2016: Ronald (Rony) Ballouz

Ballouz Photo
Ronald (Rony) Ballouz
University of Texas, Austin
Sophomore, Electrical Engineering
Expected Graduation: May 2018
Host Lab in Japan: Itoh Lab, Keio University
Research Project Abstract & Poster: Optimizing the Surface Planarization of Si/SiGe Virtual Substrates for Applications in Quantum ComputingAdobe_PDF_file_icon_24x24

Why Nakatani RIES?
I chose to apply to the Nakatani RIES Fellowship because it offers me the chance to simultaneously explore Japanese culture and dedicate myself to a challenging and meaningful research project. This program allows me to enrich my undergraduate education by practicing a new language, participating in cross-cultural research, and improving my understanding of physics and engineering. Nakatani RIES places undergraduate students in dramatically contrasting environments that will stimulate and restructure their thought processes by testing their ability to adapt. Ultimately, the Nakatani RIES Fellowship helps students become more globally motivated engineers – prepared to innovate for the benefit of all humans in an internationally growing world.

In terms of research, I am most looking forward to working in a microelectronics lab alongside globally competent scientists and state-of-the-art equipment. In terms of Japanese culture, I am most looking forward to making friends with Japanese people and understanding what it feels like to live and work in Japan. I am thankful that I have been granted this incredible opportunity to pursue my passions for electrical engineering and Japanese culture. I am positive that the fellowship will help prepare me for the challenges I will face in graduate school, and I am absolutely thrilled to see what new ideas, places, and technologies I will discover through immersion in Japanese life.

Goals for the Summer

  • Contribute to engineering research goals and learn more about the scientific research process.
  • Explore Japan’s natural and urban environments as much as possible; I don’t want to waste a single moment.
  • Develop a better understanding of the ideas that underlie Japanese art.
  • Solidify my conversational Japanese language proficiency
  • Hike Mt. Fuji to watch the sunrise.

Excerpts from Rony’s Weekly Reports

Week 01: Arrival in Japan

From the moment I first landed, I began to make comparisons between the living standards and social expectations between Japan and the U.S.

Tokyo Tower: The grandeur of the modern Tokyo Tower juxtaposed with the architecture of old Tokyo. - Rony Ballouz
Tokyo Tower: The grandeur of the modern Tokyo Tower juxtaposed with the architecture of old Tokyo. – Rony Ballouz

I felt that Japan’s infrastructure was more efficient and practical than the infrastructure in the U.S. I was stunned by the extent to which Japanese people follow rules and standards to maximize efficiency and convenience in day to day life. For example, in Tokyo, all people using an escalator will stand on the left hand side so that the right side remains free for people who want to walk up or down. Another example is shown by the room design in the Sanuki Club, which reduces the living space down to bare essentials in order to maximize the amount of people per floor. I was not bothered by the size of the rooms, and I was able to appreciate their functionality and efficiency. From Packard-sensei, I noticed the immediate emphasis on punctuality and consistency. Both people and trains are expected to arrive on time with practically 100% reliability. Consequently, it is much easier to travel and commute in Japan than in the U.S.

However, my first impression is that communication in Japan is too implicit (and sometimes contradictory) to be considered practical. I found that Japanese people were anti-confrontational and often expect people to be aware of the consequences of their actions. Unfortunately, as Americans, it is difficult to follow rules when nobody is willing to tell us when we are being disrespectful. This caused me a bit of anxiety; I was always afraid of somehow unknowingly disturbing someone. The emphasis on implication vs explanation is present even in the language, where the subject is omitted from a sentence because it can normally be inferred, but this implicit form of communication is difficult for Americans to master. Additionally, I felt that there were contradictory ideals in Japanese society. For example, Packard-san explained to us the importance of humility in Japanese culture. She will always reject compliments, and she refrains from talking about herself unless asked. However, because the culture is hierarchical, people of a high social standing significantly alter their language when speaking to their juniors, which can be seen as a lack of humility.

Japanese language classes in the morning have been engaging and challenging. Because I had prior language knowledge, I was placed in the advanced AJALT class, which is really pushing me to work on my speaking ability and vocabulary. The class is taught almost entirely in Japanese, and we are encouraged to carry out conversations with the teacher to practice speaking. In order to keep pace with the course, I have been practicing speaking and vocabulary outside of class with the other Nakatani fellows. The homework assignments offer helpful vocabulary practice as well.

The Intro to Japanese Culture and Society seminar with Packard-san helped me better understand what was expected of me as a student in Japan. As mentioned above, the major topics discussed during the seminar were maintaining humility and paying attention to the relationship between respect and hierarchy. The seminar prepared me for certain social situations, but I realized that, ultimately, the nuances of Japanese social interaction are best learned through observation.

The outings to the Edo-Tokyo museum and to the sumo tournament helped me understand the history and morals behind the Japanese culture. I was unaware that sumo, as an activity, consists of almost 90% ceremony and only 10% fighting. I was surprised to learn that the rituals of sumo are rooted in the Shinto religion, and they are still strictly followed today, which goes to show how important tradition is to Japanese people. After watching the wrestlers for a while, I came to appreciate the ritualistic component of sumo as a necessary step in the activity as a whole. This helped me understand why Japanese people sometimes value the means through which something is accomplished at least as much as the end result. There is beauty and meaning embedded in methods which cannot be conveyed solely by the results of actions.

Thanks to the pre-departure and culture lectures, I was prepared for most of what I saw in my first week, but I was not expecting the cultural differences to be so extreme. I thought that perhaps Tokyo would be more westernized. However, the cultural differences are immediately and clearly visible.

Question of the Week
Despite the trip to Akita, I am still wondering how much Japanese culture varies from city to city. I have heard that the attitude is a lot more relaxed in Osaka than in Tokyo, even though it is also a metropolitan area. Tokyoites seem to be very strict, serious, and busy. Hopefully, I will be able to travel enough during the weekends to learn more about different Japanese attitudes in and between cities.

Introduction to Science & Engineering Seminar
In the first week, Kono-sensei gave an overview lecture of material engineering principles. Because I recently took a class on solid state devices, I was able to follow the lecture to a certain extent. The lecture was interesting in that it presented the material I learned in class in a different way, which helped me improve my understanding of quantum mechanically engineered devices. Additionally, the lecture gave me an introduction to quantum computing, which is relevant to my lab’s research goals.

The lab tours showed me a wide range of lab cultures and environments where research is conducted. The labs we visited were equipped with several different instruments, from robotic surgical arms to fluid dynamics testing tubs. All the variety between labs made me excited to see what my lab will be like when I arrive in comparison to what I saw at the University of Tokyo.

Initial Research Project Overview
The research lab I will be working in, the Itoh Research Group at Keio University, has assigned me a research project that deals primarily with material science. I will be studying diffusion in isotopically enriched Silicon (28Si and 30Si). Presumably, the samples will be three dimensional, and they will be created using molecular beam epitaxy (MBE). I will likely be observing diffusion annealing using furnaces and measuring the diffusion profiles using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS). SIMS can be used to analyze material surfaces by bombarding the material with an ion beam, and then collecting and analyzing the ejected secondary ions. The results will likely be analyzed by numerically solving a series of partial differential equations using a computer program.

My project is most likely a small component of the lab’s overall purpose in furthering the development of a quantum computer. Quantum computers are interesting because they can theoretically solve exponentially complex problems instantaneously, and they can generate true random numbers. If fully realized, quantum computers could revolutionize cyber security and computing in general.

Research Paper Summary

In the first week, Kono-sensei gave an overview lecture of material engineering principles. Because I recently took a class on solid state devices, I was able to follow the lecture to a certain extent. The lecture was interesting in that it presented the material I learned in class in a different way, which helped me improve my understanding of quantum mechanically engineered devices. Additionally, the lecture gave me an introduction to quantum computing, which is relevant to my lab’s research goals.

The lab tours showed me a wide range of lab cultures and environments where research is conducted. The labs we visited were equipped with several different instruments, from robotic surgical arms to fluid dynamics testing tubs. All the variety between labs made me excited to see what my lab will be like when I arrive in comparison to what I saw at the University of Tokyo.

The research lab I will be working in at Keio University has assigned me a research project that deals primarily with material science. I will be studying diffusion in isotopically enriched silicon (28Si and 30Si). Presumably, the samples will be three dimensional, and they will be created using molecular beam epitaxy (MBE). I will likely be observing diffusion annealing using furnaces and measuring the diffusion profiles using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS). SIMS is a technique used to analyze material surfaces by bombarding the material with an ion beam, and then collecting and analyzing the ejected secondary ions. The results will likely be analyzed by numerically solving a series of partial differential equations using a computer program.

My project is most likely a small component of the lab’s overall purpose in furthering the development of a quantum computer. Quantum computers are interesting because they can theoretically solve exponentially complex problems instantaneously, and they can generate true random numbers. If fully realized, quantum computers could revolutionize cyber security and computing in general.

One of the research papers I was assigned to read, “Observation of Silicon Self-Diffusion Enhanced by the Strain Originated from End-of-Range Defects Using Isotope Multilayers,”, describes a study of silicon self-diffusion enhanced by strain originating from end-of-range (EOR) defects. End-of-range defects are dislocation loop type defects, where interstitial atoms drift through the lattice to form steady state populations of interstitials and vacancies. From what I understand, the paper helps improve knowledge of the effects of ultra-shallow junction formation, which is important to the scaling down of Si devices.

In this study, isotopically enriched 28Si and natural Si multilayers were grown using MBE. Si self-diffusion was evaluated by observing 30Si depth profiles after annealing. 74Ge+ was used to amorphize the Si multilayers using a 150 keV ion implantation at a dose of 2×1015 cm-2 at room temperature. The depth profiles of 30Si and 74Ge were measured using SIMS. The ions used in the SIMS process were O2+ for 30Si and Cs+ for 74Ge using energies of 1.0 and 3.0 keV, respectively.

The experiments performed, combined with kinetic equations to describe time evolutions of {311} Si self-interstitial clusters and EOR defects led to a set of coupled PDEs. When solved numerically, the PDEs produced a calculation that well reproduced the SIMS profiles, except that the diffusion at the fifth 28Si layer was underestimated. This showed that Si self-diffusion at the EOR defect region is enhanced even beyond the already studied transient-enhanced diffusion (TED). It was shown using X-ray analysis that there was tensile strain at the EOR defect regions, and it has been previously shown that this tensile strain enhances Si self-diffusion by enhancing interstitial-mediated diffusion. Thus, the calculation was modified to accommodate the enhanced diffusion, but then it was found that the calculation overestimates diffusion with increasing annealing time. It was then concluded that the enhancement of diffusion decreases with annealing time and temperature due to Ostwald ripening of EOR defects. Ostwald ripening is a phenomemon that causes the EOR defects to increase their size and reduce their density with time. The results of the experiments and calculations led the authors to conclude that the additional Si self-diffusion is a result of the tensile strain induced by the EOR defects, related to the Ostwald ripening effect, in which the enhancement is inversely proportional to the square of the defect radius. Based on this modified model, calculations have well reproduced the experimental 30Si diffusion profiles. Ultimately, the discoveries in the paper will be helpful for understanding the effects of defect-induced strain on diffusion.

Paper Citation:

  1. Isoda, M. Uematsu, and K. M. Itoh, “Observation of Silicon Self-Diffusion Enhanced by the Strain Originated from End-of-Range Defects Using Isotope Multilayers,” J. Appl. Phys. 118, 115706 (2015)

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Week 02: Trip to Akita

Last weekend, we all went on a trip to Akita to experience the more rural aspects of Japanese culture and to have discussions with Japanese students about current problems in Akita.

Oizumi ga Ike Pond: Stones were carried from the sea to create the rock garden surrounding the pond. - Rony Ballouz
Oizumi ga Ike Pond: Stones were carried from the sea to create the rock garden surrounding the pond. – Rony Ballouz

After arriving at the Shinkansen station on Friday, we took a chartered bus to visit the Chuson-ji and Motsu-ji temples. We first visited Motsu-ji temple to observe the Japanese garden and pond. Although the tour guide was a bit difficult to understand at times, I still managed to learn very useful information, like how to properly wash my hands before entering a temple. The tour guide explained that the Japanese did not make artificial ponds that were square in shape. The outline of the pond at Motsu-ji was very organic, with curves engineered to look naturally beautiful. The pond itself was meant to stand as a miniature depiction of heaven on Earth, and as result several elements of Japanese rock gardening were used to create the landscape surrounding the pond in order to represent the different types of terrain present across the entire Earth.

After leaving Motsu-ji, we went to Chuson-ji temple, which is most famous for its Golden Hall, the Kojikindo. In addition to visiting the Golden Hall, we went to the temple’s museum to observe several early Japanese Buddhist artifacts. We also visited a nearby Shinto shrine, and the tour guide taught us the proper methodology for Shinto prayer as well as some general shrine etiquette. I learned more about Japanese culture from the visit to the shrine than I did from seeing the Golden Hall, but I consider the visit to the Golden Hall a valuable experience in a separate way, as an awe-inspiring demonstration of human craftsmanship.

Lake Tazawa Boats: Nostalgic view of the lake near the boat rental shack. - Rony Ballouz
Lake Tazawa Boats: Nostalgic view of the lake near the boat rental shack. – Rony Ballouz

On Saturday, we went with the KIP students to visit Lake Tazawa, the deepest lake in Japan. The lake was a sight of natural beauty that was truly refreshing to see after exposure to the hyper-metropolitan districts of Tokyo. Our group split up to do several different activities, and I decided to go pedal-boating on the lake. The trip ended up being strategically placed before our visit to Omagari Agricultural High School, where a group of students gave a presentation about pH neutralization of Lake Tazawa, which was made acidic due to the diversion of water from the Tamagawa hot spring into the lake.

Following a presentation from a young Japanese farmer, we had a discussion with the high school students and Akita University students. As an aside, any person under the age of 40 is considered young in the Japanese farming industry. We discussed whether or not Japanese students should be required to, in public education, learn about primary industries such as fishing and agriculture. The context was that Akita and Japan in general are experiencing a shortage of young workers in the agricultural industry, and people are interested in hearing plans to resolve the situation. The discussion was an example of the highly collaborative nature of Japanese culture and education, which is based on working towards mutual understanding through collective deliberation.

On Sunday, we had a similar discussion with the proprietor of the ryokan in Akita about methods to revitalize the economy in Semboku city and to bring growth to the area. Several students were concerned about whether or not that was actually desirable, since the people in Akita may not even necessarily want their town to grow for fear of losing its cultural heritage. After the discussion, we went to Kakunodate to visit some shops and walk along the river. We also visited an old samurai residence, and we were given a tour of different rooms and artifacts around the residence. We then returned to Tokyo via Shinkansen.

The greatest impact of the Akita trip on me was the result of the interactions I had with the Japanese students in the discussions and in my stay at the ryokan. All of the sightseeing definitely gave me some fun and beautiful memories to look back on, but it was the act of talking to Japanese students in KIP and from Akita that helped me learn about the way I think. Honestly, I had not anticipated the discussions to be so meaningful to me, and I had no idea how different they would feel from the discussions I had in American classrooms. Japanese discussions are a lot more structured, and they are based on the convergence of all of the opinions in the room into one educated and thoughtful point of view. In America, students are given the chance to speak up about their point of view and to reply to others, but the bulk of the reflection was ultimately done by the individual rather than by the group. This is likely due to the difference in cultural values between the United States and Japan.

The Japanese people I met during the trip were very kind and respectful to me, and the best I could do was to try and reciprocate that. The Japanese cultural values that were embedded in our interactions became clearer once I got to my room in the ryokan, where I was the only American student. I cannot remember specific examples, but I remember clearly that whenever I was needed to do something, I was only given the status of the situation, and I was left to figure out what was needed from me on my own. In general, I find that the Japanese way of communicating is heavily based on understanding subtleties.

The biggest challenge of the trip was probably trying to get used to the public nature of bathing in the onsen. It was difficult for me to accept that I would bathe in front of both friends and strangers. In order to resolve this, I decided to go right ahead and take my clothes off without thinking about it too much. I decided that the bath was a time for me to throw away those privacy barriers, and honestly it was relaxing in its own way.

One other difficult situation that I faced was that the Japanese students often wanted to practice their English while I wanted to practice Japanese, but since the Japanese students’ English language skill was better than my Japanese language skill, I usually reverted to English in conversation.

In general, I feel that the Akita trip helped me prepare for the rest of my summer by helping me understand how to interact socially with Japanese people. I feel like I have a better understanding of Japanese culture, which will help me later on whenever I meet new people in Japan.

Week Two Overview

Hyper-metropolitan: A crowded street crossing in Shibuya. - Rony Ballouz
Hyper-metropolitan: A crowded street crossing in Shibuya. – Rony Ballouz

To keep things brief, I will only gloss over what I did in my second week in Tokyo. Our first cultural outing was the trip to the museum district in Ueno, where I had the chance to see several elements of Japanese natural and scientific history, from stuffed animals to seismographic instruments. In a separate building, I also admired some cultural artifacts and treasures from Japanese history. The outing to the museum taught me about Japanese history through the observation of artifacts with my own eyes. The second cultural outing was the trip to the Taiko drumming studio. That was a very powerful experience, and I really enjoyed learning how to perform a traditional Japanese Taiko rhythm. It was exhausting, but apparently, according to our teacher, we were the best group of students he has taught. The Taiko drumming session was a really fun way for me to learn about traditional Japanese music and performing arts.

Language classes in the second week went more smoothly, even though the topic of discussion in our class is less regimented. Because the curriculum was designed for more beginner level students, the content of the classes is more question, answer, and discussion based than it is lecture based.

Question of the Week
I’m still not entirely sure why there are so many convenience stores in Japan. I have seen places in Tokyo where there are two identical 7/11 shops facing each other on both sides of the same street. Is the sheer number of people enough to make both locations financially profitable?

Introduction to Science & Engineering Seminar
In the Intro to Science & Engineering seminars, Dr. Stanton went over the basics of quantum mechanics while simultaneously touching upon advanced applications of quantum mechanical engineering in semiconductors. Some topics discussed in the first lecture from Dr. Stanton include black body radiation, phonons, E-k diagrams, direct vs indirect bandgap semiconductors, and the characteristics of LEDs and solar cells. In the second lecture, Dr. Stanton discussed spectroscopy and optical probing of material properties. The lecture touched upon concepts such as how to measure scattering, continuous wave vs pulsed lasers, optical excitation of materials, pump-probe spectroscopy, and coherent phonons. I enjoyed the analogy of femtosecond spectroscopy to stop motion photography. The use of spectroscopy to study materials is essentially a way of observing material properties directly by measuring them in an appropriate timescale.

The guest lecturers this week were Otsuji-sensei and Ishioka-sensei. Otsuji-sensei’s lecture was very mathematically oriented, and he went over the derivation of some quantum mechanical equations to shed some light on the physics of THz devices. Otsuji-sensei went over some properties of graphene and the work necessary to construct graphene based devices. Interestingly enough, Otsuji-sensei used the analogy of a Pachinko machine to describe the operational requirements of THz lasers. Essentially, the Pachinko balls, which represent electrons, must be trapped in a high level such that incoming electrons, or Pachinko balls, will eject the electrons in the occupied upper level and cause them to fall to a lower level kept empty. This ejection of electrons drives the desired photon emissions in a laser device. Otsuji-sensei concluded with the takeaway that plasmons are faster than electron propagation velocity, and they may hold the key to creating THz devices.

Ishioka-sensei first lectured about the circumstances of women in science in Japan as well as her own personal situation as a female researcher in Japan. Ishioka-sensei was born in 1966, the Fire Horse year in the Chinese Zodiac calendar. Superstitiously, women born in this year were destined to cause their father and husband to die early due to being difficult to handle. As a result of her disbelief in this superstition, and thanks to the encouragement of her relatives to pursue upper-level education, Ishioka-sensei was driven to study science despite the social norm for women at the time. Consequently, it shouldn’t have been surprising for me to hear that Japan, even today, is still one of very few countries in which more men attend university than women, but I was still surprised. In the second half of her lecture, Ishioka-sensei gave an overview THz pump-probe spectroscopy and the concepts she uses in her work at NIMS, the Japanese National Institute for Materials Science.

The Intro to Science & Engineering lectures were most helpful in that they provided me with a review of the material I studied last semester and presented the information in a new light. I was fascinated by how quickly the lectures jumped from one topic to another; it feels like a semester’s worth of work has been covered in just one week. Additionally, I was really happy with the solid introduction that Otsuji-sensei gave to THz devices and their operating properties.

One topic Dr. Stanton mentioned that I remember reading about in my textbook is the creation of a 2D electron gas by engineering the bandgap in a heterostructure. I would like to learn more about the significance and application of creating a 2DEG in a material, because I feel like I only have an abstracted understanding of the concept. In my class last semester, the topic of lasers was skipped due to time constraints, so I would like learn more about how to create laser devices using the principles discussed in the seminar.

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Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences

I have only occasionally used public transportation outside of Japan, but after spending some time using the subway in Tokyo, I noticed that most people follow the same set of guidelines and etiquette.

Akihabara: old video games and arcade circuit boards line the walls of Akihabara’s underground game shops.
Akihabara: old video games and arcade circuit boards line the walls of Akihabara’s underground game shops. – Rony Ballouz

The procedure for using the subway in Japan is definitely a lot more structured than I have seen in other countries. Before boarding, people form two lines located on the sides of the car door. If the station is crowded, people will put their backs against the wall of the station so that there is a walkway for people entering or exiting the platform. When boarding the subway car, most people will wait a reasonable amount of time before getting on, at least until after everyone intending to exit the car has been able to do so. When sitting down, feet will stay on the ground, and when standing, backpacks are moved to the front so that people are not disturbed when the backpackers turn around. During rush hour, people easily let go of the notion of personal space to pack an appropriate amount of passengers onto the car. In the car, people generally keep to themselves, and phone conversations in the subway car are strictly taboo. The subway etiquette in Japan is very practical, and I haven’t had any problems with it so far. However, when I travel in a group with the other Nakatani fellows, I do become very self-conscious about conversation volume.

On public transportation in Japan, it’s very common for people to read manga or to play phone games. As I mentioned earlier, people don’t like to talk in the subway, and many prefer to listen to music or to sleep. It’s considered impolite to engage in any activity that could disturb the other passengers on the train, and I think that essentially reflects the bottom line of Japanese public transport behavior. For the most part, passengers will avoid anything that could disturb the other passengers at all costs. This includes talking loudly, tapping feet, eating, drinking, etc.

I haven’t used public transportation in the U.S. many times, but I feel as though riding the subway in Japan is a generally safer and more pleasant activity. In Japan I can be fairly sure that nobody will attempt to steal my bag or my phone, and, if I forget anything, it’s almost certain that it will be turned in to a lost and found center. People are more organized about the way they use public transportation in Japan, and I think that creates an overall better experience for all passengers, compared to the U.S.

Kabuki: depictions of famous scenes from Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura at the kabuki theater in Ginza. - Rony Ballouz
Kabuki: depictions of famous scenes from Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura at the kabuki theater in Ginza. – Rony Ballouz

From my observations on the subway, I noticed that all of these practical considerations for using public transportation stem from Japanese cultural values and the emphasis on group mentality. Many people follow these rules because they understand that it will help everybody riding the train, and to Japanese people, that is an important goal. In America, for example, most individuals are concerned only with how they will board the train, but not how to create a more effective boarding experience for all. This idea of group mentality was mentioned in the Core Japanese Values reviewed in the pre-departure orientation at Rice, and it is very nicely reflected in the behavior of subway passengers.

Week Three Overview
In the third week, we had no scheduled program outings, but there were three speakers for the Japanese Culture & Society seminar. Shimizu-sensei from Rice University gave a lecture about the role of baseball in US-Japan international relations, from the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry to the present. Dr. Lyons, office head of NSF Tokyo, talked about our role as unintentional science diplomats and how to cultivate the international relations and scientific collaborations between Japan and the U.S. through our work here. On Thursday, Dr. Bird gave a short talk about his experience as a foreign researcher in Japan, and on Friday, Packard-sensei gave a talk about religion in Japan and the differences between Japanese and American societies.

Shimizu-sensei’s lecture presented an interesting observation regarding baseball’s role in the development of the US-Japan relationship. Throughout moments of hardship between the US and Japan, baseball existed as a common ground for fraternization between the two countries, and Shimizu-sensei proposes the idea that baseball may have played a huge roll in the acceptance of Japan’s Western reformation after WWII. It was really interesting to me, because I had never thought about the impact of sharing sports from country to country.

Dr. Lyons, from the NSF Tokyo office, focused on the role of science in diplomacy and the importance of creating a globally oriented scientific community. Dr. Lyons discussed three ways in which science and diplomacy interact: science for the promotion of diplomacy, diplomacy to foster science, and the use of science in diplomacy. She explained the change in perspective necessary to foster international scientific growth. For example, the U.S. has thought of China as a competitor and as a threat, whereas Dr. Lyons proposes that we should think of China as a partner for scientific collaboration through which we can improve both countries. Because science is done differently in other countries, and because different nations excel in different types of research, collaborations between nations is the fastest way to realize social progress through scientific discovery.

Packard-sensei discussed the structure and culture of religious practice in Japan, and she furthered the discussion by relating the origins of Japanese cultural ideas to religious beliefs. She mentioned the horizontal structure of Shintoism versus the vertical structure of religious worship in Western religions. Essentially, nature, humans, and kami are all equally important, and one does strictly govern the other. These three bodies interact in equivalent ways, whereas, in Western religion, God’s word carries the doctrine, and the humans exert their control over nature. Packard-sensei also mentioned that in Japan, the new never replaces the old, but instead mixes with it. This is exemplified by the simultaneous practice of both Shinto and Buddhist religions in Japan as well as geographically in places like Asakusa. In Packard-sensei’s words, Japanese culture is like nattou, everything is interconnected.

Japanese classes this week went well, as far as I can recall. Most of the time was spent writing and practicing the speeches we presented on Friday. I gave a speech about why I decided to pursue Electrical Engineering in my undergraduate career, and I think it went alright, although I did get very nervous. I did not practice my presentation well enough to go through it fluidly, but in the end I think the AJALT professors were happy with everyone’s speeches. Although the last three weeks have been fun, they have been exhausting, and often I have been too tired to properly study Japanese outside of class. I don’t regret any of the sightseeing I have done, but I do think it is important to mention that this has been a very busy experience.

Introduction to Science & Engineering Seminar
This week, the scientific program included two lectures from Dr. Bird, from University of Buffalo, and Aoki-sensei from Chiba University. Dr. Bird lectured about bandgap engineering and graphene’s impact on semiconductors, while Aoki-sensei lectured about different microscopy techniques.

I was most interested in Dr. Bird’s lecture about graphene because the material has attracted a lot of attention recently, and I seem to hear the word graphene very often at my home university. I’ve even heard jokes about adding graphene to the title of a research paper in order to get funding. It was nice to get an overview of the material properties that make graphene so valuable as well as information on the hurdles in the development of graphene based devices. For example, graphene can exhibit a resistivity that is higher than that of silver, and has a breaking strength that is 200x greater than steel. However graphene’s bandgap is 0 eV, and it cannot be used directly to fabricate transistors. Dr. Bird also discussed the combination of graphene layers with other two-dimensional materials to create Van der Waals heterostructures and overcome the problems caused by graphene’s zero bandgap, which include effects such as Klein tunneling. One interesting fact about Van der Waals heterostructures I did not know prior to Dr. Bird’s lecture is that these types of structures do not require matching of the lattice constant between layers of different materials, which means a large variety of combinations, each exhibiting different properties, are available. If we want to keep upholding Moore’s Law in semiconductor scaling, then the future of semiconductor materials science lies in 2-D materials and heterostructures.

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Week 04: First Week at Research Lab

My first day in the Itoh Lab at Keio University was very eventful compared to the rest of the week. I left the Sanuki Club early Monday morning to be at Hiyoshi station by 8:40. I was picked up by Itoh-sensei and his wife, who kindly drove me to the lab, since I was carrying some of my luggage. Conveniently, there was a seminar scheduled on that day, and all of the members of the research group attended.

During the seminar, I took notes on a presentation given a master student. During the presentation, Itoh-sensei asked several questions and gave very sharp constructive criticism. It was intimidating, but also genuinely benevolent. After the seminar had concluded, I was briefly introduced to all of the research group members who then left the room. The members of my specific division in the Itoh group, the diffusion study group, stayed with me in the seminar room and we all gave our self-introductions in Japanese. My lab mates were very happy with my marginal language skill, and they made me feel very welcome. Professor Itoh returned to the room, and I was then introduced to the two people who would be mentoring me for the summer, Yamada-san and Kiga-san. They prefer it when I call them by their first names, Kaito and Ryotaro respectively. We all had lunch together, and Ryotaro showed me how the University’s cafeteria works. During lunch, Itoh-sensei briefed me about the nature of research in his group and answered several questions I had about my project. Itoh-sensei also warned me that two months is a very short time for completing a full project, but I hope I can accomplish something meaningful by the end of the summer.

After lunch, I went to the clean room with my mentors to perform electron beam lithography (EBL) on a sample for Kaito’s project. Kaito taught me how to operate the machine, and he let me perform the etching, which was really exciting. Later in the day, Kaito helped me move in to the dorm from the lab, and he translated all of the instructions from the dorm manager. I was shocked to see to what lengths he was willing to go just to help someone he met the same day. So far, the people I have met in the Itoh group are very kind, and they’ve shown that they’re always willing to help me and answer my questions.

I haven’t had a “real” welcome party yet, but there was an impromptu party on Friday night which several lab members in the diffusion group joined to celebrate my arrival in the lab. The party was in the room which I like to call the “coffee lab,” because it’s where Ryotaro likes to brew coffee for us after lunch. It was really fun, and it made me feel at home in the research group. Later in the week, my lab members set up a desk for me in the basement lab.

The Basement: Keio University’s Spintronics Research Center, where I spend most of my time. - Rony Ballouz
The Basement: Keio University’s Spintronics Research Center, where I spend most of my time. – Rony Ballouz

I have two mentors because one has recently joined and one is leaving the research group shortly. Kaito is a recently graduated master student, and Ryotaro is a first-year master student. Kaito is Ryotaro’s mentor, and so he has also been mentoring me. They are both very relaxed people, at least towards me, but I have heard that Kaito can be very strict towards people when they make mistakes. As a result, I have been extra careful when handling equipment. Ryotaro can get very busy with class or work as a library aide, but he has been a great friend. We bonded over our mutual interest in coffee. His primary hobby is photography, and I enjoyed learning about it from him as well. I have been making friends with the other people in the diffusion group as well. My desk neighbor Satoru is a very hardworking post-doc. He is highly respected by our group members, and he acts as a humble guru for several experimental processes such as Si wafer cleaning, with which he has over 300 hours of experience.

English is spoken in my lab with varying levels of proficiency. My mentors are very good English speakers, and I can usually get by making conversation with the other lab members as well. My limited knowledge of Japanese has also helped me a bit, and my lab members enjoy helping me improve my vocabulary. My Japanese knowledge has helped me make jokes and talk to my lab mates, but it has not helped me too much with functional or critical tasks in the lab. My lab mates and I have been teaching each other informal phrases not typically taught in language classes, like “what’s up,” for example. It’s been very fun and surprisingly useful to learn how speak casually with other young people in Japanese.

Flash Disc Ranch: A hip record store in the narrow streets of Shimo-Kitazawa, the indie district in Setagaya, Tokyo. - Rony Ballouz
Flash Disc Ranch: A hip record store in the narrow streets of Shimo-Kitazawa, the indie district in Setagaya, Tokyo. – Rony Ballouz

I’m currently living at Keio University’s Okurayama dormitory, which is about 45 minutes away from the Yagami campus via public transport. My commute to lab involves a 20 minute walk, a 5 minute subway ride, and another 20 minute walk. Since it is a university dorm, there are some rules and bureaucratic policies regarding dorm life. I have to check out of the dorm with my key every time I leave, and if I plan to stay out for more than a night, I’m required to fill out a form. The management of garbage is also very strict, and I’m not allowed to wear shoes inside the building, but, apart from those rules, nothing is too much of an impediment for day-to-day life. On the plus side, my dorm room is very large, and I get to live alone. The RA’s are very friendly, and I have made several friends with the other international students living in the dorm. There is even a music room with a guitar, bass, and drum set, which my RA likes to play. Sometimes there are small dorm parties, and the environment is very welcoming. I have no major complaints about the dorm, but I’d prefer to have more freedom. The dorm may not be as nice and private as my apartment in the U.S., but I do enjoy living in it overall.

I know now that I will be working on a project that relates to the study of self-diffusion in Silicon during thermal oxidation. I anticipate that details and specific goals for my project will become clearer later on. My first week was spent on learning how to use the equipment in the lab that I will need for my project. I shadowed my mentors as they ran experiments for their own projects, and they explained the processes to me. The only issue with my project is that the experiments are very time consuming, and there have been some delays due to the loss of supplies. Additionally, the electron beam lithography machine is not functioning properly, and our only alternative is to use an expensive shared machine, so I will have to choose when to run experiments wisely.

I learn a lot from the seminars and presentations in the lab group: I get to learn about the lab members and their projects, and I also learn about paper writing, proper experimentation, and presentation skills from Itoh-sensei. Sometimes, our lab group invites guest lecturers to give talks, and this week Seth Lloyd of MIT gave a very interesting talk about quantum machine learning. Our group’s overarching goal is to develop a quantum computer, and Dr. Lloyd’s talk gave relevant insight into some particularly valuable and interesting applications for quantum computation. I hope to use what I learned from the project presentations in my lab group when I present my own project.

So far, I have really enjoyed being in the lab, but in my first week I found that I often end up with free time. My schedule has depended on the availability of my mentors, and so when they are busy I usually don’t have much to do. It may sound nice at first, but I get a bit frustrated about my purpose in the lab. I hope that when my project becomes clearer to me, I will be able to spend my time working towards a goal and contributing to the ongoing research in the lab. In the meantime, I have been making an effort to ask other members in the diffusion group about their projects and learning how to use different equipment from my lab mates.

Overview of Orientation Program
Overall, the orientation program was an excellent way for the Nakatani students to build a strong base of knowledge in Japanese culture and to form great friendships with each other. I really enjoyed the discussions with the KIP students, and I think the discussions form one of the most important parts of the orientation program, because they allow us to interact directly with Japanese people who are willing to share their point of view and establish mutual understanding. The scientific portion of the orientation program was great, but it could be improved if the lecturing professors communicated prior to giving their lectures so that the knowledge could build up in a more organized way as the weeks progressed.
It’s very difficult to sum up what I learned with a concrete list of items, but in general I think that the most helpful aspect of the cultural orientation is that it provides us with a smooth and guided transition into Japanese life. The daily routines, the language classes, the discussions with the KIP students, and the excursions gave me a really good feel for how life works in Japan. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I should not judge Japanese food based on my first experience eating it. I originally did not like tsukemono (pickled vegetables) at all but, because they are ubiquitously served as a side dish, I have eaten tsukemono so often that the taste has grown on me. Soon I’ll be brave enough to try nattou!

In addition to restoring my knowledge from previous language studies, the Japanese language lessons at AJALT have helped me learn key grammatical and sentence structures in Japanese. I feel like my primary hurdle when it comes to Japanese is the vocabulary, and I am hoping to pick that up along the way in and outside of lab. Additionally, I have been trying to memorize kanji during my free time. I am hoping to learn 120 new kanji by the end of the summer, and my goal is to practice speaking with my lab mates as often as I can so that my language skill doesn’t deteriorate.

Research Project Overview
My research project at the Itoh lab is to study the process of self-diffusion of Silicon during annealing in a thermally oxidized, three-dimensional, cylindrical nanopillar structure. The diffusion process will be observed by using a layered structure of natural Si and 28Si so that diffusion can be measured using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS). The anticipated goal of this research is to contribute to a fabrication process for SGTs, or surrounding-gate transistors, which are a newly developed three-dimensional transistor structure.

Research Methods
My project is not well-defined enough for me to outline its procedure, but I will give some tentative information.

First, the pattern for the nanopillars will be fabricated using electron beam lithography. Then, Ti and Au will be deposited onto the sample using an electron beam evaporator in preparation for metal-assisted chemical etching (MACE). Ti and Au require different tungsten plates with matching resistivities for evaporation because the two metals have different melting points. After etching using HF and H2O2, the sample will be oxidized and annealed in a furnace. The concentration profile will be measured before and after annealing using SIMS. After SIMS, the result will be analyzed using a series of PDEs with the goal of obtaining an accurate simulation of the self-diffusion process.


Electron Beam Evaporator: The coolest (hottest?) machine in the basement. - Rony Ballouz
Electron Beam Evaporator: The coolest (hottest?) machine in the basement. – Rony Ballouz

I will need to be trained to use the electron beam lithography and electron beam evaporator machines. I must also know how to use sputtering for material deposition in case the electron beam evaporator is unavailable. Additionally, I will need to learn how to use the scanning electron microscope and SIMS machines to observe the results of the etching and diffusion processes respectively. Most of my equipment usage will be monitored by my mentors, who will be able to assist me if needed. I will also need training with “Grace,” a Unix based data visualization program, and ZOMBIE, a command line tool for solving partial differential equations numerically.

I am not really sure if I will need to use molecular beam epitaxy for my research project yet, but my mentors have mentioned that they would like to train me to use the machine.

The tungsten plates for Ti evaporation have disappeared, and so we have had to use palladium and gold sputtering for the MACE process. This may have altered the results of the electron beam lithography test pattern, but we cannot be sure because the electron beam lithography machine itself is not working properly.
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Week 05: Critical Incident Analysis – Life in Japan

Aka-renga: Yokohama’s famous red brick buildings and skyline ~ Rony Ballouz
Aka-renga: Yokohama’s famous red brick buildings and skyline ~ Rony Ballouz

For my critical cultural reflection, I will report on a discussion, rather than an incident, that revealed different cultural perspectives in conversation.

Last weekend, some of the Tokyo Nakatani students in Tokyo made a plan to go to Kamakura and Enoshima with some KIP students. At the end of the trip, I had dinner with Daiki, one of the KIP students. It was really fun because Daiki isn’t too afraid to express his opinion, and I was able to learn a lot from our talks.

So, he was asking me what I thought about different places in Tokyo, and he eventually asked me what I thought about Harajuku. I responded by saying that it was almost upsetting to see how much money people were willing to spend just on clothes and accessories. (I should clarify by saying that I was unknowingly referring to the Omotesando area at the time.) I told Daiki that going to Harajuku made me feel uneasy and out-of-place because the people there seemed quick to judge someone based on what they saw outside the skin (and possibly inside the wallet). I also didn’t like the fact that a lot of the decisions people make to wear certain clothes or buy certain things are based on conforming to trends rather than creating original content. Although I know that paying significant attention to fashion is not something that happens only in Japan, but I found it to be more culturally significant here than in the States. My feelings were based mostly on personal opinions, but my cultural values were certainly involved.

Daiki seemed pretty disappointed to hear what I said, so I asked him what his opinion was about Harajuku. He told me that most Japanese value clothing as a form of expression, and that there was a perceived direct relationship between attire and personality. The use of clothing to communicate personality is not necessarily shallow or stupid, because, after all, it’s something that does require a good chunk of thought. Style in clothing is definitely something that can be analyzed critically, and I can’t deny that it has tremendous power in terms of public image. We moved on to other topics after his comments, but, after having some more time to think about the subject, I realized that the value of Harajuku is in that it offers a venue for young people to showcase their talent for shaping the way they look.

Iwaya caves: Exploring Enoshima island by candlelight. ~ Rony Ballouz
Iwaya caves: Exploring Enoshima island by candlelight. ~ Rony Ballouz

Fashion can be used as a very quick way to distinguish who one can or wants to interact with, and in what way one can do so. The problem, in my eyes, is that placing too much emphasis on this type of communication ostracizes people who don’t care how they dress, as well as people who can’t really afford to spend money on luxury or specialized clothing. After that evening, I realized that what bothered me about Harajuku wasn’t the fact that people spent so much money on clothes, it’s that I didn’t agree with the idea that money could be used to buy “identity.” I still don’t think that a holistic representation of myself can exist in the objects I am surrounded by, or, to be straightforward: “am I really all the things that are outside of me?”. In the end, the positive impact is that my conversation with Daiki helped me better understand the different ways in which an investment of time and effort into clothing and cosmetics can be perceived.

As a person who doesn’t even like to change dress for formal occasions, it’s probably not so surprising to some people that I didn’t enjoy Harajuku that much, but the perspective I gained after that conversation last weekend has helped me appreciate the trendy districts in Tokyo for what they are.

Research Project Update
My project has only just started to take shape, and this week was spent mostly on studying and reading papers. One of my mentors, Kaito, has not been able to work on his project because the electron beam lithography machine is uncalibrated, and the electron beam evaporation machine is reserved by another lab member for the next nine days or so. As a result, I have spent my downtime learning how to use various machines from other members of the research group. So far, I have received some instruction on wafer cleaning, atomic force microscope (AFM) operation, sputtering, and wafer cleaving.

Additionally, I spent some time during the week to set up an account on the linux (CentOS) server. It was problematic because I needed to set the locale of my account to English while keeping the system’s locale in Japanese for the other lab members. Once that was sorted out, I was given some instructions on how to use the “Grace” data visualization program. Also, I was told by professor Uematsu that my project will not involve ZOMBIE, since ZOMBIE is used for 1D PDEs. As a result, I will have to learn how to use HyENEXSS, a program for 3D simulations reserved for Japanese researchers in the semiconductor industry. This program only has Japanese documentation, so I will have to rely on Google translate and my lab mates to decipher the contents of the manual.

Instead of studying a structure with one or two dimensions, I will be studying the self-diffusion of Silicon in three-dimensional, cylindrical nanopillars during thermal oxidation. The motivation for my study will be to characterize the formation of SiO2 on these nanopillars for use as a gate oxide in the fabrication process of surrounding gate transistors (SGTs), which are a relatively novel type of three-dimensional transistor.

The plan for next week will be to discuss my project further with Itoh-sensei after he returns from his travels. Hopefully, I will get some instruction from one of the more experienced lab members about how to use HyENEXSS so that I can build the simulation for my project. I will be working primarily on the simulation until the electron beam lithography machine is fixed up.

As of yet, I have no data about my project except a few papers I was asked to read. I hope that I will have more to present after next week.
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Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting

Sankei-en Gardens: This park contains beautiful natural scenery as well as culturally significant architecture. ~ Rony Ballouz
Sankei-en Gardens: This park contains beautiful natural scenery as well as culturally significant architecture. ~ Rony Ballouz

Before leaving for Japan, I told myself that I wanted to learn from the new environment and enjoy it as much as possible, and I wanted to avoid spending large portions of time sitting in my room. I reasoned that my room would always be my room, no matter where I am, and the things I can do inside of it will stay the same, for the most part. The change is only superficial. I didn’t want my experience in Japan to be hindered by a tendency to succumb to the comfort of a familiar room. I don’t want to downplay the importance of rest days, which give me time for reflection, but when I spend time idling on a phone or laptop, I don’t feel like I’m really resting or really learning anything. On the other hand, the list of things I can learn and see outside my room is vast and unique to this country, and I have made it a point to keep that in mind. As a result, despite all the time I spend in lab and the effort I exert daily to stay out of comfort zones, I still feel motivated to seize any opportunity for new experiences as readily and eagerly as ever.

So far, I think maintaining the motivation and enthusiasm to create a fulfilling experience in the program has been my most significant personal accomplishment in Japan.  As a kid, I felt that my room was sacred and there was no better feeling than being at home. I would avoid excursions because of the effort necessary, and I would almost always have to be pressured into leaving the house by my parents. At the end of the day, I was usually the one who would enjoy the trip the most, but I never changed my attitude. I became more reasonable as I got older, but I still had that same “is it worth the effort?” type hesitation that sometimes prevented me from doing things I likely would have enjoyed. It wasn’t a result of physical exhaustion; it was purely mental. Every year, I got better at refusing to give in to this type of laziness. The program helped me challenge myself to stay energetic and motivated for a long period of time. It’s not that I’ve become an optimist, and I certainly have down days. I just think it was important for me to prove to myself that I’ve overcome the occasional defeatist attitude that prevented me from enjoying myself when it required effort.

Lunch time: Impressive bowls of spaghetti are a lunch tradition in the Itoh Lab. ~ Rony Ballouz
Lunch time: Impressive bowls of spaghetti are a lunch tradition in the Itoh Lab. ~ Rony Ballouz

My biggest personal challenge has been to continue practicing Japanese conversation. Most of my lab mates are already good English speakers, and they are equally eager to improve their language skills, so our conversations tend to shift to English. I have tried to do several things to keep myself from speaking English. One idea, which Sarah suggested, was to try limiting the conversation during each lunch period to only one language. In that way, everyone is pushed to practice their language skills in an organized way. One of my lab mates proposed to use Tabasco sauce as a motivator; if someone broke the language rule, then they had to put Tabasco on their food. This strategy for conversation has been working really well in the lab, but I still don’t speak very much Japanese outside of lab. I live in an international dorm, and all of the students here come from different countries. Consequently, I’ve made good friends with the French people living in the dorm, and I’ve found that I have some days during which I speak more French than English. (I even had a dream in French for the first time in years the other night.) This is still valuable language practice to me, but it’s not Japanese.  Despite the challenges, I still feel like my Japanese has been improving.

Question of the Week
What are the expectations of a friendship in Japanese culture? As I get closer to my lab mates. I am starting to wonder what they expect from me as a friend, not just as a co-worker. Friendship is defined differently in various cultural contexts, and I’m wondering how different friendship in Japan is compared to the US.

  • Remember the concept of uchi and soto from our pre-departure discussions.  Close friends in Japan may be life-long friends, often made in childhood, who are considered part of the inside group whereas most other acquaintances, even those that in a U.S. context would likely be called friends, are more likely to remain in the outside group.  However, most research groups in Japan have a strong uchi (home) culture and by joining the Itoh group you are now more part of this inner circle.  However, as a foreigner who is only in Japan for a short period of time, you may also sense that you still remain slightly outside.  It’s not uncommon for visiting foreign students to form close friendships with their lab mats while they are in Japan that summer – but then quickly lose contact with their lab mates when they return to the U.S. and get busy with school and other commitments.  For this reason, some Japanese lab members who have seen this happen before may hold off just a little bit; knowing that after you leave the opportunities for close friendship will be more difficult.  This happens in U.S. labs with visiting foreign students too.  However, if you stay in contact with your lab mates and continue to maintain those friendship you will likely find that will be a long-lasting relationship.  This is much easier now with LINE, Facebook, Snapchat and all the other social media options out there. A number of past NanoJapan alumni have returned to Japan to visit on their own, sometimes after many years, and their former labmates have hosted them during their return trips.

Research Project Update
This week, when Itoh-sensei returned from his travels, it was decided that some of our lab members, including myself, had to change their projects to complete a high priority lab goal, which is to create a specific SiGe heterostructure for use in quantum computing research. Itoh-sensei had just attended Intel’s first technical presentation about quantum computing, and when he returned, he announced our new projects. Some of the information he shared is classified, and I’m not sure how much I can share about the big picture.

My current project is no longer concerned with diffusion; I will be working on optimizing the process of chemical mechanical polishing (CMP) of a SiGe virtual substrate. Although this new project is less glamorous than my previous project, Itoh-sensei believes that it will be a more valuable learning experience for me, since I will be left to design and conduct the experimentation myself. This independence will allow me to explore the scientific method, and it will be fundamental to developing a sense for what constitutes good research. Itoh-sensei has spent a lot of time mentoring me and teaching me about my project as well as its larger context.

Since my project changed on Tuesday, I spent the rest of the week investigating the CMP process. My fellow lab members helped me order the correct supplies for CMP so that I could begin work the next week. I went to Tokyo City University with some lab mates to observe the CMP set-up in the TCU clean room and to learn from their techniques. I also learned how to operate the atomic force microscope (AFM), which I will need for my experiments. Additionally, I learned how to use the spincoater and how to perform photolithography in the Tokyo City University clean room, although I will not need photolithography for my project.

Next week, I plan to begin by practicing polishing and taking measurements with pure Si wafers. Once I am experienced with the process, I will begin testing SiGe wafers, which are more expensive. The scope of what I will be able to do next week depends greatly on the arrival date of the CMP supplies we ordered. I hope I will be able to get significant practice polishing Si wafers by the end of next week.
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Week 07: Overview of Mid-Program Meeting & Research Host Lab Visit

Silver Pavilion: this “unfinished” building reflects a traditional Japanese aesthetic idea called “wabi-sabi” which mainly involves accepting transience and imperfection as a trait of beauty. ~ Rony Ballouz
Silver Pavilion: this “unfinished” building reflects a traditional Japanese aesthetic idea called “wabi-sabi” which mainly involves accepting transience and imperfection as a trait of beauty. ~ Rony Ballouz

After meeting up at the Shinkansen station and going to the seminar house, I gathered with the other students for a meeting. We all voiced accomplishments and challenges inside and outside of the research lab, which gave us a chance to communicate with the program coordinators and to catch up with our friends. Sarah kindly brought us all some Jolly ranchers from the US. I was excited to go sightseeing and to see all my friends again, but like everyone, I was slightly anxious about my presentation.

The first day of the Mid-Program Meeting, I went to Kyoto University with the other students to present my research progress. We were joined by several students and faculty from the university, which added to the pressure. It was decided that the presentations would be given in alphabetical order, so I was the first up. I should have practiced my speech a bit more, because at one point I started rambling about electron spin precession and went overtime. There was only 1 minute remaining for questions, but I was able to answer a couple. I still have to work on my posture a bit, as well. However, according to Kono-sensei, all of the presentations went really well this year. After the labs, we were given a tour of the Kyoto University Center for Interdisciplinary Research. A lot of the labs involved a combination of biological science, material science, and applied chemistry, and I thought it was really cool just to see how the research space made this type of collaboration between fields possible.

The next day, the group went out for cultural excursions throughout Kyoto. We first went to Kamigamo shrine, one of the seventeen world heritage sites in Kyoto. At the shrine, an English-speaking priest gave us a tour of the shrine complex, which is the oldest in the city of Kyoto. The priest told us the legend of the shrine deity’s birth, and the origin of the shrine’s formal name, Kamo-wakeikazuchi. One unique part of the visit is that we were allowed to enter the sacred interior of the shrine’s main hall after a Shinto purification ritual. It was really fascinating to hear the chants of the priest, and I before the shrine visit, I really wasn’t aware of most Shinto religious practices . We couldn’t take photos of the main hall’s interior, but it immediately struck me as serene. The priest might have been talking to us at the time, but I zoned out and took my time to enjoy the beauty of the place. After Kamigamo shrine, the Nakatani students participated in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, and even though I tried my best to follow the custom, I’m sure I butchered something. I had to sit on a bench because the normal sitting position, which requires reasonable flexibility, was too uncomfortable for me to maintain.

Nara: It was too difficult for me to resist buying some snacks for the deer roaming around the city. ~ Rony Ballouz
Nara: It was too difficult for me to resist buying some snacks for the deer roaming around the city. ~ Rony Ballouz

After tea-time, we visited Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion. It was remarkable to see an entire building covered in gold leaf, especially when complemented by its own reflection in the garden’s pond. Kinkaku-ji was surely a must-see, but I enjoyed visiting Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion, a bit more, because I thought it held more natural beauty. (Ginkaku-ji was built during same period as Kinkaku-ji,  but it is not actually covered in silver.) At first glance, I didn’t think the gold coating on the pavilion did much to enhance the building’s cultural or religious significance. Rather, it seems like it would attract large crowds who are more interested in the powerful display of wealth, which is also cool for different reasons. I just felt that the gold was a sort of forced beauty, less subtle than the dark and austere wooden structures normally found in Japanese architecture. I learned later that the gold was added after the 1955 to quell negative outlooks on death, but I couldn’t have known that unless I had done research. When I told my Japanese friends and lab mates that I enjoyed Ginkaku-ji more, they surprisingly agreed, and mentioned that they preferred the garden there.

Later in the day, we went to a museum of Kyoto traditional arts and crafts before returning to the seminar house. I didn’t expect the exhibit to be a live demonstration at all. Students who were studying different traditional crafts were working independently on short square pedestals, and we could all gather around and watch. With incredible talent and attention to detail, the students produced beautiful baskets, pottery, and sculptures. I tried to scour the shop for something I could buy, but I couldn’t justify the cost, despite the hours of labor put in by the craftspeople.

Kansai Seminar House: Settling in to the men’s common bedroom. ~ Rony Ballouz
Kansai Seminar House: Settling in to the men’s common bedroom. ~ Rony Ballouz

Back at the seminar house, we dressed up in traditional Japanese yukata to celebrate the 4th of July. The process was too complicated for us to dress ourselves, and it took a while before everyone was outside and ready. After the obligatory photo shoot, we lit some fireworks and tried desperately to take a long-exposure photo of “NK16” spelled with sparklers.

If I had been in the sparkler photo, I’m sure that it would have been my biggest challenge, but honestly, the biggest challenge of the mid-program meeting, for me, was coping with the long days of group travel. I get really exhausted from being in very social situations for long periods of time, so at the end of each day I had to take some time alone to wind down. It’s not bad or anything, but I did have to make an effort to stay active.

Research Project Update
The week before the Mid-Program Meeting, I was mainly ordering parts and waiting for them to arrive. I read some papers until I was at a point where only hands-on experience could really help, so I tried to go around the lab asking people what they were working on and learning from them. Most people were quite busy, so I had quite a bit of down time. I did manage to learn about AFM operation from one of the undergraduate students in the lab, and I think that very soon I will be able to use the machine independently, which is exciting. I spent most of Thursday and Friday working on my presentation for the Mid-Program meeting since I had the foresight of bringing my laptop to the lab.

After the Mid-Program Meeting, I only had one day before the lab visit. During that Thursday, I spent essentially the entire day cleaving a wafer in preparation for my polishing project. I had some talks with the post-doc in our lab, Miyamoto-san, and the lab technician, Kuroda-san, about strategies for my project. We were trying to develop an initial approach for the CMP machine use and trying to prepare the necessary supplies in advance as much as possible.

On Friday, Sarah, Kono-sensei, Packard-san, Endo-san, and Ogawa-san all visited my lab to check how everything was going and take some pictures. Additionally, Itoh-sensei had invited Kono-sensei to give a short lecture about his research about his research in quantum electrodynamics. Although the bulk of the discussion was beyond the scope of my knowledge, I tried to write as much as I could down so I could revisit it at a later point in time. Kono-sensei’s lecture was the part of the mid-program meeting that I learned the most from.

Packard-san and the other program coordinators spoke to Itoh-sensei about some concerns about my project that I brought up during the mid-program meeting, which was thoughtful. However, I don’t think everyone was aware that I had already spoken to Itoh-sensei and cleared things up shortly before the mid-program meeting, and I’m afraid that he may now be irritated by what seems like repeated complaints. I don’t want him to think of me as ungrateful for his help, but I did have some legitimate questions about my project and the availability of my mentor.

Next week, I am hoping to receive the colloidal silica and the urethane polishing pad necessary to start my research project. I should be able to wrap up the preparations, receive training on CMP, and begin work by the end of next week.

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Week 08: Research in Japan vs. Research in the U.S.

Tsurumi River: View of the river from the bridge on my daily commute from the international dorm to Keio’s Yagami campus. ~ Rony Ballouz
Tsurumi River: View of the river from the bridge on my daily commute from the international dorm to Keio’s Yagami campus. ~ Rony Ballouz

The Itoh group is known among Keio students for having a pretty relaxed lab culture. Keio is normally bureaucratic and uptight, but I didn’t get that impression from my lab at all. The students all work independently, but there are still meetings once a week for each to present their progress.  All machine use is logged thoroughly, but that’s just for the sake of safe and precise experimentation. There are few rules in the lab, but the ones that exist are followed strictly.

While the Itoh lab is very international-friendly, a large majority of the lab members are Japanese, and so most of the conversations during meetings are in Japanese. It’s not a big deal, though, because the graduate students and post-docs are required to present their research progress in English. When an undergraduate student is selected, however, the presentation is usually in Japanese, unless the student is really ambitious. Also, people are usually indifferent to use of honorifics. I’m sure my seniors would laugh if I used “-kun,” but generally I call everyone by last or first name, because they just call me Rony. When we speak in Japanese, I’ve heard “Rony-kun” on occasion, but when we’re all speaking English, the honorifics are omitted. The decision to use honorifics is made based on the language spoken: When I speak Japanese, I use honorifics, and when speaking in English, my lab mates no longer see the need to include the honorifics.

One thing I was made to expect during the orientation portion of the program that I now notice often is how Japanese people communicate indirectly. I don’t see this type of indirect communication as much in the US, so I can’t really compare the two countries, but in lab I started noticing that most Japanese people rarely issue a command directly or even discuss courses of action; they just communicate the current situation and leave the listener to decide what to do or say in response. I can see why it’s more polite to communicate this way, because it shows that nobody’s trying to exert any authority or show that their judgment is superior, explicitly. I also think it’s an elegant way to get things done, but it’s not necessarily practical.

DDSI Cycle: Relevant/interesting graphic Sasha found at the Ghibli exhibit in Roppongi. ~ Rony Ballouz
DDSI Cycle: Relevant/interesting graphic Sasha found at the Ghibli exhibit in Roppongi. ~ Rony Ballouz

I can almost always understand what my lab mates mean, but I remember one time where it clearly went over my head. I was talking about taking a trip to Nagano, and my mentor, Kiga-san, suggested that he could drive there. I thought it was a great idea, so I accepted his offer. Then, he asked me if I was just going with him, and I said “yeah, we can invite some people if you like.” It took me a while to realize that he actually wanted me to invite the other students in the room to the trip. He eventually had to tell me directly, and I was embarrassed that I didn’t notice quickly enough. The idea probably didn’t occur to me because I was originally planning on going alone via shinkansen, and when he offered to drive I thought he just wanted to tag along, not start a lab trip. It definitely would have been easier if he had just told me directly: “let’s invite some more people!”

When I was first starting to become independent, I was accompanied by the lab technician to measure some weights with a scale that was in a different building, and, afterward, I asked him what he read on the dial, just to double check. His response was “I don’t know… It’s your experiment.” Another phrase I hear often in lab is: “we’re not sure, just try it!” I think that reinforces the “everybody works independently” part of the lab culture, and it also serves as a reminder that members of the Itoh group are all experimentalists.

I’m not really sure if I have enough experience to compare and contrast research labs in the US and in Japan. I think I’d have to spend more time in different labs to be able to really compare the two countries, because otherwise I’d only be comparing individual labs. What I noticed in my research lab is that precise experimentation is valued the most. Even though we don’t work in a clean room very often, all equipment is kept very clean, and processes are done slowly, carefully, and thoroughly to make sure that the results obtained are as good as they can be. Students work incredibly long hours to be certain that their experiments and their presentations are detailed and leave little room for questions. Most concepts are usually explained from the ground up. The most outstanding difference between American and Japanese work environments in general is that Japanese people tend to work very long hours, to the point that they probably spend more time at work than they do at home.

I’m not sure which environment I would prefer, because I haven’t spent much time in an American host lab yet, but I’ll be sure to compare the two experiences when I get the chance. I don’t really have a problem spending as much time in the lab as my other lab mates, because it saves me money so I can afford to travel on weekends. Also, part of being in a foreign country with no friends or family directly nearby is that there’s not much reason to go home early in the first place, so I usually stay in lab because it’s usually more interesting than going home.

Low-tech: CMP polishing plate with unpolished Si wafers fixed on with wax. ~ Rony Ballouz
Low-tech: CMP polishing plate with unpolished Si wafers fixed on with wax. ~ Rony Ballouz

Research Project Update
I finally have all of the supplies to start my project, so this week I’ve been learning to operate the lapping machine and some other machines that I will need for measurements. The lab technician also fabricated some weights for me using dimensions that I had calculated (based on an assumption of density of brass).  It turns out that they are the wrong size, because the brass he used had a lower density than expected, but it’s not a big deal, because I can still use the plates to vary pressure, even though the numbers won’t be nice.

This week I was taught how to use laser microscopy independently, which I plan to use to examine the surface morphology of unpolished wafers. Most importantly, we determined that laser microscopy will also be used to examine the change in thickness of material after CMP.

Since Itoh-sensei is currently the only person in the lab group who has significant experience with CMP, I have been discussing my project with him fairly frequently. It’s making me slightly nervous, because I know he is very busy, but there really isn’t anybody else around to give me guidance. From Itoh-sensei, I learned a new method to fix the wafers on to the polishing plate. This method uses a piece of filter paper and a weight to make sure that the wafers lie flat on the surface of the plate after the wax cools down.

There were some slight mishaps while trying to formulate the contents of the polishing slurry. I mixed up the ratio of colloidal silica to ammonium, and I ended up making the entire basement smell like ammonium, which is very pungent. However, by using this very basic solution, I was able to make good progress with polishing. Unfortunately, I think I will have to refrain from using ammonium, because I don’t have access to a fume hood.

I haven’t been able to fully planarize a wafer surface, yet. That will be my goal for next week.

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Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning

Togakushi: Gate for the upper shrine through the hiking trail north of Nagano. ~ Rony Ballouz
Togakushi: Gate for the upper shrine through the hiking trail north of Nagano. ~ Rony Ballouz

The first few weeks with AJALT were really effective in regenerating the Japanese language ability I lost because of lack of practice. Not only was I back to where I was when I last studied Japanese during my freshman year at UT, the AJALT classes substantially expanded both my vocabulary and grammatical knowledge. I wasn’t too afraid of losing my conversational ability after the orientation program, because I figured I could stick to practicing speaking while I’m living on my own, since there wouldn’t be that many English-speaking people around. What I didn’t expect was to find a large population of French students in my international dorm, but that hasn’t stopped me from practicing Japanese in the lab, on weekend trips, or with the dorm personnel.

Living alone, especially, allowed me to get better at Japanese and learn the most practical vocab. After learning a new word or phrase, I’ve often stopped to think: “Wow. That’s so useful. Why didn’t I ask about it in language class?” I guess it’s too difficult to think of all the possible scenarios we could run into during the day-to-day, and it’s having to deal with a wide variety of daily interactions that has kept sharpening my knowledge of Japanese language. As cliché as it sounds, I really think that the most effective technique to continue language study is to actively put forth the daily effort to use Japanese, even for small interactions. Talking and listening to a large number of other people is the type of immersion one can’t really get outside of Japan. Refusing to give in to shyness and the ability to cope with language mistakes are indispensable to the development of a language skill when immersed in a foreign environment.

I can’t think of any outstanding moments where the language barrier was especially challenging, but there was one funny incident that happened at my dorm: I had forgotten my toiletries in the men’s public bath the night before, but because it was a Thursday night, the bathroom became the ladies’ public bath by Friday morning, and so I was stuck. Understandably, the manager was very confused when I tried to tell her that my toiletries were left in the female bathroom. It took a while for me to explain that they switched overnight, but in the end she went to check the bathroom herself and I was able to recover my belongings.

Existential Owl: He contemplates life outside the bustle of Akihabara. ~ Rony Ballouz
Existential Owl: He contemplates life outside the bustle of Akihabara. ~ Rony Ballouz

There’s still one minor language situation I keep facing that I haven’t figured out yet. I can never seem to explain to store cashiers that I don’t need a bag. I usually rely on hand gestures, because they seem to get the message across, but I need to figure out how to tell cashiers that I don’t need a bag in advance, so that they don’t have to do extra work or create waste. I think I was taught a phrase during the AJALT classes, but I can’t remember it anymore.

I try to speak Japanese in lab as much as I can. I’m cautious when receiving instructions about experiments, and I speak English when I’m learning new procedures. However, outside of all instructive activities during lab, like during lunch, I try to speak in Japanese with my lab mates. I’ve learned a lot about casual and informal Japanese from my lab mates, and that has helped me understand the language better during daily interactions. I understand that language classes teach polite forms of Japanese so that classroom conversation can stay appropriately respectful, but I think that casual and current forms of the language should be more of a focus point during language classes. I should also add that my lab mates are aware that I want to practice Japanese, so they get credit for putting more pressure on me to speak the language in lab.

In general, my experience living in Japan has boosted my confidence in my ability to eventually speak Japanese fluently. Additionally, after spending so much time here, I feel emotionally attached to the geography, and that only adds to my motivation to continue studying Japanese. Although I’ve decided that I wouldn’t like to live here forever, I know for sure that I want to come back more than once, and that’s enough to convince me that I need to keep up the study of Japanese language.

Research Project Update
This week, I made progress in defining the standard procedure for CMP for my lab. With the advice of Itoh-sensei, I developed a method to fix the substrate, reference, and dummy wafers flat on the polishing plate using wax. After removing the wafers and re-fixing them on the polishing plate, I made some laser microscopy measurements to document the initial surface roughness and initial thickness.

After some remarks from lab mates about the pungent smell in the basement, I have been told to abandon the use of ammonium as an etchant during the CMP process. Additionally, I got some advice from Itoh-sensei for polishing. I tried doing what he suggested, which was to use pure colloidal silica with no added etchant and to increase plate rotation speed to 260rpm. This increased the surface roughness of my sample, and now I guess I’m back to where I was before. I’m still not using any etchants, but I decreased the polishing rpm to 90 or so after some trial and intuitive decision making.

My goal for next week, and frankly for the entire summer, is just to polish one single wafer, because that has proven to be much less trivial than it sounds. My hope is that I will eventually be able to polish SiGe before summer ends.

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Week 10: Interview with Japanese Researcher

Yagami at Night: View from the entrance of the central research facility after sunset at Keio’s science campus. ~ Rony Ballouz
Yagami at Night: View from the entrance of the central research facility after sunset at Keio’s science campus. ~ Rony Ballouz

For the “Interview with a Japanese Researcher,” I chose to interview Satoru Miyamoto, a post-doc in the Itoh group who works at the desk next to mine in the basement lab.  From our conversation, I learned a whole lot about how the Itoh lab works and why it’s special compared to other laboratories at Keio.

First, I asked him about his educational background, his undergraduate career, graduate school, and PhD studies. Miyamoto-san joined the Itoh group as a 4th-year student studying Applied Physics at Keio University in 2004.  At the time, he was working on self-assembled Ge quantum dots formed on Si through molecular beam epitaxy, and he continued as a student in the Itoh group until he finished his doctoral studies. When Miyamoto-san finished his Master’s degree, Uematsu-sensei, a researcher from NTT BRL, a research laboratory in Kanagawa, joined Keio. Uematsu-sensei was able to connect Miyamato-san to the NTT labs.  Even after beginning work at the NTT BRL, Miyamoto-san kept commuting to attend the weekly meetings with the Itoh lab at Keio.

At NTT BRL, Miyamoto-san was working on single-electron FET technology to study the quantization of current, a component in the quantum metrological triangle. Essentially, all resistance and voltage measurements under 10MHz are traceable to two quantum standards: the quantum Hall effect resistance, and the Josephson voltage standard. To complete the triangle of quantities I, V, and R, Miyamoto-san studied the quantization of electrical current using a high frequency transistor capable of ejecting single electrons at a time. After 3 years at NTT and getting his PhD from Keio, Miyamoto-san went on to continue post-doc research at Tohoku University, where he worked on studying the Quantum Hall Effect. Miyamoto-san is now back in the Itoh lab at Keio University.

Miyamoto-san, like most of the people I’ve met in the Itoh group, seems to look up to Itoh-sensei. Miyamoto-san describes Professor Itoh as unique because he often looks for students to define their own research projects and interests as much as possible, and then he provides the environment for them to learn what they want to learn. Miyamoto-san told me that he was very confused by this dynamic when he first joined the lab, but, in the end, the lab’s culture is what made him enjoy being a part of the group. Itoh-sensei does a lot to ensure that the students in his lab learn to be independent thinkers, which is admirable and very different from the way other professors treat their student researchers.

Camouflaged Cicada: I don’t know how I was able to spot this little guy on my daily commute. ~ Rony Ballouz
Camouflaged Cicada: I don’t know how I was able to spot this little guy on my daily commute. ~ Rony Ballouz

Miyamoto-san went on to compare my research project on CMP to Itoh-sensei’s work in establishing a method to create isotopically pure semiconductors. My current project involves a slow and laborious process of optimization in an effort to achieve a perfectly planar SiGe surface. Similarly, Itoh-sensei spent large periods of time perfecting his technique, and he now holds a monopoly on high-quality isotopically enriched semiconductor materials, which he provides to researchers around the globe. Isotopes are the pride of the Itoh lab, and the ability to produce them is representative of the lab’s ambition to study physics meticulously and with rigorously fine-tuned technique. Currently, Miyamoto-san is looking to continue post-doc studies in an international laboratory to develop some unique method or technology, much like Itoh-sensei, so that he can start his own laboratory in Japan.

When I asked Miyamoto-san why he chose to study physics, he told me his brain was naturally inclined to an engineering mindset. This seemed contradictory at first, but he then explained that he felt like the field of physics needs people who are capable of designing methods to test and pioneer new phenomena, and these situations often play out in ways such that an engineering intuition can give valuable insight. Consequently, he chose to get his PhD in applied physics rather than engineering.

Miyamoto-san has never done research in the U.S., but he spent two months doing research in Berlin. He went to Berlin because power conservation efforts made research difficult to continue at Tohoku University after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. When I asked him to compare the lab environments, he told me that he noticed that the German researchers left lab by 7PM, which is earlier than normal in Japan, but overall the research environment was not so different. He did note that German labs did not spend as much money on expensive equipment as Japanese labs do, and he told me, from what he observed, that German researchers usually excel in theoretical fields, which do not require as much machinery.

Butaboshi Ramen: Massive bowl of ramen from a top 50 ramen restaurant near the Yagami campus. ~ Rony Ballouz
Butaboshi Ramen: Massive bowl of ramen from a top 50 ramen restaurant near the Yagami campus. ~ Rony Ballouz

Internationalization affected Miyamoto-san’s research experience most dramatically after the rise of the Internet, which allowed researchers around the world to submit and view papers in an instant. He sees internationalization as a way to increase competition in research. For example, researchers are often checking to see the newest published papers to make sure they haven’t been outdone. He told me this leads to more unique and more valuable experiments from labs in different countries. Lastly, Miyamoto-san said he would like to spend a portion of his career abroad because he sees Japan as a land of declining opportunity due to the population decline that has started in recent years.

When I asked Miyamoto-san if he had any questions for me about America, he asked me: “How can you survive without ramen?” I told him I wouldn’t want to, and I proceeded to show him some of the local ramen restaurants I frequent around downtown Austin. Miyamoto-san is currently looking into joining a laboratory at UT Austin (but it’s for graphene, not ramen).

Research Project Update

Fixing the wafers onto the plate using small individual weights to compensate for height difference. ~ Rony Ballouz
Fixing the wafers onto the plate using small individual weights to compensate for height difference. ~ Rony Ballouz

This week I continued my work on polishing and troubleshooting the process. I realized early on in the week that polishing with just colloidal silica is going far too slowly to make timely progress. After reading some papers and emailing Itoh-sensei, I got permission to use KOH as an etchant to increase the pH of the polishing slurry to 11. I chose KOH because it does not produce a pungent smell like ammonium, and because NaOH seemed a bit more dangerous. I spent Wednesday making the appropriate calculations to see how much of our KOH solution I needed to add to the colloidal silica to create a slurry with a pH of 11. This turned out to be tricky because I hadn’t done any chemistry since the 10th grade, and so I had to reteach myself some dilution principles. I ended up diluting the very high concentration KOH with water to create an 80/20 silica/KOH solution polishing slurry.

I forgot to mention this last week, but, since the polishing setup hadn’t been used in years, there were some more setbacks. The polishing machine is not very clean despite our best efforts to clean it; removing diamond and silica residue is difficult without using corrosive materials. The lab technician believes that this may be a source of error in the digital rpm counter, which gives imprecise and inaccurate measurements. Additionally, the pump for the slurry kept pulling the tube into the motor, which caused the flow to get clogged after a few minutes. As a result, I could only polish for short, supervised periods of time. I had to jury-rig the pump with some tape, clean it, and replace the tube to get a working setup. By something short of a miracle, the machine is now stable enough that I can polish for a period of up to 1 hour without readjusting the tube or cleaning the polishing machine and plate.

Partially polished surface fixed last week using new method for wax. ~ Rony Ballouz
Partially polished surface fixed last week using new method for wax. ~ Rony Ballouz

I continued polishing with the new slurry and I began to make progress. Unfortunately, even after polishing for 21 hours, I wasn’t able to achieve a correctly flat surface, so I’m still in the process of troubleshooting. I have been varying the polishing pressure and rpm to see which method gives the most surface roughness improvement on a per-hour basis. I think I have some ideas for what might be causing the imperfections, and I hope that, by the end of next week, I will be able to finish this sample.

Near mirror surface achieved after polishing for several hours. ~ Rony Ballouz
Near mirror surface achieved after polishing for several hours. ~ Rony Ballouz

Because I have been polishing the same wafer for so long, the edges of my sample became very curved, which now makes my method to measure polished thickness unsuitable. I might have to start all over again or settle on reducing the magnification of the laser microscope, which will save time but sacrifice some precision. It all depends on how much progress I can make next week. This project has definitely been an uphill battle for me, but all in all, I think I have learned a lot about research by working independently.

Next week, I want to try and measure the polishing rate. I will do this by settling on a polishing speed and pressure and measuring the change in thickness after set increments of time using the laser microscope. Finally, I’ll measure the substrate’s polished surface using AFM to compare the before and after. This will serve as good data for my research poster and useful information for my lab.
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Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab

Kuro-tamago: Sulfuric onsen eggs at Hakone’s Owakudani volcanic valley. ~ Rony Ballouz
Kuro-tamago: Sulfuric onsen eggs at Hakone’s Owakudani volcanic valley. ~ Rony Ballouz

I can’t exactly narrow the problems I had in the research lab down to one major critical incident, but there was one overarching theme to the stress I experienced in lab work that stemmed from the change in my research project.

In the first few weeks at lab, my research project wasn’t very well-defined, and it had completely changed after week 2. As a result, my mentor couldn’t really give me much scientific help or experimental information that was specific to my project. Later on, I received some guidance from other lab members and Miyamoto-san, but, in general, my mentor, Kiga-san, was more of a cultural and research communication mentor than a project/scientific mentor.

In the weeks following the change of my project, I had several talks with Kiga-san about my polishing project that were difficult to navigate. I wasn’t sure how to voice my feelings about the new project, and I was confused about my place in lab. This was all accentuated by the few weeks I spent helping with random odds and ends while waiting for supplies.

I tried to be transparent and fairly clear with Kiga-san about the fact that I wasn’t quite sure what was expected of me. I wanted to understand those expectations a little bit more so that I wouldn’t disappoint the other people in the lab, and I wanted to avoid wasting my time as well as the time of my lab mates. I was scared, too, because I wasn’t used to thinking like an experimentalist. Sometimes, I felt like my mentor was bothered when I asked him a lot of questions, but I think he just seemed very serious because he cared to come across clearly, and there was still some kind of a language barrier. In the end, talking with Kiga helped me understand the research mentality and get a better grip on the culture of the Itoh Lab, but it took a lot of time and effort.

Mt. Omuro: Crater of an extinct volcano. ~ Rony Ballouz
Mt. Omuro: Crater of an extinct volcano. ~ Rony Ballouz

Most of the questions I had about research were resolved through direct confrontation, even though at times it felt like conversations were direct in approach but indirect in execution. For example, I would ask a direct question, but the way we went about answering that question wasn’t so straightforward. I pressured myself into bringing up concerns about lab work directly to my mentor because the passage of time felt very immediate, and I thought it was urgent for me to get work done. If I were to do it over, I would spend less time stressing out about aspects of the research that were out of my control. Hearing about the progress of the other Nakatani students didn’t help either, because it made me feel like the pace of my research project was due to personal faults.

The essence of what I learned from the conversations about research I had in and out of lab with Kiga-san and the other members can be summed up in two simple sentences: “Don’t worry about it too much,” and “just try it, then see what happens.”

Research Project Update
For my final week in the lab, I continued with my project by polishing and taking measurements with the laser microscope. Wednesday and Thursday were spent mostly on planning my poster. Thanks to my lab mate Matsuoka-san, who was talking to students at Tokyo City University about polishing, I found out that KOH polishes Si anisotropically, and, consequently, KOH is not an ideal component of the polishing slurry. I noticed this when the edges of my sample became very curved and the surface became slightly wavy. It was too late in the process to redo the experiment, so I spent all of Friday late in the lab getting some final measurements, cleaning the equipment I used, and taking a final AFM scan to show on my poster.

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Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab

Blue Note: I saw Punch Brothers perform at this jazz club in Tokyo. ~ Rony Ballouz
Blue Note: I saw Punch Brothers perform at this jazz club in Tokyo. ~ Rony Ballouz

After looking back on the quarter of a year I spent in Japan, I realized how much the country has started to mean to me. All of my weekend excursions into Japan’s different cities and natural environments have made me emotionally attached to its geography. I can’t help but feel drawn to the mountains of Japan in almost the same way as I feel towards the mountains of Lebanon. I also noticed that, much like Lebanon, Japan’s culture varies wildly based on geography, and my image of Japan is no longer restricted to the scenery of Tokyo. I have memories and friends scattered throughout the country, and, when I think back on my experience, it really feels like I had a home there.

I can definitely say that I have changed over the summer, but it’s a much more difficult task to try and quantify how much I’ve changed or define explicitly in what ways I changed. I’d like to say that, very generally, I’m a more open person. It has become a lot easier for me to meet new people and leave the house on my own. I’m a lot more motivated to discover the area around where I live instead of staying in my room. I’m more perceptive of indirect social and conversational cues, and I’m more sensitive about how the way I say things can affect the information people absorb from my words, regardless of what I meant to say. I’ve also made a lot of

friends, and the development of those friendships has helped me mature and understand people better.

The most common daily frustrations I had in Japan were almost always caused by deficiencies in my ability to speak the language. In other cases, I would have trouble interpreting the English of my lab mates, and occasionally I would have trouble communicating with them. From this, I learned that I would like to continue studying the Japanese language.

Oko: My favorite restaurant/cafe near the Keio Yagami campus. It is run entirely by one strong 80-year old woman. ~ Rony Ballouz
Oko: My favorite restaurant/cafe near the Keio Yagami campus. It is run entirely by one strong 80-year old woman. ~ Rony Ballouz

My daily commutes gave me opportunity to explore the environment around my dormitory. I tried not to take the same route every day, and I discovered some cool places as a result. I miss my lab environment, the friends I made at Keio, and all of the people in my dorm. I miss the bike rides along the Tsurumi river and the onigiri I bought along the way. The small details in day-to-day life gave me a feeling of living in Japan that I won’t forget.

Concisely, the Nakatani RIES Fellowship and my lab experience at Keio assured me that I want to continue doing research in international environments. What I learned about the research mentality from working in the lab has helped motivate my decision to pursue a career in grad school and academia. Additionally, working in the Itoh Lab has helped shape my interests in electrical engineering and has pushed me towards studying nanomaterials and device fabrication.

My final week in lab wasn’t very different from the previous weeks, and my work continued like it would have any other week. I had a special ramen lunch with my lab mates and a goodbye party on Wednesday. I wrote cards for Itoh-sensei and to all of the members I made friends with to thank them for helping me throughout my stay at Keio. My final week in lab was probably the most rewarding week because it helped me realize close I became with my lab members and how much I learned in lab.

I closed out my research project by taking some final measurements on my sample and cleaning up the machines I used throughout the summer. I plan to remain in contact with my research group and host

Ghibli Musuem ~ Rony Ballouz
Ghibli Musuem ~ Rony Ballouz

professor via email or Facebook, and I plan on sending follow-up/update emails around New Year’s or other major holidays to stay in touch. I hope to continue research in the semiconductor physics and microelectronics field once I return to UT.

During my last weekend in Japan, I visited the Ghibli Museum, which was nostalgic, fascinating, beautiful, and totally worth the advance reservation. That same Saturday night, I hiked Mt. Fuji with Donald, Sasha, Erica, and Daniel. We were able to make it just in time to watch the sunrise. The experience was definitely worthwhile bucket-list material, but I am fairly certain that I will never hike Mt. Fuji again. Regardless, it was a goal I set at the beginning of the summer, and I’m proud to be able to say that I followed through.


Sunrise on Mt. Fuji ~ Rony Ballouz
Sunrise on Mt. Fuji ~ Rony Ballouz
2016 U.S. Fellow Rony Ballouz (UT Austin) presenting his research posted at the 2nd Annual Smalley-Curl Institute Summer Research Colloquium at Rice University. ~ Photo Credit: Sarah Phillips
2016 U.S. Fellow Rony Ballouz (UT Austin) presenting his research posted at the 2nd Annual Smalley-Curl Institute Summer Research Colloquium at Rice University. ~ Photo Credit: Sarah Phillips

Final Research Project Overview

Research Project Abstract & Poster: Optimizing of Surface Planarization of Si/SiGe Virtual Substrates for Applications in Quantum ComputingAdobe_PDF_file_icon_24x24
Host Lab in Japan: Itoh Lab, Keio University
Mentors: Kiga-san, Miyamoto-san, and Kuroda-san

Introduction: The purpose of my research project was to characterize the polishing rate of SiGe in order to optimize the fabrication of a single-electron spin qubit. The objective is to polish away the surface roughness caused by lattice expansion after growth of SiGe on Si without removing too much material from the heterostructure.

Approach: After initial reading and studying the chemical mechanical planarization process, the finer details of the polishing setup were developed in the lab. Wafer placement, effective surface area and pressure, plate rotation speed, and slurry composition were fixed for the study. As a preliminary step, Si was used instead of SiGe to perfect the technique and avoid waste of precious materials, The Si was cleaved and fixed on to the polishing plate using wax and small weights to eliminate deviations from flatness caused by tilting. Reference wafers with a lower material thickness were placed on the sides of the Si wafer to measure thickness of removed material. The Si was polished using a precision lapping machine. Changes in surface roughness and polished thickness were measured by laser microscope, and final surface roughness measurements were made by AFM.

Results: The Si wafer was locally flat but still had macroscopic surface roughness. Change in polished thickness was measured, but the results are presumably incorrect due to experimental error or interference.

Discussion: KOH was used in the polishing slurry instead of ammonium hydroxide because no fume hood was available for the lapping machine. Consequently, the Si is suspected to have been etched anisotropically by the slurry, and therefore the substrate’s edges became curved, and the material surface was not fully planarized. The curvature of the substrate edges is likely to have caused the experimental error in the thickness change measurements.

Future Research: The CMP process will continue to be practiced on Si until parameters such as plate rotation speed, pressure, and slurry composition are perfected and a precise polishing rate can be measured. Afterwards, the polishing rate of SiGe will be characterized for use in the spin qubit device fabrication.

Conclusion: The fundamentals of the CMP process were developed for the lab, and methods were determined to make the necessary measurements for the experiment. Additionally, It was confirmed that Si was locally planarized by the current polishing machinery. In the future, techniques developed through this project will hopefully be used to fabricate spin qubit devices in the lab.

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Week 13: Final Report

The Re-Entry Program and the return to Houston were more shocking than I expected. Almost immediately after landing in Houston, I noticed how much American culture is centered around cars. The amount of space taken up by highways, roads, and parking lots made the landscape look so distinct that it knocked me into realizing I was back in Texas. The Re-Entry talks at Rice University were really spot-on with providing relevant information, and I was really impressed with how intricately the program was designed and planned out. The poster review session and graduate school informational talks were especially helpful.

The research poster presentation was not as stressful as I thought it would be. I made sure I was familiar with both the bigger picture and the scientific details of my research project. The judges that did come by made sure to ask difficult questions and I was really glad to be able to answer them thoroughly. One problem with the presentation was that my poster was located in a corner away from the aisle, and my poster was poorly lit and partially covered by shadow. I invited some passers by to listen talk about my research, but there weren’t always many people around. It’s just a matter of luck.

Generally, if I were speaking to my parents, I would tell them that one of the most valuable components of my experience in Japan was making friends and learning how to live on my own. I had to start from scratch once I moved into my dorm, but I was able to develop meaningful friendships with the people around me, which made living in Japan all the more memorable. The mixing of cultures combined with the independence of living alone provided for a personal growth experience I couldn’t have imagined. I would also tell my parents how the program helped me better my understanding of the research mindset and how it has affected my decision to apply for a PhD program.

If I were discussing my time in Japan with a professor, I would put more emphasis on the scientific portion of the experience. I would tell the professor about my project, the technical challenges I faced through my project, and how I worked through the project on my own. I would make sure to emphasize how Nakatani RIES gave me a chance to understand the way researchers think. The nebulous feeling of working at the frontier of scientific knowledge was at first very difficult to get used to, but my experience in the lab helped me learn how to adapt and enjoy it.

When I talk to my close friends about my summer in Japan, I often bring up how studying abroad affected me and allowed me to mature as a person by shaking my worldview, especially at a point when it had started to stagnate. It’s honestly a privilege to be able to go off to a foreign country for an entire summer and to be in a constant rush from learning so many new words, feelings, ideas and meeting so many people. I can’t imagine having the same freedom to travel long-term when I start working. I mean, realistically speaking, I don’t expect to be able to do that. I would tell any classmate or student at my university that studying abroad is an irreplaceable learning experience. Even if the budget is tight, there are still affordable short-term programs at a lot of universities that are definitely worth the effort.

Overall, I don’t really think I can enumerate the ways in which the Nakatani RIES program has helped me mature, but the program helped me make some important decisions related to my education. For starters, I want to continue studying Japanese so that I can continue making friends and communicating with the people I met over the summer. The time I spent in Japan thoroughly convinced me that I’m willing to put in the effort to study the language. Nakatani RIES also helped me decide that I want to continue to purse international research opportunities, not only for the direct benefits they offer to my education and personal growth but also because they will help me later on when I apply for grad school. I am still not sure whether I would prefer to go back to Japan or try to go somewhere new, but it all depends on which programs accept my application. First things first, I guess, and I will start applying as soon as I can.

How do you plan to promote the Nakatani RIES Fellowship and international research at your home university?
For my follow-on projects, I have decided to do at least two things at the University of Texas, Austin: I will be speaking to a First-year Interest Group (FIG), which consists of a class of around 20 undergraduate ECE freshmen, about my experience at Nakatani RIES. I also plan to promote the Nakatani RIES 2017 fellowship at the engineering study abroad fair later on this semester.
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