Mika Tabata - NanoJapan 2012
Anticipated Graduation: May 2014
NJ Research Lab: Prof. Masayoshi Tonouchi, Osaka University
NJ Research Project: Characterization of Graphene Films Using Terahertz Imaging and Spectroscopy
Meaning of NanoJapan
NanoJapan impacted several dimensions of my life, giving me specific research knowledge, adaptability skills, cultural understanding, and many other take-aways that I will always retain. Some of the major benefits of this summer were top quality research, international collaboration, kind Japanese people, and other other NanoJapan students.
Top Quality Research
This summer, I was challenged to understand concepts, systems, and techniques that were unfamiliar yet incredibly interesting to me. Instead of having a project scoped out for me like I have had in past research experiences, I was able to work with several different professors and mentors in order to figure out how to handle baffling results and act on the fly. I learned to deal with uncertainty and frustration, and in the end, I was amazed at the uniqueness of my project and that I could contribute new knowledge to a cutting-edge field. Truly kind and intelligent pioneers from Japan and the US made it all possible, and having their guidance was quite a gift. This intense research experience really gave me a better understanding of what it means to be a researcher and what graduate school entails. I feel much more prepared to enter graduate school in a few years, and I am even more certain that I want to continue research for a significant part of my life.
The Japanese lab setting presented unexpected challenges, which gave me new perspectives and taught me how to be adaptable. Because the need for international scientific connections is increasing, I know that I will use the skills I gained both in the US and in future international collaborations. I am thrilled to be part of this program that builds significant connections between Japan and the US, leads to nanoscience and terahertz innovations, and promotes further international collaboration. This program gave 12 students across the nation the chance to not only develop their research careers, but also to open the gate for future international connections in their careers. After this experience, I know that I want to return to Japan in the future for research, and I want to research in other countries as well. Because there were other international professors in the Tonouchi Laboratory, I was able to observe how the stimulation of being in a different environment helps researchers look at familiar science in a new way, and I hope that this sort of collaboration becomes more prevalent.
Kind Japanese People
The people in Japan had a great impact on me. Many memories from my “Japan Adventures” are full of kind strangers that I met along the way. I remember a girl who went out of her way to show me how to get to the handicraft store in Kyoto and an old woman who gave me and my friends a huge bag of pastries from “The Little Mermaid,” my favorite pastry shop! The friends I made from the Tonouchi laboratory made me feel comfortable and gave me fantastic memories. One of the professors in the lab took me and my mentor to karaoke and to eat beef tongue! On a daily basis, the Japanese people were very polite and I enjoyed eating meals with them and even travelling with some of them. The lab members were hospitable from start to finish and gave me thoughtful parting gifts at my going away party. All of the people I saw in Japan mean a lot to me, and I am very happy that I improved my ability to interact with Japanese people and speak Japanese. I am excited that this program has socially and culturally prepared me to return to Japan.
The NanoJapan 2012 Students
When I applied to the program, I applied for the research aspect and the Japan aspect only. I did not realize I would make some cherished, long-lasting friendships. The other NanoJapan students were all quite different in terms of hobbies, background, and lifestyle, but we all share the passion for academia and the excitement for exposure to Japanese culture. During orientation, we bonded and adventured together, and it was sad to separate at the end of the program. However, we will have a reunion!
My goals for this summer were to:
Research Project Overview: Characterization of Graphene Films Using Terahertz Imaging and Spectroscopy
Although the topic of my project changed many times throughout the summer, I ended up characterizing graphene on Indium Phosphide substrate, studying the interface effects of graphene, and looking at the effect of cw lasers on terahertz (THz) emission. Using a Laser Terahertz Emission Microscopy (LTEM) system to measure THz emission, I found that graphene on InP greatly decreases the THz emission because it changes the band structure of InP by decreasing bending. Additionally, I was able to image graphene on InP in the near field with the Tonouchi Laboratory’s novel system. Furthermore, I observed that a cw laser of 800 nm wavelength has no effect on the THz emission, but a 365 nm wavelength cw laser decreases the THz emission. This is because the penetration depth of an 800 nm laser is too deep into the substrate and does not affect emission, but a 365 nm laser affects the surface. I also did the same experiments using another LTEM system that measured transmittance, but the results did not agree with the emission results, so members of the Tonouchi Laboratory are going to continue these experiments to explain the confusing data.
I am very fortunate to have gotten experience in a terahertz laboratory because terahertz technology could be applied to medical imaging in the future, and I am interested in pursuing a PhD in Bioengineering, focusing on medical imaging. Additionally, graphene is receiving much attention for its unique properties and may be applied to medicine. The experience of working in an international setting was challenging and stimulating, and I feel like I can take on much more challenging courses and research projects at Rice. The three main lessons I will take away from the summer are how to stay calm, how to be assertive, and how to learn. I experienced frustration and worries about my project but had to stay calm and trust that things would work out. I also had to approach different professors and mentors and tell them my concerns and ask questions, which I was initially scared to do in the setting of the indirect Japanese culture. The most valuable take-away from NanoJapan is that I now have a much more capable mind than I realized. In the process of understanding concepts outside of my field and reading high-level articles on terahertz emission mechanisms, I realized that I should always try new methods of learning in order to reach a deeper level of understanding. I will apply this to the rest of my life! This experience reinforced my decision to go to graduate school, although I am now deciding between pursuing a PhD in Japan and pursuing an MD/PhD in the US.
The Tonouchi Laboratory members are hard-working, friendly, and considerate. In general, the lab environment is pretty quiet and relaxed. Most people have their own schedule and there are no defined lab hours. However, it is the norm for masters and PhD students to work long hours and stay in the lab until about 10 pm or later because they have morning classes. People in the lab coordinate when to use systems and help each other out. I had three different mentors and they were all extremely helpful and fun to work with. People also eat meals together whenever possible and occasionally have lab outings. I went to Nara, Osaka Castle, Canaria (jumbo parfait restaurant), Korean town, and karaoke with the lab members. Overall, it is a very happy environment where individuals do their work and act as part of a larger group.
Daily Life in Japan
On a typical day I would wake up at 6 am and run around Osaka. I would take the 8 am bus to campus and get to lab around 8:40. I would do experiments, write lab reports, or read articles on terahertz emission mechanisms until about 1 pm, when I would go to lunch at the cafeteria with some other lab members. I usually ate soba. Then I would return to lab and work until dinnertime. I usually ate dinner with the graduate students who stayed at campus late. Then after dinner I would do experiments until about 11 pm, which was the latest I could leave and still catch the last train home. Sometimes, I didn’t want to stop experiments, so I would just stay the night at the lab and take the 5 am train home to shower. The lab had a mattress for people to sleep on, so I sometimes used that. Riding the trains was very fun and gave me some time to study Japanese, journal, or sleep. I also ate macha ice cream about once a day. It is the best ice cream ever. I enjoyed hakuto (white peach) food quite often as well. On Wednesdays and Fridays, pastries were sold outside of the cafeterias, and I definitely tried all of them.
On many weekends, I travelled. I went to Nara to see deer and temples, Osaka Castle and Korean town, Koya-san, Shikoku, and Kyoto. Additionally, I went to my first festival, Tenjin Matsuri and wore a yukata. There are too many good memories, challenges, and rewarding experiences to write about at once, so I wrote about my adventures in a travel-size journal. I learned about myself and what I want out of life, as well as Japanese culture and language.
Favorite Experience in Japan
Adventuring to a small, random, and uncharted island in Shikoku.
Before I left for Japan I wish I had:
Studied my Technical Japanese book (I was in the intermediate Japaense class) and looked at travel guide books.
While I was in Japan I wish I had:
Spoken less English and more Japanese from the beginning and been less shy.
People taking intermediate or advanced Japanese lessons in Tokyo should brush up on kanji before lessons start. I felt overwhelmed at first from the amount of kanji I was expected to know. Pack one suitcase worth of stuff, but put it into two suitcases. That way you do not have to worry about having room to bring home souvenirs, because you will definitely want to bring home souvenirs. Unless you are going to Hokkaido, pack light clothing because you will probably sweat when walking. Also bring warm clothes for Mt. Fuji because it was absolutely freezing! I wrapped a towel around my head for a scarf and put socks on my hands for mittens and looked ridiculous! I also stress that it is almost impossible to bring too many gifts for lab professors and friends you meet.
Orientation Program Tips
Work hard, play hard. Explore and stay with the group. Sleep enough. Talk to Packard-sensei a lot! She is super sweet!
Mid-Program Meeting Tips
Use Hyperdia for travel to Kyoto. If you are not located in the Kansei area, you should use your JR pass for Kyoto travel and also travel on the weekends before or after the mid-program meeting. If you are from Kansei region, it is cheaper to just pay for travel through the normal train systems or get one of the regional train passes for the Kansai area. Go to Ginkakuji, Kinkakuji, Kyoto Handicraft store, Bamboo forest, and Kiyomizudera.
Tips on Working With Your Research Lab
Just be nice to everyone and be considerate. It is pretty easy to get along with Japanese people. Do not be too loud. Do not accept compliments and be very humble. Make an effort to talk to everyone because sometimes they are too shy even though they want to talk to you. Ask everyone about their research, so in case your project is crazy, you have knowledge to find a solution. Bring your lab gifts whenever you travel somewhere. I wish that I had been a little more outgoing because I was a little shy at the beginning.
Tips on Living in Osaka
Shop at the 100 yen store! There is one near Osaka University. Eat okonomiyaki! Eat at the cafeteria often because it is way cheaper than food off campus. You really just need to bring clothes and toiletries because you can rent sheets and blankets and buy things from the store. If you don’t like beaded pillows, bring your own, but I personally love beaded pillows. Go to Nara! It is less than 2 hours away and there are deer everywhere!
Japanese Language Tips
If you are a beginner, master hiragana and katakana beforehand. If you are advanced, brush up on kanji so Japanese lessons do not frustrate you. Make sure you learn at least one new word a day and USE IT when talking to Japanese people. ASK Japanese people if what you said is correct because they sometimes will not correct your awkward phrasing if they can understand you. I wish I could have taken a Japanese class while at Osaka University, but the only ones they would allow me to take were too basic, so I studied on my own for about 30 minutes almost every day in addition to trying to talk to people.
Gifts: Bring about 7 gifts to give to people. Four of them should be very special gifts to give to professors and mentors, such as mugs or T-shirts from your university or home town. Others can be specialties from your home town to give to friends. Make sure all of the gifts you bring represent something particular to your hometown, university, or recent place of travel. For example, I brought jalepeno peach jam because it is very strange, they do not have that in Japan, and it is a Texas specialty. You should bring a gift for your lab secretary, who is most likely a woman, and a big box or bag of candy for your entire lab to share. Also, there are no Twizzlers or crabby patty gummies in Japan.
Eat: Eat everything. Try it all. Japanese food is the best. Eat lots of matcha food. Eat many different types of ice cream. Eat curry, soba, udon, ramen, oyaku don, and lots of onigiri.
Buy: Cheap stuff that is unique. Look for June and July sales! Look for blueberry gum from convenient stores. Buy souvenirs to bring back. Buy head phones from the 100 yen store.
Do: Travel to the places that are near to you or not that expensive to get to. My favorites are Koya-san and Shikoku. Go karaoke with your lab friends. Eat at a rotating sushi bar. Go to a matsuri in a yukata!
Photos and Excerpts from Weekly Reports
Week One - Arrival in Japan: Initially, I was thrilled to be in Tokyo, and I still am! Tokyo is cleaner and less crowded than I expected it to be considering its population density. The general appearance of the city is much more beautiful than I expected, and it is larger than I realized! The people are very sweet and act similarly to how I expected them to act. However, they do not say “irashaimase” as often as I expected them to because it is a busier city than Kobe and Sapporo. The Sanuki Club is very nice, and my room is bigger than I expected! I love people watching on the subway to see how people dress, but no eye contact of course. The Japanese people are stylish like I expected. Learning Japanese is sometimes fun but also frustrating for me. I learn a lot in class but know that I will only retain what I practice speaking, which is a small percentage. My listening skills are improving quickly, but I do not know enough kanji. I am not used to only recognizing kanji because in my Japanese class at Rice, I learned kanji by writing it. I guess it is more practical to learn to read kanji, but we do not need to write it because we can use word processors. It is very interesting to learn the technical Japanese, and I hope I can use it in lab so that I retain it. Shimojo-sensei does a fantastic job of keeping us engaged in class, and I am always surprised at how quickly 3 hours pass.
Week Two - Riding the Subway: Politeness rules are not actually much different from what I would expect in America. However, people in Japan are probably “more polite” on average, but it always depends on the individual. People also are less aggressive about taking seats in Japan. If it is rush hour and the train is crowded, people will quickly take open seats, but otherwise, people are very reluctant to take open seats if other people are standing. For example, on the way to Kamakura, there was a couple with two young children standing. There were some open seats on the train but only single seats. One of the NanoJapan students moved to create two adjacent seats and offered the seats but they refused them. However, when I asked them again, they finally took them and let their kids sit in them. I would imagine that American parents would ask teenagers to move for their young children instead of being so polite. The main difference in transportation in the US and in Japan is that people may be more considerate that Americans would expect and that transportation is very clean and punctual. Some of the differences observed are practical and some are cultural. Refusing seats/ being reluctant to take seats when others are standing and being quiet results from culture. Personal space standards are practical, changing depending on the number of people in the train.
Week 3 - Trip to Minami-Sanriku:The 3/11 earthquake and tsunami had a dramatic impact on Japanese society and the country as a whole. We have just recently passed the one-year anniversary of this tragedy and as you have learned, Japan is still recovering from the events. 3/11 was devastating for the people who lost family members and homes and its effects will last for decades. It has psychological, physical, and economic aspects. Psychologically, it is difficult for the people who have lost family members. Young people have moved to new areas so that they can start new lives. However, some people feel attached to their homes and are trying to restore their lives in their same locations. These people feel desperate because so many others have left the area and it is difficult to make any business with resources destroyed. The recovery seems very slow, but currently, the people we saw are able to live and cope. Sustained living in the area may not be possible for everyone, depending on whether or not the economy in the area can improve. As of now, Minami-Sanrikucho is a livable place. There are still piles and piles of destroyed homes, buildings, and cars, as well as destroyed bridges. The people are suffering psychologically, but it is now "time to stop crying and move on with life," according to some of the people we saw. On Friday we played with 5th and 6th graders. Half of the group used my idea of having a tower building competition with marshmallows and spaghetti sticks. Aren and I taught the kids ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ in English, using bottles tuned with water to make different pitches. Kofi and some others taught the kids drum beats. It was a lot of fun and very nice to see how genki the kids were. When I gave them candy I got from the US, they grabbed it out of my hands. I was surprised how aggressive they were but at least they were like normal kids. We then listened to a lady tell us her story, and I cried. We saw hundreds of temporary homes and the spaces where buildings used to stand. We saw destroyed tunnels. We were told that in some areas, the water was 15-16 meters high. Then we went back to the ryokan, ate, showered, and explored. On Saturday, we went to the beach briefly to see the destruction. Bridges were destroyed and roads were torn up. Houses were gone. Then we went to the same school and played outside with the kids for 3 hours and then are lunch. It was so much fun! I played soccer, tag, relay, and piggy back ride with the kids. I made flower necklaces for lots of little girls. It was an easy way to bond with them! Then we went to a small shopping are and I bought some souvenirs for my brother in order to support the economy of the area. Then we played with some kids in temporary homes. We were supposed to play baseball with the adults but they didn’t come because they were tired from working hard all week, but Preeya, Grace, and I played with 4 little girls and it was so adorable. Their mother was very appreciative that we played with her girls. Visiting the children had the greatest impact on me. It was very meaningful to try to spread joy to the children. Eating with the adults who had lost family member was also special. They expressed great gratitude to us for visiting and eating dinner with them. The guy that I sat near talked nonstop and I think it was good for him to tell foreigners things that he cannot say to the other people who are also affected. I think that the recovery is a bit slower than I expected. If I had no idea when the tsunami was, I would have guessed it was about 6 months ago, instead of 15 months ago. It was almost like a ghost town.
Week 4 - First Week in Research Lab: One of the M1 (first year Master's student) students took me to the lab early in the morning and I met the secretaries and briefly met everyone in the lab. Then they showed me my desk and I read articles and worked on the owlspace week 3 assignment. At the end of the day, they had a welcome party for me! The M1 students set everything up and didn’t sit because there were not enough seats. I introduced myself and everyone else introduced themselves and we ate and talked. Then the adults left and I talked to my M1 grad student that I will be working with. Then one of the assistant professors and my grad student took me to the train station and were planning to show me how to get to my dorm, but then the assistant professor spontaneously decided to go to karaoke instead. So the three of us went to a karaoke bar and it was really fun but also really strange because it was a Monday and I had just met them. I have not begun to work on my research project yet, but since I arrived in the lab, I have read 5 articles they gave me and about 6 more on my own that I think are relevant. I was really worried on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday because I was not doing anything, but then I talked to Tonouchi sensei and he said that I would be starting experiments next week. This first week, my grad student Sano-san is setting up the emission system. He told me that I would be characterizing the terahertz properties of graphene on different substrates using THz-TDS and also by emission. My grad student is Sano-san. He is really nice and can speak English but is very shy and quiet. I think we bonded over karaoke and I can ask him any questions and he can explain them with drawings very well. He seems extremely smart. He has 15 classes per week but still comes to lab every afternoon. I like the other people in the lab too! Maekawa-san, the M1 student who picked me up from the station and went to lab with me the first day, is extremely nice and has amazing English. Another M1 student, Kenta-san, gave me shrimp crackers. I had lunch with a post-doc and secretary one day and I really like them and they help me with Japanese. The picture is a sign on someone’s desk at lab…it cracks me up because no one in the lab speaks German, but some of the members recently went to Germany for a conference.
Week 5 - Critical Incident Analysis: I asked my lab mates if I have done anything strange. They told me that they think it is strange that the students in my lab in America go home at 5 pm. Their reaction to my singing during karaoke was also hilarious and they asked if all Americans sing like me. In general Japanese people are very polite and quieter than the average person in America, so if I were not a little shy, they might think that I am loud. I have been wondering about a cultural difference. So far, my lab has Karaoked twice. They are all so shocked when I sang and complimented me profusely. I always feel uncomfortable when complimented, so in the US I normally just say thank you very much and accept the compliment. If I say `` no, I`m not (whatever the compliment is),`` people in America compliment you more and more and say ``no you really are!`` or something like that. If you reject compliments, some people think you are fishing for more compliments. Therefore, I have gotten used to not arguing with people. My recent reaction to their compliments was just to say that they are too kind and thank them very much for being so sweet. ``____-san wa shinsetsu sugiru.`` …they keep complimenting ....``arigatougozaimasu.`` Then after this already happened, I realized that Japanese people always reject compliments and are VERY humble. I think maybe I should have argued with their compliments and said ``iie, iie`` but I didn`t because in America that would lead to more compliments.
Week 6 - Research in Japan vs. the U.S.: Hard work, long hours, and good results or new findings are valued in Japan. This is similar to the values of academic research in the US, but as far as I have seen, people in the US seem to value results more and long hours slightly less. In my lab at Rice, the McDevitt lab, it is admirable to work long hours, but that alone is not enough if results are not good. On the other hand, someone who is not seen working long hours may provide good results and still be respect. In Japan, there is not anyone who does not work long hours, so I do not know if someone who worked few hours but had good results would be respected. Patience and group cooperation/ importance of progression of lab as a whole are also important. For example, when a TDS system was not working, everyone understood that a researcher was very stressed and busy trying to get the system to work, so they did not ask him all the questions that they needed to for their own work. They understand that he needs to take care of the TDS system first so that the whole lab can progress. When wanting to use another TDS system, a grad student let another grad student use it instead because he needs results soon. These 2 small anecdotes illustrate that although people are concerned about their own research, there is an understanding that the lab as a whole must function together, even if it slightly delays individual projects.
Week 8 - Reflections on Japanese Culture & Language: When I was in Shikoku with Preeya, Eric, and Aren, many people did not know about Gogoshima, an island we went to, so it was a little difficult to ask for directions. Luckily, I asked the hotel manager and he knew where it was and we were able to communicate and get to the island! I learned that some Japanese people will make gestures to communicate with foreign people, even though they usually do not do so when speaking to other Japanese people. The most effective techniques I will use for language include: keeping up with friends from my lab by email once a week., reading a Japanese comic book my lab friend gave me, and listening to Japanese music.
Week 9 - Critical Incident Analysis in the Lab:I wanted to go to the Tenjin Matsuri with Preeya, but I was supposed to go out to eat with a professor. I saw the professor on the train home from lab and mentioned the festival. He said that maybe I can go to the festival on another day, either the weekend before or after. Then he got off at his stop. The next day, I asked Sano-san for advice about the situation. Sano-san talked to the professor, and luckily, the professor had to do something else on the day of the festival, so he told me to go to the festival. We went to eat beef tongue the next day! I did not want to be rude to a kind professor and change plans, but I wanted to go to the masturi. The professor assumed I was just mentioning the matsuri and not tyring to change plans. Sano-san helped clear up the situation. I realized there was a misunderstanding when the professor said that I could go to the matsuri on the weekend, but the masturi was only on Wednesday. The situation resolved when the professor had something come up for that day and Sano-san talked to him. Next time, I would probably be more direct and ask the professor if we could go to beef tongue on another day so I could go to the matsuri. Maybe the professor would suggest the same. More inter-culturally effective behaviors would have been for me to ask politely if we could go to dinner another day because I want to go to a matsuri. I could have highlighted that it would be the first time for me to go to a matsuri.
Week 11 - Final Week in Japan: The biggest change in my perception of Japanese culture is that there is much more variation among individuals than I thought, and that behavior depends on region. Osaka people tend to be more friendly, and people form Shikoku seemed more wary of us than people from other areas. However, even in Shikoku, a kind lady gave us a lot of pastries, and even in Osaka, some people were not that friendly. When I ate my last lunch with the lab, they asked me how American and Japanese people are different. I said that sometimes Japanese people are more shy, but older Japanese ladies are more friendly. However, the difference between people really lies in the individual, and you have to read people with an understanding of how their culture affects their actions. Maekawa-san, for example, is a very kind and outgoing person. Because he has great English, he can express his emotions and viewpoints. I imagine that if he grew up in America, he would have the same heart and be the same person, just with a few different habits. Sano-san is very quiet and studious, and there are people in America like that. After NanoJapan, I believe that there is much more variation among the behavior of individuals, and that personality and character depends on where and how the individual was brought up and on their intrinsic traits.