Research and Life in Japan by a JSPS Fellow (17)
Hailing from Lodz, Poland, Dr. Aneta Aniela Kowalska has been conducting research with her host Prof. Kyuya Yakushi at the Institute for Molecular Science, National Institutes of Natural Sciences under a JSPS postdoctoral fellowship since October 2006. Dr. Kowalska did her doctoral work under the supervision of Prof. Jacek Ulanski at the Technical University of Lodz in Poland. Prof. Ulanski had earlier been a visiting professor at the Institute for Molecular Science, where he conducted joint research with Prof. Yakushi. The two have continued their research collaboration, under which Prof. Yakushi has invited postdocs from Prof. Ulanski's team to his laboratory. Dr. Kowalska is the second to be so invited.
During her doctoral course days, Dr. Kowalska lived for periods in France (under a Marie Curie Fellowship) and in Spain. She is a very active, curiosity-driven person. Even when it comes to Japanese culture, her interests transcend science and extend all the way to manga (Japanese comics).
Could you explain the nature of the research you are conducting under the JSPS fellowship?
Today's information technologies, including telecommunication, data processing and their storage, depend strongly upon the aid of a laser beam—a single light wave with a given frequency. When applying the beam as a channel of information, one has to modulate the frequency and the phase of the light wave. This is realized by using a special optical medium, ferroelectrics.
As is widely known, this feature of ferroelectrics is associated with noncentrosymmetric crystal structure. In my study, however, I am exploring new ferroelectrics based on an unconventional concept: a compound that appears to have a centrosymmetric crystal structure, but behaves as a ferroelectric substance because of non-centrosymmetry in the distribution of its electrons.
So far, we have little knowledge on the physical properties of such ferroelectrics. This is because there is only one known compound compatible with this concept. The aim of my study is, thus, to discover other examples from existing materials or to synthesize new ferroelectrics (our target is organic material) to break the bottleneck.
Because electron-associated ferroelectrics enable optical control of laser lights in a very fast timescale, our compounds can be applied to fast-driving optoelectric devices. One may be able to find our compounds in advanced mobiles or sophisticated computers in the future.
Your research field sounds leading-edge. How did you become interested in it?
The starting point was quite prosaic—I just wanted to study more, so I decided to go for a PhD. Then, I met my first supervisor, whose research field was quite wide in scope and very interesting as it was connected to applications, such as electronic devices, for new materials. I was really lucky. What I started with was a rather basic study, in the course of which some new ideas signaled a turn in my research. As you know, always during a learning process we discover unfilled gaps in the science, or come up with a brilliant idea, or just simply change our way of thinking through interaction with other researchers. I cannot say I was interested in my current field from an early age, as I was interested in too many things back then.
Why did you decide to pursue your research in Japan?
I really didn't have to decide. In my field of science, Japan is one of the most attractive places to do research. When you go to international conferences related to molecular organic crystals, most of the researchers you meet are Japanese.
Are there special merits to doing research in Japan?
Among the many well-known laboratories involved in research on molecular crystals, IMS, especially Prof. Yakushi's group, is one of the best. In this research field, it is very important to find ways of applying the new materials one creates. From that point of view, I was very interested in joining their project with a JSPS postdoctoral fellowship.
What are your plans after the fellowship?
Well, I'll need to look for a job. Then again, besides being a researcher, I am also a simple woman, so I have to consider family and my personal future. I hope to find a good position that will allow me to play both roles—one that can possibly extend into a permanent job in the future.
What do you do when you're not working, and how have you adapted to Japan?
I am a very curious person, so I have a lot of hobbies. Depending on my mood, I may spend my free time either actively or passively. As examples of the latter, I love watching movies and reading books. I also like astronomy, and can admire the beautiful night sky for hours. When feeling more active, I love trekking in the mountains or swimming in the sea. If I don't have enough time for those things, I go to the gym as a good alternative.
I very much like Japan and the culture of the people, especially in the countryside. I think I am correct in saying that Japan is very much like Poland. The people of Poland are mainly shy and hard working. Like Japan, we have four distinct seasons during the year: a cold, snowy and sunshiny winter, a rainy but nice spring, and a rather hot yet very beautiful summer. And autumn—yes, the season we call the "Golden Polish Autumn." So I feel almost as if at home in Japan.
What advice would you give to new JSPS fellows?
Do not come to Japan with special expectations. Just enjoy it and take life here as it is. Simply, I would quote from a Latin poem by Horace: "Carpe diem." (Seize the day!) If you try to be more outgoing, you can make some real nice friends in Japan.
Interview by JSPS Fellows Plaza