Designing materials from the atomic and molecular levels

Successful interdisciplinary research comes from dialogue with others and flexible thinking, based on a mastery of one’s own field.

Ogata, Shigenobu

Graduate School of Engineering Science
Theoretical Solid Mechanics Group

Ogata, Shigenobu

Professor Ogata uses a supercomputer to shed light on the essential properties of a variety of materials and predict the performance of new materials. His research involves designing the next generation of high-performance functional materials from the atomic and molecular levels.

Toward a thorough understanding of physical properties from the atomic and molecular levels

Iron is one well-known example of a material that can be greatly strengthened simply by making minor adjustments in in the quantity of additive elements. However, we still do not fully understand the mechanisms of this strengthening at the fundamental level of atoms and electrons. For this reason, we have tended to develop materials through an experience-based process of trial and error. These days, however, there is more demand than ever for advanced materials with a range of properties—strong, light, rustproof, durable, and so on. Time frames for development are also growing shorter. It is no longer viable to rely simply on trial and error.

If we can use computers to gain a thorough understanding of the fundamental nature of materials, we will be able to predict the properties of a new material before actually producing it, and formulate strategies for responding to various kinds of demands. This would make the development process much more efficient.

dr_ozaki2

Genuine collaboration requires a strong sense of self

The key to successful research collaboration is first to develop solid expertise in one’s own field of specialization. If you do not do so, you will find it impossible to achieve true innovation, no matter how much you engage with researchers in other areas. The other important thing is the flexibility to accept ideas and perspectives different from your own. These two elements are the basis for true collaboration and major breakthroughs.

I encourage my students to interact with other disciplines. If your research is limited to one area, you will inevitably develop a one-track approach. In talking with people from other disciplinary backgrounds, you may be surprised to find that the same phenomenon is discussed in different terms and using different ideas. This experience makes you realize that there are many ways of approaching the same problem, and that even if things look very different on the surface, the underlying cause may be the same. Through repeated experiences of this kind, you can develop a “habit” of multifaceted thinking. I believe that this is the most direct path to discovering new potential within yourself and the source of many new research discoveries. That is why I encourage students to take the initiative to enrich themselves by interacting with others in many venues.

Developing a universal perspective

dr_ozaki3The Humanware Innovation Program has a system of research lab rotations. Students experiencing rotations may come across research topics that appear initially to be completely different from their own. If you are specializing in information science, for example, you may consider it difficult to engage in research on mechanics or materials. However, all fields of research in the program are grounded in the universal principles of mathematics and the laws of nature, so if you dig deep, you are sure to find something in common. Take a flexible outlook and work towards achieving that universal perspective.