I have loved physics ever since I was in junior high school. I find the field fascinating as it uses mathematical formulas to explain phenomena around us. When I was in high school, I attended the School of Science’s Open Campus event and I decided then and there that I wanted to enter the University of Tokyo and study physics at the School of Science, a place with high-caliber professors and students.
When I was an undergraduate student in the Faculty of Science, I learned about the fundamentals of physics but these theories were established 100 to 200 years ago. I wanted to study areas of physics that have yet to be understood, so I continued on to the graduate program.
In my first year as a master’s student, I joined a new program called Forefront Physics and Mathematics Program to Drive Transformation (FoPM)*. A year after the program started, though, all classes and seminars were moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic. My favorite experience was having the wonderful opportunity to listen to Professor May-Britt Moser, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, at the regularly held 4PM seminar.
Students were also able to give a speech about their research in the latter half of the seminars. We only had five minutes to present our research in a way that people outside our field could understand, which I struggled with as it was really difficult. However, listening to speeches given by students from other fields and getting their feedback exposed me to new ideas and broadened my perspective immensely.
Additionally, I learned about how to give presentations and write manuscripts in a course called Academic Writing and Presentation. I particularly enjoyed learning about the process of creating a manuscript by writing and doing peer review until there was a finished product, which I found quite practical.
In-person discussions with research colleagues made possible by FoPM
Ever since I was a master’s student, I have been observing and analyzing the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) in Associate Professor Akito Kusaka’s laboratory in order to investigate the early universe as well as its evolution. During my master’s, I joined a cutting-edge international research project called the Simons Array. This project has around 100 members and I’ve been doing experiments with researchers from around the world. I am also a part of the next-generation project, the Simons Observatory, which has more than 300 members. This large-scale project conducts observations using state-of-the-art millimeter wave telescopes in the Atacama Desert of Chile. Through FoPM’s International Research Experience program, I spent one month at the University of California-Berkeley and created a program to analyze the experimental data following discussions with fellow researchers who were developing a telescope for CMB observation.
After my time at UC Berkeley, I went to UC San Diego for two weeks to discuss the analysis of the CMB experimental data. I also attended the preparations for the integrated test of one of the Simons Observatorytelescopes before it was taken to Chile. The final tests will involve checking the sensitivity of the detector and cooling tests. I’m really looking forward to when the telescope starts operating in Chile, especially now that I’ve witnessed the preparations firsthand. What’s more, I was able to attend the project’s first in-person meeting in three years, which was held in San Diego. It was very fun and exciting to be able to spend time talking with various researchers.
The labs at both universities readily welcomed me as a member. I wasn’t that confident in my English ability as I haven’t had much experience using it, but everyone listened and talked to me patiently so I could discuss research with them with ease. I have a lot of great memories with the lab members, such as getting to know each other better when we talked at the cafeteria during lunch, and going to the beach together when we finished our work a little early.
We continue to collaborate and have online meetings now that I’m back in Japan, but I speak up more this time. My experience abroad through this program has made me more confident and I feel motivated to contribute where I can by continuing my research. The training I received from FoPM to hone my presentation skills has also made a large impact on my research career.
After finishing graduate school, I want to continue this line of research and take on the challenge of helping to elucidate the unknown in physics. I think it would be fun to use my programming experience to try developing software at a company as well.
*Forefront Physics and Mathematics Program to Drive Transformation (FoPM): A five-year integrated master’s and doctoral degree program.
※Year of interview:2022
Interview and text: Kristina Awatsu
Photography: Junichi Kaizuka