by Carolyn Zhang
This past summer I explored the broad spectrum of nanoscience applications alongside a diverse group of fellow students hailing from top research universities around the world. The Global Summer Program (GSP) Nanoscience course at the University of Tokyo and the support of FUTI granted me one of the most memorable summer experiences I have had thus far, filled not only with engaging academic learning but also exciting cultural immersion.
Lectures started early, running from 8:30 to 12:10, and lunch was followed by lab tours. This unique lecture-lab tour format helped me grasp the process of research better, especially since I had little experience in biology-related fields before the course. In fact, as a Physics major, I was initially nervous about the course because two thirds of it focused on biology-oriented aspects of nanoscience such as biomaterials and synthetic peptides. However, the lecturers here have made sure to not only explain the topics thoroughly, but also engage in dialogue with students by answering our many questions. They furthur clarify their techniques through lab demonstrations: one lab we toured had cases upon cases full of live silkworms, another one required us all to put on full-body cleanroom suits to for highly sterilized quantum dot fabrication systems. These lab tours also showed me how intimately biological nanoscience and physics nanoscience/nanotechnology are related. In fact, many experiments use the same equipment and analysis methods: atomic force microscopy, lenses and lasers, etc. During our fifth day of lecture, we were led through an extensive tour of the cleanroom at Komaba Campus. It was possibly the largest, most sophisticated academic cleanroom I had ever seen. The cleanroom encompassed a huge expanse of different rooms and facilities, used by several professors at the University of Tokyo. The wealth of equipment and scrupulous lab members testified to the high quality research conducted at the institution. The classes, lab tours, and community of highly motivated students have quelled my hesitation toward the biological side of nanoscience and encouraged me to continue pursuing my interests in science through academia.
The Nanoscience course included two study-visits, first to the Nikko World Heritage Site and then to RIKEN and AIST. On the Nikko trip, we learned how to make our own soba noodles from scratch. We were then guided through elaborate shrines and experienced the Japanese integration of Buddhist and Shinto beliefs. RIKEN and AIST amazed us with their futuristic technology and immaculate facilities, showing how groundbreaking research can be conducted in a variety of settings. In addition to these organized outings, I also collected many memorable moments on my own, from walking along the streets of Harajuku to running around the scenic lily pad ponds of Ueno Park to climbing to the peak of Mount Fuji at daybreak. After class, I tried to take in as much of Tokyo as possible. The sprawling metropolis houses several unique mini-cities: the young, fashion-forward Harajuku, the traditional yet touristy Asakusa, the anime/manga devoted Akihabara. Each place taught me new lessons. For example, Harajuku, one of my favorite places to wander around, demonstrated a culture of self-expression through fashion difficult to find in the United States. As I viewed the city from the 45th floor of the Metropolitan Government Building, brightly lit even in the late hours of the night, I felt amazed by the sheer number of people in the city and the complexity of the city they built.
Despite the intrigue of these busy mini-cities, though, I found that my most exhilarating experiences in more solitary places. One of these was the Mount Fuji hike, where 10 other GSP students and I started from the 5th station 2305 m above sea level and hiked up to spend the night 3400 m above sea level. The next day, we got up at 2 AM to climb the last 380 m to the peak for the sunrise. The mountain was so crowded that we had to queue up to the peak, but watching the steady stream of headlights bobbing up toward to top, whipped about by frigid winds, gave me no less a sense of wonder. And of course the sunrise was beautiful. Another such enthralling experience was running along the Arakawa River one evening, near the end of the program. The road along the Arakawa seemed endless, and since it was on the periphery of the city, the night was dark enough for me to see the stars.
Of course, the people I met along the way were crucial to my positive experience in the Nanoscience course and in exploring Tokyo. The other students in Nanoscience and Japan in Today’s World (another GSP course at UTokyo) all had unique backgrounds and stories, so we never had a shortage of conversation topics. I learned not only from the lecturers, but also from my peers. For example, I never before had talked to people with such diverse views on feminism, arising from the experiences they had and the teachings of their home countries. And though I may not see these classmates again very often, I know that if we find each other in the same city again some time in the future we can share our stories and reconnect, and will always be willing to show each other around our home countries.
Therefore I sincerely thank FUTI. I am so grateful for the financial support FUTI provided. I am so grateful for the exciting science I learned, the rich culture I experienced, and the diverse people I befriended this summer. And holding on to the precious memories I collected, I look forward to more adventures in Japan in the future.