Star gazing, bug hunting, and making rainbows! Tokyo Tech professors share their childhood memories
Hello, future scientists, and welcome to the world of research at Tokyo Tech. What do you like to do? Collect things? Make things? Take things apart? So do our professors! In grade school, they were fascinated by all those activities. Let's see how they spent their summer vacations.
When I was a kid, I liked to gaze at the stars. When my uncle showed me the stars through a telescope, I fell in love with stargazing. My favorite views were from the countryside, where the air was clean and I could sometimes see the dark part of the moon at different phases.
In my later years in grade school, I found a broken TV lying around the house and decided to take it apart. That was a lot of fun, and I also fell in love with electrical engineering. I made my own video game and even a radio. One radio that I worked hard on did a good job of transmitting sounds. What a thrill!
What do you like to do? Choose what you like, because that is the best topic when doing your own research. Trains, games, cooking. . . Anything will do. Just dive in! Basically, all research is free and independent. And another tip: try to think about things yourself before you search the internet!
I spent my summer vacations collecting cicada shells. I guess the shells were easier to collect than live cicadas. Minmin cicadas, large brown cicadas, male, female. . . You name it, I had it. I think I collected at least a hundred shells. Amazing, right? Actually, it isn't too difficult.
During the summer as well as other times of the year, I also liked to collect the crystals that formed in the mountains behind my house. I took a hammer and a small container, and tapped a crystal to remove it from the surrounding rock. Some of my friends made crafts out of small crystals. In the winter, I also made wreaths out of chocolate vines. Anyway, I spent a lot of time playing in nature, so that was where I found hints for my own research projects, too.
I wonder what I would have chosen for a topic. I think I would have collected the caps of empty plastic bottles from all over the house and separated them according to different rules. Are there many of the same color? Are the caps the same color as the bottles? Are the caps always green if the bottles contained green tea? When you collect enough of the same thing, you begin to notice there's a pattern. Otherwise, I might have made a maze or craft out of the caps. You don't need any special materials to do your own research.
Ever since grade school, I would help out in my father's science classroom, and while I was there, I would do my own experiments. The one that fascinated me the most was using light to make rainbows. Shining light through a glass tool called a prism, directing a ray on the surface of a DVD, and watering the ground with a hose—I used a lot of different techniques. During summer vacation, I blocked the light out of our tool shed at home and made it my lab for observing light.
In middle school and high school, I kept on researching light. In university, I found out about how light is emitted and absorbed. This made me feel as if I had learned to communicate with things (atoms) through light.
The topic that you choose to research might already have been chosen by someone else before. The results might come up if you do a bit of searching. But that's okay. Your goal isn't to make a new discovery or find the right answer. The point is to do your own experiments and present what you saw and thought in your own pictures and words. You can use as much or as few colors as you like. Just follow the example of scientists who made awesome discoveries. They drew their own pictures and wrote down what they saw too.
I was crazy about any and all insects. Ever since kindergarten, I caught bugs around my house and kept them. Because I grew up in Tokyo, there weren't a whole lot of bugs. Insects were rare and unusual, and for me, that made them even more appealing. Earwigs, pill bugs, praying mantises, and ants—I caught all of these in my neighborhood and watched them closely.
I also had fun trying things with bugs. One time, I watched an earwig use its rear-end pincers like hands for eating. I found this amazing, because they don't show things like that in picture books. I also thought it odd that the water scorpion has wings but lives in the water. So I tried to make it fly, because I had never seen one fly before. For me, it was fascinating to observe an insect while imagining how it feels. I asked myself things like, why does this bug do this? is this bug enjoying its meal?
Some kids might think bugs are gross or creepy. Not all university students like bugs either. But when they observe one under a microscope, they get interested. You can do it with a magnifying glass. Try zooming in on an insect, and then study its body parts.
Look around your house, you'll find that different insects like to live in different areas. Don't worry about variety. Try keeping many of the same insect together in the same container. Watch them closely, and I promise you'll make a surprise discovery.
Doing my own research was one of my favorite things. I remember my third-grade topic the best. I had won a small telescope as a gift of from a science journal. I was so thrilled that I looked at the moon every evening for the rest of that summer. The telescope was about 20 centimeters long, meaning I could see the surface of the moon. What I had imagined to be nice and smooth was actually bumpy and cratered. It made me realize that the real world isn't perfect.
After that, I also tried looking at smaller things closer at hand through a microscope. A flat desk turned out to be as bumpy as mountains seen from the sky. And a photo print was a cluster of tiny lumps. I grew more and more curious about observing what I couldn't see with the naked eye. Because I was good at using the microscope, I was kind of a hero in science class.
Did you know that you can turn your smartphone into a microscope? You can do it using a lens attachment. It works with the smartphone's camera, so you can zoom in and take photos and videos too. When I was a kid, the view under the microscope lasted only in my memory. But now you have marvelous tools.
If I were a grade schooler now, I would like to observe how water fleas swim. Then I would use a special effects app to make it look cool. I would share my work on social media, show it off to people around the world, and present it as my research project.
Long ago, Isaac Newton was forced to stay home while his university closed because of an epidemic. During this long break, he discovered the power of the stars to attract each other, called the law of universal gravitation.
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Published: July 2020