Matthew Feldman - NanoJapan 2012
University of Florida
Major/s: Electrical Engineering, Physics, and Japanese
Anticipated Graduation: May 2014
NJ Research Lab: Prof. P.M. Ajayan, Rice University
NJ Research Project: Fluorine-Etched Nanostructures for Energy Storage Applications
Meaning of NanoJapan?
The NanoJapan program emphasizes the importance of being capable of handling cross-cultural interactions in research. As the world becomes increasingly integrated, it is necessary to have good interpersonal skills in order to function as an engineer or scientist and progress. While gathering data and making discoveries is important in the field of research, it is equally important to be able to communicate this information to others in order to build on work. Most of this is done by producing widely available publications. However, it sometimes becomes necessary to directly interact with labs of similar interest. The PIRE grant is one example of this, connecting labs around the world with common interests. My lab for NanoJapan was constantly sending nanomaterial samples abroad to other labs, and the researchers had to be accustomed to communicating and working with non-Americans to be successful. If engineers collaborate across borders, the probability of a discovery greatly increases. Within a single lab, it is usually necessary to work with people from different backgrounds. Two people in a lab may have identical research goals but different cultures that make it difficult to work together. Practicing cross-cultural interaction in the research environment, as encouraged by NanoJapan, helps us learn how to avoid any interpersonal boundaries that may develop in future work. I am was especially excited to participate in the NanoJapan program because I have had a fascination with Japanese culture since elementary school. I am currently studying the language on top of my engineering degree so that I will be able to be competent in both English-speaking countries and Japan.
My goals for this summer were to:
Research Project Overview: Fluorine-Etched Nanostructures for Energy Storage Applications
I worked to develop better energy storage devices in the Ajayan lab at Rice University. I am studying electrical engineering, so this research directly impacts the potential of portable electronics and remote control devices. My goal is to work on space systems, which will inevitably require better energy storage devices to function better. The research gave me valuable hands-on exposure to most of the tools used in both research and industry, including chemical vapor deposition, Raman spectroscopy, etc.. Though I was in a domestic lab, I gained valuable cross cultural experience interacting with all of the graduate students from around the world. It would have been impossible to function in the lab without embracing the various cultures. In addition to hands-on experience, I also practiced my research methods. I am more confident in my ability to record and organize data while conducting experiments.
My lab had the ideal setup for new students and researchers to gain experience in material growth and energy storage technology. Graduate students and post-docs were running multiple experiments simultaneously at any point in time, and undergraduates were free to move around and learn about or help with any project. There were numerous chemical vapor deposition setups and all of the resources to use them. Rather than the entire lab being group-oriented, as is common in Japanese labs, this lab was very large and there were multiple groups. Researchers were constantly in contact with each other in the lab, but probably did not spend as much time together outside of lab as a Japanese group would.
Daily Life in Tokyo
Life in Tokyo was very convenient compared to life in America. The public transportation system was easy to use, punctual, and connects to every part of the city and the country. Convenient stores were located everywhere and had every food or product needed in daily life. The people were incredibly polite and happy to talk and help. I mostly enjoyed being able to move around the city with ease and see all of the places that I had learned about while studying Japanese.
Pictures & Excerpts from Weekly Reports
Week 1 - Arrival in Japan: The Tokyo Tower was the first major landmark in Japan that I saw. We got the chance to go in the elevator and see Tokyo as the sun set on one evening. The nearby Zojoji shrine was the first major shrine that I got to see while in Tokyo. We also visited the and got to run around its perimeter twice. I was told that it was a Mecca for runners, so I was very excited to joggle around it. I saw a lot of other runners and got very good views of the palace grounds from the outside.
Week 2 - Public Transportation in Tokyo: I have never taken a train or subway in the U.S., but I take buses in Gainesville every day. Because Gainesville buses are dominated by college students, the only big difference between Japan and America is the way people dress. Most college students do not wear suits. After observing the cultural differences, I feel that there are some traits that should be adopted by American culture, but others that I feel are inefficient. For example, queuing up behind where the subway doors will open is a very efficient idea. Also, the subways are so safe that it is very common to see very young school children ride on it alone. However, I prefer America's idea of being quiet on a bus to Japan's strict unspoken rules. In America, cell phones and conversations are not strictly frowned upon on public transportation, while there are "No Cellphone" signs on the subways in Japan.
Uni-cycling in Minami-Sanriku
Week 3 - Trip to Minami-Sanriku: From what I have seen in Minamisanriku, the impact of 3/11 still has a devastating impact on the people who live among its ruins. The default faces of people as they drive their cars or walk is clearly much more depressed than the faces of people I saw in Tokyo. In Tokyo, 3/11 does not seem to be on top of everyone's mind, because they do not see its aftermath everywhere they go. However, everyone seems to have something to say about their experience on that day if you ask.Visiting Minami-Sanriku was unlike any other experience I have had. In Florida, we have been blasted by hurricanes repeatedly, sustaining a large amount of damage. However, the damage from the tsunami after a year was much worse than damage from even a category 5 hurricane just hours after it passes. Nearly every building below a certain elevation was totally swept away, with only concrete stumps that outline the floor plans. The two things that had the greatest impact on me were playing with the kids, and hearing stories from the residents. I was surprised at how happy and eager to play the kids were. They seemed to really enjoy the chance to play with the American students. However, once of the girls kept calling me "baka" and hitting me in the head to make all of her friends laugh.The resiliency of the Japanese people was clearly visible after 3/11. Everyone that we met in Tohoku was determined to rebuild their homes and lives. The children make me feel most hopeful for the future in Minami-Sanriku. They seemed incredibly happy and motivated, which will be greatly important as they grow up and become the new leaders in the community.
I think the best thing that Americans can do to help Japan recover is to remain aware of the situation. I did not realize the extent to which Japanese people still live among rubble in certain regions. Mainstream news has long since moved on to other stories, even though the problems are still very real in Tohoku. The people who live there see the damage every day and have had months to remember everything they have lost. Their lives will never be the same, which seems like it should deserve much more media attention. If more Americans were to become aware of the situation, they would be eager to help out.