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
Research Project: “Observing and Modeling Synchronization Phenomena in Oscillatory Systems” (PDF)

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.


Meaning of Nakatani Program (Post-Program)

“Nakatani. Out.” – Donald Swen

Every now and then, when I’m back in the U.S, I can’t help but notice how every now and then how different everything is. I’m surrounded by people I know, in an environment I feel at home in, and exposed to words and messages in a language I can understand without any struggle. Yet, I feel somewhat like an expat. This sort of feeling runs in the family; many times in my childhood, especially recently, during trips back to my parents’ homelands, they always note how bewildering the return can be, since they’ve been living in the U.S for a large majority of their adult lives. Even though they know what they’re seeing and what natives are saying, they talk about how they frequently have trouble understanding some concepts that natives live under the assumption of knowing. This sense is especially poignant in my father, who left Poland as soon as the Berlin Wall fell, living across the Atlantic as his home became more and more westernized.

While my exposure to Japan was brief compared to the lives my parents have lived in the U.S, I can say that as someone becoming an adult that my stay in Japan has surely been one way to kick off my growth, both as a person and as an aspiring scientist. Back when I first got into the program, I discussed how I was looking forward to becoming a more global citizen. When I first discussed that, I thought more about how being in Japan would make me more familiar with my Japanese heritage and what it means to live in a world where borders and language differences are becoming less and less of an obstacle for cross-cultural communication. While this type of growth did happen, what I did not anticipate was my newfound understanding of my identity as an American, despite being told by Sarah multiple times during pre-departure that this is exactly what would happen. In the end, I’m thankful that in addition to becoming more aware, or “woke” as some may say, about the vast world in front of me, I have a better understanding of who am on a more cultural, spiritual, intellectual, and overall personal level.

Research Project Overview

And that’s not even getting into the scientific changes I’ve gone through! Before participating in the Nakatani RIES, I had very minimal exposure to science outside of my course work. I had spent about a semester helping out a lab and shadowing the work of one graduate student at Rice, but I had no experience with working on a project. I’m grateful that I was given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with Saito-sensei, Shoufie-san and the rest of the Saito lab in Sendai, and I’m glad to say that this collaboration turned out way better than I had expected coming into the program!

As a member of a theoretical lab, my project was focused on understanding an underlying concept in physics and nature: synchronization.  In general, synchronization is a phenomenon that occurs when multiple objects in a system act in unison under the influence of coupling forces or interaction. This concept is prevalent in solid state physics, with plasmons and coherent phonons in Carbon Nanotubes, which is why the Saito lab is interested in learning more about it. Thus my task was to look at a purely mechanical system and observe the criterion for synchronization and how long it takes to occur in a system. Throughout the summer, we were successful in simulating the system and deriving a formula for finding the time for the system of N oscillators to synchronize, finding some relations that contradicted our initial expectations.

In terms of lab environment, since I worked in a guest office separately from most members, I didn’t get to interact with as many of the members as I wanted. However, I was able to get strong mentorship from both Shoufie-san and Saito-sensei through daily meetings and discussions, which helped me grow tremendously throughout the summer. I’m glad I was able to get close to others during the final farewell party and hope to keep in touch with as many as possible throughout the coming years! The next time I visit Japan, I will most certainly go out of my way to visit Sendai simply to have the chance to meet and reconnect with Saito-sensei, Shoufie-san and the others in the Saito Lab at Tohoku University.

Daily Life in Japan

As the sole member of the Nakatani program in Sendai this year, I had the unique experience of having few Americans to turn to during my daily life. However, I was able to freely explore and take in Sendai as much as I could during my stay, and I can say that this experience was truly unforgettable and very formative to my experience. In the end, my daily life wasn’t overly challenging, as I had a passable amount of knowledge in Japanese language and culture to avoid troubling situations, when possible.

Cultural Experience

If I had to choose any singular aspect of Japanese culture that really impacted me, it would be the nights in the onsen hot tubs with my new friends, both Japanese and Americans. In an environment in which the physical is exposed, it only makes sense that we discuss the metaphysical, and hence, through gentle probing and rapport, I’ve come to understand my fellow fellows better than I would have in a world without onsen. To capture the essence of the onsen to me, I’ll end this report with a haiku.

Through the steamy mists

Released by onsen water

On which friendships float

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

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.” ~ Stephen Hawking

In the Soldier’s Shadow: A picture of Date Masamune’s statue that I snapped while meandering around Sendai Castle. ~ Jakob Grzesik

One of the more recent advantages that I’ve realized that Sendai has over Tokyo only recently is the fact that on an average night, I can actually see the stars. In Tokyo, due to the heavier light pollution, it was pretty much impossible to see the starry night sky, even when there were no clouds in the sky. Houston has a similar problem, but it took me until being in Sendai and seeing the twinkling stars for me to realize how much I’ve missed the night sky. In a sense, part of what makes the stars so beautiful to me is how much they remind me of the night skies I’ve seen before at my home away from Houston. As cliché and Swennian as this may sound, this sky reminds me that even though I’m an entire ocean away from everything and everyone I’ve grown up with, I’m still able to experience the same (or at least very similar) nocturnal light shows that I’ve remembered from my childhood. I’ve never met someone who has disliked a starry sky; it makes me wonder if appreciating the night sky is a commonality of the human experience and whether or not it has to do with our innate sense of curiosity.

Most of the time, when we’re approached by the unknown, it’s usually in a very confined setting, and it is usually a source of conflict; we want to know, but the unknown is what deprives us of this desire, becoming a sense of discomfort. Of course, as scientists and engineers, we need to confront this unknown regularly, and perhaps the feeling of triumph in finally figuring things out, or as Richard Feynman calls it, “the kick in the discovery,” is what drives us to continue these close encounters with the unknown. In contrast to these encounters of the unknown, the night sky, I believe, is one of the few encounters with the unknown that seems comforting; there’s a certain beauty in seeing brightness burst from the darkness of space, showing that even in the vast reaches of nothingness, there’s still plenty of exhilarating bursts of excitement and matter to be seen. Furthermore, the sheer grandiosity of the expanse of space helps relieve stress, as everything, including our daily struggles, is small in comparison.

Cultural Experience

Taxi Road: The left lane is filled with nothing but taxis. I guess you could say life here is pretty taxing. ~ Jakob Grzesik

And this night sky is background canvas of the story which I’m about to tell. In the foreground of my periphery is the last stretch major road before the bridge over the Hirosegawa on the path to Urban Castle Kawauchi. Behind me is the hub of Sendai, Sendai Station. Having just explored the city to my heart’s content and with a stomach filled by a mix of udon, beef, some Black Thunder, two bananas, and about two bowls of rice, I was slowly trekking back to my dorm, with the solitary goal of crashing in my wooden plank of a bed. However, in the street, through which a car would occasionally travel in the same direction I was heading, there was sudden movement in the opposite direction; a cab was driving in reverse towards me. Its wheels smoothly slipped back, until finally, they were aligned two steps ahead of my current position. Then, on cue with my step, the door of the cab swung open automatically, catching my attention, which led my head to turn to the source and stare into the eyes of the driver, who was staring back in mine. He looked at me. I looked at him. He looked at me, and I looked at him. In these tense 10 seconds, I wondered to myself what events this summer had led up to my staring battle with a random Japanese taxi driver in the middle of the night. Then, conceding defeat, I turned my head away, and walked about 10 meters, before another cab going in reverse caught my attention. Like the previous cab’s, this driver, with a smoothness that is best likened to that of Alex Hwang on a first date, drove backwards to my location and opened the door when our paths met. I turned my head. He looked at me. I looked at him. He looked at me, and I looked at him. After another 10 seconds, I accepted another staring contest loss and continued on foot my path the Urban Castle.

After repeating this ritual about 6 more times on the same road with 6 other cabbies, I made it to the footpath of the bridge and eventually, to the Urban Castle. That night, I went to bed in one of the most tired and perplexed states during this entire trip, as I tried to unravel the cab gauntlet I had just experienced.

Question of the Week
Why are there so many cute and cuddly mascots for practically everything in Japan?

  • Check out the section on Kawaii Culture on our ‘Life in Japan’ resources page.

Research Project Update

Monkey Business??: Shohei (a Japanese Nakatani Fellow from Tohoku University) and I posing with a mascot for something, I honestly don’t know what’s going on, but that monkey thing has a deep, soul-piercing stare. ~ Jakob Grzesik

The research process has been just as confusing as the previous situation I’ve described, but for different reasons. At least in my trials in bypassing the 8 cabs, I knew my destination well. Now, I feel that I’m at the stage in which I have absolutely no clue where my project is going. I think I’ve gone over most of the basic techniques of how to model the oscillating systems that Saito-sensei would like me to look at, and I’ve created programs through Python that allows me to look at the phases of multiple oscillators over time. Now I’m not sure exactly what type of problem I’m supposed to solve, or under what context this project is being applied. I feel like knowing these would definitely help me get a bigger picture understanding of the process. Of course, I know that this is normal for short-term projects in open-ended research, but it feels a little unusual for me since I haven’t had much exposure to scientific research and am mostly used to solving problems in class, in which the starting and end points of each question are much more lucid.

I’ve also discussed recently with Professor Stanton about the possibility of needing to consider non-linear coupling, which is much harder to solve than the linear case. All in all, I have a lot of questions and I hope that soon I’ll get a better idea of what the next steps I should take are. Other than that, I’ve started preparing my presentation for the Mid Program Meeting since Saito-sensei and Shoufie-san will be heading to Brazil soon for a conference. So, at this point, I’m trying to get a big-picture idea of what my project is about. Looking back, I can say that I’ve already learned a lot and I definitely look forward to seeing what else I can learn from Saito-sensei, Shoufie-san and Professor Stanton as the summer progresses.

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Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting

“Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the marble and the sculptor.”- Alexis Carrel

Throughout my life, I’ve found it hard to truly connect to and understand those around me. Even among my friends, I’ve never been able to truly comprehend their actions or emotions to the extent where I wasn’t even sure if I could really be considered their friend. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up an only child in my household, or maybe because I’ve often moved to different homes, but I can only really consider a handful of people I’ve met to be what I’d call “close friends.”

As a result, empathy and sympathy were always hard feelings for me to experience. It just seemed that I could never synchronize my thoughts with others (excuse my choice of words, my project’s been all that’s on my mind lately). Sure, this meant that I never was “brought down” significantly when tragedy happened to those around me. In a sense, I would mostly just acknowledge their problems and as a gesture, would offer my assistance, an offer which was essentially never utilized by the other party.

But this also meant that I never got to revel in the accomplishments of others very deeply, and as a result, very few of my happiest memories are of social nature; they’ve usually been very personal and at the most were shared with just my family and rarely with anyone else.  In some sense, my life was a little Camusian before. By that, I don’t mean I was living in existential dread about meaninglessness in life, but maybe I could summarize this feeling with a quote from The Stranger, “I may not have been sure about what really did interest me, but I was absolutely sure about what didn’t.”

But that’s been changing recently. I’d wager that this change happened around my arrival to Rice, and has been especially prevalent since coming to Japan and becoming friends with not only the US Nakatani Fellows but also the Brohoku Squad and the other Japanese Fellows. Something in me just cares more about those around me. Perhaps, it’s because I’m now surrounded by people who share similar interests in life, philosophy, science and math. Or maybe it’s just something that’s just been happening to me as a result of age. Either way, I now have a better sense of those around me and have a better grasp on what they’re feeling and how I can help, and I’ve felt myself grow as someone who can not only be depended on, but also someone who can depend on others.

I guess I can say my ability to empathize, and as a result my emotions in life can be best plotted by a time-reversed overdamped oscillator, in that my highs and my lows grow more in amplitude as life progresses and I begin understanding how to process and appreciate the triumphs, the troubles, the complexities, the simplicities, and the other special things that result from just being alive (sorry that I’m bringing up damped oscillations, it’s just that my neurons have been synchronizing to produce thoughts about my project…AAAAAHHHH).

Since it’s on my mind, I’m at the point in my project where I’ve basically prepared all the tools to numerically describe and look at systems of interest. I’m still working on making a more general algorithm that’ll let me change more parameters that create varied situations, but I’ve been able to start running simulations and changing parameters to get a glimpse of what factors are important in determining synchronization time. Of course, this is now the hard, yet super exciting part, and I hope that I can eventually find something that’ll surprise Saito-sensei(in a good way, I hope).

Research Project Update
So, my computer pretty much died. Funnily enough, it was the same problem that Haihao’s computer suffered from last year. Since both my mentor, Shoufie-san, and Saito-sensei were heading to Brazil right after disaster struck, there was not much we could really do. I was able to recover most of my code, but many programs such as Microsoft Word, Skype, and Google Chrome stopped working. I guess I’ll be heading back to pen and paper for a bit to get more insights on my problem and hopefully will have something interesting to test by the time my computer is back in working condition! Also, since Saito-sensei and Shoufie-san will be out of town, I will also head down to Tokyo and stay with family until the Mid Program Meeting.

So, with this major setback, I hope that I’ll be able to quickly recover and resume testing, but I also somewhat welcome this change of pace as it’ll let me look more into the equations governing the systems rather than mostly trying to analyze the results of each system’s simulations.

Question of the Week
How do modern thoughts concerning existentialism and philosophy differ between Japanese and Western societies? In particular, when I think about Camus in Europe, I’m often reminded of Dazai Osamu and his novels which touch up on similar themes. Are there any other sort of interesting parallels or perhaps stark contrasts like this?

  • If you have time in your schedule, perhaps you might be interested in enrolling in one or two Asia Studies courses in the semester ahead? Questions like these would make an ideal paper topic for some of these courses and really enable you to delve more deeply into these questions. Did you know there is even an Asian Studies bachelor’s degree at Rice University? Even if you don’t officially declare this as another major, you might want to look into some of the classes that fall under this degree and consider integrating them into your course load as you can to fulfill your Distribution requirements. Some of these courses include:
    • ASIA 212/ANTH 212 Perspectives on Modern Asia
    • ASIA 231/RELI 231 American Metaphysical Tradition 
    • ASIA 322/RELI 322 Introduction to Buddhism: Arts for Life
    • ASIA 353/POLI 353 East Asian Democracies 
    • ENGL 397 Topics in Literature and Culture: Asian-American Literature
    • RELI 470 Buddhist Wisdom Texts
  • You may also want to bookmark the Asia Society Texas Center’s page and look into the upcoming events and speaker series they have throughout the year.  It is located just north of Hermann Park, so it’s walkable/convenient to campus.  For example, from August 10 – 13 they will be hosting a group of Tibetan monks who will be constructing a sand mandala.
  • The Jung Center, located near the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, also has a range of programs and events that you might also find interesting and is also quite conveniently located to campus.

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

We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Two Tomodachi in Kyoto: A quick selfie I snapped with Josh in the background, who was already donning his yukata. ~ Jakob Grzesik

Much like how venturing off to Sendai was a completely new experience, going into Kyoto was in a sense stepping into unknown territory. However, unlike my first travels to Sendai, I was not alone, as my mom was with me this time, having flown in from the USA the night before my expedition to Kyoto. Not only did I get to enjoy dinner with her for the first time in months, I was also able to have another mini-reunion with my grandparents again. For the first time in almost 4 years, three generations of the Imai family were back together and laughing over homemade food, stories and other trivialities that sprinkle joy into life.

Question of the Week: If you had a thousand arms, how would you hug someone else? And if you pulled it off, would it be a single, massive hug, or would it be up to a thousand, assuming that one-armed hugs counted as real hugs? ~ Jakob Grzesik

I was also fortunate enough to be accompanied by a nice pair of calves and an aka-chan along with my mother on the 3-hour long ride to Kyoto. Needless to say, I could feel the impact of Kyoto’s summer heat as soon as I stepped off the platform; but that didn’t snuff out my excitement, as we quickly decided to take in the views of the historical capital of Japan after taking care of our stomachs and our luggage. For starters, we went to the temple that housed the famous sculptures of the thousand-armed Buddha, along with the thunder and wind gods, which had piercing glass eyes meant to replicate the gaze of a living creature. There were countless statues, with the prominent ones representing various deities. Although some statues had “interesting” poses, they overall felt very lifelike and I could see a story being played out before my eyes. Pictures weren’t allowed, so I can’t show anything inside the temple, but I would highly recommend visiting this temple on any visit to Kyoto!

Yakub Times 2: Found my spirit animal on my early morning stroll to Kiyomizudera. ~ Jakob Grzesik

After a long-awaited reunion with all the Fellows, both Japanese and American, we decided to explore the city to celebrate both Miki-san’s and Ryota-san’s birthdays, eventually managing to find a bakery to enjoy various baked and breaded consumables.

The next morning, I decided to finally accomplish a goal I set for the summer: visit Kiyomizudera. However, I noticed how crowded and hot the temple was during reasonable hours, so I made the rational choice of waking up as early as possible and going into the temple before any sane tourist would. Not only did this insure that I would be able to quietly enjoy the temple’s aesthetics, which blended in beautifully into the surrounding nature of the mountain, but these early hours ensured that the sun wouldn’t be constantly beating down on me, further increasing the gradient of my skin tone.

Pure Water Temple: A glimpse of the natural beauty present at Kiyomizudera during the wee hours of the day. ~ Jakob Grzesik

Luckily, I was not alone on this excursion, as Trevor, who was my roommate for the duration of the Mid-Program meeting, tagged along, since he wanted to enjoy the temple and since he was used to waking up at early hours anyway. In our stroll, I got to fully appreciate the care that the Japanese put into their relationship with nature and how everything is built around said relationship. In a way, the winding and sloped roads of shops made of bamboo seemingly created a pleasant forest, an image further strengthened by the lack of cars and other urban fixtures. In the end, Trevor and I were able to enjoy the temple, seeing mostly locals enjoying the quiet hours in the temple, doing radio exercises, and siphoning pure water from the temple into water bottles (did we witness a crime?). Although this small journey lasted no more than two hours, I hope to cherish and remember it many years from now as a separate peace I can retreat to away from whatever bustle goes on in my life years from now.

Another major highlight of the Mid-Program meeting was our visit to the Sysmex corporation headquarters in Kobe. The visit opened my view on the research industry, which I had never really been exposed to at all before. I also enjoyed this visit because I met a new friend during lunch named Colin. Colin’s a Canadian-born full-time researcher at Sysmex who studied in Berkeley, California before coming to work in Japan, so talking to him while we ate really helped me gain a better understanding of how life after college works, especially for those interested in going abroad and pursuing research in a brand new environment. I hope to meet many more people like Colin throughout the rest of the program and am grateful that he took the time to not only approach us, but also eat lunch with us and talk about his life and provide sage advice for lost college students like myself.

I was devastated when I had to say goodbye to all the Nakatani Fellows afterwards, but we made sure to get together and make more plans for weekend adventures, so they’ll definitely be making appearances in my future weekly reports!

The 2017 Nakatani RIES U.S. Fellows, some Japanese Fellows, and a few alumni at their Mid-Program Meeting Research Intro Presentations held at Kyoto University on July 3, 2017.

Mid-Program Meeting Research Introduction Presentation
As part of the Mid-Program Meeting, on Monday, July 3 our 12 U.S. Fellows gave a presentation at Kyoto University introducing their research project and future plans. Jakob presented on the research he is doing in the Dept. of Physics, Saito Laboratory at Tohoku University entitled “Observing and Modelling Synchronization Phenomena”. Click here to download a PDF of his presentation.

Research Project Update
Overall, I’m happy with my Mid-Program presentation. Even though things didn’t go quite as planned, I was able to get back on my feet and get the main point of and motivation behind my project relatively well, which is important especially for theoretical projects.

Unfortunately, my laptop has still been having issues, so I’ve been spending more time than I would like trying to get back to conditions that’ll let me do more important calculations and simulations. Luckily, Saito-sensei has been kind enough to offer a Solid State Drive to transfer my data to so that my computer will work faster and better. Additionally, I’ve been working with some of the lab members in trying to access the lab computer system in order to run more computationally heavy tests. Thanks to their help, I’ve been able to look at more interesting scenarios and hope to be able to find something unexpected through these more diverse tests.

Since my lab visit is the last one, I’ve been spending most of my time preparing for a brief presentation on my overall goals for the project along with possible questions that are worth investigating.

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

“You embrace the suck, you move the (redacted) forward”- Whiskey Foxtrot Tango

When it comes to the differences between the lab I’ve been helping out over the last semester, the Bharadwaj Lab at Rice, and Saito-sensei’s lab, it’s hard to really tell where to start. I feel certain things can be attributed to the different areas of study, the cultures from which the members come from, and the goals of each labs’ members. Furthermore, I feel like my perspective is also changing every day and some “differences” I find are just things that may actually be something shared that I may have just never noticed before back at Rice since I’m still a greenhorn at this research in general.

I guess I can first start off with the most obvious differences that arise simply because of the differences between labs focused on theory versus those working on experimentation. The group I work with at Rice is mostly experimental, as there is one member whose work is heavily theory and math-based (which I plan to look more into when I return). As a result, I feel there’s a lot more communication between lab members in my lab at Rice simply because we’re typically sharing space and equipment. Also, because of how the lab is physically structured, it’s almost impossible not to notice the presence of another person in the lab. From what I can see from Saito-sensei’s lab, there are a few groups of people tackling various projects, mostly working on their own sub-problems, which in turn help achieve a goal in a much larger problem. I honestly can’t say too much about lab interaction between lab members, since I’ve mostly interacted with my mentor and Saito-sensei up to this point; however, I’ve been starting to get more acquainted with the various members, both Japanese and international and hope to get to know them better before the end of the summer.

Most of my lack of knowledge about the rest of Saito-sensei’s lab is due to the location of my desk in a guest office, where I share with two grad students in a different lab and the occasional guest. I’m glad that I’ve been able to sometimes make small talk and practice my Japanese with these two grad students and I’ve been exposed to a good amount of Japanese cultural and conversational ideas thanks to them; but it still does feel weird to be more familiar with students outside of Saito-sensei’s lab than those within it.

At Rice, I’m definitely more familiar with the other members of the lab, but that’s definitely because of the previously mentioned shared workspace, in addition to the longer amount of time I’ve spent in the lab and the fact that the Bharadwaj Lab at Rice has fewer members than the Saito Lab. However, in the end, I feel that the lab meeting structures are, in general, very similar, with one or two members presenting their research progress and everyone in the lab trying to better understand and ask important questions about the goals and methods of each project. Overall, the structure of my lab back at Rice and Saito-sensei’s is very similar, with the lab I work at in Rice being a smaller and largely experimental group.

When it comes to research goals for each lab, I can’t help but remember a talk Dr. Bharadwaj gave during one of my first lab meetings in his lab. In it he discussed a triangular relationship between cost, quality, and time. To summarize, in a realistic case, you have to prioritize two of the three while sacrificing the remaining factor. For example, you could make something that’s amazing and cheap, but that’ll most likely take an unreasonable of time to accomplish. Even if what you come up with is astounding, it’s likely that with the time it took to accomplish such a feat, someone else may have already made the discovery, albeit more expensively and underwhelming. Despite the possibility that your project may be better and cheaper, the bottom line still stands; the other person made the discovery. In the end, you’ve simply got to take your shortcomings as they come and push forward, as the only thing that’ll ensure failure is to fall under the weight of the pressure and give up.

In a similar manner, Saito-sensei makes sure to push his students and I can clearly see why. When I’ve mentioned him to other Japanese students, even those doing research at Rice, the first thing I hear is that he’s strict and very demanding. Having been in the lab for a while and meeting with Saito-sensei almost every day, I definitely see where this reputation comes from. However, I welcome this type of training as it only pushes me to look at everything and ask as many questions as possible; both about my own assumptions and about how others have looked at and tackled similar problems. He’s also been very quick to point out when I overthink things and always makes sure that I’m not chasing after a result that arises from mistakes. So, while it can feel discouraging at times, I appreciate what he does as it only pushes me closer and closer to understanding my problem and how to approach and perhaps solve it.

I hope that my experiences in Saito-sensei’s lab will help me in the future as I start getting more involved at the Bharadwaj lab back at Rice!

Click Here to View Video: “Now you must acquire a taste for free form jazz.”
I was lucky enough to have Will come visit me in Sendai, and while exploring the Sunday afternoon lull, we managed to stumble upon a jazz recital open to the public on a little pedestrian island in the middle of the road.

Research Project Update
On Monday, Saito-sensei and I worked on replacing my HDD with an SSD, so now my computer is finally back to working condition, which means I can finally focus again on doing research and writing more programs to better understand synchronization times. While we were doing file transfers, Saito-sensei gave a lecture on Carbon Nanotubes to a group of visiting students from the University of Washington, and he invited me to sit in and give a mini lab tour with him. In the end, I got to learn more about Saito-sensei’s specialty and even advertise the Nakatani Program to some students as well. If you’re reading this, it was great meeting you and I can’t recommend this program enough!

This week on Wednesday, I had my lab visit from the Nakatani Foundation; I prepared a quick presentation for Kono-sensei, Ogawa-san, Sarah-san and representatives from the Nakatani Foundation. Although I discussed with them disparities between algorithms I’ve been using to look at and approximate systems, I was able to resolve the issue quickly after they left and am now even more confident about the correctness of the algorithms I am using.

I’ve also begun running tests on the lab’s high power computers, which’ll let me do more comprehensive tests quickly than I could ever hope to do on my laptop, so hopefully, something interesting will come up soon and I’ll be able to understand synchronization even better and what affects the time it takes for it to happen!

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Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela

Overall, my Japanese language use has been kept to a minimum during my stay in Sendai; of course I use it daily interactions at the konbini, restaurants, supermarket among other public spaces, but I very rarely use it if at all during the lab; since close to half of the members are international and the Japanese students are all expected to be able to give their presentations in English. However, I’ve been able to strike up small talk in a mix of English and Japanese with one of the doctoral students with whom I share the guest room. In general, we’ve been able to talk about hobbies, tourist spots and some literature together. In cases where I can’t communicate in Japanese, he tries to communicate in English. In the end, though, both of us are trying hard to learn the other’s language and about each other’s culture and background. It’s been a very helpful and interesting relationship that I’ve gotten over this summer.

In terms of challenges, I haven’t had too many issues since my ability with Japanese is decent enough for daily survival and I’ve been able to travel fairly effectively. In general, since I’m half-Japanese and don’t have a very strong accent, people don’t usually assume that I’m a foreigner immediately and they always begin conversing with me in Japanese. As a result, I only have to switch to English whenever we reach a point in the conversation where I simply don’t know how to reply in Japanese or when I just don’t understand what the other person’s said to me.

RAMEN JIRO!!!!1!!!!!11!!!: The BEST ramen I’ve ever had in my life; well worth the wait. If you’re in Sendai, Tokyo, or Kyoto, look for this store and be prepared to feast, as even the “small” size is MASSIVE. ~ Jakob Grzesik

If I’d have to choose any particular moment in which I basically fell flat on my face in terms of my visit to Sendai. We had made plans to go to my favorite restaurant in Sendai, Ramen Jiro, which was recommended by the Tohoku Japanese Fellows (in particular Seiya, whose diet essentially consists nonstop Ramen Jiro). I’m not the only one who’s fond of this restaurant, as it’s typical for a line of hungry customers that extends beyond the block to form during eating hours. In fact, a line was already forming before the restaurant even opened. Knowing that Will and I were going to eat lunch later than most people, I wanted to make sure that Ramen Jiro would still be open when we had planned to eat. Since the store had an iron wall laid down before opening, I couldn’t see its hours. Thus, I decided to ask one of the queued guests what time Ramen Jiro typically closes on Sunday. Immediately he became confused and thought I wanted to know at what time it would open. At that point, I reiterated my desire to know just the closing time of the restaurant, since I knew for sure that it would have at least opened for the day by the time Will and I would start looking for lunch. Of course, this confused the stranger even more and he caught on that I wasn’t from the area and began speaking a poor mix of English and Japanese. After about 5 minutes of going back and forth on the differences of closing and opening, I finally got what I wanted, said thank you, and went on my merry way. Looking back, it definitely seems strange to ask when a store closes when the store is still not opened, but I think if someone asked me that, I would probably say something along the lines of, “Well, it’s not open yet, but it’ll be open from *bleh* o’clock to –uh- o’clock today.”

Overall, my issues with Japanese haven’t been much with my ability to speak the language in a daily context, but more with the expectations that others seem to have of my ability when they learn that I’m half-Japanese. Usually, when people here find out that I’m hafu, they tend to become confused when they also find out that I’ve only really started studying Japanese in the last year or so. I guess this is because most of them have in mind the idea that a Japanese mother stays home and raises the children in a typical family, which was not the case for mine, as my mom had to work during my early childhood in order to get a doctor’s residency in the U.S. I don’t really tell them this though, and instead only say that it’s mostly because English is the only shared language between my parents, which pretty much makes it the only way to verbally communicate in my family.

Furthermore, I haven’t been studying Japanese in formal lessons in Sendai mostly due to time constraints and because I’ve heard from previous students that Saito-sensei usually discourages students from divulging their time away from research since his lab mostly communicates in English anyway. I didn’t think this was really a big deal until I had lunch with the other international students from the Urban Castle. During this lunch, we briefly introduced ourselves and I got to learn where they’re from, what they’re studying and why they’ve come to Japan. Of course, when it was my turn, they asked if I was Japanese, and I told them about how my mother was Japanese but that I didn’t know much Japanese. Then they asked me if I was taking any Japanese classes at the moment, to which I replied no. In response, one of the French guys said, “Oh, so you just don’t care.”

While I don’t think he really meant it personally or in an offensive manner, I was definitely taken aback and surprised by this comment; scrambling to play it off with a somewhat playful, but perhaps a little passive-aggressively French, “That’s a bit presumptuous to say, don’t you think?”

Overall, this interaction really stuck with me because of how much it irritated me. In a sense, I felt like he was implying that because I wasn’t able to set aside time to enroll specifically in classes, I didn’t care about my background or about the opportunity I’ve been given to study and do research here. In the end, though, I know that I care about my family ties, as I plan on studying Japanese back at Rice this coming fall (and am still waiting for Polish classes to be offered), and I am well aware just how amazing this program is and I can’t thank the Nakatani Foundation, Rice University, and Saito-sensei for giving me this chance that truly comes once in a lifetime.

Research Project Update
Research this week has been kind of slow for me, since I’m still trying to set up a good method of actually determining whether a system is synchronized aside from just eyeballing a timestamp of when the positions look close enough and the phases in the phase animation seem aligned. Now, I’m working on the best ways to numerically determine when two objects are synchronized by considering threshold differences between the phases and displacements of two particles in a given system. Using this, I can think about how to classify the development of synchronized subgroups in a system and then plot the number of subgroups as a function of time.

I’ve also considered how I can represent a group of synchronized oscillators as a single oscillator. Not only could this help reduce the computation time of my algorithms as they progress, but it could also let me look at the behavior of the system once full synchronization is achieved, as then I can just model the entire group of oscillators as a single oscillator with specific parameters.

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Week 10: Interview with Japanese Researcher

The right to a quality education is, I believe, the perfect path to bridge the gap between different cultures and to reconcile various civilizations. Without such a right, the values of liberty, justice and equality will have no meaning. Ignorance is by far the biggest danger and threat to humankind.
– Moza bint Nazzer

Being in a fairly international lab, I decided to interview Nugraha-sensei (who will from here on be referred to as Nugraha-sensei-chan, as requested) who had worked with Shirakura-san in helping set up my computer to gain access to the lab’s computers so that I can run more intensive simulations quickly and without destroying my personal laptop.

Nugraha-sensei-chan, like my mentor Shoufie-san, is from Indonesia, and he was formerly a doctoral student in Saito-sensei’s lab and is now the assistant professor of the lab. As a young student, he became “accidentally” (this word will come up a lot) interested in physics and started studying it to satisfy his desire to know the reason behind happenings and things. He essentially began studying physics as a way to better understand how we have come to exist and how we can continue to live and what sort of rules dictate the way we live and experience and observe the world around us. As a result of his interests in physics and hard studying, he was able to enroll in the physics course at the top university in his home country of Indonesia.

There, in his second year of undergraduate studies, he accidentally stumbled upon Saito-sensei’s book, “Physical Properties of Carbon Nanotubes,” as he was largely intrigued by the cover of the book. When reading the book, he made it his goal to better understand the material of the book in its entirety;  enrolling in advanced classes to gain access to the more difficult concepts used in the book. The material within the book would later on become the source of his undergraduate thesis. When it was time to start looking at what to do beyond graduation, Nugraha-sensei-chan knew that he wanted to go abroad and gain a better understanding of foreign academia so that he could learn how to improve education in Indonesia and make higher learning more available to others like him; specifically by writing text in his native tongue.

Naturally, when looking at graduate institutions, he turned to the book that had guided most of his undergraduate studies and decided to work for Saito-sensei through the IGPAS scholarship at Tohoku University. Through Saito-sensei’s lab, Nugraha-sensei-chan has had many opportunities to work with leading physicists throughout the world, in countries like Brazil and America to name a few.

In terms of future plans, Nugraha-sense-chan knows that he’ll be returning to Indonesia. At the moment, he’s interested in still staying in academia. However, he will look towards industry, specifically in education and agriculture, if opportunities don’t present themselves in universities in Indonesia. Regardless, he knows that no matter what path he takes, physics and research will always be a part of his life. His ultimate goal, of course, is to write a textbook in his native language to help further develop the education of youth in Indonesia. He recalls that the main struggle of getting an education in developing countries is the fact that most knowledge is contained within books written in foreign languages like English, French, and German.

In fact, education came up a lot in our discussion, with us coming to an agreement that the foundation of progress and development of any country, especially those in the process of still developing, is education. Nugraha-sensei-chan recalled a story about the Japanese emperor after the end of World War II. Reportedly, after observing the damage done to his country, Emperor Hirohito simply asked, “How many teachers do we have left?” This demonstrated the important realization in post-WWII Japanese society about how integral a strong education system is in rebuilding and developing an even better nation out of the ashes of an old one. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons why Japan was able to make a practically unprecedented recovery from World War II, quickly becoming a leader in technology and industry as an economic power in the global market.

In the end, Nugraha-sensei-chan hopes to use his cultural experiences and lessons from living within the academic community in Japan to lay a better foundation for education in Indonesia and to help it grow technologically and scientifically to help improve life there for future generations of students and scholars.

Research Project Update
I’ve finally settled upon an agreed upon criteria for considering the system to be in a synchronized state with Saito-sensei: standard deviation. As the system becomes synchronized, everything oscillates at the average displacement and has the same phase, so as long as we observe nonzero amplitude in displacement while still having a sufficiently small standard deviation, we can mark the entire system as fully synchronized. Using this, I’m wrote a program that records the time for this synchronization to occur as a function of a changing parameter, such as the small oscillator mass, spring constant, and damping, or the substrate’s mass, spring constant, damping, and the applied force. I hope to eventually find a formula for synchronization time based on these parameters by observing the data and seeing patterns that arise that I can then try to derive from looking at the equations of motion.

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Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab and Week 12: Final Week at Research Laboratory

“The conventional wisdom of the Tower of Babel story is that the collapse was a misfortune. That it was the distraction, or the weight of many languages that precipitated the tower’s failed architecture. That one monolithic language would have expedited the building and heaven would have been reached. Whose heaven, she wonders? And what kind? Perhaps the achievement of Paradise was premature, a little hasty if no one could take the time to understand other languages, other views, other narratives period. Had they, the heaven they imagined might have been found at their feet. Complicated, demanding, yes, but a view of heaven as life; not heaven as post-life.”

-Toni Morrison

Now, I’m gonna be honest for a brief paragraph here; I recently haven’t been working on my weekly reports in a timely manner what-so ever (sorry Sarah). At first, the major issue was my computer’s HDD basically failing halfway through the program, and then after that was fixed, I began getting more invested in my research and preparing for my return to the U.S to present what I’ve learned this summer. However, another part of my tardiness comes from how I’ve found it to be significantly more meaningful and easier to write these cultural reflections at least 1 or 2 weeks retrospectively. In fact, as I’m writing this sentence, I’m 36000 feet (screw the metric system amirite?) over some unspecified point of the Pacific Ocean, under the illumination of a full moon, multiplied by its reflection on the plane’s wing.

This flight back home has essentially hit me with the realization that I’m leaving Japan and that I won’t be coming back for a while. At least when I left America for Japan, I always knew that I’d be flying back and as a result, I was able to continue life in Japan knowing that I had something still waiting for me back in Houston.

But, over these last few months, Japan has become another home for me. I love Sendai and how it represents a part of Japan: one still deeply in touch with the nature in its surrounding mountains; one with a love for the history of its people; one which looks to the future with advancements in science and technology and development of a metropolitan area. In a sense, Sendai, to me, has stuck out as a microcosm of Japan as a country.

Now, leaving Sendai, I’m struck with a feeling difficult to describe as something aside from C.S. Lewis’s words on Joy. It’s a superposition of happiness for accomplishing and growing so much as a person and student-researcher in Sendai, and of sadness for the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, and the memories I’ll be leaving behind. I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve left something behind (other than my umbrella, sorry mom) in Sendai, something integral to my identity before this experience. Maybe I won’t ever know what it exactly is that rests in Sendai, but perhaps it doesn’t really matter; I’ll just continue to work forward, now wiser, more empathetic, a touch taller, and perhaps, with some more finely tuned calves.

But before I lose myself on a tangent in which I begin advertising a mountain-themed workout regimen à la Shamwow™ infomercials (complete with a before and after picture of my calves, and six easy payments of $29.99), I want to go back to Joy.

What makes it different from the bittersweet of melancholy or the lunacy of bipolarity is the desire to hold onto the feeling, regardless of the pain or sadness it brings. It can’t be measured in any empirical way, but my best attempt would be to say that it comes in pangs and caresses, heart stops and starts, bursts of nostalgia and unfamiliarity, summits and abysses. It is a feeling as hard to pick up as it is to let go of and is truly something that may happen to me only a handful of times in my life, but in the end, the best I can give is the cliché of “you’ll know it when you feel it,” as I lack the skill needed to put it into words (just writing the last few sentences called for 30 minutes of thought).

If I were to pinpoint an exact moment of Joy on this trip, it would have to be my last walk back down the Aobayama mountain path after officially receiving the boot from Saito-sensei. Since warm summer rain had visited quite lately, there were clouds in the sky and on the surface of the mountain. Walking through them reminded me briefly of the passage from Dickens’ Great Expectations about the mist and the uncertainties (  ) that lay ahead of me. Like Pip, I had gone through a trying time in which I’ve had to reform long-held standards for myself from my childhood, becoming more aware and considerate of those around me and exploring more freely and ambitiously than I ever had before. Yet in front of me was a new future, and I, with a new identity forged by this experience, had the choice to boldly leap and bound into it. This cloud of mist of course closed my peripheral of nearly everything outside a few meter radius very briefly, and in this moment I felt a key moment of introspection that led me to realize that I was living and that I had perhaps just made it through a pivotal moment of my life. While I was saddened at the thought that my experiences in the summer were ending and that I would not be seeing some of my new friends for a long time, if at all, I felt happiness in the idea that my life in this world was really starting and that these experiences were possibly the first of many that I would get to have with my fellow Fellows, my mentors, my sensei, and the people of Japan. I was leaving the comfort of times past into the unpredictable and exciting future that lie ahead of me, and although I’m going to miss much of my past, I can only say  “楽しみ!!!” to what I’ve yet to see, hear, think and feel!

Now, the second thing that this plane’s wing, reflecting an image of a distorted moon, reminds me of; a bird. This bird, however, is not one of those agents of chaos that awakens me in the morning with incessant chirps, or ruins my clothing with an unprovoked airstrike. Rather, it is a specific, special and abstract bird.

In her 1993 Nobel Literature Prize acceptance lecture, Toni Morrison recalled a folktale in order to describe her perspective on the importance of language and communication. As Morrison elaborates in her speech, claims to the origin of the tale come from many different cultures, but all versions contain the same essential message. For Morrison’s version of the tale, it begins as follows: there lives a blind, old woman, a descendent of slaves, in a small house along the outskirts of an American town. Her reputation as a prophet becomes a source of wisdom and law for those in her neighboring communities, and a source of amusement for those in the farther-away cities, who are delighted by tall tales of farm mystics. Wanting to disprove her abilities, a group of youths go into her house with a question whose crux lies in what they perceive to be the woman’s disability: her blindness.

In this tale, the focus of the discussion between the woman and the youths and the bird within the hands of one of the youths. The youths would like to test the old woman’s wisdom by asking her if there is a bird in their hands, obviously taking advantage of her blindness, but upon her refusal to answer these initial requests, the youths then begin to question the validity of her clairvoyance. After a long silence, all the woman can say is that she simply doesn’t know if the bird is alive or dead, but only that it is in the hands of the youths.

Ultimately, the bird represents the importance of culture and language as something that can only be kept alive through its people and furthermore, the people who are to preserve the language must first come to understand the importance of the language and what it means to protect and develop it. Furthermore, in addition to having the power to protect this culture, the youth has the ability to just as willingly destroy it. The life of the bird depends on whether the hand holding it feeds it or crushes it. Only with these realizations from its people can a culture survive or die. Even if the path to this understanding is filled with trials that may clash with an individual’s beliefs, it is towards some sort of bigger and greater purpose, one which is as beautiful as it is fragile, like a small bird resting in one’s hands.

Perhaps I’ve gotten a glimpse of this sort of idea through my many daily actions with Saito-sensei. There are countless instances in which I’ve struggled to understand his questions, or why he wanted to explore certain ideas or concepts instead of others, or why he was so keen in keeping the problem-solving method a certain way. But, over time, I’ve slowly come to understand that a lot of it comes from his more traditional Japanese upbringing and perspective, which, in addition to his immeasurable experience in research, enable him to see and take note of things simply outside of my periphery. Although there are still quite a few things about Saito-sensei I have absolutely clue about when it comes to his approach to science and the world, I’m glad that quite a bit has rubbed off on me and that I’m at least aware enough about these differences to continue thinking about them for the rest of my life. Maybe, if I’m lucky enough, I’ll eventually become familiar enough with these ideas to share and develop them with those I meet in life, passing down a long chain of thinking and reasoning and living to others in the future for them to learn about, cherish, and grow themselves as well.

In the end, my experience through Nakatani RIES reflects this tale of the old woman and the bird. By coming to Japan and understanding a culture that is both close to and removed from my identity, I’ve come to acknowledge another part of humanity that I want to preserve and carry on with me throughout my life and pass on to those whom we surround ourselves with, both changing and being changed by them.  Although I can’t speak directly for the rest of those in the Nakatani program, I feel like most, if not all, have come to recognize this in some way.

In a sense, this may be what science is. We spend our lives trying to learn the language of the world through our growing comprehension of the building blocks of the world and the mechanisms that make them come together and apart. We are in a continuing process of trying to learn about what makes us and everything around us the way they are, and while there are many things we still don’t know (and maybe never will know) we approaching a point where we now have the choice to preserve our world, or crush it.

The bird is now in our hands.

Final Research Project Overview 

Visiting Jakob Grzesik at Prof. Saito’s Lab at Tohoku University.

My research project was “Observing and Modeling Synchronization Phenomena in Oscillatory Systems” (PDF) and I worked under Saito-sensei in his lab at Tohoku University under the mentorship of Shoufie-san.

My main goal was to get a general understanding of a phenomenon present throughout physics called “synchronization.” In a broad sense, it’s what happens in a system of objects when two or more objects act in unison. Usually this means that they move together or perform some sort of action, such as emission or absorption together at the same time, and continue to do so for some nontrivial period of time.

For my project, we focused on a purely mechanical system. It was one that involved a larger substrate oscillator which had a spring and damping factor of its own, on top of which there were an arbitrary smaller oscillators with their own spring and damping factors. The goal of this theoretical project is to gain an understanding of the synchronizations that occur in this system and extend them to similar instances in solid state physics, such as plasmons (the collective oscillation of electron densities) and the synchronized radial breathing modes of carbon nanotubes excited by a femtosecond laser.

First, in order to observe and model the system, I had to learn briefly over the course of the first few weeks techniques in analytical mechanics and differential equations. Specifically, I looked into Lagrangian mechanics and various methods of solving differential equations, such as the characteristic polynomial method and the Fourier Transform, along with some linear algebra techniques in order to derive the equations of motion of the system and then solve the system to get the position of each particle as a function of time.

However, we found that the system of differential equations for the oscillators we would like to model are not analytically solvable, which means that we must use numerical approximations in order to solve for the position of each oscillator. In order to do so, we used the classical Runge-Kutta approximation method, implemented through a code I wrote in the Python. In the end we were able to get a graphical depiction of the particles as a function of time and once we defined and used phase graphs, we were able to calculate the time it took for all the oscillators in the system to synchronize. This of course required a definition of criteria necessary for a system to be considered synchronized. The best parameter of a system ended up being the standard deviation of the system, as once the particles begin tending towards a synchronized state, they should all be at the mean, which means that their square differences from the mean should tend towards zero. Thus, when the standard deviation of the system’s particles’ positions and phases are sufficiently small, we consider the system to be synchronized and record this time.

In the end, under the assumption that the parameters of the small oscillators (mass, damping, spring factor) and that the small oscillators all experienced identical external forces, we were able to find an equation of the time it takes for the system to fully synchronize as a function of the small oscillators’ mass, spring factor and damping. It was strange to find that the substrate was not an important factor in the time it took for synchronization to occur, most likely a result of the external forces being the main driving force of the oscillation that the small oscillators all tended towards in the end.

This of course brings even more questions about both the particular system we looked at along with extensions of this system into solid state physics and synchronization in general. For this system in particular, we would like to continue looking to see what making the small oscillators’ parameters non-uniform (not all have the same mass, spring constant and damping) would have on the synchronization time along with how this would contribute to the development of synchronized subgroups. Right now, we’re working on writing a paper to hopefully get published and I hope to finish incorporating some of these ideas in addition to the work I’ve already done into that, so I’ll be continuing to collaborate with Saito-sensei and Shoufie-san over the coming months!

For my future work in research at Rice, I hope to get more involved in experimental research, and I plan to continue working in the Bharadwaj Lab this coming year. However, I’ve already been discussing my project from this summer with Palash, and it looks like there are some great instances in synchronization in optics, such as super radiance, which Kono-sensei had mentioned and sent me a paper about after his lab visit this summer. I’m really glad that I got to work on such an interesting project that covers a theme prevalent throughout physics and am now more confident in looking at and exploring these ideas further in future research. I cannot thank Saito-sensei, Shoufie-san, Kono-sensei, Sarah Phillips, Aki Shimada, Professor Stanton, my fellow Fellows and the Nakatani Foundation enough for this life-changing summer experience!

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Week 13: Final Report

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Follow-on Project

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Tips for Future Participants

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