So much to experience in three weeks

by Daniela Fontecha Solano

IRESUVM Participant

Just over three weeks in Yonezawa and I have had the chance to experience a lot with our kind hosts. As food is a huge part of Japanese culture, we have been taken out to try all kinds of things. Upon our arrival, we tried a lot of sushi and ramen. We were also taken to izakaya restaurants, which are traditional restaurants that serve appetizers for the whole table to try. At the izakaya we tried a lot of gyoza (Japanese dumplings) and make-your-own sushi. Most recently we also went to eat okonomiyaki, which are best described as cabbage pancakes. At this restaurant, each table had individual stovetops and they gave you the ingredients for each okonomiyaki which you proceeded to mix and make yourself. Every meal has been very interesting here and the food is something that I’m going to miss when I get back home.

Every day means a new dining experience in Yonezawa. This time: Okonomiyaki
RAMEN!!! MORE RAMEN!! One can never have too much RAMEN!!!

We have also had the opportunity to go exploring quite a bit. Yoshida-sensei took us to see Mt. Zao, which is an incredible volcano near Yamagata. We also had the opportunity to go cherry picking since it is cherry season here. We stayed for a little under an hour but it was enough to try every type of cherry in the orchard and get incredibly full from all the cherries. I have also entertained myself with local hiking, which is only a mile away from the dorms. One hike takes you up to the ridge of the eastern mountains of Yonezawa and allow you to see the rest of the landscape on the other side. Since it is the rainy season, the mountains are often covered in low-lying clouds which can make for amazing hikes.

Breath-taking views of the Mt. Zao volcano near Yamagata City.

I have gotten settled into Masuhara-sensei’s lab with a working plan for my project, working with Sai who is a Master 1 student at Yamagata University. The graduate students at Yamagata University have impressed me with how much they communicate and interact with each other. They have all been very helpful and fun to learn from about their research.

Learning synthesis of perovskite nanoparticles in the Masuhara Lab

It’s beginning to look a lot like…Japan!

BY Georgia Babb

IRESUVM Participant

            It has been about two weeks since arriving in Yonezawa…although it feels like I’ve been here a month. Yoshida-sensei, our gracious host, has brought the IRES group to many beautiful places and many more restaurants. Here are just a few of the amazing things I have experienced so far…

My favorite picture from the Kamo Aquarium which is most well-known for the extensive jellyfish collection. 
This is one of the many different colored ponds we saw at Goshikinuma (Five Colored) Lakes in the Bandai Asahi National Park. 
Here is me in the lab transferring the pre-gel solution into the mold. Once this solution is treated with UV light it can be placed in water to make a hydrogel.
Here is me holding the final hydrogel up, very nervously…this was purely to show that it was completely transparent. Thank you to Sazzadur Rahman for showing me this technique. 

There hasn’t been a moment I don’t feel welcome here and not a single night where I can’t find someone to go to dinner with. Whether it’s in the lab or out on the town, there is no shortage of things to do. I’m very excited to see what the next 6 weeks have in store!

Yamadai Bicycles

Yamagata University (a. k.a. Yamadai) and University of Vermont (UVM) definitely have at least one thing in common: the preferred mode of student transportation is the bicycle. After checking into their dormitory rooms on the Yamadai campus, the first thing our IRES students did was to rush over to the student center and rent five of the many city bikes the university owns. We found out that bicycles carry registration, much like our cars and motorbikes do back home.

Just like our Burlington, Yonezawa is located at the foothills of beautiful mountains covered with luscious green forests this time of the year. My friend, Yoshida -sensei, took us on a team -building hike around the Goshikinuma (Five Colored) Lakes in the Bandai Asahi National Park. The name comes in part from the iron oxide deposits that make the water look red in certain places.

Hiking the Goshikinuma (Five Colored) Lakes. Left to right: Yuki Tsuda, Tsukasa Yoshida-sensei, Kyle Ikeda -sensei, Chris Popham Georgia Babb, Grayson Glosser, Daniela Fontecha and Adam Dyer.

Layover thoughts…

BY Georgia Babb, IRES UVM Participant

            Good morning from Newark! The IRES team sits eagerly typing their blog posts and sipping overpriced airport coffee as we await the next hefty leg of the trip (Newark to Tokyo). This layover provided the perfect time to reflect on all we have done in just two weeks since assembling at the University of Vermont. At the beginning of each day we’ve had a Japanese lesson with Professor Kyle Ikeda, which has been one of my favorite parts of the day! While I still butcher just about every simple phrase we learned, I have truly enjoyed the journey. I went from knowing just about nothing to now recognizing the two alphabets, hiragana and katakana, as well as some simple kanji symbols. I anticipate much more learning to come once completely immersed in the culture and language. 

            While learning Japanese, I have also been learning many lab techniques I had not yet been exposed to. This program is the beginning of my undergraduate research career at UVM and so far, so good! At first, it’s very easy to feel as if you know absolutely nothing, however, being surrounded by amazing professors and fellow students who are willing to help each other out has created a comfortable learning environment. During one of the first few days we observed Professor Matthew White deposit electrodes on some of his lab’s solar cells they have been generating. He proceeded to demonstrate the photoelectric effect of these solar cells by shining white light on them to produce an observable current. Later on in the week, Professor Madalina Furis showed the intricate procedure of working in an optics lab. Big take away: patience is a virtue in this line of work. 

            Our arrival in Japan is close in sight, and there are many more laboratory techniques to grasp. I have the incredible opportunity to work with Professor Hidemitsu Furukawa’s group during our stay in Yonezawa. The work this group is developing will propel gel mechanics and robotics to new levels. His group is focused on the 3D printing of soft gels which is applicable to a wide variety of fields. Including, but not limited to, the medical application of the ability to 3D print functional artificial tissues such as blood vessels. I look forward to learning more about this research group and the techniques involved with 3D printing. To say I’m excited is an understatement! 

Georgia Babb (バブ ジョージア)

Our IRES team before departing from UVM. Left to right: Christopher Popham (Princeton), Daniela Fontecha (NC State), Grayson Glosser(UVM), Adam Dyer (Grad-UVM), Georgia Babb (UVM)

Ready To Go

by Grayson Glosser, IRES UVM Participant

It’s game time. Everything is packed, my very loud alarm is set, and I am ready to leave. I’m excited, there’s a mountain of work that is ahead, a culture that is polar opposite, food I have never tried, and a language I don’t speak, and I cannot wait. I am a home-body. I’ve spent my whole life close to home, I didn’t go that far for college … and now this. So lets see how this goes, but before that, there’s a really long day ahead of me.

With fellow IRES students the day before departure, purifying molecules in the Whalley Lab. From left to right: Chris Popham (Princeton) Adam Dyer (UVM-Grad), Grayson Glosser (UVM), Daniela Fontecha (NC State) and Georgia Babb (UVM)

Anticipating Arrival at Yonezawa, Japan


by Daniela Fontecha, UVM IRES Participant

Organic Electronics often requires working in a nitrogen atmosphere. Loading the substrates is the first step in preparation for organic thin film vapor deposition in the White Lab at UVM. Doing it with oversized gloves definitely makes it harder than it sounds.

I’m Daniela, a senior majoring in physics and chemistry at North Carolina State University. When I heard about this program I got very excited because I have been wanting to explore research in organic electronics for some time – and to be able to spend my last summer as an undergraduate abroad was just perfect. I arrived at UVM about two weeks ago and had the chance to experience some the neat things Burlington has to offer, such as great food and great views, before heading to Japan. While at UVM we learned and read a lot about our research as well as about Japanese culture. Most of our days were very intensive with Japanese lessons in the morning and research in the afternoon. I learned a lot about the organic electronics research with the guidance of Dr. Furis and Dr. White who also demonstrated experimental techniques related to our projects to prepare us for the labs in Japan. Overall, this has been a great start to the program and I can’t wait to arrive in Yonezawa tomorrow and meet the other professors and students involved in this research.

Hiking the Sterling Pond Trail (Stowe, Vermont) with fellow IRES members Chris Popham (Princeton-left) and Grayson Glosser (UVM-center)

So It Begins!

by Madalina Furis, Professor of Physics and Materials Science, University of Vermont

It’s been more than three years since I first set foot on the Yamagata University (Yamadai)  campus, located in Yonezawa, a beautiful Japanese town with a hundred year -old tradition in polymer science and engineering. Few of us know this is the birthplace of rayon and the white light organic light emitted diode (WOLED) invented exactly hundred years apart.

Since then, thanks to a close collaboration between a remarkable group of Yamadai scientists, passionate about organic electronics and soft matter research and researchers from our very own University of Vermont’s Materials Science program, US students will travel to Yonezawa for an eight week summer research experience under the mentorship of our Japanese friends.

Our first cohort arrives tomorrow for a two-week intensive Japanese language and lab training courses. Planning the logistics of a a program like this turned out to be a learning experience not only for me, the PI on this grant, but also for staff. This is the first IRES grant awarded at UVM since the seventies (or so the NSF website indicates). That meant negotiating housing contracts, learning differences between stipends and salaries, while trying to keep the students connected to each other and to us until the day of arrival. Students of course often remain unaware of the many logistical hurdles and hoops we jump through so we make sure they will have a good experience.

The UVM IRES participants get a chance to gain experimental skills and fundamental knowledge in all the main thrusts of electronic materials discovery

What are my hopes for this program? Educating Global Scientists is of course our main goal. Who is a global scientist and am I one of them? I’d like to think so because leading by example has always been a powerful teaching method.

As a graduate of the University of Bucharest, Romania, I am certainly aware of the significant differences that exist between learning models and academic cultures across the world. I loved studying foreign languages since I was about ten years old because I instinctively recognized them as gateways into the mysteries of other cultures. While maturing as a scientist in the American academic and research environment, I recognized the fundamental need for effectively communicating with colleagues working in Asia or Europe. They often bring distinct and interesting approaches to fundamental research problems, that could enrich our own way of thinking. Communication barriers that unfortunately prevent us from appreciating and employing these ideas are not merely originating from language: they are rather deeply routed in the often scientifically insular nature of approaching research; even when the “island” is as large as the United States. Today’s top scientist must be a sophisticated, well-educated, well-traveled individual, able to network and establish collaborations all across the globe. I can only hope we can help our students to make  the first step towards becoming that.