Michael C. Kotson
Friends of UTokyo Completion Report
For this past summer, I worked as an intern at the University of Tokyo under the guidance of Prof. Yasushi Suto, whose research is focused on cosmology and astrophysics. Prof. Suto’s team was studying the SFD Galactic Extinction Map, a tool used by astronomers to determine the location of interstellar dust in our galaxy. This map is vital to determining the correct brightness of stars, but major anomalies in the data for regions of low dust concentration pose a great problem to observers. My job was to work with a graduate student to find a model explaining these anomalies, which we could use to correct the map and solve this issue.
Much of my work involved computer simulations. Since the graduate student whom I helped wrote all of his codes in C++, my task for the first two weeks was to learn the basics of this computer language. Once I was skilled enough to read and write simple code, I performed tests of the model by running the program several times with different parameters. Later I constructed a simulation program from scratch, this time using the graduate student’s recently derived analytical model of the dust anomaly. While my work this summer was entirely focused on cosmology and I plan to pursue a career in astronomy, the research experience and programming knowledge I gained will prove invaluable in my near future. The classes I have taken as an undergraduate have taught me the principles and facts I need for a life of science, but the skills required to deconstruct a complex physical situation and rebuild it into a simple, quick-running computer model are best gained through firsthand research experience.
My summer program was not entirely without problems, though those that persisted were minor. Both my professor and the graduate student were quite busy throughout the summer, so I was often unsupervised as I worked. Because of this, the delays between when I would complete a project and when I could start a new one were frequently extended, leaving me with little to do. Usually I filled these gaps by practicing programming with C++, so little time was actually wasted. And while we have not yet decisively proven our hypothesis due to time constraints, I will continue to work with my team in UTokyo while I am back in the United States, and hopefully our project will reach a satisfying conclusion.
As for my non-work-related experiences in Tokyo, my trip to Japan exceeded all expectations. From climbing Mt. Fuji to eating curry for the first time, the activities and locales I participated in and visited were always exciting and exotic. This was my first trip outside of the United States, and immersing myself entirely within a foreign culture proved to be an incredible learning experience. I am more comfortable speaking in Japanese now than I was in May, and I learned more about kanji in Tokyo’s many train stations than I ever did in the classroom. And while I have never truly enjoyed seafood, I was never disappointed with Japan’s menu.
If I could leave a message for any Friends of UTokyo who will come after me, it is that they should travel through Japan as much as possible. I missed an opportunity to spend a weekend in Kyoto and have regretted it ever since. Even if one is not able to leave Tokyo, the myriad array of cultures and happenings in the towns of Shinjuku, Shibuya, Akihabara and so many more are enough to surprise you every day for months. Research is vital, and work is important, but anybody lucky enough to visit Japan should not let these run his or her life. Japan is amazing, and leaving the archipelago without seeing and doing as much as possible is simply a mistake.
In closing, I extend my greatest thanks to Friends of UTokyo, as your support has blessed me with one of the richest experiences of my life. The memories of Japan and all that I encountered will stay with me forever, and the research skills I have honed will surely benefit me as I head begin my career in science. I hope, in some shape or form, that someday I can return the favor.