A new research life at California (University of California, Berkeley)

Isono (right) with her friend at the research laboratory
Isono (right) with her friend at the research laboratory

Fumika Isono
1st-year doctoral student
Department of Energy Sciences, Interdisciplinary Graduate School of Science and Engineering
Affiliation in University of California, Berkeley:
Department of Physics
August 2013 - May 2014

Why did you choose to study at UC Berkeley?

The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) ranks within the best five universities in the US. I wanted to conduct research at such a world-level institute, especially in the physics department, which is well-known globally. The perfect weather and famous neighboring cities like San Francisco and Silicon Valley were also very attractive to me. The research and living environment at Berkeley is very stimulating and challenging, and I am really satisfied with the exchange program I took part in last year there.

What did you study and research at UC Berkeley?

I joined the group that conducts research on the confinement of non-neutral plasma and anti-hydrogens, which is related to the research I did in Tokyo Tech about the control of plasma using electric and magnetic fields. The research group in UC Berkeley is part of the international collaboration at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). My main research project was to analyze the data of the annihilation of the anti-hydrogens so as to search for the characteristics of the anti-hydrogen. I also helped the experiment on the trapping of non-neutral plasma. Besides the research, I audited a course each semester. The course "Theoretical plasma physics" was very instructive and I learned a lot through the intense lectures and the challenging problem sets.

What are the similarities and differences you found between Tokyo Tech and UC Berkeley?

I was quite surprised by the difference of research style between Tokyo Tech and UC Berkeley. Some students at Berkeley join a research group at sophomore level, and some never do until they graduate. Also, even undergraduate students can be paid for doing research. They can also easily change their laboratory. The same applies to master's degree students, too. It is totally up to students to join a research group in addition to their coursework, which is very different from Tokyo Tech where all undergraduate students conduct research only in their last year. The tendency might be reflective of the US where people tend to favor the challenging and active character, or perhaps shows the difference between individualism and collectivism.

What do you think you have gained from your study abroad experience?

I gained more research skills and speaking skills, which were my aims before going to Berkeley. However, what I did not expect was to see things from a broader perspective. As a master's degree student in Tokyo, I usually talk only to science major students or friends I had known for a while. At Berkeley, on the other hand, I met so many people from all around the world who have different backgrounds. Since I was living in the International House, Berkeley, where students of 70 nationalities live together, I had so many opportunities to talk about various topics like world economies, the beginning of the universe, law, poverty in underdeveloped countries, or even Japanese politics, while having lunch and dinner. Through this communication, I have realized that I had developed and increased my opinions about the world and also rediscovered about my home country, Japan. I really feel I gained valuable experience from these ten months in Berkeley, and I intend to take full advantage of it in every possible aspect of my study and life.

The International House's dining hall where I had lunch and dinner everyday
The International House's dining hall where
I had lunch and dinner everyday

On campus with my friends where I sometimes had picnics on the weekend
On campus with my friends where
I sometimes had picnics on the weekend