Category Archives: Research

Brains in Bordeaux

Truly understanding the brain remains to be one of the biggest problems in modern science. It is so interesting because solving this is not only technically challenging but also deeply personal. We humans are innately curious as to how things work and continuously learn and update our models about the world, yet the organ that gives us these amazing abilities is itself poorly understood. This is what pulled me to study the brain and behavior and to become an aspiring neuroscientist and neuroengineer.

The University of Bordeaux, France

Thus, amidst the global pandemic, I was determined to learn more about neuroscience. I searched online for hands-on neuroscience training courses, and found that the CAJAL Advanced Neuroscience Training Programme was an excellent opportunity. A year before the course started, I applied to the program, but I still had to find additional funding to support my travel. Fortuitously, I received an email from the Japan Neuroscience Society (JNS) in partnership with the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) about a travel grant to which I immediately applied. Thankfully I was accepted to both the CAJAL course and the JNS-FENS grant, but the coronavirus would end up delaying the course. Despite this, I was glad that the training would still be pushing through live, because I knew learning hands-on would be much better.

And I was proven right. Against all odds of travel restrictions and visa requirements, attending the CAJAL Course on Optogenetics, Chemogenetics, and Biosensors for Cellular and Circuit Neuroscience (OCBCCN) in-person was an unforgettable experience that helped me learn both broad and deep knowledge in the latest techniques for studying neurons and the brain. Furthermore, being in the Bordeaux School of Neuroscience, surrounded by facilities and people dedicated to neuroscience, was a refreshing atmosphere for me. The course directors, lecturers, and instructors were very welcoming. They facilitated interesting discussions and organized challenging projects. The students and participants were all very friendly and eager to learn. Overall, the environment was that of open-discussion and freedom to ask any questions.

At first, we introduced ourselves and our research in an oral presentation. Then we had a poster session over beers and pizza. The casual atmosphere helped break the ice and encouraged lively conversations about science. We were 20 students from around the world, and I was the only one from East and Southeast Asia. Throughout the course we would receive excellent lectures from the leading experts in the field – most of whom also attended live to have opportunities for in-depth discussions. We were taught the latest developments in optogenetics, biosensors, and optical technology applied to calcium or voltage imaging, optical neuromodulation, behavioral analysis, and many other interesting topics. I met the people whom I read from in journals, which was quite astounding. It was incredible that I could participate in scientific discussions and casual conversations with world-class neuroscientists and neuroengineers.

I also participated in 2 different hands-on projects. The first was on multi-color fiber photometry in freely-behaving animals, and the second was on ultrafast two-photon voltage imaging in vivo.  These two projects were some of the most cutting-edge techniques being used in neuroscience today. It was such a great learning experience because I was able to see the entire workflow of doing such experiments. They also taught us some additional tips and tricks, and I learned even more from performing the experiments hands-on. Since the experts were right beside me, it was very easy to get feedback and learn in the process of working. First-hand experience with the techniques allowed me to see the minute details and challenges from setting-up the experiments up until analyzing the data. We also presented our projects and results to get helpful advice and further insight from the audience.

Every day – from 9 am to 9 pm – we would spend time in the university for lectures and experiments, and so projects that would take several months were accomplished in less than a month. It was a very productive 3 weeks indeed, but we made sure to balance this with some fun as well. We only had 3 days of free time, so we used this to see the beautiful city of Bordeaux and its nearby towns. I was able to visit some historical monuments, city markets, and a light show museum. The food and drinks were wonderful, and even better was the camaraderie we formed. 

Given more time, I’m sure there was a lot more to learn and experience, but even so, the duration of the course was very well-utilized and already jampacked with great learnings and fun experiences. Near the end of the course, I remember feeling very accomplished because I was able to learn so many new things and meet new people. The course made me more eager to continue my PhD research once I got back to NAIST, and it allowed me to gain connections that may help in the future, especially when facing difficulties with my own project.

CAJAL Course directors, instructors, and students

I am very thankful to the CAJAL course organizers, directors, lecturers, instructors, and fellow students for the magnificent experience. I would also like to thank the JNS-FENS committee for helping me fund this once in a lifetime opportunity, and more importantly, for promoting international exchange. I would definitely recommend fellow neuroscientists to take this opportunity.

This experience would not have been possible without NAIST’s mission to train global researchers. I extend my deepest gratitude to NAIST, my laboratory, my sensei and staff for all the support and care they gave during this experience. I am sure my experience in CAJAL would help me, not only in my PhD, but also in my overarching goal of truly understanding the brain. This was a great opportunity for me to “Outgrow my limits”.

NAIST Division of Materials Science Holds 11th Mid-term Evaluation Symposium

The Mid-term Evaluation Symposium 2019 was held in NAIST, last Nov 26 and 27. It is an annual event where a large portion of Materials Science course students present their research in conference-style oral and poster sessions. Now on its 11th year, it is one of the biggest internal events in the MS Division.

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Internship in Slovenian Summer

As NAIST stands by its mantra of “Outgrow Your Limits”, it continues to branch out and reach different parts of the world with research collaborations with many universities. With a new connection to Slovenia, I am very grateful to experience a three-month internship there.

Imagine walking along the promenade 5 minutes away from where you conduct research!

At the tip of Slovenian coastal border along the Adriatic Sea, lies the old city of Koper. At its heart is the University of Primorska, comprised of re-purposed structures like the city post office building and a government office built from the time when the area was still part of the Venetian empire. While the exterior is a testament to Koper’s rich history, the interior is keeping up with the technological state-of-the-art.

At the basement floor of the Faculty of Mathematics, Natural Sciences, and Information Technologies, are makerspace and experiment rooms of the HICUP Lab (Humans Interacting with Computers at University of Primorska Laboratory, for long). Lucky to be in a lab with the latest and coolest in tech, I got to try out among many: wood laser engraving machines (fun fact: Slovenia is 60% forest!), eye trackers, head mounted displays, optical tracking systems.

This HTC Vive headset is very cool because it has Tobii Eye Tracking inside it.
The red thing behind me is the laser engraving machine.

The lab is co-directed by Assistant Lecturers Matjaž Kljun and Klen Čopič Pucihar, who were visiting researchers at the Interactive Media Design (IMD) Laboratory in NAIST from two years earlier. Throughout our internship, they discussed research ideas with me and Title, who is also a PhD student in IMD Lab.

I worked on two projects during my stay. One was about comparing a printed blueprint versus a desktop application versus a virtual reality experience for architectural plans. The other one is a project-in-progress about gauging audience emotions based on on-screen cues for theater plays or movies.

“Blueprint”-outs of a project I worked on in HICUP Lab

I’m very happy to have been given this opportunity to reflect on my current research direction and receive advice and feedback from experts in the area. In both IMD Lab and HICUP Lab, augmented reality and English are the main languages spoken–so it was an easy transition. The HICUP lab is also a diverse group, having members from Mexico, Sri Lanka, and France!

HICUP Lab, April 2019. I used to joke that us students belong to the “Association of Beach Nations”.

I had my worries before going for this internship, but it was actually just very pleasant. A Slovenian summer next to the Adriatic Sea offered some windy days and less humid atmosphere than what I usually have. Students had access to discount cards for nearby restaurants. The usual meals that cost €8 (¥940 as of this writing) were reduced to €3 (¥352)–a whopping 60% discount! The campus and our accommodations were by the coastline, so the walks and commute were leisurely, while the sunset sky were something to watch out for daily.

… or if not sunsets, how about the glacial waters of Lake Bohinj, going from turquoise to teal?

At the end of the internship, I came back to NAIST with many great memories of summer, plus a cool collaborative project that I will continue working on with people from thousands of kilometers away.

NAIST Materials Science Study Abroad Program for Doctoral Students

The Division of Materials Science (DMS) of NAIST provides its students with excellent opportunities to experience research culture and practices outside Japan through the Study Abroad Program, more commonly referred to as a lab stay.

University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu campus, on a beautiful sunny winter day!

Doctoral students from the DMS are required to earn credits under the set of courses called Internationalization Subjects. Two of the most commonly taken subjects are the Practical English for Materials Science (UC Davis English Program) and the International Internship. Students who participate in the lab stay program earn two credits under the International Internship subject. Many students, however, opt to do both, first participating in the UC Davis English Program then proceeding with the lab stay. The latter functions as a training ground for new English communication skills acquired in the previous program.

Magical landscape created by the sun, the leafless trees, and thick sheets of snow that definitely makes you feel like you’re in Finland!

In preparation for the lab stay program, a student can either choose to go to NAIST Academic Partners or look for another university, depending on the compatibility of one’s research topic with the hosting institute. NAIST has more than a hundred academic exchange agreements with foreign universities and research institutes spread over multiple countries.

Communication with a potential supervisor can be established by the laboratory supervisor (at NAIST) or the student himself. Through this, a potential research topic can be discussed and necessary arrangements such as invitation letter, hosting agreement, student housing, etc can be made. Visa application may be necessary depending on the student’s nationality and the country of destination. Moreover, scholars would be delighted to know that NAIST covers most of the major expenses, such as the airfare, visa-related fees, and an accommodation subsidy. A comprehensive overseas travel insurance is also provided by NAIST to ensure the safety of the students during the entire lab stay program.

Joensuu City Theater, located in the city center, was built in the National Romantic style of architecture that flourished in the Nordic countries in the late 19th century.

I spent my two-month lab stay at the Institute of Photonics, Department of Physics and Mathematics, University of Eastern Finland (UEF) in Joensuu, Finland. My host supervisor was Assoc. Prof. Matthieu Roussey, the team leader of the Integrated Optics Group. Under his guidance, I worked on an interesting topic: slot waveguide integration of Bloch surface wave platforms. It was a productive and enjoyable two-month stay within Prof. Roussey’s group.

The snow-covered path that I take to get to the UEF campus everyday!

Last year, two other students from my laboratory joined the lab stay program. Christian Mark Pelicano spent two months at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany while Keisuke Yano worked under the Department of Physics, University of Cagliari in Italy.

It snowed almost everyday in my two-month stay in Joensuu.
The temperature ranged from 0°C to -24°C.

Indeed, more and more students each year are opting to go on a lab stay because of the tremendous opportunities it opens. It can definitely further one’s research and allows one to build a network for collaborative research work. I was blessed to have an open-minded and optimistic host supervisor who saw my research visit in his group as a starting point for further collaboration between NAIST and UEF.

Helsinki Cathedral. Probably the most iconic landmark in Finland.

Apart from the research aspect, the lab stay program is also an amazing opportunity to explore another country. During my stay in Finland, I was able to visit Helsinki and other major cities and learn more about Finnish culture and history. Immersing in a new culture, meeting people with different beliefs and customs, and interacting with a totally different society is a rewarding and humanizing experience. As student-researchers, this allows us to see better the world that we are trying to improve with our individual research, whether it be in physics, chemistry, or engineering.

Clock tower of the Helsinki Central Station, the main transportation hub in Finland.

Nanomagnetism and Beyond: The 405th Photonic Nanoscience Special Lecture

Materials Science is inherently an interdisciplinary field. It combines theories, principles, and techniques in Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Engineering to design and fabricate new and novel materials, structures, and systems and to study the behavior and dynamics of devices made up of these various material components. Continue reading Nanomagnetism and Beyond: The 405th Photonic Nanoscience Special Lecture

The 79th JSAP Autumn Meeting

Several faculty members and students from the NAIST Division of Materials Science attended the 79th JSAP (Japan Society of Applied Physics) Autumn Meeting held at Nagoya Congress Center last September 18-21, 2018. The JSAP organizes two annual technical meetings during the spring and autumn seasons. About 6,000 participants joined this year’s autumn meeting with almost 4,000 papers presented.

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Team NAIST-Panasonic joins the Amazon Robotics Challenge 2017

Team NAIST, winners of the Airbus Shopfloor Challenge 2016, have partnered up with Panasonic to participate in the Amazon Robotics Challenge 2017, a competition about warehouse automation to be held at RoboCup in Nagoya from July 27-30. Team leader Gustavo Garcia presents the team and their robot.

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