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  • Earthquake impact reverses NanoJapan plans

Photonics Spectra
Aug 2011
Compiled by Photonics Spectra staff

SENDAI, Japan, and HOUSTON – When it became clear that the effects of the March earthquake in Sendai were going to impede the undergraduate lab internship program known as NanoJapan, the program underwent a reversal: Instead of sending US students to Japan, students from partner labs in Japan traveled to Houston’s Rice University for three months of study.

“This was a tough decision, since we believe the best way to support Japan right now is to continue to conduct business as normal,” said NanoJapan director and founder Junichiro Kono, professor of electrical and computer engineering and of physics and astronomy at Rice. “On the other hand, it was clear that some of our partner labs, especially those at Tohoku University, were severely affected by the earthquake and not ready to host any students. In the end, we decided that this reverse program is the best way to address the situation, both for our US students and our Japanese collaborators.”

Since its creation in 2006, NanoJapan has immersed US university students in Japanese culture and in nanotech research. This year, several partner labs in Japan were operating at partial capacity because of rolling blackouts and energy conservation efforts.

So Kono and program administrator Sarah Phillips arranged to host 25 undergraduate and graduate students from Japan along with the 14 US students already committed to the program for this summer. “Currently, we have a total of 22 Japanese students and 14 US students on campus with this program,” Phillips said. “There will be an additional three students from Japan who will come in late July and stay through early October.”

Thirteen of the 25 Japanese participants in NanoJapan 2011 at Rice University pose with their English as a Second Language teacher, Chihiro Aoki, of the State University of New York at Buffalo. Images courtesy of the NanoJapan Program.

Kono worked closely with colleagues at Rice’s Schools of Engineering and Natural Sciences to put each student in an adviser’s research lab that would fit his or her academic background and research interests. “These advisers were all very eager to support our program, as many of them had close research collaborators in Japan who were also affected by the earthquake and tsunami,” Phillips said.

Some of the projects the students will undertake are concerned with the fabrication and characterization of nanostructures and nanomaterials, particularly carbon-based materials such as nanotubes and graphene. “Emphasis will be placed on the interaction of terahertz radiation with electrons in nanosystems,” Phillips added. The students are now preparing submission abstracts for the Rice Quantum Institute’s Summer Research Colloquium in early August.

Hikaru Iwata of Tohoku University in Sendai gives his final presentation in his English as a Second Language class in the NanoJapan program.

The experience was designed to be intercultural. The students are being housed at Rice’s graduate student apartments, and many of the US students have Japanese roommates. “There is a high level of interaction between the US and Japanese students in our program,” Phillips said, from the research lab to educational activities, from nano seminars to intensive language training, and formal and informal cultural programming. “It is rare to ever see one of our students alone – they are almost always with at least one other NanoJapan student.”

It was a lot to plan in a short time, but Phillips said the results already have been highly rewarding. “This all came together in the span of about a month and a half,” she pointed out, “and though it was a lot of work to coordinate and develop on such short notice, in the end we believe we have developed a solid program that can potentially serve as a model for future international research internship programs at Rice University.”

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