Bulletin of Keio University Faculty of Science and Technology
  kyurizukai interview  
Leading MEMS studies with the spirit, “Conceive like an amateur and do the job professionally.”

“I hate the word ‘setback’,” says Dr. Norihisa Miki. In Japanese, “setback” is written in two characters: “being disheartened” and “breakdown.” He maintains a belief that you’ll be okay if you are not broken tally when you experience a setback. With his inquisitive character coupled with a challenger’s spirit and inborn brightness, Dr. Miki is pushing forward through his career as a research scientist. Under a motto of “Enjoy what you’re doing,” he strives to open up new horizons for MEMS, demonstrating his unrestricted power of conception and taking advantage of substantial achievements he has accumulated.

 

1 Engaging in robotics research at University of Tokyo

photoAs a small boy, was it your dream to become a research scientist?
      No (laughter). I was born in the city of Tatsuno, Hyogo Prefecture. My family is a long-standing soy sauce maker – an environment having nothing to do with academic research. Fortunately my standing at school was so good that as an elementary school boy I also attended a college-oriented cram school famous for Spartan education. Then I advanced to a college-oriented school with consistent junior and senior high school education, and advanced to the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Engineering. It was like a natural course of events (laughter). As I recall those young days, I think I could devote myself to studying because I had a number of friends with whom to compete and enjoy learning, rather than because I liked studying.

You mean you didn’t have hard time studying?
      Not then but now I’m having hard time (laughter). I may be a type of person who can handle almost anything rather smartly but doesn’t have any particular field at which he is incomparably strong. As such, I chose my course without a definite intention or desire. During the first and second years at the university, I was interested in biology and elementary particle physics. But it was about the time for me to advance to an undergraduate course that a new field of study known as “virtual reality” came into the spotlight. Intrigued, I chose to advance to the Department of Mechano-Informatics. Later I became interested in robotics. When choosing a seminar as a senior, I was admitted to the laboratory of Professors Hirofumi Miura and Isao Shimoyama, the authorities of robotics.
      In those days, the “ASIMO” robot was yet to be announced by Honda Motors, and research into biped walking robots and artificial intelligence was almost at a deadlock. Amid such circumstances, in an attempt to find a breakthrough, the laboratory just began studies on micro robotics. Assuming that if a human being is the model for a biped robot, then an insect should be the model for a micro robot, I began studying to create an insect-type robot based on MEMS.
      What makes studies on small objects is that a force that can work on an object varies according to the size of the object. For example, if an object’s size becomes one-tenth its original size, its surface area becomes one-hundredth whereas its cubic volume becomes one-thousandth, meaning a drastically reduced force of gravity placed on the object. This is why a flea can jump to a height some 50 times its own height. This in turn means that a robot appropriate for its intended size can be designed by taking such a factor into account. For example, we can even say that the major difference between the wing of aircraft and that of insects mainly comes from the difference in scale.By the way, the topic of my graduation thesis was on a robot controlled by an insect. In this system, the robot moves following the movement of the insect as it walks on a ball.

You made effective use of your biological knowledge, didn’t you?
      In this way I had fared as my personal interest went. But it was about that time that I began to think about my future more seriously. My options included succeeding my father in the family business and finding employment with a manufacturing company. As a Master Student, I had an opportunity to attend an overseas academic society meeting, accompanying my professors. I saw them shaking hands with foreign scientists and talking with them frankly. It was so “cool and impressive” that I made up my mind to advance to the doctor’s course (laughter). In fact, I found my life during the doctor’s course very fulfilling.
      In those days, there were many opportunities for me to participate in exchange meetings involving different industries. Having talked with people from various industries and different occupations, I came to think that a life different from many others might be good although my way of life until then had been: “Don’t go against the flow.” This thought urged me to advance to the doctor’s course while most of my fellow students found employment in the business world. But I have no regret with my decision. Devoted to research from morning till dawn the next day when crows begin to caw (a little after 3:00 a.m.) – this had been my daily life at the lab back then.
      At that time I was immersed in a project to create a tiny (less than 1cm in length) helicopter that can fly when a magnetic field is applied from the outside. When it comes to “flying,” letting wings rotate is much more efficient than letting them flap as insects do. I’m sure it was the smallest helicopter in the world.
      It was then that I frequently attended academic society meetings, both in Japan and abroad, which allowed me to deepen exchanges with other young research scientists. Even now I maintain contact with them for information exchange. They are my good colleagues.

 

 

1 Engaging in robotics research at University of Tokyo
2 Becoming an MIT researcher
3 Devoted to MEMS-based research, exerting unrestricted creativity
Profile Norihisa Miki Based on MEMS (Microelectromechanical Systems) technology, Dr. Miki is developing diverse research activities in fields ranging from ICT and medical care to environmental conservation. Born in 1974 in Tatsuno City, Hyogo Prefecture. Completed the Doctor’s Course, School of Engineering, The University of Tokyo in 2001. From 2001 to 2004, he served as a postdoctoral fellow and research engineer at MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. From 2004 on, he works for Keio University as Assistant Professor. As for pastime, he was keen on heavy metal rock music as a high school boy, mahjong and fishing as a college student, and golfing thereafter.
 
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