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Nanotechnology is a hot area of research in several parts of the world. With that in mind, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has joined with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) of Japan to sponsor the Japan-US Young Researchers Exchange Program on Nanotechnology.
Asst. Prof. Daniel Schmidt of the Plastics Engineering Department and Prof. Marina Ruths of Chemistry were selected as part of the 2006 U.S. contingent. Each country hosts a dozen top young researchers to visit nanotechnology-related research facilities and build personal networks during a two-week exchange.
NSF leaders asked Prof. Julie Chen of the Mechanical Engineering Department, and a former NSF program officer, to organize this year’s exchange. In March, UMass Lowell hosted the general symposium for the visiting Japanese; the group toured facilities at MIT, Harvard, Northwestern, Cornell, UC Santa Barbara, Stanford and UCLA. Last month, the U.S. group toured Japan, guided by Chen’s counterpart, Dr. S. Okamura of the National Institute of Materials Science.
Chen says, “It’s a great door-opening opportunity in many waysߞ;meeting people, understanding the structural set-up of the research, having a contact for future reference. An additional benefit is that the U.S. researchers get to know each other and this also opens doors to collaboration.”
About their time in Japan, Ruths says, “It was helpful to see people in the workplace, rather than at a conference. It added to my understanding of their interactions and expectations.”
All were impressed with the quantity and quality of instrumentation in Japan. Says Schmidt, “We saw one of the most powerful nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers in existence; the same for a transmission electron microscope. We also used an extremely high resolution atomic force microscope, with which you could see individual atoms and move them around.”
Although Schmidt set up a material exchange with a researcher at NEC Tsukuba (where carbon nanotubes were first reported), he also emphasized the growing relationships with fellow U.S. researchers, as well as their diversity.
“A lot of us felt it was nice to be in a group representing such a broad range of research being done,” he says. “These are people you wouldn’t necessarily meet at a conference, and it’s especially valuable to get together across disciplines.”