Jose M. Lobez
Ph.D. Candidate Swager Lab – Department of Chemistry
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
This summer I did a research stay at the Aida Lab within the Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology Engineering at the University of Tokyo, UTokyo (Hongo Campus). The Aida Lab is an organic chemistry lab focused on new materials development to mainly study supramolecular interactions, and how we can make use of those interactions to create new materials relevant for fundamental social issues in the fields of energy and health. This lab has a very unique work philosophy, which makes use of a combination of heavily synthetic chemistry with a strong focus on applications for energy, biomaterials and organic electronics.
The project I carried out under the supervision of Prof. Aida was centered on the development of new liquid-crystalline side-chain functionalized polymer brushes to study their nanomorphology and 3D macroscopic assembly capabilities. I used the synthesized polymers as a model to understand liquid crystalline assembly in the thin film and later apply this knowledge to the design of organic solar cells. The information obtained from these studies will be crucial in the rapid development of more efficient systems capable of exhibiting a better performance for harvesting energy from the Sun. This is paramount to achieve access to more efficient alternative energies.
During my time at the University of Tokyo, I also helped understand the behavior of complex organic liquid crystalline systems and coordinated research efforts while developing new research directions for organic photovoltaics.
The work carried out at the University of Tokyo has helped me hone my lab techniques and Japanese language skills, while broadening my scientific knowledge. This work will be included in my Ph.D. thesis at MIT, and we are also currently collaborating on the creation of a manuscript for publication of this work in a high impact scientific journal.
On a personal and intellectual level, I have really enjoyed learning about different work ethics and alternative ways to approach problem solving, from the perspective of a completely different culture.
During my time here, I also greatly increased my network of colleagues and friends. In this time I gave a lecture at the University of Tokyo on my Ph.D. work, and I also had the opportunity to visit and give lectures at Osaka University, Kyoto University, and Nagoya University. This was a magnificent occasion to discuss my science with very well respected Japanese professors and young Japanese researchers. Furthermore, I was also very active in re-establishing connections with Japanese scientists who had carried out research at MIT in the past, and are now professors at Universities, principal scientists at Japanese companies (Sumitomo Chemical, Toray) and students at Japanese Universities.
After completing this program, I truly feel like I would like to work in a position after graduation where I can make a difference and help solve global problems. I want to make use of a combination of my scientific background, language skills and also my personal network to make a difference. This is even more evident to me now after having spent this time in Japan.
Message for prospective students
I would encourage future recipients of this fellowship to not only make the most out of their courses and scientific work while in Japan, but also to explore other possible connections at other research institutions in different locations within Japan.