A Summer of Adventure and Research

by Michelle Ai

Under the gracious support of Friends of UTokyo, I spent 6 weeks at Professor Keisuke Goda’s lab at the University of Tokyo’s Hongo Campus working on developing an intelligent classification method for identifying agonist-induced platelet aggregation. The goal of the project was to take the developed intelligent classification method and apply it to the real world as a potential tool for patient diagnosis and treatment. My role in the project was analyzing platelet images taken from thrombosis patient blood samples in collaboration with the University of Tokyo Hospital so the data could eventually be used to train a convolutional neural network to be able to diagnose thrombosis patients by the images of their platelets.

At the Goda lab, I had my coding skills put to the test as I had to teach myself new coding applications in a new language. I was given thousands of platelet images from different patients of platelet aggregates induced by different agonists to which I had to carry out image processing and statistical analysis to look for aggregation trends between agonists and patients. Fortunately, with the help of my mentor Nana-san and my background in C++, I was able to get on my feet and write code to statistically analyze quantitative aspects of the platelet images (something I had never done before) and present them as figures. Sometimes it was mindboggling trying to think of ways to organize the sheer number of images I was working with in a way that made the images easy to process in the code, and oftentimes I found myself having to hard-code for certain things and stare at my screen for periods of time trying to code-trace. By the end of my internship at the Goda Lab, however, I realized how in-demand coding skills were in research and that I was lucky to be able to hone my skills in data analysis in a research environment which I can apply to my future research endeavors.

Outside of the lab, I was fortunate enough to make some lifelong friends with whom I was able to explore Japan. On my first weekend, I visited DisneySea with some people in my program and they soon became my travel companions for the trips to come. On the subsequent weekends, I visited Nagoya, Himeji, Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Yokohama, Hakone, Kamakura, and Okinawa with my newfound friends! Some highlights of my trips include visiting Ghibli Park in Nagoya, exploring Himeji Castle in Himeji, visiting Dontonbori in Osaka, and feeding deer in Nara. In Kyoto, I wore a Yukata for the first time, saw the moving Gundam in Yokohama, and bussed for 3 hours to the northern part of Okinawa to visit the Churaumi Aquarium. Additionally, I was able to experience an onsen for the first time in Hakone and light fireworks in Kamakura at the beach.

During the weekdays, my friends and I would try our best to explore Tokyo. We visited Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ginza, Akihabara, Odaiba Beach, Asakusa, Ueno, and the list goes on. I was truly blessed to have Tokyo as my “home base” because there was always something interesting or new to see a train ride away, and a large variety of food was always within arm’s reach. I tried soumen, hitsumabushi, and hamburg steak for the first time, and I got to try some cute desserts at the Kirby café! I was also able to try standing sushi (thanks to Professor Goda), shabu shabu, yakinuku, ramen, tonkatsu, gyukatsu, and a lot of other Japanese food.

What made my experience in Japan so unforgettable was how efficient and fulfilling I spent each day with my new friends. I believe Japan possesses a duality of tranquility and peace as it embraces its historical and naturistic side while also valuing efficiency and innovation as demonstrated through its ground-breaking transportation system and the research I was fortunate enough to partake in at the University of Tokyo. Some of my fondest memories of Japan involved engaging with these characteristics of the country. We would run for the last trains after a packed day of exploring a nature-filled town away from Tokyo and set off for history-rich cities for the weekend after a long day’s work of research. I would love to come back to Japan in the future to continue exploring the country, as I know that there is a lot more to see and learn.

I would like to thank Friends of UTokyo for supporting me during this research internship abroad as well as Professor Goda-san for welcoming me into his lab. I also want to give a shout-out to all the friends I made in this program and traveled around Japan with. Everyone I met in this program made this program unforgettable for me and it is truly a peak in my life.