji would be worth it, and we had to get going soon if we wanted to make it on time! We speed-walked down to the station, taking a moment to figure out how to use the Takkyuubin delivery service (we learned from our first Shinkansen trip that this is a good idea). Then we each grabbed a bento and some Beard Papa cream puffs to eat on the way before jumping on the metro.
We arrived at Shin-Osaka station still with a nervous spring in our step. Erica texted us some info on transportation. There were buses that ran from the Shinkansen station Shin-Fuji that would take us to Fujinomiya trail’s 5th station (our starting point), but they didn’t run overnight, meaning we had to be timely enough to catch the last bus. Donald brandished his signature “sumimasen” ability to ask a stranger where to buy Shinkansen tickets, and I was able to get myself a new ticket to Tokyo. So far, so good, in spite of early setbacks.
Still a little nerve-racked from the struggle of the Shinkansen tickets, we took advantage of our long train ride to wind down a bit and change into climbing clothes in the bathrooms. After finally arriving in good ol’ Tokyo, we were ready to take a breather at Sanuki Club before starting the final leg of the journey to Shin-Fuji. We were a little bit ahead of schedule now, so things were looking – what’s that? Donald lost his phone?
Also, the cream puffs we got earlier had exploded in my string bag. Nice.
The train we had arrived on had already left the station, so there was no way to go back and look for Donald’s phone. Dejected, he went to the customer service desk and did his best to explain the situation in Japanese, and the man at the desk said he would call the conductor to see if he knew anything. First I had lost my ticket and now Donald had lost his phone. If we were too late for Fuji, we would both be at fault. The two of us drowned our guilt in exploded cream puffs as we waited for information.
Then, a miracle. Donald’s phone had been found on the train when it arrived at the next station! It was being held at the lost and found there! Japan’s lost and found system had come through for us! We gave the man who helped us a huge “Hontou ni arigatougozaimasu!” and jumped back on the next train. We rode it one stop over, Donald was able to reclaim his phone at the lost and found, and we grabbed a cab to get to Sanuki Club as fast as possible!
The cab ride gave us a small moment to relax. All we had to do after this was drop our bags off at the hotel and take one final Shinkansen ride to Shin-Fuji. In the meantime, we got a few more messages from our hiking group. Erica and Rony were ahead of schedule (of course), but Sasha seemed to be faring no better than Donald and me. She had gotten on the wrong train at one point, and Erica was helping her get back on track. Well, if we could get back on track after all our bad luck, we were sure the rest of the group would be fine too.
Arriving at Sanuki Club felt like coming home after a long vacation, even if it had only been our home for 3 short weeks. Being greeted by the friendly staff, telling them our room number in Japanese and receiving the key came so naturally, like settling into an old routine. Plus, we saw that the Takkyuubin had delivered our bags properly! Hooray! That’s one thing we did right on this trip! Donald and I took our bags up to the familiar lecture room, filled up our water bottles (and I cleaned out my bag), then sat back and laughed with each other about how crazy our day had been already.
We needed a breather. We deserved a breather. Just a quick 5 minutes of rest, and then – wait, the last train for Shin-Fuji leaves in 10 minutes?
CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We ran downstairs with our backpacks slung over our shoulders, gave a quick “arigatougozaimasu!” to the staff at the front desk, then bolted out the door and ran like hell to the bus stop. Waiting for the bus was agonizing, watching the minutes until the bus arrives count down and constantly comparing it to the time on my watch. We could see the bus about to arrive, delayed at the traffic light by heavy traffic. My legs were fidgeting so much I thought they would carve a hole in the sidewalk. Finally, mercifully, the bus arrived and we jumped on, but we weren’t in the clear yet, not even close. I remember waiting anxiously by the door of the bus as we approached the train station.
“Donald, I don’t think we’re gonna make it.”
“We will make it.”
“We haven’t even bought our tickets yet!”
“We are going to Mt. Fuji today!”
The bus arrived with 2 minutes to go before our train left the station. We ran. In 6 years of cross country and track, I don’t think I ever sprinted as fast as I did in the train station that day, carrying a backpack full of climbing gear, shoving my way through crowds as I kept up with Donald. We slid to a stop in front of the Shinkansen ticket machines, operated them like a couple of Japanese masters, and bolted for the gates. We rushed onto the platform. We leapt into the nearest train car. The doors closed behind us.
We made it. We made it!
“Hey… I told you we weren’t gonna make it so you’d be motivated to prove me wrong.”
“… Aw, you jerk!”
We hugged it out. Donald pulled out his phone to tell the group that we would be meeting them at Shin-Fuji, just as planned. But not all was right with the world. Sasha was still struggling to find her way to the station on time. Erica had been looking at timetables and directing her remotely. Apparently, there was only one Shinkansen train left that that could get Sasha to Shin-Fuji on time: the train Donald and I were riding that very moment. And the stop she had to get on at? The one we were about to arrive at.
The two of us sprang up when we felt the train pulling into its next stop. We made for the door and looked out onto the platform, hoping to see some sign of Sasha. A few moments passed with no sign of her; she was probably running through the station just as we had been moments ago. Then, the door closing noise began to siren. I stuck my arm in the doorway, forcing the doors back open for a couple of seconds. They began to close again, but Donald jumped in the way and body blocked it. After all we had been through, we had to do whatever we could to get our fellow traveller on this train! But after humouring our resistance for just a few moments, the doors forced themselves closed, shoving us back in the car. We hadn’t seen our compatriot enter the train. Donald pulled out his phone, and we saw a single message.
Sasha: “I made it!”
I’m sure everyone around us had no idea why the two American boys started screaming with joy when the train started moving again, but we didn’t care at the time. We made our way through the train cars until we finally reunited with Sasha to swap stories of transportation misadventures and congratulate each other for making it this far. From there we were able to meet up with Erica and Rony, and the 5 of us got on the bus to Fujinomiya trail.
As for the mountain itself? Freezing, unforgiving, and totally worth it. Climbing Fuji was about as physically trying as getting there, but I had a great group with me all the way, and in the end it was an experience of a lifetime.
It’s a bit funny, going backwards through all the steps we took when we first came to Japan. Riding the bus to Tokyo airport, looking out the window at the Tokyo skyline, I was reminded of all the feelings I had when I first arrived: awestruck, a bit intimidated, and excited to explore. Looking back, I feel that all the hopes and expectations I had have been fulfilled. The familiar view of Tokyo is branded with a feeling of warm positivity for me now, as well as an odd sense of knowing. I can’t know for sure if I’ll return here, but I know that if I do, I’ll love it.
Being back in Houston felt much the same. When I came to Rice University at the beginning of the summer, I was nervous and uncertain, yet eager for what was to come. Returning after accomplishing so much, I felt like I was on top of the world, and I was sharing that feeling with the entire group of Nakatani students. I also noticed just how big the streets are in the USA. Now I understand why it’s said that everything is big in America, it’s really true! And there was so much wide open space! It felt like I had breathing room again but never noticed that it was gone. Reverse culture shock had started to rear its head pretty quickly. The first moment I realized I missed Japanese culture was when I slept through dinner and realized I couldn’t just walk to a konbini for food. Darn. I’ll miss those. Although, getting American food like burgers, tacos, and bacon & eggs for the first time in months felt great. Upsides and downsides, I guess.
Putting that aside, we still had a job to do: the poster symposium. It was actually a bit intimidating to be surrounded by science professionals. I got scrutinized by some people who had far more experience with spectroscopy and CNTs in their career than me. They weren’t mean about it, but man I felt outclassed by some of the professionals there. However, just being able to put myself in that environment and discuss these terms and topics that I knew nothing about before this summer made me realize how much I’d learned the past three months. I was pretty proud to be a part of the event, representing everything I had learned at Tonouchi Lab. I had come a long way from nowhere, and who knows? Maybe in the future I’ll be on the level of the seniors and judges at the symposium. They were all like me once. (Also Brinda, Shweta, Donald and I snuck off to go start a band. That was fun.)
With our work done, we had a day to play around at NASA! And we got to spend it with the Japanese fellows too! While we were on the bus, I managed to have a full conversation in Japanese with Soya, which blew my mind while it was happening. I had to stop to think a few times and throw in a couple katakana words, but for a while it felt almost as natural as speaking English. I’m still far from fluent, but I never imagined I would grow so much in my Japanese skill. Having a full conversation feel natural like that seemed so far out of reach for me back when I was taking classes at Purdue or even at AJALT. It felt amazing to know I had accomplished something like that. I’m glad we got some time to interact with the Japanese fellows, and we had a great time at NASA with them! I wish them the best of luck in their research, and I hope they love America!
And before we knew it, it was our last night together. All 14 of us U.S. fellows spent the night together in a single hotel room just hanging out, recounting stories, talking about where we would go from here and what we would miss. For me, well, I’m going to miss our little inside jokes, our “Nakatinis” and “Sumimasens” and “That’s so konbini!” I’ll miss having Sarah, Kono-sensei, Endo-san, Ogawa-san and Packard-san guiding our way through Japanese culture and laughing with us at our mistakes. I’ll miss being part of this little pack of nerds, wide-eyed and energetic, exploring the magic of Japan together. But I’m so glad it happened.
To all my fellow fellows, and the entire Nakatani-RIES staff: I’m glad I met you. Thank you for everything.
The flight back to Chicago went by in a flash, with all my emotions swirling around too much for me to be aware. But when I stepped off into O’Hare airport and saw a Chicago-style hotdog stand, I knew I was home. It’s been great to be back with my family, my friends, and most importantly, my cats. Being home feels a bit odd though. I’ve been removed from it for so long. It’s hard to believe that in just a week, I’ll be at Purdue once again, going to class and living an ordinary life. I don’t want to think about that too much, though. For now, I’ll surround myself with the people I’ve been away from this summer before I run off to college again.
Whenever any of my friends or family ask “How was Japan?” I don’t hesitate to tell them it was the best time of my life. I got to meet so many people, do so many things that I had wanted to do but didn’t know how, and experience things I didn’t even know were out there. I also brought back lots of omiyage for them – Japanese candy and small collectibles. A lot of my friends are really interested in Japan but haven’t gotten a chance to visit, and they really appreciated receiving little pieces of its unique culture. If I could, I would drag them all there with me and show them all the things I got to see. Maybe someday…
When speaking to an employer, I would say that I learned how to adapt to an unfamiliar environment. I was doing a lot of things differently than I had ever done before, not just working in a research lab, but living in a different culture as well. I had to learn the flow and routine of my workplace quickly, persevere through intercultural misunderstandings, and build connections with people who are from the other side of the globe. Huh. Saying it that way actually makes me impressed with how well things went. Not to mention handling the responsibility of conducting an experiment on my own for long hours with expensive, finicky equipment, and applying my programming skills to analyze data from those experiments.
And if I were to talk about Nakatani-RIES to other students, maybe prospective Nakatani fellows, I think I would say something similar. The summer in a Japanese research lab definitely helps you develop many skills with the bonus challenge of communicating across cultures. But I think most importantly, it will be fun. You will get to experience so much, you will meet amazing people, and you will never forget it.
So am I a different person after living in Japan? Well, kind of, in a sense. It’s a bit hard to put into a words. I feel more… me.
I think in order to properly compare Japan’s culture, my culture, and my own way of thinking, I had to define “me” in a way that I never really had before. I had to think about what my way of life was and how I grew out of my environment. What parts of Japanese culture are different to me, how do I feel about them, and how do I feel about my own culture? I had to think about these things and figure out what my own perspective was so I could talk about it with the people around me. It’s never felt more natural for me to be myself, and being on my own and responsible for myself in a new place helped a lot with that.
Another thing that I want to mention is how much respect I’ve gained for all students who study abroad in a country whose language they didn’t grow up speaking. There is a huge foreign student population at Purdue, and I’d never given enough thought to how difficult it must be to come to a completely foreign place and communicate with everyone around you speaking a foreign language. But now I’ve done that myself, if only for just a short time; I can empathize, and I want to give every international student I meet a big hug just for speaking English with me.
I also learned a ton about academic research, which is an avenue I really hadn’t thought much about before this summer. After meeting people like Tonouchi-sensei and everyone who works in his lab, people who are so passionate about their research and have dedicated themselves to it, it really opened my eyes to this scientific world. Getting a chance to participate in it myself let me see what could drive people to pour themselves into it. Research is about digging into the cutting edge of science, discovering things that no one else knows, and finding solutions to problems that affect the whole world. It’s challenging and rewarding in ways that I never imagined, and the teachings of Kono-sensei, Tonouchi-sensei and Manja unlocked for me the strange and intriguing world of nanophysics. I had said at the start of the program that I would be up for any research topic, even one I didn’t have experience in, and I’m glad to have been introduced to this one! I know that there is some research in nanophysics and ultrathin materials at Purdue in our Discovery Park facility, so maybe I’ll see if I can continue participating in this field of research back at home.
And as for the one burning question I have left about Japan… How will Japan change? If I ever get to return in 5, 10, or more years, will Japan be different from what I remember? What cultural shifts will take place, and what will remain constant? In the short time we were there, did we have an impact on the people we met? Did we change the way they think of America, or of their own country? Hmm… I suppose that was more than one burning question. Heh, how could I limit myself to just one? I’m really interested to see as a new generation takes its place, more contact is made with other cultures, and world events take place, what will change about Japan, and what will it keep and define as its national identity? I suppose we’ll all find out in the future, both for Japan and ourselves.
I found out about the Nakatani-RIES program through a program at Purdue called GEARE that encourages engineering students to seek study abroad and international internship opportunities. In the fall, there is a GEARE poster symposium that invites seniors who have studied and worked abroad to present a poster and discuss their intercultural experiences with younger students. I want to talk to our director about attending the symposium as a presenter so I can talk about Nakatani-RIES. I might be able to present my science symposium poster alongside the seniors’ posters, although the context would be a bit different from what it was designed for. In any case, I hope I can encourage some of the younger students at Purdue to pursue international experiences through great programs like Nakatani-RIES and GEARE!
Tips for Future Participants
- Take just one bag full of luggage. You will probably accumulate a second bag’s worth of stuff to take back while you’re in Japan.
- Make sure to bring lots and lots of omiyage for Nakatani staff, AJALT teachers, lab professors, lab members, and some extras for unexpected encounters. Giving them out will free up bag space for the return trip too!
- Watch anime. Seriously. It gets you used to hearing Japanese, and it’s a great conversation topic with almost any local!
- Bring things from your hometown and/or university
- Food is always a good choice. I brought chocolates from a Chicago-based confectionary
- Magnets, postcards, etc. can be bought at your university bookstore.
- Pencils and pens make good small gifts that you can give to lots of people.
- When you travel around Japan, look for local specialties that you can bring back to your lab (e.g. yatsuhashi from the Kobe area). There are dedicated omiyage stores all over for this!
In the lab
- Talk to your fellow lab members! Don’t be afraid to walk over and ask what’s up. It’s also good to show interest in what other members of the lab are researching.
- If you are confused and professors are not around, the senior lab members will be happy to help you.
Where to Go
- Osaka Castle & Himeji Castle
- Baseball games! (Check out Koshien Stadium in Osaka for sure!)
- Expo City & Expo Memorial Park
- Arashiyama Monkey Park
- Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum (I never got to go, but it’s real close to Toyonaka campus!)
What to Eat
- Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki (Osaka specialties)
- Ramen shops
- Curry (Kujiraya dining court especially)
- Timbuktu (Nepalese restaurant in Toyonaka. The one with big naan!)
- Beard Papa cream puffs (in Ishibashi station)
- Yatsuhashi (folded mochi sweets)