Or: Insight into the culture, life and, of course, the science of Japan

Many people associate Japan with cherry trees in full bloom, snow-capped Mount Fuji, delicious food and friendly people. However, this highly technological country has much more to offer than these stereotypes. For example, Japan is also characterized by a diverse research landscape and top-class scientists. Felix Cüppers has the opportunity to get to know Japan’s scientific landscape during his fellowship. He is a doctoral student at the JARA Institute Energy-efficient information technology (Peter Grünberg Institute, PGI-10) and will spend a total of six months at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Felix Cüppers in front of the Asakusa Gate in Tokyo. Photo: © private

Breaking new ground

Going to another country comes with a lot of worries. For Felix Cüppers, it was first and foremost the language barrier that caused concerns. ” It is surely surprising for many, but the English language is not very widespread in Japan,” he explains, “My Japanese is rather rudimentary, so I had worried a lot about the language barrier beforehand. I imagined it would be difficult to make connections in another culture where you have a difficulty in communicating.” However, it quickly became apparent that Felix was approached in a friendly and open-minded manner, especially by his colleagues in Prof. Hiroshi Funakubo’s research group at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. A lack of language skills can often be compensated using hands, feet, a smile and a good translation app.

The 27-year-old scientist not only broke new ground linguistically with his trip to faraway Asia, the science of his new working group also opened up new perspectives for him. In Jülich, he is researching memristive materials, which consist of a stack of layers of thin films in the order: metal – oxide – metal. By applying voltage, these components can change their resistance value. This process is very fast, reversible and the inscribed state is non-volatile, making them suitable candidates for improving and extending classical computer architectures. “For my studies at PGI-10, I focus on the connection between the physical switching mechanism of single memristive cells and the applicability in brain-inspired, so-called neuromorphic, architectures,” Felix tells about his work “Prof. Funakubo’s group is working, among other things, on the same material as I am at FZ Jülich, namely thin films of hafnium dioxide. Unlike at PGI-10, the research is not aimed at applying the material as a memristive storage element, but as a ferroelectric memory.” The common material with two different functionalities opens up an exciting new world for the young materials scientist.

Science, culture and culinary delights

Scientific work fills much of Felix’s day in Tokyo, Japan. The workload is heavy, but he is highly motivated to contribute to the results of the working group. Nevertheless, what should not be neglected: Gathering personal impressions. He hopes to be able to put a check mark behind his expectations of the research work soon. However, there are still some points on Felix’s to-do list that should bring him closer to Japanese culture. With a grin, he says, “During my time in Prof. Funakubo’s group, I would like to learn more about this related yet different field of research. But beyond that, I’m naturally interested in Japanese culture, the country and the mentality of the people here.” The big city of Tokyo fascinates the young researcher, but Japan’s natural landscape, which is less well-known internationally, also holds great appeal. During exploratory tours through the city, Felix has already seen many sights. ” Remaining open interests for me are the history of Japan and the culture of faith. I hope to complete my research in time to have some time left for a trip to Kyoto and Nara, two of Japan’s cultural centers and former imperial cities,” he says, summarizing his plans. Back in Germany, the next big milestone is waiting: writing the doctoral thesis and earning his doctorate. The stay in Japan is a good opportunity to recharge his batteries for this task. Strength that Felix gathers on excursions through the culture, life and nature of a foreign country.

Impressions of the city of Tokyo. Photos: © private

Supportive contacts serving as a springboard to a stay abroad

Felix Cüppers was given the opportunity to get to know Japan scientifically and culturally through a scholarship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). The JSPS plays a central role in administering a wide range of scientific and academic programs in Japan. Two of its central goals are to promote young scientists and international collaboration. The materials scientist was also able to take advantage of the good contacts of his supervisors Prof. Rainer Waser (PGI-7 and PGI-10) and Dr. Susanne Hoffmann-Eifert (PGI-10). “The JSPS scholarship is tied to thematic proximity to the research area of the doctorate, which severely limited the choice of possible working groups,” the young scientist explains. “Fortunately, my supervisors have contacts in Japan and specifically with Prof. Hiroshi Funakubo’s working group at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.”

Contacts to international groups are essential for obtaining the opportunity of a stay abroad. But even after the stay, relationships with other scientists enable collaborations and joint projects. “It is important for young researchers to establish contacts,” says Felix. He advises to actively build these contacts. Good opportunities can be found, for example, at workshops and conferences. These contacts can facilitate the planning of a stay abroad or actually make it possible in the first place.

Of course, many contacts with locals, other scientists and students are also made during the stay in another country. Since the strict entry regulations make it difficult to stay, there are currently fewer international students at Tokyo Institute of Technology. ” I think it is always helpful to have people around you who are in the same situation as you are, however, Japan is a special case in a way, because every person you get in touch with is very supportive”, Felix sums up his experiences so far. He will certainly maintain the contacts within Prof. Hiroshi Funakubo’s working group after his return to Germany. Who knows which joint projects will result for him from this stay abroad.

We say ありがとうございます (Arigato gozaimas) to Felix Cüppers and wish a pleasant and interesting stay in the land of the rising sun.

Further information:

Website of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS): https://www.jsps.go.jp/english/index.html

Website of the JARA-Institut Energy-efficient information technology (PGI-10): https://www.fz-juelich.de/en/pgi/pgi-10

Fellowship and funding programs at Forschungszentrum Jülich: https://intranet.fz-juelich.de/en/organization/ue/departments/national-international-relations_ue-b/funding-scholarships

About Sabine Clemens

Sabine Clemens ist Pressereferentin für den Fachbereich Nationale und Internationale Beziehungen in der Unternehmensentwicklung. Daher schreibt sie in diesem Blog über die verschiedensten Themen der Internationalität. --- Sabine Clemens is press officer for National and International Relations in the department of Corporate Development. She therefore writes about a wide variety of topics relating to internationality in this blog.

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