Andrea Moffitt (née Barrett) - NanoJapan 2008
Georgia Institute of Technology
Advisor: Satoshi Kawata
Project: Preventing Photobleaching by Intensity Modulation of Continuous Wave Lasers
Major/s: Biomedical Engineering
Graduation Date: May 2010
Current Position: Ph.D. Student, Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, Duke University
Awards & Accomplishments: Goldwater Scholar, 2010 Hertz Fellow, 2010 NSF Graduate Research Fellow
NanoJapan Research Overview
My research internship in the Kawata Laboratory – or LaSIE, Laboratory for Scientific Instrumentation and Engineering – was a wonderful experience, both academically and socially. For my specific research project, I worked with an optical set-up of a laser and all the corresponding equipment to try to reduce photobleaching in fluorescence imaging of biological samples by modulating the intensity of the laser that excites the fluorescence molecules. I spent the first few weeks helping troubleshoot and build the set-up, so it would perform all the functions needed for the experiment. It was similar to my experience in a biology wet-lab, in terms of the hands on experience, but with physics equipment and samples of fluorescence dyes on thin films. I spent the last few weeks running experiments with the films and laser set-up, analyzing the data, and continuing to troubleshoot.
As a biomedical engineering major, I wasn't sure that I would have enough knowledge or interest in my project that was rooted in very basic physics research, but in fact I really enjoyed the project and the lab. My part of the project was the start of a longer initiative that would eventually have relevant biological applications of fluorescence imaging of cells and biological molecules. One of my favorite parts of the week was attending small group meetings with students working on biology related projects. During these meetings, I learned more in-depth about their specific projects and could interact and ask questions with the students and professors. Biomedical engineering encompasses so many different fields of research and I am still exploring all the opportunities out there for my future academic career, so I was thrilled to have an introduction to nanotechnology research in Japan with researchers on the forefront of their field.
The Kawata laboratory has a strong international focus, with emphasis on bringing in international students into the lab and encouraging the Japanese students to learn as much English as possible by writing and giving presentations in English. I made good friends with Chinese, Moroccan, Australian, and of course Japanese students! I loved hearing their stories from their home countries and hearing their suggestions on living as a foreigner in Japan. I enjoyed the collaborative attitude of students helping students, and the professors always being accessible and willing to help at any level. This summer taught me more about myself - how I learn and work in a research environment. I learned so much from an academic standpoint that I would never learn in the classroom back home. I made many close friends that I will continue to keep in touch with, and who will be my future contacts and colleagues in the international world that we all live in.
Andrea also received some funding from the Georgia Institute of Technology's Fleet Scholarship program and as part of this funding created an online resource on her experience in Japan, "NanoJapan: My Cultural & Research Experience".
Meaning of NanoJapan
NanoJapan was a summer opportunity that went far above my expectations for an enriching educational and cultural experience. Studying abroad is sometimes more difficult for engineering students, let alone finding research internships abroad during our undergraduate education. In the laboratories that we were placed in, we were respected as researchers even at a young age and given opportunities to push ourselves as far as possible, to be challenged and learn as much as we could. NanoJapan was exactly the program I was looking for – a lengthy international experience, research in an exciting field that I could explore, meeting other undergraduate students, and going to Japan! Although I have done a lot of traveling with my family, this was my first time to travel on my own in a foreign country and be there long enough to learn extensively about the culture through experience. NanoJapan wasn't just a study abroad and research experience squished together – there was so much more available in the fusion of the two. I learned how to communicate with students speaking another language to accomplish scientific progress. I saw the effects of international collaboration in science and how important it is to build connections in our international network. I plan on continuing research in graduate school, so NanoJapan gave me a glimpse into nanotechnology as another field of study that I could possibly pursue. This program let me see the life of graduate students in another setting away from my home university – in another country, in fact. I will definitely continue to pursue international opportunities, maybe in Japan or elsewhere.
Daily Life in Japan
My daily life during the week involved working in the lab from about 10 am to 7 pm, depending on that day's meetings and tasks. I usually worked on my own or closely with a Chinese graduate student in the lab in our small experimental room, or in the large lab common room in between experiments. For lunch, there were several little restaurants and cafeterias on the campus of Osaka University where the Kawata lab was located. I usually ate with groups of 2 to 8 other lab mates for lunch at one of these restaurants. I took advantage of this opportunity of eating with Japanese students to try new food, and get help reading the menu which was all in Japanese! I was thankful for the plastic food set-ups or pictures in the window! Since I had a small kitchen in my apartment, right off the edge of campus, a grocery store about 15-20 minutes walking distance, and a convenience store next door, I usually cooked my own dinner at home after getting home from lab. This way I could have a little taste of American food that wasn't McDonalds, as well as try cooking some different things that I discovered in the Japanese grocery store. Sometimes I would stick around and eat dinner on campus with some lab members, or go out to eat with a few people or the entire lab. These were probably some of my favorite meals ever! For welcome parties for me and other new lab members, we went out to an izakaya and tried all sorts of new food. I usually didn't know what I was eating and they loved to watch me try new food! I was also invited to one of my professor's homes to meet his wife and son and learn how to cook some traditional Japanese food – okinomiyaki, my favorite!
On the weekends, I explored. I went everywhere from the beautiful park a few blocks from my apartment, to Hiroshima, a few hours away on the shinkansen. After our three week orientation in Tokyo with the other 15 NanoJapan students, it was a bit quieter being on my own. I first ventured with another NanoJapan student to a few major sights in Osaka. By the end of the summer, I traveled to Kyoto on my own for several weekends to meet friends, and traveled with my parents all the way to Hiroshima and Miyajima – a beautiful shrine island. After expressing my interest in traveling to my friends in lab, they were eager to help me out and show me around. Two students took me to their hometown of Nara, where I petted the most beautiful tame deer and saw one of my favorite temples. My professor and other students decided to take me on a road trip to Ise where I couldn't get to by train. This was again a wonderful experience, and it was really priceless to have Japanese friends as my tour guides. Kyoto was definitely my favorite city in Japan. I visited there three or four times and still there were many sights left unseen. Hundreds of beautiful shrines and temples, adorable shopping streets, geisha tea houses along the water – a wonderful preservation of old and traditional Japanese culture. I packed as much as I could into the weekends – the beach, Tokyo Disney and Universal Studios Japan, a monkey park with a breathtaking view and a rickshaw ride, wandering through the tori gates at midnight in Kyoto, shopping for kimonos, yukatas, and obis, two amazing aquariums, sights and sounds of the cities, train rides through the countryside. All in all, I could not have asked for a better summer experience!! Did I mention how amazing a location Osaka is to spend a summer – 45 minutes into downtown Osaka, 1 hour to Kobe, 1 hour to Kyoto, 3 hours to Hiroshima, and 3 hours back to Tokyo!!
My favorite experience in Japan was...
Everything!!! It's so hard to pick just one…. three things that I can highlight here that are among my favorite experiences are 1) going to the Gion Matsuri festival and parade in Kyoto with labmates and NanoJapan friends, sitting on the curb watching the awe-inspiring floats go by, filled with vibrant colors, elaborate costumes, and rich music; 2) my final lab event, which was a Japanese-style barbecue, out on a beautiful camping grounds, surrounded by mountains, with a creek where children were catching fish to eat that day. It was a compilation of everything I love about Japan – the hospitality of the people, the stunning scenery, and the fantastic food; and 3) the capstone experience for many of the NanoJapan students – climbing Mt. Fuji! I was very skeptical and worried at first, and let's be honest, there were times during the climb where I was quite miserable – freezing temperatures in the rain in the middle of the night! But as I sat down in the volcanic rock to watch the sunrise about 3,770 meters about sea level, above the clouds, I felt like I could conquer anything. After warming up with hot coffee at the top, sliding on the rocks all the way down with friends that I was about to leave, I knew this experience was one that I will tell stories about forever.
Before I left for Japan I wish I had...
Studied my hiragana and katana, so I could have slept on the 12 hour plan ride over to Japan! :-) I also should have packed a little lighter to have more room in my suitcases for all the amazing souvenirs and gifts that I brought home to my friends and family.
While I was in Japan I wish I had...
Practiced speaking Japanese to my labmates more often, seen more cultural dance and theater performances, and traveled to the northern parts of Japan, but there just isn't time for everything – I'll have to go back!!