Eric Rosenthal - NanoJapan 2012
University of Pennsylvania
Anticipated Graduation: May 2015
NJ Research Lab: Prof. Riichiro Saito, Tohoku University
NJ Research Project: Coherent Phonon Model for Radial Breathing Mode in Carbon Nanotubes
When searching for what to do this summer, I knew that I wanted to work in a physics lab and learn more about what it means to be a research scientist. I also love to travel and was hoping to find an opportunity to see a new part of the world, on a budget. NanoJapan is incredible because it will allow all of this; it is a tremendous opportunity to be part of the program.
NanoJapan will significantly enhance my undergraduate education. I hope to learn a great deal about physics, and I am looking forward to working in Professor Saito’s lab on a theoretical project relating to carbon nanotubes. I am also excited to explore Japan. Often I will be a tourist, but I will also learn about Japanese culture at a deeper level through studying the language, and by living and working in the city of Sendai for two months. Finally, I am looking forward to the food.
My goals for this summer were to:
Research Project Overview: Coherent Phonon Model for Radial Breathing Mode in Carbon Nanotubes
It has been shown that if laser light is shown onto a carbon nanotube it turns out that a force is applied to a nanotube, like a hammer striking a long metal bar. Our project was to model the vibrations in the nanotube after this force is applied, and use this to explain experimental data showing oscillations in the nanotube diameter. Working on the project was an incredible experience. Most importantly I was able to communicate and learn from great people such as Saito-sensei and the graduate students Nugraha-san and Hasdeo-san. I was initially excited to hear I would be working in a theoretical physics lab because it looked very interesting and I knew that I would learn a great amount of math and theory that will help me in my future courses, however, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to contribute at all because I have so little background knowledge of physics compared to everyone else in the lab. This summer boosted my appreciation and interest in theoretical physics because the others in my lab were very skilled at presenting material in a way that allowed me to become fully engaged in problems related to the project without becoming bogged down in too much math that I had not yet learned. This summer I came to realize that I really enjoying learning about and working on theory, and as I hope to be able to pursue physical theory in my courses, future research projects, and into physics graduate school.
Additionally, I very much enjoyed working in an international research setting. Perhaps I was lucky to have a simply awesome lab, but I learned a lot about other cultures from the people through lab. I had opportunities to talk with physics professors from Japan, Russia, Brazil and Uzbekistan, and met and befriended students from Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Germany and Taiwan.
The personal environment of the lab was very friendly and conducive to me learning a lot. Saito-sensei is very busy with research, especially because he collaborates with many groups. However, he spends a great deal of his time on his students, making sure that their projects are on the right track and that the students are learning a lot. As far as I remember I saw Saito-sensei every day that he was not traveling, sometimes for 10 minutes but other days for several hours. Saito-sensei also facilitates cooperation between his students. He made a schedule for all of his students to meet with me once or twice a week so that every day I would interact with a couple different people, who at the beginning were assigned to teach me concepts that would be important in the project, and later on would work with me directly on the project. The graduate student Nugraha-san was in the process of studying the same topic as me, so he was especially helpful. I enjoy working with others and also believe that I learn more by working with them, so I liked this schedule and am appreciative of everyone spending the time to meet with me. At the end of every day I wrote a several paragraph online blog of what I had done, to serve as a record for myself and the lab, and also so Saito-sensei, my NanoJapan advisor Professor Stanton, and the other lab members could see what I was doing an offer help when I was stuck.
Our lab was fairly social and at the end of the summer I realized that I was very sad to leave everyone. On Thursdays Saito-sesei and all of us played ping pong for several hours, even when we were very busy. As a welcoming party for me one day for dinner everyone in the lab brought a home-cooked dish, or cooked right in the tea room on our floor. It was a lot of fun and a great way to sample foods from around the world. The next week we had some excess soba noodles in the lab, so for lunch we cooked soba with soba sauce and vegetable tempura, and everyone ate together. This was very fun, although usually everyone was busy working on their projects around lunchtime and I often ate quickly at the cafeteria by myself. Towards the end of the summer we did more social events as a lab. One day some of the grad students drove me to Matsushima Bay near Sendai, then the town of Akiu. The next weekend our lab went to a conference by Mount Zao, a ski/spa resort near Sendai. In addition to giving and listening to presentations we ate some delicious meals, played pong pong, tennis, climbed the mountain and went to onsen. It was a very fun weekend and I really enjoyed spending time with my labmates.
Daily Life in Japan
Here is a description of an average weekday in Sendai. I would often wake up around 6:30 am and go running on the river near my dormitory, although if I had stayed up very late the night before I would sleep in until 7:30 and skip the run. For breakfast I’d grab some combination of bananas, bread, yogurt and juice that I usually purchased from the Seven-Eleven on my walking route to work. I’d leave the dorm around 8:10 am and walk 35 minutes or so up a large hill to get to my building, usually arriving just before Saito-sensei. I’d eat breakfast either during the walk or once I got to work. After the walk I’d be pretty sweaty, especially during warm and humid weather, but I was able to dry off and drink tea, or tap water from a sink in my office.
At work I’d usually meet with a grad or masters student from 9am to 10am, and then work/study by myself until I went to lunch at twelve. I’d usually go to the cafeteria by myself and get a variation of curry and fried pork over rice. In the afternoon I would continue to work on my projects and usually meet with another student. On Thursday afternoons we would have a lab group meeting where one or two people would give a presentation of what they had been working on, and Saito-sensei would critique their presentation skills. I would usually return from lab between 5 and 7 pm, either stopping for dinner at the campus cafeteria on the walk home or cooking at the kitchen in my dormitory. In the evening I would sometimes play starcraft and DOTA computer games with the other grad students in the dormitory. Other days I would continue working on my projects, and sometimes I would Skype people back home or listen to music.
On the weekend my schedule was much more varied. There was a lot to do around Sendai and I’d spend time with the other graduate students in my dorm. I also took a lot of trips to meet up with other NanoJapaners, especially in July.
Favorite Experience in Japan
Going on a day trip to Hiroshima with Kofi, Alec and Grace before the Kyoto Mid-Program Meeting. After staying the night at Kofi’s apartment in Kyoto we woke up early in the morning and made French toast, then hopped on the Shinkansen for Hiroshima. We arrived around 9am and went to the Peace Memorial Park and the Atomic Bomb Museum in the city center. Although tragic, the museum was very interesting and we read almost every caption in the exhibits. For lunch we ate delicious Hiroshima-style Okanomiyaki, and discovered that the restaurant even had all you can eat ice cream. Next we took a ferry to Miyagima Island, a mountainous island an hour outside of Hiroshima that’s known for its beautiful shrine and Tori gate. We saw this, and then hiked the highest mountain on the island from which we could see a beautiful of Hiroshima and the island sea. On the short hike there were lots of boulders and streams to climb around, and a waterfall we could even stand under. We returned to Kyoto late in the evening after an incredible day.
Before I left for Japan I wish I had:
Packed less. I hardly wore the jeans or formal pants I brought because it was warm and humid. I often reused a pair of lightweight khaki pants that never seemed to get dirty, or wore khaki shorts to lab. While it’s not the Japanese custom to wear shorts as much as in America, I never felt uncomfortable wearing them around.
While I was in Japan I wish I had:
Seen a baseball game. Unfortunately I never made it to one.
I found that it was possible to reuse clothing from day to day more than I had anticipated. I brought several more pairs of pants than I needed, and I rarely wore the jeans I brought because of the warm weather. Some good things to bring are a hat, gloves, and flashlight for the hike up Mt. Fuji at the end of the summer. Also, a good raincoat can really come in handy. Hiking shoes can be good if you plan to do a lot of outdoors stuff, which I would highly recommend. They’re also good for the Mt. Fuji hike although it can also be done in sneakers. It is often expensive to buy things in Japan so try to bring enough and not count on buying any necessities over there, but try not to over-pack.
Orientation Program Tips
The orientation program is a lot of fun and what makes NanoJapan truly special. Try to see a lot around Tokyo and form close friendships with your fellow NanoJapaners. Be busy! At lab you will have plenty of time to yourself to work, Skype your friends and family, and pursue more solitary activities. Even if you are really tired it’s always better to go out and see cool areas of Tokyo than stay at home. The Sanuki Club can be fun too, if you want to socialize as a group but can’t make too much noise in a room I suggest going to the roof. I’m not sure if guests are allowed on the roof but it can be accessed easily and has a magnificent view of the Toyko skyline, especially at night. It is a good place for conversation and hanging out in the evenings. I also recommend running in the mornings because it is good to cure jet lag, fun, good exercise, and a good way to see Toyko. For lab, don’t feel the need to work hard but try to communicate with your future lab-mates and professor as much as possible, and do any assignments they ask of you as promptly as you can. Also, prompt responses to lab related emails are really appreciated, and try not to fall asleep in the physics lectures even if you are really tired. Finally, try to befriend and hang out with the Japanese students from KIP that you will meet as much as possible. They are really interesting people and can be good friends which you can even continue to hang out with once you depart Sanuki Club for lab. The three weeks in Tokyo are incredible, make the most of them!
Mid-Program Meeting Tips
Try to see a lot and take a day or two off of work if you can. There are a ton of neat days trips around Kyoto, see the travel recommendations. I took the train down to Kyoto after work on Wednesday and went to Hiroshima on Thursday, then did more sight-seeing around Kyoto on Friday. Therefore I took one extra day off of work but got to have two more really fun days. Also, by Kyoto you may be starting to feel shrined out after so much other sight-seeing. Also there is a lot of tourist stuff to do in Kyoto, I suggest making the experience more about enjoying the company of friends rather than seeing more at the expense of good conversation and good times.
Tips on Working With Your Research Lab
Go in with an open mind and a positive attitude and it will be a splendid experience. People appreciate enthusiasm and interest more than intensive study by yourself. Make sure to keep whatever hours are expected of you and respond to emails promptly, and to participate in all group activities. Have a lot of fun!! And don’t be afraid to question others with regard to what you are working on, people will be receptive and open to your suggestions. Even if you are very good at studying material make sure to do research too, and don’t be afraid to try new things and use creativity. Mostly just have fun working with the other people!
Tips on Living in Sendai
Sendai is a really great place to live. It is big enough to have plenty of cosmopolitan things like great food, shopping and nightlife in Kokobuncho district. However, it is small enough so that there is nowhere you can’t walk to within 40 minutes or so. I almost never rode the bus. There are many good restaurants and such near the Disney store in the center of the city. Also, there are many Tohoku University campus events and festivals which you are welcome to attend. Keep a look out for fliers posted on the college campuses and in the dormitory. Urban Castle Kawauchi (UCK), the dorm where I stayed, is a very good place to live, and you can even cook your own meals in their excellent kitchen. Don’t hesitate to befriend the others in the dorm, who are mostly international graduate students staying there for the summer just like you. Say hi to the Koreans on the third floor: Kwan, Jin and Kim if they are still there. Ask them to take you out to Korean BBQ they will be happy to and it was absolutely delicious.
Japanese Language Tips
Try to review a little bit of vocabulary every day and practice as much as you can. The engineering school at Tohoku University offers free language weekly language classes of various levels and you are welcome to attend if you have time.They are held in a discussion room above the cafeteria in the engineering school’s cafeteria.
Gifts: Bags of snack size CANDY. Snickers and M&M’s are particularly good. I love NY playing cards (especially if you’re from NY) worked well too
Eat: Sukiya – fast food Gyudon. Inexpensive bowls of rice topped with shredded beef and other fixin’s. It’s not particularly healthy but there’s a shop right across the street from the AJALT office. Tabehodai (all you can eat) restaurants are really good sometimes. Japanese portions can feel small compared to American ones so all you can eat is nice. It’ll be more expensive than a regular meal but especially if you go for an early lunch you’re set for the day. You absolutely must try sushi and sashimi. Just be careful especially at rotating sushi bars, because it can get very expensive very quickly. For breakfast, I liked to eat bananas, yogurt and bread – usually from the konbini on the way to my lab.
Buy: Udon noodles make good gifts for people back home, especially if they’re from Shikoku Island. A Japanese cook book is also a good gift, although good luck finding some ingredients in the U.S. Fans, chopsticks and other Japanese trinkets can be good souvenirs or small gifts for people. (Look for them at the 100 Yen store.)
What to Do & Places to Visit:
Photos and Excerpts from Weekly Reports
Week One - Arrival in Japan: Coming to Tokyo has been an amazing experience so far. I knew that I would explore the city and see sights, but I had never expected to walk around so much each day. I could never have guessed that so many of the other NanoJapan students liked to run in the mornings, which is a great way to see different parts of Tokyo. As I did expect, there have been opportunities to eat unusual seafood. Last night I tried sea eel tempura, and it was delicious! Not every new food has been that good, but there’s definitely an interesting cuisine here.
Week Two - Riding the Subway: The subways in Tokyo serve the same purpose as American subways, but have a very different culture. These differences highlight the distinctness of Japanese culture, as well as the practical realities of living in a city as big as Tokyo. Talking, even on a cell phone, is discouraged on public transportation. Especially when the trains are busy, younger people usually stand up to give their seats to old people, children and pregnant woman. Specific signs denote ‘courtesy seats’ where it is advertised to stand to make room for the disabled, elderly and pregnant. Many signs throughout the subway system advertise people to turn off their phones and be polite in general. Many people ride the trains for hours every day and are tired for their daily lives, so it is considered rude to make a disturbance on the subway or even to talk to people, especially during rush hour when it is busiest. It is also rude to stare, if someone is interesting (or pleasing) to look at resist the urge to look at them because it will make them feel uncomfortable. Staring is considered impolite in American but it is much more impolite in Japan. People often listen to music, read, or look at their phones. But in Tokyo people never eat or drink on the subway. Also, the subways in Tokyo always feel safe to me and are not ‘sketchy’ even late at night. This is not the case of the subway line that runs through West Philadelphia. Unfortunately, the subway in Tokyo is much more expensive and adds up, but it is definitely worth the convenience.
Week 3 - Trip to Minami-Sanriku: For me the most moving experiences of the weekend were interacting with the people of Minami-Sanruku. The first day we visited 5th and 6th grade students. Lead by Kofi li we lead the children in drum beats, and we played We Are the Champions by Queen. The children, the NanoJapan students, and the Japanese students all enjoyed playing drum beats with the children. We then sang the song twinkle twinkle litter star. The children were not always coordinated and did not always follow along with the activities we had prepared for them so we had to adapt to the situation, which was fine. Kofi displayed great leadership in orchestrating the musical activities for the children. At the end of the visit, the principle thanked us profusely and reminded us how many of the children had lost homes, grandparents, or parents to the tsunami. The next day was the most meaningful because we played games with the children for the entire day, and then dined with village leaders in the evening. The children were very happen and I enjoyed the games. I learned a new version of dodgeball which I believe to be better and more fun than the American version. It was powerful to see how happy the children were. We were reassured of a bright future for the town not only by the children but by their parents who were responsibly active in keeping them company and watching them throughout all the activities. The evening dinner with the village elders was more somber. I could not talk directly to them because I do not know enough Japanese to say anything substantial. The devastation we witnessed was more than I had expected. Last year I had seen pictures of the devastation of the tsunami. Somehow I had the impression that between the local people, the government and private organizations, all of the garbage had been cleared and most of the homes had been rebuilt. This was not the case. It was clear that much progress had been made, for instance all of the smashed and battered cars had been carried into a pile. But that massive pile of totaled cars still lay on the plane near the ocean, right underneath houses in the hills. Also no amount of time or effort could replace the loss of life and practically everyone in the town had lost someone. Some people had lost their entire families, children or spouses, and this is the worst damage of all. I’m hopeful for the future of Minami-Sanriku because of the happiness of the children and also the beauty of the area. Because the town is small and relatively isolated, many young people will go to the university to study, become professionals, and rarely return. However, the land and sea are very beautiful. The climate is temperate, and the sea is full of fish. In a few years once the damage of the tsunami has been cleared, tourism and the fishing industry will bring new life to the town. I would certainly love to visit the region again, and I’m sure many others would. The Unites States was instrumental in the initial disaster relief to the tsunami. American ships came from Guam and Okinawa to give supplies and first aid to the townspeople. Somebody told us that several hundred people were stranded on a hill, surrounded by water and debris from the tsunami. The first aid was from Americans who airlifted food, clean water and supplies, albeit after three terrible days. However, if American help to Japan still exists it is almost certainly associated with the nuclear crisis not tsunami relief. The Unites States could provide money and encourage private donations in order to speed up the cleaning up of the damage.
Week 4 - First Week in Research Lab: The first day in the lab was very enjoyable. The office I’m in is large and comfortable, with a sink, table, large whiteboard, and desktop computer with two screens. In the morning Sato-sensei showed me were to find the library and the cafeteria. It’s the office for visitors to the lab, so sometimes other people will come and work at a second desk top computer. Saito-sensei and the other people in the lab are very friendly. It was also helpful to have Professor Stanton there for the first day. He was visiting Saito-sensei to discuss work, and was a good resource for questions. Saito-sensei took us both out to lunch at a restaurant on campus, and in the evening he took us and the assistant professor Sato-sensei to a sushi restaurant in the suburbs. The sushi was delicious, and the conversation was good. On our way to the restaurant Saito-sensei took us to see a huge, white Buddhist statue that had been erected on a Sendai hillside about 20 years ago during an economic boon. I’ve started learning about my project, which is to model coherent phonons to explain the radial breathing mode of carbon nanotubes. The other graduate students and professors in the lab are currently much more knowledgeable of the mathematics of carbon nanotubes than I am, so they gave me relatively easy differential equations to solve in order to begin to think about the problem. The first day I met everyone and talked mostly with Saito-sensei and Sato-sensei. On Tuesday we continued to discuss the mathematics of phonons, and I learned about optical and acoustic modes. Over last week I learned how to write graphs and equations using a variety of computer programs like LaTeX and SciDAVis. Tuesday morning Nugraha-san, one of the graduate students, taught me how to solve for the frequency of oscillation as a function of the wave-vector of the lattice. I then tried to graph this function, first on Mathematica and then on Microsoft Excel when I could not figure out how to do this on Mathematica. Nugraha-san then returned and helped me with the problems I was having with the graph. The equation I was using was slightly wrong, and he also showed me how to use an advanced graphing software on the lab’s computer systems. Saito-sensei was in the lab and talked with me several times, he also lent me a rice cooker with a broken handle so his wife doesn’t want it, but it still perfectly functional. Later in the week other graduate students came and taught me more about the hexagonal lattice of graphene, and Brillioun zones. Satio-sensei has created a very specific schedule for when he and the other graduate students will meet with me during the week, and he has an online forum where I post my days work and my answers to assignments I’ve been given. It’s a good systems because it will keep me on a schedule that is moving forward, and will make it easier to document what I’ve worked on when it becomes time to repair a report. There are three native Japanese speakers in the lab, including Saito-sensei. There is no language barrier however, English is the common language and everyone’s English is strong. I’ll try to learn more Japanese in other situations, however. The dorm is in a very good location although the smaller than I’m used to. Most of the other residents are graduate students from all over the world here for summer research, which is great, but I feel young. Everybody here seems to be in their mid-20s or 30s even. However, everybody is very friendly and a large group of us went out to lunch and dinner this weekend. Some of my neighbors taught me how to stir fry, and I made my own stir fry for lunch today. It will be a great summer. It is a 30 minute walk to my lab. There’s a campus bus that infrequently runs along the hill that I walk up, but it is not any shorter if I think about the time that I would spend waiting for the bus.
Week 5 - Critical Incident Analysis: An example of a misunderstanding I had due to cultural differences is when I went to the supermarket. It isn’t particularly exciting or long, but fortunately I’ve had very few misunderstandings with people so there isn’t a lot to choose from. I was at the supermarket with some guys from my lab, and we were buying food to cook (for my welcome party!) I was also on the lookout to buy some veggies that I could stir fry at my dorm later. I saw piles of bags of peas, with a large 50 yen sign written above them. Although the bags of peas each had 200 to 250 yen written on them, I was (wishfully) thinking that they were on sale, and so I grabbed three bags and proceeded to the register. Peas are a tasty snack, and so although I didn’t want more than 1 bag I figured I could buy more because they were cheap. As I was purchasing my food, I realized that each of the bags were counting as 200-250 yen, as was written in small print on the bags themselves. Using the little Japanese I knew I tried to ask the sales-clerk how much the peas were, and tried to explain that I thought they were 50 yen. But it was to no avail. She looked at me with a puzzled expression, as I tried to gesture that I was very sorry but only wanted one bag of peas. I was ready to just buy all three bags of peas because I felt bad, and peas are a tasty snack. At the last minute Sato-sensei, an assistant professor from my lab, came over and explained to the lady that I had thought the peas were on sale, and kindly asked here if I could rescind my purchase of two thirds of the volume of peas that I had purchased. In fact, the peas were selling at 50 yen per unit of weight, and the individual bags of peas weighed in at 4 to 5 times this unit of weight, which explains why there was a variation in price per bag. The situation had been resolved with no hard feelings or misunderstanding on either side. In the future I can realize that if a deal appears too good to be economically reasonable, then I probably misunderstand the nature of the purchase, especially if the sign and writing was all in kanji. A more interesting cultural experience I had was when the Koreans living in my hall took Paul and I, and some others from the dorm, out to Korean BBQ. Although their English was very good, the Koreans never pronounced the food as Korean Barbeque, and instead always referred to BBQ, as in BeeBeeCue, which makes sense phonetically but is different than is custom in America. The BBQ was delicious. The tender pieces of meat were marinated with just the right amount tangy orange BBQ sauce. The pieces of meat were brought out raw, and our Korean friend Kwan cooked them on the grill situated in the center of the table. One of the best parts of the BBQ was the constant savory smell of roasted meat. Instead of waiting for a large steak to be brought out (and eating it all at once), we sat around a small grill with many pieces of meat, so that something was roasting for almost two hours straight. As each piece approached completion Kwon would slice the beef into succulent bite size pieces, which we picked directly from the grill with our chopsticks. On the side we had a spicy kimchi salad. The meal was more expensive than I had planned for, but it was delicious and very much worth it.
Week 6 - Research in Japan vs. the U.S.: My lab is different than other Japanese labs because the common language is English, it is smaller (8 people), and all but one of the students are not Japanese. Everybody is friendly and the structure is not very strict. I think my lab is different than the typical work environment for this reason. However team-work and team are greatly emphasized, for instance we have weekly ping pong games and weekly lunches where everyone helps to cook soba noodles and tempura. My work is valued based on hard-work and the extent to which I interact positively with Saito-sensei and the others in the lab, and less about the results I find. However, this is probably not a Japanese cultural phenomenon but instead is that I’m an undergraduate student so less is expected out of me than for instance a Masters student who is writing his thesis. The graduate students are expected to write many papers, to learn, give presentations in English even if it is not their first language, and find interesting results. In the US I have the impression that while hard work is definitely valued, finding results is often of greater importance. Last Friday the lab hosted a lunch party. We had many soba noodles and soba sauce in the tea room, so we all helped to prepare the noodles for lunch. We invited people from our neighboring labs, and everyone had a good time. We have a tempura maker in the tearoom, and we made onion and eggplant tempura to go with our soba, plus chopped negi. The food was very good and the quantity was very good, also. This party shows the cohesiveness of our lab and the value of togetherness in the cooking and preparing of the food.
Week 7 - Preparing for the Mid-Program Meeting: My biggest personal accomplishment so far has been learning to cook and stir fry. I came into Sendai having hardly ever cooked before – mostly just helping my mom bake when I was little. While I certainly am no expert and I definitely don’t cook every meal, I’ve been going to the grocery store every week and buying vegetables, pasta, rice, bananas and sauce. I successfully stir fry my dinner most weekday nights, and it usually tastes good. So far, my greatest personal challenge has been playing Star Craft with the Koreans in my dorm. If you’re not familiar with the game, it is a computer game that has been described as ‘Korea’s national sport’. Widely popular in Korea, there are professional star craft players with six digit salaries, not including sponsorships and such. While not professional, the Koreans in my dormitory are excellent at the game. 5 of us westerners played 3 of the Koreans and we lost every game. It was a fun challenge though. I’m progressing alright with my research. I’m progressing relatively well on the initial topic of modeling the coherent phonon in the carbon nanotube. I’ve learned about most of the theory necessary to do the project and have done easy parts. However the hardest parts of the project have yet to come. The next month should be interesting because I’ve learned enough theory and computer programming that I can start to be more creative in how I approach studying the phonons.
Week 8 - Reflections on Japanese Culture & Language: After using my JR East pass to come to Sendai I still had a weekend left where I could travel, so I took a day trip to the city of Hakodate in Hokkaido. It was very challenging to figure out the correct tickets to purchase. I came to the train station the day before in order to reserve a ticket. After waiting through the line I came to a clerk who didn’t speak English, and I told him that I would like to go to Hakodate the next day. I was surprised by the price he told me (although I had a JR East Pass the final leg of the destination would take me from Shin-Aomori to Hakodate underneath the ocean, and this was not covered). I didn’t have enough money in my wallet and came back the next day. I showed my JR pass to a different clerk, and showed him a piece of paper where I had planned out my route, and he gave me the tickets for free. (All included in the JR pass). Thinking back it would have been financially better to thank him and board my train, but I tried to ask the clerk about the discrepancy between the price yesterday and today. This was a difficult to ask, but the clerk summoned several other people over and they intently studied the train maps and books for about ten minutes. Finally, a woman who was very good at English came from the back of the ticket booth and explained to me that actually the underground tunnel was not covered in the JR East. But, she gave me a price that (although still high) was significantly lower than the amount I had been told the day before, because several stops after Shin-Aomori were still in Honshu and were covered by the pass. My first time buying train tickets for myself was a very long and difficult process, but it was an incredible day trip. Thursday mornings I’ve been going to a one and a half hour free Japanese class offered by the Engineering school. Also, when I am with Japanese people I try very hard to speak in Japanese. However, I have been thinking about physics a lot and have not been finding enough time to study Japanese. Even if I reviewed vocabulary for 15 minutes a day it would be very helpful, but alas I have not been keeping up with things. Trying to speak Japanese with Japanese people is a very good way to learn but there are actually not very many Japanese people in my lab, and my vocabulary is so limited that it is hard for me to say anything.
Week 9 - Critical Incident Analysis in the Lab: Several weeks ago I was stuck on a difficult math problem and was talking to the youngest Master’s student in the lab. It was a math problem and I was surrounded by physicists, and since my friend had gone to Tohoku U. for undergrad I asked him if he knew any kind math professors who could help us. (Because there was certainly an answer to the problem somewhere, it was just hard to figure out on our own). Saito-sensei was out of town for a few days so I couldn’t ask him. My friend thought for a while and googled a couple of names online, although there websites were all in Japanese. After a while he suggested that I another senior physics professor whose office is down the hall, because he was kind and helpful. I said that would be great and we walked over, but he was not in. Later I was talking to my friend and he again suggested I ask the professor. Another grad student was trying to explain something to me and I said I would go once he was finished. I didn’t really intend to go because I wanted to think about the problem more by myself, and because I hadn’t really ever talked to the professor although I had seen him around. However, my friend left, came back, and had said he had stopped by the office to tell the professor I was coming. Therefore I definitely had to come, so an hour later I prepared my question and knocked on the door. I introduced myself and said that Tatsumi-san may have stopped by earlier to say I was going to drop by with a question. It was awkward because the professor asked who Tatsumi-san was, and which group he was in. I explained the he was a first year master’s student in Saito-sensei’s group and I just had a quick question. I spent about 5 minutes explaining the question and the professor replied that the solution was complicated and I must consider Lagrange’s equation, a more advanced version of newton’s laws. I thanked him a lot and said goodbye. The exchange was a little bit awkward for me because the professor didn’t know the student even though he had come by an hour before (it was definitely the right professor). Also the professor was really nice to me but answered quickly and didn’t really help me with the question. He was an important professor and very busy, so it’s not surprising that he didn’t give me a lot of time, but it was a little bit awkward for everyone. No problem though our hallway is chill, I suppose it was a reminder that professors are really busy and while I’m pretty used to having grad students take hours at a time to explain stuff to me or take interest in my problems, professors don’t do so as much. It is possible that there are differences between the status’ and activities of professors in Japan vs professors in the US. I wonder if similar incidents happen in the U.S. more or less often than they happen in Japan?
Week 10 - Career Interview: I interviewed a Japanese professor in my lab and he gave very interesting answers. Also, I attended a conference this week with my lab group. The conference was two days long and about 25 people attended and presented. It was hosted by our lab and there were a lot of breaks built into the schedule so we could climb the mountain, play ping pong/tennis, and take onsen (with real sulfury volcanic water!) It was a really good experience to be able to give a scientific presentation, and it also taught me how difficult presenting is and how much preparation is needed.
Eric: Why did you decide to study physics?
Professor: When I was in high school I liked physics very much.
Eric: What are the differences between American and Japanese students?
Professor: American students are very good at communication, they generally do not hesitate to ask their Professors about new directions to research, and to communicate with others. However, they often look for the answer too quickly or try to obtain the answer quickly from other people, and become frustrated if they cannot find it. They spend less time thinking about the problem for themselves. Japanese students think about the problems very deeply by themselves, but do not do so good a job of communicating with other students and their professors. Sometimes they can get a good result, but it is difficult.
Eric: How is research funded in the US and Japan? How do you think that a lab in Japan differs from the U.S.?
Professor: The biggest difference in a Japanese research lab is that Japanese graduate students are not paid, they must pay tuition. Japanese research budgets are smaller, but sufficient because the professor doesn’t pay for graduate students. This makes it difficult to take on international graduate students unless they have good scholarships, which few do. A strong American professor has a large research grant and can provide for many graduate students, but a weak one can only drink tea. Another large difference is many businesses and private families give money to American universities, allowing them to do more research. Some Japanese companies even give money to American universities. In Japan this is not the case.
Eric: What is your international experience? How many international researchers work in your lab? How has the internationalization of research impacted your work?
Professor: My lab is a special case because I collaborate very much with international researchers. I have a strong connection with Professor Dresselhaus at MIT and they collaborate with many people, who I also collaborate with. I could not survive without international collaboration. However, many Japanese researchers do not collaborate so much and only collaborate in Japan.
Eric: What advice do you have for someone preparing for a career in research?
Professor: Keep the speed of research constant, at maybe 75%. Many students get really interested in a problem and work at 100%, but then become tired or bored and work much more slowly, so the average speed is less. If you always maintain a constant speed than you can accelerate the rate of your research to 80% or 85% and higher. Then after some time and depending on the quality of research, you can get very good results.
Week 11 - Final Week in Japan: This experience has definitely increased my passion for physics. I really liked doing theory this summer and now I’m faced with the difficult decision: Do I continue working on theory and hone my skills in this, or do I join an experimental lab and try something new, learning how to use machines and makes stuff even if I don’t get to do as much interesting theory. In the fall I will have to decide if I want to work on experiment or theory. However, both of these options are within the realm of physics, because I really enjoyed my physics experience this summer and plan to continue on in this field. Also I loved the opportunity to do research and try my hand at working with others to figure out problems to which we did not know the answer. This process was fun and exciting for me and I definitely plan to continue with research. The Friday before I left the physics department had scheduled a ‘beer party’ to celebrate the end of exams, hosted by one of the other labs in our hall. Being friendly with this lab we all helped to set up and enjoy the fun party which consisted of great BBQ food and such. While not specifically planned for me, this was a great going away party, all my lab came and enjoyed their time with me. Additionally I gave two of my graduate students decks of NY playing cards that I had brought from America, and I left some chocolate out in the common room. I regretted that I didn’t have more gifts to give, They were really sweet and the next day found me in the train station before I was going to catch my train, and gave me some very nice gifts such as a Japanese cookbook. The day I left Saito-sensei was also kind enough to drive me to the station on his way home from work, which was really nice of him to do. I spent my final weekend climbing Mount Fuji, then a few days in Tokyo with the other NanoJapaners. It was a lot of fun.