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
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
Excerpts from Joshua’s Weekly Reports
- Week 01: Arrival in Japan
- Week 02: Language Learning & Trip to Mt. Fuji Lakes
- Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences
- Week 04: First Week at Research Lab
- Week 05: Critical Incident Analysis – Life in Japan
- Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting
- Week 07: Overview of Mid-Program Meeting & Research Host Lab Visit
- Week 08: Research in Japan vs. Research in the U.S.
- Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning
- Week 10: Interview with a Japanese Researcher
- Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab
- Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab
- Week 13: Final Report
- Follow-on Project
- Tips for Future Participants
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!).
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.
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
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?
- Did you know that Japan has the highest number of vending machines per capita, with about one machine for every twenty-three people? U.S. students often wonder why there are so many vending machines and how they can be profitable given that there are so many machines everywhere. The resources below might help give some insight to these questions but at the end of the day one key reasons – it’s super convenient to be able to get a cold (in summer) or hot (in winter) beverage whenever you want one because there is probably a vending machine just a few steps away.
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).
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
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.
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.
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?
- Because there are vending machines everywhere that allow you to easily buy ice cold water for just 100-120 yen. 🙂 Comparatively, in the U.S., bottled water from vending machines can be quite expensive so most people prefer to carry a reusable water bottle with them on a day-to-day basis. Actually, there are many free public sources of water in Japan, most parks have a water tap or fountain, and water is served free at any restaurant.
- In buildings, water fountains may not be so prevalent as most offices have tea kettles that are filled up at office sinks/kitchens so workers can drink hot tea throughout the day. Also, the building owner might receive a small percentage of profits from any vending machines sales, so there is a slight economic incentive for them to install vending machines rather than water fountains.
- Niponica has a really interesting article on water in Japan, including the history of free municipal tap water.
- In the U.S., it was a huge infrastructure and public health accomplishment when municipal water treatment facilities starting disinfecting water in the early 1900s. Kohler, a water faucet and fixture company, actually installed some of the first public drinking fountains in the late 1800s to promote their product but also to highlight the cleanliness and convenience of tap water.
- Today, some are concerned that there are fewer public water fountains and many people don’t use them as frequently due to an, incorrect, belief that bottled water is cleaner or tastes better. So, it is possible you may see fewer public drinking fountains in the future in the U.S. too.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 ☹)
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.
Question of the Week: Why is there a hiragana character on Japanese license plates?
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.
Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting
“If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research, would it?” – Albert Einstein
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.
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.
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.
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?
- People do eat cheese in Japan, but it is typically eaten only with Western style food as cheese doesn’t really mix well with most Japanese dishes. For example, cheesecake is very popular in Japan.
- The U.S. is also considered weird by other countries, including in Europe where cheesemaking is an art, because we melt cheese on top of everything. If you travel in other countries you’ll likely find that higher quality cheese is eaten for its own individual flavor rather than melted cheddar or mozzarella cheese being used to cover the flavor of what ever food it is put on top of. (see #7 of this list too.)
- Short History of Milk and Cheese in Japan (Chowhound)
- Encountering American Culture and Cheese as a Foreigner (Blog)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning
Coming this summer!
Week 10: Interview with Japanese Researcher
Coming this summer!
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Week 11: Critical Incident Analysis – In the Lab
Coming this summer!
Week 12: Final Week at Research Lab
Coming this summer!
Week 13: Final Report
Coming this summer!
Coming this summer!
Tips for Future Participants
Coming this summer!