Home University: University of Rochester
Major: Chemical Engineering and Japanese
Current Status: Sophomore
Expected Graduation Date: May 2019
Host Lab in Japan: Toyota Technological University – Energy Materials Laboratory
Why Nakatani RIES?
My parents met in Japan and it was their only shared language at the time. As a result, Japanese culture and language has always been an important part of my household. I’ve studied some Japanese culture, taken some Japanese classes, and been to Japan briefly for vacation, but I want to experience it really closely. I think Nakatani RIES gives me the opportunity to do this.
I’m also an engineer who’s caught the “research fever.” I want to try all different types of research and broaden my experiences as much as possible so I can figure out what I’m most passionate about. Nakatani RIES has a lot of cool research opportunities, and I feel privileged to be able to participate in one of them.
Goals for the Summer
I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I think all of my goals for this summer can be put under the umbrella: “broaden my experience.” Specifically, there are three things I want to accomplish.
- First, I want to learn more about research. This is just an overall goal of mine; my current plan is professorship as a career, but one of the first steps I need to reach this is to discover what I’m most passionate about researching. To do this, I’m trying to work in a lot of different labs as deeply as possible.
- Second, I want to immerse myself in Japanese culture.
- Third, I want to step outside my comfort zone. I’ve lived in the same place basically my entire life surrounded by people who look like me and speak my language. I think going to Japan is a wonderful opportunity to explore myself and push my boundaries.
Excerpts from William’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
“Always do whatever’s next” -George Carlin
When I first arrived in Japan, I felt a little overwhelmed. I had hoped that studying Japanese for an entire year since last coming to Japan would help me a lot with understanding what was going on. But when I got there, the airport was filled with unknown kanji, and I felt a little scared for working in this environment for the next 13 weeks. However, this feeling faded pretty quickly as I tried to talk with people and realized my capacity has increased a lot (although not to my satisfaction).
What I’ve really grown to appreciate about Japan is how fluidly the modern, historical, and natural elements mix together. Saturday morning (5/20/17) I went to Tokyo Midtown, and walked through this park into a little pond clearing with the city skyline in the backdrop. I thought it was so beautiful, I just sat there for as long as the rest of the group would let me.
Another thing that surprised me was how clean Japan was. It’s really hard to find a scrap of trash anywhere, and there are far fewer trash cans in Japan than in the U.S.. The culture of taking care of your own trash and sorting it so well is something not seen anywhere in America.
I also really enjoy all of the free time we get. Every day we travel to a new area and try something new. And because I honestly enjoy spending time with every other person in the Nakatani group, I end up enjoying my time no matter what we’re doing (although Japan’s food, culture, and beauty are all amazing anyway). I’ve spent a surprising amount of time just wandering around looking for something (and there’s always something). On Sunday (5/21/17), for example, we tried to go to the Imperial Palace. It was closed, unfortunately, so we ended up just exploring the area, finding a nature park, museum, and even a J-Pop Rock concert. Each day seems so long and yet I don’t want any of them to end. Sorry, I’m being sappy.
Language classes are going pretty well. There are a few review vocabulary structures, which can be boring to do again, but for the most part I think it’s very informative. All of the senseis are very kind and willing to answer our questions about both Japanese language and the culture. We also have a lot of dialogue about various topics. We teach the sensei a lot about our own cultures and backgrounds, and they return the favor. It’s really cool to learn about their experiences, but also really helpful to get the chance to speak about my own; that’s what I would have to do in a real conversation anyway.
Speaking of which, what I’ve been doing extra to help propel my language further is just take every chance I get to go “ano, sumimasen,” and talk to a Japanese person on the street. Whether it’s asking for directions, the nearest restroom, or recommendations for a maid café, I always try to be the first person to say, “let’s ask someone!” Funny story. We were watching a J-Pop concert at the ToDai May Festival (super fun, would recommend), and I noticed I was sitting next to this old man. When I tried to start a conversation with him by commenting on the performance, he responded, “ah, you’re an American?” It was funny, but also a wake-up call that I’m nowhere near as good at Japanese as I want to be. I hope to improve a lot more this summer.
The seminars have been really interesting so far, especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was amazing and really humbling to think that such important people would come and talk to us about their work. I was able to discuss politics with people whose job it is to discuss politics. I felt so out of my element. At the same time though, there were science things that we knew about but they didn’t, which gave me a new appreciation for how important cooperation and communication is in the modern world. No one can do everything, and that’s an amazing thing.
Another amazing thing was the Todai (University of Tokyo) tour. Any equipment that my school has, that school had, more of and better. In addition to that, there were so many things that I had never seen nor heard of before. And the idea that anyone in Japan can gain access to that equipment and come in and use it is unbelievable to me. Back in Rochester, people in the Laser Lab (< 5 minute drive from campus) won’t let professors on campus use their equipment. The experience not only made me really excited for research in Japan, it again reminded me how important collaboration is to progress.
Nakatani has been an amazing experience for me thus far, I feel like I just need to keep doing whatever’s next.
The Pre-departure Orientation at Rice University was a great chance to meet all the fellow students. I felt like we bonded and were able to become friends really quickly. I also found the Japanese culture lessons helpful, so I knew what to expect coming to Japan and how to not be too disrespectful. I’ve been trying to do the slight head bow wherever I go, which I had no idea was a thing the previous times I went. I also would always drink and eat in the streets, just because I had no idea it wasn’t a part of the culture here. Now that I know it, I wonder how I could have ever missed it. I feel like I can act more like a Japanese person than I could before thanks to pre-orientation. Along that same vein, I felt that our Japanese culture lecture this first week was helpful in learning more about Japanese culture, specifically how to interact with Japanese strangers and people in the lab. Just say yes!
Research Project Introduction & Article Overview
I don’t really know exactly what I’m doing for my research project, to be honest. Takeuchi-sensei has told me that I will be working on characterizing copper oxide high critical temperature superconductors, but outside of that I’m not sure. He also told me that I should focus on enjoying Tokyo and not worry about studying; he will teach me everything I need to know when I get there. That said, I’m still a little nervous, so I’m attempting to understand an intro to solid state physics textbook.
Kittel, Charles. “Introduction to Solid State Physics.” 8 ed., United States of America: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005
Week 02: Trip to Akita
I think I’ve settled into language classes. Recently I’ve been trying to stay much more engaged, and I think I’ve been learning a lot as a result. I definitely most enjoy speaking Japanese. I love getting time to practice my speaking skills, in class, on the street, or with the Japanese fellows. It’s a great way to get better at Japanese, but I’ve also been able to learn a lot of the nuances to the language that I never realized before. I often say something in Japanese that, if you use the literal translation from English, makes perfect sense, but is “chotto hen” (a little strange) in Japanese. It’s thanks to my Japanese language teachers that I’m able to learn these things.
So, what’s been most frustrating to me when learning Japanese is that we spend a lot of time learning specific grammar structures instead of practicing speaking. I really enjoy writing, don’t get me wrong, but my entire experience with Japanese thus far has been mostly writing based, and I want to do more speaking, because I think that’s what I need right now to improve quickly.
When I’m speaking with the Japanese fellows or other people in real conversation, I find myself often stumbling to piece together grammar structures and find the right words. I know this is only natural for someone at my level of Japanese, but it’s still frustrating because communication is so slow coming from my end. During the research internship period I want to learn to speak more fluidly, that is, with less pauses and stumbles during each sentence.
Mt. Fuji might have been the highlight of my Japan trip up to this point. We visited a lot of cool areas around the area and I got to meet the 2017 Nakatani RIES Japanese Fellows, who are all really smart, interesting, and kind people.
The two places that stood out to me most on the trip was the not-quite peak of Mt. Fuji (I’ll just call it “Mt. Fuji” from here on) and the onsen. I was basically asleep the entire trip up Mt. Fuji, and when I woke up my tooth was hurting from the pressure difference (apparently my nasal cavity is really close to the root of the tooth, so at high altitudes the tooth gets pushed a little). I was expecting a painful experience. But, walking around, there were so many interesting places to check out that I basically forgot about it until I got back on the bus. I got ice cream that was flavored with berries that only grow at high altitudes (it wasn’t amazing, but worth a try). The gift shop had a lot of interesting things, including this little Mt. Fuji doll that repeats whatever you say. We had a lot of fun with that.
The views were also amazing. The land around Mt. Fuji is relatively flat, and there weren’t many clouds around that day, so we got an amazing look at the landscape. There was a forest around the base of the mountain. A Japanese fellow told me that that was the suicide forest, where Japanese people would go, carrying nothing, to die. That conversation hit me really hard for some reason; I had a lot to think about as we took the bus to the hotel.
- If you’d like to read more, you may want to consult some of the following articles. Just as in the U.S., Japan has struggled to de-stigmatize mental health counseling and ensure the public is more aware of how to access support services including suicide prevention hotlines. These efforts have had success as the suicide rates in Japan have been in decline in recent years. Just as we advise in the U.S., in Japan people are being asked to reach out for help and support when needed and, if concerned about a friend or family member, to speak up and directly seek help on their behalf if needed. This is a complex problem but ultimately each and every life has value and meaning and if or when people lose sight of that our greatest hope is there will be someone there beside them to help show them the way and to stand beside and behind them so they know they are not alone.
- Suicide in Japan (Wikipedia)
- Why Does Japan Have Such a High Suicide Rate (BBC News)
- 5 Things to Know About Suicide in Japan (Tofugu)
- The Economic Toll of High Suicide Rates in Japan & South Korea (Wharton)
- Suicides in Japan Drop to a 22-year Low (Japan Today)
- Overwork Suicide in Japan (Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience)
The onsen was definitely a place that pushed me outside my comfort zone. We had to take off all our clothes and bathe in public. It was something that would be ridiculous to do in America, yet the Japanese fellows weren’t fazed by it all. “Futsuu da,” they said: it’s normal. It was something I never thought I would (and never really wanted to) become comfortable doing, but I actually thought it was a great experience. The U.S. and Japanese male fellows had a great talk in the onsen that night.
Speaking of the Japanese fellows, they were all amazing. My talks with the U.S. fellows after meeting them have largely consisted of, “I wish we were as cool as the Japanese fellows.” I had a lot of fun getting to know them, learning more about their culture, and teaching them more about ours. I really wish I had gotten to know more of them better, but I’m glad I got so much time to talk with Tomoya, Tomoyuki, and Tomo. Their names are confusing together, so I nicknamed them Tomo-cchi, Tomu-san (Tom), and Tomo-chan, respectively. Tom and Tomo-chan are actually from Nagoya and will be in the area for a little bit during the research internship. I hope to get to spend more time with them while I’m there.
The culture gap was actually really apparent between the Japanese groups and us. As an example, I mentioned the onsen. While the Japanese fellows were perfectly comfortable bathing together, they thought it was really weird that people from the U.S. hugged each other, touched each other’s hair, or even shook hands. It seems like they value their personal space a lot more than Americans (despite how packed the subway is), but, like Sarah said, doing things side-by-side is very important for their relationships. Despite this, we were still able to get along really well. I was surprised by how open they were to us, even though they just met us. I guess we’re more similar than different after all.
Side note, I keep instinctively reaching my hand out when I meet someone, which I really have to stop.
Overview of Week Two of Orientation Seminars and Activities
The lectures this week were pretty interesting. On Tuesday, Professor Kono gave a lecture about the basics of metals, semiconductors, and insulators. He also briefly dipped into quantum mechanics. It was mostly review, but there were quite a few things I had forgotten that were good to get a refresher on. Then, Professor Itoh from Keio University (Rose’s host professor) gave a talk on quantum computers. It still seems like the technology is still pretty far from being computationally useful because it’s a relatively new field, and a lot of the math went over my head, but it was really cool and the potential seems endless. He also talked about a single-atom NMR (Rose’s planned research project), which, as an NMR lover, was amazing. It seems difficult to apply, but the concept is awesome. I sense a Nobel Prize in Rose’s future.
On Thursday, Professor Kono finished his lecture from Tuesday, which was quantum mechanics from an electrical engineering point of view. There was a lot of review, but also a lot of cool stuff, and it was interesting to hear a non-chemistry side of the story. It was a good lecture, and because it was broad I felt like I had a chance to understand it if I thought enough. I would be interested in more of these kinds of lectures, but I also feel that the professor lectures are really important and thought-provoking, especially because they give us insight into what real research is like. Then, Professor Kawata from Osaka University gave a lecture about nano-bio-photonics. A lot of it went over my head, but the applications and concepts were cool.
The Friday kimono lecture was also really cool. I had no idea all of the thought that has to go into choosing your kimono. You have to be respectful to not only the people around you, but also nature. Fun fact of the day: clothing is considered an extension of the body in Japanese culture, so only single women are allowed to wear long sleeved kimono because the sleeves brush up against people.
Question of the Week
One question I have about Japanese culture is what I talked about earlier. Why is it that such a crowded place where they have people whose job it is to squeeze more people into trains has such a strong sense of personal space? I’m thinking specifically about my interactions with the Japanese fellows, who told us that aside from your significant other, it’s weird to hug someone or touch their hair.
- In part, this is likely due to the high population density in Japan. When you are always surrounded by other people in such large, densely packed villages and cities (both historically and today) it becomes even more important to honor and respect the small bits of personal space that we do have in our day-to-day lives. At the same time there are other aspects of Japanese society where Americans tend to feel that privacy or personal space (which is not just physical space in an American context) may not be respected in Japan in the same way it is in the U.S. For more on this, you may want to read some of the following articles.
I feel like I keep calling everything cool, awesome, or amazing, and that the words are losing their impact. I really mean it every time I say it, I just don’t have enough words in my dictionary to keep it varied. So apologies.
This coming week is the last week of orientation. This time next week I will be in Nagoya. It’s unreal to think about, and I’m a little scared. There’s still so much I want to do in Tokyo and it doesn’t seem like there will ever be enough time to do it. I’ve been having so much fun with all of the activities here, it’s hard to believe I’ll be working in a lab pretty soon. I’ll miss the other U.S. fellows I’ve spent so much time with these past few weeks, but I can’t wait.
Introduction to Research Topic – Questions from Prof. Kono
- What is the material you will be using/studying?
- Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8 (Bi-2212)
- Is it a metal, insulator, or semiconductor?
- What is its characteristic dimensionality?
- I will be working with single crystals formed by the floating zone method, so the dimensionality will be 0D.
- What makes it interesting?
- Bi-2212 has a critical temperature near 100K.
- What are the properties to be studied?
- The properties to be studied are the unit cell dimensions (by X-ray diffraction), resistivity (as a function of temperature), Seebeck coefficient (as a function of temperature), magnetization (as a function of temperature), and electronic structure (by angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy, ARPES).
- What are some possible applications?
- Superconductors may be used to create highly efficient electronic devices due to their lack of resistivity. Their ability to perfectly counter magnetic fields also allows for possible applications such as magnetic-levitation technology.
Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences
I forgot to put a quote in last week, so I’ll put two in this week’s report:
“A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.” -Ayn Rand
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” -Thomas A. Edison
Japan’s subway system is really amazing. What strikes me most is how quiet it is. Even if I’m having what I think is a whispered conversation, I’m usually the loudest one in the train. If there is noise, it’s almost always a baby crying, some young kids chatting, or obvious foreigners. And that’s not just on the subway; it’s on the streets and in shops, too. The level of quietness in public areas here is something unheard of in America.
I guess in Japan this sense of public awareness and respect gets drilled into you very quickly. It might be the same reason why people don’t usually eat in public, and in general don’t touch each other (except on the really busy trains, where you just get packed).
People riding the subway are almost always sleeping, listening to music, playing a game on their phone or some handheld device, or just staring off in the distance. It’s really rare to see anything other than that, and if so, it’s usually a small child misbehaving in some way.
Manners-wise, Japan is very similar to America. People appreciate it when you let them board the train first, hold the door for them, help them pick up something they’ve dropped, etc. I think the biggest difference between here and America is, for some reason, I feel like I get a lot more gratitude for every little thing I do in Japan. It was nice at first, but after I became accustomed to it, as Sarah warned us, I feel like I don’t know what’s really sincere anymore and what’s just polite. It’s frustrating at times.
Another thing is that Japanese people seem to make a lot less eye contact than Americans. I like looking at someone’s eyes when I talk to them because I feel like it makes me a lot more transparent in my feelings, but that’s much harder in Japan. I don’t know if it’s all the bowing that pulls eye contact or some other cultural factor but, again, it makes it difficult at times.
- For a interesting take on eye contact in Japan, you may want to read “Looking Another Culture in the Eye”
We talked a bit about wa, or harmony, in the pre-departure orientation. After coming to Japan, I think that’s what I’ve notice most behind how people act; it seems to all have to do with wa. From the amazingly punctual subway system, to the incredibly organized trash system, to how people act in public, to the constant gratitude, to the honorific and humble speech embedded in the language, it all seems, at least in part, to stem from a desire to be in harmony with others and nature. Even just walking through the streets, watching how the cars and people move, I get this weird sense that everything is moving together, in the way it’s supposed to. That’s one of the reasons I love just walking around Japan in my free time.
As time went on and people became more independent, I got the chance to get a lot more one-on-one talks with people. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with the whole group, but I always say that my favorite group size is 2, and I really enjoyed getting to know individual people better this week. I may have talked about this a bit in my last report, but I feel like the individual gets drowned out a lot in a group, so it’s nice to isolate people so you can really learn more about them. For example, on Monday, everyone left to explore somewhere while I was still doing laundry. So, Shivani and I got dinner together at this Indian restaurant. We were able to talk about the meaning of life, religion, and how you should live your life. It was the first time I’ve been able to talk so freely about my life philosophy, and it felt good.
Aaron, Josh, and I went to Shinjuku one night and ate at this amazing and cheap ramen place. We met this guy named Toshiki, who taught us how to properly eat ramen. He was so friendly even though we didn’t know each other. I think I like the backstreets of Japan: good food and good company. This experience made me realize I really want to get to know more Japanese people better. I’ve been talking a lot with the U.S. fellows because it’s comfortable and they speak my primary language, but I want to step outside of that and get to know some Japanese people as well; most of them seem really friendly and cool.
There was so much more that happened this week, like making plastic food at Kappabashi, going to the Ghibli Museum, and exploring Harajuku. It was really fun, and I’m glad I got to spend it with the Nakatani group. Getting sappy again, sorry.
Overview of Week 3 of Orientation Program
Our speeches at the end of Japanese classes went really well, I think! I could tell that the people in the other classes had learned a lot since their last speech, and I hope it’s the same for me. I was able to present it pretty well from memory, which gives me hope that maybe one day I won’t be an awful speech-giver. I’m not really familiar yet with Japanese sentence structures, so I had to basically say the script word-for-word, which I don’t really like doing. I like having main points and just speaking based on them, which is what I usually do in English speeches (which may be why they usually end up badly). I hope I get the chance to practice public speaking some more, maybe in front of the lab, during this internship.
Professor Ishioka’s talk really stood out to me this week. She talked about women in engineering in Japan. I had no idea that the bias towards men in higher education was so strong in Japan; it was really eye opening. I also just recently found out that my lab only has one female member, so there’s the gap right there, I guess. Based on the data she showed us, it looks like things are getting better, but Japan still seems a far way off from equal.
- For more on women in science & engineering in Japan see our Research in Japan page.
Sunday was pretty tough. Lots of goodbyes. I also had to take my last nap on the Sanuki roof that morning. It’s going to be weird not spending basically 24/7 with the Nakatani group. I’ve really grown fond of them. Feeling pretty lonely as I type this out; I find myself already looking forward to the Mid-Program Meeting in Kyoto this July. I’ve become really used to having a native English speaker there if I need them, it’s going to be weird not having that anymore. Hopefully I’ll be able to meet up with them during weekends though, and Shivani is only half an hour away so maybe we can hang out on weekdays.
Arrival in Nagoya
I also met some people from my lab. Bien and Choi (spelling might be wrong…). They’re actually both Korean. It seems like my lab is very international, which is cool, but it presents a problem I didn’t think I’d be having. I’ve actually become pretty comfortable with Japanese these past couple weeks, but a lot of the people in the lab don’t speak Japanese, and speak English pretty poorly (or so I hear). I’m really bad at understanding things normally, so I feel like it will be a struggle to understand people in the lab. I guess that’s a major barrier in international laboratories. I’m interested in seeing how it plays out.
When I told them that I liked American food more than Japanese food, they seemed surprised. Apparently, they don’t really like Japanese food, and much prefer Korean food. I guess I’ll need to check it out sometime.
I’m looking forward to meeting the rest of my lab. I hope they’re all as friendly as Bien and Choi.
Once I got to my dorm the first night, I had most of the day off, so I went out and bought some essentials (paper towels, soap, shampoo, etc.) from a nearby supermarket that also has a Daiso on the second floor. It seems pretty convenient (about a 10 minute walk), so I’ll probably end up going there a lot.
My room is pretty big. I think I’ll have plenty of space to store my stuff, but it’ll probably get a little clunky if my organizational history is anything to go by. My bed came with some assembly required, and I’m almost positive I messed it up somehow (I have no idea what goes on top of what). The bed is also as hard as a rock, so I’m expecting some sore backs.
The area is really nice. Quaint, I think is an appropriate word. Not much going on in the area, and Choi said he didn’t really like it. On my first walk to the supermarket, I found some gaijin traps, a tennis court (hopefully I’ll find a way to be able to play on it), a nice park, and a Daiso plus supermarket.
After shopping the first time, I went on a second walk to explore. My walk ended up going for 3 ½ hours. Whoops. Everything is so far apart compared to Tokyo, so I kept seeing things in the distance and wanting to walk to them. Close by, there’s a curry shop, ramen restaurant, steak restaurant, the Daiso plus supermarket I ran into earlier, a barber shop (might have to try that out), a couple conbini, and a trading card shop (didn’t see a single one in Tokyo, was cool).
About a half hour walk out, there’s this place called Hill something or the other that’s basically a pretty big shopping mall. They have a food court, a bookstore, lots of clothes shops, and even a gaming arcade (with the Taiko drumming game!). Also, a bunch of bananas (4 or 5) is 150 yen! It would probably be fun to stop by there every now and again. I can also get there by subway if I’m feeling tired or lazy or just don’t have time. Also, there’s a Starbucks there so I could even do work there if I feel like it. There’s also karaoke in that area, but I doubt I’ll have the time or money for that.
I think I explored most of what’s within walking distance on one side of campus. There’s really not much to do around here, so hopefully I’ll find the time and can save the money to get out often. I’ll hopefully also spend a lot of time working out this summer, just using body weight if need be (I’m not sure what their gym’s like yet). Need to get massive and such. I also want to look for a tennis team. I saw one court, but I’m hoping they have more than that and some good players. I’d need to borrow a racquet and maybe some shoes, but I’ve been really itching to play. I know there’s also a rock climbing gym about 20 minutes away. That’s probably a little expensive for my budget, but I might stop by a couple times. Hopefully I can entertain myself for 10 weeks here, maybe things will seem better when I actually know my schedule.
My next-door neighbor stopped by to say hi. His name is Arya, and is an Indian research intern here for the next two months (same as me!) at the surfaces laboratory. I’m glad he took the initiative to come visit me; it was nice having someone come over to introduce themselves. He talked to me a little about how he’s struggling being in Japan because it’s his first time. I hope he’ll be able to learn some Japanese and be able to get around comfortably by the end of the summer. I also want to get to know him better. Hopefully I can be an outlet for him to speak some English!
I also started a budget. I divided up my remaining money and found out how much I can afford to spend per day. I’m going to log it all in an excel sheet to see how far above or below budget I am each day and overall. I hope to spend a lot less money on weekdays so I can do fun excursions on weekends that may be a little more expensive than I could otherwise do. I’m going to see what happens naturally the next few days then recollect myself and figure out what I should change to get the most out of my money.
Nervous for the next 10 weeks. There’s a lot to balance in research, free time, and money. I’ll try my best.
Question of the Week
I read today that the average Shinkansen delay is 54 seconds from its predicted time. That’s including delays due to natural disasters and other accidents. For a multi-hour trip, that’s amazing. The regular subway seems even more punctual. So, my question for the week is why? I talked about wa in my report this week, and used that to explain it, but it seems like a dodgy answer (I could explain almost anything using those principles), and I can’t believe that’s all there is to it. It’s a system that reminds me of the American obsession with efficiency, yet there’s nothing quite like it in America.
- “Ever Wonder Why Trains in Japan Aren’t Late? Here’s Why” (Kotaku)
- “Super Japan: On-Time” (Discovery Channel)
Research Project/Topic Questions from Prof. Stanton
Quick correction about my research before I answer the questions relating to Professor Stanton’s lectures. Single crystal means that all lattices are aligned the same direction, not that there is only a single lattice in the crystal. So, my material will be 3-D.
- Do any of the materials you will be studying this summer have unique or interesting optical properties?
- Not that we’re studying.
- Are there any interesting ways to probe your materials using optical techniques?
- We are using an X-ray diffractor, which finds the angles at which the Bragg condition (nλ = 2dsin(2θ)) is met. We are using this as a method to confirm that our samples are pure and aligned. Therefore, we are just looking for characteristic, sharp peaks.
- We will also (hopefully) use Angle Resolved Photo-Emission Spectroscopy (ARPES) to characterize the electronic structure of the material (Bi-2122).
I want to learn more about the floating zone method. It melts the sample and allows it to cool, which forms a single crystal, but I really don’t understand the mechanism very well. Slow evaporation causes more well-ordered precipitate when working with solutions because it gives the precipitate time to form a well-ordered, low energy configuration, but does the same logic apply to solidification? I feel like I don’t really have a good enough understanding of solid state physics or crystal lattices to know how it works exactly, so I want to read up on it some more this summer.
I also still want to develop a better understanding of reciprocal lattice space. I can see its usefulness, but the math still goes way over my head.
Then, of course, I want to know more about superconductors. I understand the basics (Meisner effect, formation of Cooper pairs, which act as bosons, etc.), but it still seems like magic to me. Hopefully this summer will allow me to understand them a lot better.
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Week 04: First Week at Research Lab
My first day in the Energy Materials Lab at the Toyota Technological Institute (TTI), I arrived (10 minutes early, of course) and introduced myself to Takeuchi-sensei and my mentor. Takeuchi-sensei is really kind, and obviously knows a lot about solid state physics and science in general. He told me that every Monday, someone from the lab presents what they’ve been working on in front of the rest of the lab, and invited me to join.
Dr. Robert Sobota (he makes me call him Robert) is a Slovakian working with me on single crystal Bi-2212. He is very direct and to the point, but definitely friendly and clearly cares about my growth as a scientist and person. He doesn’t speak Japanese at all (same with a surprising number of people at the lab), so I find myself speaking almost exclusively English at the lab. As time goes on, I’m starting to gain a real appreciation for how much he (and Takeuchi-sensei and everyone else in the lab) knows. I want to learn as much as possible from this lab in the time that I have, and I’m realizing that a lot of that will just be listening to what the people in the lab have to say to me and teach me.
Because everyone was at this meeting, it was the perfect time for me to introduce myself. The lab is incredibly international. The people working here come from Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Slovakia (my mentor), France, India, and now, America. Because of this, I was able to (had to?) give my self-introduction in English. After that, each person in the lab went through and introduced themselves to me. I’m still struggling to learn/remember names; there are about 20 people in the lab. Because the lab is so international, English is the main language, but there’s definitely a language barrier that needs bridging at times, which tends to slow things down. I’m interested in seeing how the people in the lab overcome this barrier. In an international lab, this definitely seems like it would be one of the biggest (if not the biggest) struggles in collaboration.
After that, I went to the TTI office to talk about basic information for living here. It turns out that there is a tennis club, but they only practice once a month because there are no courts on campus. It’s a shame, but I don’t want to be spending all of my time playing tennis, so it might be a good thing for me. She also told me about the iPlaza, which is a place I can take Japanese language classes and speak with people trying to improve their English.
Then, I went back to the seminar room and listened to the end of this week’s presenter’s presentation. I came in halfway through so it was a little difficult to understand, but it wasn’t nearly as abstract as I expected it to be. I hope this is a sign that I’m finally gaining some sort of understanding, but maybe it was just a coincidently concrete topic. Who knows. There was still a lot I didn’t get.
Then, I got lunch. A large group of the lab, including my mentor, all go together at around the same time each day. The food is incredibly cheap (less than 450 yen for almost everything) and pretty filling, too. It seems like everyone here goes to lunch together, eats together, and leaves together. It forces me to eat more quickly than I normally would, because I don’t want people to have to wait for me. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I generally like going about things at my own pace, and while it’s nice that the lab tries to build this sense of camaraderie, it will most likely be difficult for me to do this kind of stuff all the time (I need my alone time).
Takeuchi-sensei, Robert, and I talked about what I’m going to be doing this summer. He explained the theory and told me my project. I will be making Bi-2212 single crystals (all aligned in the same direction) doped with Y and Pb (to change the number of holes in the superconductor) using the floating zone method, and analyzing the crystals’ properties including resistivity, Seebeck coefficient, and magnetic susceptibility by PPMS (Physical Property Measurement System, I think), and electronic structure by ARPES (Angle-Resolved PhotoEmission Spectroscopy). We will use XRD (X-Ray Diffraction) and TEM (Transmission Electron Microscopy) to test whether the desired crystal is obtained. However, the ARPES machine is being repaired right now, so it’s undetermined if I’ll be able to use it, which is unfortunate.
I will prepare samples, run XRD, PPMS, and (hopefully) the floating zone method machine (not sure of its name). I will also perform ARPES if the machine is fixed before I leave. Robert will train me to use do all of these things.
The transport properties of superconductors change with hole concentration, and it is my mentor’s research interest to characterize this theoretically and experimentally. I will be helping with the experimental portion.
My research seems really time consuming. It apparently takes weeks to prepare a sample of Bi-2122 and 10-12 days to align it into a single crystal. It sounds like the next few weeks are going to be a lot of grinding, heating, and re-grinding. It’s scary, because it sounds like I might only be able to prepare and analyze one or two samples in my entire stay here, meaning messing up will leave me with almost nothing. I’m also concerned about how I can make that few data points into a project to present at the end of this program.
So, if possible, I also want to find something interesting and maybe explore it on my own while I wait for things to get done. Unfortunately, my options are very limited because samples take so long to prepare, equipment is limited, and I know very little about the topic right now, so it will probably hard to come up with something worthwhile. That said, I have been meeting with Takeuchi-sensei every morning at 9 am to talk about theory for about an hour. It has been ramping up recently, but I’ve been keeping up fairly well so far, I think. I want to gain not only a basic understanding of solid state physics and superconductors, but one that will allow me to think critically and ask my own questions about them. I can turn that into an independent project.
After our meeting, Robert showed me a few of the basic procedures I’ll have to do to analyze my sample once it’s finished. We prepared a sample for XRD and ran a magnetic susceptibility test by PPMS. The PPMS will be down all of next week for maintenance (more unfortunateness).
It looks like my hours will be 9-7 about every weekday, with nothing on the weekends. It’s quite a bit and can be exhausting at times, but certainly one of the better schedules amongst the Nakatani Fellows (especially the free weekends). At least this first week, there was a lot of down time because my sample has to sit in the furnace until Monday. I found some books and textbooks that I want to read in the meantime.
I also want to start writing out my thoughts so I can better consolidate and work on improving my philosophical ideas. I want to grow as a person this summer too, not just intellectually, and, so far, I feel like it’s been really helping me in figuring out exactly what I think, why, and what I still need to figure out. Unfortunately, my first paper took about nine pages to answer one question, and after one week I have a list of 14 questions I want to answer (and the number keeps growing). I know I’ll always need to be working at this stuff for the rest of my life, but with how long lab is, I wonder if I have enough time to get everything I want done this summer. It’s frustrating at times, because I feel like I just need more time in the day.
Reflections on the Orientation Program in Tokyo
I really, really enjoyed the orientation program. There were a lot of cool programs where we got to learn about Japanese culture (sumo!), Japanese classes where I got to hone my speaking skills more than I’ve ever gotten the chance to before, a ton of interesting lectures from professors and other experts, and yet a lot of free time to explore where I wanted to explore. Of course, the company was great too. I know it’s unrealistic, but I only wish it had lasted longer.
I think it was a great chance to learn about Japan before going to my host lab. From language classes and just from being around, I got to learn the basic manners of Japanese culture. I certainly would not want to learn those by trial and error in my lab. I also got a better sense for the railway system and navigating my way around, which has already come in handy for my trip to Kyoto this past weekend.
Living on my own this past month, and especially this past week, I’ve learned a lot about my priorities. After lab, I only have a few hours before I need to go to sleep, so it’s really important to figure out what I really want/need to do with that time. I hope that through this experience, I can discover myself and my priorities even more, which will hopefully only accelerate my growth.
Question of the Week
According to the people I talked to, Kyoto is a largely bus-based city, with trains only running along the outskirts. In contrast to that, you can get almost anywhere in Tokyo by train. The area around Toyota Technological Institute in Nagoya appears to be mostly walk/car based, which makes sense because things are more spread out, but Kyoto and Tokyo are both major cities. So, my question is, why did these cities develop such drastically different methods of transportation? I’m also interested in knowing the advantages and disadvantages each of these methods have shown through time.
- Just like in the U.S. there are more rural areas of Japan and smaller cities that are much more car dependent than you might expect after having been in Tokyo. Also, many university campuses, like TTI, are built in outlying areas where there is more free land and it is cheaper to build. This means that subway lines and major bus routes may be more focused on the city center in Nagoya rather than the area you are living in now. Ask your labmates or at the iPlaza what the best bus routes are to use in and around TTI as the other students there may have helpful tips for you.
- To make the investment in a very extensive subway/train system worthwhile you need a very high population density and ridership each day. Also, Tokyo does not have much land to spread out into. The sea is on one side, the mountains on the other, and the price of land is very expensive. And this not new, it has been this way since the Edo period. Therefore, the opportunity cost of putting in large street/freeway networks and parking for cars is much higher.
- Comparatively, in Kyoto which has been the historic cultural center and capital of Japan there are many sites of historic and cultural significance that could be damaged or destroyed by the vibrations from digging deep subway routes. If you are putting in a new route and unearth a site of historical/cultural significance you may need to stop progress for a long time for archaeological excavations. Therefore, in Kyoto it can be easier to just expand the bus routes rather than build deeper and more extensive subway routes. Kyoto was also not bombed during WWII, meaning that its historic and cultural sites survived.
- This did not apply in Tokyo because, during WWII, the U.S. firebombed Tokyo destroying vast portions of the city and killing 100,000 civilians. For more, watch this BBC news report (video) or start watching this newsreel footage at 1:45 for images of what the fire storm looked like. Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe were also firebombed after Tokyo. Therefore, Tokyo and its transportation infrastructure had to be almost entirely rebuilt after WWII.
- You may also want to read a bit more about the history of Nagoya to learn about how the city/region developed.
Weekend Trip to Kyoto
I mentioned my trip to Kyoto this weekend. It was a lot of fun, but seemed so short, and I probably won’t be able to travel again until the Mid-Program Meeting, so it’s a little bittersweet being back in Nagoya. I know I’m only supposed to put in three pictures each week, but so much happened I can’t help but share more! I guess, pick your favorites and put them in the report, if need be.
Thanks for a really fun trip, Nakatani Fellows. Can’t wait to see you all at the Mid-Program Meeting!
Week 05: Critical Incident Analysis – Life in Japan
I think the time where I had the largest difficulty due to cultural differences was during the second week of orientation, right after watching sumo. The Nakatani Fellows (minus Aaron) all decided to go to a chankonabe (giant hotpot, basically) restaurant. We got split into two groups, and as the Class 4 representative of the table, I was designated as the person who had to communicate with the server.
Honestly, I don’t remember it all too clearly because it was just under a month ago, but I’ll try my best to report things accurately. The group wasn’t very hungry as a whole (a couple people even said they weren’t going to eat at all), so we decided to get one pot for the whole table. But, when I told (or tried to tell) the server that we were ordering one pot, he shook hand and said that we should (needed to?) get at least two pots. I tried to tell him that we weren’t very hungry, so one would be fine, but he kept insisting, so we ended up getting two pots. I’m still not sure if there was some rule of the restaurant where you need to order at least a pot per three people or something of the sort, or what. In retrospect, though, one pot would’ve been far too small.
A similar thing happened when we were ordering drinks. I told him that water was fine for everyone, but he kept shaking his head and gesturing to the drink menu. So, everyone at the table ended up having to order a (fairly expensive) drink.
The server seemed annoyed at our incompetence, and the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. The server didn’t understand any English, so he must have been frustrated with our lack of understanding. On the other hand, I was confused about the rules of the restaurant, and even suspected that we may had been scammed into ordering the drinks because we were foreigners. It didn’t feel like the server was trying anything malicious, but I just felt really confused the whole time.
I wonder what I could have done differently? I didn’t want to keep wasting people’s time by repeatedly asking questions and getting responses I didn’t understand, but, at the same time, I really wanted to figure out what was going on. I wanted everyone to get their food on a reasonable time-scale, and certainly didn’t want to bother the server, so I ended up mostly following the server’s instructions, but I wonder if that was for the best; after all, I never did figure out what was going on.
[Maid or Speciality (e.g. cat/owl)] Cafés here tend to require you to order a drink in addition to the entrance fee to sit down, so I wonder if it was a similar thing, but it was a big restaurant and we were already ordering food, so it seems strange. Language barriers tend to be the most frustrating for me, and seem to lend a lot to these types of situations. Just another reason I want to learn more of the language.
It’s possible that what I really need for situations like that is better preparation. Learning more about what to expect from places like this might be the best way to avoid these situations, because I’ll know what to expect. I guess, then, this experience was really a wake-up call about how much I still have to learn about Japanese culture. I know I can’t be expected to learn it all, especially in two months, but that’s no excuse for ignorance.
I explored a bit of Nagoya this weekend with Shivani, Tomo-chan, and Tom-san. Here are a few pictures.
Question of the Week
I notice a lot of parents and children, siblings, couples, and even just friends walking around wearing the exact same outfit, or at least shirt. In America, it’s cute to “match” with someone you care about, but usually that is just wearing the same color or patterned shirt, often by coincidence. This trend in Japan takes it to a whole new level. So, my question for the week, is why?
Yes, this is a thing in Japan (and in countries like South Korea too). For more on this see They Love Wearing the Same Outfits! Japan’s Osoroi Code (Wosabi) under our Fashion in Japan section on the Life in Japan resources page.
Research Project Update
Still in the sample preparation phase of my project. I have to heat my sample up at increasing temperature a couple more times, and then I’ll put my sample in the floating zone machine to finally get my single after two more weeks.
The PPMS will finally be out of maintenance on Monday, so I will get the chance to operate that on some of Robert’s samples. The ARPES is still out of commission though.
In the meantime, I’ve been helping Robert out with the preparation of his samples (he hasn’t been able to do much analysis either), running some XRD’s, and learning some useful programs, such as Origin and FullProf. I was also given the opportunity to watch someone perform TEM, but I probably won’t have time to actually learn how to do it this summer.
The first two weeks, Takeuchi-sensei also taught me the basic theory behind what I was studying and the techniques I would be using. It was really amazing to get so much one-on-one time with a professor; it’s an opportunity that not many people get so early. I think I was able to learn a lot in a short period of time.
I’m anxious to get my first sample prepared so I can finally start generating results. I know this is the nature of research, but it’s stressful only having two months to try to produce something meaningful.
Week 06: Preparation for Mid-Program Meeting
Coming this summer!
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Week 07: Overview of Mid-Program Meeting & Research Host Lab Visit
Coming this summer!
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Week 08: Research in Japan vs. Research in the U.S.
Coming this summer!
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Week 09: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning
Coming this summer!
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!