2017 Joshua Yang

Joshua Yang
Home University: The University of Texas at Austin
Field of Study: Electrical & Computer Engineering and Mathematics
Current Status: Sophomore
Expected Graduation Date: May 2019
Host Lab in Japan: The University of Tokyo – Dept. of Applied Physics and Quantum-Phase Electronics Center, Iwasa Laboratory
Research Project: “WSe2Thin-Film Growth by Molecular Beam Epitaxy” (PDF)
Winner Undergraduate Poster Presentation Award – 3rd Annual Smalley-Curl Institute Summer Research Colloquium (Light Conversion Award)

Why Nakatani RIES?

For as long as I can remember, it has always been a dream of mine to visit Japan. Especially because of the significant impact Japanese entertainment (i.e. video games, manga/anime, and music) has had on my life, traveling to Japan has been a top goal of mine for many years. The Nakatani RIES program provides not only an opportunity to live in Japan and explore the beautiful country over three months but also a valuable international research experience in nanotechnology. For these reasons, I applied to the Nakatani RIES program, an experience which truly is the best of both worlds.

Goals for the Summer

  • Explore different areas of nanotechnology in research
  • Gain a deeper understanding of the research process, particularly in an international context
  • Develop Japanese language skills, specifically in reading and speaking
  • Travel to various cities, sites, and landmarks in Japan


Meaning of Nakatani RIES (Post-Program)

When looking back over the past three months, and when thinking of the summer in Japan that seemingly just flew by, I find it hard to put into words the meaning and profound impact that the Nakatani RIES Fellowship program has had on my life.

Amazing? Life-changing? Eye-opening? Enriching?

I could say with certainty that all of these apply, but this experience was, honestly, much more than just that. It was a time of exploration and wonder: wonder for all the awesome sights in Japan, and exploration for all the unique and lively cities. A time of learning and discovery: learning about the scientific processes behind research, and discovering the complex and intriguing cultural intricacies in Japan. A time of hardship and trial: hardship in the ever-present setbacks for research, and trial in the sometimes-crushing loneliness and self-contemplation. Even more than that though, this experience was a time of friendship: building and forming lasting bonds between an incredible group of bright individuals, and creating relationships that I will continue to cherish for years to come.

The Nakatani RIES Fellowship helped me grow as a student, as a researcher, as a friend, and most of all, as a person. I can’t express enough gratitude for what was hands-down the best summer of my life.

My favorite experience in Japan was… the weekend trip to Hakone with the U.S. and Japanese Fellows. It’s such a beautiful, exciting, and fun place to explore, especially with friends. Without a doubt, my biggest recommendation. Second to that would probably be the Mt. Fuji climb.

Before I left for Japan I wish I had… better planned out how I would spend my free time. There were definitely a couple of free days where I ended up relaxing at home (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) because I hadn’t figured out my plans ahead of time.

While I was in Japan I wish I had… traveled more on the weekends. While I already traveled a decent amount, I wish I could’ve traveled to/spent more time in other cities like Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Yokohama, Chiba, etc.

Research Internship Overview

Even though my research project changed a lot over the course of the summer, in general, my work focused on the growth of multilayer and monolayer WSe2 films by molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) on various kinds of substrates. I learned to use many different kinds of equipment, including an MBE machine (which was honestly the coolest thing ever), an atomic force microscope, an x-ray diffraction machine, and also a Raman spectrometer. And even for equipment that I didn’t use regularly, I was still exposed to the other parts of the film development process, like deposition of electrodes for the fabrication of EDLTs and analysis of such transistors using the PPMS.

While my research project ultimately did not focus on nanoelectronics (which would be relatable to my nanotechnology focus in electrical engineering), it did have a lot of background covering and relating to applied physics, which is an area that I have also been very interested in and have even been considering for graduate school. Compared to my lab back at the University of Texas, Austin, my research this summer allowed me to have much more responsibility and independence, especially with machines (notably the MBE one) that undergraduates wouldn’t even be allowed to touch back at home; allowing me to get a better taste of what life as a researcher would be like. Furthermore, because everyone in the Iwasa Lab had great English skills, the language barrier didn’t really pose any kind of obstacle or challenge in my research. On the contrary, the hard-working yet friendly atmosphere of the Iwasa Lab was probably one of the reasons I enjoyed the research internship so much. Especially with my mentor Kashiwabara-san, I developed close friendships in lab that made even the long and rough days of research well worth it.

Daily Life in Japan

On a typical weekday, I would wake in the morning at 8:45AM (give or take a few minutes), get myself ready, eat breakfast, and head out to the University of Tokyo by 9:30AM. After a burning, hot thirty-minute walk in the sun, I would arrive in the cool A/C’d office of the Iwasa Lab and fan myself for a good 5 minutes as I cooled down. After talking with Kashiwabara-san about what work needed to be done today, I would head down to the experimental room to either load/prepare samples for the MBE, begin the process, or start analyzing previously grown films. At lunch time, Saito-san would tell me “Lunch!”, and we would go with a group of four or five people to Cafeteria #2 to grab a bite to eat. My favorite lunch to get would usually be the shoyu ramen with some fried fish (b/c it was filling and quite cheap too). Afterwards, if it were a Wednesday, we would have a Journal Club meeting, and when that finished, I would continue working on and monitoring the film growth process. By around 8PM, the film growth would be about finished, the next sample would be prepared, and I would head out to get dinner (many times it would be with Savannah) and then head back to my home in Akihabara afterwards, possibly stopping by the 7/11 konbini nearby to get anything I was craving.

That being said, many days were not typical (I believe atypical is the right word to use), and it was these days that really brought a bit of spice of life into my routine research schedule in Japan. Sometimes I would go off on my own to a well-known restaurant, park, or store in Tokyo, and sometimes Rose, Jakob, and Will would visit us, and we would go on random adventures together. And the weekends were full of trips to other exciting places in Japan, like Hakone, Sendai, Kamakura, and even Mt. Fuji! For someone who worked at least, on average, about 10 hours each day, I really loved my daily life in Japan.

Experiences with Japanese Culture

I would say that my most meaningful experiences with Japanese culture were with the close Japanese friends I made, namely my mentor and the JP Fellows. Although my mentor, Kashiwabara-san, at first seemed a bit hard to talk with, we eventually became friendlier and more familiar with each other such that our interactions became that of good buddies. Particularly from the interview I had with him, I learned a lot about his motivations, goals, plans, and even frustrations, alongside many insightful comments and remarks on Japanese culture. Coupled with the fun-filled times I had with the JP Fellows, these experiences have made me understand much better than anything else that the culture in Japan is truly complex and can’t be reduced to a one-dimensional generalized statement. While some prevailing pre-conceptions of a strict cultural emphasis on conformity and security have some truth to them, there also many aspects of Japanese society, especially with the newer and younger generations, that interweave freedom and passion into this cultural fabric. From these first-hand experiences, I’ve learned more than I ever could from a book or a lecture about Japanese culture, and I hope that I will now be more prepared and more open with engaging cross-cultural interactions in the future.

Excerpts from Joshua’s Weekly Reports

Week 01: Arrival in Japan

 “Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough.” – George Bernard Shaw

It’s honestly tough to believe that a week has already passed. For the last couple of years (in fact more than I can remember), one of the biggest dreams of mine has been to visit and live in Japan. Spending everyday here seems so surreal, and as Savannah adequately put, I can’t help but sometimes wonder if this is really just a grand dream.

The Pre-Departure Orientation at Rice was very useful in preparation for our trip to Japan. Aside from the fun we had exploring the campus university and bonding more with each other, the pre-departure orientation also provided us with useful lab safety training and Japanese cultural perspective. I thought it was important how we were taught the hierarchical structure of Japanese social status, and it was amusing (but still very helpful) to know that in our research labs we would literally be at the bottom of the pyramid. Furthermore, safety training provided a good review of important procedures and precautions to take to ensure our safety in the research laboratories.

This first week living in Tokyo has already been an eye-opening experience. All 12 of the Nakatani students are staying at the Sanuki Club Hotel in Azabu-juban for these first three weeks during the orientation session of the program. Sanuki Club is a rather older hotel in the apparently more affluent neighborhood of Azabu-juban but is more than accommodating to our needs. Each of us gets our own single room, and breakfast is provided every morning. Personally, I love breakfast here at the Sanuki Club and haven’t gotten tired of any of their three options: western, Japanese, and udon. (Western is currently my favorite!) Speaking of the Sanuki Club, something that really shocked me in Japan was the degree of politeness and professionalism in everything everyone does. First off, almost every single person in Japan is dressed impeccably. On our adventures around Tokyo, we will often walk through masses of Japanese men and women decked out in suits or wearing very formal attire. It honestly, to some extent, seems as if everyone is wearing the same outfit. As for the service, Japanese hosts and waiters are extraordinarily polite, making it their priority that the customer is pleased. In fact, just in general, people in Japan are so kind and willing to help those around them. It’s only been the first week, and I have already lost count of the numerous amount of times we have had to ask someone for directions or help about even the silliest things (like which trash can to use). Because of the culture talks on the emphasis of harmony in Japanese society, I had prepared myself for this kind of behavior but definitely not to this extent. It really makes living in Japan just that much more lovely and enjoyable.

Tokyo is in the heart of Japan, and it is the biggest city in the world by population. Knowing this, I came in with expectations of an enormous city that was always hustling and bustling. And while Tokyo did indeed turn out to be a very busy and very big city, it also had a sense of peace, calm, and quiet that I would have never thought present in such large city. Whenever we walk through the streets of Japan as a group, we are always (unfortunately) the loudest group that you will hear. It has happened many times that we will all recognize our own American-loudness, start to talk softer, and realize just how quiet everyone around us is. Tokyo is also so expansive. We have ventured to many different areas like Shibuya, Asakusa, Akihabara, and many others, but it still feels like each place has a different vibe to it, and it’s hard to believe that they are all different districts in the huge metropolitan area of Tokyo. Furthermore, Tokyo is such a large city but also so well kept; you will rarely see trash anywhere littered on the streets (everything is so nice and clean!).

Onishi-sensei completed my doodle. ~ Joshua Yang

Personally speaking, I have loved the language classes so far. Every weekday morning on Monday through Friday from 8:30AM to 12:00PM, we have Japanese language classes. There are four different subgroups of classes, based on preexisting skill in using Japanese, and I was aptly placed in the lowest level Group 1. Initially, before coming to Japan I was worried that the classes would be composed of dry lectures and drills just forcing Japanese language into our brains. Particularly because anyone who knows me knows I am not a morning person in the slightest, I was very worried that I would have trouble paying attention in class for these large blocks of time. Thankfully, Japanese language classes have turned out much better than any of these expectations I had. The teachers all have very interactive lessons, and every single class has fun and unique moments that make the atmosphere very casual and light-hearted. Since our class sizes are so small, the Japanese language teachers are able to personally work with each and every one of us, and (in all modesty) I genuinely feel that I have already improved my Japanese so much in just the first week. Personally, my favorite teacher is Onishi-sensei. She’s such a sweet teacher and loves to encourage us through our language classes. There was one time where Onishi-sensei even completed a doodle I had drawn in my notebook while I went to bathroom! Instead of being a bore like I had worried about, Japanese language classes are lessons that I look forward to every morning and am continually encouraged by how they have helped make large strides of improvement in my knowledge of Japanese.

May Festival at Todai ~ Joshua Yang

Lastly, this past weekend was a great time of exploration by ourselves in Japan. On Friday night, a large group of us went to Shibuya for karaoke. Shibuya is known for being one of the busiest places in the entire world and is known for having famous crosswalks that flood with people trying to get past. We also got to visit the famous statue of Hachiko there too. On Saturday morning, many of us went to The University of Tokyo’s May Festival and were completely blown away by the event. The whole university grounds were filled with food stands and performance venues, and considering that the University of Tokyo has such a large main campus, this was an impressive sight to see. The food stands and performance

The parakeets love us! ~ Joshua Yang

venues were all run by individual clubs, and it was amazing to see all the talent and dedication every single club had. As someone who loves to read manga and watch anime, I was thrilled to see a school festival in real life that almost seemed to mirror exactly what I had seen in Japanese entertainment. I even got to talk to a volleyball club and hope to play with them while I am researching at Todai. Later on Saturday, we walked to Akihabara, which is famously known as a hub for gaming and anime. Unfortunately, we did not stay there for long, but the time we were there at the huge Yodobashi electric store was an awesome experience.  The 8-story building (give or take a few floors) boasted a large selection of games, electronics, anime, gundams, pianos, and honestly almost anything you could think of. There were also many themed cafes there (but I still haven’t seen a maid café yet sadly). Finally, on Sunday we went to check out the Sanja Matsuri Festival in Asakusa. This was the most packed event I had ever been to in Tokyo so far, and the streets and shopping areas were completely filled with people. Moving around was like trying to push through a sea of people, and I can’t count the amount of times we got separated from each other. Looking for a single friend was akin to a real life game of “Where’s Waldo?”. I got to try some takoyaki (octopus in fried dough balls) at the Festival, and it was an amazing (albeit very, very hot and sweaty) experience. Afterwards, we went to an owl and parakeet café and had a stupidly happy time playing with the birds. As you can hopefully tell, the rare blocks of free time we get on the weekends are truly so valuable and fun-filled.

The program activities we had in the past week varied in terms of content and subject focus. The first few days of our stay in Japan (while we were still jet-lagged), we went as a group to explore many sights like the Edo-Tokyo Museum and even went to the Sumo May Tournament. We also had the chance to tour the laboratories inside the University of Tokyo, which was a very impressive sight. It was quite mind-boggling how expansive their cleanroom is and was crazy to see all the technology and equipment the university had. Honestly, it made me just that much more excited to be researching there this summer. We also had many different seminars with guest speakers over the past week. I think the seminar that stuck out most to me was the discussion with Mr. Shikata, the Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, over potential troubles with North Korea and Japanese-Chinese foreign relations. As a debater in high school that often covered topics that dealt with de-escalation of foreign conflict, it was thrilling for me to discuss these issues with members of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Question of the Week
Why are there so many vending machines in Japan?

Research Project Introduction & Paper Overview
Currently, I do not have much information on the project I will be working on in the Iwasa Lab at the University of Tokyo. I do know, however, that my project will be focused on MBE growth of 2D materials, so I am very excited to have the chance to work with the experimental instruments necessary for device growth. In general, my research on growing 2D materials may also allow for the opportunity to measure and observe unique behavior (which may then have varying useful applications).

The paper I reviewed was “Nonreciprocal charge transport in noncentrosymmetric superconductors”.  This paper demonstrates that magnetochiral anisotropy, a phenomena caused by a lack of spatial inversion symmetry in crystals, is enhanced by orders of magnitude when the crystal material is placed into a superconducting state. This experiment was conducted by gating MoS2 to induce a two-dimensional superconducting state. MoS2 is an archetypal TMD composed of stacked layers with weak van der Waals interaction. Both spatial inversion symmetry and time-reversal symmetry are broken when an external magnetic field is applied to the material. The superconducting transition point was experimentally observed at 8.8K, causing the resistance the sheet to be 50% of that of the normal state. Next, the γ value was calculated and plotted against temperature. At normal-state temperature, γ was almost zero but increased by almost five orders of magnitude as the temperature transitioned into the superconducting state. This rapid increase in γ is also seen when using theoretical calculations. This paper believes that in general for noncentrosymmetric superconductors, anomalous enhancement of the γ value will occur. As a result, MCA (magnetochiral anisotropy) enhancement in these superconductors would enhance nonreciprocal responses that may lead to new functionalities like superconducting diodes.

R. Wakatsuki, Y. Saito, S. Hoshino, Y. M. Itahashi, T. Ideue, M. Ezawa, Y. Iwasa, N. Nagaosa, Nonreciprocal charge transport in noncentrosymmetric superconductors. Sci. Adv. 3, e1602390 (2017).

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

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway

Two weeks in Japan have already flown by, and it’s hard to imagine that in just one week we will all have to split up and go to our respective labs across the country. While I am definitely excited to begin researching and living on my own in Tokyo, I can’t say that I won’t miss dearly the constant companionship of my fellow Nakatinis/Nakatanukis/Yakubza. Speaking of which, I had been meaning to talk a bit more in detail about our group as a whole but forgot to in my previous report. For anyone reading, this might come off as a bit sappy, maybe arrogant, and possibly boring, so for your convenience you can just skip to my overview of the past week if you want to (but it’s cool too if you don’t!).

I can say without a doubt that I have never EVER been surrounded by friends quite like those in this group of Nakatani Fellows. Honestly, each and every single one of us is just so indescribably… quirky? Silly? Nerdy? I’m not sure if any of those words are the right ones to use. I would say smart or intelligent, but I don’t feel like that comes even close to capturing the complete picture. Honestly, I think the only way to describe it is by giving examples of our group dynamic.

Just a few of the (stranger) things we’ve done together as a group are: discuss a wide range of topics from quantum mechanics to organic chemistry for fun; spend free time by drawing circuits, heat cycle diagrams, or even the inner workings of a planetary motor on the whiteboard; take long walks along rivers at night talking about mathematical concepts and proofs; and even conceptualize the physics behind a half-full water bottle falling in an amusement park tower drop (this conversation lasted for hours). I have rarely done, if even at all, anything similar with any other friends before, let alone with eleven other students who find so much joy in these seemingly trivial (yet oddly satisfying) activities. And yet, everyone still has such diversified interests in areas like music, sports, and life in general.

Real talk. I’ve never felt so stupid in my entire life. It’s actually really amusing in a kind of depressing way. I feel like for every topic that I consider myself knowledgeable about, there’s always someone else in our group who knows soooo much more than I do. I mean, just off the top of my head, in a skirmish of mathematics, I wouldn’t stand a chance against Jakob; and in a battle of electrical engineering, it would be shocking (hahaha) if I lasted more than a second against Alex. A modified quote from Diderot seems very apt for this situation:

“When one compares the talents one has with those of a [Nakatani Fellow], one is tempted to throw away one’s books and go die quietly in the dark of some forgotten corner.”

As someone who is used to doing well in academics and feeling decently competent among his peers, I had some trouble at first adjusting to this new “environment”. To some extent, when being “bright” or “smart” is taken away from my personality (because literally everyone else is just as or is much more intelligent than I am), I have some trouble explaining even to myself what makes me unique as an individual. I guess my ego is just so big that when my self-proclaimed attribute of “smartness” is taken away from me, I feel… lost, like I’m not even sure who I am.

I hope I’m not giving off a negative vibe about the other Nakatani Fellows. In fact, my feelings are the exact opposite. I feel like I fit in perfectly, that I’ve found a group of friends who are passionate about and in love with the same things that I am. Even more so, I’m constantly encouraged by how brilliant and hard-working everyone is, and it makes me in turn want to push harder for and strive with even more diligence towards my own personal goals. Iron sharpens iron, and I think we all have much to learn and gain from one another. In just these two weeks, I have already made so many deep and lifelong connections with my friends in Japan. And believe me, that’s one of the best feelings in the entire world.

Overview of Week Two of the Orientation Program in Tokyo 

Taiko Drumming ~ Joshua Yang

Whoo, now that we’re past that, it’s time to go over our adventures in our second week in Japan. This week, we started our introduction to science seminars, so less time was scheduled for cultural outings and events. Nevertheless, there were still many exciting events that happened throughout the week that were, in my opinion, quite memorable.

On Monday afternoon, we visited the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science & Technology (JAMSTEC), and Director Tsukakoshi gave us an introduction into how supercomputers, like the one used by JAMSTEC, work. This supercomputer is used by JAMSTEC as an “Earth Simulator” to model global changes and dynamics of the Earth’s interior. Afterwards, we even had the chance to tour the supercomputer facility! When we finished touring the Earth Simulator, we then had the opportunity to learn more about the DONET Back-up Site, which is important in detecting earthquakes and tsunamis as soon as possible. Later that evening, all of us as a group ate out in the Chinatown of Yokohama (I can confirm personally that it was authentic Chinese food).

On Wednesday afternoon, we traveled to Shibuya for a Taiko Drum workshop. Taiko literally means fat drum, so I guess the phrase taiko drum is a bit redundant. Anyways, we were led by an experienced taiko instructor and performer and had such an amazing time. I was worried at first that the Taiko workshop would be too advanced and difficult to keep up with, but the instructor taught us simple rhythms that were not only easier to learn but also super fun to play as well. He even taught us a quick “song” that was composed of six different sections, and we got to give a quick performance at the end! I never expected taiko to be so enjoyable, and it was actually quite a workout too (my arms and wrists were sore the next day). I think I may have been playing the drum incorrectly though because I got some blisters on my hands from the taiko sticks. Later, on Wednesday, some of us split off (me included) to go thrift shopping in Shibuya. I didn’t buy much, but there was a Mizuno dri-fit polo that I bought for 480 Yen, which was a pretty decent deal in my opinion.

On Thursday night, we had a cultural discussion with Japanese students from the University of Tokyo about differences between American and Japanese culture. I learned a lot more about what Japanese students’ lives are like, and in all honesty, while there are still significant differences in culture (like politeness and work hours), I found out that our lives were more similar than I had originally thought. We discussed many kinds of topics, from involvement in clubs to gender equality in society. Afterwards, about ten of us (50/50 split between JP and US) went out to a nearby Ramen restaurant in Azabu-juban for dinner. It was a lively time, and I spoked a lot with Yasuhiro, a UTokyo master’s degree student, about sports and campus life (since I will be researching at UTokyo this summer).

Finally, on Friday Kento Ito, CEO of IINE Japan Corporation, gave us a short lecture on the cultural background behind the kimono and his Imagine One World Kimono Project. From his presentation, I learned that the kimono is more than just a type of clothing and represents even a lifestyle as well. It was interesting to hear about the pain-staking process of hand-weaving kimonos and about the tradition that kimonos played in emperor succession. Kimonos served to not only adorn one’s body but to also mesh harmoniously with nature in the environment. I also loved the company’s mission to create special kimonos for every country in the world (the US one was particularly beautiful). It also came as a surprise to me that the rich culture behind kimonos isn’t even common knowledge for the current generation of Japanese students.

Japanese language classes also continued throughout the past week. As we started to learn more and more Japanese, our classes started to also get progressively more and more difficult. It would be a lie to say that I wasn’t ever overwhelmed sometimes by the sheer amount of material we had to cover each day. However, despite this, Japanese classes have still continued to be an extremely enriching experience. Now comfortable with hiragana and katakana, I can ask many useful questions relating to directions, price, or even time. Admittedly, the grammar is still very confusing at times, but it has been useful for taking known phrases and words and constructing coherent sentences to fit the situation. Each of us even had a one on one conversation with an AJALT teacher (some that ended up using a lot of English in addition to Japanese) and had ice cream with them afterwards. As we head into our last week of language classes, I now see how much more we have left ahead of us in improving Japanese, and I hope to continue using it in my research lab at the University of Tokyo. I know that my Japanese can only improve so much in three months, but I hope to make the most of my time in Japan to developing my Japanese language skills.

Intro to Science & Engineering Seminar Overview
As I stated earlier in this report, this week we started the introduction to science and engineering seminars, given by Dr. Kono, Dr. Itoh, and Dr. Kawata. Dr. Kono’s gave two introductory lectures on solid state, quantum mechanics, and photonics on Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. Having only taken solid state physics this past semester, the introduction clarified any questions I had and made me feel more prepared and confident in heading into my research internship. Dr. Itoh’s lecture was focused on quantum computing, which was also a topic I was very interested in. As someone who even took some free time during the school year to take a quick online course in quantum computing, I was amazed by the research the Itoh Lab had done on silicon quantum computers. Lastly, Dr. Kawata gave a lecture on nano bio photonics that introduced a new side of nanotechnology that I had not heard much about before. The portion of his lecture that stuck out to me the most was when he discussed spectroscopy techniques like TERS and SERS (b/c currently at UT my research is related to TERS). The silver nano forest that his lab grew was also such a neat demonstration of self-assembly in nanotechnology.

A gorgeous view of Mt. Fuji ~ Joshua Yang

Weekend Trip to Mt. Fuji with the 2017 Nakatani RIES Japanese Fellows
Lastly, we had an amazing weekend trip to Mt. Fuji Lakes. We left bright and early at 7AM on Saturday and boarded a bus with some 2017 Nakatani RIES Japanese Fellows. After a three-hour drive, we arrived in the Fuji Five Lake region (Fujigoko) at the northern base of Mount Fuji. As a group, we visited the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Jinja (Shrine), and toured the area around it. In comparison to the urban landscape of Tokyo, the Fujigoko region was much different and was filled with lush greenery. Next, we met up with the rest of the Nakatani JP Fellows and had udon lunch with them in Fujiyoshida. Afterwards, we drove up to Mt. Fuji and got a splendid view of the majestic mountain up close. After seeing it in person, I really really want to climb it together as a group, even more so than before.

At around 7PM on Saturday, we arrived at the Gotemba Kogen Resort. After a delicious buffet dinner and a relaxing onsen, all the US and JP Fellows talked together in one of the resort cottages until it was time to sleep. The next day, after another buffet for breakfast (honestly this weekend had the best meals of our entire trip so far), we left the resort to head to the Numazu Deep Sea Aquarium. Afterwards, we ate a grilled seafood lunch (very delicious as well) and traveled to the Mishima Skywalk, which was 400 meters long, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in Japan. Finally, we even got to go strawberry picking at a small farm before heading back to the Sanuki Club Hotel at night.

Taking in the breathtaking views from Mt. Fuji with the JP Fellows ~ Joshua Yang

Honestly, the best part of the trip was not the sights we saw but instead the people we got to spend time with. This trip was our first time interacting with the all the Nakatani Japanese Fellows, and I have to admit, I was surprised by how well all of us got along. Initially, I had expectations that it would be an awkward trip with the US Fellows only talking amongst themselves and the same with the JP Fellows. To my surprise, however, every single one of the JP Fellows spoke English so well and were a blast to hang out with. Even for someone as antisocial as me, it was so easy to crack jokes with and make conversation with all the JP Fellows. I think personally, the biggest cultural experience of the trip was the onsen at the Mt. Fuji resort. All of the US Fellows were very uncomfortable at first with being completely naked around each other in the onsen, but the Japanese Fellows didn’t even feel a single amount of embarrassment. The onsen was crazy hot, but it was also relaxing to the point where I could tangibly feel any stress I had fade away. We then as a group (all guys of course) talked for almost an hour in the onsen, and it was in that moment that we all felt that there really wasn’t any kind of barrier between us, even though we were from two very different countries. I’m sure I speak for all of the Nakatani Fellows when I say that I can’t wait to reunite with everyone again at the Mid-Program meeting in Kyoto!

Question of the Week
Why are there almost no water fountains in Japan?

Research Project Update
As of now, I have not yet received any updates on my project, which will be focused on MBE growth of 2D materials. However, judging from past research done in MBE growth, my project will most likely focus on transition metal dichalcogenide (TMD) monolayers. I plan to speak more with my research mentor at the Iwasa Lab to discuss further details about my research project.

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Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences

“All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.” – Sean O’Casey

I’m not a big fan of my immune system. I know it really does try its very best to keep my body healthy, but even so, it still doesn’t always do a great job. Before we left for Japan, Sarah told us that if we didn’t get enough sleep, getting sick would change from a matter of if to a matter of when it will happen. When I heard this, I thought to myself, “Same, except it doesn’t matter if I get enough sleep”. As someone who gets sick quite often (as a lot of my friends back at home can attest to), I care much more about the timing of the inevitable cold that I end up catching. In fact, I was so proud of myself for not getting sick the first two weeks that I even considered bragging about it briefly in my week two report. I decided not to because I didn’t want to jinx myself, but it looks like that didn’t help much. Unfortunately, it appears that I have come down with a rather annoying cold the day before my research internship starts. Bummer.

While my health kind of sucks, this past week most definitely did not. As the last week in Tokyo that all the US Nakatani Fellows would get to spend together, these past few days have been filled with evening outings and lots of exploration. However, while everyone was pumped to make the most of our last week together, everyone was also starting to feel more and more tired. I think Will put it best when he said, “I really want to hang out with everyone, but I also just want to sleep”. Anyways, here’s a recap of our final week together in Tokyo:

Some of the delicious food from this week! ~ Joshua Yang

On Monday afternoon, right after Dr. Bekker’s lecture on adjusting to Japanese culture, most of us planned to head out to Harajuku for some delicious gyoza. I really wanted to go. Like seriously, really, really wanted to go. Yes, part of it was because I wanted to spend quality time with everyone (sure), but another huge part of it was because I love gyoza. And I love eating a lot of food, which I could do because the gyoza was pretty cheap (やすいですね). However, I did not realize that everyone would be leaving for Harajuku so early, and I had mistakenly decided that Monday afternoon would be the perfect time to do laundry. Because the gyoza restaurant was popular and might have long lines later in the day, the Harajuku-goers left without me ☹. Oh well, life goes on, so I, by my lonesome, traveled to Shinjuku later that night in search of good food and a brace for my uncooperative shoulder. The shoulder brace search was a bust (I went to like five different stores and everything was way too expensive), but I had some success on my search for food. For dinner, I ended up eating unagi (so tasty) and beef donburi. That was the first night that I had gone out exploring by myself, and looking back on it, I think that experience will help me a lot with adjusting to these upcoming weeks at research.

The stunning elegance of Meiji Shrine. ~ Joshua Yang

On Tuesday night, we went to, you guessed it, Shinjuku again! Of course, for mostly everyone else, this was their first time there. Even though I technically had a bit more experience exploring this city than the others, as a bandwagoner, I still ended up following everyone else around. Right when we got off the Shinjuku Metro station, we headed straight to the sixth (or was it fifth) floor of BICQLO (what a clever name for Bic Camera + Uniqlo) and sat in massage chairs for half an hour. I said this about the onsen before, but this time I could LITERALLY feel any stress I had fade away. A half-hour very well spent if I do say so myself. Next, we all split off to eat our own meals in a famous restaurant alleyway called Memory Lane (or Piss Alley, I prefer the other name). The ramen (pork, mushrooms, beansprouts, onions, more veggies, and amazing broth) I had at a small shop there was the best I’ve had so far and the cheapest too. We even met Toshuki-san, a Tokyo rail worker, who amusingly taught us how to properly slurp ramen. Afterwards, everyone met up to head to the Taito Station, a large game center in Shinjuku. There were five floors of arcade games, including a Taiko no Tatsujin (my personal favorite), DDR, and so many other ones that I had never seen before. What was personally awesome about this experience for me was that I recognized a lot of the music in the rhythm based arcade from Japanese pop, anime, and games (something I could rarely ever hear in the US).

On Wednesday afternoon, instead of the usual cultural lecture we would have, we had our last group scheduled outing to make plastic food replicas. When we first entered the store, I was amazed by how realistic everything seemed (lowkey it gave me a hungry appetite), and there was obviously clear attention to detail. We all ended up making a wax tempura dish; mine was tempura shrimp & eggplant, with cabbage on the side. Afterwards, we went as a group to get the world’s strongest matcha ice cream and ate at a sushi restaurant recommended by Onishi-sensei. (Quick aside here, our Japanese language teacher’s name is actually Ōnishi-sensei, in hiragana as おおにし, but for convenience I’ve been using and will continue to use Onishi-sensei). On Thursday night, we went back to Harajuku, and I immediately split off from the group eating takoyaki to eat at the gyoza place I missed out on (bless). We ended up going to a three-story Daiso shop (100 Yen store) and got some beautiful crepes before going back home.

Class 1 Farewell Photo ~ Joshua Yang

On Friday afternoon, after our language speeches in the morning (mine was on volleyball!), Professor Saeki gave a talk on the Japanese cultural background with regards to changing images of new women in Japanese popular culture. Her lecture demonstrated the way that stereotypes have changed through Japanese entertainment in areas like manga, anime, or even dramas. Later, Dr. Ozaki gave us a final farewell lecture detailing tips on living by ourselves and working in our host labs. The next day, on Saturday, Emily and I went to Harajuku yet again to thoroughly explore the area one last time before everyone left. We got Kyushu Ramen, checked out the Calbee store, saw some massive coils (puffs? Bunches? I don’t know the right word to use) of cotton candy, bought more crepes and boba too, went to the Daiso store again (she bought socks and almost lost them), and visited the Meiji Shrine. My feet were killing me by the afternoon, so we ended up taking a JR Train to the Ghibli Museum later that day. As a whole group we went around the Ghibli Museum, which was less like a museum and more like a confusing house to navigate. Seeing the direction and conceptual precision placed into every piece of animation and artwork was astounding, even for someone like me who hasn’t seen that many Studio Ghibli movies (which I plan to fix in the future). Finally, after an extraordinarily long day, we all went up to the rooftop of the Sanuki Club and just gazed at the stars and skyline while chatting the night away.

Honestly, I’m going to miss (and already do miss) everyone a lot. I’m going to miss the silly talks and the spontaneous adventures. I’m going to miss being able to walk into the conference room and immediately chat with anyone working there. I’m going to miss the consistent presence of all the Nakatani Fellows. I mean, it’s been just a few days, and I already miss language classes (especially Onishi-sensei). Living by myself for nine weeks is definitely going to be a tough challenge; nevertheless, I hope to practice my Japanese, research real hard, and make many more friends in lab. Here’s to hoping for the best!

Cultural Reflection
After having taken the Metro subway and JR trains many times by now, I have slowly begun to pick up on certain informal aspects of daily life in Japanese culture. In general, particularly with regards to public transportation, it appears that there are a few rules that everyone follows. Firstly, strangers do not talk to each other. Even among friends, there seems to be rarely, if any conversation between one another on the subway. People will instead be sleeping, using their phone, or reading books (sometimes manga). The only times people will speak up is to apologize (すみません) or offer a seat to an elderly individual. In fact, the train rides home are almost in complete silence, and the only voices audible are between our rather noisy group of Nakatani Fellows. As we discussed briefly in the pre-departure program, this is a bit different from American culture, where staying in silence can even be sometimes seen as hostile and where small talk is often encouraged. Secondly, boarding and leaving the train generally happens in a very orderly manner (almost systematic even), and empty space will always be taken up if necessary. Furthermore, many passengers will carefully attempt to take up as little space as possible. Only rarely have I seen empty seats on a crowded Japanese subway, and in rush hour empty space is virtually nonexistent. This order and regularity helps keep the subways very efficient and almost always on time. Other than these two aspects and rules, I would think that public transportation is rather similar to that in the US. However, I personally only use the metro bus on a daily basis (since I live in Austin, not NYC), so I cannot speak for the constant commute by subway in the United States.

Introduction to Science & Engineering Seminars
This week we finished up the introduction to science and engineering seminars, given by Prof Stanton, Prof. Ishioka, and Prof. Futuba. Prof. Stanton gave two introductory lectures on semiconductor nanostructures & optics and on femtospectroscopy and its uses. The first lecture on semiconductor nanostructures & optics built off of Prof. Kono’s introductory lectures about semiconductors, and gave us (at least me personally) a clearer and more complete understanding on photo-voltaics, opto-electronics, LEDs, and the advances made in each area. His second lecture on femtospectroscopy built off of Prof. Ishioka’s in-depth presentation, and both lectures focused on the importance of femtospectroscopy in comparison with slower or faster spectroscopic techniques, building up to implementation and useful applications like terahertz radiation. Lastly, Prof. Futuba presented an overview of his work with carbon nanotubes at the CNT application research center. His presentation was very casual and engaging, with useful advice about pursuing research in the future.

Question of the Week
Why are a large majority of Japanese people non-religious? (or consider themselves to be)

  • For more on this, see the Religion in Japan section on our Life in Japan resources page.  There are a number of articles at the bottom of this section relating to the role of religion in Japanese society today.

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Week 04: First Week at Research Lab

“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” – Margaret Mead

(Okay real talk, I’m not sure if this quote is motivational or sarcastic, but I like it either way)

My first day in the Iwasa Lab at the University of Tokyo went more or less as how I had anticipated it. I did not, however, expect that my cold would get even worse, and I definitely did not expect to be LATE to lab on the very. first. day. (Though in hindsight, this tends to happen a lot more than it should) But before you start judging me as an irresponsible individual who is never on time, let me at least explain my situation.

I live at a shared house in Akihabara, which is about a 30-minute walk from the University of Tokyo. This distance is just at the point where it’s a bit long for a walk but still too short to justify taking the subway every morning. Since it was my first day of research, I thought I would walk it at least once to see how it was. Adding some more context, the only way that I can access internet without connecting to Wi-Fi is through the JP phone that the Nakatani Foundation lent us. Furthermore, the location services on that said phone are pretty darn bad. Even though it works well enough to pull up Google Maps and find a route, it oftentimes has rather spotty current locations that jump around the place and has no clue which direction I’m facing. To make matters worse, I had to carry two bags full of omiyage with me. Because of this, a 30-minute walk to campus ended up taking me around 40 minutes.

Now this alone wasn’t too big of a problem, for I had left early enough that I still had 15 minutes remaining after arriving on campus (see, I am a responsible individual). The real issue was that I had absolutely no clue which building my lab was located in. I remembered in an email (with a map of the campus) that the Iwasa Lab was located in Engineering Building 8, a building marked with the number 80. With this in mind, I looked for the closest map sign, located where building 80 was, and immediately started heading in that direction. It took me the whole 15 minutes before I realized that this building was in a separate campus and was definitely not where the Iwasa Lab was. It turns out, the maps on campus are labeled with slightly different numbering than the map I had in my email. Engineering Building 8 was actually marked as building 79, and because of this small and silly blunder, I ended up rushing into lab 10 minutes late, greeting Iwasa-sensei with a flurry of “すみません”s. To my relief, Iwasa-sensei just laughed, told me not to worry about it, and led me to the office.

The MBE Machine I will be working with! ~ Joshua Yang

The rest of the day went much better. Even though I honestly felt and probably looked terrible because of my cold, everyone in the Iwasa Lab was cheerful and welcoming (the omiyage might have helped). Because my mentor Kashiwabara-san, an M1 student, had four classes that day (and he’s also busy this week with PPMS measurements), Nakagawa-san, a D1 student, gave me a quick tour of the lab facilities. Aside from that, there were no other special welcoming activities to lab, and everyone continued to work as they would on any regular day. As more and more lab members cycled in and out of the office, I eventually got to meet everyone. Which reminds me, whenever I shook hands and introduced myself to a lab member, I would always notice how considerably flimsy their handshake was (especially compared to the firm handshakes in the US).

Afterwards, I got lunch with Saito-san, a D3 student (the most senior student in the lab), and a few others at the main cafeteria. The food there was surprisingly cheap (and good too), but I guess it makes sense when you consider the budget that most students are on. I got the Akamon Ramen, which is named after the Akamon Gate (literally Red Gate) at the entrance to Todai. For the next few hours, I was free to do whatever I wanted, so I spent that time reading through more research papers on 2D TMDs. Later that day, Wang-san, an M2 student who was Sasha’s mentor from last year, let me shadow him for a couple of hours while he prepared the substrate wafers and used the Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE) Machine. We then got dinner at a Chinese restaurant nearby and came back to lab to work a bit more. By the time I left, it was around 9:30PM, and I was completely exhausted.

Tsukemen, Spicy Miso Ramen, Tonkotsu Ramen… ~ Joshua Yang

The rest of the week ended up being very similar to the first day. I would get to lab (on time) by 10:00AM, fan myself for a bit because of the hot weather outside, learn how to use the lab equipment from Wang-san, get lunch with Saito-san + some others (I swear I’ve had lunch with Saito-san every single day), read papers and books in free time, shadow Wang-san a bit more, then head home around 7:00PM. Honestly, research during the first week was a bit slow, but I came in expecting that, so I didn’t mind it at all. I do have to say, however, that I absolutely hate substrate wafer preparation with a burning passion. I’m just so bad at it! The painful precision involved in cleaving and cleaning the wafers using diamond pens and tweezers is just too much for my lackluster motor skills (there’s a reason I want to pursue a PhD, not an MD). I have, however, been getting better at it, and it’s now an official dream of mine to become a substrate preparation pro by the end of this research internship. Anyways, thanks to Sasha’s 16-page in-depth equipment guide from last year, it only took me a few days of shadowing Wang-san before I came to understand the entire film-growth process and the steps involved. (Seriously though, her guide is a godsend. Future Nakatani interns at Iwasa Lab, you’re in luck!!) Even though I haven’t started directly on my project (growing WSe2 monolayers on SiO2 substrate), I am very happy with all the training I have done so far. I should be able to start growing thin films independently by myself in the next few weeks.

Funnily enough, ever since I started research at the Iwasa Lab, the amount of Japanese I have had to use has gone down drastically. Partially because nearly everyone can speak English, and mostly because I’m awful at speaking Japanese, English is the main language that I use to communicate in the lab. I think I’ve actually spoken more Chinese than Japanese here (Wang-san and Feng-san are Chinese), and I even got two compliments this week on how good my Chinese was. The most Japanese I’ve used was probably during my quick self-introduction at the welcome party. Not going to lie, I’m a little bit disappointed by this, but regardless, I plan to continue to initiate conversations in Japanese and to continue to study the language on my own. Although, I must note that while Kashiwabara-san’s (my mentor) English is miles ahead of my Japanese, it still has a little bit to go, so I guess we’ll see how that plays out when we begin to work more closely together.

Research Internship Housing
As I’ve said before, I’m living in a shared house in Akihabara. I think I have five suitemates (shared housemates?), but to date I have only met four of them. I have a private room about the same size as the room I had in the Sanuki Club Hotel, so the transition has been relatively smooth. While the room is a bit on the small side, I can’t say that I’m displeased with my living arrangements, and I am very glad the expensive rent (rent in Tokyo is so expensive) is being paid generously by the Nakatani Foundation. I’ll talk more about my shared housemates in future reports, but they all seem like really nice people, even if I only occasionally talk with them.

Other Excursions In Tokyo

Maid Café with Savannah and Rose. ~ Joshua Yang

Since research takes up a lot of time, less has gone on outside of lab, but I think it’s still worthwhile to briefly go over the excursions from this week. On Monday night after lab finished, I met up with Savannah (Sabanana-chan’s lab happens to also be at Todai) at a temple near Shinobazu Pond. Since it was our first day, we ended up talking for around an hour about our respective labs and life in general. It was kind of nostalgic actually, because that temple happened to be where we took one of our first group photos in Japan. Apparently, the temple lights turned off just as I got there, but the night was beautiful nonetheless. Over the next few nights, with some breaks in between, Savannah, Rose (who is at Keio University), and I revisited areas like Shibuya and Tsukishima together, simply enjoying the presence of each other’s company. We walked through cities, crossed many bridges (Savannah accidentally asked to take photos of two Japanese strangers), explored a library… We even went to a maid café together! (Cross that off the bucket list) Our maid waitress was リープ (Lip), and she did her best to make us feel like “princesses and ma[gi]sters”. I must say, however, that although I enjoyed the cringey cuteness of the café, I don’t think I will be coming back anytime soon. On the weekend, I met up with a friend from back home at UT (Texas not Tokyo) and had tsukemen (dipping ramen) for the first time. Speaking of which, I actually had a lot of ramen this week because I was really craving it. I’m not sure why. I just did. I also walked to late on Sunday night, and the relaxing scenery did wonders for my mood.

Reflections on the Orientation Program and Language Classes
I miss the orientation program a lot. The seminars were interesting, the lectures were informative, and the cultural events were entertaining, but above all else, I miss the people the most. Even though I have met up with those living in the Tokyo area, and even though I have a wonderful group of lab mates, I still can’t help but miss all the time we spent together during the first three weeks. Life feels a lot lonelier now. Sadder even. And because of it, my mood has suffered significantly over the past week, swinging from highs to lows and everything in between. I hope I’ll slowly get more used to living by myself in Japan over the next couple of weeks.

The most helpful thing I learned about Japan through the orientation program was the culture. It’s hard to put it directly into words (with all the unwritten rules, customs, actions, etc.), but I feel much more accustomed to Japanese culture now, and it has allowed me to fit in a bit more this past week. Language classes are also still very useful, and I use Japanese often outside of the lab. The most helpful thing I learned about myself through the orientation program is that there’s a lot I don’t understand about myself. I know it’s a vague answer, but that’s really all I can say for now.

Question of the Week
In Japan, is it common to greet someone with a handshake? (Oops)

  • In Japan, most people will bow upon first meeting and exchange business cards; handing them over using both hands.  However, when greeting foreigners, it is common for people to shake hands and it will not surprise anyone when you reach out your hand to shake theirs.
  • The typical handshake in Japan may be weaker that the firm/strong handshake Americans are expected to use with direct eye contact.  When in Japan, it is good to ensure that your handshake is not too firm as this may seem aggressive (and could be painful) to those you are greeting.  Try to go a notch or two down from your American-style handshake to be somewhere in the middle from what you have been experiencing.
  • Just be careful you don’t mix the two and employ the bow-handshake which can feel, and look, a bit awkward for both sides; but is quite common because people get confused about what to do and try to do both at the same time. 🙂

Research Project Update
I will be growing thin film transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs), specifically monolayer WSe2, on SiO2 substrate using Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE). Successful growth of high-quality WSe2 on SiO2 substrate by MBE would have important ramifications on photoluminescence in electronics.

Research Methods:
The equipment I will need to use to grow and characterize WSe2 (to my current knowledge) are an atomic force microscope (AFM), a molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) machine with a reflection high energy electron diffraction (RHEED) monitor, and an X-ray diffraction (XRD) instrument. The process and individual steps are very precise and procedural.

Over the past week, I have been exposed to the entirety of the thin film growth process. I have already begun to prepare substrate by myself and have experience in operating the MBE machine. I currently have the least amount of familiarity with the XRD instrument, but with Sasha’s notes, I have no doubt that I will be able to pick it up quickly. Overall, I have a relatively solid understanding of the intuition and reasoning behind each procedure.

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Week 05: Critical Incident Analysis – Life in Japan

“Somebody’s boring me. I think it’s me.” – Dylan Thomas

Even though I’ve been living in Japan for over a month now, I still have yet to encounter any particularly “critical incidents” in terms of cross-cultural communication. In fact, I haven’t run into many problems at all so far, but that might partially be because I don’t tend to have long interactions with Japanese people while sightseeing or traveling. However, that isn’t to say that my experience of communicating in Japan has been entirely difficulty-free. While I would describe it more as a trivial occurrence than a critical incident, I did have some trouble ordering food at a restaurant rather recently.

It was the Sunday that everyone left to head for their respective labs and universities. I had just finished signing the lease papers for my share house room and was about to leave for Shinjuku Station when I passed by MOS Burger, a Japanese hamburger chain. I had heard interesting things about the burgers in Japan, so alone and in a mood for exploration, I decided to check it out. To tell you the truth, I previously had some bad experiences with ordering food in Japan, but that was mostly because I didn’t know that much Japanese at the time. Now equipped with skills obtained from over fifty hours of Japanese class, I was brimming with confidence and walked into the store ready to conquer the world.

My confidence immediately began to falter when I realized that I could only and barely understand, let alone read, about a quarter of the items on the menu. I refused to, however, capitulate and ask for an English menu. Still determined to succeed, I stepped up to the counter and began to stutter, misread, and completely butcher the Japanese pronunciation for “Spicy Cheese Hamburger”. It took the cashier a moment at first, but she eventually understood and placed the order. Mentally fist pumping, I was about to find a seat when the cashier asked me one last question: “?” To this day, I still have no idea exactly what she said, but using my culmination of experience and knowledge, I knew she had to be asking “is this for here or to go?” I was prepared for this though; we had even gone over the simple answer in Japanese class. Like a poker player revealing the royal flush in his hand, I whipped out the perfect and precise response… “けっこうです。” Instead of getting the reaction I wanted though, I was met with a quizzical look and a repeat of the same question. I again repeated my answer, this time trying to clearly enunciate as well as physically possible. Again, the same question. This went on a while longer (with me panicking more and more) until I finally gave up, shamefully pointed my finger down, and said, “for here please.”

It only took me a little bit to realize how stupid my mistake was. The proper way to say “for here” is It’s no surprise that she looked as confused as she did. Aside from never forgetting how to say “for here” in Japanese ever again, I also got a greater sense of cultural appreciation from this short exchange. By how quickly she understood my “for here please”, it was obvious that she probably could have taken the entire order in English. Instead though, she patiently listened to my broken Japanese in a fashion that almost seemed to be encouraging my efforts at trying to speak the language. And this encouraging behavior is something I have consistently seen throughout my entire stay in Japan.

Although the US is commonly referred to as a melting pot of cultures, I can’t help but feel that a similar scenario would occur very differently in the States. As a son of two Chinese immigrants, I have experienced first-hand a tacit rule: order quickly and don’t speak broken English, unless you want a death glare from both the cashier and everyone else in line behind you. In fact, it was mostly this self-imposed pressure to answer immediately that caused me to mess up such a simple phrase in the first place. While it may not be as relevant when ordering, the Japanese culture of pauses and silence in conversation has honestly really begun to grow on me. The way that the Japanese lifestyle intermixes seemingly contradictory ideas like hustle and bustle with peace and calm continues to amaze me.

Research Internship Housing
After the second week of living in Akihabara, I finally got to meet all my share housemates. At least, I think I have. There are four other rooms total, and I know for a fact that one of them is double occupancy, so that should total five share housemates. However, I have only seen four this entire time, so that means either one room is empty or the other person is a ghost. I think I’ll bet on the former for now…

For their privacy, I’ll only refer to them by their first initials. My housemates are C, A, K, and L. I honestly have seen C the least out the four, so the only thing I can say is that our rooms are right next two each other, and the walls are evidently very thin. A and K are the two roommates. I’m not sure if they knew each other beforehand (because they apparently moved in at different times), but they are always cooking together and seem to be good friends. I’ve already asked them to teach me how to cook curry, so I look forward to that in the future. Lastly, L is the only female living in our share house (at least that I know of). She’s from China and is studying Japanese here. We actually had a rather long discussion in Mandarin the other day, and I found it slightly amusing that when she asked me a yes or no question, I instinctively answered in Japanese (not English nor Chinese) with “はい”. However, while I’m writing this, I believe she has already moved out. To my knowledge, all of them are in their late twenties to mid-thirties, and none of them are Japanese (all international). We generally keep to ourselves and only seldom talk with one another, but that’s mostly because we all have very different schedules. Sometimes, it can get a little lonely, but I personally don’t mind.

A fresh seafood dinner with Keio Squad ~ Joshua Yang

Other Weekly Excursions:
Lab was pretty normal this week; I’ll discuss more about it in my research update. Something worth mentioning now though is that I again got lunch every day this week with Saito-san + others. I’m not sure if it’s because Saito-san is the most senior, but I now consider him to be the unofficial “Lunch Master” of the Iwasa Lab.

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and [lunch with Saito-san].” – Benjamin Franklin

On Thursday night, Savannah and I went down to Hiyoshi to visit Rose. We went to a fried chicken restaurant (turned out to be karaage) that Rose’s friend recommended (only Savannah got karaage), and afterwards, we bought ice cream from a nearby 7/11 and sat on the station steps, just people-watching. Our brief hangouts aren’t always the most eventful, but I’m always thankful for the good company. (We still have yet to get Trevor to join though ☹)

Busting some dance moves at a hip-hop workshop with Savannah. ~ Joshua Yang

On Friday night, Savannah and I finally got our temporary Tokyo University ID cards! One of things I missed the most about the US and specifically my home university is the ability to freely go to the gym and exercise. Specifically, I’ve missed volleyball and hip-hop dance (neither of which I am good at) the most. Now that we had our ID cards, we had access to the Gotenshita gym, and that is exactly where we went. Every Friday, there are two workshops from 6-8PM in the Gotenshita dance studio; both of us enjoy dancing, so we went to check it out. The workshops were amazing! (楽しかったです) We learned two pieces of choreography to “Mo Bounce” by Iggy Azalea and “Humble” by Kendrick Lamar. Not only was everyone in the room having a blast, but the dance choreography was also relatively easy to pick up (even in another language). We got invited to their Line chat and plan on coming as much as possible (I plan on coming every week 😉).

After the lab group meeting on Saturday, I briefly visited Yoyogi Park to check out the Caribbean and Latin American Street Festival. There was a mass of people dancing on “Salsa Street” and countless amounts of food stands serving exotic (using this term lightly) street food. I even passed by a music performance there (was lured in when a band played a cover of La La Land’s “Another Day of Sun”) and listened to an awesome jazz trio called the Michiyo Trio. On Sunday, I went to Kamakura with Rose and her friends Michiko, Elena, and Jenny from Keio University to see the Daibutsu (Big Buddha) at the Kotoko-in Temple. Even though it started to pour like crazy that day (and I had conveniently forgotten to bring my umbrella), we still all had a wonderful time and even got to visit the beach at the end.

Daibutsu is truly a big Buddha ~ Joshua Yang

Question of the Week:  Why is there a hiragana character on Japanese license plates?

Research Update
The past week in lab has been a rather slow one for me. Because Kashiwabara-san needed to replace a material with tin in the MBE machine for his experiments, we had to open the main chamber. Usually, the main chamber always remains closed, and the substrate is loaded in through the load-lock chamber. This is to preserve the ultra-high vacuum (UHV) in the main chamber that is essential for molecular beam epitaxy. After opening the main chamber and adding in tin (which involved unscrewing way too many bolts), Nakano-sensei, Wang-san, Kashiwabara-san, and I replaced the copper rings (necessary for UHV), cleaned the window screens, and refilled the selenide in the K-cell. When we had finally finished maintenance and closed the main chamber, we began heating the metal, substrate chamber, and K-cell to aid in decreasing the pressure inside the main chamber. Because an UHV would take the rest of the week to achieve, I spent a lot of time this week reading papers on WSe2, looking at linear algebra, and learning more Japanese (especially in tackling Kanji!). Other than that, not much else happened, and especially because Matsuoka-san (M2) and Majima-san (B4) offered to help with the silicon dioxide substrate preparation, this probably (and hopefully) was the freest week of the nine. In lieu of experimental data and results, here’s a general overview of what I learned about my research project from my readings:

Transition Metal Dichalcogenides (hereafter abbreviated as TMDs) are formed by a transition metal from group six and two chalcogens from group sixteen. A monolayer of a TMD consists of three hexagonally packed atomic layers: one transition metal layer sandwiched between two chalcogen layers. There exist strong intra-layer covalent bonds between the chalcogens and metal, but there exist only weak inter-layer van der Waals forces. Nevertheless, this weak interlayer coupling still changes the electronic properties of the TMD material. As a bulk crystal, TMDs have different stacking arrangements of layers, giving rise to different polytypes 1T, 2H, and 3R. The number represents the monolayers in the stacking pattern, and the letter represents the geometric symmetry: trigonal, hexagonal, or rhombohedral. 1T TMDs are metastable and metallic, while 2H and 3R TMDs are stable and semiconducting. Because TMDs are layered, they display different measurements at different planes or angles, making them anisotropic. In bulk, TMDs are semiconductors with an indirect bandgap in the near infrared spectral range. TMDs in bulk have been studied on for applications in photovoltaic solar cells, solid lubricants, or even energy storage.

In monolayer form, however, TMDs (like WSe2) have direct bandgaps in the visible spectral range at K+ and K- points. This is because states at Γ and Τ have strong metal d-orbit character and pz orbitals of chalcogen, which are strongly dependent on vertical interlayer coupling (not present in monolayer). This change from indirect to direct bandgap causes monolayer crystals of TMDs to display photoluminescence of up to four orders of magnitude greater than in their bulk forms. This allows for potential applications in FETs, LEDs, sensors, photovoltaic devices, ICs, or even in novel heterostructures. Furthermore, the breaking of inversion symmetry (because (x,y) -> (-x,-y) does not map the lattice onto itself) combined with strong spin-orbit coupling leads to valley contrasted optical selection rules, prompting scientists to consider monolayer TMDs as building blocks for valley-tronics. WSe2 monolayers also have extra advantages of modest carrier mobility, high degree of thermal anisotropy, and catalytic properties.

Monolayer synthesis and fabrication can be done with several different methods including, but not limited to, mechanical exfoliation, liquid exfoliation, chemical vapor deposition (CVD), and molecular beam epitaxy (MBE). In my research project, I will be using molecular beam epitaxy. Molecular beam epitaxy is a bottom-up method that, like the name suggests, fires beams of atoms or molecules from effusion cells at a base material known as the substrate. These beams are created through heating solid or liquid sources, and the timing is precisely controlled by a shutter. As I have stated earlier, the chamber of an MBE machine must be kept in an ultra-high vacuum for precise and controlled conditions. Advantages of using molecular beam epitaxy are lower defect concentration and layer by layer growth that causes higher quality uniformity. Furthermore, in comparison to top-down exfoliation techniques, molecular beam epitaxy has greater potential for scalability.

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Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting

“If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research, would it?” – Albert Einstein

Cultural Reflection
It’s a bit hard to believe that we’re already reaching the halfway mark of the program and that over one-third of the research internship is over. It really makes you think about and appreciate the surprisingly short and ephemeral three months we have here. Funnily enough, just this past week, I had a (rather odd) nightmare where my stay in Japan was cut short when I had to fly back to the US (the reasons were a bit fuzzy, as dreams usually are). I do vividly remember during that dream, however, the sadness and regret that I felt about not making the most of my time here and being unable to accomplish all the things I wanted to do in Japan. Imagine my relief when I woke up and realized I still had many more weeks left. It was a good reminder, to say the least, of the importance and significance of every day spent here.

Every week in Japan is a food adventure! ~ Joshua Yang

Outside of research, my biggest accomplishment so far in Japan would have to be my familiarity with the area. After three weeks of living here, I can now easily walk to and from my laboratory at the University of Tokyo (in many different routes too) without any trouble at all. I’m able to navigate around the surrounding cities (like Hongo, Akihabara, Taito, Ueno, etc.) just from memory, locate and recognize stores and restaurants, and have, as a result, been able to appreciate the beauty in my surroundings instead of being glued to the google maps application on my phone. I guess, in a way, this accomplishment seems rather trivial, but considering the trouble I ran into the first week while getting to lab (and thirty minutes is still a decent walk), I am quite proud of this newfound familiarity. If only just a bit, this place really is starting to feel more like a home to me.

The biggest challenge for me continues to be the Japanese language (and my inability to understand it). Adjusting to the Japanese lifestyle, work ethic, and culture hasn’t posed too much of a problem so far, but I still face significant challenges with the language. While I am able perform routine tasks (like ordering, asking for help, or greeting someone), complicated clarifications or daily conversations have proved difficult, if not nearly impossible, for me. I have said earlier that my lab mates in the Iwasa Lab all speak English relatively fluently, but naturally, everyone speaks to each other in Japanese, so many of their conversations in lab, at lunch, or even in group meetings are completely incomprehensible to me. And while this doesn’t bother me too much in of itself (I really wouldn’t say that I feel left out), I get slight anxiety around everyone because I don’t want to make them feel obligated to speak in English to me. Everything would be better if I was more fluent in Japanese… but it’s hard to see that happening. Even though I am continually trying to make the most of my free time in lab by learning more Japanese, the gap between textbook knowledge and actual conversation seems too difficult to bridge in this brief period of time. Learning a new language from scratch is much more difficult than I had originally imagined. I realize now that I’ve taken for granted my Chinese language skills that developed from many years of lessons and constant exposure. I’ll be honest, especially because it is unlikely that I will continue to use Japanese after this program, I have become slightly discouraged and less motivated in studying the language. Regardless, I still plan to tough it out and learn as much Japanese as I can over the remaining weeks.

Research, on the other hand, has been progressing very well. I will expand a bit more technically in the research update, but to generally cover the previous week, I have become (in my opinion) quite familiar with the whole film growth process, to the point where I confidently believe I could manage the entire process by myself. To some extent, however, I really do question how useful I actually am to the Iwasa Lab (I’m pretty sure the answer is “not at all”). I oftentimes feel like a burden to my mentor(s), who have to spend extra time to work with me on my project; for instance, Wang-san is busy writing his master’s thesis, and Kashiwabara-san has work to do on his own MBE experiments. Personally, I wish I could experiment more independently, but I think it might take more time before I am entrusted to do so (which is fair), and I’m a bit hesitant to voice my opinion about it. Adding on to this, there is also an issue with machine time usage, particularly because the second MBE machine cannot be used for several weeks (E-beam seems to be broken). Furthermore, while I do have a good understanding of what my project entails, I am still not entirely sure if it is a meaningful endeavor or just some side project (with rather little value) that has been aptly assigned to an inexperienced undergraduate researcher like myself. I hope to clear things up as quickly as possible with my mentors, but again, it has been difficult for me to be direct about it. Mentorship has also been a bit of an issue for me. Officially, Kashiwabara-san is my mentor, but because he has been quite busy these past weeks, I have been working most of the time with Wang-san instead. I definitely don’t mind having multiple mentors (the more the merrier right), but it can sometimes be confusing due to their differing schedules and differing film growth practices. Especially because even the tiniest of details can make all the difference in MBE film growth, I have to frequently ask for clarification on the reasons behind their slight procedural differences. From what I have seen, Wang-san can sometimes produce surprisingly high-quality films (at the cost of consistency) while Kashiwabara-san can consistently produce standard-quality films (at the cost of higher quality). Because of this, I am doing my best to understand each of their quirks in their procedures.

Real-life rendition of Hercules the Archer ~ Joshua Yang

Other Weekly Excursions
This week was a bit less eventful as research began to pick up. I also went out less often, partly because I began to feel a bit under the weather near the end of the week and knew I had to get as much rest as possible so that I wouldn’t get sick again. Of course, that still didn’t stop me from finding neat places to eat at. Something very shocking, however, was that I didn’t get lunch with Saito-san the first three days. (!!!) Apparently though, it was because he was at a research conference in Kyoto, so lunch life went back to normal when he came back to Tokyo. We also recently had someone new move-in to the share house. Since his name starts with an A as well, I will refer to him as Apple (his name actually sounds a bit like apple too). Apple is from Finland (his English is quite good though) and is vacationing in Japan for about a month.


The Taiwanese Festival was completely packed ~ Joshua Yang

Savannah and I went together to the hip hop workshop again on Friday, this time finishing up choreography to “Humble” and learning a new routine for “Wings” by Little Mix. Afterwards, we went exploring in Ueno, ate at a kebab restaurant, and explored the Ueno Park at night. The next day, I went back with Savannah and her share housemate (she has a similar housing situation to me except she lives in Asakusa instead of Akihabara) to Ueno Park for the National Western Art Museum since they had free admission that day. The permanent collection there had many different works from a wide variety of artists, including Van Gogh, Monet, Rodin, and Picasso. I’m not an artist myself, and I probably didn’t understand the historical significance of many of the artists’ works, but I still had an enjoyable (peaceful and calming too) experience appreciating the exhibit (some of the abstract art was a bit lost on me though). Lastly, since the Ueno Zoo was about to close (at 5PM even, why do things in Japan close so early??), as a group we checked out the Taiwanese Festival held in Ueno Park. Like most festivals, the main attraction was food (Savannah got karaage though), and the whole place was packed with hundreds of people. To some extent, the Taiwanese Festival even reminded me a little bit of the lively night markets in Taiwan (on a smaller scale).

Question of the Week:  Why is cheese so limited/expensive in Japan?

Research Update

If the week before was the freest week so far, then this week has definitely been the busiest. After the pressure conditions in the MBE machine stabilized, we (Wang-san and I) immediately began growing WSe2 films. The purpose of these first few growths was to determine (to the best of our ability) the optimal parameters for high quality growth, which can change every time the MBE main chamber is opened. Recording as many details as possible like dial intensity, current, pressure, and time, we grew a total of five films (on three samples) over the past week. Unfortunately, it appears that only one of our films showed high quality growth (but it was surprisingly high quality with an initial strange RHEED pattern that had not ever been observed before) and the rest were rather low quality. There especially seems to be some difficulty in growing WSe2 on silicon dioxide substrate, but we suspect that might be due to the poor growth conditions (only one silicon dioxide substrate was tested) and the oldness of the substrate used. Regardless, it seems that we need to grow more films before we can accurately estimate proper growth conditions.

As I stated before, machine time usage is starting to become a bit of a problem since the second MBE machine is unavailable for an indefinite amount of time. Since Wang-san will be working on his master’s thesis, MBE machine time will be split between Kashiwabara-san’s heterostructure project and my monolayer project. At the beginning of the week, it looked like I would not be able to make any progress this week, but Nakano-sensei came to the rescue and found a better way to evenly split machine time. To my knowledge, Nakano-sensei said that I would be able to finish my project by the end of next week, but I am a bit skeptical about this projected timeline. While monolayer growth is just a shorter version of multilayer growth (either process can be completed easily in a day), we still have yet to determine proper chamber conditions, which will require further multilayer growths. Furthermore, because there was some difficulty in the past with growing monolayer WSe2 on silicon dioxide substrate, I can only expect that we will run into more problems later, requiring more time than available in just the next week. To best honest, this short timeline is partly the reason why I’m wondering if this experiment is just a simple side project that doesn’t have significant meaning to the lab (which I could understand). Something else that I hadn’t expected was how black box the entire MBE process is. For so many different questions I ask, and especially for the strange RHEED pattern we observed, the answer I get is almost always a simple “I don’t know”. In one way, it is frustrating to not understand intuitively why certain conditions cause success and why other conditions cause failure, but in another way, it slightly lowers the intellectual playing field so that even I, by testing different growth conditions, can contribute valuable knowledge and information, which is terrifically exciting to me. With just my limited knowledge and experience, I was able to make several suggestions over the past week that helped my mentors in the growth process. All in all, I’m completely enthralled with MBE film growth and can’t wait to conduct more experiments over the coming week(s).

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

“Just as lotions and fragrance give sensual delight, a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.” – Proverbs 27:9

Standing in front of the massive Sanjusangendo Temple East Gate. ~ Joshua Yang

The Mid-Program Meeting was likely the most enjoyable experience I’ve had in Japan yet. The idea of being able to meet back up with all the other Nakatani Fellows (who I’ve dearly missed) for a few packed and fun-filled days is simply brilliant. Not only was it a fantastic time of bonding and exploring, but the Mid-Program Meeting was also the perfect opportunity to reflect and discuss the problems/issues we’ve all inevitably faced over the weeks of independent research.

Even before arriving in Kyoto on Saturday, I already had huge expectations for the next five days, and looking back, I think my expectations were spot on. Right after getting off our Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, Savannah and I ate gyutan (delicious beef tongue) for lunch with Jakob and his mother. When we finished eating, we dropped off our luggage at the Kyoto Traveler’s Inn (where we would be staying for the duration of the Mid-Program Meeting) and took a cab to the Sanjusangendo Temple. Officially called Rengeo-in, which means the Hall of the Lotus King, Sanjusangendo had an impressive hall full of life-sized Thousand-Armed Kannon statues. It was a magnificent sight to see, and there in total were around a thousand statues, not even including the many unique guardian deities like Raijin and Fujin that stood at the front. I wish I could describe it better with words, but only a visual picture can truly begin to capture the awe experienced when walking through that hall. Photography was explicitly forbidden, so I don’t have any personal photos to show, but seriously, look it up, and you’ll be amazed at the insane detail and skill in crafting for each and every statue in this hall.

Immediately after visiting Sanjusangendo, I took a bus to Nishiki Market to visit two UT friends who were on a summer mission trip in Kyoto. Something that I seemed to notice was the slight difference in public transportation between Kyoto and Tokyo. While Kyoto still has a large subway system, it seems much less comprehensive than that in Tokyo (and this is why I took the bus). I have heard that this is because many historical artifacts buried underground prevent the building of subways. Traffic was also killer that day (maybe it’s that way every day, I’m not sure), so I didn’t end up spending too long in Nishiki Market and had to run (running was faster than the bus) over a mile to make it back to the Kyoto Traveler’s Inn on time (in accordance with our itinerary). When I finally finished cooling off from the extremely humid and hot Kyoto weather, we had dinner with all the US and JP Nakatani Fellows, and it was so enjoyable talking to everyone about updates on research and life, with such familiarity that it seemed as if we had only been separated for a couple of days. Then, all of us as a group went to explore around the Kyoto area, with some going to karaoke, some going to a bread shop, and some just having fun talking in the rain. When we got back, we hopped into the sento together (a public bath house, think of an in-door onsen), hung out and talked for a bit longer, and crashed after this long and tiring day. Right from the get go, the Mid- Program meeting was off to a very quick start, and the next few days followed in suit.

Our laughable mean-mugging attempt at the traditional tea ceremony. ~ Joshua Yang

Over the Mid-Program Meeting, we did a lot of scheduled and unscheduled sight-seeing in Kyoto, visiting various shrines and temples like Kamigamo Shrine (the priest here gave us an exceptional tour), Kinkaku-ji Temple (I got omiyage for my lab from here), and Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. We got to experience a traditional tea ceremony, visited the gallery of Kyoto Traditional Arts & Crafts, walked down the thought-provoking Path of Philosophy, had a relaxing time in the Kyoto International Manga Museum (check out Katelyn’s profile for this really cute drawing by Savannah of the 2017 Nakatani Group), and even received our own personal yukatas! On the research side, after our research presentations (which was my first time giving a technical scientific presentation), we toured the labs at the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS), and on the final day, we also got to tour the Sysmex headquarters in Kobe, Japan; even getting to meet (and introduce ourselves in Japanese to) the Sysmex CEO Hisashi Ietsugu! And to add even more to our already packed five days, we (okay mostly Katelyn) made Fourth of July Jello, and went to an entertainment venue called Round One (along with Erica from last year’s program too!), where we played arcade games (more DDR, and this absolutely crazy air hockey game) and went bowling together. It’s pleasant to know that even in Japan, my terrible bowling skills still haven’t changed.

As you can probably guess, the Mid-Program Meeting was very exhausting. But it was without a doubt well worth it too. I feel like I learned so much from those five days, from overcoming challenges in scientific presentations to more optimistic (and realistic) outlooks on research. And the many deep talks we had those few nights were ones I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. When speaking with the other

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.

students about problems encountered in research, I realized that the issues that I were facing were normal and that research really does have its bumps along the way, which is completely natural. The saying that comes to mind first is “misery loves company”, but I think it’s more accurate to say that we all had many thoughts and feelings, both happy and sad, that were so precious when shared in company together. It really is just like the popular song in High School Musical: we’re all in this together.

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. Joshua presented on the research he is doing in the Dept. of Applied Physics and Quantum-Phase Electronics Center, Iwasa Laboratory at the University of Tokyo entitled “Molecular Beam Epitaxy of Monolayer WSe2 on SiO2”. Click here to download a PDF of his presentation.

Kinkaku-ji Temple ~ Joshua Yang

Other Weekly Excursions
There’s not too much that happened, but here’s what went on during the week before the Mid-Program Meeting. The first Friday that Savannah and I went to the hip-hop workshops, we met Koko-san, who then invited us to come to Shinjuku on Tuesdays for free two-hour gospel hip hop classes. This week was the first time we were able to attend, and it was some of the most enjoyable choreography I’ve learned so far (Feel It by TobyMac). We were even treated to dinner afterwards by a complete stranger (who has this very popular travel ramen Instagram page) just because we were from America! For Friday hip hop classes, we learned more choreography to Wings, and began new choreography to Stay by Zedd. Amidst all the different things in Japan, this constant routine of dancing never fails to give a warm reminder of home.

Jakob also came to visit Tokyo this week, and as the new Tokyo experts (I say this sarcastically), Savannah and I hung out with Jakob at the Korakuen Amusement park near Todai. It was interesting to talk to him about the many differences (and similarities) between his theoretical research and our experimental research experiences.

Oh, and lastly, on Friday night, Savannah and I thought we got kicked out of a small standing tempura udon restaurant. Because there was no English on the menu and no pictures at all, after just a moment of looking very confused, we were directed outside. This, however, only made Savannah more determined to figure out what we wanted to order in Japanese, but that was all unnecessary when a restaurant staff member came out to help us translate what we wanted to order. I thought it was a humorous event worth mentioning.

Question of the Week
Why do many bathrooms in Japan not have soap or paper towels?

  • The question could also be asked, why do bathrooms in the U.S. have free soap, paper towels, and tissue paper?  In other countries, it’s simply different.  You’ll find this to be the case in other countries, particularly in Asia, that you may travel to but it also not uncommon in Europe to have to pay for use of public restrooms.
  • Not having paper towels in public restrooms is partially due to environmental concerns as paper waste must be incinerated in Japan, a cost saving measure in train stations and at university campuses, and also helps keep public restrooms cleaner as there is never an overflowing trash bin full of used paper towels.
  • This is why everyone in Japan carries a small washcloth/handkerchief with them so that they can always dry their hands and also to use to wipe sweat off their forehead/face on the hot and humid summer days.  This is also why at restaurants in Japan you always get a wet wipe or cold/hot towel to use to clean your hands before you eat.  When traveling, it’s always best to be prepared and assume there may not be toilet paper, paper towels, and/or soap provided in all public restrooms that you may use along the way.  It’s just part of the experience of traveling.
  • The 7 Things  You Should Carry at All Times When Living in Japan (Japan Info) 

Research Project Update
As I predicted, I was not able to complete my research project by the end of this week. In fact, I wasn’t able to get any machine time at all for my project because both my mentors needed to use the MBE machine this week. This wasn’t too bad though, partly because I was spending more time this week anyways preparing my research presentation. Furthermore, the MBE machine seemed to have poorer chamber conditions than normal, so it was unlikely I would’ve produced any successful monolayers (or multilayers) either. In fact, the selenium growth rate dropped dramatically near the end of the week, so we had to open the main chamber up again (just after two weeks) to see what was wrong. Initially, we had thought that the selenium might have been heated too much during the dummy growth phase (increasing temperature to reduce pressure after opening and closing the main chamber), but it was still very full when we checked it, which was quite confusing. After more quick maintenance (I spent over an hour trying to clean, with some success, metal coating off of the viewing windows with a clean wipe), we sealed up the chamber, and by the time I get back from the Mid-Program Meeting, the pressure should be low enough to begin using molecular beam epitaxy again.

While I was unable to use the MBE machine for my project, I still helped out with the film growth process, either directly with the MBE machine or indirectly with substrate preparation and taking AFM measurements. Kashiwabara-san also showed me the process for fabricating EDLTs, including the deposition of electrodes and the electrolyte/ionic liquid fabrication process. He also showed me the process of using PPMS to measure the properties of the EDLT. Funnily enough, I also found out this week that I will not need to make an EDLT, and I’m a bit relieved, because the process seemed very tedious and difficult. Just to add more information about my research project, after successfully creating a high-quality monolayer WSe2 film on SiO2 (a very big IF), I will test its photoluminescence properties, analyze it using Raman spectroscopy, and then fabricate a transistor with it which will be tested using standard semiconductor analysis. With each week passing by, I’m feeling more and more aware of the limited amount of time I have left, and I really hope that I am able to make more progress on my research project as soon as I can.

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

“The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none.” – Thomas Carlyle

On our routine and daily trip with Saito-san to lunch, Nakagawa-san, Itahashi-san, and I were walking to the school cafeteria when we noticed that Kashiwabara-san (my mentor), who had tagged along, was lagging a bit further behind the group. Every now and then, someone would glance back and immediately start grinning at what they saw. Curious to see what was going on, I looked back too, only to see Kashiwabara-san walking in a theatrically zombie-like state: head down and groaning as he walked with uncoordinated steps.

Slowing down, I jokingly asked him, “大丈夫ですか?” (Are you okay?)

Kashiwabara-san: “大丈夫じゃない!” (I’m not okay) “… so… sleepy…”

Immediately, everyone, including Kashiwabara-san, started laughing and chuckling, and we all continued walking with an ironically greater amount of energy. Lunch was delicious that day, as always.

Getting completely crushed by Kashiwabara-san in Mario Kart ~ Joshua Yang

As you can probably guess, the Mid-Program Meeting was very exhausting. But it was without a doubt well worth it too. I feel like I learned so much from those five days, from overcoming challenges in scientific presentations to more optimistic (and realistic) outlooks on research. And the many deep talks we had those few nights were ones I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. When speaking with the other students about problems encountered in research, I realized that the issues that I were facing were normal and that research really does have its bumps along the way, which is completely natural. The saying that comes to mind first is “misery loves company”, but I think it’s more accurate to say that we all had many thoughts and feelings, both happy and sad, that were so precious when shared in company together. It really is just like the popular song in High School Musical: we’re all in this together.

However, even with a friendly and relaxed culture, the Iwasa Lab is also extraordinarily hard-working. Aside from lunch and dinner breaks, members of the Iwasa Lab are always focused on working, whether it be conducting long experiments or collecting/organizing large amounts of data. Even without being required to do so, the majority of members arrive early in the morning and only leave until late at night. On most weeks, Sunday will be the only day that they take off. That being said, the Iwasa Lab culture has also changed a bit from the previous year. Coming into the lab, I expected (from Sasha’s experience) to stay every night until 10PM, with many other members staying that late as well. But just after the first few weeks, I noticed that most people will actually leave around 8PM instead (which is still definitely late for American standards but a bit earlier compared to last year). When I asked Kashiwabara-san why this happened, he told me that recently, the Iwasa Lab has slowly changed from a “Black Lab” (where everyone stays very late) to a “White Lab” (where everyone will leave a bit earlier). Apparently, three of the Iwasa Lab members who would usually stay very late either graduated or left to another lab over the past year. As a result, people started to leave earlier, and there are times where a few researchers in the film growth group (like Kashiwabara-san and Wang-san) will be the only ones in lab. Personally though, I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. While indeed, it seems as if people spend a little less time in lab compared to last year, the efficiency and effort they put into their work more than makes up for it. Especially because it seems that Japanese labs value hard work while US labs value results, this newer lab culture appears to be a great balance, encouraging hard work while also spurring successful results in the process.Life at the Iwasa Lab is always casual and relaxed. I wouldn’t say that our lab is extremely talkative, nor would I say that our lab is particularly outgoing. However, I can say with complete confidence that the Iwasa Lab is a very friendly and tight-knit group. Our lab has sixteen members (seventeen if you include me), and everyone (except Iwasa-sensei and our secretary Yamaura-san) stays in the same room, separated only by cubicle walls that do little more than designate work spaces. Often, conversation about (but not limited to) research will just randomly sprout up in areas of the room, usually surrounding a researcher’s cubicle. There have been countless times where I’ve been at my desk (reading or sometimes writing these reports (oops)), and a conversation about film growth research will pop up, inevitably drawing my interest to the point where I will scoot towards them in my rolly-chair (office chair) to participate. Other times, an unrelated conversation (that’s usually in Japanese) will spontaneously surround my desk, with me just awkwardly (but enjoyably) taking in the presence of my fellow lab mates. Sometimes (like this past Sunday), when Kashiwabara-san and I are waiting for a sample to heat up, we will even play Mario Kart on his Nintendo Switch to pass the time (and he always beats me). Because of this friendly atmosphere in the Iwasa Lab, I have yet to feel or notice any strong sense of hierarchy and can easily strike up a conversation with anyone whenever I want. Aside from the regular group meetings, journal club, and cleaning sessions, there are almost no strict rules at all, and everyone is free to come and leave at their own convenience.

While admittedly, my research experience back at UT is a bit limited, from what I’ve seen, there isn’t as much of a group culture in my home lab. Sure, everyone talks and is friends with each other, but, at least to me, it doesn’t seem like we’re quite as close outside of lab. On the flip side though, working in a lab in the US seems to take up much less time, allowing for a better and more social work-life balance. Looking at it, it’s likely that these two areas are very connected, with the long work hours being a primary reason for the tight bonds within Japanese labs. However, one clear aspect that I definitely love about research in Japan is the independence and responsibility I get with my research, being allowed to use expensive and complex equipment as long as I show the capability to do so. It’s hard for me to say which environment I would prefer, as there are clear benefits that each cultural type of research brings to the table, so I won’t try to explicitly do so. That being said, I feel very fortunate and lucky to have been assigned to the Iwasa Lab, and I still cannot help but be so overwhelmingly thankful and glad to be working in such an amazing lab.

Other Weekly Excursions

Picnic at Hamura Park with Will and Savannah ~ Joshua Yang

Oh yeah, and before I forget, it turns out there is a sixth person living in our share house (who’s not a ghost). Because I first saw her when I left early in the morning last week for Kyoto (was super groggy and didn’t have glasses on), I wasn’t sure who said hi to me. This week however, I saw her briefly again and finally confirmed her existence when I saw her name on the weekly trash disposal schedule. We still haven’t formally introduced ourselves yet, but I plan on doing so sometime next week.Since we got back from the Mid-Program Meeting Wednesday night, there wasn’t as much time this week to explore. As usual, Savannah and I went to hip-hop class on Friday (new instructor but I couldn’t get the names of the songs ☹), and we ate at a neat sashimi donburi place afterwards. Ooh, and on Saturday, Will came up from Nagoya to visit us! From the morning until the afternoon, Will, Savannah, and I went with a Christian church group that Savannah had met beforehand to Hamura for a picnic. It was a tiring yet memorable experience, and I met some wonderful people that day. Later at night, us three went exploring in Shinjuku and Harajuku (we found a Gong Cha tapioca store there!), and we were having so much fun that we nearly missed the last train that night. We all talked and hung out at Savannah’s share house until 3AM, only leaving because I had to come to lab the next day.

Sweet bubble tea and even sweeter friends ~ Joshua Yang

Question of the Week
Whenever I pass by a McDonalds, I’m always surprised to see a long line of people waiting to order. However, from what I can tell, the menu here doesn’t seem to be very different from the one in the US. Is McDonalds more than just a cheap place to eat at in Japan?

Research Project Update
Not much to update on for this short week. The MBE machine is up and running again, and from the samples and heterostructures that Kashiwabara-san grew this week, the chamber conditions seem to be better than before. I’ve continued to help Kashiwabara-san with film growth and have been using the AFM more and more (I’m proud to say that my name now shows up the most in the log book). It also makes me so happy that I’m able to help my mentor a lot more on his projects, and in a way, it makes me feel less guilty about the time he takes to help me with my own research project. I have also seen huge improvements in my sample preparation skills (tweezers are a breeze) and am really encouraged by how familiar everything is to me now. Next week is when I will finally (and hopefully) be able to grow some monolayers. The next few days are specifically allotted for my project, so if the multilayer growth on Monday is successful, we will immediately move on to monolayer growth. I’m keeping my expectations low for now (as one should in research), but I’m nevertheless excited to see what will happen.

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Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning

“We burn daylight.” – William Shakespeare

Before coming to Japan, one of my goals for the summer was to “develop [my] Japanese language skills… in reading and speaking.” Looking at the progress I’ve made over the past two months, I’d say that, at least in some manner, I’ve done well on working towards this goal. Compared to the start of the summer, where I only knew a few basic words in Japanese (and completely butchered their pronunciations), my Japanese language skills have improved dramatically, and I feel much more comfortable using Japanese in everyday scenarios (albeit in small amounts). The three weeks of Japanese lessons by AJALT were very helpful not only in improving my vocabulary but also in explaining grammatical structure, allowing me to adapt and use what I’ve learned in various scenarios.

However, after the three weeks of orientation, when I started researching at the Iwasa Lab, the rate at which my Japanese was improving slowed significantly. Obviously, this was in part because the AJALT lessons were over, and I now had to self-study Japanese, but another large part was because I started using Japanese less frequently. Although my lab is mostly Japanese, as I’ve said before, everyone speaks English well enough to the point where it’s significantly easier to just communicate entirely in English. Especially for tough research related discussions, using Japanese is often out of the question. The only times I will use Japanese in lab are for greetings/goodbyes or for small short phrases (like 暑いね~). Of course, I do use Japanese routinely in restaurants and shops, but if I were to graph out my Japanese language skill vs. time, it would start with an exponential increase, change to a logarithmic increase, quickly peak, and then slowly decay until it approaches the language skill I’m at now.

To aid my use of Japanese in everyday life, I make sure to keep the Japanese dictionary application on my phone handy. It has, in many cases, made conversations flow a lot smoother, but it definitely isn’t perfect. For instance, the night before coming to Kyoto for the Mid-Program Meeting, I made a quick trip to the 7/11 near my sharehouse to buy some more dental floss (since I realized I was running out). After looking around the store without any success, I decided to just ask an employee instead. Using the Japanese dictionary, I used both translations for dental floss (デンタルフロス & 糸ようじ), but he still did not understand my question. I even used translations of tooth & string, pantomiming the actions as well, but that only led him to show me some linen string (which I definitely would not be able to use as floss). Finally, as a last resort, I pulled up an image of dental floss on my phone, and it was only then that he understood and told me they only had floss picks (instead of the dental floss string I was looking for). Sad day. I later went to a Lawson that had it though, so everything worked out in the end I guess.

All in all, Japanese is fun, rewarding, but also very tough. As I’ve said in previous reports, conversational Japanese is completely unattainable for me at this point (at least realistically speaking), so I’ve decided to work towards more attainable goals like increasing my knowledge of kanji (which is a bit easier too since I know some Mandarin). I’m not sure how much I will continue to study Japanese after this program ends, but I’m thankful regardless for this immersive language experience in Japan.

Other Weekly Excursions

Hanging out with all the Todai Nakatani Fellows ~ Joshua Yang
Catching some rays at Zushi Beach ~ Joshua Yang

No dance at all this entire week. Starting from Tuesday, I began to feel sick again (eventually peaking on Thursday), so I wasn’t able to go with Savannah to class in Shinjuku. And this Friday was a break day for the Todai dance workshops, so no class that day either. A bit of a letdown, yes, but it’s nice to take a break every once in a while. Instead, I got lunch with the JP Nakatani Fellows that day!.
On Saturday, I went with Savannah and her sharehouse friends (her sharehouse is much livelier than mine) to Zushi Beach, and we spent the entire day there getting lots of sunshine, swimming as far out into the ocean as we (as I) could, collecting shells on the beach, eating (and spilling) mango shaved ice, and just plain chilling and relaxing after a long week at lab. I got a little sunburnt (don’t trust cheap last-minute bought sunscreen), but it was well worth it.

Post-practice picture with members of the SHOCKER volleyball team. ~ Joshua Yang

Right after those exhausting (and exhilarating) few hours, I went back home, showered, got a quick meal from a konbini, and immediately took a train to Odaiba to see Jakob (who came to visit again because he really loves us) and Savannah. Odaiba is a man-made island in Tokyo Bay, and its difference in appearance from the rest of Tokyo is instantly noticeable. Everything seems so modern and purposeful, to the point where some parts eerily looked like the kind of city you’d imagine for a utopia (or dystopia!!). The whole place appeared so new (and even artificial) that it gave off the vibe of a large-scale futuristic amusement park. Wonder for Odaiba aside, the evening spent with Savannah and Jakob was amazing, with the highlights of eating at an authentically-American Hawaiian burger restaurant and riding a huge Ferris wheel together right as the city began to light up. A perfect finish to an incredible weekend.Sunday was also just as packed. Leaving from my sharehouse at 10AM and arriving at the Tokyo University Komaba Campus (my research lab is at the Hongo Campus) at 11AM, I finally met up with the SHOCKER volleyball team that I had met (and kept in contact with) at the Todai May Festival. I had expected to play just a few pickup games with them and was completely surprised to find out that they were having a full-blown five-hour practice session. Packed with all kinds of drills at the start and with multiple scrimmage games at the end, I got to play lots and lots and lots of volleyball, a sport that I had missed so much after coming to Japan. And because SHOCKER was a competitive intercollegiate volleyball team, virtually everyone there (25+ people, evenly split between male and female) was significantly better than I was. I even got to play with (and against) one of their alumni players, who is now a wing spiker for the Toray Arrows (a professional men’s volleyball team). It was a humbling experience, to say the least.

Ooh and I finally introduced myself to the “new” sharehouse mate whose name also begins with the letter L. It seems she’s living in the same room (301) as the previous L (who was from China and left), but apparently, she’s been living there for almost a year already, and since the room is single-occupancy (meaning both L’s couldn’t have shared it, I think), I’m now seriously confused about who’s who and who lives where. Anyways, she seems to be the closest to me in age, but she’ll also be moving out soon because of her change in work.

Research Project Update
Research this week has been an emotional rollercoaster (and not a fun one). In fact, after many ups and downs, this rollercoaster has made so many unexpected corkscrews and turns that it has completely derailed, and I have absolutely no clue which direction it’s flying off to.

As I said in my previous report, I was super excited for this week, and for good reason too. While I do enjoy helping my mentors on their projects and learning to use more equipment, after a long hiatus from my research project, nothing feels better than getting back on track and making progress on film growth. Before growing monolayer WSe2 films, however, I had to grow multilayer films to confirm proper conditions, so on Monday I did exactly that, using the substrates sapphire, SiO2, and STO. At the end of the day, Kashiwabara-san confirmed that I had grown successful multilayers of high enough quality and that I could move on the next day to monolayer film growth.

Tuesday went well too. Monolayer film growth was a lot more intense than multilayer film growth because you have to stop it at exactly the right time, but based on the RHEED patterns and oscillations, it seemed like we had done a good job. Sure, the SiO2 RHEED pattern seemed a bit weak, and the STO substrate film appeared to be metallic (instead of semiconducting), but we could always try again, and with multiple results and measurements, we were bound to get some significant data (positive or negative).

Wednesday was a bit rougher. For some reason, the RHEED screen seemed much darker, and I instantly started panicking and worrying that I had forgotten to close the RHEED shutter, even though I clearly remembered closing it (and it was closed the morning of too). While we could still continue with the film growth (albeit with a bit tougher monitoring of data), I felt extraordinarily guilty and began to feel very anxious. Thankfully, we later realized that there were just some substances blocking the RHEED gun (not the screen) and a simple rotation fixed the problem. This time, we grew monolayer film on sapphire, mica, and SiC, (as Kashiwabara-san suggested) which I was initially confused about since I thought it would be better to redo SiO2 and STO…

“Oh well,” I thought, “I can just grow them tomorrow right?”

Wrong. Turns out, Wednesday was probably the last day ever I’d be able to grow films for my project, as I found out later that afternoon from Kashiwabara-san. Both Kashiwabara-san and Wang-san would grow films from Thursday onwards, so I had no machine time left to use. This worried me. A lot. My research project is focused specifically on monolayer WSe2 growth on SiO2, particularly because of the prevalent use of silicon dioxide as a back gate in electronics due to its reliability and affordability. However, out of the ten films I grew from Monday – Wednesday, only one, just one, was a monolayer film on silicon dioxide. It seriously felt like I was putting all my eggs in one basket. Kashiwabara-san said that most likely all monolayers grown on silicon dioxide would be of similar quality because of its high surface roughness, but I still felt uneasy about only growing one single film.

Thursday was the peak of my sickness (my immune system is seriously weak), and I wasn’t feeling well enough to show up to lab. On Friday when I came back, Kashiwabara-san told me that there probably wasn’t any job for me today, since he was busy and couldn’t help with Raman spectroscopy measurements. Feeling ultra-determined to still get work done today, I pressed further, taking initiative and asking if there were any other lab members that could help me. After speaking to a lot of people, Wang-san agreed to help measure photoluminescence and Raman scattering with the Raman spectroscopy instrument in Building 9.

This was it. This determined the results of everything I had done to this point. This had to go well. And as you probably already know, it didn’t. That isn’t to say the measurements were awful, but nothing seemed to break new ground, and all the PL measurements (particularly for SiO2) seemed to indicate failure. My heart sunk, and as the measuring continued, I began to feel nauseous and dizzy, up to the point where I thought I was either going to pass out or throw up. Luckily, neither ended up happening, but in the end, I was still left with this deep, horrible feeling of failure.

I’m given lots of responsibility and independence in lab, and I am thankful for the opportunity to work with and use all this amazing equipment. However, I seriously wish that I had more say in deciding what to grow, instead of just carrying out the directions that I’m told. I understand that I don’t know much and am very inexperienced; believe me, I’m well aware of that. But I also wish that my ideas that my mentor agrees with (multiple SiO2 samples, different heating conditions) could at least have some kind of impact. I’ve always thought that research was about trying new things, examining why they fail, and applying that new knowledge to try and try again. To some extent, I feel like I’m just learning to use the machines instead of performing actual research.

Even as I’m writing this, I’m not sure where things are headed. I’ve grown multilayer and monolayer films on all kinds of substrates, with varying degrees of success. More measurements need to be done, and some could still work out well, but none of them seem related to my specific project. Everything just seems all over the place. And because the failures don’t even prove much (especially with a sample size of one), I really don’t have much data or results to work with anymore. Furthermore, I don’t have any more machine time, and I don’t even have much time until the entire research internship is over. Compounded with the fact that I need to present a cohesive set of results at the research colloquium (and need to submit an abstract soon), I feel extremely lost. Hopefully things work out, but it’s hard to see where things will go from here.

Question of the Week
Why is smiling much less common (and sometimes even uncomfortable) in Japan?

  • This isn’t just Japan. What you are talking about is American friendliness and this is actually something that is a bit odd to many people around the world. So, it’s not that Japan doesn’t smile as much, it’s just that smiling and saying hello to people you pass in the street is odd; to almost everyone else except for Americans.
  • In Japan, if you are in a conversation with someone who you know, particularly a friend, close colleague, or family member then smiling and laughing makes more sense; and you would always greet someone on the street that you know as it would be rude not to.  But, the very American habit of looking everyone you pass in the eye, smiling, and saying “Good-morning” or ‘Good Afternoon” or chatting with a perfect stranger that you share an elevator with or sit next to on the train is the exception rather than the norm in most countries worldwide.
  • For more on this see some of the articles under the ‘Small-Talk, Friendliness, and Optimism’ section of our Life in the U.S. page and, in particular:

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Week 10: Interview with Japanese Researcher

“To copy others is necessary, but to copy oneself is pathetic.” – Pablo Picasso

I interviewed my mentor Kashiwabara-san. He is a first-year Master’s student studying Applied Physics in the Iwasa Lab. I have included the questions and his responses below. To clarify, these responses are not word for word, but are reproduced from my notes during the interview. I have tried to represent the flow of the interview to the best of my ability.

Why did you decide to study Applied Physics?

Kashiwabara-san: This is a very difficult question… At the time when I was an undergraduate, I felt that I wanted to study physics more, but other than that, there wasn’t necessarily a specific reason.

So why did you choose the Iwasa Lab?

Well, it’s hard for me to remember off the top of my head. I also, again, would say that there wasn’t a specific reason. In general, Iwasa Lab was very popular among the B4 students; not only is it a strong lab in applied physics, but Iwasa-sensei is also a well-known (“big”) professor in this area. I thought to myself, if I too want to be a stronger person in this field, then it is better to enter a strong lab. That being said, there are many other strong applied physics labs at the University of Tokyo. I guess what really sets the Iwasa Lab apart is Iwasa-sensei himself. He is a very unique professor; it’s a bit hard to explain why (and I can’t find the exact words for it in Japanese, let alone English), but Iwasa-sensei is different from other professors in that he’s not very strict, gives a lot of freedom to the researchers, and has an attractive personality.

What is it like to be a student in Japan?

It depends on the department, of course, so I can only speak for myself. From what I’ve heard, Japanese students tend to work very hard (compared to other countries as well), but I don’t know personally if that’s true or not. In my area of applied physics, some of the students put their all into their work and will start research in the early morning and stay until the late night. For example, as a B4 student, Matsuoka-san studied a lot, even through the entire night (Note: which I assume is an all-nighter) many times. These cases are sometimes extreme examples, but I think that generally Japanese students tend to study harder. Of course, some Japanese students are still very loose and relaxed, and I would think that’s common in every country. Maybe I’m a bit of a “loose” student.

What are Japanese classes like?

Since I have never attended a foreign class, I’m not sure what is unique to a class in Japan. Most classes are just the professor lecturing about a topic for the whole time while we listen (and some students will be sleeping). Very rarely will students ask questions… sometimes the smart students will notice a professor’s mistake, however, and will ask to clarify whether it is wrong or not. But other than that, there are no questions asked during the class. Even if the students don’t understand the material, they still will not ask any questions. We tend to believe that asking questions will be disturbing for the entire class. Again, some people may speak up to point out an incorrect part of the lecture, but simply “I don’t understand _____, can you explain?” is not a good question.

Many universities in the United States require students to take “enriching” classes outside of their major. Is there a similar requirement at the University of Tokyo?

No, we are not required to explore other areas/classes that are outside of our major. That being said, everyone is required to take a sports class in their first year as an undergraduate, and as B1 and B2 students, no one belongs to a specific major yet. Even though it was not a requirement, I have taken a class on religion, partly out of interest and partly (mostly) to fulfill the required hours needed for graduation. It was a thought-provoking class but a bit difficult to follow. They are not as scientific and their way of thinking was completely different.

On that topic, do you mind telling me a bit more about religion in Japan?

I’m not religious. Most people, I think, are not very religious in Japan. Or at least, most people are not religious in the sense that they explicitly believe in God. I’m honestly not sure why that is. There are some habits and practices that come from Buddhism, however; for example, in the middle of August, some Japanese people believe that the deceased will come back as spirits. Some Japanese people tend to follow these traditions, but I don’t know if I would call them religious… they may be just following the habits.

Is Shintoism popular in Japan?

To be honest, I don’t even know the difference between Buddhism and Shintoism. It really does appear that these seemingly “religious” behaviors in Japan are less so because of religion and more so because of culture and tradition.

Well thank you for that; I’ve always been a bit curious about religion in Japan, and your answers are quite insightful and eye-opening for me. Changing topics… What is your future career path?

Again, you have asked a very difficult question for me. In fact, this is still a very big question I have myself. Actually, even now I am not sure what I want to be… maybe there is nothing that I want to be. Maybe I’m not a normal person, but for me, it is very mysterious whenever I see people that have a strong dream or desire. I don’t have any dream; actually, maybe that is why I am “tired of my life”. (Note: this sounds a bit dark, but it’s always said in a laughing manner, so I’m not sure if he directly means this)

There are many different future career paths remaining for me; I could stay in university and continue my life as a researcher. Of course, for me, making and growing these films is quite interesting, so maybe I will continue this work. But actually, I don’t know if this is truly worth continuing in the long run and if it is what I really want to do. Very hard life. (Note: again, this is said in a joking manner, slightly)

Many people say to me that I’m not so suitable for a company in terms of my character and that it is better to live as a researcher. I think so too. But in Japan, it is better to go to a company to earn money, because the social rank of a researcher is very low in Japan. Most people think that working at a very big company is good. And when people see a researcher they think, “hmm… researcher? What are you doing [with your life]?”

Earning a lot of money… that’s good. Researchers on the other hand, are living by doing what they like and are not earning as much money. Japanese people are mysterious… hard work is good, and doing what I want to do is not good. Of course, it is better to have both, but most Japanese people (I think) do not do what they want to do, and most of their jobs are boring. Maybe they are jealous of the researchers who do get to do what they want to do (and have easier lives in comparison).

Interesting… in the US, while hard work is definitely valued, society often seems to emphasize “chasing your dreams” and “doing what you love” over things like practicality. The first thing that comes to mind, for me, are my friends who have decided to pursue their passions of music or acting in their future careers.

Well of course, in Japan there are also many people who say to do what you want to do, and there are many musicians and actors as well. However, in general, most people want stability and are willing to have that above all else. There are always people who will challenge this idea and will do whatever they like, but I think that is not as normal in Japan.

In these areas, the differences in Japanese and US culture really does become apparent, doesn’t it. Okay, last few questions. How would you describe the nature of this lab’s environment?

Wow, you told me this would be an easy interview, but all your questions have been very hard. Hmmm… the Iwasa Lab has many people, and they all have a common nature of 自立 (self-reliance). The Ph.D. students are very strong and direct their experiments by themselves. They have a lot of freedom but still have many good results and publications. Oh, and also, the social structure in the Iwasa Lab is a bit different as well in that there is rather little to no social hierarchy (which is present in most companies). In fact, I have completely gotten used to the lack hierarchy and have even taken it for granted. There is not a strict structure, and they promise me freedom, so I can live as I want. As a result, I can perform experiments with no stress at all. Of course, I still respect the senseis and Ph.D. students very much. I think this is the case in many applied physics labs but is especially noticeable in the Iwasa Lab. I can easily talk to Nakano-sensei and Iwasa-sensei; because of this closeness, we can easily get to understand their great thinking, so hopefully we can then maybe “grow up” easily and learn from them.

Ditto, dude, ditto. (Note: I told you it wasn’t word for word) Do you have any international research experience?


Oh, I see. Well, this may be a tough question, but how do you think the Iwasa Lab compares with a typical American lab?

There are probably some differences. The first thing to notice would be the hard work in Japanese labs. Recently, as you may know, the younger population has gotten smaller; the number of students are also decreasing, so most labs are suffering from a lack of members. This means that a smaller group of members in a research lab must work much harder to get the same amount done. Difference in nature is a bit tougher to say (because I don’t know much about research in other countries), but from what I’ve heard, the smaller number of students means that each member will learn about many different things. In our lab, there is no such person as a “technical assistant”, so Nakano-sensei or Ideue-sensei will need to be very familiar with the machines in our labs, even though they are in the applied physics department. The students also must be very familiar with the machines and will oftentimes need to take on many different jobs. In some labs, certain people will grow the film with MBE, and others will measure it, but I have to do all the processes here. Because of this, Japanese students can learn many things, which I think is very useful for the future.

Alright, that’s all the questions I have. Thank you for your time and your answers. Haha, I did not expect this interview to go on for so long… hmm, the XRD scan is probably finished by now.

Oh, you’re right; let’s go check the results.


Other Weekly Excursions
Rose came up from Yokohama on Thursday to visit Savannah and me. We ended up cooking pesto pasta together, and it turned out surprisingly delicious. I really should cook more in Japan, but I’m just too lazy (oops). Dance again this Friday; the old instructor was back! (Continued choreography from three weeks ago) Not much else happened during the weekdays… Savannah and I went back again to the tempura udon place (IT’S SO GOOD), and this time they were playing Disney songs. I had the opening theme of Winnie the Pooh stuck in my head for hours afterwards.

This weekend, however, was an amazing trip to Hakone with Trevor (YES WE WERE FINALLY REUNITED), Katelyn, Jakob, Savannah, and Will. It was, without a doubt, a great change of pace from the urban city of Tokyo to witness the natural beauty in Hakone. There was so much that happened over the two days (and it’s getting pretty late while I’m writing this report), so I’ll just make a list of the trip highlights:

A glimpse of just a few of the awesome sights in Hakone ~ Joshua Yang

Day 1:

  • Having a mini-reunion with half of the Nakatani crew
  • Finding the best 7/11 ever (we literally went there between 7 and 11 times)
  • Relaxing outdoor park in Gora (that we got in for free on accident)
  • Killing time for the bus by watching koi fish swim around

Day 2:Laughing at Trevor attempting to eat 7/11 food at a soba restaurant (and failing)

  • Jumping on large rocks in the river at night for hours
  • Watching Jakob and Will slip and fall into the said river
  • Lighting sparklers with squad (getting a late July 4th fix)
  • Going to an enormous (and apparently famous) onsen resort (literally had over five different onsens with varying temperatures/specialties and we made sure to try them all)
  • Getting lost on the way back and terrified as google maps made us walk on a highway
  • Putting on makeup with Jakob and Will (I felt so empowered and beautiful), courtesy of Savannah and Katelyn
  • Sleeping in some pretty cozy capsule hotel beds
When the entire squad is on point. ~ Joshua Yang

Day 3

  • Waking up too early and passing out on the bus ride
  • Convincing Jakob and Trevor to ditch Akita and stay with us the whole day
  • Riding the Hakone Ropeway to Owakudani (a volcanic valley) that was way high up (surrounded by mist/clouds)
  • Viewing the sulphur and volcanic vents in awe from high up
  • Panicking as Jakob’s hat almost got blown off the mountain
  • Eating some delicious onsen tamago (Trevor was so happy)
  • Screaming with Will into the abyss
  • Exploring the gigantic Hakone Open-Air Museum and looking at all the neat exhibits
  • Pretending to be the captain of the Lake Ashi sight-seeing cruise boat
  • Jamming out to “Stayin’ Alive” on the deck of the ship
  • Feeling sad as everyone began to part ways
  • Ending the trip by eating at a bar/restaurant literally named “POTATO”

Best. Weekend. Ever.

Research Project Update

Meeting Sasha at the RIKEN 2D Materials Conference! ~ Sasha Yamada

Just as a quick preface, there wasn’t lab this Thursday or Friday because everyone went to a RIKEN 2D Materials Conference at the RIKEN Wako Campus. I went to the conference on Friday to see everyone’s poster presentations, and I finally got to meet the 2016 U.S. Fellows Sasha, who had done research in the Iwasa Lab last summer in person! Anyways, back on topic…

I’ll be honest, this week has been really rough and stressful for me, but I think that was only because of how extremely invested and interested I was in my original project. With all the time spent thinking and reading about future steps, fixes, and possible solutions, the sudden change was a pretty big shock for me. Despite knowing that research never goes as planned, it’s likely that I was still a bit too ambitious. In fact, after putting together the research abstract and talking with my mentor about it over the past few days, I feel that I have a much better picture and more complete vision of my new research project as a whole. Professor Bird has also been extraordinarily helpful throughout this entire process and has given me a lot of support and advice. It may not be what I originally had in mind, but I now see that it’s not as bad as I had initially thought either. I’m excited to see my project to the end and am determined to make the most of it.My research project has changed dramatically in the past week. But everything ended up working out much better than I had expected. Because none of the monolayer films ended up showing photoluminescence, it was obvious that fabricating a transistor or EDLT out of them would be unsuccessful. The XRD results for SiO2 and STO were not much better either. What is likely a large problem for the films, especially the monolayer ones, is the presence of selenium vacancies due to a low selenium beam pressure in the MBE. Because WSe2 is affected heavily by impurities/defects, this is the probable cause of the inadequate quality in the films. However, because of time constraints, I won’t be able to fix these vacancies (which will probably be a future endeavor by the lab). Instead, I will take on part of my mentor’s project and grow a multilayer film on SiC, and in the end, I will try to fabricate an EDLT from multilayers grown on sapphire and SiC. In a sense, my project has grown dramatically in scope, encompassing many different kinds of substrates, and focuses on examining the substrate-dependent growth quality of each film.

Question of the Week
Almost every time I ask for directions in Japan, the person will go out of their way to walk with me to my destination (sometimes for even ten minutes). Why are Japanese people so helpful?

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Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab

“Passion makes the world go round. Love just makes it a safer place.” – Ice T

While I wouldn’t strictly call it specifically a cross-cultural experience, a large and unique cross-cultural aspect that I experienced more in lab during research was the difference between the blunt, straight-forward style of American culture and the polite, indirect mannerisms of Japanese culture. Even in the language of Japanese itself, the culturally correct way to turn down a question like, “do you want to go with me to the movies tomorrow?” is not a “no” or a “I’m busy tomorrow” but is instead a “leaving it up to the other person to interpret it. An even more interesting quirk that I happened to notice a lot during research was when my fellow lab mates spoke in English. Very frequently, they would include the word “maybe” in their sentences, but it wasn’t in the conventional way that one would normally expect. Instead of literally meaning “maybe” (ie. uncertainty), “maybe” was used to make sentences more indirect, even if there was certainty in the statement. For instance, “maybe this project will be hard” means that simply this project will be hard, and “maybe you should do this instead” means that you should (a hard should, not a maybe should) listen to their suggestion. When I first arrived in Tokyo, the three weeks of orientation (and pre-orientation) did a good job of explaining this indirectness, but it still ended up catching me off guard when I actually began to work in the Iwasa Lab. Now that I think about it, it took me a few weeks in until I began to be consciously aware of the indirectness and began to respond/act properly to it. Unfortunately, though, in some cases, I ended up being more indirect myself, and when I had certain problems with research, I didn’t exactly explain or bring them up in the best way possible. Thankfully, the Iwasa Lab has been very kind to me and helped me out in many cases that I didn’t even directly ask for, and the support network from the Nakatani Program has been extraordinarily useful.

 Other Weekly Excursions:

Iwasa Lab Photo at the Farewell Party ~ Joshua Yang

This Friday, as it was the second to last week of the research internship, our lab hosted a farewell/good luck party (farewell being for me leaving, and good luck to the two B4 students Akamatsu-san and Majima-san on their graduate school entrance exams). In the afternoon, before the dinner party, Kashiwabara-san, Koshikawa-san, Shin-san, Akamatsu-san, Majima-san, and I all went to play billiards together, which happened only because there was a time that Kashiwabara-san and I talked about our mutual enjoyment of playing pool. We played for about two hours there, and I think we all ended up winning at least one game (of 8 ball, 9 ball, or even cutthroat). Afterwards, we met up with the rest of the lab members for dinner at a small restaurant (the food was delicious) and talked the night away. As the last real and “official” event with my lab mates, the time was bittersweet, and I treasured every second of it.

Adventures in Sendai! ~ Joshua Yang

I had heard from the “Brohoku” squad that the weather in Sendai was super pleasant, so I was very excited to escape from the humidity and hotness in Tokyo. Sadly, as we arrived, Savannah and I realized that it was raining rather hard, and neither of us brought umbrellas (poor Savannah was even wearing her Sperry’s that fare terribly in water ☹). Thankfully, Jakob led us to the Yodobashi Camera store to get umbrellas (I still use mine at UT – future Josh), and by the time that we had checked into the the rain had already started to die down. For lunch, we ate an insanely huge portion of food at Ramen Jiro (it seems that food is cheaper in Sendai), and later we went to Tohoku University to visit Jakob’s lab, which as a theoretical researcher’s lab, was just a working space office. Later, we went to Matsushima Bay and explored a small island there, and after the sun had begun to set, went back and explored the huge fancy Westin Hotel building nearby. Finally, after messing around for a good hour, we got crepes along the way back, played a few impossible crane games, and ate some authentic Japanese food: McDonalds! (should’ve gotten a kid’s meal for a Pokémon toy) For the remaining time in the night (it was around 11AM), we worked on posters together at the Kawauchi Urban Castle and then left to rest after a long and eventful day.This weekend we went to Sendai to finally visit Jakob! I met up with Savannah at the Ueno train station (where she bought some Tokyo bananas as omiyage), and we used our JR East Pass to take the Shinkansen to Sendai. Of course, we hadn’t reserved any seats beforehand, so when we got on we immediately started looking for the non-reserved car. As we walked through car by car, it slowly dawned on us that this whole train was reserved seating only. So, doing the best thing that we do, we “gaijin smashed” our way through the situation by just finding a seat that was empty and hoped for the best. Long story short, everything worked out.

Hanging out in Sendai with Brohoku Squad ~ Joshua Yang

On Sunday morning, I ventured around the city a bit by myself and visited Sendai Mediatheque, which had a cool design, neat library, and aesthetically pleasing studio. Then, we met up together at the Tohoku Pokémon Center and walked over some very hilly hills (quite a workout for the calves) to get to the Sendai Aoba Castle (spoiler alert: there’s no castle there??!!). Afterwards, we “visited” the Yagiyama Zoo, looked at the nice view from the AER building, and got dinner (more gyutan (cow tongue)) with Ryota and Seiya, because Shohei was studying, before leaving. As we headed back on the Shinkansen, Savannah and I didn’t want to wait in the long line to reserve tickets, so we “gaijin smashed” yet again on our way back home. The way back was a bit spotty in my memory, as I was slipping in and out of sleep (Savannah was completely knocked out though), but I remember looking outside at just the right time to see a fireworks display happening as the Shinkansen zoomed past. And as I watched and looked around afterwards at the quiet train car, I was reminded by the labeled seats of traveling in an airplane, and instantly remembered how soon we would be leaving Japan. Admittedly, the realization that our time in this spectacular country was coming to an end felt so saddening, but I was happy too, with all the great memories I had made.

Question of the Week 
Why are most of the cars in Japan so small? (There seem to be a ton of small, box cars). 

Research Project Update 
This week, I spent most of the first few days performing XRD measurements and AFM measurements. Also, because we had run out of substrates, I prepared around twenty sapphire substrates in two days, which was probably one of the most tedious tasks I have done so far. However, I can really see how much I have improved since I used to have difficulty preparing even a single substrate. Unfortunately, even though substrate preparation and analysis of films went well, chamber conditions seemed to be quite bad, and we were not getting the results we wanted. Because of this, on Thursday, Kashiwabara-san, who also happened to be busier that day, not only let me again independently handle the MBE growth, but he also gave me the okay to try my own growth conditions, varying the emission dials and growth rate time as I so pleased. So, I did my best, looking at previous log book data and even referencing possible growth conditions during Wang-san and my joint growth very early into the research internship. Much to both my and Kashiwabara-san’s surprise, I ended up getting very good results (strong in-plane orientation and very clear oscillations on the RHEED), and Kashiwabara-san complimented me (a bit jokingly) that I had surpassed his skill in MBE growth. That night was one of the best nights of the whole research internship. The feeling of success, albeit small, in that singular moment made all the stress and mishaps worth it. As I walked back home late that night (around 11:30PM), the light drizzle and cold weather that accompanied the walk made everything so surreal and atmospheric, signifying in some sense that the accomplishment I made that night was the culmination of everything so far. It felt really good.

The next day, Kashiwabara-san agreed that we should use the same conditions, and the growth turned out well (not as good though likely due to the selenium acting strange), and we had successful growth on SiC. With most of the measurements taken and with the films successfully grown on various substrates, all that is left is to fabricate the EDLT next week. (writing this from the future, I can say that this does not end up happening, so stay tuned!!)

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Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab

“The most wasted day of all is that on which we have not laughed.” – Nicolas Chamfort

Before coming to Japan, most of my perceptions and attitudes were, at least partly, based on Japanese entertainment like manga, anime, music, games, and even advertisements. Unsurprisingly, many of these beliefs were quite incorrect and changed after living in Japan for almost three months. Probably the biggest change, and most encompassing, was the understanding of how everyone in Japan can both follow societal norms of structure, especially harmony, and still have fun in many different and exciting ways. On the flip side, for my perception and attitude for the US, I think I find much more value in the way Americans seem to encourage expression and freedom, even if that sounds cliché.

I also feel that living in Japan has definitely helped me grow personally. There’s just something about living independently in a foreign country that really enabled lots of growth for me in many ways. On one hand, practically speaking, I definitely feel more capable as a person, but I think I also feel more mature, more introspective even, and very much more understanding of the differences in culture. The most common daily frustration that I experienced with while living in Japan was most likely loneliness. Being so far away from home and living with share house-mates that rarely came out of their rooms often contributed to this feeling. I missed the camaraderie of living in the same place as the other Nakatani US Fellows for the first three weeks. Thankfully, I knew that my friends, even those living all the way in Kyoto and Osaka, were only a Line message and Skype call away. Add on the fact that I still hung out with friends through visits and in the Iwasa Lab (everyone is so friendly), and I was able to make it through any rough patches of loneliness.

Since we will be leaving Japan in a short amount of time, I know already that I’m going to miss many things about living and working in Japan. I’m going to miss exploring the many exciting areas of Tokyo, I’m going to miss all the friends that I’ve made, and I’m going to miss the great independence and responsibility that I’m given, both in may daily life and in the lab. I think that this experience has not only made me more determined to pursue a PhD in the future but has also given me a great group of like-minded individuals who I can count on for emotional support and advice in the future.

The final week in lab ended much smoother than it started. As I spoiled in my previous report, the EDLT fabrication didn’t end up happening. This was because most people in the lab were busy and many others needed to fabricate other devices too. Furthermore, we had to take the MBE machine apart again because selenium levels were acting strange. But it ended up being okay because I just used all the measurement data from the films that I had already grown and combined into a quite well-rounded research poster. Most of the time spent this week was just finishing collecting up all the data (RHEED, AFM, XRD, Raman) and compiling it into the poster for the presentation in a week. I’m honestly glossing over how seemingly catastrophic this process was; beforehand, my research project changed the day the abstract was due, and this week, my research project was changed again the day the poster draft was due. Oh, and my laptop charger died as well. I was seriously starting to freak out, but thanks to the support of Sarah, Professor Bird, Kono-sensei, Nakano-sensei, and Kashiwabara-san, I was able to finally get everything together into a final poster that I was very happy with.

Weekly Excursions
Because this was the last full week that I was spending in Japan, I knew there were a few things that I had to do. First off, I had to revisit some areas which I had mentally made a reminder of to buy souvenirs for friends back home. This included a few places (toy stores and Daiso) in Harajuku, the Pokémon Mega Center in Shinjuku, and any place that would sell a Japan shot glass (for a friend who collects them from around the world). Surprisingly (or maybe not), the last item was terribly hard to find last minute, even though there were many times I saw them throughout my stay in Japan, but I luckily found them at the Prince Hotel we stayed at on the morning we left Japan (quite a close call).

Mario Kart never felt this intense ~ Joshua Yang

Another huge thing that I crossed off my bucket list was going to the Shinjuku VR Zone, which actually opened in July this summer, so it ended up having pretty good timing. It was basically an entire building dedicated to virtual reality (VR) “arcade” games, but instead of the home/commercial versions of HTC Vive for VR, this arcade zone had a lot more equipment, from mechanical bicycles to mech-suit pilot seats to Mario Go-karts! Needless to say, I had a blast, and for a big gamer like myself, it was an experience that I’ll never forget. My personal favorites were Argyle Shift (with some fan-service haha) and Mario Kart (which I ended up placing first against seven other players in 😊), although I do wish I had the guts to try out the Horror Hospital Escape. And speaking of experiences that I’ll never forget (and probably will never ever do again), Rose, Savannah, Will, Kaylene, and I climbed Mt. Fuji this weekend (even though there was a typhoon that weekend and it was predicted to rain, but it thankfully didn’t).

Even getting to the beginning of the trail of Mt. Fuji ended up being a struggle for Savannah, Kaylene, and I. While Rose and Will had left earlier, us three left at one of the latest subway times so that we would make the last bus that took us up the mountain with just about ten minutes to spare. Of course, in hindsight (hindsight is 20/20), this probably wasn’t the best approach. And wouldn’t you know, we ended up messing up one of the transfers on the initial ride and had to make some crazy fast changes in trains (like with literally half a minute time to spare) just to have a shot at catching a random bus that would barely make it in time. And we actually succeeded in all of these things… except the random bus ended up being twenty minutes late. As we were on the bus and slowly realized that there was no way we were going to make it in time, we refused to give up and checked whether a taxi could take us to the Subashiri path. And as luck would have it, a taxi could not only drive up to the foot of the trail, but would only cost marginally more than our original plan. (We also only arrived 10 minutes later than originally estimated!) Honestly, when we finally got out of the taxi and walked out into the chilly 5th Station for Subashiri, I saw Will (and Rose) and tackled him with the longest hug I’ve ever given him because I (and we all) really thought that we weren’t going to make it.

The awesome sights from the top of Mt. Fuji ~ Joshua Yang

After reuniting with the group, grabbing a meal (oyakodon is sooo good), and gearing up, we began our ascent to the top. The next eight hours were a bit of a blur. I can’t remember exactly what we talked about on the way up, but we definitely had some great conversations as we climbed Mt. Fuji. I will say, though, that the view was absolutely phenomenal. One of the reasons we chose the Subashiri path, other than that it would be less crowded, was for the extended tree line and better hiking experience. And believe me, it did not disappoint. There were many parts of the climb where the trees would open up and there would be a few rocks that we would just all sit and take a break on, soaking in and taking in the beautiful moonlight over the foot of the mountain and gazing at the city lights far down below. We even ran into an Australian acoustics engineer named Tom (who was a much more experienced climber) that ended up joining us for the rest of the hike (and descent too). While it was very tiring (altitude sickness is not a fun thing, who knew) and we basically pulled an all-nighter (the infamous gaijin “bullet climbing”), the journey itself and the literally breathtaking view at the top was all worth it. We were so high above the clouds that when I sent a photo to my friend back in the US, he thought we had taken a plane tour! Even though the trail ended up very crowded at the top, we summited just in time to see the most gorgeous sunrise in “the land of the rising sun”.

Friends that climb Mt. Fuji together, stay together. ~ Joshua Yang

On the other hand, I will say though that the descent was quite an awful experience. Dizzy and disoriented from lack of sleep and low oxygen, I was in constant fear of slipping on the sandy and steep path to the bottom (didn’t have hiking shoes either). Advertised as a “fun sand run”, the almost tortuous descent lasted for six hours, and with the fog in the morning, it felt like the path just went on forever. Also, as an aside, there were some interesting bugs on Mt. Fuji, including some very bright colored beetles and an annoying cylindrical shaped wasp that hovers right in front of your face, almost daring you to do something about it. When we finally arrived back down, we all passed out on the bus ride back to the Prince Hotel. All in all, the climb was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and was well worth it. That being said, I mean explicitly that, because I will never (and refuse to) climb that mountain in my life ever again. As a Japanese proverb says, “A wise man will climb Mt. Fuji once; a fool will climb Mt. Fuji twice”.

Question of the Week:
Why is Mt. Fuji given an honorific?

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Week 13: Final Report

Accidental “Boba Twinning” with Emily ~ Joshua Yang

There were two things that I noticed initially when we first landed at the Houston airport. First, I had cell service again, and second, there were so many public trashcans! (and barely any recycling bins.) More seriously though, overall, the transition back into the US went rather smoothly for me. While I missed the convenience of having a konbini located literally everywhere, I adjusted rather quickly back to living in America (which may partly be due to having traveled abroad to Asia and back many times before). For the re-entry program seminars, I think I enjoyed the cultural debriefing that Sarah gave us, which really helped wrap the whole program up. Also, the seminars on resumes and graduate school applications gave good and useful preparation for the future. And as expected, the research poster run-throughs gave us all helpful feedback and tips for presenting.

When speaking to a family member, I would say that the most important thing I learned from Nakatani RIES was about personal and individual growth. The time spent in Japan learning about myself, my interests, my likes, and even my aspirations was extremely valuable to me. Dealing with challenges and frustrations also allowed me to build my character and resilience as an individual.Speaking of which, the research project poster presentation at the SCI Colloquium was much more exciting (and nerve-wracking) than I had initially expected. Especially because we had all put so much work into our research projects and posters over the past few months, it was an awesome capstone experience speaking to many different people personally about the research that we conducted. Even though I was a debater who had a lot of public speaking experience, the poster presentation had a much different and more personal flavor to it, and I learned a lot from it! I talked so much that my throat even started to hurt afterwards. With this (first) poster presentation experience under my belt now, I feel much more confident in tackling any poster presentations in the future.

Japanese souvenirs from Jakob and Kashiwabara-san ~ Joshua Yang

When speaking to a professor, I would say the most important thing I gained from Nakatani RIES was the experience in research. I worked independently without supervision with some awesome and amazing equipment, and I know that back at the University of Texas, Austin, I wouldn’t even be allowed to touch the MBE machine, so the research that I worked on this summer has been a truly unique opportunity. I also got a lot better at some research skills in general, including logging for equipment, memorizing machine operation procedure, and even using tweezers.

When speaking to an employer, I would say the most important thing I experienced in Nakatani RIES was cross-cultural interaction. I think that for any company, the ability to work well together across diverse cultures and characters is invaluable, especially as companies strive to increase workforce diversity. I also believe that the understanding gained and hard work displayed in my research this summer would also be well-suited in a company too.

When speaking to a student at my university, I would say that Nakatani RIES gave me the best summer of my life. I think all my previous reports can attest to that. I made so many lasting friendships that I’ll cherish forever.

Final Research Project Overview 

Joshua Yang presenting his poster at the 3rd Annual SCI Summer Research Colloquium.

Research Project: “WSe2Thin-Film Growth by Molecular Beam Epitaxy” (PDF)
Winner Undergraduate Poster Presentation Award – 2nd Annual Smalley-Curl Institute Summer Research Colloquium (Light Conversion Award)

Introduction: This summer I did research on 2D transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDCs), specifically WSe2. In monolayer form, TMDCs (like WSe2) have direct bandgaps in the visible spectral range and display photoluminescence of up to four orders of magnitude greater than in their bulk counterparts. This allows for many novel applications in devices like FETs, LEDs, sensors, and even photovoltaic solar cells. While there are many different methods to synthesize and fabricate TMDC films, including, but not limited to, mechanical exfoliation, liquid exfoliation, and chemical vapor deposition, we used molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) as a bottom-up method that has greater potential for scalability in industry and is capable of producing large uniform crystals on the millimeter scale. Our goal was to grow thin-films on a variety of substrates to both improve film quality and find suitable back-gate dielectrics.

Approach: To accomplish our goal, we used a variety of substrates: Al2O3, SiC, and Mica to improve film quality and SiO2 and SrTiO3 to find suitable back-gate dielectrics. Film growth was done using the Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE) Machine and Reflection High Energy Electron Diffraction (RHEED) was used to monitor growth. Afterwards, the films were analyzed and characterized using Raman Spectroscopy, X-Ray Diffraction, and Atomic Force Microscopy.

Results: Surprisingly, the films grown on SiC turned out to have higher quality than those grown on Al2O3. Furthermore, crystal formation was confirmed on SiO2 and SrTiO3, which are both suitable as back-gate dielectrics. The layer thickness was confirmed by XRD, and while the monolayers lacked photoluminescence, Raman Spectroscopy confirmed successful single layer growth.

Discussion: All in all, these experiments demonstrated the viability of molecular beam epitaxy for thin-film growth. We discovered that SiC is an even better substrate than Al2O3 for WSe2, which is interesting because Al2O3 is one of the most commonly used substrates in literature, and successfully displayed proof-of-concept direct growth on suitable back-gate dielectrics.

Future Research: In the future, we hope to further optimize the MBE process to produce higher quality films and eventually hope to produce photoluminescence in monolayer films. Also, we hope to eventually fabricate a back-gate transistor from a film grown on SiO2/SrTiO3 and fabricate an electric double-layer transistor from a film grown on SiC.

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Follow-on Project

Hosting a Nakatani RIES information session ~ Joshua Yang

For my follow-up project, I hosted an information session on the Nakatani RIES program to freshmen engineering students at the University of Texas at Austin. I was surprised at how long I was able to talk about the program (around an hour and I didn’t even cover everything!) and enjoyed sharing my wonderful experience with other fellow students. I spoke to a smaller group (in comparison to other 2017 fellows) but had a more interactive session, and it was great seeing everyone’s interest. I also coordinated with the engineering study abroad advisor to send out an informational email about the program and posted on our UT ECE Facebook page as a quick plug for interested freshmen and sophomores.

Lastly, I presented at the Gulf Coast Undergraduate Research Symposium, was wowed by how interested many of the other undergraduates were in my research, and got to hang out and meet up again with eight other US Fellows (a very happy reunion indeed). For more, see our Alumni Updates page.

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Tips for Future Participants

Pre Departure Tips

  • Pack what you need, but pack light! I got lucky because I stayed in Tokyo, but lugging your heavy luggage around long distances is not fun at all.
    • Program Tip: Use the takuhaibin luggage delivery service for large suitcases/bags. Even if you are just traveling in Tokyo/the same city it can be a life-saver on crowded subways, trains, buses, and streets.  Trust us on this one!
  • Figure out the sights you want to see in Japan ahead of time
  • Memorize your Japanese syllabaries (hiragana and katakana) ahead of time, so you aren’t cramming on the plane!

Orientation Program Tips

  • Get sleep! Don’t get sick right as you go to Japan; it won’t be fun (trust me)
  • Pay attention to the lectures and you’ll learn a lot
  • Treasure these three weeks with your friends. It’ll be the longest time y’all will have together as a complete group

Mid-Program Meeting Tips 

  • Talk to Sarah and Kono-sensei about any problems you’ve encountered in research
  • Commiserate with fellow students about research struggles (or celebrate successes!)
  • Spend some quality time getting to know the Japanese Fellows better too

Working With your Research Lab Tips:

  • If you face any troubles, try to speak up (even if indirectly)
  • Research will almost always have setbacks, so don’t let this discourage you
  • Write down notes when shadowing and take good reports
  • Don’t worry too much about the little things; it’ll all work out in the end 😊

Living in your Research Host City

  • Be sure to explore your host city thoroughly. Unless you’re really tired (or have reports to finish), choose going out into the city over just chilling out at home; it’ll be worth it, I promise.
  • Get to know your suitemates; they can be a lot of fun to be around!
  • If you need to save more money, you can just cook more often
  • Ask your Japanese lab mates for neat things to do if you’re clueless

Language Study Tips

  • If you had no experience like me, don’t expect to master the Japanese language. But if you put a lot of effort into it, you’ll definitely learn an impressive amount.
  • Practice as much as you can! Talking to the JP (or even US) fellows in Japanese can be lots of fun
  • Don’t be afraid to mess up. We all do from time to time (I know I did a lot). As long as you just try your best, people will be friendly and appreciate your effort, and they might even try to help you out with your speaking.

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