Research Spotlight

October 24, 2019

Overcoming Challenges and Rushing Toward Construction

 When the School of Science and Technology at Kobe Sanda Campus is restructured in April 2021, a new department of physics and cosmology will be established in the School of Science. Professor Masumichi Seta, who specializes in radio astronomy, Professor Shuji Matsuura, who specializes in infrared astronomy, and Professor Junko Hiraga, who specializes in X-ray astronomy, all of whom were appointed in 2015, were joined by Professor Naomasa Nakai (Antarctic astronomy), who has been described as the preeminent researcher of black holes, in 2018. These specialists in astronomic observation, all of whom have experience working as researchers at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), have come together in advance of the new department’s establishment. Research in anticipation of the future has begun. We called on Professor Naomasa Nakai, who is leading the research.

  ‘Antarctica is crucial for the development of astronomy in Japan. We have to do this. It is overwhelmingly the best environment on Earth for astronomic observation. The atmosphere there is like nowhere else.’ Professor Naomasa Nakai of the School of Science and Technology is talking emphatically about the Antarctic Terahertz Telescope project that he has been working on for some 15 years since his time as a Professor at the University of Tsukuba.

 The aim of the project is to build a parabola antenna-like telescope with a diameter of 10 m on high ground, 3,800 m above sea level near “Dome Fuji,” Japan’s Antarctic research station. Temperatures there can fall to as low as –80ºC. Because moisture in the air freezes and falls, there is little water vapor in the air, and there is a high percentage of fine-weather days. Very faint electromagnetic waves from outer space can be captured easily, making it possible to observe terahertz waves with a wavelength of 0.3 mm, which even the high-altitude telescopes in Hawaii and Chile have difficulty observing, and submillimeter waves, which have slightly longer wavelengths.

 What we want to solve with our observations from the South Pole is the mystery of faraway galaxies that cannot be seen with visible light. Newborn galaxies accumulate large quantities of gas, which generate infrared rays and electromagnetic waves. With visible light, only 10–30% of all of the galaxies that have been predicted in theory have been discovered. The only way to observe the remaining galaxies is to use terahertz waves and submillimeter waves for observation and analysis, even if they cannot be seen with optical telescopes. That analysis helps researchers to estimate when and how a galaxy was born. Professor Nakai says that they will be able to discover the mechanisms of evolution, the distance to the galaxy, and even the existence of black holes and when they were born.

 However, these observations will require the researchers to live in Antarctica in frigid conditions for several months. They will also need food, supplies, generators, and fuel for the generators. There are also technical challenges, such as transporting the precision telescope on a snowmobile and building the telescope, which weighs 100 tonnes, on a soft snowfield. The construction will cost more than 2 billion yen. In recent years, instead of waiting for research funding to be granted, the researchers have been thinking about how to attract funding, including donations. They have been placing considerable efforts into increasing understanding of the construction. This has included traveling around the country, holding lectures for the general public to collect signatures, and using crowdfunding to source funds to put toward part of their research costs. In reality, they are preparing for their observations by taking 30-cm diameter terahertz telescope, which is already operational, to the Antarctic.

 Professor Nakai was born in Johanamachi (today’s Nanto City) in Toyama Prefecture. He was the type of child who would scoop water out of the nearby river and put it under a microscope so he could observe the insects. His first encounter with astronomy was as an elementary school student, when he received a telescope with a 3-cm diameter. He built his own platform for it and used it to look at the moon and the planets. ‘I lived deep in the countryside, where you needed a torch to walk outside at night. The Milky Way was beautifully visible in the sky.’ When he reached junior high school, his science teacher secretly let him use the school’s telescope, so he would spend his evenings gazing out at the night sky.

 After graduating from the Takuma National College of Technology (Kagawa Prefecture), he transferred to the School of Science at Kwansei Gakuin University. After graduation he did post-graduate study at Nagoya University and the University of Tokyo, after which he joined a project for the establishment of a telescope at the NAOJ Nobeyama Radio Observatory in Nagano Prefecture. He was one of the main Japanese players in the ALMA project, a collaborative team of Japanese, American, and European researchers in Chile’s Atacama Desert in the Andes. In April 2018, he returned to Kwansei Gakuin University after retiring as Professor of the University of Tsukuba (under a cross-appointment arrangement, 10% of his current title is still Professor of the University of Tsukuba). He spends about a week at the NAOJ Nobeyama Radio Observatory with his students, where they observe the radio telescope, which has a diameter of 45 meters, analyze the observational data sent from the ALMA telescope in Chile, and conduct other research. He is also engaged in observations and research using large antennae located around Japan and overseas.

 In his observations of the students he has taught, including those at the Universities of Tokyo and Tsukuba, he says that there is a noticeable number of students who are only chasing results. ‘I think that those students who engage wholeheartedly in the content of the research for its own sake will be able to do better work once they graduate.’ Based on his own experiences, he also believes that studying at various different universities will broaden one’s horizons. Alongside his research, after feeling that prospective students who sit for the university entrance exams need to be thanked, he has discussed it with his colleagues, other lecturers, and is pursuing preparations to send thank-you letters to those candidates who fail the entrance exam. He hopes to get this project up-and-running for the Physics Department next spring. Meanwhile, in a bid to convey the significance of the school motto that he learned and made a part of himself as a student himself many years ago, in December last year, he delivered a lecture for students in the Physics Department, entitled, “Mastery for Service - the strongest philosophy for always doing excellent work.” In the lecture, he conveyed to the students the significance of “studying hard and becoming a person who will make other people happy,” and stressed that “this will give meaning to life and allow you to live your own life.” He plans to deliver a similar lecture this autumn as well.

The Hedgehog's Dilemma as the Base of Research

 Education in Japan is said to be entering an era of great transformation. Amid calls for “regeneration” and “reform” in line with the changes in the times, how should we be raising the children? While, on the one hand, people and goods are now able to freely traverse across national borders, on the other hand, there are those who point out a growing disparity in education as poverty has increased. Against the backdrop of such a social climate, Professor Kyoko Fujii of the School of Education has continued with her research into the “hedgehog’s dilemma,” which is a metaphor about the difficulties in establishing a moderate distance with others in interpersonal relationships. She is teaching students, who aim to become teachers themselves, not to brood about issues by themselves, but to acquire many different viewpoints through discussions with others and to develop healthy critical thinking skills.

Kyoko FujiiKyoko Fujii

 KGU has Learning Commons at three of its campuses, Kobe Sanda, Uegahara, and Seiwa. These are spaces in which multiple students come together to gather a variety of information, study, and discuss things. In the 2018 academic year, Professor Kyoko Fujii of the School of Education conducted a survey about what impact students’use of these commons had on their attitudes towards their studies. The data indicated that the greater the frequency of use, the more individual initiative, cooperativeness, and diversity increased. From that data, Professor Fujii observed that students should be encouraged to use and take advantage of the commons as part of student life.

 The “Rippla” Learning Commons opened in Building 2 at the Seiwa Campus two years ago. Professor Fujii was involved from the conceptualization stage. What kind of learning is needed to develop people who will nurture other people? Because the Seiwa Campus includes the school and junior college training teachers and childcare workers, the needs are clear. On the other hand, due to the restrictions in the license-related courses, combined with the credits needed to graduate, some students must take close to 180 credits. It tends to be difficult for such students to learn in a way that relies on their own individual initiative and cooperativeness. ‘We wanted to supplement these areas for the students outside of classes, which is why we started the Rippla project,’ comments Professor Fujii.

 Today’s students are very serious about their studies and they are very diligent about attending classes to obtain their credits. They also want paths and skills that will help them arrive at the correct answers quickly. “In the education field, not all topics have one right answer. For example, when children ask questions that come from inside them, and that are simple, yet profound, such as ‘Why is the water in the ocean blue, but the water in a cup is not?’ and ‘Why does the moon follow me when I’m in the car?’ simply giving them the scientific facts is not the right answer. We need to lean into the child’s own imagination and curiosity and draw out the answer together with the child, in a way that best suits the child’s stage of development.”

 It is a matter of not learning by oneself, but developing and exploring the answers together with others. Making the image of learning visible and inspiring each other, transmitting a project one has developed to the outside world, while also incorporating various people and information from the outside—"alternation” between theory and practice. It was in the hope that this kind of learning would reverberate and spread that the Learning Commons was given the nickname “Rippla.” ‘It is part of the philosophy of the School of Education that our students do not simply learn the theory, but they alternate between theory and practice as they grow into educators. We want our students to take their time and face up squarely to those questions that have no right answers. It is important that we consider that our strengths are that can only come from being part of a general university.’

 Professor Fujii has concentrated on adolescent psychology in her research throughout her career. She is exploring the theme of the “hedgehog’s dilemma” in modern adolescence, particularly in friendships. Her research originated with the realization that many youth today are troubled by their inability to form appropriate psychological distances with others. This expression comes from a parable from the philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer. It refers to the way in which people repeatedly draw close to each other, but hurt one another with their (metaphorical) quills, so move apart. They then become lonely and draw close again, only to hurt each other again, so find themselves searching for a moderate psychological distance. However, what Professor Fujii found in her empirical research was the image of today’s youth, who predict each other’s quills and the degree of cold and set their own inner moderate distance. This generates their own complete dilemma inside themselves, in which they will not draw any closer or move any further away from that distance they have set for themselves. Currently, the professor is expanding her research to include adults, with the supposition that this psychological characteristic is not confined to adolescence, and could apply to modern humans in general. ‘I want people to accept that we all have these quills, and to develop the wisdom they need to co-exist.’

 In 2002, the United Nations advocated the concept of “education for sustainable development” (ESD). It calls for us to respect each other’s human dignity and diversity, establish nonexclusivity, and acknowledge each other’s diverse values. It also incorporates a spirit of healthy criticism. Professor Fujii expressed her concerns about the direction the world is moving in. ‘We had been moving in the direction of acknowledging each other’s diversity and living in harmony, but in the 2000s, there has been a swing back toward nationalism and single values. Students tend to think that criticizing is a badthing, and that expressing an opinion or questioning someone else’s research in class would be rude or would offend that person. I want to teach them that healthy criticism rooted in mutual respect is an acknowledgment of mutual diversity and becomes the driving force for creating the next thing, but this global-level trend is also happening in universities. Students tend to fear stepping on other people’s toes even if they notice someone else’s mistakes, so they let it go, or they think that it’s enough for them to get course credit.’ Professor Fujii has been involved in training teachers for close to twenty years, including in her previous position at Aichi University of Education. ‘I tell the students in my seminar group, “You are the educators of the future, and wherever you go, the children of the next generation are waiting for you. That is why you need to learn how to see things in diverse ways and to acquire the skills for healthy criticism. I want you to talk about things not from images or impressions, but from evidence, and to demonstrate leadership.”’

 Professor Fujii believes that educators will continue to be a necessary human resource even in the coming AI age. ‘Humans can’t compete with AI in terms of knowledge. That’s precisely why I want my students to develop awareness of qualities like curiosity, consideration for others, and the wisdom needed to coexist with others, which will always remain quintessentially human.’