2016: Donald Swen

Swen, Donald_Profile
Donald Swen
Willamette University
Sophomore, Physics
Expected Graduation: May 2018
Host Lab in Japan: Sekitani Lab, Osaka University
Research Project Abstract and Poster: Amplifying Brain Waves to Control a Robot by Using Flexible Organic Transistor CircuitsAdobe_PDF_file_icon_24x24

Why Nakatani RIES?
In the future, I envision myself working on issues that impact not just America, but other countries including Japan. As climate worsens, technology improves, and global interdependence increases due to reliance on natural resources and trades, an impact in one country will affect others as well. I believe our generation of engineering and physics students, putting aside our cultural and ethnic differences, will play a big role in solving the most pressing problems of our time, such as poverty, unsustainable energy, and social inequities. And through diversity and collaboration, we can come up with previously unthinkable discoveries and simultaneously foster healthier international relations and break down cultural and linguistic barriers. Nakatani seemed like the perfect fit for my endeavors, allowing me to attain exposure to a different culture and develop a global perspective while advancing my scientific capability and experience.

This summer I look forward most to working in Prof. Sekitani’s lab. I hope to gain insight into their systems thinking and approach to science, and also mature academically and culturally through the challenge of research in an unfamiliar setting. However, I am also equally as excited to learn about Japanese culture, explore both the city and countryside, and make meaningful connections with the people I meet. And through these experiences, I look forward to learning more about myself: what I am passionate about and the various beliefs I held from growing up in America as I contrast them with Japanese customs.

Goals for the Summer

  • Build off previous research experience and knowledge to thoroughly understand the theory and efficiently make a contribution to the new research.
  • Staying present and open-minded as I encounter new customs, cuisines, and people.
  • Become conversationally fluent in Japanese.
  • Document the memories made and journal at least three times per week.
  • And lastly to have fun!

Excerpts from Donald’s Weekly Reports

Week 01: Arrival in Japan

View of Tokyo Tower from my window at night. - Donald Swen
View of Tokyo Tower from my window at night. – Donald Swen

Sometimes at night or when I find time to be alone, I’m just in awe that I find myself here at this very moment. Like what did I do to deserve all of this? And there’s a sense of immense gratitude to the people that supported me in my life but also an incredible sense of fullness. And I’ve had that feeling every day for the past week.

At night, when I look outside the window from my room at the Sanuki Club Hotel, I am amazed at how beautiful this city is. I can see city lights, the radiant orange glow of Tokyo Tower just a few buildings away and yet there is a silence to it all. There is an incredible considerateness here. Loud noises are kept to a minimum, construction sites have decibel monitors, and are completely sealed off from the roads. In walkways and escalators, people keep to one side of the street and form a somewhat single file line. This order helps promote the better functioning of the society as a whole. The sacrifice of individual importance for overall welfare is incredible. But also different from American culture.

During orientation at Rice University, we learned about cultural differences and one of them was ‘wa’ or harmony. In the United States, we have quite the opposite which is the value of individuality. I remember when I visited New York City, one of the first things you experience is cars beeping at each other. Crossing the streets there feels like you might get hit by a car at any moment. Here in Tokyo, I feel completely safe crossing the streets. I rarely ever worry about getting hit by a car. This considerateness is not only found when crossing the street or on the walkways, but also in subways. When the subway comes to a stop, people wait for the people inside to get out before going in. This sense of following the ‘rules’ is a stark contrast to what one would experience in an American subway and ultimately represents a larger cultural difference of individuality.

The concept of individuality was touched upon in the cultural seminar at Rice University as well. As we were reading the cultural differences, I could not help but think of George Orwell’s dystopia novel 1984, and Thomas More’s Utopia. While reading those books, I distinctly remember feeling grateful that I had so much autonomy in thought, that I wasn’t monitored by the thought police, or was in this supposedly perfect society where everyone wore the same clothing and there was no greed. As we were sitting in that room at Rice, I latched onto my individuality and started to develop a deep curiosity of questioning the extent of individuality one has in Japan. What would be the effects of having a cultural understanding that harmony promotes the better good versus the touting of individuality for the functioning of a society? This first week has led me to question concepts such as individuality, but also, ‘What really matters to Japanese people?’

During our cultural discussion with KIP students on the US-Japan political situation, (Trump’s participation in the presidential election and the implications it would have on international relations) I started to realize that what happens in the US, affects Japan. In the discussion table I was in, Ayako, a political science student from Keio University, seemed genuinely concerned and due to Japan’s security situation, the domestic issue of Trump’s running for president mattered to her. It was quite inspiring to see the energy of these students.

In the inner neighbourhoods of Shinjuku. - Donald Swen
In the inner neighbourhoods of Shinjuku. – Donald Swen

I’ve also had the opportunity to explore Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s largest commercial districts. I can’t quite explain this place. There is a bit of everything here: thousands of gachopons, claw machines, and electronics of all variety. I walked into one store that had a wall covered with SD cards and the selection for laptops was nearly endless. There was one laptop with a circular touchpad! I also visited the Taito Game Station, a building with six floors, each containing its own theme. We started on the 6th floor and worked our way down and on each floor, I was overwhelmed with all that was happening. High school students were waiting in line to play large arcade games on the top floor, on another floor there were picture booths, and on the first floor there was a flood of people trying their luck at the claw machines. I wondered as I ventured through this building, what the stories of these people coming to play these games were. Did they have homework to do? Was it to relieve stress from school or work? I used to play games quite a bit and so personally for me, I’ve always seen games as a sort of coping mechanism to escape from facing the complexity of reality. I think we all have coping mechanisms to the myriad of adversities that come into our lives.

After the Taito Game Station, we walked the streets of Shinjuku. I was in awe the whole time as I saw huge megascreens, bigger than the one at Times Square, and the street was flooded with people. I have never seen so many people in one place ever. The commercial activity and consumerism was very high. Whenever I think of consumerism, I can’t help but stop to think of the historical roots of consumerism where the creation of the welfare state in the 17th century allowed consumerism to take birth. I have a hunch that the welfare provided by the state is quite high, but I do not know enough about this to talk further. But there is something unsettling I feel about the level of consumerism in Japan and the societal implications it has. I hope to continue exploring this unsettling feeling as I stay in Japan longer.

One of the many intersections in Shinjuku flooded with people. Never have I ever seen anything like this before. - Donald Swen
One of the many intersections in Shinjuku flooded with people. Never have I ever seen anything like this before. – Donald Swen

Besides exploring Japan, I have also been learning Japanese for nearly four hours a day. I love it. My sensei’s are absolutely amazing. Although we practice a lot in class, I find that I only absorb phrases if I use them more than five times outside of the classroom. What is really helping is developing sentence structure and vocabulary. Surprisingly, one can get around Tokyo quite well with just broken grammar, some vocabulary, and hand motions. Besides classes, one thing that I have been doing for quite a while now is asking Japanese students how to say certain phrases. I write these phrases down in my phone or small notebook and it is really handy to pull it out and say the phrase. Overtime, I remember these phrases. I really like learning through this method because you learn the social context in which certain phrases are said. This social context is not entirely shown in class due to all the various degrees of politeness one can make a sentence into.

My first week has been a crazy whirlwind. This whole experience feels surreal as I encounter this new culture, contrast them with my own, and realize that I’m in Tokyo! Although I talked about the cultural difference of individuality that I noticed, I want to mention that upholding individuality is not without its cons. America is not perfect and there is much to learn. As the weeks go by, I wish to explore how cultural values that the Japanese hold works for them and realize the pros/cons of those values. Simultaneously I wish to question America’s value of individuality and examine the pros and cons of such a value.

Question of the Week
At the end of it all, one question that remains in my head is: What is the cost of individuality?

Introduction to Science & Engineering Seminar
Attending the first Science & Engineering lecture was a wake-up call to start consolidating all the information I’ve learned from past courses and the past summer at LSU. Kono-sensei talked about metals and insulators, nanoelectronics, nanophotonics, nanomaterials, and quantum mechanics. I’ve heard or seen almost all of these concepts at some point. Metals and insulators felt familiar. Because there is no solid-state physics course offered at Willamette, I had to teach myself solid-state to the extent of understanding thermoelectric materials for my REU at LSU. This lecture made me realize that I skipped many core concepts that I would have gotten if I had taken a class on the subject. For example, we talked about the Hall Effect and I distinctly remembered I used that concept to measure a property last summer. But I never connected that it could be used to tell whether if something is a conductor or an insulator. When we started talking about band gaps, I felt more comfortable but then I was not able to connect the dots between nanoparticles size and color. When the answer was revealed, I just thought to myself, “Ah, why didn’t I think of that” or “I should have connected the dots.” I had those moments multiple times.

Another major topic was quantum mechanics. We flew past these concepts quickly. I have taken quantum mechanics at Willamette, however it felt more like an introduction to what quantum is and how the mathematical notation (brakets, matrices) works. Almost the whole semester, I did not know what was going on and how any of the theory we were learning related to the real world. When Kono-sensei started talking about the experimental aspect of quantum, I became quite literally lost. I had focused so much on theory that I never found the opportunity to zoom out during the semester. As thus, I have a weak junction where I have a strong mathematical basis of quantum mechanics but not a strong notion of theory nor experimental applications. I hope to glue the bits and pieces I have to thoroughly understand the beauty of quantum mechanics and how it underpins so much of the nano-world.

We also overviewed P-N junctions. All I know is that there are p and n type semiconductors, and that one of them is conducive to holes and the other, electrons. Last summer, I did not need to understand how circuits and P-N junctions worked, but they always fascinated me. This summer I will be working on integrated circuits, flexible electronics so I have a lot of work to do with electrical oriented stuff. One desire is I wish we could have a slightly more fundamental approach to learning about electronics. I will need to carve out more time in the next couple of weeks to fully understand the theory behind my project.

When we started talking about special relativity, graphene, and Fermi-levels, I felt much more at ease. I understood almost all of these concepts quite well as I had learned them from courses and attended a solid-state science lecture last summer at LSU. However there many concepts that I did not entirely understand as they were covered in a flash and the goal is to cover a lot of breadth. It felt more like, “Okay, here all the topics you would possibly encounter” rather teaching full theories. Beside lectures, we also did lab tours at the University of Tokyo.

The lab tours were just fascinating. Cutting edge and high technology would be how I describe all of the labs I toured. My favorite was one was the mechatronics one where they created a bimetal robot based on different rates of thermal expansion for different metals. The haptic feedback air hockey was also fun. It was quite a complex system and you could tell the person spent years on it. Visiting Todai, almost inspires me to apply to Todai in the future. The campus was beautiful and it just seemed like a great place to pursue knowledge and grow into a strong researcher.

As I transition into the research at Osaka University, I do have questions about organic thin-film transistors, especially extracting significance from the plots in the literature I was given. Also terms like drain-source voltage are new to me. During the next two weeks, I will need to allocate a nice chunk of time in a coffee shop in Tokyo to get to know the theory.

Initial Research Project Overview – What I know about my project so far…
My project is on improving the performance of organic thin-film transistors (OTFTs). That means working with semiconductors. Because a research aim of the group is incorporating OTFTs into foldable and conformable integrated circuits, I suppose I will be studying electrical and mechanical properties, perhaps others as well. I am also not too sure on the technique I will be using, perhaps synthesis techniques of nanostructures. The applications of this OTFTs are for flexible nanoelectronics, meaning we can have flexible TV displays and such.

Research Paper Summary
The paper I read is called “Human-friendly organic integrated circuits” by Tsuyoshi Sekitani and Takao Someya. The literature starts out motivating why ultraflexible and foldable electronics would be useful in todays world. It then goes on to describe how they achieved foldable and conformable integrated circuits based on organic thin-film transistors with very high mechanical stability. Their main purpose is to create such transistors and integrated circuits that can realize their dream of highly flexible and portable electronic systems.

They used a variety of methods to synthesize the transistor device itself. Methods include evaporation through a shadow mask, oxygen plasma treatment, using a SAM solution, spin-coating, and vacuum sublimation. These techniques are all quite foreign to me, but I hope to really understand it all soon. They then measured the transistor performance by constructing an inverter circuit. They also measured the capacitance of the device and varying the bending radius of the base films. By measuring the capacitance, they can use that data as a function for a strain gauge and thus measure mechanical properties as well. One of the main results here is that they were able to bend the organic transistors to 0.2mm, which is the smallest bending radius for transistor reported thus far.

With the transistors created, the next step was to create organic complementary (CMOS) circuits. They then carried out a host of measurements which I had quite a hard time understanding. In addition, they also manufactured a very thin catheter by wrapping a foldable transistor and sensor matrix around its surface in a helical structure. From what I understand, the purpose of demonstrating this electrical application is to show that even when it is bent, it can be utilized. In this paper they also mentioned that organic thin-film transistors require less energy and are far easier to synthesize than traditional transistors of the same effect.

The work done here is important because the CMOS circuits they created have greater noise margins, lower power consumption, faster switching speeds, more mechanical stability than circuits on a single carrier type. These properties lends itself flexible electronics. Flexible electronics can find its way into many areas of our future life such as healthcare monitor systems, artificial retinas, and electronic implants (if organic circuits are made of biocompatible materials). Besides healthcare, these organic integrated circuits can also be fabricated onto banknotes and realize the ultimate anti-counterfeit technology and tracking system.

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Week 02: Trip to Akita

I am consistently surprised at how packed Japan is. To give some statistics, Japan has a land size of 377,900 km² and has a population of 127.3 million people. 13.35 million of those people are packed into 2,188 km² of what is called Tokyo. To contrast, my home state, California, has a land size of 424,000 km² and 38.8 million people. The density disparity results in new modes of life. Expansive subway stations with stores lining the sides of the underground walkways are characteristic of the Tokyo Metro. Each station is like a mini-mall. Besides expanding underground, the above ground is even more densely packed with skyscraper after skyscraper and minimal space between buildings. Cars are smaller, cube-shaped, and roads are narrower.

I thought that perhaps this was just the big cities I had been visiting: Ikebukuro and Shibuya. But this past week I have been traveling quite a bit. I visited old friends that were exchange students at my university from the past two years. I went to two places that are considered suburban: Machiya and Saitama (Omiya ward). The atmosphere is quieter in these cities, however I still did not escape the vending machines nor the sense of bustle. There is a very strong work environment in Japan. You can see salarymen dressed in suits walking in and through stations. In Machiya, there were stores in neighborhoods, and again, buildings are almost always at least two stories high and packed very closely together. Coming from Cupertino, California, seeing stores in neighborhoods is unusual for me as they are physically separated: residential is residential and commercial is commercial. In Saitama, although there are fewer skyscrapers, I am still met with packed buildings and this overwhelming sense of the maximum utilization of space. I wonder how this ties into culture and affects the daily lives of Japanese people.

A rice pancake made by local agricultural high schools, sold at Lawsons.
A rice pancake made by local agricultural high schools, sold at Lawsons.

On the opposite end of the density spectrum, I visited the agricultural and rural Akita with Nakatani and KIP students. On the drive to Akita, I was met with vast expanses of forest. Never in my life before have I seen so much green. As we drove into town, vending machines still existed but densely packed buildings were gone. My favorite part of the trip was meeting high school students at the Omagari Agricultural High School. In Japan, there are schools that prepare students for advanced agricultural jobs. Omagari was such a school. I will never forget meeting this one high school student, Taito. We talked about differences between America and Japan but quickly got into differences between Tokyo and Akita. There is this overwhelming sense of distinction from the city that the students have here. Near the end of our lunch discussion, he brings out this normal looking pancake snack, one you find at a konbini (convenience store). It turns out that the pancake snack wasn’t just any normal snack. It was made out of rice by local elementary and high school students from the various agricultural schools in the area. He said that they sold these rice pancakes at Lawson, a popular konbini chain, because rice consumption is declining in Japan due to the westernization of food (rice to wheat and bread).

Another favorite moment was last Saturday night, after a long day of discussions, I went to the onsen, a public hot spring, at the ryokan I stayed at, a traditional Japanese hotel. I was greeted by three university students from the Akita prefecture. I ended up talking with them for a good hour, fully naked (one of the requirements of onsen). Besides the obvious naked relationship we all shared, we delved into quite interesting topics ranging from sustainability and agriculture to individuality. I learned that the young people in Japan are changing from a culture of wa (harmony) to individuality. The progress of actualization and extent of this change, I do not know. What I can conclude is that the presence of hierarchy in the lives of the Japanese is definitely very strong. Living in America, I know that certain people are to be respected, but I never feel as if I was constrained within a certain level in the hierarchal pyramid. For me, there is no pyramid and everything is quite flat. I feel like if I need to get somewhere, I can somehow forge a path there. I want to note that I am speaking from a rather privileged point as there are far more subtleties to what constitutes an equal playing field. Racism, sexism, ableism, and other –isms can make it harder for individuals to forge paths. For Japanese, I got this sense that one must adhere to a certain path to get somewhere. There seems to be this order that you must follow, that if you don’t then you would get looked down upon or such. I discussed further with my old Japanese friends and a sense of order and way definitely exists to some degree.

The discussion on how to increase agricultural involvement in Akita.
The discussion on how to increase agricultural involvement in Akita.

What really summed up the atmosphere of the trip was our last discussion with the agricultural high school students and staff, university students from the Akita Prefecture, and KIP students. We were told to discuss how we should get people to start thinking about agriculture and how to get them involved. That was when our group collectively came up with the catch-phrase ‘Itadakimasu’. This is a phrase that Japanese people always say before eating a meal. It has a variety of meanings from thanking God, your family, or acting as a ‘Let’s eat everyone!’ I then posed the question to the group, asking, “Wait a minute, who are we actually thanking?” Do we even know where our food is coming from? Do we know how it is produced? It doesn’t just miraculously appear in konbinis or supermarkets. Visiting this agricultural high school and having this discussion made me realize the connection between food production and food distribution. Here I was, hearing lectures from farmers themselves talking about issues they are facing such as shortage of workers and decline of rice consumption. After all the groups presented their ideas, two teachers gave speeches on their sentiments and what they hope will change. When they used the phrase of itadakimasu in their speeches, our group all fist-bumped each other. Although they spoke in Japanese, I knew that they were truly passionate about their work. There was an overwhelming distinction about between city and Akita people. People in Akita are definitely different from Tokyo, not only in occupation but also population density. After all these activities, it was time to head home.

Here are some amazing Nakatani fellows. The bus we rode to Akita had these fire hazard foldout chairs. Seatbelt not included!
Here are some amazing Nakatani fellows. The bus we rode to Akita had these fire hazard foldout chairs. Seatbelt not included!

On the train ride home, I talked with a student from the University of Tokyo. The University of Tokyo is the most prestigious school in Japan. She told me how it was common for students to study 2-3 years after high school in preparation for the exam to get into the University of Tokyo. Another Tokyo student told me she would study over 12 hours a day in high school. I couldn’t imagine doing this. When I was in high school, I had little idea what I wanted to do. I didn’t even know who I was, what I wanted. I was a complete utter mess. It is quite inspiring to meet with these students but at the same time, I wonder about the education system of Japan. What kind of students is it producing? What is the purpose of education?

It was fascinating to travel to all these places and see the whole spectrum of population density all within one week. Besides traveling, we had cultural outings including Taiko drumming and visiting Museums. Taiko was quite fun. Nothing better than hitting boxes and having it sound majestic. Last Tuesday, I did hit quite a low point in terms of energy. I was quite literally exhausted. We had been traveling so much, participated in numerous discussions and lectures, and learning Japanese for 3 and a half hours each day. It all culminated to Tuesday afternoon, where numerous other Nakatani students and I collapsed on a couch in the museum to rest. The hardest part of all of this is time and energy. There is only so much time in a day and so many things you can do. I have not studied Japanese as much as I would like. There is definitely a struggle balancing learning Japanese, sightseeing, spending time with other Nakatani students, and preparing for our research labs. But if there is one thought I come back to, it is this: “I can’t believe I’m in Japan.” When I think of that, all my struggles became small in comparison and I became overwhelmed in gratefulness.

Intro to Science & Engineering Seminar Overview

I thoroughly enjoyed the science lectures this week. We had three lecturers come to the Sanuki Club: Taiichi Otsuji-sensei, Professor Stanton, and Dr. Kunie Ishioka.

Otsuji-sensei presented on Graphene Terahertz Science and Technology. He started the presentation with many slides showing his lab at the beautiful Tohoku University. He then introduced the concept of Terahertz technologies with Tom Clancy’s 1996 classic novel, Op-Center: Games of State. Now I don’t remember if this was a situation he provided or from the novel, but Otsuji-sensei describes that there is this spy in a room. A person is about to walk into the room. The spy is able to see through the walls, through his wallet, and image the picture of the person’s whole family. When the person enters the room, the spy is able to name all of his family members, knowing exactly what they look like. Already, I knew this professor was quite quirky.

We talked about why graphene is so interesting. It is a gapless semiconductor which I think means electron holes and carriers lose mass in graphene. We touched upon concepts such as the Fermi function, raman spectroscopy, gain/loss, drain/source/gates, and negative conductivity. I did not entirely understand all of these topics, but I am working on it as some of these conducts will be useful for my research. Back to the topic, the reason why graphene is such an interest to Otsuji-sensei is because the energy gap of graphene emits light in the Terahertz region. As a precursor to light emission, he used the idea of a pachinko machine to illustrate the concept of a laser. When the slide first came up, I already knew where he was going to go with it. I’ve learned this already in my Introductory Chemistry class. However, never would have I thought someone would use such a method to convey this laser concept.

Then we had Professor Stanton lecture us on Semiconductor Nanostructures. We learned that semiconductors have a gap in the energy vs momentum electronic band diagram. I did a bit more research on this and realized that all of this is connected with the electronic orbitals we learned in chemistry. In chemistry, we have those quantized energy levels: 1s^2, 2s^2, 2p^6, etc. Those energy levels were for single atoms. Band diagrams turn out to be just be a bunch of those single atoms having overlapping orbitals, arranged in a periodic and predictable structure called a crystal. We went into detail about how there needs to be a gap to build transistors. Furthermore, for a material to be optically active (emit light and such), the conduction and valence band need to be located in the same k-space. We later learned that there are manipulations around this. What seemed to emerge out of this lecture is the concept of band-gap engineering. Band-gap engineering allows us to change effective masses with quantum confinement, which then allows us to make optically active materials. We can even change mobility. I am still processing many of the concepts, but the topics that I am trying to get more comfortable with are transistors, effective mass theory, forward/reverse bias, and Fermi-level.

On Wednesday, Dr. Ishioka came in to talk to us about being a woman engineer in a field and country dominated by men. She also gave a wonderful lecture on her research of using ultrafast optics and a pump-probe technique to observe the response of photonic materials. Her research is very much spectroscopy oriented. I followed the lecture through to almost the end, but ultimately got lost as the number of graphs per slide increased exponentially. What really captured me in this lecture was the gender disparity in Japan. Japan is one of the few countries where the ratio of women to men in professional fields is flipped. Japan has a high level of males in upper positions and in science, only around 10% in each class would be girls. Dr. Ishioka said that she found it hard to motivate herself as there were no role models. However, she was born in a very superstitious year. Girls born in that year were said to be strong towards their husbands, and to run them away. Consequently, the number of births that year dropped nation-wide. On top of that, she found inspiration from watching this one space exploration show. Although initially interested in space, she found equal interest in the atomic world through the means of spectroscopy. Professor Stanton lectured after and restated many of the concepts Dr. Ishioka presented. The lectures together really helped me understand the use of spectroscopy to study materials and how semiconductors are related to it all.

Following Dr. Stanton’s lecture, here are some things I learned. In the black body spectrum, radiance is brightest in the visible light region. Meaning light in the visible region is most abundant and is one of the reasons why our eyes developed to see in the visible region, not the UV or infrared (although that would be cool!). The temperature of the sun at its surface is 5778 Kelvin. To calculate the power radiated by the sun per m^2 at the distance of the Earth, I used the Stefan-Boltzmann Law. I calculated first the luminescence of the sun and then divided by the area of a sphere with the radius as the distance from the Earth to the Sun. I ended up with 1387.64 W/m^2. Now imagine harnessing this energy! Of course angle of sunlight and the fact that only about 70% of that energy gets absorbed by the Earth (30% gets reflected), affects how much power gets distributed over the surface of the Earth. As comparison, my laptop uses 44.89 Watts per hour. So for one hour, idealistically I would need a solar panel that is 0.045 m^2 assuming 40% efficiency. Realistically though, efficiency is much less and less consistent, so I would need a much larger solar panel. This summer, my project will not be based on optical properties so I believe I won’t need to worry about that. Instead, I will focus my efforts this week on learning semiconductor devices and reading up on the organic field effect transistor textbook I was assigned.

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Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences

The end of the beginning.

This week marks the end of our Intro to Japanese Culture and Society Seminar. Only three weeks ago, had I met all the other Nakatani students. Together, we experienced Japanese culture, traveled all across Tokyo using the subway system, and reflected on how to make sense out of all that we were seeing. And on Sunday, we said our goodbyes and dispersed across Japan into our respective host labs. Wait.. that means we actually have to do work now?! Yes and that is incredibly exciting.

This next segment will present many challenges yet reap many rewards. I will have to take up an entirely new subject, electrical engineering, and try my hardest to make a valuable contribution. I will experience working 8 or more hours in a foreign laboratory. And all the while, I will continue to practice and hone my Japanese. But the main focus of this week’s cultural reflection is appreciating the immensity of the past three weeks and extracting valuable lessons and knowledge to apply to the upcoming eight weeks of science research. Let’s start.

America. Is the American way the only way? I believe a strong reason why we were sent from America to Japan was to see different modes of living, different ways of achieving the same goal. For example, in America, to get to work, most Americans use cars aided by the expansive highway system. In Japan, or at least in Tokyo, the primary mode of transportation to work or school is an expansive subway and train system. Same goal, different means. Does that mean the Japanese system could be implemented in America? Hardly. The cultural values of harmony, group mentality, and for the greater societal benefit allows such a system to function to what seems like to be flawless. Those values are in contrast with American values of individuality. Our two societies here are very different.

There is also a rather scary part. Is the American way the right way? America is a global leader in science, power, and economy. And leaders tend to influence. On Tuesday, Dr. Lyons, the director of NSF (National Science Foundation) Tokyo Office, came to talk about the merits and values of being a science diplomat in this day and age. As she talked, I started scribbling down everything she said. I was thinking, “I will definitely use this in my resume or when I need to convey to others what I gained from this experience in Japan.” But as I continued jotting down her words, I realized something quite uncomfortable. Science is a publicly funded good and many of the innovations we have today arose because of large amounts of government funding. But is the direction we are taking science, the right direction? Last semester, I took a class on Western Civilization & Sustainability and became enraptured in reading books such as Thucydides and Plato and retooling them in a sustainability oriented lens. All semester long we talked about how we are heading off a cliff, we are destroying our climate by treating nature as a limitless resource, and how we use innovation, technology, and massive growth to mask issues such as environmental sustainability. I do sincerely think we have deviated from nature. Our actions resemble that of an alien, extracting resources and not caring about the planet itself. We no longer live symbiotically with the rest of the ecosystem, instead we are obsessed with controlling it and repurposing it for ourselves. What’s weird is that I am a science student. I want to base my whole career on using science and engineering to empower people. Dr. Lyon’s lecture revealed that growth mentality we studied in my class and the idea that human ingenuity and science can solve all our problems. I believe in people and I do think we can solve all our problems, but I think the way we go about it is incredibly important. Is there a way to conduct science in a way that agrees with a symbiotic relationship with nature and our planet?

Nevertheless, Dr. Lyons was full of insights. One of my favorite quotes from her was: “Science tells you what you can do, not what you should do.” There then seems to arise a moral and ethical nature to science. A big question that I hope to unravel the answer to is: What morally compels me and how will I use science to effectively and responsibly address that compulsion?

Along the lines of Dr. Lyons and the American way, I noticed that American students might inherently have a biased view of the world. America, being the leader in many fields of the world, almost creates this exceptionalism and this sense that we are right. This arose during our discussion on Friday with the KIP students on the ethical implications of gene editing and whether or not the government should collect our genomic data. Our group started talking about the American distrust in government and that it is a huge violation of privacy. But was this a logical gate? Violation of privacy means violation of individuality means no. The fact is, to Americans this idea might seem invasive but people in other governments might trust the government. In fact, right before us we had two Japanese KIP students who said that they don’t necessarily distrust the government. They voiced the idea that it might be useful for the government to own genomic data in order to create a safer society. And I have a hypothesis on why America is so different from countries like Japan.

When I was talking to Momoko, a KIP student, she told me that in America, we have this cultural mixing pot where everyone looks different. Then she said, “In Japan, we all look quite the same.” It didn’t quite strike me at that moment, but I realized that what she said has huge implications. The construction of a national identity where homogeneity is present (Japan) creates a radically different society than a society where the construction of the national identity is based upon heterogeneity (USA).

With Yuko and Youssef at the Imperial Palace Gardens - Donald Swen
With Yuko and Youssef at the Imperial Palace Gardens – Donald Swen

One radical difference that manifests itself is the religious rituals of the Japanese. Walking around Tokyo or Japan in general, you see shrines everywhere. The usual process when you enter a shrine is to purify oneself, then go up and perform a short ritual. You then have the option of knowing your fortune from a small piece of paper by paying a small fee. Furthermore, there are festivals held multiple times a year celebrating spirits and gods. The presence of religion is almost everywhere, but there is a subtlety. When I talked to Yuko, another KIP student, she told me that a lot people aren’t necessarily religious but they know what to do when they go to a shrine. What emerges is this common ritualistic religion. This is quite distinct from a heavily faith-based religion such as in the US.

The crux of the matter here is that to go forth and declare one’s society to be better or one society to know the right way is possibly missing out on the subtleties, the history, and the why. By learning of the reasons why a society came to be the way it is, one can then come to truly appreciate the cultural differences. Moving forward, I will remind myself of the importance of reserving judgment in the face of cultural differences until I understand the underlying reasons.

Just some of our language senseis. Each class has about four senseis, so nearly every day we learn from a different teacher. - Donald Swen
Just some of our language senseis. Each class has about four senseis, so nearly every day we learn from a different teacher. – Donald Swen

In another realm of moving forward, this week was the wrap of our language classes. We said our goodbyes to all our language senseis. Three weeks passed quickly and it felt like only yesterday I entered the classroom with no knowledge of Japanese grammar. Now, I have a basic notion of grammatical structure and an increased vocabulary base. What I must do to retain and expand on what I learned is continue practicing speaking Japanese, reviewing grammatical structures, and increasing my vocabulary bank. The hard part is that there are a casual forms used for everyday conversation and polite form used for writing or respectful tones.

And to wrap it all up, I also visited a Kabuki play and went to a baseball game. Although I didn’t understand almost a single word, I was rather entertained when the fox spirit started flying. He was literally suspended by cords and lifted into the air and made a grand exit out of the theatre with streamers coming out when he exited. The baseball game was also quite the spectacle. There were many workers walking around the stadium carrying these heavy beer filling packs on them, and selling beer to the people in the stands. It was quite odd though. The whole time I was watching I couldn’t help but think of this one article I read in my anthropology class that analyzed baseball as an American sport. One example is that when the batter steps up to the plate, he faces the audience. The article I read made the observation that that scene is representative of individual (the batter) versus society (audience). This article was written as a commentary of American society where individuality is crowned yet in Japan, where harmony and group consciousness is valued, baseball is one of the most popular sports. Nevertheless, it was a fun experience.

Baseball game with Nakatani friends.
Baseball game with Nakatani friends.

One question that I have at the end of the week arises out of a conversation I had. To what extent are people comfortable with living a life of uncertainty? Would the answer to this be different in Japan than America or would it be the same?

  • There are probably as many answers to this question as there are people.   However, in the field of intercultural communication Geert-Hofstede would call this a country’s approach to uncertainty avoidance. He defines this as “…the way that a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? This ambiguity brings with it anxiety and different cultures have learnt to deal with this anxiety in different ways.  The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these”. Japan has an Uncertainty Avoidance score of 92 on his scale and in comparison the United States has a score of 46.

Introduction to Science & Engineering Seminar – Prof. Jonathan Bird, University at Buffalo

First what is a transistor? How I see it, a transistor is like a remote control. You push a button and something happens. For transistors, you increase the current you supply to this “gate” and it allows this channel or path to open where electrons or holes (the things that can move inside all materials) can move through this path. But the special thing about this gate is that by supplying a tiny bit of current, you can open a massive gate. This amplification property has been exploited and many of the things we use such as iPhones and computers wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this discovery. Well, to be more exact, people have been organizing these transistors in structures to create these things called inverter structures. The basic idea is by stacking two transistors together in a certain way, you then have an efficient tool to make complicated things like computers. Transistors are an interesting thing. In fact, many people have been fascinated with them and there has been a lot of progress.

Moore’s law is the doubling of transistors on a chip approximately every two years. It is important because we are have actually shrink our transistors so much that soon we will approach atomic size. At this size, quantum mechanics dominates where particles start behaving like waves and no longer nice classical particles. For years, the industry have been approaching the improvement of transistors and chips the same way: by making everything smaller. There are two ways to synthesize these transistors or nanostructures: top-down and bottom-up. The distinction between “top-down” and “bottom-up” nanostructures is the synthesis procedure. For bottom-up, you start with a substrate and stack layers upon it. With top-down, you etch away existing layers. The problem now is because we approaching the quantum realm, we have to realize new technologies. Our old synthesis and make it smaller approach will no longer work.

Alongside this shrinking approach, there has also been work on changing the silicon material to graphene to increase performance. Graphene is an extremely interesting material because of its remarkable properties. It has an extremely high room temperature mobility exceeding that of Si or GaAs. Mobility just means how easy it is to accelerate each individual electron or hole with an electric field in that material. Electrical conductivity is proportional to mobility and thus the conductivity is quite high: 10^5 cm^2/Vs versus 10^3 cm^2/Vs for Silicon, which is used widely in all our electronics. Furthermore, graphene has a high current carrying capacity, excellent electronic and thermal properties, and is transparent. This material seems perfect to replace all our silicon based transistors. Instead of the Silicon Valley, maybe we could have a Graphene Valley! Unfortunately this wonder material has one heroic flaw: it can never be used for transistors. Well it can, but just not for processors. Its use would be limited to devices that don’t need a distinct on/off state. This flaw is due to its band structure which resembles that of a photon and lack of a band gap. Band structures are like the DNA of a material. Graphene has weird DNA but at the same time that’s how it has such amazing properties. People are currently finding ways around graphene’s flaw through band-gap engineering. The basic idea is to engineer graphene in such a way that it’s DNA or band structure looks more like that of a normal semiconductor which has an energy gap.

As I start my research internship experience, I realize I have to get more comfortable with transistors. They are a relatively new concept to me. I wish the lectures had covered the myriad types of transistor types such MOSFET or OTFT. Nonetheless, Professor Bird’s lectures were extremely informative and helpful. I was able to make sense of the previous two weeks of very confusing lectures. One thing that I always come back to with learning is that repeated exposure eventually allows you to understand it.

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Week 04: First Week at Research Lab

Masahiro (first person on the left) and friends at Osaka Castle. - Donald Swen
Masahiro (first person on the left) and friends at Osaka Castle. – Donald Swen

On the first day in the Sekitani Lab at Osaka University , my mentor gives me this short PowerPoint presentation on the work being done in the lab. The last slide included a video of a man controlling a robot with his head. What?! Did that just happen? He ends the presentation with, “So would that be okay?” And by “that” and “okay”, he meant if I was okay with learning to make that robot controlling technology. Well… of course I would be okay! In fact, I responded with a huge of course, that sounds awesome, and I want to do everything I can to be in your presence.

My mentor’s name is Uemura-sensei and he is this tall, friendly guy who you feel like you could burst into laughter with him at any time. He looks no more than 30, but is actually 36 and has a wife and children. I did not find out about this latter part until after talking with others. That first day, I also met just about everyone in the lab. I love the atmosphere which is this sense of casualness but also a driven spirit of dedication to the work.

The first person I met that day was Masaya Kondo, a 2nd year graduate student. Daniel (another Nakatani friend at Osaka University) and I arrived at the train station where people from our lab were supposed to pick us up. Daniel’s mentor was easily identifiable as he is from Madagascar. We exited the ticket gate and I waited with Daniel and his mentor for five minutes before we realized there was this unassuming man that had been standing conspicuously in the corner for the last five minutes. Funny thing was that we realized at the same time that we were the person we had each been looking for. Masaya is wearing this red button down and hides a big smile when he laughs, the kind that is wildly contagious.

We walk from the station to the lab. I’m carrying all my heavy luggage and it is not a ‘terrible’ hot, but it’s still classified as hot. By the time that what seemed like 30 minute walk was over, I was drenched in sweat. As we neared the laboratory building, a car rolls up with two men in it. It was Uemura-sensei, my mentor, and Sekitani-sensei, the main Professor of the lab. Here I was, as if I just came out of a swamp, meeting the most important people for the first time. They commented, “Wow! You are sweaty!” I laughed and we enter the building which was only three minutes away at this point. As soon as we arrived at the 4th floor, where the lab was, Sekitani-sensei returns to work. Little did I know, that short walk with him was the only interaction I would have with him for the rest of the week.

The rest of the lab seemed generally excited to see me. At least the ones that were able to speak or wanted to speak in English talked to me. Generally, most people can’t speak English very well, but Uemura-sensei is quite good. In fact, whenever I do speak Japanese to him, he seems to only want to speak English back. I took this as an indicator that English was going to be our language of communication. Because I work primarily with Uemura-sensei, I do not have to interact much with others meaning I won’t need to converse in Japanese much. Other people that I can ask for help are Masaya and Masahiro (a 4th year undergraduate in the lab) both of whom can speak basic English.

My new workspace fitted with a brand new laptop, monitor, textbooks, and more. - Donald Swen
My new workspace fitted with a brand new laptop, monitor, textbooks, and more. – Donald Swen

After meeting everyone, I was shown to my desk which had a brand-new laptop, a lab notebook, and a stack of textbooks on Organic Field Effect Transistors. For the remainder of the week, I would read these textbooks, set up the computer, and begin experiments. I can’t recall how many pages I read, but it was well over 200 of rather dense material. After multiple sessions with Uemura-sensei on creating an agenda for my short time here, we arrived on some goals for the summer. My agenda includes touching the technology of organic thin film transistors, meaning I would learn how to synthesize them. And then I would conduct experiments to improve the performance of these transistors. The emphasis seems to be on teaching me transistor synthesis techniques and how they can be realized in applications.

On the weekend, I met up with Masahiro’s friends and two other Nakatani friends to go sightseeing around Osaka. We tried kushi-katsu, visited Osaka Tower, and scaled Osaka Castle. It was during this time that I was able to ask Masahiro questions about Uemura-sensei and Sekitani-sensei. Although I laugh a lot with Uemura-sensei, I have never been comfortable asking him about his family. Masahiro told me that Uemura-sensei stays in the office until 12 AM usually. I have also only seen him eat lunch once. If he is always in the office, that means he is spending less time with his wife and children. Masahiro did note that Uemura-sensei never works on weekends and that this is normal for people of his profession. I’ve never seen this sort of dedication to work and only hope to learn more as the weeks go by. Certainly a なぞ (mystery). At night, Erica, Daniel, and I explored a busy neighborhood in Osaka, Dōtonbori, and tried modern-yaki which is okonomiyaki with yakisoba noodles in it.

After work, I commute for 30 minutes by bus back to Osaka University’s other campus, Toyonaka. Each time I step off the bus, I become immersed in a whole different world. There are dancing people everywhere, club activities in every corner, and music filling each and every building. The incredible sense of liveliness is a stark contrast to the quietude of my university. And it was in that first moment of seeing all these dancing people, that I decided I wanted to join a club of some sort. After searching the catalogues, I settled on Guitar Club. On Friday, Daniel and I found the clubroom which is located in this “Box”, a building of at least 20 rooms dedicated to music clubs. We knock once and enter. The room is filled with guitars and in the inner-right corner, we are greeted by this one student practicing classical guitar. He sits us down, brings us guitars, and after realizing the inherent language barriers, he teaches us Canon by Pachelbel. His name is Tomoya. Half an hour later, a knock on door and about 20 club members enter the small room. Happy sounds ensued, laughter, and enjoyment followed in the moment of international exchange. One moment stands out, one that I will never forget: a duet with Mimura-san. I played the background to Canon and Mimura-san, a member of the club, played the melody. It was the first time I had ever participated in a duet. I only hope to make more meaningful connections, discover new people, new types of thinking, and appreciate the immensity of life as the weeks move ahead. At the end of it all, we all head back to our homes. For Daniel and me, it is the Toneyama dormitory conveniently located on campus.

Dancing people everywhere at Osaka University, Toyonaka Campus. - Donald Swen
Dancing people everywhere at Osaka University, Toyonaka Campus. – Donald Swen

At first blush, the Toneyama dormitory seemed rather abandoned and old. We were greeted by the dormitory manager who invited us into his office to fill out paperwork. But this office… I have this odd thing with smells and scents. I love cycling in the countryside and smelling the scent of farm animals and manure, because to me that scent encapsulates the essence of the countryside life. But the smell in this office was rather rancid and I found it hard to appreciate this particular smell. The dormitories themselves are a slight notch above, but not by much. The reason being, the Toneyama dormitory is the only dormitory in all of Osaka that requires the residents to clean the facilities themselves. The result is a dormitory that suffices the bare requirements for living. Despite all of this, the rooms themselves are brand new (paint, furniture, bedding, bed, and carpet), there is fast-wifi, and a great A/C system.

I am still settling in and am new to everything: the university, work, and the lifestyle. Lots of thoughts of brooding in my head but I will reserve judgment until I process it all. For example, as I sit in my room typing this, I can’t help but feel dissonant. When I ride the bus to work, I can’t help but feel dissonant. Is anybody on this bus processing their thoughts in English? Are they listening to the same music I’m listening to? And eating dinner in the cafeteria filled with Japanese university students, simply amplifies the dissonance. Is this what it means to be a foreigner?

Overview of Orientation Program
After this first week of work, the 3-week Orientation Program is starting to seem like ‘that moment’ when we had all the time in the world to travel, eat food, and explore new things. The research portion is still all of that, but there is a higher focus on working and researching. I hope to take the things I’ve learned and apply them to the research portion to have new experiences. As for my language, my Japanese is currently fragmented. I am unable to form sentences on the spot and it takes me a while to get all the grammar correct before speaking. To improve, I plan to join more clubs, expand my vocabulary while commuting to and from work, and practice conversing with Japanese students.

Question of the Week
What kind of strain if any does the Japanese work ethic of long hours and dedication to work place on families?

Research Project Update
The current agenda is for Uemura-sensei to teach me the basics of synthesizing and analyzing organic thin film transistors (OTFTs*) in weeks 1 and 2. (*See end of report for short conceptual introduction to OTFTs.) Techniques include vacuum evaporation through shadow mask, parylene coating, and various techniques of analysis. After, I would be involved in developing low-voltage operating, high-mobility OTFTs. And possibly, I might design circuits and create that robot controlling device that operates by taking alpha waves emitted by the brain and amplifying them to generate action. But we have to start somewhere and that is getting to know the theory.

This week has been a week of getting all the concepts in my head. What has registered in my head are relevant words, concepts, and more importantly, familiarity with the concepts. This way, when I actually go about synthesizing these transistors, I am not completely in the dark. I still need to solidify this knowledge, but thus far, I feel rather comfortable and am not completely lost as to what is happening. The selected readings I have done have helped immensely. I still do not understand how these certain drain equations are derived. And most of the graphs I’ve encountered, I have little clue to as what they are saying and what they mean.

To have a greater appreciation for these graphs, I think it is important to understand the theory behind each individual part. Electronic devices are radically new to me. In fact, I never thought I would even come close to them. It was always something in the back of mind that I wanted to understand. Now I have the chance to and I am making transistors that will be used for the future. And I could even get involved with making circuits if need be. So what are the next steps?

I really need to understand what a MOSFET is and how OTFTs are connected to them. This way I can contrast these two technologies. I need to understand where the drain equations come from to fully understand what I am measuring, what each individual parameter means and how they are changed, and the meaning of graphs. The main point is to really understand all the graphs and immediately know why someone is graphing this versus that. And lastly I need to understand how complementary circuits work. Although I am not working directly with them, I am creating the building blocks of them. And I ought to know why I am making transistors and how they can be integrated into more complex systems and applications.

By the end of summer, I hope to say I understand the field of electronics, perhaps even develop an intuitive knowledge of some sort. I hope to know how so many of the things we have in front of us work and what’s inside and everything. It’s interesting that I was involved in creating materials last summer and measuring properties. This summer, I am integrating interesting materials into elementary building blocks. And perhaps next if not this summer, I will be assembling those blocks into something radical. And the summer after that, using my knowledge of things and nuts and bolts to apply to what I truly love which is helping people! I never expected this path to appear but it did. Sometimes you don’t need to plan everything. Things just fall into place themselves.
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Week 05: Critical Incident Analysis – Life in Japan

I used to think commuting to work was absolutely horrid. My father spends more than an hour commuting to and from work each day. It outraged me! That was less time he would spend with our family, less time he would eat dinner with us, and more time he would be in the unpredictable dangers of the road. And I knew other kids’ parents had it worse, often times commuting for more than two hours each day for work.

Talking to Masahiro, one of the undergraduates in the lab, he told me that he had to commute more than two hours each day to go to school. And it wasn’t just Masahiro. I began realizing that a lot of people I talked to whether in Tokyo or Osaka, commuted long distances to work. All that time, wasted. But is it wasted? One of the questions I’ve had to wrestle with is the concept of time and efficiency. Raised in the Silicon Valley of efficiency, technology, and growth, I’ve naturally come to view anything stagnate as needing speed. These past few weeks, I’ve taken public transportation and logged more hours than I am accustomed to. When I found out that my bus commute to work would take 30 minutes, I made a plan to learn Japanese. Week 1, that worked. But by week 2, I started reading my personal reading list books and recently, I’ve just been sitting there, sometimes thinking, sometimes not. My productivity has eroded to nil. However, the truth is, my productivity has gone up. I’ve had more time to think about why I’m in Japan, to pivot my actions in accordance to make this an experience I won’t forget, and to move forward with my goals.

The core essence here is the concept of time. One of my professors once told me that you can’t always be doing something, that there are periods of intense doing but then there are those periods of seemingly nothingness. There are those days of doing absolutely nothing, where you just sit around, look up at your ceiling or lounge about. But that is okay because if we view productivity as a process instead of a constant peak level of performance, we are then able to accept and even appreciate those days where work isn’t being done. Through society’s obsession and commercialization of time, I find myself often wrapped up in this human sphere of events, that zooming out to see beyond fades into the background. I am going to call this the anthrosphere of events. One of the gripes I have with the anthrosphere of events is that society doesn’t stop for you. Society keeps going, demanding evermore productivity, fueling the kindles of growth.

Working in this Japanese laboratory, I see long hours, a tireless dedication and loyalty to the job, and an appreciation for hard work. There’s even a word that is spoken every time you leave the lab that means ‘thank you for your hard work’: otsukaresama (おつかれさまです). Take out the ‘o’ or ‘お’ and a similar form arises, tsukareta (つかれた), which means ‘I’m tired’. The ‘o’ or ‘お’ is used as an honorific. If the extent of my Japanese is right, this play on words suggests the awarding of hard work embedded in the culture.

What’s even more interesting is that resting and sleeping at work is accepted. Once I saw a sensei lie down on a couch to nap! This action is indicative of hard work in Japanese culture, but to what extent is it an allotment of rest? I wonder if the time people use to commute to work is a highly individualized time. Even though there are so many rules to public transportation, the silence that accompanies the daily public transport may be more than just a cooperative for the better functioning of society or harmony. Perhaps, the silence and politeness is indicative of the cultural and mutual appreciation of the hard work everyone is going through. Perhaps there is an acknowledgement of the time commuting to and from work as sacred, highly personal yet public at the same time. Through my foray into public transportation and commuting, I’ve come to grow increasingly appreciative and respectful of what I once thought was “lost” or “wasted” time.

I would consider this appreciation of time my critical incident report. When Masahiro said he commuted two hours to and from school each day, I reacted with surprise and attempted to extend sympathy, “I’m sorry.” And he nods saying, “Yeah, I know.” But I think I brought in my cultural difference here and I wonder what special significance commuting means to the Japanese people, beyond the fact that one has to go from point A to B and spend quite a bit of time. It almost seems as if the orderly respect in public transportation arises from the respect of each other. Now, imagine if we were to contrast this with American transportation.

We all bought jinbeis and went to an Izakaya after. The food here is amazing. ~ Donald Swen
We all bought jinbeis and went to an Izakaya after. The food here is amazing. ~ Donald Swen

On a lighter note, Yoshimoto-sensei, one of the professors in the lab, invited me and two others to an izakaya, a Japanese bar with food. The food was absolutely delicious, served on small plates and meant to be shared. I had the purest karaage, friend chicken, and a variety of foods I’ve never tried before. The sushi I had was quite incredible. Although I’ve been to Tsukiji fish market, the most famous fish place in Japan, I didn’t quite understand the freshness everyone craved about. But the sushi I had at this izakaya allowed me to finally understand what good sushi is. Everyone drank Asashi beer, although I stayed with oolong tea. The drinking culture here is really about having fun, letting loose, and enjoying great food. We took the train home and Yoshimoto-sensei was quite drunk at this point.

On Saturday, I went out with my labmates to explore downtown Osaka. We visited arcades, ate incredible Kyoto ramen, and all bought jinbeis. Jinbeis are these traditional Japanese pajamas. We went into this store called MUJI with no intention of buying jinbeis. When we got in, Ren, a foreign research student, saw the jinbei and was curious. Then Takamoto-san, a grad student in the lab, started thinking about buying one. They both then started thinking about it. Then Takamoto-san declares, “Okay! I’ve decided! I’m buying one.” He grabs a jinbei, goes to the counter and pays. His boldness started a chain, where I eventually started seriously considering buying one. Then I decide I want to buy one, then Ren also, and eventually Masaya too. Now we all have jinbeis. After, we walked around and eventually arrived at an izakaya to eat more food. It was quite a good day with the research lab.

Entered the bamboo groves of Arashiyama. It is quite easy to get lost in here! ~ Donald Swen
Entered the bamboo groves of Arashiyama. It is quite easy to get lost in here! ~ Donald Swen

On Sunday, I had a true cross-cultural critical incident. That day, I met up with Erica and Daniel to see monkeys at Arashiyama in Kyoto. We hiked up this mountain until we reached this observatory. Monkeys, big and small filled the place. There was a feeding cage where you could safely feed the monkeys from the inside (you are in the cage/building). Now these monkeys are quite aggressive. They expect food. Furthermore, they view crouching or staring as a sign of aggression. I wanted to see how well I could communicate with them so I pulled up some literature from the University of Chicago on gestural communication with macaques, which were the type of monkey they were. Macaques are a highly facial species, meaning they use expressions to communicate. Smacking the lips is a form of play. I tried that out and to much success, they responded! As we were leaving, I smacked my lips again to one of the monkeys but then we made eye contact. Immediately, the monkey rushed towards me. I quickly pulled out my umbrella and shielded myself. It was quite thrilling. After the critical incident, I realized it was the staring that did it. Never stare at a macaque unless you are ready to defend yourself.

Question of the Week
One question that I have at the end of this week is what does home mean to Japanese people? I wonder if the definition of home varies between America and Japan. Even in America, there is no homogenous definition of home. Home can mean a physical structure, a state of mind, a place of origin, community, safety, family, friends, and so on. The reason I ask this is because I noticed substantially less people experiencing homelessness on the streets in Japan compared to that of America. That doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t there, rather perhaps displaced elsewhere.

Lab shenanigans. ~ Donald Swen
Lab shenanigans. ~ Donald Swen

Research Project Update
This past week, I have been quite busy in the lab. Uemura-sensei has completed teaching me how to fabricate simple mask organic thin film transistors (OTFTs). Our analysis and data concluded that our transistors were rather perfect in synthesis. So that was good process.

This upcoming week however, will be full of challenges. My project has become increasingly defined. Originally the plan was for me to test out various organic semiconductors. I would synthesize the same transistor that Uemura-sensei taught me but each time, I would vary the organic semiconductor material. Then I would find which material would result in the best transistor performance, high mobility, and low threshold voltage. Then whatever remaining time I have left, I would maybe start designing a circuit and bring that mind control for the robot to life. I have been steadily increasing my knowledge of transistors by digging deep into the theory. After Uemura-sensei talked with Sekitani-sensei, it was revealed that the order of my timeline would be moved around.

For the next week and a half, I will be synthesizing the mind control for the robot. I will synthesize the circuit that makes it all possible. Now, I don’t know much about circuits. They are in computers, our electronics, and they seem like fascinating things. You have resistors, capacitors,

transistors, and a whole slew of other goodies in them. Link them together with some electrical connection and you get a circuit. That was what introductory physics class and my amateur radio license has taught me. Now it turns out you can fabricate these circuits using a very similar process to the fabrication of simple mask OTFTs. The idea is the same, depositing layer upon layer. Except, now the process will be multiply more advanced than before.

What is different is the alignment due to a different mask. In the simple mask OTFTs, I would get a 2×3 cm, smooth, rectangular piece of glass and deposit layers of material upon it until a transistor is realized. Now sometimes, you don’t want to cover the whole glass slide and want to etch cool designs. By cool, we must remind ourselves that we are synthesizing a functioning structure. To etch these designs, we have a mask that covers the glass slide so that when the material evaporates, it only leaves imprints on certain parts of the slide. The mask I used before created 20 transistors in a nice row. The mask I will be using now, is no longer just 20 transistors sitting in a perfect row. This mask will give way to a circuit.

Before, we just deposited layer upon layer to get transistors. Now we are depositing layer upon layer to get a circuit which includes transistors arranged in inverter structures and capacitors. Aligning this this mask is quite the challenge as it has to be literally perfect. Furthermore, I will be learning new techniques as circuit design is much different than design of 20 transistors.

After I synthesize this circuit, I will put it into use to amplify brain wave signals. After this last step, I will move back to swapping out different organic semiconductors to see which one has high mobility and low threshold voltage.

It seems like I just started understanding transistors and now I’m moving into circuits. It is quite nice to be a part of this process of seeing how electronics are made from scratch. Sekitani-sensei and Uemura-sensei are really giving me the opportunity to learn. With such a short time span of two months, it doesn’t seem that they are utilizing my time here to help with research. It feels like they are teaching me a lot of valuable techniques. And Uemura-sensei will invest a lot of time into me. I really wonder what they get out of it.

I don’t have many pressing questions on my head as of now, just a lot of boiling questions needed to be cooled through reading. What is appearing in my reading is that there is a lot of theory and math behind charge transport, hopping mechanisms, and analysis techniques. I love math and working out equations and results so I’m usually doing that when I’m not in the clean room synthesizing.

And that brings me to that clean room! I totally forgot to mention this earlier, but most of my synthesis work happens in a clean room. Now, I’ve been to research facilities such as LIGO in Louisiana, and had to go through this process of cleaning my shoes, wearing a hairnet, and stepping on sticky pads. This clean room is a whole other magnitude of clean. You have to be fully suited from head to toe. I was given a new jumpsuit, boots, goggles, surgical masks, gloves, and special clean room paper. Before entering the clean room, you enter this room with an air bath. Imagine that Hurricane Simulator at malls or gusts of wind blowing at you from all sides.

Clean rooms are absolutely necessary in fabricating transistors which are sensitive to dust. I spend hours at a time in here, and I quite love it. During my first week, people would disappear for hours at a time and I didn’t know where they went. To my surprise, the first time I entered the clean room I saw them! And it was quite funny because they were fully clothed and we all look like marshmallows.
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Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting

Meeting up with one of my best friends from America. ~ Donald Swen
Meeting up with one of my best friends from America. ~ Donald Swen

Life is fragile.

Recently I’ve been reading a book, The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram, that chronicles the way our interactions with the natural world has changed from when we were primarily an oral species without writing. It was the development of the alphabet and consequently the written language that allowed us for the first time to shift our interaction with the natural world toward ourselves. The written word enabled us to usher in a new experience of autonomy and independence. The Homeric epics were one of the first instances where we wrote down what were previously oral stories passed down through generations. The dissemination of the written form gradually led to the loss of the rhythmic and pulsed characteristic of oral recitation. When Socrates implemented his Socratic dialogue on people, it had a numbing effect as people were not used to reflecting and dissecting what they were saying. If there is one thing that is consistent, it is that we interact with the world every day. Whether we walk to work, drive to work, or eat food, we undergo a sensuous experience with the world. On our walk, we breathe in the air, we see the many hues of the sky and hear the chirping of birds. Driving to work, we see the shifting landscapes and hear the tread of our and others’ tires on the road. And while eating food, we combine our smell and taste senses to create a stronger sense. The ideas in this book have allowed me to understand many of the experiences I’ve had in Japan.

One of the images I keep coming back to is the fatigue or exhaustion on people’s faces. When I eat at restaurants, I notice the waiters smiling when serving the customers but when there is a moment of free time away from customers, they look exhausted. On the train or the bus, people utilize the brief moment to close their eye lids before the next destination or obligation. Why does it have to be this way? Do we need to be working so hard that we are always incredibly tired?

Abram’s book allowed me to realize why I was noticing these subtleties in human expression and condition. It made sense: the body is tuned to observe the subtleties of other beings’ feelings and conditions. This sense is a remnant to when we hunted animals for survival. When we hunted, we entered the realm of existence of the prey, acknowledging their consciousness and simultaneously having them acknowledge ours. Our senses become heightened as we danced with the animal before killing it. Similarly, when we are enraptured by music, it evokes a sensuous experience within us. The combination of the rhythmic and spoken words casts a spell upon our ears and minds. Music seems to be one of the delightful mediums that has stayed a constant within our anthropocentric history.

These are all remnants of those days where we were a primarily oral culture that interacted with the natural world, hunted animals, and memorized practical information through a rhythmic and oral medium. I remember when I learned about evolution, one of the first things that intrigued me was how long evolution took! Millions of years? I surely didn’t have that time. So much for thinking I could evolve into a turtle and swim all of the ocean. But it has only been around 10,000 years since the disruption of hunter-gatherer cultures. The sensuous abilities we developed 10,000 years ago still remain within each one of us, but we have deprived those senses.

In Yokohama. ~ Donald Swen
In Yokohama. ~ Donald Swen

When I’m on the train, the people that aren’t resting are on their smartphones. Our music is streamed from portable devices into our ears through slim cables. And the written word allows us to live within the realm of the human world. We have shifted our interactions with the natural world to language and now to the devices that we made. We are depriving ourselves of the sensuous experience that we could have. Is this good or bad?

Human experiences, think about the interactions you carry out with the material world every moment, seem to transcend above cultural boundaries. In both Japan and America, you see the flourishing of materialization and the captivation by smartphones. Could the shift from interacting and appreciating the natural world to interacting and appreciating human made devices such as smartphones or laptops be the cause of our unhappiness? Is this the best use of our historically rich senses, the senses that enable us to observe the subtleties in other humans, an injured animal, and make sense of the world? I wonder if there was a different way. A way that enables all of us to smile, be happy, and lead fulfilling lives without the constancy of hardship and never-ending obligations to a society that deprives us of what we truly want.

It is now Week 6 and I am also starting to notice the subtle difference in being a tourist and being someone that lives here. This difference arose as I headed back to nostalgic Tokyo to meet with one of my best friends from back home who is visiting Japan for vacation. He had that youthful burst to see and explore everything. I guided him and his family around an artificial island called Odaiba and the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. But as we went around as tourists, I didn’t feel that same upbeat stride to see everything.

It is this sense of I’m not a native, but I’m not 100% a tourist. I work. I interact with Japanese people. I commute. I go to the supermarket. I’m somewhere in this gray area. One of the most challenging things is when and where do I inject my own opinion on what is good and what is bad. As the weeks roll by, I am also questioning what does being a foreigner even mean? When I enrolled in this program, I was automatically labeled as a foreigner. But why am I foreign? Am I not human? Are we all not human? Do we not all experience a similar sensuous experience with the world? In that sense, I don’t believe I am foreign at all. I used to have this thought that when we are born, we are all born the same in mind. It is the genetic variation, socio-economical upbringing, and location that shapes and molds human variation. Coming here, I had the belief that we share more in common than we think. And I think I’ve finally realized that it is the human experience with the natural world, our sensuous experience that is shared. One of the most nourishing joys living abroad is finding deep connections with people that speak a different language.

This week, I spent a lot of time with Namba-san, a mother of a 15 year old and a 13 year old.  Namba-san is one of the funniest people ever. At her workspace, she has a dedicated drawer full of Japanese snacks. She is always laughing, making jokes, and saying, “Taskute”, which means help me in Japanese. She was to guide me through the process of making an integrated circuit. She doesn’t speak much English at all, but every time we see each other, we laugh. We laugh because we are paired together by Uemura-sensei where he fully knew that I don’t speak much Japanese and she doesn’t speak much English. So it is incredibly difficult but at the same time, funny. At one point, we found out that Namba-san lived in China for two years and so we tried talking in Mandarin, but that went horribly wrong. She had forgotten almost all of it. But what really struck me was the fact that she had children. Namba-san worked quite long hours. She gets in around 9 AM and most times stays past 6 or 7 PM. How would she have time for her kids if work takes up most of her day?

But this isn’t an isolated situation. My own Dad had long hours at work, spending little time with my sister and I. Would I say this is the most optimal situation? No. I wished my Dad could have spent more time with us, but the truth is he sacrificed his time and energy so that we could go to school. I value Namba-san because she is spending her time to provide for her family. And I think time is the most precious gift we can give. In Namba-san’s case, it is giving her time to her children, in just an indirect manner. We all experience time and it is interesting to observe how we spend it and why.

My biggest accomplishment to date, outside of research, has to have been sitting through those three and half hour long Japanese classes! Wow. They were long. Another one of my challenges is the desire to do and learn everything. It is not an easy desire to quench. But I must constantly remind myself to tackle everything one by one, bird by bird (in the words of Anne Lamott).

As to where I am at the moment! I actual typed part of this report as I was sitting on an overnight bus from Tokyo to Osaka. The bus broke down 40 minutes before arriving to Osaka so I was stranded on the side of the highway where police blocked off the area. But it was incredibly calm. Most people went back to sleep. A student about my age who sat next to me explained the situation to me. I was conversing in broken Japanese and he was conversing in broken English. The whole time, I was getting a bit concerned as I had work at 10 AM and this bus break down was not favorable. When we got off the bus, I said bye to the student, his name was Taiga, and started rushing towards the nearest train station with Google Maps. It turned out Taiga was taking the same train and there were only a few minutes before the train departed. Although he was in no rush to go anywhere, he understood my predicament and asked me, “Is it okay if we run?” I nod and off we run with our heavy bags. We get there in time and split off after a few stops on the train.

And didn’t really know where to put this, but I also went to Yokohama with a really cool person!

Delamination of a simple mask transistor array I made. Flexible and light. ~ Donald Swen
Delamination of a simple mask transistor array I made. Flexible and light. ~ Donald Swen

Research Project Update
Research has been progressing at full steam. The previous two weeks, Uemura-sensei taught me how to synthesize a simple transistor array. Our current challenge is to synthesize an integrated circuit. Integrated circuits require wet chemistry procedures and laser drilling. Uemura-sensei decided to let Namba-san teach me the new procedures. She taught me many techniques as well as many Japanese phrases. Progress did not however come without a setback.

On Tuesday, Namba-san, Uemura-sensei, and I are all in the clean room as we deposit the aluminum gate electrode. There are two masks that we need to use in order to get the desired pattern on our substrate. The first deposition is a success, but during the second deposition we had a procedural mishap. As we evaporated the aluminum to our substrate, the bright light in the chamber that occurs during evaporation stopped. We thought that perhaps the tungsten filament expired. We hit the output button, stopping the current flow to the tray within the chamber. We opened the chamber to check but the filament seemed to be fine. We then close the chamber and start evacuating. During evacuation, Namba-san proceeds to correct the device so that the current flows to the right material. All of a sudden, a bright light flashes within the chamber. It turned out that the power supply was still on and we hadn’t turned it off completely, we only thought we had turned it off. Uemura-sensei quickly tells Namba-san to stop and he runs to hit the stop button. Due to the chamber not being in high vacuum, when we opened the chamber, a swirly pattern of what looked like darkened silver covered the inside. Uemura-sensei said it was a rather dangerous situation because we were operating at max current. Had Namba-san completely corrected the device while the current was on, a bad accident might have happened. In the end, we remade the samples, losing about a day’s worth of work.

Besides the setback, our work has been smooth and we have successfully analyzed the inverter structures, transistors, and capacitors in the integrated circuits we fabricated. Our results indicate that our devices work! Next week, I will go to Kyoto to make a research update. After I get back, I will optimize the resistor and capacitor that will be attached to the inverter structure. And eventually, we will get closer to controlling that robot with the alpha waves from our heads!

Due to synthesis taking many hours, I have not been able to read as much as I would have liked. Really understanding the theory has been my goal since the beginning. My goal for the next couple of weeks is to really hone down on the mathematical support that really lies behind all that we do. I am also very fortunate that my sensei never assigns me busy work and wants me to make samples for him. Either an indication that he’s nice or just my skills are horrible! Nevertheless, a summer at the Sekitani Lab is such a great opportunity to develop a physical intuition and greater knowledge of organic electronics!
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Week 07: Overview of Mid-Program Meeting & Research Host Lab Visit

One of my favorite photos with Shweta, Brianna, and Daniel (Chandni not pictured!) We explored the Expo '70 Commemorative Park in Osaka. The secret is to go just before closing time and you’re ‘allowed’ to stay in there as long as you want. We were just about the only ones in the おおきいpark. ~ Donald Swen
One of my favorite photos with Shweta, Brianna, and Daniel (Chandni not pictured!) We explored the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park in Osaka. The secret is to go just before closing time and you’re ‘allowed’ to stay in there as long as you want. We were just about the only ones in the おおきいpark. ~ Donald Swen

Research Host Lab Visit
On the Friday before the Mid-Program Meeting, Professor Kono, Ms. Sarah Phillips, and the Nakatani Foundation came to visit me at my lab. When I entered the meeting room, my sensei told me I was to present what I have done thus far. Although I had finished my mid-program meeting presentation for Kyoto University, I did not prepare something exactly for this occasion. But the head sensei of the lab, Sekitani-sensei was sitting there, so I could not disappoint. Somehow, everything turned out to be fine and it was really great sharing the work I had been doing. I really owe it all to Uemura-sensei for providing a nurturing environment to learn and develop myself. The visit provided me the reality check that I was to share my work eventually, not just to them, but to bigger audiences in the future.

Reflections on the Mid-Program Meeting
We only have four weeks left in Japan. How did it get to this point so soon? The fact that I am observing the phenomenon of time flying could mean that I wasn’t living each and every day to the fullest. And that’s true. I can’t say everyday was perfect. Some days were long and filled with nothing but work. I would wake up, go to work, return home, eat dinner and return to my dorm to write my reports, read, or space out. That’s not to say, I haven’t had fun moments. But I think these moments where days seem to blend together mean something and often times aren’t given a voice to resonate their meanings.

On Sunday, all the Nakatani students assembled in Kyoto for the Mid-Program Meeting. We stayed in the Kansai Seminar House, located on the outskirts of town, in the mountains. We stayed there for three nights and four days. On Sunday afternoon, we sat in a roundtable style and began our first activity of updating each other of life in and outside of our research labs. Some were excited to share their lives, some remained quiet. We started with positive events and ended with negative events. Some had breakthroughs in their research and some expressed frustration with their progress and mentors. I sat there quietly, speaking only once during the whole four-hour discussion.

On Monday, we headed to Kyoto University to make presentations to faculty, university students, and Nakatani Foundation members. I presented for eight minutes. Later that night, Sarah, the program director, gave me feedback on my presentation. She said my coping mechanism while presenting was moving around. After talking with her for 40 minutes, I also came away with the realization that I need to present in a more composed manner. In the past year, the need for composure has crept up in various places of my life. In my senior year of high school, I thought that as long as I bring passion to what I do, I needn’t think about what others think. This belief has changed into a more cautionary one. What you say needs to have tact, as it may negatively affect others. When I make jokes, I tend to not think much as I speak what’s on my mind. Jokes should still be made but in a way that can deliver the core content of humor without negatively affecting others. Moving forward, I need to be more cautious of my use of humor. Next time, what is it that you actually want to say? Just say that.

While presenting, I had to also take on a new role. Instead of being that curious student who always sought to learn any nugget of wisdom anyone had to offer, I had to act like I had something to offer. Instead of taking constantly, I had to give. It’s quite interesting because I once told myself that my college years would be my most selfish years as I am constantly taking knowledge from professors, adults, and peers. I can’t quite say I will stop taking ever, knowledge is too nutritious. I only hope to build up the capacity of giving more than I have taken, spreading what I have taken in forms of positivity and empowerment in the future. There’s a long way to go with that dream!

On Monday night, we celebrated the 4th of July with barbeque. I used my knowledge of cooking chicken I had accrued from cooking last summer with my bros (we called ourselves BroMyGod) to grill the meat platters. The secret was to marinate the chicken in onigiri sauce which was really just teriyaki sauce. The night was filled with happiness, fun, and celebration. We made it to week seven of being in Japan and it was fulfilling being there that night celebrating with cherished friends.

On Tuesday, the Nakatani Foundation hired a professional photographer to follow us around as we visited Ginkaku-ji (a golden temple), participated in a tea ceremony, received yukatas (traditional Japanese summer clothing), and lit fireworks. I decided to store my camera away for most of the day to instead live through my eyes and senses instead of through lenses. That night, after the fireworks, some of the Nakatani students and Packard-san joined Youssef for dinner. He had been fasting for the past month due to Ramadan and could only eat after sunset. Ben, one of the Nakatani friends, played some dramatic songs on the piano and Chandni played some melodic tunes. Meanwhile, Packard-san, funny as always, dramatically served Youssef as if he was a king. It was a special moment amongst our weariness from traveling.

The more I talk with Packard-san and hear stories of her, the more I start admiring her. She really believes in what she does and extends a true kindness for the wellbeing of us all, beneath it all.

Caption: Endo-san and Ogawa-san. It is always so great to have their presence in the Nakatani program. ~ Donald Swen
Caption: Endo-san and Ogawa-san. It is always so great to have their presence in the Nakatani program. ~ Donald Swen

Wednesday was the closure of our Mid-Program Meeting. One of my most favorite people is Endo-san. She radiates kindness and joy to all those around her. She is the head of the Nakatani RIES Fellowship in the Nakatani Foundation. She also studied materials science at Kyoto University many years ago, lived in America for a few years, and worked at Sysmex, a large biotechnology company based in Japan. We had the opportunity to visit her company, Sysmex, where she showed us around. It was an exciting place. The research buildings are surrounded by large grass lawns, Japanese gardens, and ponds. The entire complex is termed the Technopark. After the tour, we returned to the bus and realized it was time for everyone to go back to their research labs. I rushed to Endo-san to ask if I could take a picture with her. In the picture is also Ogawa-san, who has been incredibly kind towards me. He has traveled the world, retired but came back to work because he was bored, and is incredibly funny. When I look at him sometimes, I start laughing and he too. It seems recently that I have been spending a lot of time with those older in age than me, from my research lab to Ogawa-san, Endo-san, and Packard-san. Listening to their stories and peeking into the fabric of their lives and seeing their path and present moment is something quite beautiful. If there is something I won’t forget from this trip, it is the people. I keep coming back to this idea that it is people that make life worth living. Afterwards, most took the Shinkansen back to their labs. The mid-program meeting has come to an end, meaning it is time to resume my life in Osaka.

The annual Minoh River clean up event hosted by Osaka University’s environmental club, GECS. Group 9 always! (Ron, Newton, Fumifumi, Riri, + more) ~ Donald Swen
The annual Minoh River clean up event hosted by Osaka University’s environmental club, GECS. Group 9 always! (Ron, Newton, Fumifumi, Riri, + more) ~ Donald Swen

Back at Osaka
One of the things that has been on my mind is, what is life like for native Japanese people? After sightseeing so much, I have become a bit tired of playing tourist. When I talked to Yuko many weeks ago, I was surprised that she hasn’t been to many of the famous tourist places. Life for the ordinary Japanese person, what does that consist of? Instead of digging into cultural differences as a tourist, what would happen if I took on the perspective as a native myself? I decided to frame my questions as actions and see how college students live their lives. My hope was that by doing what they did, I would be able to see the rhythm of their lives.

On Saturday, I had the privilege of joining GECS, the environment club at Osaka University, in the annual local river clean up in Minoh where over 100 people showed up on the hottest days to date in the Kansai region. We played games that reminded me of childhood, cleaned the river, and had fun spending a beautiful Saturday morning volunteering. (ええお!) At the end of the event, we threw the organizers up in the air to celebrate their hard work. From the fluidity of the event, it was evident that the organizers spent countless hours for this event.

I also found a Japanese language partner who I can’t wait to converse more with. And I’ve also gotten closer with my lab mates. Having a job was one of the stimulus in my prompting of what it’s like to be a native. It’s a delight to work with them every day. I am still formulating my thoughts on everyday life for people here and discovering new things every day. After joining the club, meeting new people, and getting closer with my labmates, I have started to feel that I have finally started to settle in after a month here in Osaka. Life in Japan? I could imagine that.

The Fushimi-Inari shrine with cascading gates that never cease to end. ~ Donald Swen
The Fushimi-Inari shrine with cascading gates that never cease to end. ~ Donald Swen

I would like to end this cultural segment with a story of me and Daniel. When we were still living in Tokyo many weeks ago, there was this one night where I asked Daniel if he would be interested in running to the Imperial Palace. We ended up running 10 km to the palace which was closed. Before meeting up with all the Nakatani students on Sunday, Daniel and I decide to relive this moment. Daniel and I, along with two other Nakatani students, Shweta and Mayssa, decide to go to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. This shrine is the top rated in Japan by Japan Guide and is known for its iconic orange gates that cascade ceaselessly into the mountain. We arrived there with only 50 minutes to spend before needing to head back to meet the other Nakatani students. After walking through the first series of gates, we realized that this shrine was quite large. It was at this moment that I realized we were at the foot of a mountain. I turned to Daniel and told him, “Let’s run up. We have to go.” There would be no other time we would come back. Daniel nodded. I tell Shweta and Mayssa that we were going up and then we start scaling the mountain. We ran past hundreds of tourists through the orange gates, up a set of never-ending stairs. Multiple times, we thought of giving up but kept pushing. With only 233m to the top of the mountain, we needed to turn back or would miss the train and we couldn’t afford to be late. We run back down the mountain and made it to the station with one minute to spare. We were completely drenched in our sweat. Was it worth it? Probably not. But I love these moments of spontaneity.

Question of the Week
The question that arises for me this week is based off a book I am currently reading called The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. Fukuoka advocates for a different type of agriculture called the do-nothing farming. In Japanese, this is better translated as natural farming which is distinct from traditional farming. A thought I had is who were some Japanese radicals that significantly impacted Japanese culture and history? We see significant individuals throughout history in many countries and movements. For example, Che Guevara in the Cuban Revolution, Rosa Luxemburg in Germany, Jesus Christ in the spread of Christianity, and Martin Luther in the Protestant Reformation. Who were these people in Japan and what traces of their influence can we still see today?

Research Project Update
Recently, I have been slowing down, mentally. I find it hard at times to motivate myself to keep on with research or reading extra textbooks or literature during down time. Although I initially dismissed this idea, I believe I am still coping with the new onslaught of information that I need to know. When I first started research, I thought if I mastered organic thin film transistors then I would be okay. Research would be understandable and perhaps I could even contribute original ideas! But the addition of the device fabrication to control the robot comes with the need to understand circuits and many topics of electrical engineering.

Although I want to move forward with renewed rigor, I am weighed down by this new amount of information that I need to understand. When I first entered the lab, I read for almost a week straight of dense textbooks and literature. I emerged with an understanding of sorts of organic thin film transistors. The terms and graphs became familiar and recognizable. With the new addition, I have to make new graphs, learn new types of analysis techniques, and understand circuit configurations.

Moving forward, I need to reinvigorate my energy and motivation to understand all this new material alongside conducting experiments. What was nice about when I started was that I did things that I read or seen in a textbook. Now, I am doing things without knowing exactly what I am doing. I have a vague idea but I haven’t been able to quench my desire to understand the physics behind it all. For the next few weeks, I will work my hardest to read and think when I am not conducting experiments.

As for the actual progress of research, we have slowed down in preparation for the mid-program meeting. I’ve made a lot of new transistor and inverter characteristics graphs using a software called Kaleidagraph. But yes indeed, it’s time to develop the strength to carry this additional weight. I must work my hardest.
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Week 08: Research in Japan vs. Research in the U.S.

Volunteering at the Toyonaka Community Environment Center (豊中市立環境交流センター). We explored the topic of fair trade with kodomo (1st to 3rd grade children). Although the children spoke better Japanese than me, we still managed to have a fun time and somehow communication worked out! Although I wasn’t quite sure how to get this one Japanese girl to not climb on me. ~ Donald Swen
Volunteering at the Toyonaka Community Environment Center (豊中市立環境交流センター). We explored the topic of fair trade with kodomo (1st to 3rd grade children). Although the children spoke better Japanese than me, we still managed to have a fun time and somehow communication worked out! Although I wasn’t quite sure how to get this one Japanese girl to not climb on me. ~ Donald Swen

Over the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to conduct research in three very different locations: Oregon, Louisiana, and Japan. I would have never thought I would travel this much, but life seems to play out in its own funny ways.

One of my goals coming to Japan was to gain insight into the Sekitani Laboratory’s systems way of thinking. I wondered if their approach to research was similar to the American labs I had worked at. The easiest way for me to answer this question is to start by zooming out and looking first at the structure.

The first difference you notice is the structure. At the Sekitani Laboratory, there are three secretaries, one head professor, three assistant/associate professors, and about twenty researchers. Our lab is divided into three groups: Process, Materials, and Integration. One assistant or associate professor is assigned to each group, with the head professor overseeing and directing all activities. The three secretaries handle all the paperwork, hospitality, and communication. The twenty researchers are composed of two master’s students, two 4th year undergraduates, a handful of fulltime researchers, and the rest are from companies such as Panasonic. The labs I worked at in the US are a stark contrast. In the Kleinert lab back in Oregon, there is only Professor Kleinert and a few undergraduate researchers. Granted, I do go to a liberal arts college! But in Louisiana State University last summer, there was only my professor and a graduate student. To my experience, the secretary, company collaboration, and variety of research groups is quite unique. With such structural differences, funding is clearly on a different level here to be able to support so many people.


The Sekitani laboratory is quite large or rather, quite wealthy to be able to support so many researchers and have all the latest and necessary equipment. I recently had dinner with Yoshimoto-sensei, the assistant professor leading the integration group, and we started talking about Sekitani-sensei. For Sekitani-sensei to be able to support so many researchers, he must constantly be pursuing funding opportunities, widening his connections through conferences, and still be directing the direction of the research group. There then emerges a constant stream of motivation beyond research because if Sekitani-sensei were to stop, many people would lose their jobs.

Promotion is also quite different here. Yoshimoto-sensei is currently an assistant professor, which means he still needs to be promoted to associate professor before being a head professor. The journey to becoming a head professor at Osaka University is long, the average age being 45-60. The exception is if you publish extraordinary papers such as how Sekitani-sensei did. Sekitani-sensei has published many good papers in premier journals such as Science and Nature, has a large connections base, and has an established lab at an esteemed university, all at the ripe age of 39. To accomplish all of this at such a young age is very unusual in Japan.

Now Yoshimoto-sensei himself is quite interesting because after attaining his PhD at Kobe University, he went to Stanford University for a post doc position. He had the option to work in Japan or America, but chose Japan in the end. The first reason he said was that the cost of living was too high in the Silicon Valley. I concur with that. The second reason was that it is very competitive in American academia. At Stanford, there was a push to publish good papers. The labs I have worked at (Kleinert and Young) were both very relaxed. Even at the Sekitani lab, I haven’t felt an overbearing drive on people to constantly publish.

Nez-san with Randoseru. After many weeks of wanting a Randoseru, I decided to take action and find one. I found a Japanese Craigslist website called Jimoty and asked Masahiro if he could help me find one. After some searching and email exchanges with a seller, we bought one! It was only 200 yen, quite the deal. ~ Donald Swen
Nez-san with Randoseru. After many weeks of wanting a Randoseru, I decided to take action and find one. I found a Japanese Craigslist website called Jimoty and asked Masahiro if he could help me find one. After some searching and email exchanges with a seller, we bought one! It was only 200 yen, quite the deal. ~ Donald Swen

Yoshimoto-sensei then shared with me a nugget of wisdom that really resonated with me. He said, “I think it is really important to have a wide perspective but be really, really good in your own expertise.” Sekitani-sensei does just this. He is an expert on organic thin-film transistors, but his research group and collaborations spans from energy harvesters to health monitoring devices. He is able to look beyond and realize the immense importance of organic thin film transistors in other academic areas.

It is my first time to see this wide-perspective approach to research. I think that this approach might be my biggest takeaway thus far! Be really good at what you do but don’t forget the big picture. With this interesting difference of structure, comes the rules.

Rules seem to be standard: have a high level of common sense and respect for the space. There is a contrast among labs though. In Dr. Young’s lab in Louisiana, I never wore a surgical mask even while handling cancerous causing nanoparticles. There were probably some lying around, I just never saw him wear one. At the Sekitani laboratory, I always wear a mask while doing experiments to prevent spit from getting on my sample and other people’s samples. Then there is cultural etiquette. Everyone says おはようございます when you enter and おつかれさま when you leave for home. I bow to almost everyone, sometimes extending beyond the acute and into an obtuse angle. I think it’s funny. Although there is a hierarchy, I don’t feel it as oppressive. I wonder why I associate hierarchy with oppression, but the Sekitani laboratory is anything but oppressive for me! Perhaps it might be stifling to be an assistant professor working under a head professor until your mid 40’s, but for Yoshimoto-sensei, he saw that as an honor to learn from Sekitani-sensei. Honor and respect is big here. Everyone is really kind, there is no sense of competition, and time does not seem to be scarce. I have yet to approach Sekitani-sensei directly as it is widely understood that his time is precious. I also rarely ask Uemura-sensei for concepts I don’t get. I try my best to absorb that from a textbook after multiple readings.

When it comes to problem solving, Uemura-sensei’s technique is to keep trying at it, diagnosing the many possibilities, and only when all are exhausted does he change to alternatives. There is an emphasis on understanding here. I am trying to contrast different country’s problem solving techniques, but I will need a bit more time before I can formulate a thought.

When I first entered the Sekitani laboratory, I didn’t know what to expect. How would I be received at the lab? Do people really work that long? Do the concepts of loyalty and honor loom larger than in America? The lab has been really inviting towards me. People do work that long! And loyalty and honor feel more present than in America.

Which environment would I prefer? As I thought about this question, I came upon another question as I contrasted the common values of American independence and Japanese harmony: is independent or community/collaborative driven work better? And I am almost leaning towards community, group work that is focused on a common goal, setting aside personal agendas. The area I see the independent nature is at Willamette. At Willamette, professors are able to set up a research group after being hired, which usually follows after a couple of postdoc positions. Now, Willamette is a small school and there is an emphasis on teaching, so understandably there are a bunch of small, isolated research groups. But I wonder if in academia, there is more of a desire for one to be a professor and starting one’s own research group than on accruing knowledge for the advancement of humankind, which might be more efficiently done in group settings. I suppose they can exist hand in hand. But I almost wonder if there is another approach to “research” if the goal really is to gain knowledge for humankind. And also understandably, academia can be considered a “group” but is it really and how efficient is it at carrying out its goals?

In the end though, I don’t have a strong preference for either environment. I enjoy working in both American and Japanese labs. I will definitely say that I really enjoy working at the Sekitani laboratory due to the diversity of the work being done. The work is also interesting beyond anything I’ve experienced. I would love to come back someday if the future works out that way.

Question of the Week
A question I have at the end of the week is: What is a Japanese role model? This is a rather broad question and arises from my conversation with Yoshimoto-sensei. We both agreed that Sekitani-sensei is a good model to aspire towards. But I think it would be interesting to explore this question with all types of people from Japan, asking them, “Who is your role model?” or “What qualities do you aspire towards?”.

Research Project Update
Research is returning back to speed.

My goal this week was to begin optimizing the capacitor and feedback resistor used in the amplification circuit. I am not quite sure how this all works. A resistor controls current flow. So if we add a resistor, I suppose we are reducing the feedback current. And the capacitor separates positive and negative charges, or in other words, holds a charge. Would this be to help with regulating the AC current?

To begin optimization, I first needed to choose an adequately high-performing amplifier circuit. Because the setup used alligator clips, we needed a robust way to measure the output voltage without destroying the fragile circuit. To do this, there are two ways: wire-bonding machine and silver paste. The wire-bonding machine attaches electrical connections between two surfaces. The idea was to get a breadboard, place the circuit in the middle, have electrodes on the perimeter, and conducting nickel plates near the electrodes. We would then use the machine to make connections between the fragile circuit and the conducting plate which was connected to the electrode via soldering. After soldering the nickel plates, we moved to the wire bonding machine. This machine has given me and Namba-san many troubles. It did not disappoint this time. We spent nearly three hours trying to get the machine to work properly before calling it quits and using silver paste for the remaining connections. After, we setup the measurement conditions and connected everything. Uemura-sensei was very careful in the setup. We attached everything, and nothing showed up on the oscilloscope. We had failed. The circuit we used somehow degraded since last measurement. I think this might have been due to mishandling, damaging the substrate.

We chose a new circuit and decided to go the silver paste route entirely. Uemura-sensei showed me the process for one of the connections and said tomorrow, you will have to do. This will be a challenge, but let’s try it!

As the weeks start to roll by, Uemura-sensei has started giving me steps to do and letting myself go at it. I technically have been taught almost every technique and how to operate almost every equipment. This newfound freedom to navigate the laboratory is daunting yet gratifying.
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Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning

Daniel and I visited Brinda in Nagoya! We hiked up Mt. Gozaisho (1200m) which was recommended by Konan (こなん). Coincidentally, Konan is the son of the man who told Mr. Nakatani to start the Nakatani Foundation. ~ Donald Swen
Daniel and I visited Brinda in Nagoya! We hiked up Mt. Gozaisho (1200m) which was recommended by Konan (こなん). Coincidentally, Konan is the son of the man who told Mr. Nakatani to start the Nakatani Foundation. ~ Donald Swen

A strange feeling.

I remember, one day as I was walking home, I was overcome by this odd, eerie feeling. I look up and I am surrounded by an overgrown canopy, the same canopy I walk under every day. But that day in particular, I realized something about myself: I can speak Mandarin. I’ve spoken the language hundreds and thousands of times over my lifetime, but I never particularly thought it was a special ability nor something to hold dear to.

Living in Japan and hearing the different intonations and colors of the Japanese language flow through my ears has made me realize that language is a fascinating thing.  I remember when I was in elementary school, I was so confused on which language to use to count numbers, 一, 二, 三, 四 or one, two, three, four? My head spun in circles and some days I would use Chinese to count and other days in English. I finally settled on English, but not without much back and forth.

But this one day walking under the canopy, I started to count in Chinese again. It felt odd to possess two modes of thoughts, each language mode carrying with it thousands of years of cultural history. To speak Japanese almost invites one into the much larger expanse of Japanese history, culture, and values.

My experience in learning Japanese has been filled with such sentiments. Each time I learn a new phrase, I pick up a token of rich history and character. I’ve grown closer to the people I work with and friends I made, seeing their various hues and colors hidden by subtleties of language. Language learning doesn’t start with the grammatical structure or memorizing the kanji. It starts with the culture, the people, and the history. If that’s the case, I started learning Japanese when I was born.

There always seemed to exist a path for me to learn Japanese. When my mother was young, she moved from China to attend a Japanese university. Growing up, my mother would cook many traditional Japanese dishes. I knew foods such as natto (fermented beans), traditional styled baked fish, and ate only imported Japanese rice from Akita prefecture. When I went to college, I quickly found out that my college has an exchange program with a Japanese university. Each year, 100 students come to our college for a year to study English. In my first year of college, I met and befriended Japanese exchange students. In my Sophomore year, I then got accepted into this program. The path towards Japan just seemed to emerge in the fabric of my life.

To begin speaking the Japanese language, I spent three weeks at the AJALT language school in Tokyo learning basic grammatical structure, vocabulary, and pronunciation. Carrying that foundation to Osaka has helped me navigate the daily ins and outs of life. Wanting more, I started building on top of my foundation with a language partner. Her name is Tomo-chan and she is a first year Master’s student. We meet up usually after work to practice writing and learning new phrases. In return, I am teaching her English. And with an interest in environment and sustainability, I started participating in Osaka University’s environment club, GECS, spending weekends volunteering with children and cleaning up the city. The byproduct is that I am constantly surrounded by the lyrical streams of Japanese conversations.

Although learning grammatical structure is important, I like learning phrases more and have been doing so for the greater half of my time in Japan. In particular, I like learning polite phrases. At the orientation in Texas before coming to Japan, we were taught that there exists a strong hierarchy system in Japan. Hierarchy? That doesn’t sound all that good. Then in AJALT language school, we learned that the Japanese language consists of the polite form and casual form. Connecting the dots, it seems that these two modes of language sustain the hierarchy system. What I realized was that I could use this polite form and utilize it for two purposes: comedic and brightening someone’s day. If these polite phrases are reserved for those higher in the social pyramid, then using them on people regardless of the ranking would level the hierarchy construct created by our human minds. Everyone should deserve kindness, after all, we are all human. Living is already a great achievement in my opinion.

But I knew the polite form taught by AJALT was not enough. I had to go really polite. I asked around for the politest phrases, phrases rarely said, and old phrases from eras bygone. One phrase that elicits a response each time is “gojiai kudasai” which means take care and wish you the best of health. But the phrase is never spoken and usually reserved for writing letters to your dearest family members or loved ones. Whenever I say this, people are taken aback, not expecting a foreigner to know such a phrase, let alone hearing it. Some other phrases include “okarada o odajini nasatte kudasai” which is used by those older in age and also means please stay healthy and take care, and “Igo omishiri okii o” which is the ultimate honorific form of saying nice to meet you. Through my interactions, I’ve also come to realize laughter and compliments help break cultural barriers.

If somebody is fanning me because of the heat (it is always hot here in Osaka), I say to them, “yasashi sugiru”, which means you are too kind. Compliments are usually responded with “No, no. I am not” and them trying to find a way to say it back to you. Or if someone helps me or gives me something, I say “konogo on wa wasuremasen”, which means I will never forget what you have done for me. Using this phrase for seemingly simple things creates laughter as the phrase is rarely said, let alone by a foreigner. In retrospect, I think in America, compliments are also received similarly. What is the best way to accept a compliment? Learning to accept compliments is hard and something I am working on.

Will I ever become fluent in Japanese though? When Professor Bird came to lecture us on nanotechnology and semiconductors, he mentioned that it took him four years before he could consider himself fluent. I have three months and I am not sure if I will use the language as frequently when I return to America nor if I will come back to Japan. I don’t know what the future holds, but in my time here, I want to give it my all to learn as much as I can. Ideally, I would like to be able to listen to Japanese music, understand Japanese comedy, read a Japanese book, and talk about important social issues in Japanese.

With two weeks left, my goal is to better understand sentence structure so I can form complex sentences. My time in Japan seems to be short, but thinking about it, three months is a long time. I am only 20 years old. I’ve lived 242 months. That is 1.2% of my life thus far! It is scary to put a number to life, almost as if the permanence of life becomes subjugated to the numerical system and ease of mathematical operations.

Caption: Getting dinner with Ikuya-kun. He is the son of Honma-san, one of the secretaries in our lab. Ikuya is 16 years old and currently in high school. He is an awesome kid. ~ Donald Swen
Caption: Getting dinner with Ikuya-kun. He is the son of Honma-san, one of the secretaries in our lab. Ikuya is 16 years old and currently in high school. He is an awesome kid. ~ Donald Swen

Speaking of mathematical operations, the addition of knowledge to my head has been aided by every single person I have met. From each person, I’ve learned which phrases are appropriate in which situations, how to pronounce words, and the meaning of new phrases. One person in particular that stands out for me is Namba-san. The two of us have breached the barrier of language entirely. When Namba-san talks in rapid Japanese, I just get it. I don’t know how, but I know what she is saying without knowing what she is saying. It’s as if our minds are synchronized in perfect congruency. I will miss her when I leave. But not all experiences in Japan have been positive.

There are some people where our minds destructively interfere completely. This is due to my own fault. This has happened once when I was in Tokyo visiting my friend Wyatt who was in Japan for vacation. I had left my phone on the seat of the hotel shuttle we took from the airport to the hotel. When I realized this, I asked the front desk person when the bus will return to the hotel. He said 6:40 PM. At that time, we get on the bus but notice that the driver looks slightly older! Nevertheless, this must be the bus. It looks exactly the same. After 40 minutes of searching, the bus driver getting angry at us and saying “wakaranai” (I don’t understand) in a frustrated tone, and me struggling to communicate the situation, we exit the bus thinking this must have been the wrong bus. Asking the hotel clerk again, we find out that it was indeed a different bus! And moments later, my phone is found. Talking to an angry bus driver was quite literally the most stressful thing I had to do. But this event is one of the factors that motivates me to learn beyond polite phrases and to start properly learning Japanese, eventually allowing me to explain situations and events.

Question of the Week
One question that I have about Japan at the end of this week is how Japanese children’s shows differ from that in the US and how the values being disseminated are different. This question arises out of a thought I had years ago when I realized how kids shows such as Arthur, Elmo, Sesame Street, Teletubbies was a rich and fertile ground to instill important values of friendship, family, and behavior. And recently, I asked Tomo-chan what that circle shaped head man was all about. The circle head man is called Anpan-man and he is a superhero made of bread that flies around sharing bread with everyone. In my opinion, I think we could use Anpan-mans in every country. I would love free bread.

: Nao-kun and I. In the background you can see Yoshimoto-sensei’s alpha waves. He is standing nearby, taking this picture! ~ Donald Swen
: Nao-kun and I. In the background you can see Yoshimoto-sensei’s alpha waves. He is standing nearby, taking this picture! ~ Donald Swen

Research Project Update

On Tuesday, Uemura-sensei goes to Tokyo. Namba-san stays home. I’m by myself. Times like these, are when I really have to apply everything I learned and trust the intuition I developed.

Today, I was to attach electrical leads to the amplification circuit. Now, the amplification circuit is tiny, on the order of millimeters. I was to use my pincer to place tiny double sided adhesive tape to the surface of the thin film. Then I was to carefully place thin gold wires onto the tape without damaging the thin film just millimeters away. As I was applying, I imagined myself as a sniper, holding his breath. I very carefully placed tape and nanowires in succession. It was on my second of five contacts that I came to a point where I thought I destroyed the circuit. My pincer had dug into the parylene thin film of the substrate. Theoretically, I thought to myself this was fine as long as I didn’t damage the layered section (transistors array). If I had damaged the dielectric in the semiconductor region, there would have been immense leakage current and a failed amplification circuit. After applying all tape and contact, I tested the device via weak contact of the gold wires with the probes. It worked…? I saw the graphs. They seemed to show all the normal inverter characteristics. It was a quick test, and if I were to be more thorough, I would have attached the probes to an electrode instead of just brushing against the wires.

On Wednesday, Uemura-sensei and Namba-san hook the device up in our setup. Signals start propagating on the oscilloscope. I squeamishly ask Uemura-sensei, if it is okay. He says very casually, “Yeah. It works.” I let out an immense sigh of relief and smile happily. Uemura-sensei then pats me on the back and said, “Good job.” They then leave me to finish carrying out measurements.

If there is one thing I learned, it is to trust your intuition! I was so unsure of the physics, if this was right, if I messed up, or would this work. But in the end, everything turned out well and it worked.

For the next week, it dawned on me that I have quite a bit of work to do! I not only have to integrate capacitor, feedback resistor, amplification circuit, flexible electrode, and wireless module together, but I also have to create a presentation for Uemura-sensei and Sekitani-sensei. Furthermore, I also have to write an abstract and create my poster for the Nakatani RIES program. Lots of work to do, but we’ll get there!

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Week 10: Interview with Japanese Researcher

Swen, Donald_Week 10_Clean Room Namba-san
Namba-san and me in the clean room. まぶだちです。Shimizu-san in the back. ~ Donald Swen

For my interview of a researcher, I decided to interview Namba-san. I found out that she is not technically a researcher, but a technician. Nevertheless, I still wanted to post this interview. This interview was conducted mostly in Japanese; as thus the translation is not word by word. Nevertheless, it was very funny and we had such a great time. Although the answers are short, I hope they provide you with a feeling of our interaction.


What is your academic background and why did you decide to study this?

My major is humanities. When I was in high school, I did not like science and mathematics. When I was in university, I liked to study Japanese history.

What was it like to be a student in  Japan and what was your career path like?

Not very fun. There were not many exciting things to do. College was different from what I thought. Studying in university did not change much from studying in high school.

After college, I worked at a chemical company called Sumitomo Chemical Co for 3-4 years. I heard good things about this job from my father. At the time, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do yet. I knew a desk-worker job would be nice, so I applied to the company. When I arrived there, my boss saw potential in me and decided to make me a SEM (Scanning Electron Microscopy) operator. After this job, I took 7-8 years off to take care of my children. During this time, I moved to China for one year with my husband because of his job. As my children were growing older, I decided to look for a job again. I contacted a temporary employment agency. I looked for a secretary job. Soon after, I was employed at Osaka University in the Takeya laboratory. However, the Takeya laboratory had a shortage of technicians, so Takeya-sensei decided to make me a technician. It was very difficult and I worked there for 6 years. Fortunately, Uemura-san was there and taught me everything I know. I then moved to the Nogi lab which consists of 5 people. I stayed there for 2 years before coming to the Sekitani laboratory.

(Fun fact: Uemura-san is my mentor Uemura-sensei! He wasn’t a sensei at the time of meeting Namba-san. They changed labs around, but now they have ended back together.)

The lab work environment is very good. Everyone is very kind. And experiments are always interesting. I like the aspect of making things such as transistors and integrated circuits with my hands. The labs I worked in all had different environments. Takeya was very hard, but I like all of them nevertheless.

I have not worked in an American lab before. If I had to make an image, maybe not everybody is a team? I think what is different is individualism. In Japan, everybody is together and work as a team.

Do you have any international experience?

I went to the USA when I was 20 and stayed in Hawaii for 2 months. I visited Europe for vacation. And lived in China for a year. But I have not worked abroad. In the labs I have been here, there have been 0 international researchers. Sekitani lab has two visiting students at the moment, but are very short term and not researchers.

Women in STEM: How is having a family and working been? There are not many women in science, is it hard?

It is difficult. My husband does not take care of my children. I think it is unfair. But this is only my generation. Young people are different. Because I am a technician, I do not notice many inequalities, but if I was a researcher, I think there might be inequality. Many of my friends work 3-4 hours a day and then take care of their children. It is usual and there is expectation of women to take care of children. But Sekitani-sensei is good. And everyone in our lab is treated equally.

What are you interested to know about you and the US?

In America, is there inequality in the science field?

Closing Thoughts & Question of the Week
There seems to exist a gender inequality. This observation resonates with the female researcher from Orientation Week in Tokyo who told us of difficulties of being a woman in science. But there seems to be difficulties with being a woman in general. I wonder if the voices of Japanese women are discouraged from being spoken. My questions of the week are multiple but together they are: Is there an outlet for the voices of Japanese women to be heard? Is the presence of the women’s rights movement as strong as it is in the US? How would a book like Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg be received? The interview was getting quite long at this point and our language skills were being strained. I think Namba-san would have some of those answers. To be honest, I was surprised we got this far! おつかれさまでした!

Daniel, Mayssa, Masahiro, and I went to Tenjin Matsuri near Umeda. This was my first time going to a Japanese night festival and I have to say, I have never seen anything like it before. Food and game stalls line the streets and fireworks light the sky and liven the atmosphere. ~ Donald Swen
Daniel, Mayssa, Masahiro, and I went to Tenjin Matsuri near Umeda. This was my first time going to a Japanese night festival and I have to say, I have never seen anything like it before. Food and game stalls line the streets and fireworks light the sky and liven the atmosphere. ~ Donald Swen
On Sunday, I felt like a Osaka University student for a day. Members of the local community and GECS club teamed up to help clean up the city. The team with the most points from trash collected wins. We strategized for cigarette butts which were the highest in point value. We soon found out that there are many cigarette butts littered on the streets. Smoking does not seem to be as regulated as it is in the US. Even restaurants have a smoking and non-smoking section. After volunteering, we all got lunch and then some of the GECS members and I went to the library to study. It is finals week in Japan, so everyone is working very hard. ~ Donald Swen
On Sunday, I felt like a Osaka University student for a day. Members of the local community and GECS club teamed up to help clean up the city. The team with the most points from trash collected wins. We strategized for cigarette butts which were the highest in point value. We soon found out that there are many cigarette butts littered on the streets. Smoking does not seem to be as regulated as it is in the US. Even restaurants have a smoking and non-smoking section. After volunteering, we all got lunch and then some of the GECS members and I went to the library to study. It is finals week in Japan, so everyone is working very hard. ~ Donald Swen

Research Project Update
Research is wrapping up. I’m making my final presentation to Uemura-sensei and Sekitani-sensei. While summarizing what I have done here, I realized something: I didn’t really do research in the traditional sense.

During my time in the Sekitani laboratory, Uemura-sensei has taught me many techniques. He is a true mentor. He would show me how to do a certain method on a sample substrate and then have me operate on the real device. But this was the bulk of my ‘research’. I didn’t actually conduct any research in the traditional sense, where a problem is defined, a hypothesis is formed, and experiments are carried out. The project I am doing seems to be mostly done. The amplifier circuit already designed. The device already constructed. The robot controlled. My ‘research’ was really an internship of learning skills, new knowledge in transistors and circuits, and ways of solving problems. I didn’t contribute to new research as I thought I would originally.

Quite puzzled, I ask Uemura-sensei how to go about summarizing the research. It turns out that the integration of the flexible amplifier circuit with the flexible and stretchable electrode has never been done before. Testing the integration of the circuit with the electrode is new knowledge. This new knowledge is important for realizing the next device they plan on making.

Friday is the day of my big presentation. For this presentation, I will summarize my time in Japan, the techniques I have learned, and the research I have been doing. It is time to get ready.
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Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab

Sekitani-sensei and I grilling the Kobe Beef he bought for me at the lab summer barbeque. He bought around 2 kg of Kobe Beef as a sort of farewell present. Everyone had some and had a good time. We hosted it at a park and it was a beautiful day. I really respect Sekitani-sensei and it is such an honor to work in his laboratory. ~ Donald Swen
Sekitani-sensei and I grilling the Kobe Beef he bought for me at the lab summer barbeque. He bought around 2 kg of Kobe Beef as a sort of farewell present. Everyone had some and had a good time. We hosted it at a park and it was a beautiful day. I really respect Sekitani-sensei and it is such an honor to work in his laboratory. ~ Donald Swen

A conclusion of sorts.

As my time in Japan ends, I am thinking of things I still want to do. I can’t. My mind comes to a shuffle. Sure, I could come up with a list of what would be fun: eat yakiniku, visit tourist destination so and so, see a ninja village. But I don’t feel compelled to do them. In my mind, they sit as fun activities and just that. It’s people and time. They overrule all activities. It’s from people, that I learn, grow, and begin understanding the web of life we live in.

Sekitani-sensei values human communication above all and has centered his work, lab, and time toward achieving that. He believes that human communication is important to society. At the base of it all, our society is communication. If it wasn’t for that, we would be living individually. Tribes, civilizations, and modernity wouldn’t have formed. Communication is a basic human necessity.

Purpose driven work. It is the strands of such work that weaves together the many different groups in the lab toward one common fabric. Sekitani-sensei specialized in high magnetic fields. But now? He does circuits, synthesis, and materials research. He does it all. He told me, “Join many different labs, to get a wide range of experience and knowledge.” I then naively asked, “But how do you get really good at one thing then?” He responds, “You will choose that one thing and pursue your PhD in that after you experience many labs.”

Conclusion of sorts.

He told me this at the barbeque. And when I asked him what he does outside of research, he boldly states, “Research is my hobby.” I am taken aback. I have never met anyone, living and breathing in front of me, to make such a statement. We live in a world filled with luxury, commodities, and leisure activities to fill the void in our lives. I have no doubt Sekitani-sensei enjoys these activities from time to time, but his single focus on research is a paradigm shifting encounter.

It’s okay to do one thing.

Daniel and I go to Himeji Castle! We have a hard time planning trips. Each time we try, we spend a couple of hours in my room thinking of where to go and almost every time, we come up with no progress. Somehow we pulled a miracle and figured everything out with a little guidance with Erica. We buy discount passes and make the trip to Himeji. While there, we bump into Ren (in red) and Araki-sensei (not pictured) from my lab! Himeji was beautiful and so glad Daniel and I made this trip. We were pretty proud of our accomplishment. ~ Donald Swen
Daniel and I go to Himeji Castle! We have a hard time planning trips. Each time we try, we spend a couple of hours in my room thinking of where to go and almost every time, we come up with no progress. Somehow we pulled a miracle and figured everything out with a little guidance with Erica. We buy discount passes and make the trip to Himeji. While there, we bump into Ren (in red) and Araki-sensei (not pictured) from my lab! Himeji was beautiful and so glad Daniel and I made this trip. We were pretty proud of our accomplishment. ~ Donald Swen

On Friday, I was told to do a big presentation. My mentor and I stayed in the lab until 1 AM practicing, rehearsing, and editing. He drove me home afterwards, where we had a talk about career paths. I practiced once more before sleeping, and the following day, I presented. Everyone came. I was so glad. Sekitani-sensei told me many words of encouragement. I was filled with praise. But when I went home that day, I felt empty. I knew, time was escaping me. I knew that I was not going to see these people forever. I knew that I would come. And I would go. What could such ephemeral states offer?

Thoughts. Thoughts. Thoughts.

Lately, I’ve realized my individuality rubs against the lab’s sense of unity. This rubbing comes from a small interaction that my mentor always does. He always asks, “Is it okay if we start this activity now?” or “Do you have time now?” or “Do you want break?” I respond with, “No it’s okay. Do you need break?” He then admits, “Yes! s10 minutes?” I’ve always brushed this off as him being polite. But no. We need to realize, there is no “I”. The lack of this article produces the deconstruction of the individual importance. I started realizing this as he was driving me home. He told me that he really respected Sekitani-sensei. That he loved what he is doing. Despite the fact that he works late hours and can not see his family during the weekdays much. For him, the lifestyle is best. He can do creative and fun work with great people during the week and relax with family on the weekends. There was an overwhelming sense of group achievement and no strong personal agenda. Contrast this to the American archetype of the individual entrepreneur who pulled himself up by the bootstraps. Instead of the lone bootstrap to pull, everyone’s straps are being pulled.

I asked myself, “How can I bring back to this perspective back to America and into my life?” We always mention that there are different modes of living. By observing the Japanese mode of living, I am compelled to incorporate some aspect into my existing lifestyle. And I think it is this: think about others. In American culture, I think it is all too easy to get lost in oneself. Zooming out is important. Life is bigger than just you.

One question that I have at the end of the week is why are people Osaka considered more funny? I always hear that Osaka people are funny. But how did this culture come to develop? Also, I might be catching the Osaka funny bug.

On Saturday, Tomo and I went to Minoo Waterfall! We browsed through small, hidden gem kind of shops, hiked to an amazing waterfall, and talked to an old lady who beamed with energy and excitement. Tomo is my language partner and she has taught me so much about Japan, language, and just helping me with life in Osaka. ~ Donald Swen
On Saturday, Tomo and I went to Minoo Waterfall! We browsed through small, hidden gem kind of shops, hiked to an amazing waterfall, and talked to an old lady who beamed with energy and excitement. Tomo is my language partner and she has taught me so much about Japan, language, and just helping me with life in Osaka. ~ Donald Swen

Research Project Update
This week, I completed the research for the assigned project. The completion was not without failure. There were many. The first laid in device integration. We tested the device to see if it was working piecewise. Test amplification circuit on new substrate. Send in sine waves with a function generator. Attach input capacitor and feedback resistor with silver paste. Send in sine waves. Monitor with oscilloscope. Then attach Vdd, the battery component, with epoxy. Test by sending a signal in. Output stopped here. Our device stopped working after attaching the battery wires with epoxy. My guess is that we damaged the circuit as we were attaching the wires which were rigid and it might have pulled on the circuit.

Because my presentation was on Friday, I needed to make a video before then. So we decided to go ahead and make a video without the amplification circuit. So three senseis and I sat in a room for two hours or so, setting up Nao-kun and controlling the robot with an existing device. This device did not have a flexible amplification circuit integrated with the flexible electrode. Instead the amplification circuit was rigid and located on the front end device. In order for this to work, we needed an expensive amplification circuit. Next week, I hope to diagnose what happened to the device integration.

Throughout the week, I also worked on making the Powerpoint for the final presentation. I’ve come to realize communication is hard. What is it that I want to convey? Getting to the point, being succinct, and understanding your audience takes time. I made and remade my presentation multiples times. It is usually after a certain point and many, many hours that you start realizing what you really want to say.

The presentation was a success and it seemed like everyone enjoyed it. I think they were really interested in my international experience of being in Japan and coming from America. Sekitani-sensei particularly emphasized that I not only learned how to do research at a top level but also really learned how to communicate. I remember almost every word he has said to me and I treasure his input. I really respect him.

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Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab

My second to last day in the lab. Masahiro and Humika come to my farewell lunch and after getting back to the lab, we took this picture. Going to miss these two and all the lab shenanigans. ~ Donald Swen
My second to last day in the lab. Masahiro and Humika come to my farewell lunch and after getting back to the lab, we took this picture. Going to miss these two and all the lab shenanigans. ~ Donald Swen

It’s hard to internalize my thoughts. Do I cry tears of emotional attachment to the people, the friends I made, the country, the laboratory, the food, and the culture? I can’t quite shed a tear, though, I am not the usually the type. Am I not going to see them again? Won’t they keep existing in my heart, mind, and thoughts?

I’ve learned so much in my time in Japan. When I first came, I knew zero Japanese. I didn’t even know what the country looked like besides the manga renditions I had seen. Before arrival to Japan, I developed many thoughts of what Japan would be like, how I would need to act, and how different it would be. I’ve come to the conclusion that we have many similarities that unite the common thread of being human, but also come to acknowledge the differences that make us into the beautiful countries we each uniquely are.

The harmony we always speak of. The teamwork and the diminished importance of individuality. I thought those concepts were strange at first. But I opened my mind to the idea. And it works incredibly well for Japan. I often find myself comparing which is better: the American way of living or the Japanese way of living. I come to a thought that it is almost no use to compare which is better. I am not Japanese. I was not born in Japan. I am a foreigner. There are aspects of both America and Japan that I love. To just accept their lifestyle as their own entity. Period.

My experience in Japan has taught me the importance of knowing where you are. I touched upon three communities in my time here: Osaka University students, Sekitani Laboratory research members, and the local community of Ikeda City. Looking back, I am so glad I joined GECS club where I was able to work with locals and explore the eminent problems in the Ikeda City area. On top of that, I was also able to see the lives of the people at work, the place where people spend the majority of their time. I believe it is incredibly important to become acquainted with the area you live in. To know the people of the community you are entering. To ground yourself in the pre-existing reality. This mindset helped me adapt to the new environment. Moving forward, I will always value the importance and incredible need to ground yourself in the place where you live.

Over 20 thank you and goodbye letters I wrote for my research lab. ~ Donald Swen

I straddled with fitting in with the Japanese culture and retaining my American heritage. One example is omiyage, a gift that one brings back after traveling to show that the person had thought of them while away. This word was such a foreign concept to me, but it worked for me because I love sharing food. So I made it my goal to buy omiyage every week. I took what was me and worked with it in a way to fit into Japanese culture. Another example is honorifics.

Another important aspect about Japan is the honorifics. People are more respected are addressed in what seems to an entirely different language, keigo. The language is still the same, but everyone that I have talked to have said that keigo is so incredibly hard because there are so many levels of being polite. For my goodbye present, I wrote over 20 letters in keigo with the help of Nakahashi-sensei from the international center. For me, fitting into Japanese culture was recognizing how their structure and society worked. I tried to find ways to convey what I wanted to say and do by recognizing and finding a way to do so that seemed congruent.

Through these two examples of fitting in, I have developed greater communication skills. I have become more empathetic with foreigners who are trying to figure out how to best convey what they want to say in the best way possible. We have all these structures and formalities that come in between humans of different ethnic backgrounds. The hard part with language is recognizing these differences and delivering your message through those different structures and formalities. And once you break through that language barrier, you start seeing that we are all a whole lot similar.

One big takeaway is that I really love people. I love learning from people. There are so many genuine people out there. Dozens upon dozens of people have helped me, from navigating the hectic streets of Tokyo and Osaka to helping me find opportunities to volunteer in the local community. (Thank you Fumifumi!) Meeting new people, seeing good in this world reinvigorates me and makes me want to do more. The amount of faith, trust, and belief my senseis had in me has changed my life. I can’t go back to days where I am just sitting around doing nothing. That is not to say rest days are not important. But I am sparked with a new flame to do more, more things, and strive to always do the best I can in everything that I do. Uemura-sensei’s and Sekitani-sensei’s belief in me, that I can do research and have a future means so much to me. Furthermore, I now have such an immense sense of what science and engineering can do for this world. This renewed sense of belief in myself and capability of science is invaluable. I can’t not continue this journey I have embarked on.

That brings me to what I will miss the most: everything. When I think of what inspires me, I easily think of all the professors and people in my life. But I can’t quite leave out the world we live in. The structures, cities, and towns we have made as a society. I can’t leave out the interaction we have with this world. Our interaction with animals, concrete, and water provide a tactile relationship that allows us to learn and grow.

One unexpected insight I gained was that I found a writing style I love: honest and truthful. Writing all these journal entries along with reading books was such good practice to find my writing style. I realized that writing comes best when it is deeply internalized and having the present moment inspire the words that arise through your hands. I only hope to cultivate a deeper relationship with the sensual world that we live in.


As a parting gift, Namba-san gave me a super special pen. It is a multicolor Frixion pen with a wooden grip. I really did not expect this at all. It was funny and sentimental because I once asked her why she had so many Frixion pens. She has a lot of them, and all of them identical! She said because she thinks she loses them, but then finds them, but by then, she had already replaced them. ~ Donald Swen
As a parting gift, Namba-san gave me a super special pen. It is a multicolor Frixion pen with a wooden grip. I really did not expect this at all. It was funny and sentimental because I once asked her why she had so many Frixion pens. She has a lot of them, and all of them identical! She said because she thinks she loses them, but then finds them, but by then, she had already replaced them. ~ Donald Swen

My final goodbye was an all-lab lunch. Almost everyone came and we went to a fancy restaurant where we ate delicious food. At the end, Yoshimoto-sensei asked me to give a spiel of my experience. The last day didn’t feel right. As I was walking to work and back, taking the bus to commute, and seeing all the rooms in the lab for the last time, it just didn’t feel right to be leaving. I felt like I had a place. I could contribute to research. I can do more here! I made friends. I know people. I found a rhythm. I know where I live. I know where to go for good food. I know how to get to places. Why am I leaving? Do I have to go back to the reality of America, attending college classes, and everything else?

During my short time here, I have developed such a strong bond with the people here, the culture, and the country. I only hope to see and do more in the future. For my final weekend, I plan to hike Mt. Fuji with other Nakatani friends. Shall we embark on one last journey?

One question I have for this week is how are the local communities in Japan different from those in America? This is a rather broad question so as to be more specific we could make it, how would the local community in the Ikeda City area differ from that in say, Salem, Oregon or Cupertino, California (places I’ve lived). This question comes from this increasing sense of belonging to Osaka. I feel like a part of me has settled root in the local community of Osaka, from the people I met volunteering, to the Osaka University students and my research lab members. A part of my still growing identity has come to life in this rather different country and I will surely miss this place.

Final Research Project Update

Research Project Abstract and Poster: Amplifying Brain Waves to Control a Robot by Using Flexible Organic Transistor CircuitsAdobe_PDF_file_icon_24x24
Host Lab in Japan: Sekitani Lab, Osaka University
Host Lab: Sekitani Laboratory
Host Professor: Tsuyoshi Sekitani
Mentor: Takafumi Uemura

The three senseis, Araki-sensei (materials), Yoshimoto-sensei (circuits), and Uemura-sensei (processes) hard at work. Here we are trying to control Nao-kun the robot with our brain waves. ~ Donald Swen
The three senseis, Araki-sensei (materials), Yoshimoto-sensei (circuits), and Uemura-sensei (processes) hard at work. Here we are trying to control Nao-kun the robot with our brain waves. ~ Donald Swen

Introduction: The motive of research is to advance the Internet of Things (IoT). To realize IoT, we need flexible, conformable, and organic sensors. There is currently a growing trend towards organic electronics because they are flexible, printable, large area, and are of solution processes. These properties are achieved through the use of ‘soft material’. More specifically organic semiconductors.

Our brain emits electrical waves in μV, but we need mV to properly detect. EEG (electroencephalograph) devices detect biosignals. Traditional devices are inflexible, expensive, and have signal problems. Our goal is to create a device using flexible organic transistor circuits to amplify brain waves, control a robot, and advance existing IoT technology.

Approach: Our methodology is broken into two parts: fabrication of amplification circuit and integration of amplification circuit with EEG device.

For the fabrication of the amplification circuit, we had a layer by layer synthesis procedure. The design of circuit was Pseudo-CMOS which resulted in the need for precision during synthesis. We used techniques and machines such as anodization, vacuum deposition, parylene lab coater, spin coating, Labview, silver paste machine, and wire bond machine. To analyze we used Cascade and Apollo Probes. Cascade and Apollo are just the names of the probes we use to attach onto our circuit.

For the integration of amplification circuit with EEG device, we optimized the combination of feedback resistor (Rf) and input capacitor (Cin) to produce most constant gain in large area of consciousness: 0-20 Hz. We found Cin;1 µF, Rf;10 MΩ produced most constant gain the 0-20 Hz region. The EEG device was then made by integrating amp. circuit with Rf and Cin on a soft electrode and connecting electrode to Analog Front End (AFE). To do this we had to delaminate and isolate amp. circuit from finished circuit. Then use epoxy and silver paste to connect all the components.

Afterwards, we tested the device and controlled a robot.

I wanted to comment on the research approach as well. The research approach was highly experimental but rooted in years of top research. The research of organic transistors has grown tremendously within the last couple of years*. And it happens that Professor Sekitani is one of the leading researchers and pioneers in the area of organic transistors and devices. We used advanced methods to fabricate organic transistors such as growing a SAM (self-assembled monolayer) and using AlOx to create an ultra-thin dielectric layer. And the Pseudo-CMOS design was created by Dr. Fukuda and Sekitani-sensei.

Our research was also heavily rooted in organic semiconductor charge transport theory. To understand why certain fabricated devices failed, one needed to understand the theory. I found myself often referring to textbooks or literature to understand why certain hysteresis showed up or odd performance occurred. Uemura-sensei was an expert on organic semiconductors. In addition, our lab was interdisciplinary, so we had professors of circuits and materials as well. The research was also experimental in the sense that what Uemura-sensei and I were doing had never been done before, anywhere. We thought long about each step before proceeding.

Results: The result was the fabricated circuit allowed strong amplification of brain waves. We attained a voltage gain max of 1400. Our graphs were characterized by low hysteresis, high gain, and having a sharp inverter curve.

We had two phases of testing to see if our device worked.

The first phase was our initial circuit. After testing the integrated amplifier circuit with feedback resistor, input capacitor, stretchable electrode, and front end device by sending a signal in, we encountered a problem. No signal showed. Perhaps this was due to a grounding error, but after testing it was that our device got damaged most likely during integration.

The second phase was using another circuit that we had synthesized. Instead of integrating onto our stretchable electrode, we kept the amplification circuit separate and use electrical connections to test everything. Success, thus proving that integration is possible.

Discussion: Our project paves path toward new generation of IoT sensors. Amplifying signals as small as μV brain waves to mV allows us to detect most electrical signals that occur in our world. A few applications include immediate care for Alzheimer’s & heart irregularities as well as optimization of sleep for athletes. The latter is of special interest as countries are gearing their athletes for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.

Future Research: The ultimate goal of this project is to create a totally integrated device. We would need to integrate feedback resistor, input capacitor, amplifier circuit, and stretchable electrode into one flexible sheet.

Conclusion: The research this summer has been phenomenal. I have not only learned a wide array of new techniques, theories, and skills, but I have also become inspired by the subject matter itself. Applied physics is a fascinating field and one I have developed a large interest in. Furthermore, I have taken an immense interest in the field of organic semiconductors and devices. The opportunity to work in the lab of one of the leading researchers in the field is exciting, mind-opening, and inspiring. I have been exposed to techniques and methods backed by years and years of research. I have been nurtured to learn science, learn how to communicate and present, and learn how to be motivated to do research. My sense of intuition has developed greatly and I am excited to do more research in the future.

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Week 13: Final Report

A night view of Azabujuban from Tokyo Tower. This was the place we lived in and called home while in Tokyo. The Sanuki Club is somewhere amongst these buildings. To the left, you can see a 大 at the intersection. I wonder if that was intentional. ~ Donald Swen
A night view of Azabujuban from Tokyo Tower. This was the place we lived in and called home while in Tokyo. The Sanuki Club is somewhere amongst these buildings. To the left, you can see a 大 at the intersection. I wonder if that was intentional. ~ Donald Swen

Vivid descriptions of smiling moments past.

Sometimes, we have those moments we can recollect with such vivid accuracy. The paved tiles on the sidewalk, the lofted bridges that crisscross the roads, and the monorail sweeping through the city were scenes I observed as I perched on the rooftop of my dorm at Osaka University one evening. Japan being such a different place has disrupted the norm to which I usually experience life. Every time I walked outside my dorm, I entered an exciting world of difference and similarity. I remember the awe experienced in the castles I visited, the personalities and aura of each person I’ve met, and the very atmosphere and backdrop to which I maneuvered through hardship, happiness, and joy for three months. At every step, I experienced something new but at the same time I felt more whole and oddly, more complete and more me. By living and sharing the continuum of life alongside the Japanese, I realized something etching about my own identity. The bounds to which the world existed and my identity didn’t end on the boundaries defined as America. The bounds to my identity extended far beyond that. Through my experiences, the lines to my national identity started blurring with an older and more complete identity hidden within me. An identity that bridged our differences of race, religion, nationality, sex, and ethnic backgrounds; a wholly human identity. I felt within me, a rupture that revealed nakedly, my very humanness. And at once, I discovered my connection to the world outside of me and to the people living in places other than America. We live in one world, we share this world, and we are all strangely human.

I think back to my time in Japan with a smile. I know I’m not the same person anymore. We experienced so much, did so much, and grew so much. No other people in this world, other than the 13 other Nakatani students, understand what we went through. When my friends ask, “How was Japan?” I pause, thinking which answer they want to hear; the long or short one. When my professors asked me how my summer was, I tell them that it was phenomenal. The first three weeks alone were an experience of a lifetime. We experienced Japanese culture to the fullest, watching Sumo tournaments, doing Taiko drumming, seeing ancient shrines, and riding the bullet train to the agricultural prefecture of Akita. Alongside all of that, we learned Japanese language from the most incredible and personalized teachers. We had four teachers per class size of four, everyday learning from a different teacher. In the afternoon, we would participate in an engineering lecture from professors and cultural seminars. At night, we would have the most fascinating discussions with University of Tokyo and Keio University students. And just because we were in the breathtaking city of Tokyo, we, the Nakatani students, ventured out every night to try new foods, see new things, and experience life in seemingly different ways. I saw a culture and a way of living that extended beyond what I was used to.

And that was only the first three weeks. By now, it would be a good time to wrap up my “how was your summer” update. But so much more happened. I spent eight weeks in a different part of Japan, meeting yet again new people, seeing new things, trying new foods, and living life in a way I never lived before. My host lab welcomed me with open arms and created an environment that helped me grow in my scientific capabilities. I joined the clubs at Osaka University, volunteered on the weekends, and made friends I won’t ever forget. The Nakatani RIES program has been transformative, scientifically, culturally, and personally.

Video 1: Azabujuban(d) in Azabujuban. Featuring Shweta (vocals), me (ukulele), and Yuko (camera). This was a spur of the moment thing we did. Yuko, Shweta, and I were walking around Azabujuban and stumbled into a Starbucks with some instruments. This was what happened next.

Recently, I’ve been trying my hardest to really process, what did Japan mean? Why did I go there in the first place? How am I different now? After weeks of hard thought, I chuckle at myself. I still don’t have all the answers. But that’s okay, isn’t it? When the bits and pieces of answers come, let them I will.

The Re-entry Program in Houston was a subtle closing to a summer of wonder and memories gone by.  We were all uprooted from our host universities the weekend before and sent back to Tokyo, where we climbed Mt. Fuji and then shortly after, found ourselves on an airplane to America. I couldn’t quite believe what was happening at the time and didn’t process it at all. Were we really leaving the lives we had made, the friends, and the community we grew to a part of, all behind now to go back home? It didn’t make sense, but we had each other while in Texas. At Rice, we presented our posters, recorded songs, and attended a closing ceremony at Kono-sensei’s house. The highlight of the poster presentation was Nobel Prize winner Robert Curl coming to my poster and talking with me for eight minutes! On the last day, all the Nakatani students gathered in me and Rony’s hotel room to stay with each other until 3 AM. We said our goodbyes and off we went one by one. Each one of us returning to our homes that varied in culture and geography.

Video 2: Azabujuban(d) in Houston. Featuring Shweta (vocals), Daniel (vocals), me (piano), and Brinda (camera).

When it was my turn to go back home, I … wasn’t sure what was happening. A big part of me was still in Japan. But soon, I boarded a plane and a few hours later, I walked out the airport and I was in Portland, Oregon. Strange, the effect distance and location can have on you.

If someone were to ask me what were the most important things I learned from Nakatani RIES, it would be my increased excitement for science, the path I want to take, and my immense appreciation for the world and people of different ethnic backgrounds.  I realized I really love the limitless possibility of science. Working with organic electronics was eye opening. In front of me, the very future of technology was being created and I was a part of it. I had the greatest mentor in the world, Uemura-sensei, who taught me how to synthesize organic thin film transistors and circuits. He showed me how to problem-solve and approach a task from many different angles. In the end, I learned to use almost everything in the lab. One memory that I won’t forget is when he drove me home in his car at 1 AM after he had helped me improve my big presentation I were to present the next day. He told me of his story and that what he does in applied physics. Being at the age where direction can be easily shaped, I have a growing interest in applied physics. I was also inspired by Yoshimoto-sensei, Sekitani-sensei, and almost everyone in the lab. Yoshimoto-sensei told me to have broad interests but be really good at one thing as well. It reminds me of the importance of never losing the big picture in what you do, especially in science where specialization can make us lose focus of why we are doing what we are doing. Sekitani-sensei told me to try as many new things as possible during my undergraduate years. And from him, I learned the importance of communication (which is incredibly hard), diverse collaboration, and having humanness motivate the work you do. All the research happening in the lab is based off the intent of realizing a better society. Every device developed, every paper published in Nature or Science, and next project all originates with common theme in a very warm human intent to improve the world we live in. And lastly, Namba-san taught me that you can have fun and work at the same time. From everybody, I learned the importance of fun and passion in the work you do. Even though, everybody was working long hours, you could tell they loved every moment. I will miss the spontaneous laughing that filled the office each and every day.

Poster presentation session at Rice University. ~ Donald Swen
Poster presentation session at Rice University. ~ Donald Swen

Some of my most starry realizations this summer originated from working eight to ten hours a day alongside middle aged and elderly people. I often thought to myself, if they are working until 7 or 8 PM every day, how will they have time for their children? But my very mother worked until 6 PM every day and my father, 9 PM or later. I was that very child I was worrying about for them. This realization helped me to start thinking more deeply about time, how we spend it, and how passion and family intersects constructively and destructively.

This November, I plan to present my research and experience of being a Nakatani RIES fellow to my university. I hope university students can try applying to Nakatani RIES, international research, or research opportunities in general. I hope to encourage them to aim high, believe in themselves, and that hard work will show.

Coming back from Japan has been a daunting experience. To be uprooted from the soil of Osaka and Tokyo and replanted in the familiar soil of Oregon has been an adjustment period for me. I grew so much in the new environment I found myself in the summer, and understandably, that time is over. But in this old familiar soil, I hope to keep the higher aspirations, capabilities, and realizations I absorbed this summer and grow even more. I plan to continue learning Japanese albeit at a slower pace. Next summer, my heart is set to go to new and further places. I want to go to India. I have some reasons why, but at the moment, it is more a gut desire. If the opportunity to go back to Japan was presented, I wouldn’t hesitate a moment. Japan holds a special place in my heart. Moving forward, I only hope to become more capable in science, become a stronger student and problem solver.

One last burning question I have for Japan is, “how are you?” And I mean really, how are you? How are you doing? How do you feel about the world, the current society, and the political, environmental, and social state? Are you happy? What’s on your mind? What sparked this question was a documentary I watched called Tell the Prime Minister which detailed the anti-nuclear protests and social movement after 3/11. I was shocked to see such a large social movement, where over 200,000 citizens gathered in a neighborhood of Tokyo to protest. In a society that we often say is characterized by indirect communication, those protests shattered those stereotypes and showed a side often not shown. But I didn’t see much of this energy while I was in Japan. Perhaps the energy simply wasn’t collectivized due to Japanese media censoring the protests. But one thing is for sure, I feel deeply connected at the root to the feelings of Japanese people. I made friends there, immersed myself in an entirely different environment, and started developing a familiarity with the local culture and people of Japan. I explored the lands, ran through forests, and tasted new foods and smelled new smells.

I now see the world with a different color. I feel more me. And in that feeling, I embrace deeply, the world we live in and all the people we share it with. Nakatani. Out.

The summit of Mt. Fuji. We made it. ~ Donald Swen
The summit of Mt. Fuji. We made it. ~ Donald Swen

Follow-on Project
I will give a 10-20 minute presentation to the physics department at my home university to encourage freshmen and sophomores to apply to Nakatani RIES, international research, and research opportunities in general. The presentation will summarize my research, my experience being a Nakatani RIES fellow, and how I got this opportunity. If possible, I would love a flyer or handout to distribute to the students.

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