2018: Ellen Park

Ellen Park
Home Institution: Cornell University
Status: Sophomore, Expected Graduation Date: May 2020
Field of Study: Chemical Engineering
Host Lab in Japan: Nagoya University – Dept. of Chemistry, Shinohara Laboratory
Host Professor:  Prof. Hisanori Shinohara and Prof. Yusuke Nakanishi
Research Abstract and Poster: Encapsulating WS2 Nanoribbons in Single-walled Carbon Nanotubes (PDF)

Why Nakatani RIES?

When I saw the flier for the Nakatani RIES Fellowship, I thought it was too good to be true. Who wouldn’t want to spend a summer participating in research in Japan—a country that leads the world in scientific and technological advancements? Math and science were always my favorite subjects throughout out elementary school, middle school, and high school, and it is the reason why I am pursuing and undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering. Additionally, I love to travel and learn about different cultures. So, for me, the Nakatani RIES Fellowship is a combination of all the things I am passionate about.

The program is also important to me because I believe that progress requires collaboration across borders. I am excited to work with a diverse group of scientists and engineers to gain hands-on research experience.

Goals for the Summer

  • Participate in research—I believe that STEM is about actively seeking a greater understanding of the world.
  • Learn Japanese—I’ve wanted to learn a new language for a few years now, but I haven’t had the time to fit a language class into my schedule.
  • Spend time living on my own in a foreign country

Meaning of Nakatani RIES (Post-Program)
The Nakatani RIES Fellowship has been one of the greatest experiences in my life, and I will forever be incredibly thankful for this opportunity. All of my expectations for this summer were met and exceeded in ways that I could not have imagined. I participated in cutting edge nano-carbon research and was able to use a TEM without supervision and take high quality photos. I travelled by myself all over the country and practiced the Japanese that I only began to learn at the beginning of the summer. I learned a lot about myself and definitely grew as a person. I think that I accomplished everything that I wanted to do this summer, and, as a result, I have very few regrets.

Research Internship Overview

I had a great research experience at the Shinohara lab. I received my research project within my first few days of lab and my mentor Aizaki-san showed me how to set up and use all of the necessary lab equipment. Nakanishi-sensei taught me how to use a TEM and was able to use it independently after only three days of training. Everyone in the Shinohara lab was incredibly nice, and I definitely think it was the right lab for me. I really enjoyed the experience of doing research abroad. There are many similarities and differences between doing research in the U.S. and Japan, and it was interesting to notice and reflect upon these differences. I believe the international collaboration is necessary for the advancement of science, and this summer only further emphasized this point for me. I learned a lot of important research and communication skills that will be applicable in any international lab setting.

Everyone in the Shinohara lab was very friendly and hard working. People were very passionate about their research and would spend most of their time in lab working on experiments, reading papers, or working on research presentations. I was mentored by Aizaki-san and Nakanishi-sensei. Both were very approachable and incredibly helpful whenever I needed assistance or had any questions. Aizaki-san was working on a similar project, so he showed me how to set up my experiments and use all of the equipment. He supervised me the first few times I used the equipment, and then I ran my experiments independently from there. I interacted with other lab members during lunchtime and at other lab events. For example, when I first arrived at lab, there were softball practices in preparation for a game later on in the month. I was also invited to go out to dinner with my lab a few times over the course of the summer, which was always really fun. Overall, I really liked everyone in the lab and I think they all liked each other, too.

Daily Life in Japan
I would show up to lab a little before 10 AM every day and leave anywhere between 6 and 7 PM. In lab, I would either be working on my experiment or sitting at my desk. There definitely were some extended periods of time where I didn’t have much to do. However, the pace of research picked up after the mid-program meeting, so this feeling faded towards the end half of the program. During lunch in lab, I would often sit and talk with some of the other people in lab. Inoue-san and I became pretty good friends as a result. However, one of the main challenges I faced was feeling a bit alone in lab because sometimes I found it difficult to talk with or start conversations with people. Once I adjusted more to Japanese culture and people in lab became more comfortable with my presence, I didn’t feel this as much. After lab, I would explore Nagoya or just go back to my dorm to relax, talk to friends and family, and plan out my weekend. I did a lot of travelling in Japan—I went somewhere different each weekend. This was a really fun and exciting experience for me because I love to travel. I got to see some many different parts of Japan that I didn’t think I would get a chance to see when I initially came to Japan. I wasn’t planning on travelling that much this summer but am happy that I did. As a result, I had so many amazing experiences and interactions with different people. Also, through travelling, I was able to practice my Japanese.

Experiences with Japanese Culture
One of my most meaningful and memorable experiences in Japan is when I stayed overnight at the hut on top of Mt. Chogatake. Initially, I was a little uncomfortable because all of the hikers staying at the hut sat and ate dinner together. I was the only non-Japanese person there, which didn’t surprise or bother me. However, as we all ate, no one talked to me; the other hikers at my table only talked to each other. I didn’t really know what to say or do, but after a few minutes of eating in silence I decided to break the ice by asking the guy next to me where he was going tomorrow in Japanese. From this moment on, I was included in the dinner conversation, even though I couldn’t always follow what people were saying. I became friends with a group of three male hikers and we hung out and chatted that night. It was a really friendly and fun experience. I did my best to communicate in Japanese, and they did their best to speak English when I couldn’t follow the conversation. I feel like this experience highlighted the introverted but still friendly nature of Japanese people that I will always remember. Throughout all of my travel experiences there were many moments where I certainly felt like an outsider, and this never bothered me much. However, each weekend, I always met at least one person that made me feel a little more included, and I always appreciated these interactions because they were a bit unexpected at times. In general, these experiences taught me that I am more extroverted than I think and, also, that it is always worth stepping outside of one’s comfort zone.

  • My favorite experience in Japan was… travelling! I had so much fun visiting and exploring different places every weekend.
  • Before I left for Japan I wish I had… bought more dresses and skirts. Pants are too hot for Japanese summers.
  • While I was in Japan I wish I had… done a better job of teaching myself Japanese. I made an effort to speak Japanese when I could, but I wish I had made a better effort to expand my vocabulary or review more of the tenses that I learned at the beginning of the summer.

Excerpts from Ellen’s Weekly Reports

Week 01: Arrival in Japan

Rainbow bridge- One afternoon I went for a run to the harbor/port area near sunset and got a beautiful view of the city and bridge. ~ Ellen Park

Even though I’ve been in Japan for a week, I still can’t believe that I will be spending my entire summer here doing cutting edge research! Words cannot even begin to describe how grateful I am for this experience. I have been having so much fun learning Japanese and exploring Tokyo, but I am also excited to head to Nagoya in two weeks to begin my research.

Before actually arriving in Japan, we spent three days at Rice for some pre-departure orientation. Ozaki-sensei gave an engaging presentation about Japanese culture and society and taught us a little bit of Japanese. I found this helpful because the only Japanese I had studied prior to arriving in Houston was the Japanese Hiragana and Katakana alphabets. I also liked the scientific poster presentation. I haven’t made a scientific poster in a while, but I think it is good to think about the design and the “dos” and “don’ts,” even though we haven’t started our research. Another aspect I like about pre-departure orientation was the welcome gathering. It was a little awkward at times, but it was fun to talk to some faculty and grad students related to the program about their experiences in Japan. I got some good advice about places to visit.

Delicious yakitori bowl ~ Ellen Park

I don’t think I’ve actually visited any of the places that were recommended to me yet, because most of them are outside of Tokyo. However, Tokyo is such a big city that I don’t think I could visit all of the main attractions in three weeks, even if I didn’t have language classes. I didn’t really understand how big Tokyo was until I got here. I was surprised by how clean and quiet such a city could be. Additionally, walking through the city streets, it has a different big city feel in comparison to New York. The buildings are shorter, so you can see the sky, and there are lots of really well maintained green places, which I like.

I think the biggest challenge for me this past week has been not knowing Japanese. I’ve unintentionally been a rude foreigner because I don’t know the right things to say in the right situations, I forget what to say, or I just don’t know what is going on. However, I knew this would be an obstacle, but, in a way, it was something I looked forward to. It has given me additional incentive to pay attention in language class and learn as much as I can in a short period of time. It also gives me a greater understanding of the challenges international students face when they study abroad in the U.S.

Before visiting the University of Tokyo campus on Tuesday, we had lunch with the head of the Nakatani Foundation and a few students from Prof. Tabata’s lab at the university. I was sitting at the table with them and introduced myself in Japanese. I also tried to start a conversation by asking if they were going to a festival this weekend in Japanese, but the conversation quickly turned to English because I could not follow the conversation otherwise. At that point, I had been learning mainly vocab in language class. However, now I know more useful sentence structures and can ask what you did yesterday, where did you go, etc.

Language classes are fun, but challenging, and my brain is certainly tired afterwards. I haven’t taken a language class in a while, and I’ve really enjoyed it so far. Besides completing homework for the following day, I pick a few important phrases and repeat them to myself throughout the day in order to memorize them and practice Japanese outside of class. I also listen to other people’s conversation and see if I can understand what they’re saying. Usually I can’t, but it’s helpful for me to hear the language so words don’t just turn into sounds. Additionally, I try to read the signs as I walk around to practice my Hirigana and Katakana and speak in Japanese when I can.

I think it’s crazy that many international students can study abroad in the United States and do so well in school. I don’t know if I could successfully do that, especially because STEM classes require an entirely different set of vocab. When we visited Prof. Tabata’s research labs Todai, some of the grad students presented their research to us in English, and I was so impressed. I was also impressed by all of their research facilities. We got to see a wide variety of different advanced science lab technologies, and it was amazing.

Some other highlights from this past week were Taiko Drumming and visiting the Ikebukuro Life Safety Training Center. Learning how to Taiko Drum was so fun. I really enjoyed this experience, and I liked that we not only got to try drumming but also watch our sensei play the large drum at the end of class. The drum, which apparently costs as much as a Ferrari, was played during wars, and I understand why. The sounds it makes are deep and powerful, and if I were the enemy, I would be frightened to here the drums getting louder and closer.

Visiting the Ikebukuro Life Safety Training Center and experiencing the earthquake simulator was a powerful experience. I felt a bit emotional watching the earthquake video and still have a hard time beginning to understand what it must feel like to experience the earth moving like that and the effects it can have.

Views from the Asakusa festival ~ Ellen Park

This past week, I have also visited other places like the Tsukiji fish market, some temples and shrines, and different districts of Tokyo, like Akihabara and Shibuya. On Saturday, we went on a group trip to Takasaki to visit different archeological sites. We saw different key-shaped burial mounds and a square one. On Sunday, I went to the Todai May Festival at the University of Tokyo and the Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa with Hana, Grace, and Sam. The atmosphere was so lively, and there were so many good smells and food options. It made me so happy! Don’t even get me started on how amazing the food is here. I’ve certainly enjoyed eating my way around the city and have been taking lots of pictures so I don’t forget what I’ve done and, more importantly, what I’ve eaten. I am excited to keep exploring and learning about Japan and Japanese culture.

Question of the Week 
How does Japan view World War II? After visiting the MOMAT and seeing some post-war era works, it was interesting to see the portrayal of war from a different perspective. Hopefully, I can visit some other museums and visit Hiroshima this summer to learn more.

Research Host Lab Overview
This summer I will be at the Shinohara lab at Nagoya University. One of the main materials synthesized and studied at the Shinohara Lab is carbon nano-peapods. These are carbon nanotubes filled with other molecules like fullerenes and nanodiamonds. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) can also be used as reaction vessels to synthesis other encapsulates. Shivani Shukla, the Nakatani 2017 RIES fellow, encapsulated MoTe2 nanoribbons and Te nanowires inside carbon nanotubes. These nano-peapod materials are interesting and important because having these encapsulates results in different electronic and magnetic properties of the material when compared to the bulk. I do not have a very detailed description of my project yet, but I know I will be working with carbon nanotubes like Shivani.

Return to Top

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

This past week has been quite exciting but still very busy. Some highlights include the visit to JAMSTEC in Yokohama, visiting the Edo Tokyo Museum, watching the Grand Sumo Tournament, and listening to Professor Shimzu-Guthrie’s presentation about the role of baseball in Japanese and U.S. History.

The visit to JAMSTEC was by far my favorite out of all of these. We got to learn about the institute’s different research projects, which include deep-sea exploration and their earthquake and tsunami detection system. Additionally, we got a tour of the units used to cool their Earth Simulator supercomputer that we learned about the week before. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to see the computer itself because it was under construction, but it was still crazy that we even had the opportunity to visit the facility in general. I love marine science, so I really enjoyed looking at the models of sea surface temperatures and learning about their research vessels. JAMSTEC also has other facilities outside of Yokohama and a free online database where anyone can access photos, videos, or request samples for experiments all over the world. I need to look into both of these more.

I was sad that after our tour I missed out on the group dinner in Chinatown with the professors from JAMSTEC because I had to take a final. However, my friends here are so nice and a bunch of them brought me back treats like moon cakes and red bean buns. It made my night. Actually, it probably made my week, and I went to bed in such a good mood.

The trip to the Edo Tokyo Museum and the Grand Sumo Tournament were also fun and interesting. I have never watched sumo wrestling before. It was quite an experience seeing it live. I think I would go again if I had the opportunity, but I’m not sure if I would buy tickets for just myself. The Edo Tokyo Museum has two floors and is full of model buildings and scenes from the Edo period. It also includes exhibits about the history of Tokyo from then until now. There was one section about the carpet-bombing of Tokyo during World War II, and that was an emotional but important exhibit to see as an American. The entire city was pretty much destroyed and many people died.

Professor Shimzu-Guthrie’s presentation about how Japanese and American histories became intertwined through baseball was very engaging. It was interesting to learn what a significant role baseball played in smoothing out diplomatic relationships between the two countries post-World War II. I definitely learned a lot from this presentation.

Tokyo skyline from the Rainbow Bridge ~ Ellen Park

Afterwards, I went for a run across the Rainbow Bridge, which is something I’ve wanted to do since I got to Japan but haven’t had the time. It felt so good to run again, and I definitely ended up running a bit more than I meant to because it took me a while to, at first, figure out how to get to the bridge and, second, how to get onto the bridge to run across it. Some more research besides just looking up the hours probably would have been a good idea, but I have more fun just running and exploring. The views of the city were amazing, especially because it was in the evening, so the sun was beginning to set a little. That night, a bunch of us went to a karaoke place, and it was a great way to end the week.

Fujisan! ~ Ellen Park

This weekend, we met the 2018 Nakatani RIES Japanese Fellows and all visited Mount Fuji Lakes area (or Fujisan in Japanese) and a few other places in the area together. It was a really fun experience, and I’m happy that we had the opportunity to meet them and make connections with some of the people who go to the same university as our host labs. Initially, when we all first met in the lobby of the Sanuki Club, it was a little awkward because no one really knew what to say. Also, this was the first time that all the Japanese fellows met each other. However, the back of the bus had a nice set up with two tables in the back so a lot of us sat together and made some small talk before we most of us fell asleep. We visited some sacred ponds, which are a UNESCO world cultural site, and Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Jinja before eating lunch together at a nearby restaurant. I think Fuji Sengen Jinja has been my one of my favorite shrines I have visited so far. It is located at the base of Mount Fuji and has these giant, old, beautiful trees all around it. I’m not a religious person but I can understand how many Japanese people believe that Fujisan is a god.

For lunch, we sat at tables of four or six, and I think that this is when we all started making connections with each other. I had lunch with Yui who goes to Nagoya University and she is very friendly. At the Gotemba Kogen Resort, I shared a room with her, two other Japanese fellows Mari and Mariko, and Hana. We all onsen-ed together after dinner, which was kind of a bonding experience. Yui and I are now Facebook friends, and I’m looking forward to hanging out with her once I get to Nagoya.

The next day, we went to the Numazu Deep Sea Aquarium, had lunch at a nearby restaurant, visited Mishima Skywalk, and then went strawberry picking. From my personal experience, food really brings people together. I think I had the most conversations with the Japanese fellows over meals. It also helped that the food was amazing because I know how to say, “This is tasty in Japanese.” However, I also made small talk with people on the bus. Katsuya used a power point presentation he had to teach us how to play a Japanese card game called Rakuten, which was pretty fun.

Also side note: The Deep Sea Aquarium was so cool! They had two frozen coelacanths, which is this really rare type of fish that is essentially a living fossil. They thought the species was extinct for millions of years until a specimen was found off of the coast of South Africa.

Nothing better than new friends (Yui) and freshly picked strawberries ~ Ellen Park

In general, I really enjoyed this weekend. I am looking forward to seeing the Japanese fellows again in Kyoto and Yui in Nagoya. I need to friend more of them on Facebook and Line. Unfortunately, I didn’t practice my Japanese as much as I would have liked, but I still made an effort to say an occasional phrase even if the fellows were speaking in English. I also listened the bus and table conversations to see how much I could understand. We had a few Japanese tour guides with fellows acting as translators, and I listened to both. Ultimately, I understood very little of what the Japanese tour guides said, but I was able to pick up a few words here and there.

In general, I certainly know a lot more Japanese than I did at the beginning of the summer, which is pretty exciting, but it’s still not a lot. In my class, we’ve begun to learn different verb conjugations, so I can now (in theory) express what I want to do and what I have been doing. This has been pretty helpful because I can actually use the vocab that I’ve learned to make sentences. I had two challenging experiences with my language skills this week. The first was when we had to have a 30-minute one-on-one conversation with someone from AJALT in Japanese, and the second was my attempt to figure out when to ship my bags so they would arrive in Nagoya on time.

Using the word “conversation” to describe my experience at AJALT is a bit of a stretch. The woman I spoke to was incredibly nice and friendly, but I was struggling to speak and understand what was going on. It didn’t help that I could barely hear what she was saying, but I don’t need to make excuses for myself. I somehow managed to direct the conversation towards topics that I lacked any vocabulary to explain or understand, which was unfortunate and frustrating for me. We started talking about how people sort their trash in the U.S. versus Japan and ended with me trying to explain how to make chicken parm. I’m not going to lie, I almost cried multiple times because I wanted to show how much I had learned over the past two weeks, but I ended up just being a flustered mess. After taking some time to calm down and reflect, I came to the conclusion that this experience was an important learning opportunity because, realistically, I am more likely to have a conversation like that at my host lab, as opposed to the very structured conversations we learn in language class.

This event motivated me to attempt another conversation in Japanese. We all need to get our luggage to our respective host lab cities, and there is a really convenient service called Yamato that will transport your luggage for you. Ogawa-san told us that if we fill out a slip of paper and give it to the front desk, they would send our luggage for us. I wanted to know what day I should have my bags packed and drop them off so they will be in Nagoya when I arrive. After looking up a few key words, I went to the front desk to see if I could figure this out on my own. It took about 15 minutes and some translation apps were used once or twice, but I eventually learned that I should drop my bags off on Thursday. It probably wasn’t the most pleasant experience for the people working at the front desk because my Japanese is not great, but I was happy that I made the attempt. I did not feel flustered like I did at AJALT, only just a little uncomfortable at times. I know that in order for me to improve my Japanese I must lean into these situations that make me feel uncomfortable and somewhat frazzled because this is where I will learn the most.

I can’t believe that this is my last week in Tokyo before I head off to my host lab in Nagoya!

Question of the Week
How do the people who live in Tokyo feel about the end-of-work sound that goes off every day at 5 PM? I know it’s to test their emergency alert system, but I wonder if people want to here a different sound. In general, all ringtones/sounds here are very soft and peaceful.

Science Seminar Overviews and Research Project Update
Professor Kono’s lectures were very helpful for me because it was a general overview of important math and physics concepts that I need to understand for the summer. For the most part, the material was not new. However, I learned most of it freshman year, so it was good for me to see how much I remembered and what other information I need to brush up on.

Professor Saito’s lecture, from Tohoku University, was the most interesting for me because his presentation was about carbon nanotubes which is what I will be researching this summer. Carbon nanotubes are very strong like metals but have the added advantage that they are less dense. Their electric and magnetic properties depend on the type of carbon nanotube, but they can be both semiconducting or metallic depending on the chirality. It is difficult to fabricate and develop the tools needed to fabricate these materials. However, there is a lot of potential for this material and its applications.

Professor Otsuji’s lecture, also from Tohoku University, was very passionate about his research and presentation. However, I will say that I struggled to fully understand what he was talking about because I do not have a strong physics background beyond basic physics. Terahertz spectroscopy is something I had never heard of until this program, and Professor Otsuji’s presentation gave a good overview of this method.

I will say that collectively all of the presentations helped me understand my research topic more and also highlighted areas that I need to learn more about. This summer I will be working with carbon nanopeapods, which are carbon nanotubes filled with other molecules or materials like nanowires. These are 1-D materials and the chirality of the carbons can determine whether or not the carbon nanotube itself is semiconducting or metallic. Additionally, electronic properties change depending on what kinds of molecules are encapsulated within the CNTs. I am not sure exactly property I will be studying exactly, as research details will be determined later. However, I think I will be testing to see if encapsulation occurs and maybe the electronic properties of the material. I will have the opportunity to use Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), which I think is very exciting. Carbon nanopeapods are important because the expand the field of materials science research, as they are a new material, and potential applications include lasers and transistors.

Return to Top

Week 03: Noticing Similarities, Noticing Differences

The public transportation system in Japan is so much cleaner and well organized than the public transportation system in the U.S. For example, the subway stations and cars never smell, and there is rarely any trash on the ground or in the tracks. One day, one of my language teachers was complaining about the unpleasant odor in the subway cars on weekend nights. I thought this was kind of funny because most of the subway stations that I’ve used back in the U.S. always smell like stale pee and many other things, regardless if it’s the weekend or a weekday.

Because Tokyo is such a large city, many people rely on the Tokyo Metro and JR as their primary modes of transportation. Not many people use cars, which is very different than in the U.S. The streets are not as busy as a result, but the subways can definitely get very crowded. Something that I’ve noticed over and over again is despite how many people there are here, it’s always surprisingly quiet. On the subway, people read, listen to music, or scroll through various social media sites on their phones. Few people talk because, in general, it’s hard to enjoy being crammed in a subway car like sardines after a long day of work with more than an hour commute still ahead of you. It would be even worse if it were loud. I think that people here are much more considerate of others than they are in the U.S. because they recognize and respect this, even if they are not in the same position. In the U.S., people usually just do whatever they want without considering the effects on other people or they simply do not care.

It’s sometimes difficult for me to remember the unwritten rules of using the subway because some aren’t as intuitive for me as others. For example, I’ve learned to take my backpack off when the car is crowded to take up less space and also to cover my mouth when I yawn. I don’t always do this in the U.S., but I’ve noticed that many people—mostly women—take out a small handkerchief before yawning. I don’t think I will adopt this habit, however, I am more aware of my actions, as a result. I’ve also noticed that people do not “man-spread.” Everyone tries to take up the smallest amount of room possible. I’m always surprised by how calm the atmosphere on the subway is during rush hour. Yes, there is a little bit of pushing when getting on and off of a crowded train, but there is certainly not as much elbow throwing as I’ve experienced in other cities. However, there was this one time when the doors were closing and one woman hurled herself into a very crowded car. She made it, but the doors kind of closed on her and everyone stumbled about because they weren’t holding on to anything. Many people gave the Japanese look of disapproval. I was shocked to see this because it’s not a behavior I’ve been used to seeing here.

I think many of the differences regarding proper subway etiquette are predominately cultural. Removing one’s bag, for example, lets more people fit in a car, which makes the system more efficient. However, it is also being considerate because it’s very easy to accidently bump someone while moving or turning, especially in smaller spaces. Taking the subway in Japan has certainly given me more insight into Japanese culture and society.

Orientation Program in Tokyo: Week Three Overview 
I also learned a lot more about Japanese culture on Thursday from Kento Ito’s “Kimono & the Spirit of Japan” presentation. This was my favorite culture and society seminar of the orientation program. I not only learned a lot about various aspects of Japanese culture in a short period of time, but I also liked what I learned. I was not aware of how much time and effort goes into making a single kimono or how incredibly detail oriented the whole process is. Also, I just have to say, the kimonos he is designing for the Imagine Oneworld Kimono Project are so beautiful. I love the idea of having a kimono for each country to wear at the Olympics. The U.S. design includes a bald eagle and the flower of each state. Words cannot describe how amazing all the kimonos are and it is clear that a lot of thought is put into each one. They truly are pieces of artwork.

A high quality selfie with even higher quality people ~ Ellen Park

I wish I had learned some of these things before going to the National Tokyo Museum on Wednesday because I would have been able to appreciate the kimonos on display more. Nonetheless, it was still interesting to look at all the different exhibits at the museum. There are four different building and each has a different theme. Hana, Grace, Kenneth and I went to all four on Wednesday afternoon when it was raining. The first building was a Japanese collection of art and artifacts from other Asian countries. They also had a mummy with the cloth over its head removed so you could see the skull. It was cool because I had never seen a mummy like that before. Usually, the entire body is completely wrapped. The other three buildings contained Japanese art, archeological remains, and treasures. In the Japanese art building, they had a calligraphy workshop that Grace, Hana, and I tried. We each picked out a kanji character and painted it on to a fan. Mine didn’t turn out great, but it was fun to try.

Funny story. I dragged Hana, Grace, Sam, and Gavin out to Ueno Park on Monday to go to the museum, but it turned out it’s closed on Mondays. I felt bad because it was a bit of a commute to get there, and Hana also had wanted to go to the Miraikan Museum in Odaiba. However, we found a bonsai tree competition and also went pedal boating in the park instead, so it all worked out. We also went to Kappabashi, which is a street full of cooking supply stores. I loved looking at all the different cookware. I plan to buy a tamagoyaki pan at some point and teach myself how to make it. Hana and I both bought Japanese cookbooks this week that have both English and Japanese instructions. I hope to try out some of these recipes and teach myself Japanese this summer while I am in Nagoya. I think it will be a good way to get some extra practice considering that language classes ended this week.

Japanese 101: We’re pretty much fluent at this point, right? ~ Ellen Park

I’m not going to lie, I was kind of sad to say goodbye to our language teachers on Friday. The last week of classes was definitely hard to sit through at points because 3.5 hours in the same room can be kind of exhausting. Also, I’m not used to using that part of my brain, so there were definitely periods where I had an information overload and I stopped absorbing new information for a few minutes. I think one of the most challenging aspects of classes was the shear volume of information learned in such a short period of time. In the second and last weeks, we would learn a new verb conjugation every day. I could not keep up with what each conjugation meant and it didn’t help that I also didn’t know what all the verbs meant. However, now that I have at least some familiarity with different forms of verbs, I can get a better understanding of what people are saying when the sentence is more complex than answering what time it is. I plan to reteach myself the material I learned in language class by reviewing the textbook that we somehow finished and memorizing more vocab. Also, I’m going to continue trying to speak when I can. At lunch with the language teachers on Friday, I talked with one of the language teachers in Japanese and English for a bit, which was challenging but fun.

My two biggest concerns for the summer are forgetting how to speak Japanese and saying something completely offensive or inappropriate. I can handle the first one by being sure to practice on my own. However, the second one I think is kind of inevitable. Ozaki-sensei was telling us about the various things we need to be mindful of when interacting with our sensei or being invited into someone’s home. I know it shouldn’t be that hard, but I’m afraid I’m going to do something really bad. In the U.S., I just smile, say please and thank you, and everything is pretty much ok. If I’m concerned I might say something stupid, I just don’t talk. However, in Japan, there are so many ways to be rude through actions as opposed to words. I’m still confused about which way is the right way to leave your shoes outside someone’s house, but thank goodness for the internet. Ozaki-sensei’s presentation made me a little stressed but it’s a good reminder that I need to be more mindful about all aspects of my existence besides simply not running into people or being loud on the subway.

Before Ozaki-sensei’s presentation on Friday, Professor Nishikawa came and spoke about the role of life sciences in the age of big data and information. He explained the development and changes in how people think about science overtime and how DNA is the core of human information because it can be decoded and recorded. It was more philosophical than the other presentations, but it was good food for thought.

I think Saturday was my favorite day of the week. Grace, Hana, and I rented bikes, walked them over the rainbow bridge, and then biked around Odaiba. It took us a while to figure out the bike system, and we messed up a few times. And by we, I mean I. For example, I was testing to see if we could temporarily lock our bikes wherever we wanted so we could go explore and then use them later. There was a cool park nearby and we weren’t sure what to do, so I locked my bike, realized I didn’t have the code I needed to unlock it because I initially typed the my email in the wrong way when I was signing up for the rental, and proceeded to have a completely useless bike. Go me. We managed to roll the bike on its front tire for probably a little more than a half mile to a rental station so I could return and then re-rent the same bike. I felt very stupid, but the weather was so nice I don’t think Grace and Hana were too annoyed with me.

While in Odaiba, we went to the Miraikan Museum, which is the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. It was probably my favorite museum I’ve ever been to because it was so well designed. Every exhibit was interactive and it addressed current development and challenges in science and technology. There were sections on space, climate change, robots, and medicine. The topics presented were complex, and I certainly don’t understand all of them, but the information was presented in such a way that it made me want to learn more, which I think is important for designing a museum. I feel like a lot of science museums address topics that the general public might already have some familiarity with and there is a lot of information about them. However, this museum was discussing research into fields that are only just emerging. I could honestly go on about this museum forever, and I highly recommend visiting this place.

Sunsets over Tokyo ~ Ellen Park

After nerding out in the museum for a few hours, we biked to a kombini, grabbed some lunch, and ate it at a park by the water. We then biked around some more before heading towards the beach that faces Tokyo to watch the sunset. It was a beautiful and amazing day, concluded by walking our bikes over the Rainbow Bridge in the dark and looking at the Tokyo city lights.

In conclusion, my three weeks in Tokyo were pretty amazing. I’ve made some pretty great friends, and I certainly would have loved to explore more places. However, I’m excited to be in Nagoya and start adventuring on by myself. Japan is pretty great.

However, there is one thing I cannot get over, and I don’t think I will be able to get over is how much plastic is used here. Vending machines and kombinis are a big part of everyday life in Japan, or at least in Tokyo. There is at least one vending machine on every street and corner, selling various beverages like water, juice, coffee, and soda. Some of the beverages containers are made of metal, but most of them are made of plastic. Let me just say, using a reusable water bottle is rare in comparison to what I’m used to at home and at school. I’ve definitely gotten some weird looks when I use the sink of a public bathroom (which by the way are so much cleaner) to refill my water bottle. However, I refuse to buy bottled water while I am here. I’m not going to lie, it hurts me how much plastic waste—and just waste in general—that I’ve generated here in the past three weeks. Buying food from kombinis has really been problematic because everything comes in a plastic container or wrap, followed by a plastic bag. I try not to get a bag every time I buy something. However, I’ve said no to using a plastic bag at a grocery store before and somehow ended up with my food in a different but smaller one. Also, I once got my bento box wrapped in a plastic bag inside a larger plastic bag, which was just so unnecessary.

I’m happy that I will have access to a refrigerator at my dorm in Nagoya because I can now make my own meals instead of relying on bentos from kombinis and grocery stores. I want to reduce the amount of waste I generate for the rest of the summer as much as I can, and I hope that there are more efforts to do the same within Japan as a whole. There is recycling here, which is good. However, for the amount of plastic consumed by Japanese society, I think a large amount of it still ends up in a landfill or as pollution somewhere. I need to do some research on this.

I think it’s somewhat ironic, because Kento Ito taught us about how Japanese culture valued harmony with nature. Edo Tokyo used to be very sustainable and eco-friendly because they had a variety of different recycling and repurposing practices. Also, the kimono, which used to be a central aspect of Japanese culture, could be worn for more than 100 years. I think the contrast between this and the consumption of plastic is quite stark. I’m not suggesting that the Japanese no longer care about the environment, because that’s not true. I just think that could be improved.

Introduction to Science Seminars 
My favorite science seminar this week was Don Futaba’s presentation about his experience as a researcher in Japan and his work with carbon nanotubes. His presentation was very engaging and related to what I will be doing this summer. I was kind of nervous that I wouldn’t enjoy my research topic because research papers can be kind of dense no matter how interesting the work itself might be. Also, I did not know much about carbon nanotubes until this program. However, I was very interested by how he figured out a way to synthesize relatively large quantities of aligned carbon nantoubes quickly using water assisted CVD. I also liked this presentation because it gave me a better understanding of direct CNT applications and why it is important to find a way to make CNTs more economically competitive. This material is transitioning from being an interesting research material to, hopefully, and industry changing one.

Kunie Ishioka’s presentation about being a female researcher and scientist was very inspiring. As she said, the glass ceiling starts earlier in Japan, and there are very few female undergraduate, graduate, PhD students, and professors in STEM fields at universities. The numbers have been improving over time, but they are unfortunately pretty low. It was kind of disheartening to hear that not many positions are available for females because they are not encouraged to pursue degrees in these fields in the same way that men are. I was impressed by her dedication, despite the odds, and I think she is a good role model. Her presentation also made me realize how fortunate I am to have been raised in a part of the world and country that encourages women to pursue science. This opportunity is not available to everyone, and I am even more thankful for this experience as a result. I hope that maybe some day I can help encourage other women and provide them with opportunities to learn more about science and technology, because it really opens up the entire world.

Professor Stanton gave some presentations on semiconductors and femtosecond spectroscopy. I had never heard of femtosecond spectroscopy until this week, and it was interesting to learn about how this technique can be used like stop-motion photography but for chemical reactions. I also learned that a phonon was excited lattice vibrations and that electrons emit them as they lose energy within the conduction band. I can say that these past three weeks have been a crash course on semiconductors and band gap electronics for me.

Question of the Week
How much does Japan contribute to ocean plastic pollution? And how much plastic does Japan use per year compared to the rest of the world? Is it increasing or decreasing?

Return to Top

Week 04: First Week at Research Lab

Nagoya Castle: I just learned that the main tower opened on Sunday, so I’ll have to go back ~ Ellen Park

On Sunday, I was very excited to travel to Nagoya. I couldn’t believe that my first day in lab was just around the corner because it seemed too good to be true! Seven of us all took the same shinkansen to our respective host cities. Four of them were going to Kyoto, and the other two were going to Osaka. I was the only one going to Nagoya. I was glad that we were all on the same train, because it was a nice way for me to hang out with them one last time before we all met up again for the mid-program meeting at the end of the month. Also, we got to the station three hours early so having other people to talk to made waiting less painful.

I remember feeling a combination of nervousness and excitement as the shinkansen approached the stop for Nagoya. I was excited to be on my own in a new place doing new things with people I had never met before. However, I was also nervous about making a good first impression when I met Nakanishi-sensei and my lab mates on Monday. I still had to go out and buy materials to wrap my omiyagae, but I also wanted to explore.

Thankfully, I had the opportunity to do both because I got to Nagoya around 4:30 PM. Nagoya station was a lot busier than I was expecting it to be, which was slightly overwhelming because I didn’t want to get in anyone’s way while I tried to figured out where the right exit was. Ultimately, it was much easier to navigate the station than it was to dodge all the people everywhere. I found and checked into my hotel pretty quickly, and my bag was waiting for me when I got there. I wanted to try a local dish on my first night, so I went to a kishimen restaurant that I found online. Kishimen is a flat udon-like noodle dish that is popular in Nagoya. I liked it, which really wasn’t a surprise. I think that this summer it will be challenging for me to find something that I dislike.

For anyone staying in Nagoya, Seria is a great 100¥ store. There were a lot more options than the 100¥ stores in Tokyo. I went here to buy some wrapping paper and bags for my omiyagae, and I went back later to grab some containers for my food and cooking supplies. After exploring, I then spent the rest of the night wrapping my omiyagae on the floor of my hotel room.

For any future participants, I didn’t find navigating the Nagoya Station area that difficult. However, if you’re looking for a specific restaurant or store on Google Maps and can’t find it, you’re probably standing on top of it. There was a surprisingly large underground mall, which I didn’t initially realize.

Anyway, Nakanishi-sensei met me at the hotel the next morning and helped me move into my dorm. He is very friendly and nice and also speaks good English. We took the subway from the hotel to Nagoya Daigaku. I had my backpack on my chest to take up less room on the subway and ended up sweating through the front of my shirt, which was a great look. I forgot to mention that Nagoya is pretty hot, and I just learned a few days ago that it gets even hotter.

After checking into my housing and dropping my bags off, we went to lab so I could meet everyone. It definitely was a somewhat awkward and uncomfortable experience. Nakanishi-sensei made all of the students give me a one-on-one presentation about their research in English. I was honestly so impressed because being able to talk about science in a second language is honestly like speaking a third one. It’s a completely different set of vocabulary. I know that I couldn’t do it for what Spanish I still know at this point. A lot of the guys were super nervous, which was actually kind of adorable. However, some of the guys were more excited to present and talk. I ended up having conversations with them about what they like to do, etc.

I didn’t know my project at that time, so I spent the rest of my time reading about transmission electron microscopy at my desk. My first day ended with a lab meeting at 5 when people gave presentations about their research experiments. It was all in Japanese, except one set of slides that was in English. I really enjoyed this experience because it was a fun challenge to try and figure out what was going on. Lab meetings are every Monday at 5, and I think it’s something I’ll look forward to because hopefully I’ll understand a little bit more each week.

Friday’s softball game ~ Ellen Park

Each day in lab was better than the day before. Everyone here works hard but is also laid back. We had softball practice on Tuesday and Thursday at 12 for about an hour. I have never played softball and pretty much only do sports that don’t involve hand-eye coordination, so I was pretty bad. However, it was a lot of fun and good to get some practice because there was a big game on Friday between different lab groups from Nagoya University.

I had so much fun watching all of the games. Everyone was happy, and the overall atmosphere could not have been better. I got to play in some of the games for a little bit, which I liked. Surprisingly, I caught the ball to get someone out and also hit the ball to get to first base. However, the guys definitely took their time throwing the ball as I ran, so I probably should have gotten out. In between games, I played Frisbee and soccer and had more opportunities to hang out with some of the people in my lab. I really like everyone and am having such a good time here.

My housing situation could not be more ideal. I am only a 15-minute walk away from campus, and I love my set up! I have my own room in an 8-person suite, but there are only 6 people, including myself, living there now. We all share a kitchen, laundry room, and bathroom. The kitchen is my favorite part.

To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from my housing situation, because I couldn’t find a lot of information online. I knew I was going to have my own room with a bed, a desk, and a chair, and that I would be sharing a common kitchen and living space. In the list of amenities it said that there would be a hot water heater, refrigerator, and a few other things, but it never listed a stovetop, which made me kind of disappointed. I was really excited to try cooking Japanese food while I was actually in Japan and had easy access to any necessary ingredients. Also, I bought a Japanese cookbook that had both English and Japanese instructions from a bookstore in Roppongi. I thought it would be a good way to keep learning Japanese even if I didn’t have the chance to use it here. As I’m sure you can imagine, I was ecstatic when one of the first things I noticed and looked for when I moved in was a stovetop. I’ve been using it to make stir-fries, and I also used it to make dorayaki this weekend. I’m looking forward to trying some new recipes next week.

I like that I live in an international dorm. Everyone that I’ve met has been very friendly, and my living experiences have really made me reevaluate the position that I am in. Let me explain. I was trying to figure out the right way to throw away Styrofoam when the last one of my suitemates that I had yet to meet walked in. I smiled and said hi because she looked kind of surprised to see me. She responded with a quiet hi and then asked if I spoke Japanese. In that moment, I felt like the biggest idiot. My other suitemates that I had met the night before all spoke a decent amount of English, even though it’s not their first language. I don’t think this woman speaks a lot of English, and it’s very American of me that I assumed she would.

Our brief interaction made me take a step back and do a little self-reflection. Everyone in my dorm is an international student studying at Nagoya University. We are all from different places, speak different languages, and also are studying different things. However, we all must share a common interest in Japan and the Japanese language because otherwise none of us would be here. This is a very unique and rare opportunity, and I’m not sure when I will have an experience like this again. As a result, I need to put in the effort like everyone else already has to improve my language skills. I must to stop relying on the fact that many people learn English as a second or third language. For both good and bad reasons, it is easier for me to travel without having to learn the local language. Essentially, it is a privilege that English is my first language because it means I have to do a lot less work in many aspects of my life, and I can’t articulate yet how that makes me feel.

Just consider the fact that English is the language of science. Why is it that everyone else must go through the process of conducting research, writing papers, making posters, giving presentations, etc. in their own language, which is not only challenging but also time consuming and requires a lot of work, and then translate all of their efforts into English? Talking about science is a difficult to do in general. In the U.S., we put a lot of emphasis on the importance of being able to effectively communicate within the scientific community and to the general public because it is something that we struggle with. Imagine having to do that in a non-native language. I now have a more profound respect for international students and researchers everywhere.

As a result, I have more incentive to learn Japanese on my own. I haven’t been able to sit myself down and use the language class textbook to study. However, I have been using Duolingo in the mornings and at night before I go to bed and am trying out other phone apps too. I’m not sure how effective it will be, but it’s better than nothing. I’m also writing down new words and phrases I learn in lab and plan to make flashcards and add them to my study plan.

This weekend was my first opportunity to go out and really explore Nagoya. I haven’t really had the chance to do it during the week at all because I’ve been staying at lab until pretty late at night. I’m not sure when I can go home, but I don’t want to be rude and ask. So I just stay and try to be as productive as possible until I am told I can leave.

I went to a lot of the main sites and did a lot of walking. According to my Fitbit, I walked the distance of a marathon over the course of two days. However, I’ve really enjoyed walking places (even though my feet currently hate me) because I’ve had the chance to see what life is like in the neighborhoods as opposed to the main city.

On Saturday, I went to the Tokugwa Art Museum and Garden, Nagoya Castle, and Hisayadori Park. Nagoya Castle is unfortunately under construction, so I couldn’t go into the main tower. However, I still enjoyed walking around the castle grounds. I got some really good matcha ice cream, which tasted even better because it was so hot and sunny. I can’t really complain because, honestly, the weather could not have been nicer.

As I was walking through Hisayadori Park, I walked by Oasis 21 and heard some music coming from the building. I decided to go check it out, and it turned out to be Aichi Arts Fiesta. I was pretty excited by this discovery because Shivani (she went to the Shinohara Lab last summer) had told me about this in her list of things to do in Nagoya. I meant to look into it but never got around to it. Thankfully, I didn’t miss it and happened to walk by Oasis 21 on the right day!

On Sunday night, I made dorayaki I made for my lab. Hopefully, they like it! ~ Ellen Park

This weekend I tried some more food from Nagoya. On Saturday, I had misokatsu, which is tonkatsu with miso sauce on top. Red miso is used in a lot of dishes in Nagoya, including misonikomi. This is an udon with a red miso broth, and I still have yet to try it. On Sunday, I had tenmusu, which is onigiri filled with tempura shrimp. Both were dishes were amazing.

On Sunday, I also went to Shirotori Gardens, which is a very beautiful traditional Japanese style garden. I would highly recommend going here, but wear bug spray. I wore a dress and my legs got bit a lot. I had some matcha in the teahouse for breakfast, and it was a great way to start the morning, even though the weather wasn’t as great as the day before. Afterwards, I went to Atsuta Jingu and then walked around for a while before eating lunch in a park. I also went to the Asahi Brewery for a free tour. I ended the night making dorayaki for lab, and I had extras so I left them out for my suitemates to try.

Reflections on the Orientation Program in Tokyo
I had a great three weeks in Tokyo during the orientation program. I’m very thankful for the language classes; I think I learned a lot more than I could have taught myself on my own. I also really enjoyed the various trips we went on, like to Mt. Fuji and the Edo Tokyo Museum. Visiting the Ikebukuro Safety Center and watching a live sumo tournament were certainly two unique experiences. However, this trip, in general, is an incredibly unique experience. Exploring Tokyo and getting to know the other U.S. fellows more was definitely my favorite part.

The science and cultural seminars were very informative, and I learned a lot of helpful information that I am starting to appreciate more and more everyday. Professor Futaba’s carbon nanotube presentation was my favorite science seminar because he was very engaging. He spoke about my research topic and made me very excited to learn more about CNTs. Professor Kono’s presentations were also very helpful for me because they gave me a good overview of topics that I need to know and review.  Kento Ito’s “Kimono and the Spirit of Japan” was my favorite cultural seminar because it was very interesting and covered a lot of different aspects of Japanese culture that I didn’t know a lot about before. In general, I thought all of the presentations were interesting, even though not all of them related to my research and some of the information went over my head. However, my only complaint is that I found it hard to fully appreciate them all in the moment because it was hard for me to sit for another 2 or 3 hours after just having 3.5 hours of language classes before.

One of the most interesting things that I’ve learned about Japan is that it’s not necessarily what I expected it to be. I had always seen Japan as very modern and technologically advanced, which it is in some respects. However, when I walk through the neighborhoods it sometimes feels like I’ve travelled back in time, and I found that pretty surprising. I definitely enjoyed learning more about Japan through experiences. However, I think I would like to learn more about Japanese culture by reading Manga. I’ve never read it before, but I’ve been asked many times if I like it because it is such a big part of popular Japanese culture.

One of the most interesting things that I’ve learned about myself is that I’m still a small child because I don’t like being told what to do. It’s kind of ironic because I hate breaking rules. However, there are times where I find myself wanting to be loud and crazy in public places just because I’m not supposed to be. I don’t actually do it, but I want to. Also, I need to be taken on walks like a dog, so I don’t think I’ll be able to have a desk job when I’m older. Sitting inside all day and not being able to see the sun is something that I’m trying to get used to.

Research Project Introduction 
My research project for this summer is to synthesize carbon nano-peapods containing TMD nano-ribbons. The specific TMD I will be working to encapsulate in WS2. It is possible to synthesize this material, as there have already been papers published on this topic. However, the yields were very low. My goal for this summer is to find a way to produce this material at higher yields or to synthesize longer peapods of this kind. I have already begun to learn some of the experimental techniques, specifically how to synthesize nano-peapods and how to use TEM.

Synthesizing the nano-peapods requires the use of a vacuum pump and glove box because one of the reactants is very volatile and rapidly oxides in air. For this experiment, the only hands-on experience I had was massing the non-volatile reactants and adding them to a Pyrex tube. Otherwise, I observed and learned how to properly use the vacuum pump and the procedure for adding and removing materials to and from the glove box. The encapsulation reaction occurs at high temperatures, so I also learned how to program the electric furnace.

TEM is a method used to determine whether or not the desired reaction occurred. This Thursday, Nakanishi-sensei showed me how to use the TEM for a sample of empty carbon nanotubes that Aizaki-san helped me prepare the day before. Carbon nanotubes bundle together due to the van der Waals force between them. In order to obtain good TEM images, the CNTs are dispersed using a surfactant and sonicator. A small amount of resulting solution is then diluted with methanol and placed on a TEM grid. Before the grid can be analyzed, an IR furnace is used to evaporate off all of the solvents.

Learning how to use the TEM is a 3-step process. Nakanishi-sensei told me that first he would show me how to properly set up and use the equipment, which is what I did on Thursday. Then, I can use the TEM with some guidance. This will happen on Tuesday of next week. And then finally, I will be tested so that I can use the equipment completely on my own. Honestly, I’m kind of shocked that I will be “trained” to use a TEM after only three days of experience. I definitely don’t feel qualified for that and am very afraid I’m going to break something. On Thursday, I got to try centering the beam and taking pictures of the CNTs, which was exciting but it also stressed me out. However, I am very grateful for this opportunity and plan to make the most out of it.

I don’t have a general timeline for my project as of now. However, if I am successful with my synthesis and there is still time at the end of the summer, I will learn some of the techniques necessary to study the properties of the carbon nanotubes containing WS2 nano-ribbons.  I think I will be working with Aizaki-san because he was been doing working with WS2.

In terms of presentation and poster draft deadlines, Nakanishi-sensei did not have any specific dates in mind. I let him know that I will be preparing for the events this summer, and I think I will try to send my drafts to him a week early, if possible or at least let him now I will have a draft soon.

Question of the Week
Japan is a very clean place, so it kind of surprises me how many people smoke. My question of the week is what percentage of the Japanese population smokes? Is this increasing or decreasing? Is it a social activity?

Return to Top

Week 05: Cultural Analysis – Life in Japan

Giant Buddha statue at Toganji Temple in Nagoya ~ Ellen Park

For the past week, I had been planning a weekend trip to the Hiroshima prefecture. On Saturday, I biked the Shimanami Kaido from Onomichi to Imabari, which is a bike route that crosses six islands in the Sento Sea. And on Sunday, I went to Hiroshima to see the Peace Memorial Park and then took the JR and ferry to Miyajima Island. The weather could not have been better. Overall, it was an amazing weekend and I definitely had one of the best times of my life. However, getting from place to place took a decent amount of planning, but it was well worth it because I had a lot of opportunities to interact with and see different people.

One cross-cultural communication experience I had this weekend was when I called to make a bus reservation to go from Imabari to Hiroshima on Sunday. I figured the bus station would probably be closed by the time I got to Imabari, so I couldn’t do it in person. Also, I didn’t want to risk having to wait to take a later bus on Sunday if I tried to buy the ticket the day of. However, when I found the bus schedule online, it said that they only accepted calls in Japanese, so I knew that this would be bit of a challenge for me.

Earlier this week, I had called the hostel I was staying at Friday night to make a reservation in Japanese. Also, the week before, I called the Asahi Brewery to schedule a tour. However, in both cases, the person on the other side of the phone spoke enough English, so when my Japanese failed, I was still able to understand what was going on. The woman at Asahi spoke English well. When I took too long to answer her questions in Japanese, she would quickly switch to English. In the case of making my hostel reservations, the man used English to clarify a question that I didn’t understand and to confirm that I would arrive the following day at the end of the conversation.

The blue line in the road marks the Shimanami Kaido ~ Ellen Park

However, when I called the bus station, there was a clear language barrier. I had been practicing my line of how to ask for a ticket while I was biking, so I did pretty well for the first 15 seconds of the phone call. Afterwards, things started to go a bit downhill as I tried to figure out some of the logistics, like which stations in Imabari and Hiroshima I would board and leave from and also what time I wanted to leave. I knew I was leaving from Imabari Station but hadn’t completely made up my mind about where I wanted to get off in Hiroshima, so there were some pauses in the conversation. Also, she repeated herself a few times. After, she asked me for my name and phone number, which I happily gave her without any problems. Then, she tried to tell me what my reservation number was, but I thought she was asking me to repeat my phone number again. Phone number is “denwa bango,” and number is “bango.” I could only pick out the word “bango,” so I assumed it was phone number.

Eventually, after I kept starting to say my phone number multiple times, I think she used Google Translate or another application because she then said “reservation number.” I said “Hai,” realizing my mistake, and listened as she gave me my number slowly and one at a time. I said “Hai” after each one to let her know I heard what she said. I struggled with the last two numbers because for some reason I just couldn’t hear what she was saying. I repeated what I had until that point, and she was able to understand that I didn’t get the last two values. Once I wrote down my reservation number, I repeated it back to her one more time for clarification, and I got it right.

Itsukushima Shrine from the ferry! ~ Ellen Park

She then clarified the date and time of the bus that I wanted and told me the price of my ticket. I then asked where the bus would be, and this is where we had a big miscommunication. I didn’t know what the woman on the other side of the phone was saying. I became very confused and somewhat flustered. I kept hearing Imabari and Hiroshima, but I couldn’t understand anything else. I asked her to repeat herself multiple times and said I didn’t understand a lot. After probably two minutes of getting nowhere with the conversation, she said “terminal 2.” I realized that she was trying to answer my question from earlier, and I felt pretty dumb.

At the end of the conversation, I thanked her many times. I wasn’t sure if she had anything else to say, and I didn’t want to be rude and hang up the phone on her. However, I think in Japan, the person calling hangs up when they are done and that’s it. I didn’t realize this, so the woman then said “sayonara” a few times, I think to get me to hang up the phone. If there are certain expressions you use to end a call, I don’t know them. The woman definitely understood that I only half knew what was going on at that point and knew that she needed to be direct. From what I’ve learned so far, most people don’t say “sayonara” to say good-bye. However, it is the most direct translation from English to Japanese. After a few seconds, I hung up the phone. I could hear her saying something as I did it. I’m not sure what it was, and I hope it wasn’t important. I’m pretty sure it was probably just more “sayonara” or other ways of saying good-bye, so I would hurry up and end the long conversation.

Despite how difficult the conversation was I got all of the information I needed. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t even need to make the call because, when I went to pay for my ticket the next day, I never used my reservation number. However, the woman could not have been nicer to me, and I’m very thankful for that. She was very patient and it was very helpful of her to translate a few of the key words for me when I had no idea what was going on. I could have tried to do the same, but I struggled to pick out what words I didn’t know because, in some cases, it was all of them. In total, the conversation took 10 minutes, even though it probably should have only taken two.

I think one of the more interesting aspects of the experience was trying to end the call. In the U.S. it is considered rude to just hang up the phone on someone. However, when I call my Korean grandparents, they often will just hang up the phone when they are done with the conversation without saying good-bye. They aren’t trying to be rude when they do this; it is just a difference in culture. I think it is similar but somewhat different in Japan. I’m nearly 100% sure that you don’t end a conversation with “sayonara,” but this directness definitely spoke to my American culture. I’ll have to ask my lab mates to teach me proper phone etiquette.

Research Project Update
This week, I started to get more involved in my research project and get hands-on experience instead of just observing. On Monday, I prepared the TEM grid for the products from last week’s reaction. On Tuesday, I started the second reaction of my project in the morning and then analyzed the results from the first reaction using the TEM in the afternoon. I took pictures of my CNTs and some of them had material encapsulated! I showed Aizaki-san and now he wants me to learn how to use the TEM for EDS, which is for elemental analysis. For the second reaction, I used the same starting materials and reaction temperature. However, the heating time was increased from two hours to one day. As a result, I spent Wednesday waiting for my reaction to finish and cool down. In the evening, I prepped my samples for sonication.

Thursday was a pretty big day because I worked pretty much completely independently. I stopped by the lab early to put my samples in the sonicator, so by the late morning I could get my grids in the furnace and have them ready for the TEM I scheduled for that afternoon. Nakanishi-sensei went with me to the TEM, but he sat outside the curtain because it was my third day using the machine. I didn’t feel ready to use the TEM on my own, and the pictures I took clearly show that I still have a lot to learn. However, I am now able to use the TEM on my own but I can always ask for help if I need it (I probably will).

On Friday, I prepared a sample of just CNTs and WCl6 for the 1-day reaction to see what would happen. For the two reactions I’ve done so far, there have been some red needle-like crystals growing in the tubes after heat treatment. No one is sure what they are, but they are stable in air outside of vacuum conditions. I treated a few of the crystals the same way I treated the CNTs and prepared them on a TEM grid. I still have to look at them using the TEM, and I wonder if they will appear in just the plain CNTs with no sulfur.

Last week, I felt like I was doing a lot of things wrong. I have trouble getting the contrast right to get a good focused TEM image. I got pretty flustered and stressed when I used the equipment, so I just need to remember to take a deep breathe and calm down. I also didn’t close the chamber on the glove box all the way and felt like an idiot after. This week, however, I am determined to do better and not freak out as much.

Return to Top

Week 06: Cultural Analysis – Life in the Lab

Matsumoto castle ~ Ellen Park

I can’t believe that the mid-program meeting is right around the corner and that I’m nearly halfway through my research experience here in Nagoya! Even though the end is still far away, I know that I’m going to be kind of sad to go home at the end of the summer because everyone here has only been nice to me. I think I may like all of them more than they like me, which has been a little challenging for me.

I really enjoy laughing and talking with other people. I actually don’t even have to talk because it makes me happy to just be included in a positive atmosphere or conversation as an observer. Sometimes I feel a little lonely in lab, as I don’t always know when is the right time to start a conversation or feel like people don’t want to talk to me. I don’t blame them because English is not their first language and I understand not wanting to have to think a lot in order to have a conversation. That’s why at lunch I usually sit at the table in the office with whoever is there and try to start conversations with my bad Japanese and break the ice. People usually find pretty entertaining, and I have a good time too.

However, on some days, people just eat lunch at their desks, and then I don’t know when it’s an ok time to talk without being distracting. On these days, my interactions with people are usually just related to my research project, and I’ve learned that it’s when I feel the most isolated and lonely. It can be challenging for me to get through these days without thinking that people don’t like me, and it makes me sad. Thankfully, I tend to forget these days once I have a fun conversation with some people in lab (this usually happens the following day).

On Thursday, I sat and had lunch with some of the guys, and there was a flyer for an LBGT group at Nagoya Daigaku. I’m not really sure what it said, but it sparked a pretty funny and interesting conversation about people’s love lives. I asked them all if they had girlfriends in Japanese, and I learned that I shouldn’t ask people this question (whoops!). This was certainly a cross-cultural communication experience, but it turned into a very fun and light-hearted lunch. Apparently, it can make people feel very heart-broken if you ask them this question, so (in the future) I won’t ask this again. I was afraid that I might have really offended people, but it turned into more of a joke. The guys made me ask some of the other people in lab, and I felt a little uncomfortable after learning that I probably shouldn’t ask this question. However, there was a lot of laughing and smiling, and I think people had a more fun and exciting lunch break than normal.

I don’t regret asking the question, but I still feel bad because in the U.S. it’s a pretty casual conversation topic. It might not be one of the first things you ask someone when you meet them, but, after knowing people for a few weeks, it usually comes up. There was an opportunity for me to ask this question during one of my first few days in lab, but I hesitated and decided to wait until I knew people more or had been here longer. It still may not have been the right time, and, thankfully, no one took offense or thought I was being super rude. I think people saw that I was just trying to make conversation and they all had fun.  I won’t ask new people I meet in Japan this question, but I’m very glad I had this experience though because I think I bonded more with the people here. I told one of the guys to ask the girl he likes to dinner and also to tell me what she says in response. This conversation could not have happened at a better time because I was struggling with feeling a little lonely in lab the day before.

Kappabashi bridge, Kamikochi ~ Ellen Park

Outside of research, my biggest personal accomplishment this summer has been planning very fun and successful weekend trips on my own. The first weekend at my host lab, I stayed in Nagoya and did a lot of local sightseeing because I wanted to make sure I explored where I would be living all summer before traveling to other parts of Japan. I made a detailed list of all the places I wanted to go and figured out the best way to visit as many of the places as possible over a two-day period. A lot of the main tourist attractions in Nagoya are open on both the weekend and weekdays. However, on weekdays, they are all usually closed by the time I leave lab. As a result, I had to prioritize and determine which places I would be ok with possibly never going to. It was good practice for the planning I would do later on because it was pretty low risk.

I made a Word document to outline my itinerary for where I would go each day, how long it would take to get there, how much it would cost, etc. and have been using it to plan my other adventures, too. It has been a really effective way for me to organize my thoughts and hash out all of the important details. My family and I do a lot of travelling, but my parents have always been the ones who organize all of the logistics of our vacations. Until now, I had only ever planned small trips for my friends or myself that didn’t require that much planning. For the most part, I could just play things by ear and everything would work out. However, I can’t just “wing” my trips here because there is a lot that I want to do, but I have to make sure that I am back in lab on Monday. Therefore, I have to plan what I want to do under the main constraint that I don’t miss the last train back to Nagoya.

For example, I visited the Hiroshima prefecture on my second weekend. Before coming to Japan, I knew that I wanted to bike the Shimanami Kaido, which is a bike route that crosses six islands in the Sento Sea. I knew the trip would take a while, so I made sure that this was the first thing I did just in case something went wrong and I couldn’t complete the route in one day. I planned my trip to the city of Hiroshima and Miyajima the next day for both cases, and I also back calculated the last possible ferry I could take back from Miyajima so that I would not miss the last Shinkansen from Hiroshima back to Nagoya.

In terms of planning other logistics, I had to make a few phone calls in Japanese, which was pretty difficult for me because I didn’t always know what was going on. Thankfully, most people spoke some English to clarify the important details. However, I still responded in Japanese to the best of my abilities anyway, and, so far, I haven’t had any lodging or travel problems (**knock on wood**). It’s not that big of a deal, but I am pretty proud of my new organizational skills and ability to plan fun trips. Honestly, I think it makes me enjoy my weekends more knowing that I have done everything independently. Also, I don’t think any of my trips could have been better, so I’m happy that I’m able to see and experience Japan as much as I can while I’m here.

Mount Yari! It’s one of the most iconic peaks in Kamikochi. I think a lot of people have died trying to climb it. ~ Ellen Park

This past weekend I went to Kamikochi and hiked Mt. Chogatake. I took the JR from Nagoya to Matsumoto Friday evening. I stayed at the Thank You Hippopotamus Hostel and learned that I was the first foreigner to book online using their website. The guy working there just made it, and I think they are trying to get more publicity. So, if you’re considering visiting Matsumoto, I would highly recommend this place. The people were so friendly, the place is very cute, and it’s right next to the Matsumoto Castle.

On Saturday, I woke up early to catch the first bus to Kamikochi and start hiking. It was supposed to rain that day, so I wanted to try to get to the top earlier rather than later. Thankfully, it only rained a little, and the clouds cleared up a bit by the time I got to the top so I could enjoy the impressive view of the mountains. I stayed at the Mt. Chogatake Hut overnight and made some friends while I was there. Three guys hiking together woke up at 4 AM with me to watch the sunrise, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful in my entire life. We hiked together for a little bit on Sunday morning before we went our separate ways. The weather that day was spectacular, so I had an amazing time hiking and exploring Kamikochi. I got great pictures, but not going to lie my legs are very tired now.

Research Project Update
Days in lab definitely have their ups and downs. I still feel pretty dumb sometimes when I use the equipment and get annoyed with myself when I make mistakes. However, I think that my research project has been progressing pretty well. Besides the set back of having the IR furnace break, I have done a few different reactions and got some interesting results. Some material is being encapsulated in the carbon nanotubes, and it is hopefully WS2 nanoribbons. However, I have not done any elemental analysis yet to determine what is actually encapsulated.

I’m pretty proud of myself for learning how to use the TEM even though it still stresses me out. On Friday, I used the machine completely by myself and I took some pictures that I was initially pretty proud of. However, I was too focused and excited by the fact that I was starting to understand what to do that I missed recognizing that there was something encapsulated in the CNTs until I showed them to Nakanishi-sensei later. I didn’t use the higher magnification camera as a result, so I don’t have the detail that I need. But baby steps, I guess.

This week went a lot better than last week. However, it started off a little rough, which I wasn’t too psyched about. On Monday morning, I made the mistake of sonicating non-CNT material. I quickly realized this when the solution was white instead of black and felt pretty stupid. I redid the 4-hour sonication and prepared a TEM grid with the white solution anyway. When I went to dry my grid, there was water in the IR furnace, which didn’t seem right to me. I asked Aizaki-san if this was ok, hoping that I hadn’t broken the equipment. I don’t think I did anything wrong, but the IR furnace was broken so I couldn’t use it. It wasn’t fixed until Thursday, which meant I couldn’t dry any of my TEM grids.

Thankfully, I hadn’t analyzed my TEM grid that I had prepared using some of the red crystals I’d grown, so I went to the TEM Tuesday afternoon. Interestingly, it turned out that some of these red crystals appeared in the CNT sample without sulfur. However, they were not long and needle-like as in the previous reactions, only small blotches. I went with Aizaki-san and he showed me how to use EDS. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much on the TEM grid because the particles were too small after sonication to be caught by the grid. However, there were a few small particles, so I was able to practice taking pictures.

Before going to the TEM on Tuesday, I prepared a synthesis reaction on my own and didn’t break anything or do anything wrong! I felt pretty good, especially after how last week went. This reaction has the same heating pattern as the previous one (constant temperature for 24 hours), but the temperature was reduced from 500ºC to 400ºC.

It’s exciting because now I am starting to have enough samples to make comparisons and see what the different reactions conditions lead to.

Question of the Week
When do you hold the vowels when you say “konnichiwa” or “ohayo gozaimasu”? When I was passing people on the trails, I realized that most people held the vowel sounds when they greeted each other. I started to hold my vowels a little longer because it seemed like the right thing to do, but I’m not sure.

Return to Top

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

Chado ready! ~ Ellen Park

It was really nice to catch up with all of the 2018 U.S. Fellows at the Mid-Program Meeting and use stupid American slang again. I didn’t realize how much I would miss saying things that make absolutely no sense. For the past four weeks, I had to actively think about what I was saying and whether or not my lab mates would be able to understand it. I think I do a pretty good job of not using confusing expressions, but I learned that I want to say a lot of thing that don’t translate well. Colloquial expressions are not intuitive, and I know that I sometimes have a hard time explaining slang to non-native English speakers, like my parents.

I think I did enough talking to make up for the last month in a four-day period, as a result. One way that I handle my stress and emotions is by talking about all of my failures and making fun of myself, so it was nice to be able to get some of the stories off of my chest. I’m sure all the fellows were happy when I took my chatty mouth back to Nagoya (although I enjoyed listening as much as I enjoyed talking).

I thought it was really interesting to compare my experiences with everyone else’s. We all faced different challenges, and I liked learning about what others did to successfully overcome them. One problem that I think we all shared—regardless of lab and city—was feeling a bit lonely or isolated at one point or another. It was nice to be able to commiserate over this shared experience and learn some new ways to handle these emotions in the future. Also, I was definitely inspired by others to cook more food for myself and try some new things!

I thought that one of the biggest challenges of the trip would be going back to my host lab after being back with familiar people in a more familiar setting. However, I felt kind of excited to return to Nagoya because I think I missed my lab a little bit. Also, I think there is some part of me that enjoys being mildly uncomfortable, and I’m not really sure if this is a good or a bad thing.

My biggest challenge of the Mid-Program Meeting was, ironically, not having enough alone time. I’ve spent a lot of time doing my own thing this summer without other people, and it has given me lots of opportunities to think and reflect. There are definitely times where I feel a little too lonely. However, for the most part, I’ve really enjoyed being able to take a step back from situations and analyze them more. It was hard to do this during the Mid-Program Meeting because I was always hanging out with someone. Don’t get me wrong—I loved doing this. But I definitely missed having some time to myself to stop and think for a bit.

Ultimately, by the end of the meeting, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly thankful for my host lab, host city, and set up for the summer. For me, this was a good point to take a step back and reflect on how things were going overall. I realized that despite some of my previous low points, I don’t think things could be going any better. I set some goals at the beginning of this summer that I am making surprisingly good progress towards. Most of the time I make a big list of goals and accomplish maybe one, if any, so I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I think I am making the most out of my experience here by doing things that make me happy but also challenge me. There is still a lot that I want to learn and do this summer—that hasn’t changed. However, I feel like I have a different perspective or outlook that I can’t quite put into words.

Kobe port ~ Ellen Park

I’m excited to see what I can make of my last few weeks here in Japan. I have lots of exciting things planned, including having dinner again with Yui, a 2018 Japanese Fellow from Nagoya University! The Tuesday before the Mid-Program Meeting, Yui and I went out to get hitsumabushi together. She had told me about this dish during the Fuji weekend trip because it is one of the most famous dishes from Nagoya. Hitsumabushi is grilled eel on rice, but there is a specific way that you are supposed to eat it. I had read a little about it online earlier during the summer. However, I was glad Yui was there to show me the proper way to eat and experience the dish because I definitely would have done it the wrong way. It was so good and definitely worth the money! At the end of dinner, we talked about going out to dinner again and going to a café to get shaved ice. We ended up sharing a room during the Mid-Program Meeting and making plans for what week in July would be best. I think we will be going to the sushi restaurant she works at sometime this week! I’m really excited because I like hanging out with her.

I really enjoyed seeing all of the other 2018 Japanese Fellows too. After dinner on the first night, we all went out to karaoke together, which was a fun and good bonding experience. I didn’t really put it together that Sunday was the last day I would see most of them again, and I was sad I didn’t get the chance to say good bye! It’s kind of a bummer that we only got to know them for a short period of time, but I hope to stay in touch. Maybe I will see some of them again if they visit NYC when they are in the U.S. in August and September.

Introduction to Research Presentation 

2018 U.S. Fellows following their research presentations at Kyoto University.

My Introduction to Research Topic talk during the Mid-Program Meeting was the first scientific presentation (and presentation, in general) that I had given in a while. I’m not always the best public speaker because I get nervous and speak too quickly and quietly. However, for some reason, I was not super stressed out during this presentation. I managed to keep time pretty well and get through all of my information without speaking too fast, so I was happy about that. There were definitely a few times where I stumbled over my words or didn’t explain things as clearly as I should have. In these moments, I did my best to pause and breathe instead of talking in confusing circles.

In no way was my presentation perfect, but it went a lot better than I anticipated. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think how I constructed my presentation helped. I figured out what I generally wanted to say when I was walking back from dinner one night. I probably looked a little crazy because I was talking to myself about carbon nanotubes. However, by doing it this way, I think I ended up with a presentation that had more of a flow instead of choppy transitions between slides. It also made it easier for me to remember what to say, which was nice because I didn’t have any moments where I blanked and couldn’t remember what to say next. This helped me feel more comfortable presenting.

I learned that I spent most of my presentation talking to her instead of the entire room. This is something I would like to work on for next time to improve my public speaking skills. Also, I know I have a bad habit of fidgeting with my fingers or something when I present. I was trying to avoid this, but I ended up talking with my hands instead. I wasn’t even planning on doing this, but I just got up there and all of a sudden I was moving my hands. Apparently, it wasn’t too distracting, but it’s something else I would like to work on. Overall, I’m pretty happy with what I did, and it was a lot easier to talk about my research than I thought it would be.

Research Project Update
Research has been going pretty well. The TEM was out of order the Monday and Tuesday before the Mid-Program Meeting, which was a little unfortunate. I was the first person to use the TEM on Tuesday morning, and I could tell that something was wrong but I didn’t know what to do or how to fix it. I had to call back to the lab and ask for help. My biggest fear this summer is definitely breaking the TEM, so I always get kind of nervous when things aren’t working the right way. Apparently though, the TEM sometimes stops working when it is pretty hot out, which is good information to know.

I went Wednesday morning to take pictures of my samples, and I used the higher magnification camera to make up for last week. However, my images were unfortunately pretty bad and I also took some pictures of material that was on the outside of the carbon nanotubes instead of inside. Nakanishi-sensei went with me to the TEM on Friday morning to get higher quality photos of my sample.

After the Mid-Program meeting I started a fourth reaction at a high temperature because higher temperatures seem to lead to better samples. However, there is a limit because the Pyrex tubes melt at 600ºC.

Outside of the Lab
Here’s a quick summary of my travels from the past two weeks. I’m doing my best to see as much of Japan as possible this summer!

Before the Mid-Program Meeting, I took the first shinkansen of the day from Nagoya to Kyoto, so I could do a bit of exploring on my own. I went to the Arashiyama bamboo forest for a bit before renting a bike and biking along the river to Osaka. I didn’t think I was going to be back in the Kansai area again this summer, so I figured I should check out the city while I was in the area. I went to Dotonbori and Osaka Castle. I didn’t have time to see any other places because I had to go back to Kyoto, return the bike, and then be ready for the first dinner of the Mid-Program Meeting.

Sapporo TV Tower ~ Ellen Park

At the end of the Mid-Program Meeting, about half of us took shinkansens back to our labs from Shin-Kobe station. You can change your ticket time once without any additional cost, so I changed my train time to around 8 PM so I could spend some time in Kobe. I mainly just walked around the city for a few hours. There’s a cool waterfall near the train station. Highlights from Kobe were definitely trying Kobe beef and seeing the port. Kobe beef is amazing!

Last weekend, I went to Hokkaido. It was really fun because I also got to see my family and grandparents who were visiting from Korea. We went to Farm Tomita to see the lavender fields, visited Daisetsuzan National Park, and explored Sapporo. Hokkaido is beautiful, and I definitely want to go back and see the other parts. It was also nice to see my family and catch up with them. It’s a lot easier to tell stories in person than over text.

I’m having so much fun seeing different places in Japan, but it’s definitely tiring. However, I like to say I can sleep when I’m dead. One of my goals for the rest of the summer is to make sure I keep exploring, and I can’t wait to see what kind of adventures I have.

Question of the Week
What are the biking rules of the road? Are there any? When I was biking between Osaka and Kyoto, I encountered bikers riding against traffic, with traffic, and on the sidewalks—it really seems like you can just do whatever you want.

Return to Top

Week 09: Research in Japan vs. Research in the U.S.

A typical day in the Shinohara lab begins around 10 AM. Some people show up earlier, so I aim to come in around 9:45 AM. On the wall outside the lab office there is a whiteboard where each person has a magnet with his or her name on it. Before entering, people move their magnet from “home” to “office.” I can always tell when someone has just arrived at the lab because I can hear the magnet moving on the whiteboard before the door opens. There are other locations on the whiteboard, like the TEM, lecture, or business trip. This helps people know where others are if you can’t find them. However, if you are out grabbing lunch, anywhere in the building, or pretty much any place that doesn’t have a specific spot on the whiteboard, you just leave your magnet in the “office” spot, so it can be a little challenging to find people sometimes if they aren’t sitting at their desk. Also, everyone’s names are written in kanji, so I’m not always sure who is where because I don’t know many characters, but I’ve been learning some more as a result. I’ve noticed that the color is representative of your status in the lab. For example, B4 students have a blue magnet and master’s students have a yellow magnet.

Parfaits with Grace! (I took a quick overnight stop in Tokyo on my way to Sendai this weekend) ~ Ellen Park

In lab, people work on their experiments and presentations, read papers, and occasionally chat. There are four rows of desks, one for each of the three professors and their students and one for the visiting researchers and the PhD student. I like the lab atmosphere a lot because everyone seems very dedicated to his or her research but enjoys spending time with each other too. Despite the separation by professor and research topic, everyone is friendly and gets a long with one another. I see people get up and talk to people at other desks. I’m sure most of the time it’s about research, but I know that other times it’s about something unrelated. Also, when I’ve gone out to dinner with Nakanishi-sensei and other people from lab, undergrads and masters students who do not work with the other professors will come too, which I like. Some people will also sleep in lab or spend a decent amount of time on their phones because there is a lot of waiting time involved in preparing samples, running reactions, preparing samples for analysis, etc. I was a little surprised by this because I initially thought that everyone would be insanely research focused and would only work on research in lab. However, this is not the case. People are productive when they need to be productive, and if there is some down time they take advantage of that.

As a result, to me, there seems to be no real rules in lab besides coming in at 10 AM and staying until 6PM. I’m sure that’s not really the case, but it’s a laid-back environment. There seems to be no strict schedule either besides lab meeting or “seminar” on Mondays at 5 and lab cleaning on Tuesdays at 5. However, this past week there was no seminar. All the B4 students (besides one) have stopped coming into lab and working on their research because they are studying for their final exams and entrance exam for graduate school. The one B4 student who is still in lab recently got a job, so he will not be doing research after he graduates. At least that is my impression.

Interestingly, I don’t think people really enjoy seminars. It’s kind of funny because I’ve learned and experienced that Japanese people aren’t very expressive. However, from the beginning, I could tell that people generally did not want to be there and would rather be doing other things. Nonetheless, everyone in the lab knows that these presentations are important and a good opportunity to practice public speaking skills. There are always questions after each presentation, and people always try to think of questions to ask. This might mean brief periods of silence as people try to think, but I’ve never seen a presentation where no one asked a question afterwards. I think that this highlights the lab culture and rules because people know that this is where they need to be. And even if they would rather be home, they never stop asking questions to make the seminar end sooner. I know that in the U.S. people do this a lot.

People generally eat lunch anywhere from 12 PM until 1:30 PM at their desk or at a shared table towards the back of the lab. Occasionally, people go out to eat for lunch, but this is pretty rare. There is a co-op store across the street from the lab that people buy their food from. However, some people also bring their own lunches, which can be home cooked or just from a local super market. I’m not sure if there is a set “lunch time” or if it’s eat whenever you want, and most people happen to eat around then. Honestly, I’ve been trying to figure out when and what people do for lunch for more than a month, and I’m still pretty clueless. I’m someone who looks for patterns, and all I’ve noticed is that there isn’t a lot of consistency.

Nakanishi-sensei and I at the lab’s TEM ~ Ellen Park

I enjoy the laidback and flexible lab environment of the Shinohara. Before any of the orientation programs this summer, I thought that working in a Japanese research lab was going to be very busy and intense. I was nervous that there was going to be a lot of pressure to always be working and get good results. However, during orientation, I was told that the pace is often slower than working in an American lab, and it would probably be a while before I was assigned a project or shown what to do. This was clearly different than what I had thought before. I was expecting that it would take some time before I was assigned a project or began training because I figured people were probably busy with their own research.

Well wasn’t I surprised when on my second day in lab I received my research project and on the third day began learning the experimental procedures and techniques I would need for the summer. Not to mention, within the first week, I learned how to use a TEM and was told that after three times visiting the machine I would be properly trained to use it on my own. I thought that this was pretty crazy, and I felt super under-qualified. However, I think my experience is pretty unique and not really the norm for Japanese labs. I was put right to work from the get go, which I liked a lot. It would seem that with this mentality, the work environment would be intense, but that’s not really the case, as I’ve already mentioned. People come to lab in the morning, begin the experiments, and stay until they are finished. It rarely seems like professors are hounding students for results because people just do what they need to do.

I think this is partly because Nakanishi-sensei spent some time working in a lab at Rice University. This experience in combination with his personality has fostered a pretty independent and self-reliant lab culture that I would expect to be similar in the U.S. However, there is still a sense of community and motivation to do things for the good of the group, which is a central Japanese core value. I think it’s a pretty unique opportunity to be able to experience this meshing of lab cultures because it is still a pretty Japanese lab but with a few American twists. For example, I don’t think Americans would respond well to having to stay in lab until 6 PM everyday if they had already finished all of their work that they needed to do in a lab.

Matsushima ~ Ellen Park

I was honestly quite shocked by how I became independent within a few weeks in Japan, because this was quite different from my experience in an American lab. I don’t think I ever reached this point back at my home university. By the end of the year, my grad student stopped watching what the other undergrad student and I were doing. However, she was always in the lab and accompanied us when we went to NMR samples. I think this was mostly due to the fact that I was doing pretty introductory research because I only went in once or twice a week for a few hours, as opposed to 8 hours a day for 5 days a week. In terms of equipment use, I wasn’t allowed to receive training for it either because the process was apparently too difficult to manage with classes. I would have thought that this would be true for operating a TEM, but nope (and I’m quite thankful for that).

There are two big differences that I’ve noticed between U.S. and Japanese labs. One is that lab equipment isn’t shared in Japan. The NMR I used at Cornell was shared essentially by the entire campus, but the Shinohara lab has its own TEM. I certainly would not be able to have the same experience if the machine were shared with other labs, and I don’t think I would ever be operating it on my own if I were in the U.S. The second difference that I have observed is that to me, it seems like you can never really escape your research in the U.S. If you’re in lab, you are doing experiments. Otherwise, you are analyzing your data, making graphs/presentations, or planning your next steps, even if you are at home. I think this comes from the

From my experience in Japan, it seems like research is contained to the lab, but I have never asked if people continue to work on their projects after they leave so I’m not sure if this is an accurate statement. As a result, a think a pretty significant difference between working in a U.S. versus a Japanese lab is the number of hours physically spent in the actual lab building itself.  I have really enjoyed working in a Japanese lab. However, sitting at a desk from 10 AM -6 PM, which is the earliest time that people leave, really is not for me. It does foster a lab culture that I like, but, unfortunately, I need more changes of scenery and motion in my day. So for this reason, I think I prefer working in a U.S. lab.

Visiting Ellen Park in the Shinohara Lab at Nagoya University.

Sarah and Ogawa-san also visited me in lab this week. It was fun to give them a tour of my lab and talk about my research. It was pretty interesting because I ended up speaking using my normal English pace, and I think Nakanishi-sensei was a bit surprised by how quickly I spoke. Also, the four of us plus the two other professors in the lab all had lunch together. This was one of the first times I really interacted with the other two professors. I learned that lab communication isn’t great because one of the professors didn’t know what project I was working on. I figured if he wanted to know he would have asked Nakanishi-sensei. I felt a little awkward explaining my research to a professor in my lab after having been there for more than a month.


Research Project Update
This week, I have done a variety of different things to further understand the effects that reaction conditions have on the encapsulation of material. I learned that Aizaki found longer and straighter TMD nanoribbons when he annealed his samples at high temperatures (>1000ºC). Normally, nanoribbons twist and deform the carbon nanotubes when they are encapsulated, but something about the higher temperature conditions allowed them to find a more stable configuration and straighter configuration. Additionally, under these conditions, he also found that the nanotubes had fewer impurities on the outside.

Therefore, I thought that my reaction at 550ºC would have the best yield out of all of my samples because this was the highest temperature reaction that I had done. However, when I went to the TEM on Wednesday, I had a hard time finding material encapsulated. The yield seemed very low. I noticed when I was setting up the reaction that not all of the WCl6 reactant was the same color. I think some of it may have been oxidized, which may have reduced the amount of tungsten that was capable of entering the CNTs. It is also possible that the reaction temperature was too high.

However, the current hypothesis is that higher temperatures are better, so on Friday I started an annealing reaction at 1200ºC for 72 hours. I am heating the products of the 24 hour reaction at 500ºC to see if the nanoribbons in the sample will become longer. The day before I also ran another reaction at 300ºC to further test the lower temperature limit and set up a reaction for 24 hours at 600ºC. For the 600ºC and 1200ºC reactions, I had to use a quartz tube because the Pyrex tube would melt at these temperatures. This meant I had to use a different higher temperature burner to seal the tube and that flame scares me.

Question of the Week
How do women in Japan feel about their gender roles in society? I was talking to one of my lab mates about how a friend of mine completed an Iron Man last summer, and he said he was surprised that a woman could be an Iron Man. I was incredibly frustrated when I heard this, but I just ignored it because I didn’t know the best way to have this conversation. Do women want a change in the system?

  • This is an excellent question to talk more about with the female Japanese Fellows to get their insights and perspective. Yes, in general, Japan does still have more strictly defined and ‘traditional’ gender role expectations for women and men.  You can read more about this in some of the articles we’ve posted on our resources pages about Women in Japan. There’s also an excellent book called Women in Global Science: Advancing Academic Careers Through International Collaboration that you might find particularly interesting to read too.
  • However, it’s important to remember that it was not until the late 1960s and 1970s that many of the societal expectations and structural inequalities regarding gender roles in the U.S. began to be formally challenged through court cases, protests, and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in employment, higher education, sports, and other aspects of American life too. Up until the late 1960s to early 1970s you could still find job classified ads that were sorted in to ‘Female Only’ and ‘Male Only‘ categories and it was not until 1993 that the military allowed female pilots to fly combat missions.  So, remember that these are issues that the U.S. has faced too and we continue to face challenges in gender equity and equality in the United States; particularly in terms of things like paid parental and maternity leave and the gender wage gap which does still exist.

Return to Top

Week 10: Reflections on Japanese Language Learning

Picture from my walk back to my dorm from lab ~ Ellen Park

First, I would just like to say that I am so thankful for the three weeks of language classes during orientation. Even though I sometimes get frustrated with my language skills, I have to remind myself that I knew zero Japanese at the beginning of the summer and that’s not the case anymore. My skills are far from impressive, but they have been pretty useful and definitely made some of my travel experiences and interactions more unique.

This summer I’ve learned that I’m not good at teaching myself a new language because I’m not very good with routine. Each week, I have a different schedule, so it’s hard for me to integrate daily language practice into my routine because I don’t really have one. I regret not keeping up with the Duolingo and flashcard apps I downloaded, but I’m still learning a few new words and terms a week because I try to speak a little Japanese everyday as practice. This can be in lab or outside of lab, like when I am traveling.

When I’m in lab my go-to question in lab is “Shumatsu ni nani o shimashitaka,” which is “what did you do this weekend?” Honestly, this might be one of the only things I say in Japanese in lab, and I just ask different people when I see them. Even though its an easy question, it’s good because sometimes I can ask follow up questions about where they went, with who, etc. However, most of my interactions in lab are in English because I am usually talking about my project details, and I don’t have the vocabulary or language skills to understand this in Japanese.

I think I speak the most Japanese when I am traveling outside of lab. Even if people start speaking to me in English, I do my best to speak in Japanese anyway. It definitely can be a little uncomfortable at times, but it’s the best way for me to practice.

Okinawa was incredible! ~ Ellen Park

I’ve travelled to a few places where people don’t speak any English, but I haven’t had any real problems. This weekend, I went to Okinawa (which was amazing!!!!) and my flight back to Nagoya was delayed. All the important flight information was eventually announced in English. However, there were many announcements in all Japanese that I could only partially understand before the English announcement because they weren’t sure about the flight details yet. I did my best to listen closely and pick out key words, and I surprisingly was able to figure out a lot of the information based off the context of the situation.

I thought I heard that the flight time was changed from 17:55 to 21:00. Mainly, I just heard the time and figured that’s what the announcement was about. I asked the lady in front of my if the she was going to Nagoya and what time the flight was leaving in Japanese to clarify the announcement. She responded to me in English and Japanese.

I became a little more concerned because there were multiple long announcements that I didn’t really understand with no English clarification later and flight to Tokyo was cancelled. I became a little nervous after I heard this because I really didn’t want my flight to be cancelled, so I decided to go talk to the guy at the gate just to make sure that it wasn’t the case for my flight.

The guy was speaking with another woman, and he was circling his hands in the air. From the context of the situation, I figured out that the plane I was supposed to take was stuck in Fukuoka. The situation was further clarified for me in English, even though I tried to speak to the man in Japanese. However, for flight information, it was nice to know what was actually going on. I did figure out a lot of it on my own before any English was involved. But having the confirmation made me a lot more comfortable because I can get a little anxious about traveling sometimes. Mainly, I’m always concerned I’m going to miss my flight, train, etc. As a result, I was pretty concerned when there were so many announcements about my flight but I couldn’t fully understand what was being said.

It’s in these situations that I become more aware of how much Japanese I know because if I didn’t know any, I would be incredibly clueless instead of only partially. I hope to try and learn more Japanese on my own in the next few weeks and continue studying a little bit on my own after the summer is over. However, this will definitely be challenging for me, so I need to figure out a way to continue learning Japanese after this program because I am interested in improving my language skills.

Research Project Update

The one and only TEM ~ Ellen Park

I was only in lab for three days this week because Monday was a holiday, and I was lucky enough to get the day off on Friday to travel. As a result, I tried to be as productive as possible and went to the TEM three times in two days! I’m a lot more comfortable using the equipment, and Nakanishi-sensei said my photos have gotten better, which is pretty exciting.

I prepped and analyzed my samples for the 300ºC for 24 hours and 600ºC for 24 hours reactions. It appeared that there was little material encapsulated in the 300ºC and a significant amount of material encapsulated in the 600ºC sample. Based off of my TEM images, it appears that 600ºC for 24 hours yielded the best results. However, I want to look at my 24 hour 500ºC sample again to make sure because this was one of the first samples I analyzed using the TEM. As a result, my pictures are not great, and I am not confident that I observed my sample thoroughly enough.

Besides the fact that this is my project, it is important that I figure out which reaction conditions result in the highest encapsulation yield because, at the end of next week, the best sample will be analyzed using SEM. This will make it easier to determine the yield.

I also need to analyze the annealed sampled using TEM. However, the carbon nanotubes stuck to the quartz tube, so I’m not sure if any of the CNTs made it into the solution and on to the grid. I’ll see this week.

Question of the Week
Why is the service in Japan so much better than in the U.S.? Everyone on my flight was handed a form to be reimbursed for travel costs that resulted from the flight delay. I sprinted to make the last train back, but otherwise it certainly would have been expensive and challenging for me to make it back to my dorm. However, this kind of service does not exist in the U.S. If your flight gets delayed, well, that’s just unfortunate for you.

  • Yes, after experiencing what travel *can* be like in Japan it certainly makes the lack of true customer service glaringly obvious in the U.S. In Japan, most businesses strive to provide omotenashi to their customers.  This could be translated as hospitality or customer service but it also implies the ‘subjugation of self to the customer’ without being servile.  It means putting the customers needs ahead of the company/business/employee’s needs.  So, while in the U.S. you might get ‘service with a smile’ that smile does not always mean you get good service.  In Japan, it is quite different and it can be shocking for Japanese tourists or students when they go abroad and realize just how great their customer service is in comparison to what is standard/common in other countries.  Omotenashi is one thing that the Japanese students often say is something they are happy about returning to Japan for.
  • For more on the concept of omotenashi see:

Return to Top

Week 11: Interview with Japanese Researcher


I chose to interview Inoue-san and Nakanishi-sensei about their research experiences. Inoue-san is a master’s student in the Shinohara Lab, and I often eat lunch and chat with him in lab. Also, more recently, I have started to go to the gym with him on Fridays. Nakanishi-sensei is my mentor.

Nakanishi-sensei received his B.S., M.S. and PhD in chemistry from Nagoya University. Shinohara-sensei taught one of his classes freshmen year in college and that’s what made him interested in chemistry. Nakanishi-sensei always wanted a job in academia—not industry—because he wanted to work with students. However, after receiving his master’s degree, he wasn’t confident that he would be able to be a professor, so he worked in industry for one year at a chemical company before going back to Nagoya to pursue a PhD. Nakanishi-sensei thought that working in industry was boring because his job involved improving the yields of pre-existing materials. This is obviously an important job, but he prefers working with new materials.

At the Shinohara lab, Nakanishi-sensei spends 90% of his time working on his own research project on encapsulation of materials inside CNTs. Nanopeapods are unique new materials that are not trendy like TMDs are right now. After studying abroad in the U.S. and working at the Ajayan lab at Rice University, which focuses on the synthesis of 2D semiconducting materials, he learned that studying trend science is not for him. Nakanishi-sensei enjoys thinking about the reaction mechanisms and understanding what is going on in the experiments he performs. While at Rice, he couldn’t do this because the work pace was very high speed and focused on publishing papers.

Nakanishi-sensei really enjoyed experiencing the differences in American and Japanese culture and research culture. What he noticed was that at Rice, the work environment was faster-paced and more productive than Japanese labs. Also, there was a lot more collaboration among researchers in America. In general, people in Japanese labs do not collaborate as much due mostly to the nature of Japanese people. This usually results in researchers who have very well developed technical skills, but this comes at the cost of research speed.

This selfie was taken at 5:34 AM after an all-nighter of exploring Fukuoka. Grace and I took the last shinkansen to Hakata and didn’t have a place to stay so we explored all night and watched the sunrise by the beach #riseandgrind ~ Ellen Park

After seeing these differences, Nakanishi-sensei tried to take the aspects of American research culture that he liked and bring them back to his lab in Japan. Initially, he was a more reserved researcher. However, at Rice, he was often asked by other researchers to help them take good TEM images of their samples because they did not know how to use the machines well. Even though he found it annoying sometimes, this helped him make friends and it fostered lab culture. It also increased the productivity of the lab. Now, Nakanishi-sensei active collaborates with various researchers and will also ask other professionals in his research field and other fields for help while still working and thinking about his research own his own. Nakanishi-sensei thinks that international experience is important for STEM, and he has been able to experience the benefits for himself.

In lab, Nakanishi-sensei also directs students, applies for funding, and writes papers. A few times a month he will travel to other labs to give presentations. He really enjoys research because you don’t know what you will find. It’s also exciting to be the first person to know the results.

I really enjoyed talking to Nakanishi-sensei about his research experience. From my own personal experience at the Shinohara lab, I think I have felt the changes in lab culture that Nakanishi-sensei encouraged after returning from the U.S. I said earlier that my lab experience was a lot different from what I was expecting, and I think this is the reason why. Obviously I am not a lab professor, so I can’t do what Nakanishi-sensei has done. However, I am inspired to take what I have learned here in Japan and incorporate them into my research and life habits.

My interview with Inoue-san wasn’t as fun as some of the other conversations that we had earlier. However, it was interesting to learn more about his academic goals. Like Nakanishi-sensei, he received his B.S. in Chemistry and is currently working towards his master’s degree in the same field. Inoue-san chose chemistry because it was the most interesting for him compared to math, physics, and biology. After getting his master’s degree, he wants to work at a big lab.

At the Shinohara lab, he works on synthesizing doped graphene for batteries. He thinks it fun but challenging to work in lab. The Shinohara lab has lots of research equipment, like its own TEM, AFM, and Raman spectrometer. As a result, people in the lab have very easy access to good equipment for their research, which is not the same for labs in the U.S.

Inoue-san’s piece of advice for undergraduate students is to try and understand the things that you find interesting and don’t hesitate to ask other people questions. I personally think that’s some good advice.

Kyushu beach vibes ~ Ellen Park

Overall, interviewing Nakanishi-sensei and Inoue-san was a very valuable experience. I liked being able to hear about what they thought the differences were between research in the U.S. and Japan. Nakanishi-sensei’s opinions on the topic were especially cool because I was able to compare his experiences to mine, but as an American in Japan instead of a Japanese person in America. The school system as a STEM student in Japan is definitely different from the U.S. You can only do research your senior year, and it seems that most people get their master’s degree from the same school they went to for undergrad. I’m still not entirely sure how it works, but it’s something I’d like to learn more about and will have to do some research on my own.

Research Project Update
The TEM was out of order on Monday and Tuesday because it was so hot here in Nagoya. I still had to analyze my annealed sample, but I wasn’t sure if there were any carbon nanotubes to analyze because they were stuck to the quartz tube. On Wednesday, I went to the TEM and learned that no carbon nanotubes made it on to the grid. I took this time to reanalyze one of the first reactions I completed because I wasn’t happy with the TEM photos that I had. Mainly, I only had images of empty carbon nanotubes and I knew that material was encapsulated under these conditions. It’s nice to see how far I’ve come in terms of my TEM skills because there is a progression in the quality of my photos.

While the TEM was out of order on Monday and Tuesday, I worked on my poster, which was helpful because it made me realize that I needed some more data to properly draw the right conclusions. For example, I needed to measure the interatomic distances in the encapsulated material. Also, I asked Aizaki-san to help me analyze my sample using Raman spectroscopy. Initially, my sample had too many impurities to get a useful spectrum, so I used my solubility results from earlier to clean my CNTs and get better data.

I think I am finished doing any experimental data collection. I spent all of Thursday creating a presentation that analyzed all of my reactions and various other observations and results from this summer. Most of the reactions I did this summer were heated for 24 hours. Aizaki-san and I shared and talked about our data because he performed reactions at the same temperature but for a shorter period of time. I am currently writing a summary of his and my research.

Question of the Week
What is the purpose of the stamps in all the museums and various tourist locations?  It’s something that I have noticed all summer. I have wanted to use them to remember/record where I have been, but I never have paper. Is this a big part of tourist culture in Japan?

Return to Top

Week 12-13: Final Week at Research Lab and Re-Entry Program

Yui and I had dinner one last time before I left Nagoya. Hopefully I will see her in the U.S.! ~ Ellen Park

I spent my last week in lab working on my closing session presentation and research poster. I finished all of my experimental data collection and analysis the week before, so it was easy for me to figure out which information was the most important to talk about. Writing the research summary for Nakanishi-sensei also helped with this. The plan is to publish a paper in the near future, and I think I will help write it. I’m very excited!

This summer, I was able to synthesize the desired product, WS2 nanoribbon peapods, but the encapsulation yields were not very high. Nakanishi-sensei is going to take my best sample to the STEM to get higher-resolution images of the peapods in order to further analyze the yield. Ultimately, I think my project was successful even though the yields I obtained were not as high as I wanted.

I was sad to leave my lab and Nagoya because I had such an amazing experience. The Thursday before I left, my lab organized a farewell cake party for me. They made and gave me the sweetest card and fan, which only made leaving the next day even harder. I brought my lab present in on Friday and also gave gifts to Nakanishi-sensei, Aizaki-san, and Inoue-san. There was also a small final farewell drinking party in my lab Friday night. I hope to stay in touch with people in my lab. I sent the whole lab an email after I got home thanking them and encouraging them to message me on Line or email me at anytime. I know that I’m not always the best at actively staying in touch with people, but I am determined to maintain the relationships I made this summer.

I love this card so much that I put it next to my bed in my room. ~ Ellen Park

I left Nagoya early on Saturday so that I could visit Kamakura before hiking Mount Fuji that evening. Kamakura was very pretty but also so hot. Thankfully, I got to go swimming, which was nice. It was fun to be by the ocean and then in the mountains on the same day! Almost all of the U.S. fellows hiked Mount Fuji Saturday night to see the sunrise Sunday morning. The hike was very crowded and it got cold at night near the top. However, it was a really fun experience and a great way to end the summer in Japan.

On the plane ride back to the U.S., I thought I would be able to catch up on all of the sleep I missed over the past week. However, I spent most of the timing watching movies and reflecting on my time in Japan. This program is an incredibly unique experience, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to be a Nakatani RIES U.S. fellow. I had such an amazing time exploring Japan, learning about Japanese culture, and, of course, doing research. There were many high points and only a few low ones, and I learned a lot about myself from these experiences.

One of my goals this summer was to journal in order to work on self-reflection and self-awareness. I wrote in my journal every day for the first month in lab, but essentially stopped by the end of the summer (this was mainly because I had more to do in lab). I’ve never really liked journaling. However, I began to understand more of my emotions, which was helpful when I was feeling sad or stressed. I also learned a lot about how I think and act, and, as a result, feel like I have grown as a person. I still have a lot to work on, but I’m glad with the progress that I made.

Last drinking party in lab ~ Ellen Park

I personally don’t think that Japanese culture encourages women to be strong and confident, which I kind of had an issue with. The gender roles and stereotypes were my least favorite part about Japan, and I wasn’t expecting it to be as bad as it was. Obviously, these issues still exist in the U.S., but gender division was much clearer in Japan. There were many aspects of Japanese culture and society that seemed very old and stuck in time. However, there were many other that were much more advanced and futuristic—for example, the trains. This paradox surprised me and was one of the biggest changes in perception that I experienced this summer.

Ultimately, my most common daily frustration was related to the gender roles. It’s a pretty American mindset, but I like doing what I want when I want, and I definitely felt like there were social pressures that restricted what people, especially women, could do. I know when I was travelling a got a lot of strange looks for what I was doing and wearing. However, it cannot be ignored that people in the U.S. are very judgmental as well, but often in a more rude and direct way. The U.S. has been struggling a lot with social and political problems recently, and I spent a lot of time this summer thinking and comparing Japanese and American cultures to try and understand how these problems developed.

Kamakura’s beach ~ Ellen Park

Every country has their pros and cons, and there were some amazing pros that I am certainly going to miss about Japan. I loved the convenience of travelling by train—whether it was taking the subway within the city or the shinkansen between cities. Also, everyone just seemed to have a greater respect for nature because there was essentially no littering. There are people who clean the sidewalks and streets, so if it did occur one would never see it. However, Japan is certainly much cleaner and organized than the U.S., which I will definitely miss.

It was incredibly frustrating when I was trying to fly home from Houston and my flight was cancelled and rebooked for the following day. Delta did not help me find a different way home or cover the cost of staying over night near LaGuardia. In comparison, I received a reimbursement form for travel costs from ANA when one of my flights from this summer was delayed 3 hours. The customer service experience was definitely one of the biggest culture shocks coming back to the U.S.

Hiking Fuji! ~ Ellen Park

It was hard being at Rice for a few days, but I learned a lot of helpful tips for applying to grad school. Before the Nakatani RIES program, I had been considering applying, but—if I’m being honest—wasn’t entirely sure what it entailed. Learning more about grad school and the application process was very informative and helpful. My favorite speaker was the Dean of Graduate Studies, Professor Matsuda. He had some really good insight and advice that helped me determine that grad school is a good option for me.

I learned so much from being a Nakatani REIS U.S. Fellow that it’s hard for me to summarize it all. The stories that I tell about my experience and what I learned depend on my audience. For example, I tell my family that some of the most important things I learned this summer were how to develop better communication skills, travel independently, and step outside of my comfort zone more regularly. This is very different from what I would tell a professor or potential employer. In this case, I would say that the most important things I learned were how to use a TEM, work in an international lab, and communicate effectively with others. One important skill that I think I developed well was how to speak English in a more understandable way. As a result, I know think a lot more before I speak.

I learned so many invaluable things from this experience and loved living in a different country. I’m looking for more international research and job opportunities for next summer! Who knows, maybe I’ll be back in Japan.


The beautiful sunrise ~ Ellen Park

Return to Top

Final Research Overview and Poster

I really enjoyed the opportunity to present my research at the closing ceremony in Tokyo. It was a little challenging though because I thought we had 6 minutes to present, but we found out it was cut to 5 minutes when we began presenting. My timer never started, so I’m pretty sure I spoke for too long. I think it’s kind of funny that I used to think giving a 5-minute presentation was a long time. However, it’s actually so short. It’s nice though, because it made me realize how much I really like my research because there was so much that I wanted to share but couldn’t.

Thankfully, I had the chance to share more of my results at the SCI Colloquium at Rice. This was my first poster presentation, and it was pretty fun. I didn’t have the best location, which turned out to probably be a good thing because all of the things I had practiced saying did not come out as clearly as I had hoped once I started talking to people. Also, there were times where I think I went in to too much detail when people weren’t interested. For future presentations, I think I should practice more with people one-on-one. Interestingly, I think I was more uncomfortable presenting my poster than my final presentation. However, this is probably because my presentation was to a group of people that I knew instead of strangers.

I went to some of the graduate research oral talks, and they were really interesting. It was cool to here about all of the different types of research projects. I have never been to a colloquium or conference before, and I really enjoyed the experience. I hope that in the future I will have the chance to present.

Research Abstract and Poster: Encapsulating WS2 Nanoribbons in Single-walled Carbon Nanotubes (PDF)
Host Lab: Shinohara Lab
Host Professor: Hisanori Shinohara
Mentors: Yusuke Nakanishi and Motoki Aizaki

Transition metal dichalcogenides (TMD) carbon nanopeapods have unique electronic and magnetic properties that result from electron interactions between the carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and encapsulated low-dimensional TMDs. The hollow space of CNTs serves as a nano-test-tube to synthesize one-dimensional TMDs as opposed to two-dimensional TMDs that can be synthesized via other conventional methods. This is important because one-dimensional TMDs, like WS2 nanoribbons, have interesting properties that are different from those of the bulk material due to quantum confinement. For example, according to previous research calculations, zigzag-edged WS2 nanoribbons can be magnetic or nonmagnetic metals depending on the edge passivation, while bulk WS2 is a nonmagnetic semiconductor[1] . Encapsulation of WS2 nanoribbons inside CNTs was successfully achieved in other studies but at low yields. This research seeks to find a method to synthesize higher yields of WS2 nanoribbon peapods to further study the electronic and magnetic properties of the resulting material when the nanoribbon is encapsulated and then determine possible device applications. Additionally, because this TMD nanostructure cannot be synthesized via other methods, another goal is to extract the material from the CNT because the nanoribbon has possible applications for spintronics. In this study, transmission electron microscopy was used to analyze and compare the results of different heating temperatures and times on encapsulation yields of materials inside single-walled CNTs via sublimation. From initial inter-atomic distance measurements, it appears that WS2 nanoribbons were successfully encapsulated. This could not be confirmed by Raman spectroscopy because the yields were too low. Future plans for this experiment are to obtain high-resolution STEM images to further analyze the yields of the nanoribbon peapod samples. To improve the encapsulation yield the experiment may be performed at higher temperatures. The best peapod sample will be annealed to try and obtain longer nanoribbons.

[1] Z. Wang, K. Zhao, H. Li, et. al. J. Mater. Chem., 2011, 21, 171.

Return to Top

Follow-on Project

I plan on talking to the Engineering Advising Office to see what kind of events I might be able to participate in to talk about my experience. I would like to give a short presentation to students who are interested in studying abroad but may not be able to and graduate in 4 years. I am a peer advisor for Chemical Engineers and we meet once a week in the fall to do different activities. As a ChemE, it’s hard but not impossible to study abroad during the school year. I may schedule one of our meetings to be an information session about this program and the importance of international research.

Return to Top

Tips for Future Participants

What to Pack

  • I wish that I brought more dresses and skirts. It was super hot in Japan and I could not stand wearing pants. Dresses and skirts were socially acceptable, and I wish I brought more of them and less pants.

Language Study Tips

  • I wish that I had made more time to review the Japanese I learned every day in the evenings or before I went to bed so that I remembered more of it later on.
  • There is a lot of kanji everywhere.
  • Try practicing your Japanese whenever you can. I did this a lot when I was travelling and needed help. Even if people respond in English, try to keep responding in Japanese.

Networking and Making Friends 

  • Talk to the Japanese fellows! They’re all so fun and very nice, and I definitely recommend hanging out with them once you arrive at your host city.
  • It’s hard to start conversations sometimes because people in lab are kind of shy. I always tried asking questions in Japanese to try and make people feel more comfortable.
  • Everyone is very nice and super helpful, even though they are quiet.
  • Play softball and go to the drinking parties. It’s a lot of fun.

Life in Nagoya

  • Nagoya is a lot smaller than Tokyo and there are not many tourists. However, there are still lots of cool things to see like Nagoya Castle and the Brother Earth Planetarium.
  • There are fireworks at Nagoya Port on Marine Day (I didn’t figure this out until it was too late).
  • Nagoya is hot and humid.
  • The dorm is really nice and pretty big. I had to pay my own rent and utilities and was reimbursed later.

What to Do in Japan

  • TRAVEL. Japan is so beautiful, and I highly recommend exploring. There are so many different places to go, it’s easy to find things that you like to do.
  • If people want travel suggestions, I’m happy to share my itineraries.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email