Bulletin of Keio University Faculty of Science and Technology
  kyurizukai interview  
04 A Special Round-table Research attitudes that create innovations

photoResearch attitudes that create innovations
MC : All of the assistant professors here have experienced making a fantastic discovery, which is very enlightening. From what research attitudes do you think such innovations can be created? We’d like to invite your advice as to how high school or college students should address learning – their attitudes toward learning.
Kamihara : It’s often the case that incredible research results are found a mile off your initial target. You shouldn’t overlook them.
Tanabe : It has been long believed that iron with strong magnetism cannot become a superconductive material, but you dared to mix iron with arsenic. Does it mean you mixed what shouldn’t be mixed?
Kamihara : No. It was actually a good approach, but it’s impossible to explain it right here . . . The research group where I belong intended to create a semiconductor with magnetism, but it had been really hard to achieve. The material became neither a semiconductor nor a ferromagnet. As a newcomer to the project, I thought that the material might be out of question as a semiconductor, but wondered why on earth it couldn’t exhibit magnetism in spite of the iron mixed in.
MC : You didn’t overlook that very point, did you?
Kamihara : I didn’t. An iron-based material without magnetism … this was a very strange phenomenon. As a temporary measure I decided to cool it to see the result. I took this approach to see whether it was a superconductor or not because I knew superconductors aren’t magnetic.
      In fact, there is a cuprate-based superconductive material that was discovered in much the same situation as ours. It was discovered by a specialist in ferroelectric compounds. While bivalent copper ion usually has magnetic moments, a state in which copper didn’t exhibit magnetism was created. When cooled, however, it was found to be a superconductive material at the then world’s highest temperature.
      Things can go nowhere when you are too high objective-oriented and too concentrated on a particular theme. If you’ve hit a snag, I suggest you to look aside for a while. In other areas, the problem facing you can be a source of great inspiration. I think innovations can often be achieved this way. The key point is that you should cherish even a trifle that may seem useless at that particular moment. You should meet as many challenges as you can, even immediate small challenges like making high marks in a test. Anyway, it’s impossible to do everything perfectly. So it’s important for you to get familiar with as many things as possible, even little by little.
MC : And you won that prize in 2009, right?
Kamihara : Yes, I received the 13th Superconductivity Science and Technology Award in 2009.
MC : What about 2008?
Kamihara : In 2008, my paper topped the list in terms of the number of citations.
MC : On a worldwide basis, right?
Kamihara : In 2008, citations of my paper numbered 240 or so. The second ranker earned a bit more than 100 – a double score. Mine exceeded even that of Professor Yamanaka famous for the creation of iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells. As of this year, my count has risen to 1,200 or so.
Tanabe : Fantastic! I wish you could give me some tips about how to write a thesis that can be cited by others. Of course I know that the quality of the thesis itself must be superb enough to be cited, though.
Kamihara : I think it’s better to present the content in a simple way. In my case, the approach was simple and straightforward like “Superconductivity has been achieved with iron.”
MC : Now Mr. Tanabe, your comment please.
Tanabe : I think it’s important to address any challenge with modest sincerity. Over the years I’ve been in pursuit of light. As a student I had engaged in research into femto-second (the unit of time equal to 10-15 of a second) laser pulses. To be more specific, it was a study on shortening pulse duration of flashing light and changing waveforms of light while it is flashing.
MC : To shorten the duration of flashing light?
Tanabe : Yes. For example, suppose you have a photo capturing the moment of a bullet shooting through an apple. With the shutter speed of ordinary cameras, the bullet passes through the apple before that precise moment can be captured. Then why does this particular image look motionless? This is because the photo is taken in darkness, which makes the flash shine intensely momentarily. In order to capture a high-speed object like a bullet, you need to make a flash shine very briefly.
MC : You say you can do it?
Tanabe : Yes, you can. It’s possible to make it shine for a very short duration like femto-seconds. While my pursuit during college days was directed to making light “Stronger and Faster,” the direction of research turned 180 degrees to “Slower and Weaker” after I joined a private company’s research institute upon graduation – research aiming at power saving by weakening the intensity of light. In normal conditions, light is so fast that it runs past before any signal processing can be made. So I focused on making light slow down and stay in a small area longer.
      At that time I tried to face the challenge by seeing things with modest sincerity. When “Stronger and Faster” was the requirement, I was dealing with fast phenomena, which made it difficult to see target objects. Naturally we used extremely sophisticated measuring technologies and equipment. Imbued so much with that field I was surprised at the very simple measurement method employed in the “Slower and Weaker” field at the company lab. At the beginning I attempted to forcibly bring in the former measurement method. But soon I changed my approach, accepting the measurement method in practice there. I think this modesty in carrying out research work enabled my work to get on the right track relatively early.
MC : The knowledge you previously learned harmonized well with the new knowledge you acquired, didn’t it?
Tanabe : Such harmony is what I’m striving for. I took it to heart that we should look at things with a modest and sincere attitude and accept them.
MC : Mr. Tanabe, you also want your students to do so?
Tanabe : Yes, I think that sort of attitude is also important for students. While students engage in research at a lab, they rarely continue exactly the same way after they have joined a company. Therefore, instead of sticking to their own former way, they should first adapt themselves to their new environment. It’s advisable that they begin to exhibit their own creativity after having assimilated something substantial there.
MC : Thank you Mr. Tanabe. Now Ms. Saikawa, what do you think?
Saikawa : Single-minded pursuit of “Whys” is what my field is all about. Given this nature, I can hardly see opportunities for our theses to be cited by others. The idea of thesis citation count never occurred to me. I wonder if there are any.
      Ever since my graduate school days, I’ve studied hippopotamuses. “Why do hippopotamuses have red sweat?” “Why is it red?” These questions compelled my teacher and myself to begin study on hippopotamuses. Once involved in the study, I found it most important to observe things thoroughly and experience things ourselves.
      Basically, chemistry deals with a world inside a test tube and targets molecular structures. So, in the case of studying hippopotamus sweat, our work began after receiving sweat samples. The sweat was supposed to be “red” but it was actually “brown.” Taking brown sweat for granted, I had been trying to analyze it for the first several months – with some disappointment.
      But one day when I met the breeder, he told me “It’s more reddish when it’s still fresh”, which surprised me. After that, I frequented Ueno Zoo and attended the process of taking sweat samples. At times I could get red sweat. On other occasions it was not red. When I was about to give up, it suddenly turned red. Such experiences intrigued me to examine the matter in more depth, which became new information. On the other hand, some vital aspects might remain unnoticed if I confined myself to chemistry work inside the lab by merely receiving samples from others. So I was strongly convinced of the importance of seeing things from a total viewpoint.
      Another key point, though it may sound a bit deviant, is to “grasp the feeling of your research target.” Our targets are compounds and their behaviors are rarely visible, leaving us very few clues as in detective stories. But if we persistently pursue them while exerting our imagination on a trial and error basis, the moment may come when all the questions are suddenly cleared as if our eyes have been opened. So I think it’s important to observe things thoroughly and exert your imagination.
Kamihara : Is the red in hippo sweat due to an iron oxide?
Saikawa : No, it’s not. In short, it’s a “mistakenly” created compound. We were really surprised to find its strange chemical structure that had never been made public to the world.
Tanabe : How did you take sweat samples?
Saikawa : It’s rather difficult. As sweat, it’s available only on fine days. When feed is ready inside its cage, a hippopotamus outdoors walks back to the cage fence, expressing “Please let me in. I want to have a meal.” Inside the fence, the breeder and I are standing by with a piece of gauze. As the hippo brings its face close enough, one of us quickly wipes sweat from its face.
MC : You squeeze the gauze later?
Saikawa : The amount of sweat is not enough to be squeezed. As soon as I got the sample, I put it in an ice box to take it to the lab. Otherwise, the sweat would turn brown on the way back. Until I got accustomed to the handling of sweat, it was often the case that it turned brown by the time I arrived at the lab, or it immediately turned brown as I began to handle it for analysis . . . Each time it turned brown, we had to call it a day.
Tanabe : Is it highly reactive?
Saikawa : I would rather say it is unstable.
Tanabe: I completely agree with the approach you mentioned just a while ago: to take aim at the eventual target after fully exerting your imagination on phenomena that appear unrelated to each other.
Saikawa : In fact, I experienced a number of moments when inspiration on solution suddenly dawned on me.
Tanabe : I had a similar experience before. At the beginning I found nothing special in the experiment results. Not serious about it, I wrote a thesis anyway and presented it to my supervisor for checking. It came back with so many corrections. I was shocked to find that those seemingly unrelated elements could be related in this or that way – an inspiring view of the world. I was really impressed by the power of imagination.
MC : It seems that your remark has much in common with Mr. Kamihara’s point: you shouldn’t overlook the importance of unexpected results.
Kamihara : The power of imagination is indeed great. Only imagination can integrate seemingly disorganized pieces of knowledge, I think. Lucky enough, I didn’t overlook the importance of unexpected results.

Keio as a venue of learning for students
MC : From your viewpoints as teachers, what do Keio students look like?
Kamihara : I don’t know much about the students yet because I graduated from Keio five years ago and have just returned as an assistant professor. If Keio has not changed much from back then, I can say Keio students are good at helping each other. As Mr. Tanabe put it just a while ago, generally they are self-motivated, have a high ability for basic learning, and have latitude in seeing things. Students with mental latitude are helping each other in a friendly way. It may be safe to say this is the Keio culture. From my own experience as a dull student, I can say there is at least one bright student nearby. If you respect, target or copy that student, you can attain significant growth. In this respect, Keio offers an ideal environment.
MC : Do you see any drawbacks?
Kamihara : Given such latitude, no good results could be produced if they tune in with less motivated students. Once they have entered Keio, it depends on if the students can make the most of this university to their advantage.
MC : How do you think, Mr. Tanabe?
Tanabe : It may be repetitious but I’d like to emphasize the key word, good or bad, is latitude – or diversity in the routes of entry.
MC : Ms. Saikawa, what do you think?
Saikawa : Regarding “latitude,” a variety of paths are made available at Keio. I also have the impression that Keio is intent to foster latitude of students’ individuality. Though I know little about other universities, Keio appears tolerant to almost anything students do – instead of fostering specialists from the beginning. In the worst case this attitude may lead them nowhere, but there are actually those students who maintain an unexpected combination of totally different interests, some saying “I like computation and organic chemistry at the same time.” And such students advance and join laboratories without losing interest.
      I know studying in laboratories inevitably requires specialized knowledge, but I’m doing my best so that they won’t lose their multi-faceted interests. It’s interesting to find gaps in them – unexpected gaps between their academic pursuits and their special abilities. It seems students who have been within Keio since childhood have been educated so as not to lose such individuality.
Tanabe : That’s very important. I agree. In the field of science, one needs to focus on one particular thing. But engineers bring in two seemingly unrelated things and combine them to create something new.
Saikawa : Yes, combining things ingeniously is a wonder.
Tanabe : Indeed. And the key to success is to think of a combination beyond everyone’s imagination. For example, back when the laser was first invented, nobody ever imagined it could be applied to medical treatment. But the new field of laser treatment was created by combining laser with medical treatment. The farther away fields are apart from each other conceptually, the more fantastic the result of combination.
Saikawa : In my observation, Keio students seem to be educated to be able to conceive things in an unrestricted manner.
MC : But their interests may possibly become too dispersed to go anywhere. What do you think?
Saikawa : Well, some of our students appear unmanageably voracious for interests. In the worst case, this can prevent them from focusing on what’s really important. This also holds true when it comes to circle activities. Many are accustomed to pursue circle activities and research work at the same time. They are prone to easily poke their nose into what looks interesting. If things go smoothly, you can say they know how to get on in life. But if things don’t go well, everything they do may fail. Generally speaking, however, they are good at doing that way. So accustomed to such a way of life during college days, they are generally good at making it in the world after graduation. Being not top-heavy but knowledgeable about many things seems to enable them to enjoy doing things throughout their lives.

 

 

Part.1 Keio as a venue of scientific pursuit
Part.2 Research attitudes  that create innovations
Part.3 Companies and universities, momentums for becoming research scientists
Profile Takasumi Tanabe To achieve extremely small-power and high-speed signal processing, Mr. Tanabe focuses on optical nonlinear control by means of optical microresonator based on photonic crystals and silica. So far he has succeeded in the development of an optical switch and optical memory that can be integrated on a semiconductor chip. After having completed Keio University Graduate School of Integrated Design Engineering (doctoral program) in March 2004, he joined Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) in April and was assigned to NTT Basic Research Laboratories with promotion to the research scientist post in April 2009. He assumed the current post at Keio University in April 2010. Awards he received include the Scientific American 50 Award in 2007.
Yoko Saikawa Focusing on key compounds responsible for natural phenomena, she works on isolation of such natural products and determination of their structures. She also addresses the synthesis of complicated natural compounds by ingenious means, such as intramolecular Doetz reaction method. In March 2003 she earned credits for Keio University Graduate School of Fundamental Science and Technology (doctoral program). In April 2002 she became assistant for Department of Applied Chemistry, Keio Faculty of Science and Technology. In 2004, she obtained a doctorate (science). In April 2008, she assumed the current post. From September 2008 to September 2009, she worked as a visiting scholar at Harvard Medical School (under Prof. Jon Clardy). Among other awards, she received an Incentive Award at the 45th Symposium on the Chemistry of Natural Products in 2003.
Yoichi Kamihara Toward the goal of “discovery” of compounds exhibiting high-temperature superconductivity, Mr. Kamihara creates and evaluates highly crystalline samples and pursues studies to elucidate correlations between local structures of the obtained crystals and their electrical properties and magnetism. In March 2005, he completed the doctoral program at Keio University Graduate School of Fundamental Science and Technology. From April 2005, he served as a researcher in the ERATO SORST Hosono Transparent Electroactivity Project at the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST). From October 2008, he served as a researcher of JST’s Transformative Research-project on Iron Particles (TRIP). He assumed the current post at Keio from April 2010. Chief among awards he received is the 13th Superconductivity Science and Technology Award (2009).
 
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