Research and Life in Japan by a JSPS Fellow (10)
Dr. Pablo Perez Goodwyn came to Japan from Argentina in November 2004 under a JSPS Postdoctoral Fellowship after having received his PhD in Argentina and conducting research in Germany as a postdoc. He is currently doing biomechanical research with Prof. Kenji Fujisaki at the Graduate School of Agriculture in Kyoto University.
Holding him in high esteem, Dr. Perez Goodwyn's colleagues told us, "He's very friendly and always easy to talk with in either English or Japanese, which he speaks very well. He's a good natured person, so much so as to not have any noticeable flaws."
After finishing his JSPS fellowship this year, Dr. Perez Goodwyn will stay at the same laboratory for another three years, as Prof. Fujisaki has offered him a postdoc position in a project under the 21st Century COE Program.
What are you currently researching under the JSPS fellowship?
I am researching the functional morphology and biomechanics of water striders. I use a multiple approach to study the ecology and physics of these wonderful insects. I measure the force they produce, their speed and other factors, and apply these data to answering ecological questions. Also, the morphological adaptations I find through observing these insects with an electron microscope have a potential for industrial applications, which is a field known as bionics or biomimetics.
How did you become interested in your research field?
When I was a kid, I collected bugs, paid attention to their lives, and, of course, got bitten several times. Nature, which has always attracted me, guided my career path from the beginning. My first research field was the systematics of giant water bugs, which gave me insights into functional morphology. Then, I did a postdoc in Germany at the Max Planck Institute for some years, where I learned biomechanics. At that time, considerable taxonomic, ecological and physiological research had been conducted on water striders, but little had been done on their functional morphology or biomechanics. I am now applying this knowledge and my passion for water bugs at Kyoto University.
Why did you choose Japan as the place to pursue your research? How did you get to know your Japanese host researcher?
I've had an interest in Japan since I was a kid. In front of my house lived a Japanese family, and the man taught me how to make very basic bonsai. Since then, I've always enjoyed connections with Japanese friends in Argentina. When in Germany, I was suddenly presented with an opportunity through Tuebingen University in Germany and Doshisha University in Kyoto to take a two-semester course in Japanese language and culture, one semester being in Germany and the other in Japan. Under this program, I studied Japanese culture and language for five months at Doshisha in 2003. During that stay in Kyoto, I made contact with my present host researcher, Prof. Fujisaki, whom I looked for through the Internet, and developed a joint research plan with him.
What do you consider to be the merits of conducting research in Japan?
Japan has in its culture the will to progress and improve, and this is reflected in the way science is pursued here too. The facilities, including experimental equipment, and the human resources, such as researchers and students, in Japan are among the best in the world.
You delivered a lecture under the JSPS Science Dialogue Program. What did you find participating in this program to be like?
I gave a lecture in English titled "Walking on water: let's learn from the water striders!" to the students at Ritsumeikan High School in Kyoto under the Science Dialogue Program. I am very happy and satisfied with this program. It gave me an opportunity to make contact with high school students, and to see with my own eyes what they are like, how they think, and what they have in mind. I hope my talk motivated the students and raised their curiosity. I was pleased to see them try to interact with this researcher, as after all they are going to be researchers themselves some day. I hope the experience also helped them to lose a little bit of the fear they naturally have to speak to a foreigner!
What do you usually do outside of your research activities?
I do kyudo, Japanese archery, three times a week. I practice it very intensively, and believe that I've found in it a way to develop both my body and soul. I will soon take the test to earn my fourth-dan. I also like to go sightseeing, shopping and fishing and to make short trips on weekends.
Before coming to Japan, what kind of image did you have of the country? Has your perception changed?
It has indeed. I had thought the people to be more closed minded or unfriendly to foreigners. I found the reality to be different, having had so many nice experiences here. Of course not everybody but most people are friendly and without prejudice towards foreigners. I had also expected the people to be more conservative, but was surprised to see how deeply the globalized culture has spread among them. Everything from the language, cuisine, aesthetics, movies, and even attitude is strongly influenced by today's popular Hollywood culture.
What advice would you give people about to begin a JSPS fellowship?
I would recommend that they enjoy their time here-not to just work like a machine for one or two years, but to take every opportunity to get to know the country and its culture. Learning Japanese language is highly recommendable if one wants to enjoy life here. Forming a group of friends is the doorway to nice experiences, and taking part in group activities, such as sports, recreation or culture, is a very convenient way to do so. So, don't stay home at night!
In doing their research and living in Japan, I would recommend that they take advantage of the human resources available to them, such as the university's advisors and secretaries, laboratory pals, and of course JSPS itself. Good contacts in Japan can last forever, so it is a perfect place to make colleagues and build networks.
Interview by JSPS Fellows Plaza