On Wednesday 31st May, our Science Communication Fellow visited Associate Professor Takasi Ogi (DR) at his lab in Higashi-Hiroshima Campus. The following discussion took place:
What is your name and specialty?
My name is Takasi Ogi. I research the development of nanostructured particles and materials. One of the main aims is to maximize the potential of material recovery.
Why is this necessary?
You see Japan has limited resources. We don’t have precious metals such as platinum or tungsten etcetera – so we need to recover metals like these from, what is termed, “urban mines”.
Other countries might have natural mines from which to source valuable materials but Japan does not. What we do have is a lot of scrap! These scrap resources are what we call urban mines. We try to recover useful metals from waste products. For example, Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games in three years’ time – we need gold to make medals, so perhaps a percentage of this will be sourced from our urban mines.
But, it is not as simple as just sourcing material from scrap – I try to develop new materials from it by manipulating the nanoparticles involved. If you try to imagine the particles that make up a given material, you probably envision small spheres. Of course, you would be right, materials do consist of spherical particles that determine the materials properties – but spheres are not interesting!
So, I work on manipulating these spheres, their morphology and structure in order to improve the material’s qualities. Different shaped particles give rise to different properties in the material. Using technology I can create nanoparticles that are, for example, porous, hollow, convex, concave, composite and even hairy! Each variation could lead to a new material property. The list is endless and so there is a world of new materials to discover.
By altering the building blocks of the material we can improve the performance of everyday devices such as computers and phones for example. It can also make for more energy efficient properties and so is very beneficial to the environment.
Very interesting! Can you tell me about your background?
I was born in Hiroshima and lived here until I was two-years-old. I then moved to Fukuoka prefecture. I came back to Hiroshima to attend this university as my grandparents still lived in the city. When I got my Phd I moved to Osaka Prefecture University to work as an assistant professor. I finally returned to Hiroshima because my supervisor was still here.
Did your childhood influence your career path?
I grew up in a very rural area so there was little academia to influence me there – I just played outdoors! I was not interested in research until I met my supervisor at Hiroshima University. My supervisor advised me that if I wanted to continue onto the doctor course, then I needed to work – that is when I started to study.
Have you studied abroad?
Two years ago I got the chance to study at ETH in Switzerland for half a year. It was great – such a different culture and very exciting. It was completely different from here. The students there were excellent and my professor was full of motivation and he dreamed big. He was very clever, an inspiration. The style of life, the outlook there…those 6 months have left a big impression on me.
What are the best things about working HU?
The atmosphere is good, it is not crowded, there is a lot of nature. Students work well in such an environment.
When not at the university where are you? What are your hobbies?
I like the outdoors, to go camping with my extended family. It is something we have always done – once a year. I also enjoy tennis. I was crazy about it during my studies but I weaned myself off it to spend more time in the lab.
Would you like to change anything about your work style?
Luckily, for me I don’t spend long periods in my office. I frequently have to meet people in industry and this involves many business trips. I also have to visit my students for discussion frequently as well, so I am always moving – it’s important.
What advice do you have for young students?
I’m also young! I hesitate to give too much advice to them, as they are adults. They have to learn for themselves. I learnt this lesson from my experience in Switzerland. They need to think for themselves – they have to learn to fail; and then if they fail I will try to help them. But self-motivation and challenges are important things.
One piece of advice I would offer is, too much education is not necessary.
What are your thoughts on increasing collaboration between subjects?
It’s important. Now every field is so sophisticated, so specialized – new fields are starting to spontaneously spring up between fields as necessary communication increases.
Academia is a bit like a microcosm of the world at large. There are many different types of people and understanding each other is really important.
What are your goals for the next five years?
I want to contribute to the world – to produce new findings or something. Research, science, technology these fields serve no real purpose if the goal is not the betterment of mankind. We should contribute to humanity, and not only humanity but to life in general.
One thing I am working on is to make nanoparticles safer. Many people think they could pose a risk to human health, as they are so small they could enter the human body and cause damage. I am working on making them larger to remove this risk – for the betterment of society.
By Richard J. O'Connor, September 2017