2017 Jakob Grzesik

Jakob Grzesik
Home University: Rice University
Field of Study: Electrical Engineering and Mathematics
Status: Freshman
Expected Graduation Date: May 2020
Host Lab in Japan: Tohoku University – Dept. of Physics, Saito Laboratory

Why Nakatani RIES?

Before even thinking about applying to college, I knew that I wanted to have both research and study abroad experiences during my undergrad years. Thus, going into O-Week (orientation week) at Rice, I was absolutely ecstatic when I found out about the plethora of opportunities to do both thanks to word of mouth from upperclassman advisors and the undergraduate research fair. Among the many programs present, Nakatani RIES stood out prominently to me, as it combined my interests in nanoengineering and physics with my interest in Japan and its culture; which were initially sparked during my childhood through visits to my family in Tokyo. The program essentially provides what I crave: a dive into the world of engineering research and a look at the culture from which part of my family comes from.

Furthermore, Nakatani RIES emphasizes a more global perspective of science. It specifically does this by exposing students to labs with scientists from a different culture while simultaneously exposing them to the culture in which these scientists are from. Overall, this cultivates an adaptability and awareness of different perspectives to problem formulation and problem solving within participants. In the end, I hope that by participating in Nakatani RIES, I can gain these skills along with research experience that I can apply to my future endeavors both in and out of the lab at my home university and beyond.

Goals for the Summer

  • Learn more about Japanese culture and history through exploration of its various urban and rural communities and get better at speaking the language.
  • Learn more about the role of science in Japanese society and vice versa: learn how Japanese culture has affected its academic and industrial sectors.
  • Gain a better understanding of scientific and engineering research in a globally-connected lab environment.
  • Visit Kiyomizu-dera.

Excerpts from Jakob’s Weekly Reports

Week 01: Arrival in Japan

“When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.”

These words, from Walt Whitman’s poem, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” rang through my ears throughout the past few weeks, ushering me towards a new stage in life, one in which leaping out of my comfort zone is the norm. In a way, this poem really speaks to me in the sense that the act of looking “up in perfect silence at the stars” parallels the process of scientific inquiry, in which humans look towards the unknown using whatever knowledge they’ve acquired from others to further decipher and share with others the beauty in front of them.

Additionally, thoughts about Japan and its culture were racing throughout my mind as well. My last visit had been during my sophomore year in high school, so I had a pretty recent image of Japan and Tokyo. However, this time, I would not be going just to visit family and friends, but to learn more about Japan’s culture and involvement in science. Thus, when stepping off the plane, I felt a small sense of familiarity; Narita hadn’t changed much from my memory, the area surrounding the airport in between Tokyo eased me into the impact of the massive megalopolis that is Tokyo. The sky had a greyish-blue tint and some misting, but overall the weather was pleasant and comfortable enough for me to enjoy in contrast to the hot and humid climate of my home at Rice University in Texas.

But even then, I could feel how different Japan was from America from my first steps out of Narita airport. Of course, there were physically apparent things, such as the cars driving on the other side of the street, the constant bombardment of kanji characters I didn’t recognize, and the architecture typical to non-Western countries like Japan. In addition, I could sense how differently people behaved than in the U.S; as a group of American students, we certainly ended up being the most significant source of noise in any setting.

In general, I felt that the Japanese people focus on maximizing efficiency, relying on a large set of unspoken rules, which everyone assumes are understood well. These social rules, of course, manifest in public etiquette. After all, it’s hard to get work done when someone else is constantly bothering you and getting in your way. It seems as if a majority of the population agrees that everyone has his or her own role and goals that should be disturbed or obstructed as little as possible. For example, trains are expected to arrive exactly as scheduled, and if they are sufficiently late, passengers can get a station-issued statement which they can then hand to the supervisor of whatever event they ended up being late for. Essentially, everyone is expected to do their job precisely as planned, and not doing so means shouldering the consequences appropriately, creating a sort of shared group responsibility. This best resembles wa (harmony), a cultural topic we covered in the pre-departure seminar at Rice, which describes the general group dynamics of Japanese society in terms of a synchronous movement that enables the entire culture to accomplish its goals as easily as possible.

For language classes, I got placed into the 4th level with Emily and Will. Overall, my classes have been going well; I understand and can use most of the grammatical structures with relative ease, but my vocabulary is certainly limited in comparison to my peers. A lot of my lack of knowledge comes from not having done any Japanese classes in college, which both Emily and Will have done before. I’ve gotten some Japanese experience through self-studying and living with my Japanese mom, but I think I’ll be able to still enjoy these classes and get a lot out of them. Even then, I still enjoy zoning out during meal times to listen to my surroundings, sometimes picking up on small talk between nearby diners, and understanding most of the colloquial phrases being used by some of the younger speakers. Regardless, there’s no better way to learn a language than diving headfirst into its country of origin, and I’m certainly getting exposed to loads of new kanji and vocabulary just by walking through by the streets of Tokyo. I also take advantage of any opportunity while in public to use the language by ordering food at restaurants, asking locals about statues, parks, temples, and other landmarks among other things.

Family reunion: A brief dinner to catch up with my uncle’s family and my grandparents, whom I haven’t seen for about 4 years. ~ Jakob Grzesik

I also had the opportunity to meet with some of my relatives in Tokyo and used as much Japanese as I could when communicating with them. We switched to English when my cousin, who is around the age for college applications, wanted to practice her speaking skills. From our dinnertime discussions, I got to learn a lot about surviving in Tokyo, and the Japanese education system, while also giving some pointers about the state of American life and politics, and some scientific topics that I enjoyed discussing.


Adventure Kitty: Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it led me to a nice change in pace that led me to some key introspection.

Aside from that, I spent a lot of time free-roaming the city of Tokyo, strolling through the many streets and corners, looking for whatever piqued my interest at the moment. One highlight is stumbling upon and following a cat for a few minutes, until it disappeared into an alley. In the process of following said cat, I found myself in a new part of the city, surrounded by a perplexing amount of kanji and unusual architecture. In the end, I continued my mini urban adventure for another 2 hours, before wandering my way back to the Sanuki Club. Overall, this excursion has motivated me to set aside some time to do some free-roam exploring on my own, as not only does it give me time to really immerse myself in Tokyo and Japan, but it gives me time to relax and think to myself about from where I’ve come and to where I’m heading in life. Perhaps there’s some truth to the saying that claims that the best way to find oneself is by getting lost in and wandering through one’s surroundings.

In terms of the scientific and cultural seminars we participated in this week, two stood out to me the most: Mr. Cain Gibbs’ presentation on “Thinking ‘Why?’ Asking ‘How?’, and Saying ‘Yes.’” and Professor Nishikawa’s “Overview of Science in Engineering in Japan.” To me, the main takeaway from Gibbs’ presentation was to simply accept the advantages and disadvantages of living life in a strange environment and just laugh at and enjoy your mistakes as opportunities to learn and immerse yourself in Japanese culture. Aside from that, he also gave a great overview of scientific education leading up to university life in Japan, which is always helpful to know before interacting with a lab full of people who grew up under similar circumstances. In the end, Gibbs inspired me to loosen up and not stress myself too much about trying to make this study abroad experience fit within my expectations of a “perfect” study abroad.

From Professor Nishikawa’s presentation, I received a nice introduction to the relationship between philosophy and science and their gradual separation in Europe towards the 18th and 19th centuries. I found it interesting how much he stressed the role of religion and God in the development of science as this type of discussion reminded me a lot about the discussions I’ve had at Rice, the occasional seminars relating to religion and science at Rice, and a semester of philosophical studies I had done in high school. The structure of his presentation was also intriguing as he began where most of human thought began: the physical, and he eventually progressed towards the more abstract concepts, eventually finishing the discussion with a look towards the future at new networks of sharing information between various parties through a peer-to-peer basis, contrasting the typical hierarchal spread of information that’s been prevalent in history.

Question of the Week:

Walking through the streets of Tokyo, I can’t help but notice how destination-focused a lot of people are. I imagine part of it has to do with being in a large city, but I feel like there aren’t as many people in Japan interested in taking a step back and simply observing the aesthetics surrounding them. Is there any sort of philosophy in Japan that focuses on a more passive experience of life that simply observes and enjoys what events life may bring, and if so, how has this idea been developed and practiced?

Research Internship Update

In the pre-departure component of the program, Professor Jun Kono from Rice provided a very insightful presentation on the differences between working in a lab in the U.S and working in one in Japan, such as hierarchal structure that is present in Japan as a whole. Furthermore, he provided a background of the program’s predecessor, NanoJapan, which shared a similar goal to the Nakatani RIES. Specifically, he focused his discussion on the Terahertz range, which is an interesting and still new field for many engineers, as it’s the special range that’s too fast for electronics, yet too slow for optoelectronics. Developing devices that operate in this range will essentially close a technology gap and form a bridge between devices that operate on quantum mechanics and those that function with classical mechanics. Carbon nanotubes, which the Saito lab does a lot of work with, show promise in closing this gap due to their unique properties and structure.

For my specific project, I still haven’t gotten a formal problem to work on yet. This is mostly due to Saito-sensei wanting to get a better sense of whatever physics and math I may be familiar with and then giving me a problem that best suits my capabilities. However, based on the works of the previous years’ students, Haihao and Cole, I’ll probably be studying a system involving graphene and deriving properties like transmission and absorption using mathematical and physics tools like Maxwell’s equations and linear algebra.

To help prepare for my work this summer, I’ve been reviewing material from my electrical engineering classes at Rice, such as the introduction to quantum mechanics and electrical and magnetic qualities of various materials. I’ve also familiarized myself with discussions of bandgaps and their applications to creating solid state electronic devices. On the recommendation of my U.S Co-Advisor, Professor Chris Stanton, I’ve gotten my hands on Charles Kittel’s book on Solid State Physics and have been reading through and working on problems from its earlier chapters.

On the math side of things, I’ve been brushing up on my linear algebra from my first semester at Rice and I’ve been in my free time working on abstract algebra, since I’ve found that group theory is very useful in describing systems of graphene and carbon nanotubes due to symmetries. It’s also been a field that I’ve personally been interested in for a few years; I’ve currently gone through readings and exercises related to general proofs about the integers, congruence classes and rings. I hope to grasp some familiarity with groups, some important theorems about them, and their applications to physics problems, as I imagine they will be useful this summer. If not, I can still say I’ve looked into something that undoubtedly interests me anyway.

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Week 02: Language Learning and Trip to Mt. Fuji Lakes

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

-Robert Frost

In my second week in Tokyo during this trip, I decided to take advantage of whatever free time I could find during the night and simply explore. I started this journey by wondering off to the Roppongi Hills area on my own on Monday night, using nothing but the towering buildings and unique architecture to guide my path. Upon reaching my initial destination, I was amazed to see the amount of detail that was placed in creating the Roppongi Hills’ pleasing aesthetics. It seemed as if every plank of the wooden deck at the foot of the Tokyo City View was like a single brush stroke from a master painter crafting his magnum opus. Trees and greenery also populate parts of the urban landscape, giving an intriguing sense of collaboration between the works of Mother Nature and the works of one of her most fascinating creations, mankind itself.

Then, in the distance, 7 letters on a road sign caught my wandering eyes. “SHIBUYA”. I walked for about an hour in the direction given by the sign until giving up and returning to Sanuki club. Nevertheless, it set my goal for Tuesday: walk to Shibuya.

Of course, this was not the only amazing experience I had on Monday; I was able to go with the other Nakatanukis to JAMSTEC facility to see how the Yokohama Institute for Earth Science takes advantage of supercomputers to predict and study earth quakes and other natural phenomena. Our time at Yokohama ended with a trip to Yokohama’s Chinatown to enjoy some delicious and filling Chinese food family style. The highlight of this meal definitely was being part of the mini-reunion between Ogawa-san and Tsukakoshi-san, who gave our tour, as the two have been friends since joining the same company and the same time when they were young lads. I’m certainly going to miss having these types of large Nakatani family meals both during my time in Sendai and after the end of the program, but I guess this feeling of loss will only motivate me to cherish them even more.

On Tuesday, after language classes, we began our introduction to Science and Engineering with Professor Junichiro Kono. In this first lecture, Kono gave us an introduction to the Drude Model of electrons so that we may began understanding the materials we’ll be studying in our lab time for the remainder of the program. We also began looking at band gaps and the hall effect so that we may properly begin to characterize metals, insulators and semiconductors as well, understanding how these band gaps between the valence and conduction bands in materials can affect its optoelectronic properties. For example, when an electron-hole pair recombines, both energy and momentum need to conserved, which means that photons are only readily emitted in materials that have a direct bandgap, which means that the conduction band’s minimum is located has the same k value in momentum space as the maximum of the valence band. In materials that don’t satisfy such conditions, also known as indirect bandgap materials, changes in momentum due to collisions with lattice phonons are needed for photon emission.

Afterwards, we had an interesting lecture from Keio University’s Itoh-sensei, who discussed quantum computing, a field that interests me because of how it involves a heavy mixture of fundamental quantum mechanics, mathematics, and computer science, all of which I enjoy studying. His discussion on the implementation of Shor’s algorithm with spins on silicon atoms as qubits really helped elucidate somewhat a process which was completely unknown and bewilderingly mystifying to me before. I hope that I can learn more in the future about this rapidly advancing field, especially by discussing it with Rose, who will be working in Itoh-sensei’s lab this summer!

For my nightly excursion into the unknown winding roads of Tokyo, I set off to Shibuya, carrying only my cell phone, a few critically important textbooks on mathematics which were integral to my survival, and my self-confidence. I did not get to Shibuya. However, I did get lost. I think I returned to Sanuki after 3 hours, since I didn’t have any money on me, so I just walked around until I could get clear visual of Tokyo Tower. I don’t think I’ve done much adventuring after that.

Totally Terrific Taiko Time: The Nakatani squad rocking the world of taiko after a grueling hour long rehearsal with Taiko-sama. ~ Jakob Grzesik

On Wednesday, I got to experience the power of Taiko. Thanks to the guidance of a Taiko master, whose name I shall dub as “Taiko-sama”, we ourselves became well versed in a taiko procedure. Throughout the entire lesson from Taiko-sama, I felt the power of the drum echo throughout my body, much in a manner best described by Les Mis, “Do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men? It is the music of the people who will not be slaves again! When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums, there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes!” Anyway, I may have gotten too much into it, and ended up being overpowered by taiko, ending the learning session with some battle wound blisters on my right hand. But in the end, the session was worthwhile, as Taiko-sama amazed all of us with his own masterful taiko solo. Even though Taiko-sama performed by himself, it sounded as if an entire army of drummers was playing, with each drummer playing precisely to complement and accompany the others, and a game of catch was being played with the main baseline. Regardless, I can say I’ve found a new hobby and hope that this isn’t my last taiko experience; I hope I can find some sort of taiko club in Sendai this summer!

On Thursday, we continued our series of science lectures with Kono going into one of my favorite subjects, quantum mechanics. Needless to say, I really enjoyed this lecture and may have gone overboard by trying to get Professor Kono to explain the second postulate of quantum mechanics. But maybe another time, I’ll finally be able to understand and fully appreciate it. Anyway, these lectures really make me excited to continue studying within the PEN specialization of Rice’s Electrical Engineering curriculum and I hope that I may one day be able to take a class taught by Professor Kono.

Following Kono’s lecture was a presentation by Professor Kawata of Osaka University, who described in general how the study of engineering has changed from specialized to interdisciplinary to very loose boundaries between fields. By “very loose boundaries” I mean that different subjects such as bioinformatics are now require knowledge of phenomena like photonics, biology and computer science. Such specialized subjects essentially become hybridizations of different fields, much like how orbitals in a molecule are hybridized. I really enjoyed learning why Kawata-sensei decided to pursue science: to better understand and be able to recreate the beauty intrinsic to nature. This theme really resonated with me and continues to drive me to study mathematics, which I think is beautiful as it begins with a few simple axioms and definitions which build upon each other to create a vast array of theoretical and applicable theorems and ideas which describe the world as we perceive it.

Afterwards, we had a great conversation about the cultural differences between America and Japan with some University of Tokyo students in a friendly setting. Although our goal was to talk about the differences in political perception of religion in America and Japan with our student, my group ended up talking about Pokémon; close enough, right? In an unscheduled turn of events, a few of us invited our guests to eat ramen for dinner, and we talked about various ways to describe our loneliness in Japanese as science and engineering majors over a warm bowl of tonkotsu ramen.

Finally on Friday, we got to meet with Mr. Kento Ito, who traveled the world wearing kimono in order to spread the culture of Japan and teach others about the significance of kimono. His Imagine One World Kimono Project is working hard on creating different kimono for each country in the world, and they hope to finish this project for the opening of the 2020 Olympics to be held in Tokyo. In addition to the pure aesthetic beauty of the kimono, we got a peak of the scientific aspects of kimono making, such as the various creation methods used to make different kimono along with how to draw and stain patterns iconic to the kimono. I tried to get into a conversation about the mathematics of designing a kimono’s pattern, but it seems like neither Itoh-san’s nor my knowledge of fractals and chaos theory were enough to have a deeply meaningful conversation. Regardless, this may be a fun thing to think about on a slow day during my own free time.

Tohoku Squaaaaaaaad!!: The Tohoku squad before adjourning until their reunion in a week. Next time, in Sendai! ~ Jakob Grzesik

The weekend was purely amazing and relaxing. I initially struggled to introduce myself to the Japanese fellows, as I’m a typical science introvert whose conversational skill tree is significantly underdeveloped. But I was able to easily able to create new friends by simply talking as much as possible and finding whom to talk to first. As a lonely U.S student living in the northeastern region of Tohoku this year, I was thrilled to find not one, not two, but THREE students hailing from Tohoku University of the Japanese side of the Nakatani program. I immediately bonded with these three students, Shohei, Seiya, and Ryota, creating the Tohoku Squad (or Sendai Squad, the name is currently in the works). Our new friendship goes to show that a night in the steamy heat of an

TO-HO-KU! TO-HO-KU! TO-HO-KU! (x9001): No caption necessary ~ Jakob Grzesik

onsen forges bonds stronger than those found in graphene. We’ve already set up whatever communications necessary to continue having fun discussions and they’ve already planned out a few fun restaurants to explore with me in Sendai. Needless to say, they’ll be making more appearances in my blogs.

I’ve come to realize that making these bonds is part of what makes the Nakatani RIES program so unique. Not only do I get the experience of working in a lab in Japan, but I also get to meet Japanese counterparts who are taking the great leap into studying science abroad as well. I can say for sure that I’ll cherish the connections I’ve made with my Tohoku squad, the other Japanese fellows, and my fellow U.S fellows for perhaps the rest of my life.

Overall, I think the best experiences with my Japanese language study has been learning from the Japanese fellows while teaching them about English (both the good and the bad), as doing so allowed us to connect and understand one another even better. I think because of these types of experiences, Nakatani stands out for teaching its scientists Japanese and immerses them into a great environment to understand the world even better than other similar engineering study abroad programs. However, I have had some frustrating experiences in trying to communicate in class. Usually, I have trouble creating sentences in language class because I have a tendency to have an atypical personality and thus, create atypical situations in class. Thus, even though my sentence makes sense grammatically, it makes no sense in any other meaningful way, leading to a lot of frustration for some of my language teachers. I’ll try to work harder to better communicate my personality and attempts at humor throughout my time in Japan this summer.

Question of the Week
During our many conversations with the Japanese fellows, the U.S fellows began to ask about various Japanese dialects and accents, such as the Tohoku or Okinawa accent, since we realized that many fellows didn’t know the distinctions between an American English, a Canadian English, a British, and a Minnesotan accent. What kind of different accents are there in Japan and what kind of regional aspects lead to the creation of these accents? Furthermore, how does one grow accustomed to detecting and understanding these differences in voice inflection?

  • Check out the Dialects in Japan section on our Japanese Language Resources page for more on this question. You can even learn a bit more about Tohoku-ben.

Research Project Update
After getting quizzed by Saito-sensei about my understanding of how we’ll meet on Sunday at Sendai, I finally began to get a glimpse of the project that I’ll be working on. As a little teaser of what’s to come, Saito-sensei sent me some videos of various musical metronome configurations, a setup familiar to someone who’s had to practice with a metronome for countless hours. In these systems of 32,72, and even 100 metronomes, the metronomes were able to synch of their movements after a period of time, even if they were started off-sync. This phenomenon, referred to as the “synchronization phenomenon” has been studied since Christiaan Huygens’s observational experiments in the 1600s, but was not worked out mathematically until about the 20th century. According to Saito-sensei, there are some interesting analogues to this phenomenon that can be useful for solid state physics. It seems that this project will involve some chaos theory, a type of math that I haven’t had much exposure to before, but one that I’m definitely interested in and looking forward to studying!

Other than that, I’ve been continuing to independently study abstract algebra and solid state physics along with refreshing some of my previous knowledge in math and physics. Kono’s lectures have been very helpful in facilitating this process and greatly appreciate the work he has given to the program. I look forward to learning more from Professor Stanton during Week 3.

All in all, this summer will most certainly be life-changing for me and I can’t wait to see where my adventures, both physical and mental, in Sendai will take me to; as long as I keep my eyes peeled for the roads less travelled, I will most certainly make the most of this fantastic experience!

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Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences

“Voici mon secret. Il est tres simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”

-Antoine de Saint Exupery

The Little Prince: “Here’s my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”-Antoine de Saint Exupery ~ Jakob Grzesik

When it comes to being in a foreign country or basically anywhere that isn’t home, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of only seeing the surface differences caused by culture without pausing the ultimate and common cause behind them: human nature.

Sure, some things definitely seem unusual and restrictive from our perspective when it comes to some Japanese customs, such how people dress, how they behave in a subway, and how advertisements on the TV and in public spaces are designed. Fundamentally, all of these seemingly quirky aspects of Japanese culture make more sense when considering the context in which Japan comes from and trying to really see the idea behind them. One of the goals of this program, I believe is to become more aware of these contexts and take this ability to “see” differently and apply it to our lives as scientists and engineers when looking for fundamental ideas behind our daily work.

First take for example the way people dress normally in Japan. With a quick glance, it’s fairly easy to guess who the salarymen, the students, the family moms and dads, the trade laborers, and so on, are. For the most part, Japanese people seem to wear these types of categorical clothing as a form of quick communication, as how you speak the language changes based on who you’re talking to. Thus, to facilitate proper and polite communication, it is important to know the status of whom you’re trying to communicate with. This plays a lot with the fundamental aspect of the Japanese hierarchy, which prioritizes the elderly, the wiser and the more experienced, as people to look up to and seek for advice.  This is of course a common theme held by many Asian countries, but perhaps Japan’s historical status as an isolated island nation sort of amplifies the importance of this tradition, as knowledge was essentially something that could come from previous generations, and not something that could be received from foreign visitors or outside sources.

Ultimately, I think that the clothing symbolizes to some extent the ideas of seniority and wa(harmony) in Japanese culture, as everyone wears what seems to best match their place or group within Japanese society more than their individuality, which is more common in the U.S and some fashion pockets like Harajuku(but perhaps this attempt of “individual” fashion is itself another form of becoming a member of some larger group within Japanese society?).

In terms of what I’ve noticed while travelling in public transport, I’ve seen that during the busier hours, efficiency is prioritized and politeness are at their maximum, most likely because small forms of disturbances can easily be amplified when there are more and more people to cause them. As a result, I’ve been somewhat surprised to find that during the busiest hours, the trains are the quietest, whereas during off-hours for travelling and in less populated areas, noise and manners seem to be more unhinged. To me, these contrasts best exemplify the idea of kata(form) in Japanese culture. During the busiest train rush hours, the train is more of a tool, transporting people to their destinations. The train takes the form as a means of travel more than as a place to be. I’ve noticed that many people use their time on the train to simply relax, by sleeping or resting, or to focus on things happening outside of the train, by reading a book, sending texts or emails to people elsewhere, or playing a game on their phones. Basically, people seem to use train time to send themselves mentally to another place or another time, rather than being invested in what’s happening physically around them. Perhaps the strongest link between passengers and their current location is the announcements made about the current and next stops.

In contrast, during the more lax hours, I’ve noticed people to be more likely to talk with others around them, look around the train, and in cases where the train is aboveground, look outside the window at the environment that the train is dashing through. It strikes me that in these moments, passengers appear more mentally invested in where they physically are in space and time. In this sense, the train becomes more of a place than a transition between places; in more graph-theoretic words, if we consider nodes in a graph to be significant places in which events in our daily lives happen, and edges as filler that enables continuity between those nodes, during busy hours, trains are more like edges, whereas during more empty and free times, trains are more like nodes instead.

While a lot of my observations about time in trains is rooted in practicalities associated in having an efficient and effective form of travel, which calls for as few disturbances as possible, I think that cultural roots for these differences can be found best in contrasts between modern and classical Japanese culture. Seeing many other busy people, all with destinations and jobs in mind, probably causes us to think more about or own destinations and future, taking us sort of outside of the current moment. On the other hand, seeing less people and being less busy makes the present moment more visible to us, which allows us to appreciate our surrounding environment even more. The former represents modern Japanese efficiency best, while the latter represents the sort of meditational appreciation of the environment and zen and relaxing aspects of Japanese culture.

Lastly, and probably the most difficult to unpack, are the notoriously strange advertisements found on Japanese televisions and plastered throughout stations and trains. I think the reasoning behind these advertisements strongly correlates to the “train culture” I spent the last few paragraphs poorly explaining; the purpose in these commercials is to be strange. During the busier train hours, strangeness is one of the best tools in taking the mind into far-off places. It essentially gives riders another avenue to mentally explore and take themselves out of the current moment, which is something that most are trying to do anyway. Basically, for ads to gain attention, the path of least resistance is to have as little ground in reality as possible; of course there’s a balancing act in communicating an actual message with whatever is being sold, but that’s another discussion entirely. For those less busy times, these ads are just another element of the background environment, something that adds to the experience of being a traveler, which is to see strange things that you would never be able to just by sitting alone at home.

The differences in ads also comes from how transportation differs between the U.S and Japan. In the U.S, most people drive, so a lot of ads in the U.S are on roadside billboards and need to communicate a message that is engineered to be the most efficient and attention-grabbing as possible; even the billboards themselves are mostly designed to be in the golden ratio to catch our attention! On the other hand, a lot of travelling in Japan is done on trains, where passengers have little choice but to sit or stand still for a minute or two. This gives Japanese advertisers more freedom to tell strange and unusual tales in their advertisements. Furthermore, to retain the passengers’ attention for longer, ads need to keep on inventing and escalating their content. Hence, ads can get real weird real quick.

Overall, it’s really interesting how much travel plays a role in Japanese culture. I feel like I get much less exposure in Houston’s public transport, simply because it’s less developed and in general geared towards those with less money, making it less mainstream. As Haihao mentioned last year, Houston is basically caught in a loop that makes it very difficult for it to gain a better public transport system, which is a major loss for poor, carless students like myself.

Ultimately, the contrasts between U.S and Japan travel culture comes down to the means by which these two different cultures travel. The U.S is a car nation, so we’re used to being with family or friends while travelling, and as a result, are more used to conversing with our fellow travelers. Japan, on the other hand, is a nation in which transport is shared by the public, and must be engineered to work for the good of the public, by maximizing efficiency, which essentially boils down to having everyone abide a set of rules that ensures as few disturbances as possible.

For cultural outings this week, I really enjoyed participating in the Kappabashi plastic food workshop, as it combined both science and art to make one of my favorite things ever: shrimp tempura (too bad it wasn’t edible!). The workshop also grew in me a newfound appreciation of the food displays outside many restaurants in Japan, as I now know how much work goes into actually making them. I really want to know more about the material science that goes into determining what kind of plastic and wax mixtures are the best for replicating various types of foods and drinks along with how these textures are created. I wonder if the development of the mainstream 3D printer will do anything to change the plastic food craftsmen industry or if the artisans will prevail with techniques passed down from generations of studio artists.

This week, our Science and Engineering seminars were handled by Professor Chris Stanton, who is also my U.S co-advisor for the duration of this summer program. For his first lecture, he continued Kono-sensei’s discussion into quantum mechanics, this time developing it further into band gap theory, which can be used to effectively explain optoelectronics. To put it simply, different materials have gaps of forbidden energy zones which electrons cannot inhabit due to quantum mechanics. These gaps happen in between continuous “bands” of energy levels which the electrons can inhabit. In conductors, this band is basically nonexistent, so electrons can freely move around and conduct very easily. In insulators, however, the valence gap is filled, making the movement of one electron effectively cancelled by the movement of another one somewhere else in the band. This prevents current from effectively flowing, unless an electron occupies a higher state in the conduction band, where it is free to contribute to current without its effect being cancelled out. However, in insulators, the gap between the conduction and valence bands is too large (around 5.5eV for diamond around room temperature) for enough electrons to be excited for good conduction. By pure band gap structure, semiconductors are like insulators in that there is a nonzero bandgap; however, semiconductors’ bandgaps are much less than those of insulators, which makes it more likely for electrons to be thermally excited to the conduction band, and hence, able to conduct.

There are two interesting aspects of bandgaps with respect to light. An electron can be excited to the conduction band by light of high enough frequency (which is related to energy) and an electron “fall down” to the valence band. In order to conserve energy, a photon with energy matching that released by the electron while falling down is emitted. These two processes are called absorption and emission respectively. There are two types of emission: stimulated and spontaneous. Stimulated emission happens when there is already a photon in the material, and it causes an electron to emit an in-phase photon, which can be used to develop lasers, which is basically a largely coherent photon that is focused on a small area, increasing power. Stimulated emission is what is called a time inverse process of absorption. Spontaneous emission, as its name implies, happens more by chance, and is not spurred by any sort of mechanism.

Another key property of materials is whether the bandgap is direct or not. A bandgap is direct if the minimum energy point of the conduction band is at the same momentum vector, k, in momentum space as the maximum of the valence band. Any material that doesn’t have such a property is said to have an indirect bandgap. Due to the conservation of momentum, for an electron to fall down from the conduction to the valence band, or absorb a photon and get excited to the valence band, an electron needs to maintain the same momentum before and after transitioning, since photons have very little as a result of being massless. That means that in the electrons need to be maintain the same position in momentum space when making a transitioning, limiting the places where a transition can happen. The only way for an electron to transition through k-space is by inducing phonon vibrations, but this is a more complicated process, making indirect bandgap materials like Silicon infeasible for most optoelectronic applications.

The physics behind bandgaps allows for the creation of devices that emit light using an applied voltage or absorb light to create current. The latter phenomenon is called the photovoltaic effect and is what makes solar cells work. First, let’s consider the sun as our source of energy. Assuming it’s a black body, which means that it absorbs perfectly all incident electromagnetic radiation, we can obtain a black body spectrum, which relates the intensity of radiation emitted by a black body related to the wavelength of the radiation. The black body spectrum itself shifts as a function of the temperature of the black body, with higher temperatures leading to more intense radiation at lower wavelengths due to Wein’s displacement law. The Sun, which has a surface temperature of about 5800K has a peak radiation around the yellow-green light range, which makes the fact that plants reflect green light the most a bit mysterious. Using the Stefan-Boltzmann law, the power emitted by the sun’s radiation can be calculated for a given temperature.  Using known constants and the aforementioned law and then applying the square inverse law, it is possible to calculate the amount of power given off by the sun at the peak of the Earth’s atmosphere to be around 1360 watts per square meter.

Of course, calculating the power delivered to a solar panel on the earth’s surface is more complicated due to the amount of radiation reflected and absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere and landscapes and water. Furthermore, the earth’s curvature needs to be considered as indirect sunlight leads to less power imparted. For simplicity, assume I have a solar panel that is getting perpendicular radiation from the sun. Due to the atmosphere reflecting light and clouds and oceans absorbing some of the remaining radiation, let’s say I receive about 350 watts per square meter on my solar panel. For simplicity, we’ll ignore the Earth’s rotation. To power my laptop, which runs on 85 watts, I would need about .61 square meters of a 40% efficient solar panel.

After Stanton’s lecture was Ishioka-sensei’s presentation. In addition to discussing her research on developing better solar panels using the principles discussed above, by implementing and creating heterostructures with many band gaps to maximize spectrum absorption, Ishioka- sensei also talked about her time studying abroad and about her experiences as a female scientist. In the end, her presentation was very helpful in making me see why programs such as Nakatani RIES are crucial in developing a generation of scientists who have a breadth and depth to their experiences that’ll enable them to solve unusual problems or look at past problems through a different set of lenses.

Ishioka-sensei also discussed femtosecond spectroscopy, which uses a very short burst of laser, called the pump, to excite electrons in a material to the conduction band. This is followed after a delay by a probe laser, which then has a specific transmission rate depending on the amount of excited electrons left in the material. This method takes advantage of scattering that electrons due in materials to get an idea of the band structure of the material being measured and is an interesting application of optoelectronics. Professor Stanton continued this topic in his second lecture with greater detail. For example, he showed us what types of dephasing times called for quantum mechanics as opposed to classical mechanics. He also described a sort of “nanoseismology” which involved exciting electron hole pairs in a material that causes the creations of a wave that propagates throughout the material in question. Stanton finished the lecture by introducing carbon nanotubes, which is a research topic that a lot of fellows’ labs this year study. This also marked a good transition into our next speaker, Don Futaba, who talked about his life as a Japanese-American scientist working in Japan in carbon nanotube fabrication. In addition to talking about the science behind his method of making his carbon nanotube samples and devices, he also discussed ways to immerse into the culture of Japan, especially in parts that are easy to miss in a typical tourist experience. In the end, Dr. Futaba really interested me, and I ended up talking with him so long afterwards that I missed part of the group’s trip to Harajuku afterwards!

This summer, I’ll be studying synchronization of particle motion; I have yet to gain any context in terms of materials that I’ll be using, but I know that Saito-sensei’s lab does a lot of work with carbon nanotubes, so maybe if I progress far enough in my project this summer, I may be able to learn how to apply my studies to this material. Other than that, I expect to spend the first few weeks in Saito’s lab learning about theoretical physics techniques needed to approach my assigned project.

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Week 04: First Week at Research Lab

“We changed again, and yet again, and it was now too late and too far to go back, and I went on. And the mists had all solemnly risen now, and the world lay spread before me.” – Charles Dickens, Great Expectations 

Unlike the day I had arrived to Tokyo, my departure was marked by a clear and sunny day. However, as my Shinkansen soundlessly slithered out of the concrete jungle that is Tokyo’s infrastructure, the mist of barriers and walls lifted and images of the flat, grassy expanses rushed into my periphery. In contrast to the hilly greens I’d seen during our Mt. Fuji Lakes trip, my new rustic environment was flatter, with more hills growing logarithmically rather than linearly or exponentially. In the horizon loomed a chain of mountains, draped with trees, a wall that created a peace separate from the hustled happenings of Tokyo. For the first time in my life, I was venturing out own my own to a part of the world I had never experienced before; truly the world lay spread before me.

Although my mother did study in Sendai at Tohoku University for her pre-med studies, I had no close relatives living in the area and thus, with no other U.S Nakatani Fellows joining me, I marched into a state of perpetual confusion alone. However, I was not without good guidance, as Saito-sensei himself picked me up at Sendai Station and drove me to my home for the next 10 weeks, Urban Castle Kawauchi. After helping me get settled into my room, Saito-sensei kindly showed me the nearest konbini and supermarket, where I bought 10 bananas and 3 liters of milk tea: the essentials for my survival. Afterwards, he drove me to the Aobayama campus, the home of his lab, and advised me on how to survive the city of Sendai, giving me memorable tips such as to always sing while walking the forested path to the lab in order to alert bears of my presence so that they may not be startled and attack me out of self-defense. Once our mini-tour finished, I thanked Saito-sensei for taking time to show me my new home and then embarked on my own Sendai exploration.

Throughout my walk, I slowly realized how much of an impact the cultural orientation in Tokyo had on me. Despite the confusing amount of signs and directions bursting out of the crowded alleys and towering buildings, I was able to find my way fairly easily, thanks both to my language classes and to my exposure to the even more hectic nature of Tokyo. By comparison, Sendai is a port hamlet, with everything concentrated within a stone’s throw of the station. However, the city’s proximity to the ocean brings to me nostalgic thoughts of my old home in Virginia, and in many ways, despite being an ocean away from home, I sense a strange familiarity with Sendai. Regardless, it is with great vigor and anticipation that I look forwards to exploring Sendai and perhaps the rest of Tohoku as the mist rises.

Lab Setup
Caption: As a theorist for this summer, all I’ll be using is my computer, a pen, some paper, and every now and then, my brain. I don’t think I’ll be getting many toys to play with like my fellow Nakatani fellows, but I think this is more than enough to keep me occupied. ~ Jakob Grzesik

On my first day at the lab, I was greeted by my mentor, Shoufie-san, at the Urban Castle Kawauchi entrance. During our walk towards the subway station, we introduced ourselves and discussed what to expect with my project and the summer in general. Because of the theoretical nature of my research, I was able to hit the ground running immediately and get started upon entering the lab. My first week mostly consisted of me learning the necessary mathematical and physics concepts for my project, which is on the synchronization of particle motion. Specifically, I learned about the derivations and uses of Lagrangian mechanics, from action to Hamilton’s principle and D’Alembert’s principle on the physics side of things. For math, I had to teach myself about differential equations, a topic I’ve never formally studied before. However, I’m lucky enough to have a strong enough background in calculus and linear algebra to quickly get an understanding of the solution process for ordinary differential equations and have been able to code Python functions to approximate solutions to systems of linear differential equations. In the end, I’m very satisfied with what I’ve learned so far, and am excited to continue learning more through daily one-on-one sessions with both Saito-sensei and Shoufie-san!

Since my desk in is the guest room separated from everyone else in the lab, I haven’t met most of the labs’ members. I also missed the group lab meeting on Tuesday, so I didn’t get to do my jikoshoukai yet, but I hope to accomplish that during my second week. However, I’ve been able to have lunch with another lab member from Saito-sensei’s group, Nulli-san, who’s a French-Canadian student finishing his last year of studies at the University of Lyon. Since I studied French during high school, I was able to brush up some of my French, but in the end, we stuck to speaking English over ton katsu and curry. In the end, Saito-sensei and I decided that we’ll hold my welcome party sometime after the mid-program meeting since he and Shoufie-san will be heading to a meeting in Brazil at the end of next week, so they’ll need time to make preparations for their travels.

Kizuna Matsuri: These decorations were all over the streets during the festival, and they have incredible detail. Some of them were wrapped in origami cranes; is this a reference to the thousand cranes superstition? ~ Jakob Grzesik

Switching focus to my dorm situation, I can’t believe I’m saying this but, I sure miss living in the Old Section of Hanszen College. Urban Castle Kawauchi definitely leaves a lot to be desired, with its wooden plank beds and fly-infested showers, but at least my fellow  inmates  victims residents more than make up for it with how welcoming and kind they are. Since the dorm is international, it is filled with other gaijin who know well the feeling of living in a perplexing state of confusion and wanderlust much like myself, so I was able to easily establish some quick bonds with various French, Chinese and some Korean researchers. In the end, one of my new French friends offered up some of his old blankets so that I can pad up my bed, so that I don’t have to sleep on a literal log. All in all, I think my experience in Urban Castle will be mildly uncomfortable, but that phrase can be used to sum up college and life in general, so honestly, not much ventured, not much gained.

This weekend, I was lucky enough for the stars to align in my favor, as this year, the Tohoku Kizuna Matsuri was held in Sendai. Essentially, the Kizuna Matsuri is a festival with the purpose of promoting tourism and bolstering the economy of the Tohoku region after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Every year, the host city changes between the 6 prefectures of Tohoku, and this year marked the festival’s first return to Sendai. In fact, it’s a bit inaccurate to call Kizuna Matsuri a single festival, as it is in reality 6 festivals packed into 1. I’m glad that I was able to experience this festival, as it not only exposed me to the variety present in the Tohoku region, but it also put a few new places on my bucket list of sites to see!

Drumming Parade: Listening to these women march, sing, and drum in unison brought back memories of our taiko session in Tokyo, and made me appreciate the work that goes into practicing and preparing a routine even more than before.

Although I had to go through these experiences alone without the other Nakatani fellows, I think it helped me really take in my surroundings and truly process them to the extent that I feel more ownership over my new memories.






Question of the Week:
Relating to the main reason that the Kizuna Matsuri began, how has Japan’s proneness to natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, etc. affected the population’s relationship with nature and the idea of struggling and rebuilding?

Research Project Update
My project is to better understand particle motion in solid state physics and how the synchronization phenomenon can be observed and described. Right now, I’m still working on observing synchronization on a macroscopic scale, so I’ve been learning a lot of mechanics and differential equations techniques in order to get equations of motions for whatever situation I’m trying to model. During week 2, I’ll be looking more into the synchronization phenomenon itself along with finding relations between synchronization and frequency using a Fourier Transform on my data.

Most of my training is just studying through books and the internet on various topics as they pop up in my research, but a lot of it is centered on equations of motions and the general form of the Euler-Lagrange equation. Other than that, the only computational tool I’ve used so far is Python to code programs that approximate position curves based on a given system of coupled differential equations.

I anticipate that things will start picking up into unexplored territory sometime around the third week, as by then, I’ll most likely be familiar with most of the underlying concepts of which I’ll need to be aware. Even then, I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I look forward to seeing how much I grow over the summer, both mentally, and physically, as I must climb a mountain to make it to my lab. I hope that with this daily exercise, my calves will become as chiseled as those of Michelangelo’s David, and as well-defined as those of Joshua Yang.

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Week 05: Critical Incident Analysis – Life in Japan

Coming this summer!

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Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting

Coming this summer!

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Week 07: Overview of Mid-Program Meeting & Research Host Lab Visit

Coming this summer!
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Week 08: Research in Japan vs. Research in the U.S.

Coming this summer!

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Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning

Coming this summer!

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Week 10: Interview with Japanese Researcher

Coming this summer!

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Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab

Coming this summer!

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Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab

Coming this summer!

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Week 13: Final Report

Coming this summer!

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Follow-on Project

Coming this summer!

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Tips for Future Participants

Coming this summer!

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