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Frontiers of Science Symposium

FoS Alumni Messages No.7

“My FoS Memories”

Kazuhisa Makino
Associate Professor
Research Institute for Mathematical Sciences,
Kyoto University

Past Participations in FoS:
12th JAFoS (General participant)
13th JAFoS (PGM)
14th JAFoS (PGM)


My involvement in the Frontiers of Science (FoS) program began with the 12th Japanese-American Frontiers of Science (JAFoS) symposium held in Kazusa Arc in 2010, which I attended as a general participant. In fact, I had been invited to attend FoS symposiums several times earlier, but scheduling circumstances did not allow. In those days, I was awfully busy and struggling just to find enough time to conduct my own research activities. Quite honestly, I was also a little skeptical as to whether it would be meaningful for me to attend the symposiums given my stringent work environment. I suppose that more than a few researchers may share that perception. Fortunately, my apprehension was dispelled after attending my first FoS symposium, simply because it was so interesting.

My research fields are mathematics and computer science; more specifically, I am interested in discrete mathematics, algorithms and combinatorial optimization. That 12th JAFoS symposium was organized with sessions in eight fields: Biology/Life Science; Chemistry/Biochemistry; Earth Science/Environment; Materials Sciences/Biomaterials; Mathematics/Applied Mathematics/Informatics; Medical/Neuroscience; Physics/Astrophysics/Astronomy; and Social Sciences. Other than my own area of mathematics, I was at best a novice in the other areas. Therefore, the experience was very stimulating as it gave me a chance to become acquainted with leading-edge research being advanced in those other fields. (Needless to say, as mathematics is a very broad field, there is more I do not know about it than I do.) One thing that piqued my interest was the pre-meeting held in Japanese for the Japanese participants before the symposium. It can even be difficult to understand technical jargon when spoken in Japanese. When hearing such words for the first time in English, honestly speaking they do not register. This sense of inability became an even worse stumbling block to my English comprehension. Because, however, I first received that briefing in Japanese, I was able to follow the English presentations in the symposium. (Or, at least I thought I was.) In that sense, I may have received the greatest stimulation from the pre-symposium meeting.

At that first 12th JAFoS symposium, I found the session on mathematics, applied mathematics, and informatics to be the most difficult among the eight sessions. For instance, in the course of an interesting discussion on information science, the thrust would veer away from science toward an emphasis on engineering. On the other hand, when carrying out an interesting discussion on mathematics, the participants from other fields had difficulty chiming in, in ways that steered the discussion in various directions. I thought that if the sessions were skillfully designed that such problems might be overcome; but then again, I was painfully aware that doing so is easier said than done. When I asked the past participants and Planning Group Members (PGMs) for their opinions on this issue, not surprisingly, many of them said, “Well, a discussion on mathematics incurs such a tendency.” In fact, that tendency which I had perceived (actually, that I had come to realize during a preliminary meeting) induced me to accepting the role of PGM for the mathematics session in the 13th and 14th JAFoS symposiums.

In my view, one can only fully appreciate the merits of the FoS program by serving as a PGM. Strong ties and a sense of solidarity are developed among the PGMs as they regularly meet and hold meetings. Over the course of conversing and chatting with one another, the PGMs learn about what’s really happening on the cutting edge of each other’s fields. This, I find to be very illuminating.

Back to the communication difficulties experienced in holding a session on mathematics: I thought about what I could do overcome them in the 13th and 14th JAFoS symposiums. I recommended the topics “Auction Theory and Mechanism Design” for the 13th symposium and “Origami—Paper Folding and Its Generalization” for the 14th. While both topics had deep mathematical meaning, they conveyed the beauty and elegance encapsulated in math. Easy for non-specialists to understand, the topics were also of practical use in society. As each took first place in the PGMs’ preliminary balloting, they were chosen without resistance. (Indeed, I do not think this would have been possible without the cooperation of the other PGMs, especially my Japanese colleagues.)

Moreover, the Origami session enjoyed a positive reception by many people, such as Dr. Toshihiko Hosoya, Japanese PGM Co-Chair, in his “Report on the 14th Japanese-American Frontiers of Science (JAFoS) Symposium.” I would like to express my thanks to the Chair and Speakers of those sessions, whose contributions engendered their success.

This 14th JAFoS symposium was my last; in other words, I finally graduated from the FoS program. At first, I naturally felt a bit sad and lonely. Some time afterwards, however, I attended a meeting at the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) to discuss the new Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas. There, I met up with a good number of my former FoS colleagues. Generally, the members of such meetings are new to each other as they hail from diverse areas of specialization. In contrast, I felt as if I were attending a reunion. Besides the nostalgia, I was reminded of the valuable assets I had gained from my participation in the FoS program. I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to the members of the JSPS FoS Advisory Board, the JSPS secretariat staffs, all the PGMs, and the Chairs and Speakers, who have so kindly offered me their support from every angle.

 

 

13th JAFoS: Group photo

 

13th JAFoS: Mathematics/Applied Mathematics/Informatics Session

 

14th JAFoS: Chair and Speakers of Origami Session

 

14th JAFoS: Japanese PGMs (second to the left)