2016: Nickolas Walling


Nickolas Walling
Rice University
Sophomore, Mechanical Engineering
Expected Graduation: May 2018
Host Lab in Japan: Kawano Lab, Tokyo Institute of Technology
Research Project Abstract and Poster: Terahertz Detection at Room Temperature Using Highly Aligned Single-Wall Carbon Nanotube Films
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Why Nakatani RIES?
The Nakatani RIES Fellowship is an opportunity for personal growth. I chose to apply to this program because of the three main aspects of this program: language acquisition, cultural immersion, and engineering research. This fellowship grants me the opportunity to not only learn a new language, but also to immerse myself in a vastly different culture while performing research which will establish a strong foundation which I can use in future research. The future of research as a whole is becoming increasingly international, and this program allows for students from both America and Japan to gain early entry into this growing field of cross-continental cooperation. The Nakatani RIES Fellowship offers a once in a lifetime chance to experience professional, international research at a very early stage in our careers which gives us the opportunity to bring back a strong foundation for research and a perspective which can be gained only by working abroad.

I have often heard the word “terahertz spectroscopy,” but I never really understood what it meant. I am excited to learn not only what it is, but how it is used, and to actually use it in the lab. This will be my first experience in a research laboratory, so I am very excited to enter into this new world. In addition to the new world of research, I am looking forward to experiencing the new world that is (to me at least) Japan. I find cultural differences fascinating and highly educational in that I feel that I can learn a lot about my own life through seeing how others live theirs. Plus I have always found Japan fascinating. I love the video games, anime, and artwork that Japan has produced, and the Nakatani RIES Fellowship allows me to “meet the maker,” so to speak, and to more fully appreciate the products of this culture. Finally, I am looking forward to learning Japanese. I tried to teach myself Japanese in high school, but that did not quite work out. I am very excited to be in an immersive situation where I have the opportunity to constantly practice Japanese. The Nakatani RIES Fellowship is the ideal blend of furthering my career as an engineer and of gaining a deeper knowledge and appreciation of another culture.

Goals for the Summer

  • Gain a solid foundation for conducting research
  • Acquire a working knowledge of Japanese
  • Make a friend in Japan
  • Go to museums featuring Japanese art/culture/history

Excerpts from Nickolas’ Weekly Reports

Week 01: Arrival in Japan

Tokyo: Every morning we walk to our language classes. At one point there is a bridge over this street which allows pedestrians to cross whenever they want. I took this picture because it shows that Tokyo is a huge city but, at least to me, does not fit my conventional idea of a metropolis. I like the contrast between the gray buildings and the green plants and blue sky. - Nickolas Walling
Tokyo: Every morning we walk to our language classes. At one point there is a bridge over this street which allows pedestrians to cross whenever they want. I took this picture because it shows that Tokyo is a huge city but, at least to me, does not fit my conventional idea of a metropolis. I like the contrast between the gray buildings and the green plants and blue sky. – Nickolas Walling
O-Bento: Every day for lunch I purchase some sort of premade lunch from a convenient store. Unlike American convenience store food, this food doesn’t seem terribly unhealthy. Very many people buy these for lunch, and they taste great! Not only is there a large variety of these bento boxes at the convenience stores, the cashiers will even heat them up for you! - Nickolas Walling
O-Bento: Every day for lunch I purchase some sort of premade lunch from a convenient store. Unlike American convenience store food, this food doesn’t seem terribly unhealthy. Very many people buy these for lunch, and they taste great! Not only is there a large variety of these bento boxes at the convenience stores, the cashiers will even heat them up for you! – Nickolas Walling

Tokyo is so different than what I normally associate with a large city—everything is so clean! The buildings do not look run down, there is hardly any graffiti, and, oddly enough, no trashcans to be found. I don’t hear horns honking at night or loud vehicles zooming by which is just as surprising as it is pleasant. Adding to the peaceful ambiance are the trees, flowers, and Shinto shrines scattered throughout the city. I am tempted to say that Tokyo feels like a small town, but that would be neglecting one remarkable aspect of the city: the subway system. It is incredibly well organized, clean, and punctual. The people are just as efficient; everyone seems to know exactly what to do on the subway: take up as little room as possible, let the elderly sit, and be silent. Everyone knows exactly how they fit in this elaborate system that makes Tokyo run as smoothly as clockwork.

I was not really sure what to expect from Japan. I knew that things would be different, but I did not quite have a conceptualization of how. As I mentioned above, the city is remarkably clean. Normally in cities of any size there are parts which look dilapidated or parts which are considered unsafe. I have neither seen nor heard of any rundown or unsafe neighborhoods which I should avoid. The crime rate is low, and if you leave somethings somewhere, more than likely it will end up in a lost-and-found where you left it. While this is unexpected, I cannot say that it is entirely surprising. One thing that did surprise me, on the other hand, is the actual convenience of convenience stores! 7-11 is one of my new best friends. Back in the states, I generally have found 7-11s to be dirty and typically avoid them. Here in Japan they are clean and have a multitude of items and services such as bento boxes, desserts, and a copy machine. Whenever I need anything I go straight to a 7-11 because odds are, they have what I’m looking for.

Shinto Shrine: Shinto shrines are a reminder of the history of Japan in the modern day. These little shrines are all over the place here in Tokyo. Different areas have different kami, spirits, which live there, and these shrines are dedicated to these kami. Finding these shrines always makes my day, and I am looking forward to learning more about them. - Nickolas Walling
Shinto Shrine: Shinto shrines are a reminder of the history of Japan in the modern day. These little shrines are all over the place here in Tokyo. Different areas have different kami, spirits, which live there, and these shrines are dedicated to these kami. Finding these shrines always makes my day, and I am looking forward to learning more about them. – Nickolas Walling

Japanese is a fun challenge. While I have studied multiple languages (French, Latin, and Ancient Greek), I have absolutely no reference for Japanese. Starting from scratch is really hard because I really want to try and understand everything, but I can’t read much kanji, and I don’t have any intuition for what spoken words might mean. Fortunately, language class is really helpful. Thus far we have mostly been learning survival Japanese: introductions, numbers, going places, etc… Lucky for us, there are nearly infinite opportunities to practice these key phrases from the people at the reception desk to servers in restaurants. We all try to speak as much Japanese as possible (even to each other) by practicing the sentences we learned and by trying to formulate new ones. While our new sentences often incorrect we work together to figure out how to correctly express an idea and to solidify the topics we have already learned. We are very fortunate to have a great team based in Japan, and they are a great resource for language learning outside of the classroom.

In our Japanese culture seminars we talked about how the Japanese interact with each other. We learned that the Japanese do not necessarily say “no” when they mean no. For example, instead of “no,” someone from Japan might say something that literally translates to “a little,” or they might say “I’ll think about it.” While I am not sure why this happens, it seems to be the polite thing to do. I am really glad that we are learning these things with our Japanese staff because I think it will make my future interactions run much more smoothly. In addition to the culture seminar, we had a discussion with Japanese students led by an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the American presidential candidates, TPP, and the impact our next president would have on Japan. I think it is remarkable that people in other countries know so much about American politics. It makes sense because the U.S.A. has a very strong global presence, but I am always taken aback whenever I am asked about the current events in the states because sometimes I don’t really know what is going on myself.

Question of the Week
Why/how is all the food so inexpensive but still fantastic?

Introduction to Science & Engineering Seminar
Kono-sensei’s lecture on nanoscience was interesting. I took a material science course this past fall which has proven immensely helpful in understanding the lecture. We talked about semiconductors and how their small band gap makes them different from insulators and how the existence of a band gap makes them different from conductors. We also talked about graphene, a unique 2D material which has the properties of a semiconductor but has a zero band gap. Kono-sensei also mentioned the unique properties of carbon nanotubes, a 1D material which is essentially a tube of rolled up graphene. Their electrical properties vary depending on how the hexagons which make up graphene are organized in the tube. I will be working with aligned CNTs and trying to combine them with plasmonic structures as well as using near-field techniques to image these nanotubes.

I really enjoyed going to the University of Tokyo and touring some of their labs. My favorite labs were the biotechnology lab and the lab with human-machine interface. I liked listening to the presentation involving the use of sound to destroy cancer cells in the body as well as the presentation about simulating the feeling of softness using a machine. These labs had projects which were fascinating, and now I am even more excited to start doing research at Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Summary of Research Paper
A report by R.R. Hartmann, J. Kono, and M.E. Portnoi, “Terahertz science and technology of carbon nanomaterials“, summarizes the unique properties of graphene and carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and their many applications to working in the terahertz range. Graphene is a zero bandgap semiconductor whose charge carriers have zero effective mass. Graphene can be cut into ribbons and folded into CNTs. The properties of the CNTs vary depending on the angle at which the graphene was cut and can range from metallic to semiconducting. Like graphene, the charge carries in CNTs have a very high mobility which is very beneficial to working in the terahertz range.

While CNTs generally have zero band gap, a band gap can be created by applying a magnetic field along the nanotube. This grants the nanotubes the ability to react to frequencies in the terahertz region as well as tenability which allows for broader usage.  Many current devices operate at extremely low temperatures—temperatures which are not feasible in daily applications. In addition to tenability, CNTs offer the possibility of devices which can work at higher temperatures which would broaden the utility of terahertz devices.  Hartmann, Kono, and Portnoi also discuss plasmonics which is beneficial for me because I will be working with both CNTs and plasmonics at Tokyo Tech. The addition of plasmonics, oscillating charges in the material, to graphene dramatically increases the absorption of incident light which can increase the ability to detect terahertz waves.

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Week 02: Trip to Akita

Our trip to Akita actually began outside of Akita in a town called Hiraizumi where we toured a few different temples, most notably Chusonji Tempple and Motsuji Temple. The Motsuji Temple we saw was a mere shadow of what it once was. There were once multiple buildings surrounding the huge pure land garden, but now most of them are gone. The land garden was built as a metaphor for the world. Different areas of the garden were built to represent forests, beaches, mountains, and the ocean. The pond itself was constructed in such a way that the shape of the pond changes depending on where you stand, just like the ocean.

The next temple was quite remarkable as well. Not only is the Chusonji Temple sheltered by another building, it is covered in gold with mother of pearl decorations. The bodies of a family of Japanese lords are interred within the temple under the three main scenes. Each scene consists of a central figure surrounded by smaller statues which were meant to be his guardians. Our guide said that these guardians were meant to protect him from the dangers the central figure might face when travelling through different worlds.

Torii: “Not many young people in Japan know this, but all of the old people do. Whenever I am walking down the road, notice how I walk to the side. I do this out of respect; the center of the road is for the road god.” - Nickolas Walling
Torii: “Not many young people in Japan know this, but all of the old people do. Whenever I am walking down the road, notice how I walk to the side. I do this out of respect; the center of the road is for the road god.” – Nickolas Walling

Not too far away from Chusonji Temple stands a torii (a large red shrine). It is customary to bow before entering the gate and before leaving as a sign of respect and gratitude. Within this shrine was a large circle of straw and a small temple. Praying at a place like this is quite elaborate. Some of the steps include bowing while entering, ringing a bell (to call the god’s attention), clapping (just in case the god is sleeping), offering a coin, and making a wish, with more bows scattered in between. One of my favorite things I learned about the spirituality of some of the Japanese people was something the tour guide mentioned about walking down the road of the shrine:

After the tour of the shrines, we went to the ryokan (Japanese style hotel) and had dinner and onsen (public bath fed by a hot spring). Before eating we got to help prepare mochi which involved repeatedly hitting rice with a giant hammer while someone else stirred the rice with their hands in between blows. I was pretty worried about the woman mixing the rice at first, but luckily we made it through the night with no smashed fingers. After making mochi we got to make rope the old fashion way: by twisting and rolling bunches of straw with our hands. Dinner consisted of mushrooms, soup, sashimi, and “mountain vegetables.” This food had a very different taste from what I was used to in Tokyo, but I enjoyed being able to learn about the culinary traditions of a different part of Japan.

Mochi-tsuki: Here we can see a professional swinging a very large hammer to make mochi. The woman by the blue bucket is responsible for folding the rice while the hammer is on the upswing. With enough pounding, the rice becomes a paste which can be flavored, garnished, and formed into little balls called mochi. - Nickolas Walling
Mochi-tsuki: Here we can see a professional swinging a very large hammer to make mochi. The woman by the blue bucket is responsible for folding the rice while the hammer is on the upswing. With enough pounding, the rice becomes a paste which can be flavored, garnished, and formed into little balls called mochi. – Nickolas Walling

On a different note, we listened to lectures about the necessity for changing the agricultural produce of Akita and about various ways to neutralize Lake Tazawa. I found the first lecture very eye opening because I never really thought about the agricultural aspect of Japan’s economy. For me Japan was always the land of technology and science, but in actuality parts of Japan still heavily rely on growing rice or other vegetables as a main source of income. The second lecture was more interesting to me because of its focus on chemistry rather than economics. Even so, it showed me that even Japan has problems with the environment. I never actively thought that Japan could have problems like a large acidic lake.

Tazawa Lake: Tazawa Lake has a pH of about 5.6 and is the deepest lake in Japan. The low pH was caused by runoff from hot springs and waste from hydroelectric plants has killed many of the fish which once lived in the lake. We listened to a group of Japanese high school students present their research on possible ways to aid the process of neutralizing Tazawa Lake, and there are currently projects underway to return the lake to a more neutral pH. - Nickolas Walling
Tazawa Lake: Tazawa Lake has a pH of about 5.6 and is the deepest lake in Japan. The low pH was caused by runoff from hot springs and waste from hydroelectric plants has killed many of the fish which once lived in the lake. We listened to a group of Japanese high school students present their research on possible ways to aid the process of neutralizing Tazawa Lake, and there are currently projects underway to return the lake to a more neutral pH. – Nickolas Walling

After the two lectures we had discussions with Japanese students (from KIP, Akita University, and a local high school) about whether or not activities about primary industry (agriculture in particular) should be introduced into the academic curriculum, and then back at the ryokan we discussed ways to increase tourism to Akita with only KIP and Akita University students. These discussions and lectures were very interesting because I gained an insight into the struggles that the community was facing and the potential solutions to these problems. I really enjoyed hearing different the different perspectives presented by the Japanese students, especially those who lived in Akita and are directly affected by these problems.

I feel that the KIP students were instrumental in making this trip a great success. Not only were they super fun to be around, I learned a lot from them about the places we went and the reasons behind some of the things we did (history, religious background, Japanese traditions, etc…). They were more than willing to translate Japanese inscriptions,inscriptions; answer (and ask) questions, and teach us how to properly go to an onsen. One of my goals this summer was to make a Japanese friend, and I can officially check that one off of my list!

Week Two Overview
We did not have a Japanese Culture & Society seminar this week, but we did go to Taiko practice, two museums, and had a discussion about artificial intelligence. In Taiko practice, we learned a traditional Japanese rhythm and then watched the teacher perform. Not only was it highly entertaining, but it was quite the workout as well—I was sore for a couple of days! I enjoyed going to the National Museum of Nature and Science and the Tokyo National Museum a lot. I have never seen so much Japanese artwork before, and it is quite different than the Western art I am more accustomed to seeing. In addition to the artwork I saw katana blades, Japanese mirrors, and samurai armor, all of which I have never really seen before. Going to museums was another one of my goals for this summer: check!

Question of the Week
More of a curiosity than a question: I want to learn more about Shintoism. I hope I can find books in English on the subject!

Introduction to Science & Engineering Seminar
The science lectures this week covered material from quantum mechanics, solid state physics, and optics. We had three lecturers this week: Dr. Stanton, Dr. Otsuji, and Dr. Ishioka. I particularly enjoyed the lectures about spectroscopy and the effects they had on multilayered graphene. I do not know exactly how I will be probing my samples with light, so learning about pump-probe spectroscopy and the differences between continuous wave and pulse lasers may prove very useful. Pump-probe spectroscopy involves shooting a high intensity laser at a material followed shortly after by a much weaker pulse which is then measured. The measurements by the probe (second) pulse measure the changes caused by the first (pump) pulse.We also learned about femtosecond (10-15 seconds) spectroscopy and its usage in observing fast phenomena in materials. For example, with femtosecond lasers, a solid can be liquefied then evaporated cleanly while with nanosecond lasers the material has time to cool down. This leads to a difference in the precision with which the laser can shape the material.

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Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences

The Tokyo subway system is incredibly impressive. The trains are rarely late, and people seem to know exactly what to do. Subway etiquette is most clearly observed when the trains are busy. The most obvious “rule” that people follow is also, to me at least, the most shocking: nobody talks. With the exception of a few inaudible whispers, nobody is making a sound. The people on the subway either look at their phones, which are on silent (there are signs saying “when the train is crowded turn off your cell phone”), look down, or doze until their stop. While this does seem strange to me, someone who talks incessantly, I have found that I enjoy the subway rides where the only sound is the rumble of the train on the tracks. In addition to the nice atmosphere, there is also a practical aspect of the near silence—I can easily hear which stop is next. This was the biggest difference I spotted on the trains.

Shinjuku: In my previous reports, I mentioned that Tokyo felt like a small city. I hadn’t been to Shinjuku yet (or Shibuya, Akihabara, Ikebukuro, etc…). Tokyo is a massive city with lots of places to go and things to do. While the city is huge, I still feel like Tokyo isn’t what I imagined a big city would be like… Maybe it’s the lack of construction noise and honking cars, or maybe it is because I never feel drowned out by the hustle and bustle of everything around me. Regardless, the busier parts of Tokyo are a must see because each one has its own unique personality! - Nickolas Walling
Shinjuku: In my previous reports, I mentioned that Tokyo felt like a small city. I hadn’t been to Shinjuku yet (or Shibuya, Akihabara, Ikebukuro, etc…). Tokyo is a massive city with lots of places to go and things to do. While the city is huge, I still feel like Tokyo isn’t what I imagined a big city would be like… Maybe it’s the lack of construction noise and honking cars, or maybe it is because I never feel drowned out by the hustle and bustle of everything around me. Regardless, the busier parts of Tokyo are a must see because each one has its own unique personality! – Nickolas Walling

Another difference is that everyone gets off the train before anyone gets on. Once again this is a highly efficient way to make sure everyone gets where they’re going. Sometimes if the train is super packed, people will get off of the train to let others off and then get back on. A similarity between the Japanese train “rules” and American “rules” that I noticed is that people are expected to give their seats to the elderly, pregnant, infirm, etc… I’m sure I do not have to explain why this is a reasonable request, its common sense! There was another interesting difference on the platforms themselves—people form lines for the escalators. There is no crowding, pushing, or shoving, just two lines. People who want to stand on the escalator are on the left while those who wish to walk go to the right.

These unspoken rules make public transportation much more efficient, but it also meshes well with some of the Japanese values we discussed in our orientation period. When everyone follows these rules, they create a peaceful environment. Whenever I am on the metro, I love hearing nothing but the rumbling train. I can look out the window and see different parts of the city free from the distraction of loud voices. The ambiance is surprisingly relaxing—it’s no wonder that people nap on the train!

I really enjoyed our three lectures on Japanese culture/society this week. The first lecture was given by Dr. Guthrie Shimizu, a professor of history at Rice. Her presentation centered on baseball and how it connected America and Japan throughout the past century. Honestly I was not expecting to enjoy this talk as much as I did. I was not sure what to expect of the presentation or the content, and I am generally not the biggest American history buff. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the lecturer was dynamic and engaging and that the material was actually pretty interesting. I had no idea that baseball was introduced to Japan in 1872 or that both countries loved it so much that it was used as a propaganda tool after WWII.

The second lecture topic was science and diplomacy, and this talk was led by Dr. Lyons who is the Tokyo Office director for the National Science Foundation (NSF). She discussed the many ways science is used as a diplomatic tool or, on the flip-side, how diplomacy is used as a tool to further scientific progress. We discussed the benefits of spending time doing research in other countries and how visiting researchers act as a type of diplomat. When we go to another country and work in a lab, we are presenting an image of not only our country of origin but also the ways in which the two countries can work together to make mutually beneficial scientific progress.

Language Class 3: Our language class had 4 different teachers, so we learned to listen to a variety of ways of speaking. Only two of our teachers are pictured here, but all of them helped us grow in our language skills. I learned a lot of Japanese in these past three weeks but nowhere near enough to have a decent conversation. These professors gave us a great foundation to build upon, and I really hope I can see them before I go back to the U.S. - Nickolas Walling
Language Class 3: Our language class had 4 different teachers, so we learned to listen to a variety of ways of speaking. Only two of our teachers are pictured here, but all of them helped us grow in our language skills. I learned a lot of Japanese in these past three weeks but nowhere near enough to have a decent conversation. These professors gave us a great foundation to build upon, and I really hope I can see them before I go back to the U.S. – Nickolas Walling

Our third and final talk was more culturally centered and was given by none other than Packard-sensei, the woman who has been a huge part of this program and has become a great friend/mentor to all of us. This discussion began with our observations about Japanese culture. We talked about what we found cool, odd, or uncomfortable during our past three weeks in Tokyo, and we talked about why we felt this way and how what we observed fits into Japanese culture. After this discussion, Packard-sensei presented a lecture on the influence of religion in Japanese culture. I found this talk very interesting because one of the main points was that even though very many Japanese people do not consider themselves religious, they still go to shrines, temples, and visit the graves of their ancestors. These ideas have truly become such an intrinsic part of the Japanese culture that they are no longer seen as something separate.

Question of the Week
How do the Japanese almost totally integrate themselves into a hive-like society while still keeping a sense of self?

  • Click here to see how one Japanese teacher described individuality to their students.

Introduction to Science & Engineering Seminar

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building 45F: On Wednesday a few of us went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and watched the sun set. It was a gorgeous view and another reminder of how huge Tokyo is. Plus the sunset was nothing to sneeze at. - Nickolas Walling
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building 45F: On Wednesday a few of us went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and watched the sun set. It was a gorgeous view and another reminder of how huge Tokyo is. Plus the sunset was nothing to sneeze at. – Nickolas Walling

The science lectures this week were very useful, and easy to understand (I’ve noticed that the lectures have gotten more comprehensible over the course of the past three weeks which is a huge plus). Dr. Bird did a great job of summarizing the basics of semi-conductors, metals, and insulators as well as band theory. We then delved deeper into solid state physics where we talked about rules for holes in materials, movable energies for the conduction and valence bands, voltage in a semiconductor, p-n junctions, and so much more. I found the material regarding the energies of the bands really useful because I had not really covered it before. Dr. Bird’s second lecture focused on graphene which was very convenient because I will be working with CNTs which behave similarly. I learned about the unique band structure of graphene and how the charge carriers are massless, resulting in a huge carrier mobility. Dr. Bird also explained electron tunneling which was great because it sounds super cool and now I know what it is!
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Week 04: First Week at Research Lab

My first day in the Kawano Lab at the Tokyo Institute of Technology was pretty laid back. I met most of the people in my lab, and then my mentor took me on a tour. My mentor’s name is Ochiai-san, and he is a Masters 1 student. He’s really nice and is always willing to answer all of my questions. Generally conversations go well, but sometimes we need to use lots of hand motions or draw something to get the point across. I’m looking forward to getting to know him better and to working with him over the course of the summer. He showed me the various rooms I would be using (clean room, terahertz room, etc…) as well as different buildings around campus (cafeterias, gym, library, etc…). After the campus tour we walked around the area surrounding Tokyo Tech. There are a lot of places to eat nearby, so we grabbed lunch while we were out. The rest of the day was also very chill because I did not have my project yet, so I just sat around, talked to people, and read over my notes from the science lectures.

Party Rockin’ in the House Tonight: This was a candid shot of some of my lab mates before the welcome party started. At least 10 of us sat around the makeshift table made of filing cabinets and old abstract posters as tablecloths getting to know each other (well mostly getting to know me I guess). - Nickolas Walling
Party Rockin’ in the House Tonight: This was a candid shot of some of my lab mates before the welcome party started. At least 10 of us sat around the makeshift table made of filing cabinets and old abstract posters as tablecloths getting to know each other (well mostly getting to know me I guess). – Nickolas Walling

Everyone else in the lab is really nice, and most of them know enough English so that we can communicate without too much difficulty. I normally get lunch with Ochiai-san, but often times some of our lab mates join us. I love making friends, and I’m glad that there are a bunch of people in my lab who are willing to get to know me. On the first day some of the guys invited me to roast marshmallows over the electric stove in the kitchen (which I found hilarious). We used chopsticks to skewer the marshmallows, and we spent a few minutes chit chatting around an electric stove. The lab threw me a welcome party Friday afternoon after a lab meeting. We basically sat around, cooked some food on a portable gas stove, and talked. After a while it turned into what they called a “Nick Quiz” where they each took turns asking me questions. Eventually we started showing each other music and then it was time to go home. I had a great time, and, as it turns out, we will be having another party next Friday because a new student is coming.

Tokyo-area Nakatani RIES U.S. Fellows speaking with Ambassador Caroline Kennedy at a Fulbright Scholar Reception. ~ Photo submitted by Keiko Packard
Tokyo-area Nakatani RIES U.S. Fellows speaking with Ambassador Caroline Kennedy at a Fulbright Scholar Reception. ~ Photo submitted by Keiko Packard

Something else exciting happened on the first day of lab; I met Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan. Three of the other Nakatani Fellows and I attended a reception held for the Japanese recipients of Fulbright Scholarships at the Ambassador’s residence. In addition to meeting Ambassador Kennedy, I met a multitude of other people and received a ton of business cards. I was really excited to meet these people and talk about how they ended up working in Japan and about all of the opportunities out there for working abroad. I am very appreciative of their willingness to not only have invited us to this event but also to have taken time to talk to us and share their experiences with us.

I live 30-45 minutes away from Tokyo Tech by train, but the commute is not that bad and only requires one transfer. Despite the distance, I really like my housing situation. I have my own room (which is much bigger than my room at the Sanuki Club), I have internet access in my room, and I can easily walk to the train station. But my favorite part of my housing arrangement is my neighbors—a bunch of guys my age. A bunch of Japanese guys my age. From what I have seen so far, I think I am the only foreigner in the building, and the guys are very engaging. It’s always funny to see them do a double take when the see me for the first time. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m new, American, or both, but often times my presence invokes a look of shock and a surprised noise. Communication is a fun game of me trying to understand what is being said in Japanese while someone else tries to render it in English. We can get by, but it’s more of a challenge than at lab. Nevertheless, they love asking questions me about everything: sports, music, hobbies—you name it, they’ve asked it.

The guys really took me under their wings. One of the guys invited me to play video games in his room right after we first met; he even offered me lots of snacks! Another guy asked to take a bath together. This may sound really weird at first, but soaking in a big tub together is a pretty normal thing here in Japan. The guys said that it’s like a bonding thing and means that everyone there are good friends with each other. I had already had my first public bath experience at an onsen in Akita, so I was already fairly used to the idea of shared bath time. They’ve asked me to eat dinner with them sometime soon, and I am really looking forward to spending a lot of time with these guys. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better group of new friends.

On a slightly different note, I really enjoy listening to the guys speak Japanese. Even though I can only catch a few words, it’s interesting hearing everyday, informal Japanese. During my Japanese classes at AJALT, we learned the polite way of speaking, and mentioned the ways that people informally speak, but we never practiced using them. Here I hear those forms all of the time. There are ways that people say goodbye, hello, and ask questions that are different than what we learned, and I am glad to be in an environment where I can learn to sound more natural when speaking Japanese rather than always sounding overly polite.

Overview of Orientation Program in Tokyo

Take Me Out to the Ball Game: During our last weekend in Tokyo most of us went to a Japanese baseball game! Every time the Swallows scored, their fans would wave their tiny umbrellas in the air. Even though the Swallows lost (we were sitting with their fans so I guess we were rooting for them), I had a great time watching the game.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game: During our last weekend in Tokyo most of us went to a Japanese baseball game! Every time the Swallows scored, their fans would wave their tiny umbrellas in the air. Even though the Swallows lost (we were sitting with their fans so I guess we were rooting for them), I had a great time watching the game.

I thoroughly enjoyed the orientation period in Tokyo. I learned a lot about Japanese culture, and I went to and saw a lot of different places. Now I have something to talk about whenever someone (particularly my lab mates or fellow residents) ask me where I have been in Japan. Even though we did so much as part of the program, I feel like there was enough free time to hit the highlights of Tokyo and visit most of the places we wanted to. The science lectures were immensely helpful; honestly I probably wouldn’t know what I am doing in lab without them. They were a little rough at first, but as the weeks went by the lectures became clearer, and I understood more.

Two particular parts of the orientation that I want to highlight are the interactions we had with the KIP students and the talks on Japanese values and communication. I loved hanging out with the KIP students because it was a different dynamic than the time we spent with the adults. Because we are about the same age were able to talk about more topics more easily and worried less about being super polite. It felt more natural, and I really learned a lot from them. I hope to see some of them again before I leave Japan.

Learning about how the Japanese communicate and what values are important to their culture has been interesting and helpful. I can better understand why some things are the way they are, and I notice these values at work in conversations and interactions I both see and experience in the lab. In trying to understand someone else’s culture, I start to question the way I do things. While this doesn’t necessarily mean I change who I am, I do start to think about why I have some of the opinions that I do or why I interact with others the way I do, and then I reanalyze them. Some things I don’t change and some I do. I believe it is good to reflect and think about oneself, but I am generally not the best at introspection. It is in experiences like these that I truly learn about myself, challenge my beliefs, and try to change for the better.

I think that the language classes did a great job in teaching us the basics of Japanese, but I still have a long way to go. I picked up on the grammar quite easily, but I had trouble remembering the words partly because I couldn’t relate them to anything, but also because I didn’t practice enough. I plan on enrolling in a Japanese course at Tokyo Tech, and I plan on practicing as much as I can so that I can reach my goal of being conversationally proficient by the end of the summer.

Question of the Week
I have mentioned public baths, something quite foreign for Americans, but also I have noticed that people in lab will walk up and look at someone’s computer screen or pick up something from someone’s desk and inspect it. Nothing gets broken, and nobody digs through someone’s things, but this is different than what is generally considered polite and acceptable back home. My question this week is: Where does privacy begin here in Japan?

  • What you might be seeing here is a bit of uchi-soto interaction. Think about how you interact with your close friends and family members; it is probably okay to casually walk into their room, pick up a book and ask “What are you reading?” or plop down on the couch next to them and ask “What are you watching?”.  So what you may be observing is that same type of very close, in-group interaction that in a way defines all in-group interactions; whether in Japan or the U.S.  To learn more about this concept see the Life in Japan page.

Research Project Overview

Electron Beam Evaporation: This was the machine I used to create my gold electrodes. After a lot of knob turning, vacuum creation, and button pushing, this machine used a stream of electrons to evaporate gold which then collected on my sample. - Nickolas Walling
Electron Beam Evaporation: This was the machine I used to create my gold electrodes. After a lot of knob turning, vacuum creation, and button pushing, this machine used a stream of electrons to evaporate gold which then collected on my sample. – Nickolas Walling

My project is a little different than I had previously thought. I will be working with highly aligned semi-conducting CNTs and testing the effects of a backgate voltage on terahertz detection. This week we have only worked on the fabrication of the device. We began by making a metal mask out of aluminum which served as a guide for creating the electrodes. We then used electron beam evaporation to evaporate very thin gold electrodes onto the sample. After creating the electrodes, we used another metal mask to guide the creation of the backgate. Instead of e-beam evaporation, this time we used vacuum vapor deposition, an equally cool but different process. We attached the sample to a chip carrier, but then we encountered a problem: we could not use the wire bonding machine. We were going to bond thin gold wires to the electrodes, but the wire bonding machine would not bond the wires to the electrodes, but rather it would strip the gold off. We plan on tackling this problem in week 4, but we are thinking about using dottite to somehow attach the wires to the electrodes.

Once the device is fabricated, we are going to do some preliminary tests, and then see how well the device detects terahertz. One graph we are looking to see is as the backgate voltage increases, the measured current should decrease and then increase after a certain point, both in a nonlinear fashion. The two regions should correspond to an induced p type and n type CNT type.

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Week 05: Critical Incident Analysis – Life in Japan

New Friends, New Memories: Some of the guys took me out to dinner on Sunday. When we got to the restaurant, conveyor belt sushi, we learned that we had a two hour wait. So what was the only logical thing to do? Play hide and go seek in a shopping center! - Nickolas Walling
New Friends, New Memories: Some of the guys took me out to dinner on Sunday. When we got to the restaurant, conveyor belt sushi, we learned that we had a two hour wait. So what was the only logical thing to do? Play hide and go seek in a shopping center! – Nickolas Walling

Luckily I haven’t had any communication mishaps that resulted in someone being terribly upset (at least I think I haven’t), but there is one situation that I would like to discuss, although it is not something that happened during a conversation; rather, it was a sort of misunderstanding. When taking a bath (at least in our dorm) it is common to get out once or twice and rinse oneself with cool water or even to wash oneself again. I got out and rinsed off and was rinsing my hair (which is quite long for me). As I was standing up with my head tilted back rinsing my hair, the two other guys who were sitting in the bath made a noise and said something to the effect of “oooh cool” and something about America I think.

I didn’t really notice the first time, but after the second or third time I turned around because I was not quite sure what they said. And then, of course, they said it again. It was abundantly clear to me that they were just joking around, so I reacted by briefly spraying them with cold water. After that I continued rinsing off, but Hiro (one of the guys in the tub) acted as if I had been offended and started trying to say “Smile. It was a joke” (I say trying because there was some confusion between the two other guys about the words joke and laugh, but they got their point across). I knew they were having some harmless fun from the start, so I smiled, said it was alright, finished up, and left.

Back home I find it common to respond to a joke or a bit of teasing with a reaction of some sort: a friendly push, a quick quip, a benign glare, etc… (I’m sure you have done something similar when being teased by a friend), so my first reaction was to spray them with cold water. I don’t think that they saw my action as aggressive—they laughed when I sprayed them—so I think it may have been my facial expression. I probably made a face which was intended to be fake mean, but it could have come across as upset, particularly in tandem with my revenge spray of water. I shouldn’t be surprised that my response was interpreted differently than intended, especially since I am not aware of the way the Japanese act in these kinds of situations.

The reaction of my friends was not unreasonable. The Japanese are always apologizing for being inconvenient or in the way—the word for “excuse me” can even be used as “thank you” when someone makes someone go out of their way to do something like returning something they dropped or giving up their seat for the other person. This, in tandem with their subtle ways of expressing disagreement or discontent, can be used to make sense of my friends’ reaction. I am just speculating here, but if I had to guess I would say that they read too much into my facial expression (I make a lot of faces, so it is completely understandable), thought I was unhappy, and apologized which fits right in to their usual behavior.

Different Book, Same Story: I tested into Beginner 2 Japanese at Tokyo Tech. I have already learned most of the grammar thanks to the class with AJALT, but I am really happy to have dedicated time to practice and increase my vocabulary. Plus I made a new friend! - Nickolas Walling
Different Book, Same Story: I tested into Beginner 2 Japanese at Tokyo Tech. I have already learned most of the grammar thanks to the class with AJALT, but I am really happy to have dedicated time to practice and increase my vocabulary. Plus I made a new friend! – Nickolas Walling

On a more general, albeit unrelated, note, I have noticed is that very few people accept head nods as a response. Sometimes when someone asks me a question I’ll nod or shake my head to indicate yes or no, but more often than not the other person just asks me the question again. This has happened with multiple people from the guys at my dorm to my labmates, so I guess it is safe to assume that the Japanese prefer some sort of verbal response over a purely physical one. Either they prefer a verbal response, or head nods/head shakes just aren’t something the Japanese do. Physical gestures vary just like languages do; for example the Japanese “come here” motion looks very much like the “shoo” motion in America. This is something I am still working on fixing so that I can more efficiently communicate with everyone.

Speaking of better communication, I have noticed that the Japanese constantly say variations of “it is, isn’t it.” and “is that so.” These statements are almost never questions, but rather they seem to be used to indicate that the person is either listening or thinking. These are phrases that I don’t use often in my everyday speech, so I need to work on integrating these phrases into my Japanese speech in order to sound like a more natural speaker.

Question of the Week

I have a few this week:

  • Where does the constant bowing originate from?
  • How to Japanese people joke around with each other, and is there sarcasm in Japanese? What’s permissible and what isn’t when joking around? How is it different from American jokes/teasing/sarcasm?

Research Project Update

A Fun Little Statue: To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what it is, but I think it is really pretty. It looks like there are dolphins at the bottom and they change into birds at the top. The upper most bird looks like the symbol for Tokyo Institute of Technology. - Nickolas Walling
A Fun Little Statue: To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what it is, but I think it is really pretty. It looks like there are dolphins at the bottom and they change into birds at the top. The upper most bird looks like the symbol for Tokyo Institute of Technology. – Nickolas Walling

This week was rather slow. We found a way to attach wires to our electrodes using dottite, but that’s all we did. My mentor was busy preparing for a presentation, so I didn’t do too much. We did encounter a problem with the dottite and the wires though. Not only does the dottite engulf the gold electrodes, I accidentally connected two of the electrodes. I removed the dottite connecting them before it dried, but I am worried that they might still be somehow connected or that the CNTs might be damaged. This temporary connection was between two adjacent electrodes, so neither the parallel nor perpendicular measurements should be affected if the electrodes are not connected. Next week we will begin taking measurements first of voltage/current relationships, then adding in a backgate voltage, and then irradiating with THz.

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Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting

A Sculpture in Yokohama: I went to Yokohama with some of the other Nakatani Fellows. I encountered this sculpture and thought it was super cool. Yay art! - Nickolas Walling
A Sculpture in Yokohama: I went to Yokohama with some of the other Nakatani Fellows. I encountered this sculpture and thought it was super cool. Yay art! – Nickolas Walling

This week I want to talk about a two events that made me very happy over the course of the past few weeks. I’ve had many great experiences thanks to my lab mates and my dorm mates, but to keep this from turning into a novel I’ll only talk about my lab mates this time. I love being invited to get lunch and to spend time talking with them. They are very interested in where I want to go in Japan and what Japanese food I like, and they always point out good/locally famous places to eat. These lunch outings have allowed me to meet many of my Japanese lab mates.

During the second welcome party I got to know more of the lab mates, especially the non-Japanese ones. Because we have two groups in the lab I don’t interact with everyone on a regular basis, so this was a great opportunity to get to know them better. We had takoyaki with various fillings, and I got the newer-than-me student to try natto which consists of fermented soy beans. This dish is well loved by the Japanese, but after trying it in Akita, I don’t think I’ll be having it again. One of the other students expressed his dislike of both the taste and smell of natto, so, like any good friends would, some of the lab mates brought the natto over and encouraged him to eat it. I think he is a post-doc or something because he jokingly threatened to assign them a paper to read/write/present and they immediately put it away.

After passing the natto around, we made the takoyaki. There is a part of the process which involves flipping the takoyaki balls over with a tool that looks like a stick, so we all tried doing that, and I was pretty good at it! Then we ended up exchanging tongue twisters in different languages which was a blast. We tried to teach each other tongue twisters in French, Spanish, Mandarin, English, and Japanese. We had a great time trying them out and laughing at each other when we (more often than not) ended up babbling nonsense or accidentally swearing in the other language (I’m looking at you Mandarin: wrong tone, wrong word).

Take Me to Church: I found a Catholic church not too far from Tokyo Tech! I’ve been going for a few weeks and it’s comforting to know that even a whole ocean away some things are the same. - Nickolas Walling
Take Me to Church: I found a Catholic church not too far from Tokyo Tech! I’ve been going for a few weeks and it’s comforting to know that even a whole ocean away some things are the same. – Nickolas Walling

The second event actually happened first. I was travelling to my dorm from the hotel, and I had everything packed and ready to go, so I loaded the directions on my phone. At one point I accidentally closed out of the window which had the directions loaded. I thought to myself, Oh that’s alright. I’ll look them up at the next station where there is wifi. Upon arrival at the next station I discovered, to my dismay, that not all train stations in Japan have wifi. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected that they would, but all of the stations inside Tokyo do, so I figured that the ones near it would as well. Fortunately I remembered where to get off of the first train, but I wasn’t sure which train to transfer to. There I was standing on the platform with two suitcases looking lost when I decided to put my AJALT classes to use. I walked up to a nice looking lady and asked her, in Japanese, “Does this train go to Aobadai?”

I was expecting a yes or a no, but instead she said in near perfect English, “Oh, I don’t know. I’ll take you to the office and I’ll ask there.” She directed me to the elevator and walked me to the station office all the while asking where I was from and what I was doing here in Japan. Once we figured out which platform I needed to go to and where I needed to change lines again, we went our separate ways. Then as I arrived at my platform, I was pleased to find out that the woman who helped me was at the platform just across the tracks. After a few minutes she boarded her train, and as the train was leaving she waved goodbye through the window. I was very touched by her willingness to help me. She took time out of her day to personally accompany me and to make sure that I did not get lost. I still smile whenever I think about it because it was such a beautiful demonstration of human kindness.

Yokohama Landmark Tower: While we did not go up to the top, we did explore some of the inside of this tall and beautiful building. - Nickolas Walling
Yokohama Landmark Tower: While we did not go up to the top, we did explore some of the inside of this tall and beautiful building. – Nickolas Walling

I’ve also learned that research can be painfully slow. This is my first experience in a research lab (which is based in a field outside of my area of study), so I’m new to all of the machines and methods and many of the concepts. Because of my inexperience I am tied to my mentor. Don’t get me wrong, I love working with him and learning from him, but since he is here as a masters student he has his own work to do. Between his classes, his presentations, and other assignments, some days he has little to no time for me. I generally don’t handle free time well, so most of the time I just try to look busy without doing much of anything. Sometimes I look for articles to read, but it’s hard to just read all day, and I feel like I am wasting my time. I want to find a more productive use of my time not spent doing experiments.

Another challenge I have faced is the lack of physical contact. I love hugs, and at home/school I can hug my friends and family or give high fives or sit close to people. Here I can’t do any of that, so it can be hard for me at times. In addition it’s harder to communicate here. I am a very verbal person, so not speaking to people nearly as much as I am used to also gets me down sometimes. I am not yet proficient enough to hold meaningful conversations in Japanese, and either people are working (in the lab) or have not had as much experience in English (at my dorm). Luckily the guys in my dorm and lab are fantastic. They try and communicate with me as well and as often as they can, so I don’t get lonely too frequently, but sometimes I do.

Question of the Week
In America we hear Aesop’s fables, nursery rhymes, and children’s stories (Goldielocks, Little Red Riding Hood, etc…) from when we are little. Some of these stories have a moral to them while others are just fun to hear. What are some traditional Japanese stories that are told to children and what morals do they teach?

Research Project Update
Due to a few setbacks, I have only been able to collect two sets of data from my sample. As I have previously mentioned, we encountered a problem attaching wires to the electrodes on our sample. We decided to use Dottite, a metallic glue, to attach the wires. Then we tried to measure the current induced by an applied voltage, but no current was flowing through the sample. We discovered that we accidentally used an insulating wire instead of a conducting one. After replacing the wires we were able to measure the I-V relationship of our sample.

Our next step was to apply a voltage to the backgate, but we noticed that our data did not look like we expected it to. Normally when there is an increasing backgate voltage (starting from a negative value) on a device like this there is a decreasing current, a minimum of around zero, and then an increasing current. Our data was fairly linear. We tried expanding the range of the applied backgate voltage, but we saw the same result. Ochiai-sun suggested that there might be current leakage from the carbon nanotube film to the backgate. We used an ohmmeter to see if current could flow from the CNT film to the backgate and we discovered that it could. We also tried irradiating the sample with a 30 THz laser and we got no response which was unexpected.

We plan on using time domain spectroscopy (TDS) to determine if any of the incident light is being absorbed, and we plan on inspecting the sample to determine if there is a visible connection from the CNT film to the backgate.
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Week 07: Overview of Mid-Program Meeting & Research Host Lab Visit

Kinkakuji: There are many beautiful sights in Kyoto, but not many are as remarkable as this one. This building is known as the “Golden Pavilion” (for obvious reasons). Built by a shogun, each floor represents a different style of architecture. ~ Nickolas Walling
Kinkakuji: There are many beautiful sights in Kyoto, but not many are as remarkable as this one. This building is known as the “Golden Pavilion” (for obvious reasons). Built by a shogun, each floor represents a different style of architecture. ~ Nickolas Walling

This past week all of the Nakatani RIES fellows, as well as the Nakatani RIES Team, met up in Kyoto for the first ever Nakatani RIES Fellowship Mid-Program Meeting. I was very pleased to see everyone again, and after a bus ride to our hotel we had a meeting during which we shared our successes and challenges we experienced throughout the past month in our labs. I enjoyed hearing the funny stories and personal growth experiences, but most of all I felt relieved to hear other people’s problems.

I have been feeling out of place here in lab because I haven’t really been doing all that much. Between the problems with my device, my lack of experience, and my mentor’s schedule I haven’t made much progress. In addition during the first week of my internship another student asked the professor if he could use one of my samples. They discussed him using and cutting it in front of me, but not with me. I wasn’t really okay with it because I didn’t know if I would need it or not, and I also wasn’t sure if this was common practice or if this had been discussed beforehand and I was simply unaware of the arrangement. Basically I was completely unsure how to react, so I kept my mouth shut. Luckily this will not majorly delay/hurt my research, and I will have access to the sample in the future, but I was very uncomfortable with the whole situation.

By the time I got to the meeting I was really disheartened and upset because I felt like I was wasting most of my time and that I wasn’t getting the experience I came here for. After listening to what everyone else had to say I discovered that I was not entirely alone in my frustrations. After the meeting I talked with Sarah-san and Kono-sensei which made me feel a lot better. Sarah-san talked to me about problems that occurred in past years, and Kono-sensei helped me make sense of some of the data we collected which I didn’t completely understand. I cannot put in to words how much this meeting has helped me. All of my doubts were washed away, and I went back to lab with a new sense of purpose, understanding, and determination knowing that things would change for the better.

This change came after Nakatani RIES team visited my lab. Endo-san, Ogawa-san, Packard-san, Sarah-san, and Kono-sensei have been travelling across Japan visiting all of the labs, and on the Friday after I returned to lab they made it to mine. After picking everyone up from the train station I showed everyone around the lab. I showed them the machines I’ve been using and talked about how I fabricated my device. Every once in a while Kono-sensei would talk to Kawano-sensei, my host professor, and my mentor Ochiai-san in Japanese. When this happened I talked more in depth about my research with the others.

Donning the Yukata: We were all given yukata in Kyoto! Yukata are a type of traditional Japanese clothing which look like an elegant robe with a sash tied around the middle. In this picture I’m getting a modelling lesson from the photographer. ~ Nickolas Walling
Donning the Yukata: We were all given yukata in Kyoto! Yukata are a type of traditional Japanese clothing which look like an elegant robe with a sash tied around the middle. In this picture I’m getting a modelling lesson from the photographer. ~ Nickolas Walling

After the lab tour we went to lunch and I talked to Kono-sensei about possibly getting more samples to work with and possibly joining his lab when I returned to Rice in the fall. Once the Nakatani RIES Team left to go to the next lab, I talked with Kawano-sensei about my project. We looked at the data I have collected, and we talked about the next steps in my project. I am very happy that the Nakatani RIES team came to visit—it already seems like I’ll be spending more of my time doing work in lab!

My favorite non-academic part of the Mid-Program Meeting was going to a tea ceremony. We all went to a Japanese tea house and experienced a shortened version of a tea ceremony. I was surprised to see the amount of detail and care that went into the whole process. The hostess was very deliberate with her motions, and there was a proper way to do everything. She folded her handkerchief a certain way, she poured the hot water a certain way, she turned the tea bowl a certain number of times. I was taught how to properly drink the tea and what to do afterwards.

There are so many rules to this ceremony, but it really puts a focus on the beauty of not only the tea but of the whole process and everything involved in it. One can only take a certain number of sips and after those sips one must make a small slurping noise. Before and after drinking the tea, one must turn the bowl in a certain direction with the right hand. After drinking the tea one must admire the bowl because they are all handmade and unique. At the end the hostess even passed around the tea container and the tool she used to take the tea out of it. Once again this is so that the people drinking the tea have a chance to admire the craftsmanship and hard work that went into the ceremony.

Question of the Week
What are some of the traditional ideas of masculine and feminine traits in Japan and how do these archetypes differ from the American ideas of masculine and feminine?

Sysmex Gardens: We toured a biotechnology company called Sysmex Corporation, and they had a huge garden surrounding their buildings in what they call “Technopark.” This is just a very small glimpse of the natural beauty surrounding their facilities. There was also a teahouse, sculptures, a place for meditation, a daycare, and so much more. ~ Nickolas Walling
Sysmex Gardens: We toured a biotechnology company called Sysmex Corporation, and they had a huge garden surrounding their buildings in what they call “Technopark.” This is just a very small glimpse of the natural beauty surrounding their facilities. There was also a teahouse, sculptures, a place for meditation, a daycare, and so much more. ~ Nickolas Walling

Research Project Update
This past week we did time domain spectroscopy (TDS) on my two samples of CNTs which are on filter membranes. While both samples are highly aligned, one is almost entirely semi-conducting CNTs while the other is a mix of semi-conducting and metallic CNTs. The TDS measurements gives us data on how much of an incident wave of light is absorbed or transmitted. As it turns out, the sCNT sample did not absorb any terahertz radiation. This was a surprise to me, but it does validate some of our previous data. While I was surprised at the time, this data does make sense because sCNTs do not have many/any free charge carriers because the CNTs are semi-conducting. If there are no charge carriers, the light cannot be absorbed.

In contrast to the lack of absorbance of the sCNTs, we saw that the mixed CNTs absorbed much more THz radiation when the polarized light was at a certain orientation in relation to the alignment. We assume that this is parallel to the orientation of the nanotubes because it is known that CNTs will absorb more polarized light when it is polarized parallel to their alignment. We did see a weaker absorption level at an orientation perpendicular to the first one when we are assuming is at a 90o to the orientation of the CNT film. This data makes sense because in this sample there are free charge carriers due to the mCNTs.

The free charge carriers of the mCNTs might not be the only contributing factor to the absorption of the mixed CNT sample. In a paper by Ichida, Saito, Nakano, et al. they report that in a mixture of mCNTs and sCNTs, the sCNTs can act as a dielectric and induce plasmon resonance in the mCNTs which increases the absorbance of the incident light. They say this because in mixed CNTs one can see an increase in absorption through a certain frequency range rather than what normally observed in other materials, i.e. a decrease in absorption with an increase in frequency.

In the next stages of my project, we intend to perform the all of same measurements (IV characterization, backgate control, effect of THz on current, etc…) on the mixed CNT sample which is on a Si/SiO2 substrate. We have discovered current leakage in our sCNT sample (on Si/SiO2), so we plan on using an ionic liquid as a top gate to control the Fermi level of the sCNTs in order to (hopefully) induce THz absorption.


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

amen Night! I went out for ramen with one of the guys from my dorm this weekend. I got to practice my Japanese, and I even learned some of the kanji on the menu! ~ Nickolas Walling
amen Night!
I went out for ramen with one of the guys from my dorm this weekend. I got to practice my Japanese, and I even learned some of the kanji on the menu! ~ Nickolas Walling

My interactions in lab thus far are not quite what I expected. During the orientation part of the program we talked about how the Japanese interact with each other and the hierarchical structure of the lab, but most of what we discussed in the orientation program was about formal interactions.

The interaction I see/have on a day to day basis are mostly on the more casual side. My lab seems pretty relaxed as far as hierarchy and rule go, so I don’t often hear and of the more honorable honorifics like -sama and -senpai or the “younger than me” honorifics like -chan and -kun (although one of my lab mates tends to call me Niko-chan, but I’m not entirely sure why). People often visit with each other and look at comics or things on the internet whenever they have down time. One of my lab mates has a really loud, distinctive laugh, and I hear it often enough to get the feeling that the lab environment isn’t too crazy strict. When I say “lab environment,” I guess I mean the floor where we have our desks. In the lab people are generally quiet and careful.

I’ve noticed that our lab is not very active in the morning; not much seems to get done until after lunch. I’m not sure if people have classes or what, but I would much rather start early than stay super late. Since this is my first research experience, I don’t know if this is common practice in American labs as well, or how the workload differs. From talking to the other Nakatani Fellows, I know that not all labs are as seemingly relaxed as mine, but I don’t really have the means to compare the environment here to that of an American lab. From what I understand, Japanese labs are generally more hierarchical in nature. The students at the bottom of the ladder mostly follow the directives given by those above them without much questioning. In America I would think that this is not the case. Our society is less hierarchical in general, so I suspect that questioning proposed methods and presenting ideas to one’s superiors is more acceptable in America than in Japan.

Question of the Week
Why do most students stay at one university for their undergraduate and graduate degrees?

  • Job hunting in Japan tends to be closely tied to the prestige of the university you graduate from and since you work very, very hard in high school to get a good score on the entrance exam to get into the top undergraduate school you can you tend to want to stay with that same school for master’s too as its harder to ‘move up’ in prestige of school in Japan. Since many student’s who receive a master’s in Japan plan to go into industry, they know that to the company  it is the name of the school they graduated from that typically matters most. In the U.S. its quite different as you are hired out of graduate school more for the prestige of your department/program and the type of research you were able to do. The prestige and network of your advisor often matters a great deal too as they can help connect you with the best opportunities in your field/research area.   For more on this see the websites below:
Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty Little Bus of Fur: I went to a Studio Ghibli exhibition with Sarah-san, and I got to sit in the neko-basu (cat bus) from the movie My Neighbor Totoro! ~ Nickolas Walling
Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty Little Bus of Fur: I went to a Studio Ghibli exhibition with Sarah-san, and I got to sit in the neko-basu (cat bus) from the movie My Neighbor Totoro! ~ Nickolas Walling

Research Project Update
After I got back from the mid-program meeting I only had two days in lab this week, so I didn’t get to do much. After the lab visit on Friday professor Kawano, my mentor, and I sat down and talked about my project. I showed him some of the data I previously collected and explained why the data made sense.

Kawano-sensei and I talked about what my future plans for my project are. Fortunately, I will be getting more samples from Kono-sensei’s lab at Rice University. I will be receiving three samples: a highly aligned single chirality sample, a highly aligned semiconducting/metallic mix sample, and an unaligned semiconducting film. Single chirality means that all of the CNTs have the same chiral vector which means that they all have the same morphology and the same properties. Most of these plans consist of making more devices. We are going to change the fabrication process and take more measurement (IV, backgate bias, THz irradiation, etc…). We also plan on creating an ion liquid top gate on my current device and irradiating my current device with THz.

We plan on changing the placement of the electrodes on the film, as well changing the composition of the electrodes. We are making these changes in order to combat the problems we faced with the wire bonding machine, i.e. that the wire bonding machine removed parts of the electrodes instead of bonding a wire. We believe that evaporating a layer of titanium (or aluminum) and then gold will help more firmly attach the electrodes to the CNTs. In addition, we plan on evaporating the electrodes on the boundary of the CNT film so that a part of each electrode is on the CNT film and the other part is on the Si/SiO2 substrate. This placement should allow the use of the wire boding machine on the substrate sides of the electrodes and has been used by other researchers successfully.

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Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning

I went to Oda-sensei’s annual summer party. Oda-sensei is a professor at Tokyo Tech whose office in on the same floor as Kawano-sensei who is an associate professor. A lot of people from both lab groups showed up, and we had a great time. ~ Nickolas Walling
I went to Oda-sensei’s annual summer party. Oda-sensei is a professor at Tokyo Tech whose office in on the same floor as Kawano-sensei who is an associate professor. A lot of people from both lab groups showed up, and we had a great time. ~ Nickolas Walling

I have not used Japanese much in the lab because most of my lab mates speak English well enough that we can communicate without much Japanese. One of the lab secretaries, however, does speak to me in Japanese sometimes because she helped me register for my Japanese class. As I mentioned before, I tested into Beginner Japanese 2 here at Tokyo Tech, and I have been attending class twice a week for the past month or so. I really like the class because I am expanding my vocabulary while learning/solidifying the grammar.

Every time Hashimoto-san, one of the lab secretaries, sees me, she greets me in Japanese and we have a short conversation. I really enjoy these little interactions because I feel proud of myself whenever I can hold a short conversation with her. But even beyond the language practice, I really like talking to her in general. She is wonderfully cheerful and always has a smile on her face. I guess she reminds me of my mom a because she gives of a very loving/caring vibe, and I feel like she really wants me to do well. Similarly, when I was at Oda-sensei’s summer party his wife came over and talked to me and did exactly what Hashimoto-san does. After learning that I am taking a Japanese class, she asked me questions in Japanese, and we had a short conversation. It was very nice of her to make me practice (even if I wasn’t expecting it).

I’ve also noticed that all of the language teachers I’ve had here are very expressive about how much they want their students to succeed, and they give a lot of visual encouragement. They make sure each student understands the word/phrase/grammar which we are studying without getting frustrated or tired. It makes me really happy to know that there are all of these people here who want me to succeed, even if they don’t have any vested interest in me or obligation to help me.

Owl Café I went to Forest of Owl, an Owl Café in Akihabara AND I GOT TO HOLD AND PET MY FAVORITE ANIMAL (the barn owl is my favorite type of owl, but owls are my favorite in general). Fun fact: barn owls are in a different family from most other owls. Notable differences include equal length toes, ear slits instead of ear holes, and a cute heart shaped face disk. ~ Nickolas Walling
Owl Café
I went to Forest of Owl, an Owl Café in Akihabara AND I GOT TO HOLD AND PET MY FAVORITE ANIMAL (the barn owl is my favorite type of owl, but owls are my favorite in general). Fun fact: barn owls are in a different family from most other owls. Notable differences include equal length toes, ear slits instead of ear holes, and a cute heart shaped face disk. ~ Nickolas Walling

Apart from the chance interactions with Hashimoto-san, most of my Japanese interactions happen with the people in my dorm. They know varying amounts of English, but sometimes it takes a few of them to form a sentence. Sometimes I try and listen to what they are saying in Japanese and respond based off that, and other times, especially if they are having a lot of trouble, I ask them to say it in Japanese. Sometimes I get the gist of what they are asking, but other times we just have to drop the topic because neither of us can communicate it.

The most trouble I had with communication happened while I was eating dinner one day in my dorm. There were a bunch of guys there, and the lady who runs the place was there too. She was asking me a bunch of questions, and, though I did my best to answer, it took a little while. This was towards the beginning of my stay, so it was extra hard to communicate. I eventually got out a pencil and paper because I was trying to explain where Louisiana was in America, and I couldn’t remember the word for ‘south.’

Question of the Week
I’ve seen a lot of people smoking here—there are even smoking sections in the restaurants (throwback to the early 2000s). How are there so many active old people and so many smokers?

 

Something in a Tree I was eating lunch with a friend I made in language class and I spotting this thing. I have no idea what this is or why it’s hanging from a tree, but I thought it was pretty. ~ Nickolas Walling
Something in a Tree
I was eating lunch with a friend I made in language class and I spotting this thing. I have no idea what this is or why it’s hanging from a tree, but I thought it was pretty. ~ Nickolas Walling

Research Project Update
My mentor and I used SEM (Scanning Electron Microscopy) in order to get an image of the CNT film, but we could not see the individual CNTs because they were too small. The SEM machine was in a clean room which was much more clean than the one I have previously used. The suits we put on covered more of our bodies, and there was a little room which blew air on us for a minute or two before we went in. All of the lights were a strange shade of orange, and there was a bunch of expensive looking machinery everywhere.

After leaving the clean room we did TDS on the ionic liquid we intended to put on our device. We saw that the ionic liquid absorbed less than 35% of the incident THz radiation which is good because between 1 and 2 THz the mixed CNTs absorbed about 75% of the THz radiation. After gathering these results, we put the ionic liquid on the sample and then measured the resistance of about 100 kΩ in the CNT film. We believe that the introduction of the ionic liquid excited the charge carriers in the CNTs, so we wanted to let the system settle. After a day or two of waiting, we irradiated the device with THz from a THz laser with no voltage applied to the top gate. While we did see an increase in current when the device was irradiated with THz, I do not think that the data we collected is not entirely accurate.

Because the THz beam coming out of the laser is polarized, we had to take two measurements for each pair of electrodes. Our data is initially non-linear for all measurements, but when the data does become linear, the slopes of the curve which corresponds to no THz irradiation are different, suggesting that the resistance changed due to a 90o rotation. This, of course, does not make any sense, but I did notice that the ionic liquid moved. In the different orientations it puddled around whichever side was lowest to the ground i.e. the ionic liquid remained a liquid and started to drip. I think that this might be the cause of the seemingly different resistances, but I do not know why the induced current is initially nonlinear. Daichi-san, a PhD student, said that this could be some sort of transient response, so I will have to look in to what that means.I wrote a MATLAB script to approximate the resistance of the linear pieces of data as well as Ires and Inoise which I used to calculate the NEP (Noise Equivalent Power). NEP is basically how well you can distinguish between the device actually working and background noise in the data, and a smaller NEP is better. The NEPs for the different orientation were on the order of 10-8 for the first electrode pair and 10-7 for the second pair.

Unfortunately, our device was broken during the course of these measurements, but fortunately I received more samples from Rice University on Friday! I will start our new fabrication process next week.
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Week 10: Interview with a Resaercher

Monday was a holiday, so I didn’t have to go into lab. I spent the day at Odaiba with Sasha. We stumbled upon this beautiful display on the beach. These colored paper bags were arranged in different shapes across the length of the beach. Seeing these lanterns was like walking into a dream and was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen in Japan. ~ Nickolas Walling

This week, I conducted a small interview with one of the PhD students in my lab. I chose to interview Xiangying Deng. She is currently a D2 student in the Oda-Kawano lab and has completed her undergraduate degree at Jilin University in China and her master’s degree at Temple University in the U.S.A. Xiangying chose to come to Japan because her boyfriend at the time (now husband) was at another university in Japan, and she wanted to be close to him.

 Since Xiangying has attended universities in three different countries, I was curious to find out her thoughts on how the research environment differs among the three. I came to find out that the Japanese system is different than the ones she experienced in China and the U.S. In Japan, each student gets their own project. The student can choose the topic and how to go about experimenting—basically do your project, get results, and graduate. In contrast, her experiences in the U.S. and China were more centered on the students being a part of a larger project led by the professor.

When asked about her thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of the different styles of labs, Xiangying remarked that she preferred the Japanese style of study better. The students learn how to manage a project, how to create new ideas, and a variety of research techniques which she feels is good preparation for professorship. Carrying out a project by oneself, however, can be difficult at times. Xiangying commented that different parts of the same project can be incredibly different. For example, device fabrication, running simulations, and performing experiments are very different processes and require different skillsets. This means that the student must learn multiple skills which is beneficial but also can be very time consuming. She did note that the Chinese/American lab process is more efficient and involved more cooperation because each student has their own part of the project which allows for an in-depth knowledge of that part of the project.

While in Odaiba we found this man crafting small figures out of some sort of candy (at least I think it was candy). Here he is making a tiny squirrel! ~ Nickolas Walling

In addition to differing ways of carrying out research, she mentioned that the Japanese and Chinese lab structures are different from the U.S. structure. In Japan and China is it common for newer students to ask older students for help with their projects while in the U.S. it is more common for the students to go straight to the professor with questions.

Xiangying plans to stay in academia and wants to teach or do research. IN the future, she would like to return to China because she wants to be back at home. If/when she gets the chance to lead her own lab she wants to combine features of U.S./Chinese/Japanese labs. She would, ideally, have students doing their own projects, but maybe having students doing separate projects but working together to help each other out.

Question of the Week
How does being a professor in Japan differ from being a professor in the U.S.A. and China?

 

Making Measurements: We used this machine to make IV curves with our samples. The sample sits on a plate which uses a suction effect to keep it in place. Then one can move the electrodes to the desired positions and make measurements. The machine also allows for applying a voltage to the back gate. ~ Nickolas Walling

Research Project Update
I got to start using my new samples this week! I received a semi-conductor enriched sample and a semi-conductor/metallic mixed sample, both of which are highly aligned. We used a slightly different design for these samples because the Si/SiO2 substrate was bigger. Instead of depositing electrodes in four spots completely on the CNT film, we chose to deposit electrodes that were half on the CNTs and half on the Si/SiO2 substrate. We did this in the hopes that we would be able to use the wire bonding machine (my favorite machine) in order to connect the electrodes to the chip carrier. In case my sarcasm wasn’t detected, the wire bonding machine and I are not on speaking terms. Once again I was not able to successfully use the machine, so we had to once again resort to using dottite. Before we attempted to use the wire bonding machine, we used the Cascade machine pictured in this report to make IV curves for the different pairs of electrodes on both samples. We then tried to apply gate control with the machine, but once again we experienced current leakage in the samples.

I started working on my poster this week too! I came up with a few ways of organizing my materials and a few color schemes, but it’s really difficult. This is my first poster I have ever worked on, but I had no idea how difficult starting from a completely blank slide is. I read through some resources on making posters, and I never realized or even thought about how much thought goes into making them. There are so many things that can be distracting or just look funny that I’m constantly second guessing ever decision I make which is why I started so many different designs.

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Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab

Parasitological Museum: Rony and I visited the Meguro Parasitological Museum where we found this giant tapeworm. I believe that this is the only museum of its type and displays an incredible variety of parasites as well as documents concerning the study of the parasites across the years, some of which were handwritten and quite old. ~ Nickolas Walling

Diving into a new culture is hard. During the orientation portion of the program we frequently discussed Japanese politeness, social structure, and culture. My second day in lab I found myself in a situation that required me to have a mastery of all three of these aspects of Japanese culture (which of course I did not). I have previously mentioned this situation, but I would like to go over it in more detail. I am referring to my second day in lab when people were discussing the use of one of my samples by another student.

Before arriving in my lab, I was included in a series of emails describing the samples that would be sent from Kono-sensei’s lab at Rice University. I would be receiving four samples: semiconductor enriched CNT films and metallic/semiconductor mixed CNT films on silicon/silicon oxide substrates and filter membranes. On my second day in lab I was told what my project would be: gate control of semiconducting CNTs. To my unexperienced mind, this project seemed rather simple and quick, so I thought to myself that I would be using the mixed sample as well so that I would have two sets of data to compare. Then I found out that another student wanted to cut and use one of my samples.

I want to break down what went through my mind, how I handled the situation, and why I made the choices I did. Initially I felt robbed. One of my samples which I would have liked to have used was being taken from me. The sample was already small to begin with, and cutting it in half would make it even smaller. Even if I would have kept one of the two halves, I would not have been able to take the same measurements because the sample would have been too small for two sets of electrodes.

I don’t really have the word for what I felt next, but it was a mix of anger, confusion, and helplessness. I sat in a room with my mentor, my host professor, and two other students as they decided the fate of my sample. Everyone else was having a discussion in Japanese about using the sample without talking to me until they had already settled everything. I felt ignored and insignificant because I had absolutely no say in the matter, and they discussed it as if I wasn’t even there.

After the initial wave of emotions hit, I started trying to rationalize what was going on. I have never worked in a research lab before, so I wasn’t sure how these things worked. I thought that maybe some of my samples were intended for this from the beginning and I was simply unaware, or that it was common practice to share samples in this way. I knew that my U.S. advisor, Kono-sensei, collaborates with this lab, so I thought that they must have discussed this with him previously. I ended up doing nothing and letting it happen. I didn’t say anything, nor did I email Kono-sensei about it because I supposed that he had agreed to this course of action (which I later found out was an incorrect assumption).

誕生日おめでとう! (Happy Birthday): We celebrated the birthday of two of my housemates this weekend! A bunch of us hid in a room and then surprised them with party poppers. We also watched The Grudge together in Japanese. ~ Nickolas Walling

I decided on doing nothing for a few reasons, and my lack of experience with Japanese communication and culture was the cause. I did not want to have one of my samples cut, but I felt that saying something would have made a bad first impression. This was my second day in lab, and I didn’t want to come across as selfish or mean, especially if the sharing of my sample had been previously agreed on. Additionally, I was in a room with a PhD candidate, a professor, and two graduate students. All of these people are firmly above me on the hierarchy of the lab, so I wasn’t sure how they would take opposition from the new guy. Regardless of their status, I wasn’t sure how to voice my opposition in an acceptable (i.e. Japanese) way. The Japanese have a peculiar way of disagreeing which is much more indirect than what I am used to. I was afraid that I would say something that would come across as too direct and be interpreted as rude/defiant/selfish.

Looking back, I would have done a few things differently. Since I have been here for a few months, I have grown more accustomed to the Japanese art of disagreement. I would have tried my hand at the art of Japanese disagreements. I would have asked questions about my project while hinting that I needed the whole sample to take the proper measurements.

Sensoji Temple: I visited Asakusa with Sasha to view a fireworks display. There was a four or five lane street entirely filled with people! After we walked the route to see the fireworks, we walked back and saw Sensoji Temple, a very large and old temple. There were a multitude of people, lots of restaurants, and, because it was so late, many closed stalls. While we were walking we met a pig named tonkatsu. They named their pig “pork.” ~ Nickolas Walling

Regardless of what had happened, or what would have happened if I went back in time and redid the experience, I should have emailed Kono-sensei. Not only is he someone who can communicate with my professor, he is also my U.S. co-advisor and the person whose lab made my samples. I should have emailed him to tell him about the situation. He could have answered my questions, talked with my professor, and possibly prevented my sample from being cut.

Question of the Week:
I’m sure situations similar to mine happen all the time. How does a Japanese researcher handle situations where something might happen that they don’t necessarily want to happen?

  • Actually, this may not be a culture-specific question and is more-so a question regarding how a young/new research group member can handle a situation like this.  In truth, if you are a new member of a project, or a new undergraute or graduate student in that lab, there will be a lot about the history of the project and any collaborations that you won’t know. It would not be uncommon for a situation like this to happen with a new graduatue student in a U.S. lab, or German lab, etc.  The general rule is that the lab that created/sent the sample should have some say in how it will be used.  Usually this is agreed to in advance by the lab professors and oftentimes materials are sent through a unviersity Office of Technology Transfer Materials Transfer Agreement which is a written agreement outlining what is being sent, how the sample will be used, and even what authorship attribution should be used for any publications arising from research related to that sample.  However, these formal agremeements are not always used or there may be a blanket agreement that covers a number of different samples so questions can still arise on the ground.  For this reason, your last statment is most correct that when questions arise as to the use of the sample it should always be discussed with the sending lab first to be sure that everyone is on the same page.
  • In a situation similar to this, as a young/new student you could always say something along the lines of, “Shouldn’t we maybe check with Kono-sensei first before it is cut since his lab prepared the sample? He didn’t tell me it was okay to cut it in half so it might be best to ask him first just to be sure.”  Phrasing your question/objection as a suggestion is always a good idea for the new/young member of the team as it gives the professor/senior student an opportunity to let you know if there had already been an email or phone discussion betwen the two professors and Kono-sensei already agreed and also is a nice/softer way to open an avenue of communication with the sending lab just in case they haven’t been consulted yet.   You can also always follow-up a conversation like this with an email you send to Prof. Kono (cc’ing your host professor and mentors) just to confirm what had been discussed and make 100% sure that he is aware of what is planned for the materials he asked you to bring to the lab.
  • Negotiating the sharing of materials, use of those materials, and authorship is an important skills for research collaboration and it is likely that you will come across difficult situations like this throughout your research career. Having had this experience as a young undergraduate will make you more aware and prepared for when things like this happen in the future.

Research Project Update
This week I started using THz spectroscopy with the samples on filter membranes and with the samples on the Si/SiO2. The light from the spectroscopy machine is polarized, so I had to find when the absorption was maximized and then take measurements at a perpendicular orientation to that one by rotating the sample. For the samples on silicon substrates I had to remove the double reflections from the substrates by using a fourier transform function in the software of the spectroscopy computer.

I also worked with a quantum cascade laser in order to better test the absorption dependence on polarization angle with respect to the alignment of the SWCNT film. We used two lenses to rotate the polarized light and we observed the voltage response of the films. This task was difficult because we had to align the sample and the beam of light for each sample, and sometimes the responses seemed inconsistent in the semiconductor enriched sample. The voltage would seemingly increase in one spot but when we returned to that configuration the voltage was not higher than the rest. We suspect that thermal noise played a large role in this. We think that the substrate could have absorbed some of the IR radiation and experienced a temperature change which would mess with our measurements. It could also be because the response wasn’t big enough to be noticeable over the thermal noise present at room temperature.

I didn’t finish my poster this week because we are not finished collecting data, but I made good progress. I settled on a color scheme and picked a general organization. Lining everything up is annoying, but a challenge for me is font size. I followed the recommended font size I found on one of the resources I read, but I can’t really conceptualize how it will look once the poster is printed and ready.

Next week we plan on finishing our measurements–well we have to because it’ll be my last week in lab. We plan on trying to use the ionic liquid to establish gate control on these films, and we want to try and collect more data with the quantum cascade laser.

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Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab

Pretty Buildings: While Pokémon hunting around Tokyo, my housemates and I went to Asakusa. To the left is the Sky-Tree in Oshiage, and to the right is a sideways sculpture. I later learned that this sculpture is, in fact, a flame that was intended to stand upright. Due to heavy winds in the area standing the flame upright was deemed unsafe, so it was put up sideways. ~ Nickolas Walling

I can’t believe my last week in Japan is already here. Looking back to when I first found out that I was accepted into this program, I made a few goals: gain a solid foundation for conducting research, gain a working knowledge of Japanese, go to a museum featuring Japanese art/culture/history, and make a Japanese friend. I am very pleased to say that I have achieved all of my goals that I set for myself. I took two Japanese language courses; I made friends with the KIP students, my labmates, and my housemates; I completed two months of research; and I experienced Japanese art and culture both in and out of museums.

Endings are sad. When any experience is drawing to a close, I always seem to look back and see what I could have done better. The summer before this one I had the opportunity to study abroad in France, and as the program was ending, I wished that I had spent more time with my host family and that I had spent more time around Aix-en-Provence, the city where I was studying. This summer I tried to keep those thoughts in mind as I spent my time in Japan, but there is always room for improvement. I know that time spent anywhere must, inevitably, come to an end, but I never realize how fast the days go by.

Even though I met the goals I set for myself, I can’t help but feel that I could have done more. I wish that I would have spent more time with my housemates. I wish that I would have practiced my Japanese more. I wish that I would have experienced more of Japan. Now of course I didn’t have the time to be gallivanting around Japan whenever I felt like it, but I definitely took my fair share of “me days” on the weekends (which mostly consisted of Netflix, video games, and naps). Sometimes I felt that I needed them. Some weeks were tough, and after five days of spending 9-10 hours a day in lab one gets tired, but I wish I would have done more of the things I could only do in Japan.

Looking past the sad parts of the end of my time in Japan, I have really had an amazing summer. Even though I do wish I would have done some things differently, I feel like I did a lot right. I did spend a lot of time with my housemates and I bonded with my labmates. This weekend we spent a day Pokémon hunting after Pokémon Go came out (I caught a Farfetch’d, only found in Asia!), wandered around Asakusa, and saw the Sky Tree. I am so happy to have met these guys. It’s hard to believe that two months ago I had just arrived at my little apartment. I couldn’t have imagined that something as small as an invitation to play video games would turn into such a great friendship. A few of the guys gave me gifts before I left, and one of the guys cried when he had to leave (just a few days before I did). I’m going to miss these guys. My labmates also did something near my departure. After my last day in lab they threw me a going-away party at an izakaya where I tried horse sashimi! The next morning my mentor and I wandered around Tokyo so that I could  buy gifts and see more of Tokyo one last time. I am blown away by how open they were and how they made efforts to befriend, teach, and get to know me during my short stay in their lab.

Big Lucky Fortune: At Sensoji Temple, with the help of my housemates, I found my fortune. After making a small donation to the temple, I pulled a stick with a number on it out of a case, and then I pulled my fortune out of the box with the corresponding number from the stick. Luckily I got the best fortune I could get, so I kept it with me instead of tying it at the temple. ~ Nickolas Walling

I climbed Fuji-san (Mt. Fuji) with my fellow Nakatani Fellows. It was a seven-hour trek up to the top while the way down took less than half the time. We started relatively early and took our time on the way up because we didn’t want to spend much time before dawn at the peak. Nevertheless, we arrived three hours before dawn and waiting in the cold was one of the longest experiences I’ve ever had. Seeing the stunning sunrise and being able to tell myself “I climbed Mt. Fuji!” made the trip well worth the effort. Fun fact: every day I had to climb up/down a hill and a lot of stairs to get to and from lab, and whenever I was tired I would just tell myself “if you can’t handle this, you can’t handle Mt. Fuji.”

I successfully completed a summer of research in a Japanese lab, and my labmates played a crucial role in my success. Ochiai-san, my assigned mentor, guided me through every step of the process, and we often sought the advice of Daichi-san, an older student whose help I greatly appreciate. I learned that research is painfully slow and full of roadblocks, but I also learned how satisfying it is when something (finally) goes right. All-in-all this experience has been wonderful and has nudged me down the path toward graduate school and possibly a career as a researcher.

Question of the Week:  What is one question that you have about Japan or Japanese culture at the end of this week?

How is the style of research in Japanese labs and the sense of hierarchy changing as the research community becomes more international? Is it changing at all?

That is a really good question and I’m not sure I can answer that.  Truthfully, the best way to answer this question might be to go back to Japan yourself 10 or 15 years from now and see if the lab culture has changed but since each lab is so different (and even changes over time as members come and go) I think it would be really hard to say what changes are culture based and which might just be lab-personality based.  Could be a good discussion to have with Kono-sensei at some point as he may have some insights into this.  While culture/societies do change over time/generations this happens very, very slowly and, in most cases, things like how we communicate and respect for hierarchy/relationships are foundational parts of cultures so are the least likely to change in major ways.

Final Research Update

Project Title: Terahertz Detection at Room Temperature Using Highly Aligned Single-Wall Carbon Nanotube Films
Host Lab and Professor: Oda-Kawano Lab, Kawano-sensei
Mentors: Yuki Ochiai, Daichi Suzuki

Quantum Cascade Laser: We used a quantum cascade laser to test how current response of the sample depends on the polarization of the incident light. Using this set-up, we were able to use a mirror to change the polarization angle of the light with respect to the orientation of the two pairs of electrodes. ~ Nickolas Walling

The terahertz (THz) regime of the electromagnetic spectrum has an incredible range of potential uses ranging from the medical to astronomical fields, but it cannot be effectively utilized due to the limitations of current technology. We set out to induce terahertz absorption in highly aligned films of semi-conducting single-wall carbon nanotube (SWCNT) films at room temperature. This would alleviate some of the current problems with terahertz detection such as extremely low temperature requirements, high cost, and large machinery.

We set out to use gate control to change the fermi level in semi-conducting SWCNTs in order to induce THz absorption. Semi-conducting SWCNTs hold promise because of their high Seebeck coefficient. This would induce a larger voltage after the absorption of THz radiation in semi-conducting SWCNTs than metallic SWCNTs, which have a lower Seebeck coefficient. We began by making shadow masks with which we can create the proper geometries for the electrodes which were created using electron beam evaporation and thermal deposition.

We then made IV curves with and without an applied back gate voltage. Since we ran in to the issue of current leakage, we decided to use an ionic liquid as a top gate. When a voltage is applied to the ionic liquid the ions separate and act as a top gate. We used varying lasers, both polarized and non-polarized, in the IR and THz regime as well as spectroscopy to test the absorption of the SWCNTs.

We found that the application of an ionic liquid to a highly aligned semi-conducting SWCNT film can induce THz absorption.

In the future we would like to use gate control to optimize and control the absorption of THz. We would also like to establish a reliable relationship between the polarization of the incident light and the orientation of the SWCNTs.

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Week 13: Final Report

Being back in the U.S. has been odd, starting from getting off at the airport. The first thing that shocked me was the lack of kanji. My favorite game when out and about in Japan was “guess the kanji.” The rules were simple—if you know what the kanji means, say it! I learned a lot of kanji from an app I downloaded, and I learned many of their pronunciations from the names of subway stops being written in kanji and hiragana. I loved the feeling of know what certain kanji meant because it was a critical and difficult part of Japanese, and it felt like a personal victory each time I understood the meaning of one. So naturally walking off of the plane and seeing signs in English and Spanish threw me for a loop.

At the 7th Station: We made our way to the 7th Station on Mt Fuji which is about halfway up the mountain and where many people begin their climb. While sitting in the café, I saw that people wrote their names on this tablecloth and thought it was a tradition of sorts, so I added my name to the list! ~ Nickolas Walling

When we went to collect our baggage I was hit by the another big difference between America and Japan: efficiency. It took forever to get my bags! When we arrived in Narita Airport in Tokyo our bags were all neatly gathered off of the conveyor belt before we even got there. Now anyone who has ever flown in the U.S. knows that this would never happen. There were two or three flights that had recently landed and were using the same conveyor belt as our flight. We had to wait for what seemed like forever to get our luggage.

One thing that I did miss about being in the U.S. was conversations with random people. When we were walking to get our baggage I met a nice family that had moved to Japan, but spoke English. We somehow got to talking, and it was nice to be able to communicate with someone so naturally again. There was a mother and two daughters. They live in Okinawa and were returning to the U.S. for her father’s funeral. Originally they were coming for her step-sister’s wedding, but the funeral got scheduled on the same day. I didn’t realize how much I missed the random encounters that happen when you speak the same language.

After we got back to Rice, we had a reentry program. We learned how to effectively present both our poster and our experience as a whole. I think the most beneficial part of the reentry program was when a guest speaker came and talked to us about applying to grad school. After the completion of this program I am more interested in applying to grad school, so knowing what universities look for and what to expect was great.

Dawn on the Mountain’s Peak: It took us about 7 hours to climb to the peak because we started super early and felt no need to rush. The hardest part was the climb between the last few stations because they seemed so much longer and steeper than the rest. I bought little bike lights and tied them to my shoes so that I could see where I was stepping. We reached the top at about 1:30 a.m. and tried to sleep until the sunrise at 4:30. It was frigid, but the sunrise was beautiful. ~ Nickolas Walling

I know that almost everyone is going to ask about my experience this summer, and I probably won’t say the same thing to every person that asks. I know for sure that my family, faculty who wrote my letters of recommendation, and my fellow students will ask about my trip, so it would be for the best if I sorted out what to tell whom here.

To my family I will talk about the friends that I made, the beauty of Tokyo, and differences between Japanese and American culture. I will tell them about going on a day long Pokémon Go hunt with my housemates or how I ate kebabs and went to an owl café with some of the other Nakatani Fellows (actually I would tell the owl story to anyone because I love owls). I will describe the temples scattered across the city and the innumerable Shinto shrines I saw. I will talk about the overwhelming politeness and indirect ways of disagreeing. I will also tell them that taking baths with my friends as one of my favorite times of the day. Who doesn’t love a warm bath and good company?

When my professors ask how my trip was, I will undoubtedly talk about my research experience at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. I walked into a field about which I knew very little and had a successful research experience. During the first three weeks of the program we had various lectures about nanoscience, quantum and solid-state physics, and carbon materials. From these lectures as well as my chemistry and material science courses I gained a rudimentary knowledge of the background necessary for my project, but I did not know nearly everything I needed to know. Throughout the summer I had to work independently by reading research papers as well as learn from my mentor about the techniques that we used and phenomena that occurred during our experiments.

Ice Cream!: Japan has so many interesting ice cream flavors. Sweet potato, azuki bean, green tea, and soda are just a few of the interesting flavors to be found in Japan. I’ll miss these having these odd flavors around. I recommend Sakura (cherry blossom) if you ever get the chance to try it. ~ Nickolas Walling

I also had to work to overcome the language barrier that was ever present in Japan. While I could sometimes communicate rather effectively outside of the lab, the language used in lab was often very technical, so it had to be done in English for my sake. This sometimes involved a lot of hand waving, gesturing, and picture drawing, but we learned to communicate with each other despite my sparse knowledge of Japanese.

When talking to students at my university I will most likely talk about all of the things mentioned above. I want to convey as much about the whole experience as I can, so I’ll probably talk about as much as they’re willing to listen to. But to hit the highlights, I’ll talk about my research project, living in Tokyo, and the differences between Japanese and American culture. When it comes time to present my experiences to potential employers, I will, of course, share my experiences and difficulties of working in a foreign lab and studying a new field. I will also mention how I spent the first three weeks learning Japanese and Japanese culture. An important part of the program was gaining an understanding of how the Japanese communicate and what holds cultural significance. I feel like this part of the program has benefitted me immensely because it has made me much more aware of different communication styles and cultural backgrounds.

What is one burning question that you still have about Japan?

Does “When can I go back?” count? Well, I guess a more real question would be why does everyone use the app Line to text? Why not just text?

  • There is a serious reason LINE was developed and became so popular so quickly. After the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake, the Japanese phone services were not working very well. Phone lines were so clogged that countless people couldn’t get a dial tone for hours, even days after the incident. To make post-disaster communication easier, the Japanese branch of the Korean NHN corporation instigated a mobile application where people could use data or wifi to make free calls and texts. They named it LINE because during natural disasters, pay phones have been the most reliant way to contact your loved ones, where there are always long lines outside of them. Fast forward a couple of years. LINE now has 160 million users worldwide and is the number one free app in Japan and many other Asian countries.
  • Making Friends & Studying Japanese Through LINE
  • How Japan’s LINE App Became a Culture Changing Phenomenon
  • Making Friends Through Japanese LINE
SCI Colloquium: Here it is! This poster is my baby. I spent so much time working on this thing, and I am so proud of how it turned out. I wanted a picture with Sasha, so we did a classic Sasha pose surrounding my poster. I’m going to miss her (and everyone else) a bunch. ~ Nickolas Walling

Follow-on Project
I am an academic fellow at Rice University. The academic fellow program consists of students who meet a GPA requirement and are comfortable with helping their fellow students with certain classes. Additionally, the academic fellows act as a resource for students looking to pursue research. I want to hold a research or summer opportunities panel/workshop with the other academic fellows, and I’ll promote the program through these channels. I am also a TA for general chemistry, and I know of a few students in the class who either are already interested in the program or would be interested in the program, so I plan on reaching out to them. I will also plan on manning tables at research/opportunities fairs that happen at Rice.

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