About Tokyo Tech
About Tokyo Tech
Dr. Kazuya Masu was inaugurated as president of Tokyo Tech on April 1, 2018. In this interview, he shines a light on the road he took and reveals how he envisions the Institute moving forward.
As the new president of Tokyo Tech, please share with us your vision for the future of the Institute.
Tokyo Tech was founded in 1881. We have a long history of contributing to forefront science and technology, and to industries around the world. One reason for this is that Tokyo Tech is made up of truly outstanding individuals — students, researchers, and staff — who all pursue their own unique paths. This autonomy is one of Tokyo Tech's obvious strengths, and expanding on this is critical for our future. The best way to do this is to bring together these talents for collaboration through a Team Tokyo Tech mindset. If we do this, we will continue to innovate, generate significant global impact, and nurture highly skilled professionals who lead responsibly to create a better future. We need to find an equilibrium between this autonomy and collaboration.
Tokyo Tech is known among specialists in many fields, but we also want to be more accessible to the public. When new science and technology emerges, we want people to come to us in search of answers to the most difficult of questions. Tokyo Tech has the ability to answer these questions and to create proposals for the future, and we want the public to be aware of this and to utilize our knowledge.
And perhaps most importantly, Tokyo Tech is a buzzing hub of activity and excitement, and I expect to see even more of this in the future. I want all students, faculty, staff, and of course collaborators from outside the Institute to experience the excellence and inspiration that Tokyo Tech has to offer. I invite researchers from every corner of the globe to join us in changing the world for the better.
Tell us about some early life experiences that began to shape you into the leader you are today.
I was born in northern Kyushu, but I remember moving around once every two years or so due to my father's work. I lived in Osaka, Tokyo, then Osaka again, and I think during this turbulent time, I learned that I could survive in any environment.
I ended up in Hyogo Prefecture during my middle school days. There, a good friend convinced me to join the school band despite my obvious tone deafness! I took up playing the clarinet, practiced every morning, day, and night, and eventually learned to read and play music. This taught me the importance of firm resolve, and that continuous efforts are rewarded. I also learned that music soothes the mind.
As a teenager, I began going against the tide. I did not want to take the path others were taking. Perhaps this was the researcher in me emerging. When the time came to enter high school, I decided to enter a technical college instead. There, a young teacher enthusiastically introduced me to the world of physics and semiconductors. Around this time, Intel launched its first commercial microprocessor, and soon after, Leo Esaki was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on semiconductors. It was an exciting time, with rapid technological developments taking place daily, very much like today. These developments began to push me towards Tokyo Tech.
You completed your studies at Tokyo Tech. Do you have any vivid memories of your student days at the Institute?
I was aware of Tokyo Tech's status as one of the best universities in Japan, and so I studied very hard to be accepted. When I got here, I didn't really notice anything out of the ordinary, but as I began interacting with my classmates, I realized that they were different. They were all incredibly passionate about the pursuit for knowledge, and they were completely immersed in their activities. I am sure many students feel the same way about their classmates today.
Perhaps my most vivid memory is my first class on electrical properties with then-Associate Professor Kiyoshi Takahashi. I understood absolutely nothing about his explanation regarding band theory! Still, I wanted to learn more about semiconductors, so I took the bull by the horns and studied harder. As a result, I joined the Takahashi Lab and was suddenly in contact with frontline semiconductor research.
You are an expert in electronics. What drew you to that field?
My graduation yearbook from elementary school has printed in it the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Mine says "architect or electrician." I remember taking apart a battery in an elementary school workshop, and perhaps that was when the first seeds were planted. I always knew that I wanted to think for myself and create new things. Electronics was invisible, and to me that was exciting.
At Tokyo Tech, I enjoyed the creative freedom of being a researcher. I was always much more of an experimentalist than a theorist. I compiled data and presented my findings at academic conferences, where I was able to make contact with leading researchers in my field. As I extended my research into other areas, I was introduced to new ideas and new people, and I began to sense the effect of my findings on society. I also felt a distinct sense of responsibility for my work, particularly with semiconductors, which always had strong links to industry.
You became a professor at Tokyo Tech in 2000 and the head of the Institute of Innovative Research （IIR） in 2016. What are some core values that guided you during this time?
I don't think there ever is an end to research. Quite the contrary, with today's technology being so advanced, it is more important than ever to understand the importance of diversity — diversity in research styles and disciplines, diversity in the teams that we form to create new fields and findings, and of course, diversity among the student population. At IIR, I aimed to provide an environment where researchers can excel individually while embracing diversity through interdisciplinary collaboration. This intertwining of outstanding research allowed us to focus on broader societal issues and forge opportunities for the creation of new fields. Tokyo Tech's research is outstanding, and if it continues to embrace diversity in its many forms, it has the ability to lead the world. Diversity fosters creativity, and therefore it is equally important when managing Tokyo Tech as a whole.
Students, faculty, and staff at Tokyo Tech all work incredibly hard. It is important for me to communicate closely at all levels of the Institute so that I can help provide the best possible environment for everyone. I learned this from my work as a researcher. As my focus within the broader realm of semiconductors shifted, so too did the academic circles I frequented. This was crucial to understanding what and how people were thinking. This open communication is something I want to continue exercising as president.
Expectations are increasingly high regarding Tokyo Tech's role as a leader in both Japanese and global society. How do you see the Institute fulfilling this role?
Members of Tokyo Tech are expected to produce research findings that lead society and create startups that generate a direct impact on industry. The Institute must take an increasingly supportive role in making this happen. Tokyo Tech graduates are creating new industries across the globe, and this is another dimension where continued Tokyo Tech leadership is required. With the talent available here, if we adopt a team mindset and merge our efforts to work towards a common goal, we can produce truly groundbreaking results.
We have a stable base of outstanding researchers here, and if we work as Team Tokyo Tech and openly welcome contributors to join us, our research will only get stronger. We have professors who delve ever deeper into basic science, we have those who focus specifically on engineering applications, and others who create system infrastructures while working closely with industry. This diversity creates unique results, and if we use these results as the basis for Tokyo Tech education, which we do, then our students are destined to be future leaders.
Lastly, do you have any words for the youngsters aspiring to join the Tokyo Tech community?
Tokyo Tech is a buzzing hub of activity and excitement, which I want all of you to experience. Science and technology are the keys to creating a better future, and I invite everyone to explore how we can do this together. Tokyo Tech values autonomy, creative thinking, proactivity, determination, and the ability to work as a team towards bigger, better goals. We strive to provide everyone with the best possible learning and working environment, so if you are ready to improve the world and grow as a human being, come and join us!
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Published: April 2018