Each year, about 300 students graduate from Tokyo Tech doctoral programs. These young doctors move into society with a high degree of specialized knowledge and experience, and roughly half of them accept positions at companies in Japan and around the globe rather than at universities or other research institutions. We interviewed two graduates who are now playing active roles at companies.
"My dream in high school was to someday develop polymeric materials that would help improve people's lives. Now I feel I am moving steadily toward making that dream come true," said Hiroyuki Fujita, who now works in engineering plastics research and development at DuPont Kabushiki Kaisha Performance Polymers.
Engineering plastics are polymeric materials with reinforced heat-resistance and strength. They have been used in home appliances and computers, and are important materials in reducing environmental load as social needs continue to rapidly increase.
"I am working on the development of engineering plastics for automobiles. We try to improve fuel efficiency by replacing heavy metal parts with lighter but highly heat-resistant engineering plastics," said Fujita.
It is necessary to include a wide range of additives in plastic materials to increase heat-resistance. Fujita's important role is to create formulas for materials capable of achieving the desired performance.
Fujita chose DuPont, whose headquarters is in the U.S., because it is a global giant able to introduce new materials throughout the world, a key consideration in allowing him to achieve his dream of enriching people's lives.
"During my time at graduate school," he continued, "I got experience synthesizing materials using small flasks, and that experience helped me to create the formulas that are now used to regularly manufacture hundreds of kilograms of materials. It is a big responsibility, and because of this I feel the job is worthwhile and fulfilling."
"I took my master's degree at a different university, where I learned the existing techniques used to synthesize organic polymeric materials. Of course, learning the basic techniques is very important, but I wanted to develop new materials and be involved in technological innovation. To do this, I knew I needed to move into applied research in a doctoral program," said Fujita.
He chose to study at Tokyo Tech under Associate Professor Tsuyoshi Michinobu in the Department of Organic and Polymeric Materials.
"The reason I chose Tokyo Tech was its top-class research. I decided to study under Associate Professor Tsuyoshi Michinobu because he was a young tenure-track faculty1 member who had just started to run his own laboratory. I thought that studying under him would allow me to conduct research that I was interested in pursuing."
Associate Professor Michinobu gave him a free hand throughout the research process - from determining his research topic to the application of his research results.
When Fujita faced problems that he had difficulty working through, he could call upon a wide range of talent in different areas in the department to help him find solutions. Such interactions also helped him to collaborate with people in different research fields, and this opened new doors to applied research.
He said, "The biggest benefit of the doctoral program was that it gave me the opportunity to develop new synthesizing methods that allowed me to develop materials I could apply to solar cells."
Fujita also promoted university-industry collaboration projects through his applied research, and he participated in the Project Management Course for doctoral students as a part of the Global COE Program2.
"I am thinking about research project management in the future, so this course was very important for me," he said.
He also shared with us the meaning of acquiring his doctorate.
"My current supervisor is an American, and my co-workers and clients are from various countries around the world. In such circumstances, I think a doctoral degree is like an international driver's license. Having the degree has opened many doors for me. If you dream of actively working at the global level, it helps to have one. For me, I believe that it was essential to realizing my dream."
Yosuke Horiuchi is engaged in developing high heat-resistant magnets for electric and railroad vehicles in the Corporate Research & Development Center.
"I joined Toshiba," he said, "because I thought I could help address environmental issues using the knowledge and technologies that I learned in the graduate program in energy."
The high-iron-concentration samarium-cobalt magnet that Horiuchi developed in 2012 has attracted attention because, although it does not contain dysprosium (a rare earth element3), it has coercive force equal to neodymium magnets in actual-use temperature ranges (higher than 100 degrees C). Since 2015, it has been used in railroad vehicles.
Electric automobiles and natural energy are being increasingly implemented to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Electric automobiles and wind power generation require magnets with coercive force that is high enough to rotate motors even under high temperature. The neodymium magnet has high coercive force, and it contains dysprosium to improve performance. For Japan, a nation with limited natural resources, dysprosium is in short supply. For such reasons, the high-iron-concentration samarium-cobalt magnet that Horiuchi has developed is attracting attention.
He said, "Toshiba and other companies were conducting research on this magnet in the 1970s, but as the neodymium magnet became popular, research on samarium-cobalt magnets was put on hold. Due to changes in social conditions, my supervisor refocused his attention on the samarium-cobalt magnet, and I was assigned to its development."
Horiuchi thinks that the technology he learned in the Tokyo Tech doctoral program was the key to his success in developing the magnet.
He continued, "The metal structure determines the characteristics of metallic materials. Fortunately, I could master the technology needed to control the metal structure at Tokyo Tech. This technology completely changed the material characteristics of the samarium-cobalt magnet. It was an exciting moment."
"I felt that I would not be able to do a good job as a researcher even if I could find a job after earning a master's degree," said Horiuchi, explaining the reason why he chose to move on to the doctoral program.
"I conducted research on metallic materials in a master's program at another university. The research focused on the evaluation of metals that other people synthesized, but I wanted to design and synthesize materials of my own with specific characteristics."
Horiuchi chose to study at the Tokyo Tech Precision and Intelligence Laboratory under Professor Emeritus Kenji Wakashima and Professor Hideki Hosoda. His research in the doctoral program focused on the development of shape-memory alloys and their application to the living body. Shape-memory alloys have been used in stents4 and orthodontic wire, but they contain nickel, which tends to trigger allergic reactions. Horiuchi focused on the commercialization of titanium alloys to prevent this.
Horiuchi looked back on his research and said, "Learning under Professors Wakashima and Hosoda gave me a chance to gain experience in all the processes of research and development regarding metals, from designing the experiment, to conducting it and evaluating performance all by myself. This is the greatest gift that I received from the doctoral program." He continued, "A big difference between the master's and doctoral programs is that the doctoral program allows us to establish our own standards, from which we can develop judgment. This, I believe, becomes strength and confidence when we leave school and start working."
After the doctoral program, he joined Toshiba Corporation and was assigned to the Corporate Research & Development Center, which deals with magnetic materials that he had no knowledge or experience with. He was a bit disoriented at first.
"At the beginning, I was very anxious about having no knowledge or experience with the materials. However, after I understood that the knowledge and technology that I gained during my studies could be used for magnetic materials, the possibilities for my research and development broadened. I continue being aware of my responsibility regarding environmental issues, and endeavor to develop innovative metallic materials."
Finally, Horiuchi gave a message for students studying in the master's program.
"The doctoral program is not easy, and is a challenge to finish if you are not highly motivated. Once you decide that this is the way to go, however, I am sure that you can overcome any difficulty. The experience I had in the doctoral program has become a great benefit in my current work. If you have a definite goal and you feel the need to move on to a doctoral program to achieve it, have confidence and pursue your dream."
Faculty members who are employed as fixed-term faculty with five- to seven-year term limits. Tenure-track faculty become tenured faculty upon producing notable research findings and other achievements.
Funding support program offered by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for establishing education and research centers to elevate the international competitiveness of Japanese universities.
A set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table. They are separated from ores as single elements through a difficult and costly process.
A metal tube used to expand the esophagus and blood vessels.
Published: March 2015