2017: Shohei Nishimura

Shohei Nishimura
Home University: Tohoku University
Field of Study: Materials Science and Materials Processing
Status: B2   Expected Graduation: March 2020
Research Host Lab: Prof. P.M. Ajayan and Dr. Robert Vajtai, Department of Materials Science & NanoEngineering


Why Nakatani RIES?

This internship opportunity will allow me to gain practical experience, as well as prepare for my future career. Science and engineering research has many exclusive studies and many universities and research laboratories in the U.S. have their own fields that they specialize in. Some of the laboratories in the U.S. also have better facilities and equipment. Therefore, I am eager to go to a Graduate School in U.S. and I want to learn how research is conducted in the U.S. One of the reasons I applied for this internship is that I can experience conducting a research at a cutting-edge laboratory in U.S. even though I am still a sophomore and have not decided what I will specialize in yet.

Through this program, I will gain an understanding of how challenging research can be, as well as what skills and knowledge are necessary in order to conduct research properly. Thanks to this experience, I will be able to focus on acquiring those skills and knowledge during my college years at Tohoku University and prepare for enrolling and researching in a U.S. graduate school.

Moreover, I am also curious to learn about Hispanic, Mexican and Asian immigrants in Houston, and socioeconomic impact and challenges they face.

Goals for the Summer

  • Gain cutting-edge knowledge and skills in order to properly conduct research as well as attend Part 2 program.
  • Acquire English skills, especially in writing and speaking, necessary for research work in materials science field.
  • Learn the differences between laboratories in Rice University and those in Tohoku University.
  • Enjoy this program and satisfy my intellectual curiosities.

Excerpts from Shohei’s Weekly Reports

Week 01: Arrival in the U.S.

In the Engineering Quad at Rice University ~ Shohei Nishimura

The opening ceremony in Tokyo had a really good atmosphere. Everyone was excited for our upcoming six weeks in America. I was a little bit nervous because I began to feel the pressure of making an achievement as a Nakatani Ries Japanese fellow. We had some free time during this three-day orientation and I got to eat out and talk with some of the other JP fellows. This was the first time of us had free time to talk with each other. We talked about our majors, expected research topics at Rice Univerity and our future goals. I guess it was a necessary opportunity to get along with them from the very beginning of our six weeks in the U.S. During this time, I was also struggling to read and understand the papers Dr. Ashok, my mentor, had sent me. This was due to my lack of knowledge about material science and English specific terms.

During the pre-departure orientation in Tokyo, Professor Yoshichika Iida’s lecture was most helpful to me as I prepared for my departure for the U.S. It was about the “Transfer Skills Development for Ph.D. Careers”. Transfer Skills refers to many skills, but the most important skill is to clarify what is a problem to solve in research. Thanks to his lecture,  we could clarify what we should learn and what we would like to learn during this research internship. Moreover, we evaluated our lives using a figure which is plotted with happiness as the vertical axis and time as the horizontal axis. I plotted that this time is the happiest time in my life. I realized that a big reason for this was because I would be conducting research in America. I rolled up my sleeves and am now ready to begin my research at Rice University!

During my first days in the U.S., I had breakfast with the other Japanese Fellows in the Wyndham hotel’s restaurant and the clerk was very friendly to us. She greeted us with a big smile and called me “babe” and asked us if we will come next morning again!! This situation was exactly what I expected. Cheerful greeting and small talk. Although, I did not expect that those all words were in Spanish accent. Even though I learned that America is a diverse country with many cultures in school and I have been to America twice, I was surprised the number of people who are not “American” in America. Perhaps, the location of Houston is one of the reasons, and just because I could not find that a person is not a native English speaker by his or her accent before. Anyway, I didn’t expect that there are such many foreigners in America.

Hanging out in the hammocks at Rice University ~ Shohei Nishimura

My initial reaction to Houston was “Houston is not hot as I expected.” When I asked exchange students about Houston at Tohoku University, all of them said that Houston is deadly hot and humid. Thus, I thought the climate would be too uncomfortable to handle in Houston. The temperature is actually high but it is not so humid to me. I thought that the climate of the pre-departure in Kyoto was much worse. Literarily, it was deadly humid, hot, and unpleasant in Kyoto. I guess the main reason for this reaction was that I had asked exchange student from countries with dry-summer. This misunderstanding could be occurred by cultural differences of how we experience heat and cold.

During the Orientation Program at Rice University, the talks given by Prof. Kono were most helpful and I learned a lot. Especially, I found two topics very interesting, the Ph.D course in America and what we should acquire in this program. The fact that only 60% students can get Ph.D. in Ph.D courses was surprising. Even entering American University’s Ph.D. course is big deal to me, I am not sure if I can pass some exams to continue it. I became a bit frightened but I believe firmly this research experience will encourage me by helping me understand better the American research situation. He also said that no one is expecting we can get wonderful results in such a short time.  Therefore, we should concentrate on understanding the purpose and methods of our research project. This understanding will help me not to be too sensitive when I cannot get good results in research.

My first weekend in Houston was a really typical American weekend. I enjoyed a Houston Astros baseball game in Minute Made Park with some of the other Japanese fellows. It is very big and the cheering sections have 4 floors. It was a home game and the Astros won! It was a great exciting night.

Question of the Week
If I had another life, I would like to be an American. How about American? What is the majority answer? Why? I spent much time and money to learn English and need much more effort to be Dr. Shohei in America. However, if I am an American, I do not have to learn English and would be able to spend whole my campus life in America. What more could American ask for?

Preparing to Do Research in the U.S.

With Dr. Robert Vajtai and Dr. Ashok Kumar, my mentor, from the Ajayan Lab. ~ Shohei Nishimura

Prior to departure for the U.S., I tried to maintain the level of my English for my upcoming experience at Rice University. I think your English skills are better than minimum standard if you can pass the essays and interviews for participating this program. Thus, in my opinion, you should memorize some words in English which are often used in your field to improve your English skills before you leave Japan.

I communicated in advance with my host professor. Thanks to Sarah, a person who is in charge of this program at Rice University, I could communicate with Prof. Ajayan smoothly and he decided my mentor very quickly. Then, I asked my mentor to send me 4 papers about my research topic. The papers he sent were about quantum dots, metal organic frameworks, porous carbon nanofiber composites, and 3D structure using carbon nanotubes. It was my first experience to read papers about materials science. Just reading the abstract took around 1 hour or more because there were many new English terms and I had to search for their definition one by one. Even though I translated the terms, I had no idea what some of the words meant. It was actually hard but reading the papers and coming into contact with cutting edge technology was satisfying to my curiosity about the field. My research topic in Ajayan lab is about quantum dots after all. However, reading papers about other topics was not useless. I learned many ways to evaluate materials and was able to grasp a rough idea of how research is conducted through reading these four papers

How to prepare for research in America would depend on the person. I will just introduce my experience as a student who is majoring in material science. The beginning of the experience was a synthesis of quantum dots for evaluation. My mentor was great so I could prepare it only by following his processes even though I don’t yet understand what the process is for. However, I needed to study and understand the process after the experiment and searched for more information myself in the evening to better understand. Then, I realized that the most important subject in college was Introduction to Materials Science. Of course, to master thermodynamics or electrodynamics is important, but I think they are not crucial to this program. According to Prof. Kono, we are expected to understand the background or methods of research, so I think understanding definitions of specific terms is essential especially in material science. Thus, such a lecture will help you to understand research and papers easily to some extent.

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Week 02: First Week in My Research Lab at Rice

Coming this summer!

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Week 03: Interview with a U.S. Researcher

Coming this summer!

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Week 04: Reflections on English Language & Life in the U.S.

Coming this summer!

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Week 05: Research in the U.S. vs. Research in Japan

Coming this summer!

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Week 06: Final Week at Rice & Research Poster Presentation

Coming this summer!

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Week 07: Visit to Washington D.C. and New York City

Coming this summer!
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Final Report & Tips for Future Participants

Coming this summer!

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