MANA: Providing Young Researchers with the Freedom to Research

――How do you feel about the environment at MANA?

MANA was selected by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology for its World Premier International (WPI) Research Center Initiative, and "world premier" is no exaggeration: MANA is truly a world-class research center. You would be hard pressed to find a research center as well-equipped as this even overseas. It is no overstatement to say that MANA is the world's best environment for young researchers.

――What makes MANA the world's best environment for young researchers?

The equipment is excellent, of course, but what is even better is the freedom that young researchers have to pursue their research. ICYS-MANA Researchers and Independent Scientists are never told "do this experiment". The budgets are independent, and there are few restrictions on the use of funds. After returning to Japan from a stint as a visiting faculty member at the University of Basel in Switzerland, there were not many researchers here doing the same research I was, and the lab equipment I needed was not commercially available. I essentially needed to start over from scratch, and MANA provided me with the support I needed to tackle this challenge. I would not have been able to pursue my research if I were anywhere else but MANA.

――The independence afforded by MANA is very attractive, but what happens when you run into problems?

Some of the world's top researchers, including Dr. Rohrer, visit MANA often, so I have been able to receive extremely useful advice on both my research and the attitude a researcher needs to succeed. When I feel disheartened after repeated failures in the laboratory, the older researchers tell me stories about the struggles of world-renowned professors. This gives me the courage to tackle my problems with a positive attitude.

――What have you learned from Dr. Rohrer in your joint research and other work with him?

Dr. Rohrer emphasizes the importance of having concrete data for even the minutest part of any experiment; he will never accept half measures. I learned how to be tenacious and push the limits as well as the importance of developing a strong awareness as a researcher. Now we mainly communicate by e-mail, but we continue to work on our research when he visits Japan and when I visit Switzerland. In this sense, I think I have been able to conduct joint research with Dr. Rohrer precisely because I am at MANA.

MANA: Trusting and Respecting Young Researchers

――What do you like about MANA's research environment?

MANA has an overnight discussion event called the Grand Challenge Meeting. You can learn what your colleagues are researching and get new ideas. The young researchers and the Principal Investigators (PI) discuss the fundamentals of each project-whether it be useful and why is it important to conduct seemingly "useless" research-on an equal footing and without worrying about time. As a researcher, it is a highly stimulating event, and it makes me feel that my colleagues trust me. I think researchers in other organizations feel that holding meetings like this is important, but MANA should be commended for actually planning and implementing them. After attending one of these meetings, I organized a project team composed entirely of young researchers, and last November, MANA officially declared its support for our idea.

MANA: International and Open

――Is international experience a plus for MANA researchers?

The research environment and facilities in Japan and at MANA are more than enough to conduct research, but I think traveling overseas in pursuit of personal networks and know-how is important. You can learn a lot by visiting the people and the labs that other people consider to be outstanding. Also, conducting research in a different culture while you are still young and getting an outside view of Japan provides you with opportunities to expand your horizons both as a researcher and as a person. In this sense, I think the international experiences that MANA offers are a big plus.

――More than half of MANA's researchers are foreign nationals.

One day after I returned from Switzerland, I had to stop to remind myself that this was actually Japan. That sums up how comfortable I was in MANA's international environment. The researchers and the support staff typically speak English. Foreign researchers also participate in the Grand Challenge Meeting, so the discussions are all held in English. In this manner, MANA is an internationally open research center.

――Does it feel like a foreign research center?

I think so. Perhaps you could say it is a research center where you feel connected to the world everyday. For instance, I had a team from ?cole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) build prototypes of the sensor I designed. These were the same people that built the sensors for NASA's Mars rover, so they literally had the best microfabrication technology in the world. This international joint research project in which young researchers played key roles was made possible because I was at MANA, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity.

MANA has an environment in place that can provide young researchers with a wide range of support to help them tackle their challenges. I don't think there is any better place for young researchers who know exactly what they want to do.