A meeting of the Advisory Committee was held on March 26th and 27th, 2014 (see the article in Topics for more information). The meeting included a poster presentation by HWIP students on the 26th and a discussion session with committee members and students on the 27th.
In the poster presentation, the students reported on four projects they have been working on (development of a stingray-inspired undersea robot; biomimetic systems for animal herd control; androids as interactive media providers; and designing synthetic genetic circuits with optogenetic tools) and one new project (molecular ICT—bio-nano intercellular communication systems using self-amplified signals). The students passionately described their achievements to date and outlooks for the future. The Advisory Committee members posed numerous challenging questions, some of which gave the students pause. That being said, the Advisory Committee members were duly impressed by the enthusiasm of the students and said they expect to see them make great strides in the future.
Committee members said they were especially looking forward to hearing the findings of the biomimetic systems project, which is the most well-developed at this point. The students accepted the feedback positively, and they all stayed after the session to discuss how to go forward with their projects. “They raised some points that I had not considered,” said one student. “I’ll have to rethink my experiment,” commented another.
The discussion on the second day was held in a roundtable format, which allowed for an up close and personal atmosphere. The Advisory Committee members were all seasoned veterans. They offered further advice on the previous day’s presentations, and discussed a wide range of other topics, from starting a business and the career path of a researcher to how to succeed in the global arena. These discussions certainly helped to expand the students’ horizons. The students said they were grateful for the opportunity to speak casually with the committee members, all of whom are respected scholars that they would typically address more formally. Some of the students even identified new courses of action by asking technical questions that one cannot normally raise in a seminar. You could sense that the committee members were willing to help the students, and we look forward to seeing them again in the future.
I gave a presentation on molecular ICT, an interdisciplinary research project fusing elements of bioscience and information technology. ICT conventionally separates the expression of information from the medium of communication, but in molecular ICT, both are handled by the molecule. The professors with engineering backgrounds pointed out that I was confusing the transport of information with the transport of molecules. It was an invaluable learning experience to see what experts from other fields were focusing on and to gain insight into where mistakes can occur. Given that society is a collection of people from different backgrounds, this session was a good lesson in effective communication. I think I might benefit from getting feedback from people in an even wider range of disciplines. During the session, I had the chance to talk to Dr. Takaoka, an algorithms specialist. I am interested in studying organisms as interactive networks of molecules, but Dr. Takaoka suggested using graph theory techniques to look at these networks. This had never occurred to me before. The session made me realize once again why it is important to interact with experts in different fields.
After my presentation, the Advisory Committee members suggested that I think about what I want to achieve in my five years on the program. During the open discussion session, we were able to pose questions to and hear stories from veteran researchers representing a variety of disciplines. It was a great opportunity to explore different lines of thought. After these two days, I realized again why I am working on this research and felt a strong desire to delve even deeper.
This was a good opportunity to present our in-progress interdisciplinary research projects on to the members of the Advisory Committee. My research team viewed this presentation as a major milestone, and we have been holding discussions and conducting experiments ever since we formed our group at the research retreat in December. Compared to the research in our own specializations, each of us has only been working on the interdisciplinary project for three months, but I think we have been able to leverage our respective expertise to bring greater depth to our research in a short space of time. The Advisory Committee members commented broadly on our research ideas and approaches, which allowed us to rethink our activities and shed light on what we need to do next. I also gained some new insight by discussing future goals and career paths with the committee members. Using what I learned, I plan to work even harder on our project from now on.