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
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.
No report submitted.
Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning
No report submitted.
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Week 10: Interview with Japanese Researcher
No report submitted.
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Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab
No Report submitted.
Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab
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Week 13: Final Report
No report submitted.
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