Dr. Anson Ma, assistant professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, recently participated as a delegate in a prestigious U.S.-Japan Young Scientist Exchange Program that allowed him to spend five intensive days visiting top Japanese universities and research centers, where he presented his research on the rheology and processing of nanofluids and met with fellow young researchers whose expertise may complement and extend his work.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology – Japan (MEXT) initiated the exchange program – akin to a science diplomacy-style program – in 2003 to foster collaborations among U.S. and Japanese researchers in strategic areas. Leading young Japanese academics visit U.S. universities and researchers, and U.S. academics reciprocate.
Dr. Ma was nominated by a senior researcher for his contributions in understanding the flow behavior and processing of complex fluids for biomedical and energy applications. During day-long workshops from December 9-13, Dr. Ma and his fellow U.S. and Japanese scientists delivered and attended presentations, toured laboratories and discussed avenues for collaboration.
Dr. Ma reports the group visited the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), including laboratories and researchers associated with the institute’s nanotechnology platform; the University of Tokyo; Osaka University; and Kyoto University. The delegates enjoyed one sightseeing day, during which they took the high-speed Shinkansen train from Tokyo to Kyoto for a tour of the 17th century Kodaiji Temple. Among the technology highlights that particularly impressed Dr. Ma was the remarkable ultra-high voltage Hitachi electron microscope housed at Osaka University, measuring over 13 meters in height.
The research excursion focused on bio-nano-micro technologies and was organized and led by Dr. Alexander Revzin, currently a Program Director in the Biosensing Division at the National Science Foundation and a University of California – Davis professor, and Dr. Dino Di Carlo, associate professor of Bioengineering at UCLA.
According to co-lead and two-time veteran Dr. Di Carlo, “The goal is to unveil areas of mutual interest and to build collaborative research bridges in transformative research arenas.” The exchange program focuses on bio-nano-micro technologies, and while the themes have remained constant since 2003, the application areas – for example, manufacturing, sensing and energy – of the visits vary from year to year. Dr. Di Carlo notes that Japanese delegates visit different U.S. universities during their exchange tours, including UCLA, Caltech, MIT, Harvard, Northwestern and the University of North Carolina in recent years.
Dr. Ma judged the experience extremely worthwhile, noting that he met potential collaborators among the U.S. delegates as well as some of the Japanese faculty. He found the work of three Japanese researchers particularly compelling. One is involved in biomechanics research focusing on the motion of cells, and another is developing a bioadhesive for creating 3-D tissue using cells as building blocks – “just like playing with LEGO® blocks,” Dr. Ma remarks. A third is developing advanced biomimetic materials.
Dr. Ma was very impressed with the laboratories and cleanroom facilities, which were organized and efficient, and he found the Japanese counterparts extremely cordial and engaged. Some cultural differences were surprising. For example, he notes that in Japanese laboratories, as in their living spaces, scientists must don slippers before entering research spaces – a custom that is forbidden in U.S. labs.