Extending the meaning of “interdisciplinary”:
Study camp for inaugural students held in Okinawa

December 18-21, 2013 Okinawa (Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, behind-the-scenes of Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, etc.)

Knowing others, knowing yourself, and knowing infinite possibilities

Over four days from December 18 to 21, 2013, HWIP students participated in a study camp in Okinawa. The aims of this camp were to move closer to the ideal of seidō jukugi (intensive interdisciplinary studies) and to gain exposure to an outstanding academic community beyond the campus.
Having just completed their Pre-Qualifying Examinations, students were in exactly the right frame of mind for a camp, and also eager to escape Osaka’s chilly weather in favor of average temperatures around 23 degrees Celsius in Okinawa. Immediately on arrival, all 24 students got together to introduce their research projects to each other. Each student had the opportunity to be both presenter and audience, and the result was a lively discussion around the various projects introduced.

This momentum was maintained in the ensuing workshops on new interdisciplinary research themes. Forming their own groups, students came up with unique angles and approaches through which to tackle their respective themes. Based on an understanding of the distinctive features of each other’s research, group members put their heads together to come up with highly creative research plans and ideas. The groups were reshuffled periodically, giving students a total of three opportunities to experience intensive brainstorming and development of interdisciplinary research themes from the ground up, with different counterparts each time. Finally, group memberships were fixed through consensus, resulting in the creation of four highly distinctive teams.

This marked the beginning of an ongoing process of seidō jukugi or intensive interdisciplinary studies, the core principle of the Humanware Innovation Program. On both the first and second days of the camp the groups all worked long into the night to formulate and perfect their research plans.

A glimpse into the professional’s world

On the second day, students took a break from their interdisciplinary projects to undertake a behind-the-scenes tour of Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. They learned about how new fish are brought to the aquarium, how their breeding environments are regulated, how health problems are dealt with, and what kinds of observation and research goes on at the aquarium. By special arrangement, the tour was led by Fish Team Leader, Dr. Nonaka, and the manager of the No.1 Research Division, Dr. Sato. Experiences such as surface observation of feeding in the main tank exposed students to another side of aquarium operations and gave them new insight into professional research work behind the scenes. The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium turned out to be filled with the wonders of nature and the seas of Okinawa, and the desire to communicate those wonders to the world.

Learning from OIST

The third day of the camp included a visit to Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST). Students toured the highly internationalized education and research environment and state-of-the-art facilities, as well as spending some time at the research lab of Professor Kenji Doya of the Neural Computation Unit. OIST is unlike any other campus in Japan. Students were particularly impressed with the support provided to OIST’s small student population by the diverse faculty and cutting-edge research environment.
After the lab visit, students joined with their OIST counterparts to enjoy special lectures by Professor Doya and Professor Tetsuya Yomo from HWIP. We anticipate that the connections made with OIST students during this visit will grow into concrete research collaborations in the future.

Advancing interdisciplinary research

On the last day of the camp, the four groups presented their research plans. The titles were: “Organism Simulation Robot for Controlling Animal Herds”, “Optical Bio GATE”, “Lady Who Won’t Shut Up”, and “Development of an Undersea Robot Modeled on a Ray”. All group members were involved in the presentations, which were followed by extensive and lively discussion that included many penetrating questions and frank comments. This session highlighted the camp’s success in stimulating and enhancing students’ awareness of the value of interdisciplinary research. We look forward to watching how these projects develop into the future.