Looking Anew at Scientific Pursuit and Education at Keio’s Faculty of Science and Technology

From this April, Assistant Professors Takasumi Tanabe and Yoichi Kamihara returned to Keio, their alma mater, as faculty members while Assistant Professor Yoko Saikawa came back after a one-year study overseas. The three fresh researchers suitable for the new school year have been invited to talk about Keio University as a venue of scientific studies and education.


Takasumi Tanabe : Department of Electronics and Electrical Engineering
Yoko Saikawa : Department of Applied Chemistry
Yoichi Kamihara : Department of Applied Physics and Physico-Informati

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).

Introducing the Researcher (1)

Assistant Professor Takasumi Tanabe focuses on the development of photonic circuits, which will save the energy than electronic circuits.

Developing Optical Microresonators to pave the way to realize Photonic Circuits

Toward a super energy-efficient society

By using photons instead of electrons, photonic circuits can extremely decrease the power consumption of machinery and equipment. Optical microresonators are indispensable for putting these photonic circuits to practical use, with which we can store light like a memory, release stored light whenever needed like a transistor or a switch, and change characteristics of light.

Optical microresonators indispensable to optical circuits

Perhaps you have been surprised by the heat when touching your notebook PC power adapter or the rear of a TV set. The fact is, electrical appliances, regardless of their functions, are releasing wasted heat as part of the electricity they consume.For example, even gold, which has excellent electrical conductivity, exhibits some resistance, not zero, and generates Joule heat responding to the resistance when electricity is passed. In other words,by simply passing a current the electric circuit loses heat energy proportional to its electrical resistance.
“Electronic circuits are bound to generate heat. But photonic circuits are totally different. Light, when passed through glass, causes no loss like Joule heat. Theoretically, photonic circuits work without loss,” explains Assistant Professor Takasumi Tanabe.
Capable of significantly reducing energy consumption compared with ordinary electronic circuits,expectations are high for photonic circuits as a solution to major issues facing our modern society,such as conservation of energy and reduction of CO₂ emissions.
With all advantages and no apparent shortcomings, but optical circuits actually come with their problems as well. One of them is the development of a device that can confine light in one place.Negatively charged electrons can be kept in place by taking advantage of the force of plus and minus attracting each other. But light does not have electric charges as electrons do. So we need to contrive an alternative method for stopping light in one place.
“An optical microresonator is known as a device to keep light in one place. The development of this particular device is essential for putting photonic circuits to practical use.If we can confine light in one place, then it will become possible to use this optical device as a memory. We can also use the same device as a switch or a transistor by manipulating the confined light. Among several approaches attempted in this study, I used photonic crystal technology to confine light and succeeded in running an logic circuit concerning computer memory.”

Basic structure of the photonic integrated circuit
Optical devices made of silica glass are arranged on the silicon substrate. The disk-like devices in the upper left are optical microresonators, in which light is trapped. With optical microresonators, it is possible to vary refractive index according to the intensity of incident light, enabling the particular optical microresonator to operate as an optical switch or an optical transistor. The device in the upper right is a passive device for branching light signals. When light signals are sent from the optical switch and/or optical transistor to this optical device, it can sort out the signals by wavelength or split the signals.

Practical application, first . . .

Having obtained positive results from a series of his studies, Dr. Tanabe took up the challenge of practical application of photonic circuits from this spring. His research theme is the development of an optical microresonator using silica,the main constituent of glass, as the raw material.
“There are several reasons for choosing silica as the raw material for my optical microresonator. First occurring to my mind was silica's high compatibility with existing optical devices. Silica is an attractive material from the application viewpoint.”
Devices required for a photonic circuit include the optical fiber cable and the planar lightwave circuit. Of these,passive devices such as those used for transmission of light signals and those for information branching are approaching the level of practical use. And many of these devices are silica-based. In short, if we succeed in developing an optical microresonator with silica, we can integrate into one chip such active devices as the optical memory, optical switch and optical transistor as well as existing passive devices, thus enabling an photonic integrated circuit to be created with ease.
Furthermore, silica, when compared with silicon which is the raw material often used for photonic crystals, has different characteristics such as smaller optical nonlinear coefficients and faster nonlinear transition speeds.By using silica, it is also possible to ascertain the influence that a difference in materials exercises on device functions.
Dr. Tanabe expressed his hopes saying, “The use of silica as the raw material enables us to re-examine,across the board, issues peculiar to the whole photonic integrated circuit including p eripheral equipment, rather than the optical microresonator as a single device.I think the results and issues identified in this process will go a long way to further photonic crystal and other photonic circuit studies.”

(Reporter & text writer: Kaoru Watanabe)

Introducing the Researcher (2)

Assistant Professor Yoko Saikawa investigates into and identifies materials responsible for natural phenomena.

Shedding Light on Various “Whys”in Our Daily Lives

Explaining toxicity of a mushroom by chemical approach

Why is hippopotamus sweat red? . . . There are so many “Whys” in our daily lives and in the world. Assistant Professor Yoko Saikawa of the Natural Product Chemistry Laboratory investigates into materials responsible for a variety of natural phenomena. She recently identified the toxic component of the poisonous Russula subnigricans mushroom.

The Russula subnigricans, popularly known in Japan as “Nise Kurohatsu” (see photo below), looks truly tasty but is actually a poisonous mushroom. It was first announced as a mushroom of fatal toxicity during the 1950s. But it has almost been forgotten because no accidental deaths were reported during the ensuing 50 years and also because there are several other similar-looking mushrooms.
In July 2009 the British scientific magazine Nature Chemical Biology carried an article announcing that the poison in Russula subnigricans mushroom is cycloprop-2-ene carboxylic acid.
This achievement was the result of joint research with Dr. Kimiko Hashimoto (now Associate Professor at Kyoto Pharmaceutical University) as well as with Professor Masaya Nakata and Dr. Masanori Matsuura (then student) of the laboratory, to which Dr. Saikawa belongs. In the world of natural products investigation where almost all natural substances have been thoroughly investigated, this achievement has become a significant topic of conversation.

Toxic substance that disappears

Cycloprop-2-ene carboxylic acid is a small substance – a ring consisting of three carbon atoms, to which carboxylic acid is attached. “Such a simple, small substance has long been left unidentified!” Dr. Saikawa talks about the surprise that struck her after years of investigation.
Although its molecular structure is simple, its extraction was far from easy. The investigative study began with identification of the Russula subnigricans mushroom. To evaluate the toxicity, the team adopted the method of injecting the toxic substance into the peritoneal cavity of mice. But before long it became known that mice would die even when non-toxic substance was injected. So the experiment had to be done anew by changing the policy to feed mice with the toxic substance.
The hardest problem encountered was that the toxic substance would disappear when an ordinary separation process was employed. Looking back over those days, Dr. Saikawa says, “We tried this way, and if it didn't work we didn't hesitate to take that way. In that sense, research scientists like us are quick-tempered.” The readiness to review and change research approaches as necessary and the toughness for devising and carrying out new solutions in rapid succession seem to be required. Finally, she found that the toxic substance disappeared due to concentration, which led to the improvement of the extraction process. Cycloprop-2-ene carboxylic acid was thus identified as the culprit for the Russula subnigricans mushroom after eight long years.

Cycloprop-2-ene carboxylic acid and polymerization
Russula subnigricans (photo) had been the only fatally poisonous mushroom the toxic component of which remained unidentified. But the lethally toxic component was finally identified as cycloprop-2-ene carboxylic acid (the bluecircled part in the upper left of the Fig.). When cycloprop2-ene carboxylic acid molecules come closer to each other, polymerization takes place, which nullifies the toxicity. This explains why the toxicity disappeared during the concentration process of toxicity extraction. (Photo by Yoko Saikawa)

Scales falling from her eyes – an exciting moment!

“It was hard and depressing when positive results were not in sight. But the moment its structure was known, everything became clear and I found all answers just before my eyes.” Once the structure of the toxic substance was identified, the question of the toxicity lost in the process of concentration was not a question at all. This excitingly fresh feeling derived from achievement seems to drive Dr. Saikawa into scientific pursuit. From this particular research project, she could also appreciate the joy of discovery of the natural world.
Discovery of new substances is also exciting as it allows her to pose new questions to other scientific fields. The greatest feature of this particular poison is that it causes “rhabdomyolysis” i n w h i ch mu s cl e s melt . Si nc e it s mechanism remains totally unknown, the achievement of her team is now a focus of attention within medical circles.

I spare no trouble finding new seeds of research.

As a research scientist, Dr. Saikawa is about to launch a research theme on her own for the first time. In the past she frequented a zoo to sample hippopotamus sweat and climbed mountains many times in search of the targeted mushroom. From such experience she says, “Seeds of research themes are everywhere. But you can't find them if you're just sitting back watching TV or browsing through magazines. The only way is to use your own legs.” To find new research themes, she often goes out to sea as early as 4:00 in the morning with a fisherman with whom she recently befriended.

(Reporter & text writer: Akiko Ikeda)

Introducing the Researcher (3)

Assistant Professor Yoichi Kamihara, who has discovered an iron-based high-temperature superconductive material, proposes new possibilities.

Creating Lossless Power Transmission Cables Using Iron-based High-Temperature Superconductive Material

Toward the ultimate electric lines

Superconductivity refers to a phenomenon in which electrical resistivity drops to zero when certain materials are cooled to low temperatures. It had long been believed that superconductivity is a phenomenon peculiar to certain materials and it can hardly occur in materials containing iron. But Dr. Kamihara made a breakthrough in 2008 by discovering superconductivity with a layered iron-based compound.

Superconductivity with materials containing iron

In 1911 Heike Kamerlingh Onnes of the Netherlands discovered that electrical resistivity of mercury cooled to 4.2K (kelvin = the unit of absolute temperature, 0K being -273.15 °C) drops to zero. The temperature at which electrical resistivity becomes zero is known as the superconductivity transition temperature(Tc). Efforts in quest of materials that can become superconductive at higher temperatures have been made in the ensuing years.
“Just a century has passed since the discovery of superconductivity, during which time a number of superconductive materials have been identified. These materials are roughly divided into metalbased compounds and cuprate-based ones. In terms of transition temperature, 39K for MgB₂ discovered in 2001 is the highest of metal-based compounds while high-temperature superconductivity at 135K for a cuprate-based material was confirmed in 1993. After that no significant discoveries had been reported,” Dr. Kamihara outlines the development of superconductivity. Amid the stagnancy in the exploration of superconductive materials, Dr. Kamihara and co-workers (his bosses & a student) presented an original paper in 2008. The key point of the paper was the confirmation of superconductivity occurring in a compound containing iron, which overthrew the conventional view that iron, responsible for magnetism, is not suitable for superconductive materials. The paper was soon followed by a Chinese researcher reporting high-temperature superconductivity at 55 K, together leading to the discovery of the third type of high-Tc superconductive material.
“The superconductive material we found this time was an iron-based fourelement compound. This combination of elements has great potential for applicat ion to ot her mater ia ls in addition to iron. I heard of a positive evaluation that the number of candidate combinations has increased dramatically. It also came to be known that its single crystal is in the shape of a thin plate and that electric current flows in the longitudinal direction through the single crystal thin plate. The establishment of an electric cable processing technology taking advantage of the single crystal's structure is said to be the key to practical application of the superconductor.”
The paper surprised and intrigued numerous researchers and became No. 1 in the world in 2008 in the number of citations of theses written in English. In 2009, Dr. Kamihara was honored with the 13th Superconductivity Science and Technology Prize.

Crystal structure of iron-based high-temperature superconductor (left)
The figure on the right is a structural drawing picking out only iron (Fe) and lanthanide (Ln), showing how free iron electrons migrate during power transmission. In the center is a layer of iron, which is sandwiched from above and below by layers of rare earth elements such as lanthanum and samarium. Its single crystal is apt to grow sideways, tending to form a thin plate structure. In the crystal, the element mainly responsible for power transmission is iron; electricity is transmitted as free iron electrons migrate.

From discovery of superconductivity to practical application

Much is expected of superconductivity for application to many fields such as linear motor, electric power transmission and strong magnetic field generation. Above all, you can safely say the field of application on which the greatest hope is placed is the electric cable made of a superconductive material with zero electrical resistance. Given zero electrical resistance, it is theoretically possible to create electric cables without transmission loss – the ultimate cable that does not waste energy at all during transmission.
“In reality, however, I must admit that there are many problems. Even if we successfully identified an excellent material with a high transition temperature and elucidated its structure, heaps of problems would have to be solved before using the material in electric cables. For example, since an iron-based superconductive material is ceramics made up of small single crystals ranging in size from 1 to 100 micrometers, you cannot process it by stretching or melting like a metal. In order to form a long electric cable, heretofore unknown technologies need to be developed, such as a processing technology capable of orderly arranging the small single crystals, and a technology to prevent the junction between crystals from becoming oxidized, for example. What's more, how should protective coating for the cable be, and how should the cable be connected to the electrode? All such problems must be cleared.”
While Dr. Kamihara began to address studies to put superconductivity into practical use, his inquisitive spirit is also directed to exploration into the fourth type of superconductive materials beyond iron-based ones. We'd like to see the fruition of his new challenge.

(Reporter & text writer: Kaoru Watanabe)

A Special Round-table

Keio as a venue of scientific pursuit

Keio as a venue of scientific pursuit

MC : Mr. Tanabe and Mr. Kamihara, both of you have joined Keio’s teaching staff from outside research institutions from this new school year. Will you tell us about your impressions of Keio: as seen from outside and as upon arrival at your respective posts?
Kamihara : A research institute is where people around you are all research specialists. All people working in the same field of study and having the same terminology at their fingertips – this is a very comfortable environment from the study perspective.
MC : I see.
Kamihara : But it is a very limited field. Of course the field we engage in contributes to society in a broad sense, but it remains a very enthusiastic field as an academic category. As a researcher, scientific research was the only work assigned to me, which sometimes made me worry about its value or significance. “Is my work really contributing to society?” “If so, is it appealing to the world?” . . . Questions like these. At Keio’s Faculty of Science and Technology, we rarely have two or more specialists in one specific field of study. The number of research fields is almost the same as the number of instructors. Accordingly many people say that they don’t quite understand what I’m doing. In this sense, the world of Keio seems to be broader and multi-faceted. To put it another way, being with Keio puts me in a bit better position to become aware of my position in society.
Tanabe : I had exactly the same impression as his. According to circumstances, the realm of my study not overlapping with others’ can be a demerit. But I think it’s possible to turn it into an advantage if I expand collaboration with outside researchers and other fields of research. Speaking of my impression upon arrival at my post, I can say Keio is filled with a very unrestricted atmosphere. It seems that Keio has great diversity. There are so many different types of people. It may be partly because there are various routes of entry. Take leading national universities for example. Most students there are survivors of entrance exam wars. Look around and you only find winners. In the case of Keio, however, some have come all the way through Keio from the elementary school level. Also there are those who have been admitted by recommendation. And some have passed the entrance exam with a strong wish to join Keio while others may have joined Keio “regretfully” after failure with other universities.
MC : That’s true. (laughter)
Tanabe : There are those who have experienced frustrations due to failure. The so-called “winners” can broaden their perspectives by knowing there are those that have experienced failure. Conversely, those having regrets may be encouraged or expand their scope of view by seeing other students enjoying bright campus lives. In my opinion, all these people with different experiences and mindsets getting together underlie Keio’s diversity. Seeing various types of people, with experience at both failure and winning, during college days makes students understand or become sympathetic to the feelings of many people. I’m sure it will prove valuable when they become leaders of society.
MC : What do you think Keio’s good points are in developing research activities?
Kamihara : When it comes to scientific pursuit, we shouldn’t hesitate to collaborate with other research institutes. Keio encourages such collaboration, which is good.
MC : What do you mean by “shouldn’t hesitate”?
Kamihara : At universities, there is only one specialist for each specific field of study. This creates the possibility that I may be the only source of inputs for my students, which is pitiful. Of course other teachers with specialties close to mine are around and available for advice, which is important. At the same time it’s important to communicate with outside people. In university’s peculiar environment, scientific pursuit wouldn’t develop fully if you hesitated to collaborate with the outside. We have to be outgoing. I’m always telling my students, “Go out and associate with outside people.” And it’s good that I can say so without hesitation.
Saikawa : Conversely, our department seems to be rather self-sufficient. There are as many as 30 teachers at our Department of Applied Chemistry alone, and our research fields range widely from those concerning compound structures to those involving elements of biology though within the framework of chemistry. Whenever you initiate something new, you can easily find good teachers right around you, who are willing to offer advice from the forefront of their respective specialties. Originally a graduate of Keio, I always feel at home here and see little barriers whenever I take up a new challenge. In this sense, I rarely feel it necessary to go out and seek information and technologies from various other fields.
MC : It sounds like there are differences according to departments . . .
Tanabe : With my department, too, there seem to be few overlaps, and I want to take advantage of it. In other words, I’d like to make the most of Keio’s merits as a university. Another point is the effective use of the many Keio graduates who are active in the industrial world. We shouldn’t forget that either. The work I’m engaged in is fundamental research. It takes a long time to put a project like mine to practical use. This makes it quite difficult even for specialists to envisage a route it will follow and what fruit it will eventually bear as a useful technology. In spite of such difficulty, I feel somewhat compelled to appeal my work to society. So, by receiving advice from various people actively at work in the industrial world, I’d like to say, “I’m now doing this. Is there any good way you can use it?”
Saikawa : Indeed, Keio boasts strong human connections between alumni and current students, even among senior Keio alumni.”
Tanabe : Yes, they do. Incidentally, next week I’m going to attend a “Mita Society” Keio alumni gathering organized at the company to which I previously belonged.

Keio as seen from overseas universities

MC : Ms. Saikawa, you studied at Harvard Medical School. What idea or feelings did you have when attending Harvard? And how did Keio look like when seen from out there?
Saikawa : Ever since I first joined Keio as an undergraduate, I’d had no chance to study overseas – engaging for years in similar research themes at the same laboratory. Harvard Medical School is literally a “medical graduate school.” As a person with little experience in traveling abroad, studying abroad itself was a challenge. So were the medical and biomedical fields that would be involved. Getting out of my laboratory appeared like a rare experience. “I will see and experience as many new things as I can” . . . this was the feeling I had before flying to the United States.
I got this opportunity thanks to our department’s system that allows one young researcher to study abroad every year. Because of this system, I came to feel like studying overseas. It proved to be a truly precious opportunity for me since it would have been difficult to do so on my own.
Once settled there, I was greatly impressed with Harvard in some aspects. I generally found the students enjoying their own campus lives while studying hard at the same time – a major similarity with Keio. When people asked me where I was from, quite a few of them knew the name of Keio. I got the impression that Keio was well known globally.
If asked about my specialty, I am a person of chemistry rather than medicine. Not all researchers in the medical field are knowledgeable about chemistry, and vice versa. On occasion I saw chemistry still being held in high esteem in the world of medicine. Chemistry is a very old field of science whereas biology is gaining in popularity as of late. But I got the impression that chemistry is still a worthwhile pursuit.
MC : Importance of chemistry has been recognized again because you went to Harvard Medical School, you mean?
Saikawa : Maybe so. Discussions often become hot and mutually aggressive when talking with persons from medicine. It seems we talk at cross-purposes as the other party never sees problems from the perspective of chemical structure. But if we communicated thoroughly, both parties would come to understand and say, “Oh, I didn’t know about such a perspective.” In this way I could learn many new perspectives and approaches, which was a valuable experience.
Kamihara : Did you join any laboratory?
Saikawa : Yes, I did.
Kamihara : Does the medical school conduct clinical studies? Are there patients?
Saikawa : Some engage in clinical studies. But there are some Harvard hospitals in the adjacent area, so most of the clinically oriented engage in laboratory work there. Neurological studies are also conducted there. Patients never walk around in the area.
MC : And you came across some who knew the name of Keio, didn’t you?
Saikawa : Keio’s name was relatively well known at the medical school, which surprised me. When I was an undergraduate at Keio, I belonged to the Kendo Japanese Fencing Club, and this club had an alliance with Harvard. Presumably Keio is trying to approach Harvard. I could see similarities in school cultures as private colleges – the unrestricted atmosphere and so on. So I could feel at home at Harvard.
Tanabe : Keio’s Kendo Club in alliance with Harvard? Really?
Saikawa : Harvard students practicing kendo join Keio’s training camp.
Tanabe : You mean the Kendo Club . . . one of Keio’s sports clubs?
Saikawa : Right.
Tanabe : Great!

Research attitudes that create innovations

Research 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.

Companies and universities, momentums for becoming research scientists

Differences between companies and universities

MC : Just a while ago Mr. Tanabe made mention of differences between companies and universities. What do you think, Mr. Kamihara?
Kamihara : Though I don’t know much about private companies, research projects undertaken at universities may be okay even if they don’t produce profits. In the case of a joint research project with private businesses, the university’s responsibility is to present the companies with reliable research results and correct information, and to suggest how they should develop the project from that point onward. Universities are advantageous in that researchers from different specialties are easily available for advice. You can openly ask any one of them, “What’s your opinion about this research result of mine?”
Tanabe : The company laboratory where I belonged was so academic-oriented that the remark I’m going to make may not exactly hold true. But generally speaking, I think there are two major differences between companies and universities. First, businesses are product-oriented. The fact that the result of one’s research work is launched into society in the form of a product means that the face of the researcher responsible for the product development is rarely introduced to society. Conversely, with universities the name and face of the researcher is introduced. To be introduced into the world as a product, or as an individual . . . this is a big difference. The other point . . . I can’t remember now. Sorry.
MC : What about differences in education? Approaches naturally differ between companies and universities, don’t they?
Tanabe : Oh, I’ve just recalled the second point. In general, there are personnel changes at companies, right? This sometimes makes it difficult for researchers to concentrate on their projects, or for the company to take sufficient time for educating researchers – assigned to a post in the manufacturing division and back to the laboratory, etc. On the contrary, at a university you can settle yourself on your own research work. You can educate your juniors more properly; it’s natural because a university is an educational institution. To tell the truth, companies also need to foster researchers through education. This holds true especially these days when the so-called “Baby Boomers” with advanced expertise and know-how are retiring successively. While their valuable expertise and know-how must be handed down to the younger generation, companies are too busy dealing with immediate tasks to inherit and use such assets. It’s also a pity that senior researchers often run short of time to educate their juniors as they are moving here and there restlessly.
MC : Ms. Saikawa, will you comment on this?
Saikawa : I also lack the experience of working for a company. But I have the general impression that the greatest motivation for company researchers is to see their research results being launched in the form of products. It’s a great cycle in that launching products is a contribution to society and the researchers themselves are paid for their achievements. At universities, meanwhile, research pursuits that do not produce immediate results can be permitted as “fundamental research.” As a person engaging in fundamental research, I know my research work, as is, does not visibly contribute to society. But as Mr. Tanabe put it, I’m happy about being allowed to devote myself to challenges that take time – without being bothered. I’d rather say that universities should aim at more of such research themes. Some of my friends working for national universities and research institutes say they have to move from one place to another at intervals of two or three years. Young researchers, in particular, are bound to experience frequent personnel changes, making it difficult for them to concentrate on time-consuming research themes. Conversely, at Keio, or my own department, it’s possible for us to pursue relatively long-range projects; of course it’s wrong to take advantage of such a permissive environment though. I’m comfortable in my environment with an atmosphere that sees projects from a warm, long-range viewpoint even if we can’t produce immediate results.
Kamihara : At the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) I belonged to previously, there are several ongoing projects, each having an average period for completion of three to five years. When it comes to large-scale projects, the period may be extended to five to ten years. With most projects, however, researchers are motivated to come out with visible results by the end of year 2, and in the third year they publicize their achievements to find better employment opportunities. This makes no big difference from the pace of research work at private companies mentioned by Mr. Tanabe just a while ago. Though I myself feel like concentrating on long-range projects, it seems I need some “rehabilitation” for getting accustomed to Keio’s research culture.
Tanabe : Rehabilitation?
Kamihara: The tension I experienced during my JIS days is so deep-rooted that, before I know, I often feel compelled to think of short-range research themes with deadlines for completion.

Momentums for becoming research scientists

MC : Now please tell us why you set your mind on science or chose your careers as researchers.
Tanabe: As a junior high student I saw an NHK Special TV program entitled “The Autobiography of Japan as an Electronics-based Nation.” It was an account of Japan having striven as an electronics-based nation, introducing the transistor and other developments. So impressed by the program, I wanted to do something like that in the future.
Kamihara : Since childhood, I haven’t been a type with special abilities. So, like most of the friends around me, I thought I would enter a university and find employment with a company. Looking at my school report card, I found myself rather weak at English . . . but math and science records were acceptable, which encouraged me to go on to a university. Because my father was a high school teacher, I wanted to follow suit. So, upon graduation, I took an entrance exam for Tokyo Gakugei University – the result was a total failure. During one year of preparing for the next chance, I frequented the home of my high school physics teacher when he recommended several physics-oriented introductory books like an introduction to the theory of relativity, which intrigued me. Then I was admitted into the present department of a university the following year. Since then to date I have simply focused on challenges just before my eyes, going along the stream of things. I’m not a type with great ambition.
Tanabe : So was my case. I was so weak at the Japanese language that I had to choose the science course in college.
Kamihara : Ancient Japanese literature was interesting as far as its content, but I never became inclined to memorize what was written. After having escaped from all my weaknesses, I now find myself working in this course.
MC : Both of you left strong fields after having eliminated weak fields, right?
Kamihara : Well, to be exact, it’s a field where I could be “competitive” with others, rather than a “strong” field.
Saikawa : To tell you the truth, I used to definitely be a liberal arts type student. I loved and was good at subjects like the Japanese language and music. I didn’t like math and science so much. At home we often ate mountain vegetables. They might have been roadside grass. My eyes gradually opened to plants and the world of nature as I referred to an illustrated book of flora as to their classification and to check whether they were edible or not. I liked doing so and it was a necessity of life.
In the autumn of high school sophomore year, I had to choose which course to take, liberal arts or science. By that time, I was not so good at the Japanese language. I particularly disliked the ambiguity associated with questions like “Describe the author’s thought or feelings.” The teacher would give me an NG (X) mark to my answer but I couldn’t understand why. Conversely, subjects such as chemistry and biology appealed to me as they used clear-cut approaches like “The constituents of this plant are so and so.” So I suddenly decided to change my course from liberal arts to science. It was the catalyst for shifting my career to this side.
I seem to be an inquisitive type by nature, asking myself “What is this plant?”, “What constituents is this made of?”, “Is this edible?”, “When does this plant grow?” and other questions. But basically I’m a liberal arts type person in the way of thinking. This sometimes makes me regret my course change when I talk with persons who have come straight through scientific pursuit.
MC : Well, each one of you has his or her own individuality. With these teachers credited with outstanding achievements, we’re sure your students can foster hopes for a bright future. Thank you very much for your time and precious remarks. Newly arriving at your posts or just returning from overseas study, you must be highly motivated. We sincerely hope your research activities will develop greatly and produce superb results.

(Emceeing and editing: “New Kyurizukai” Editing Committee)