Frontier Research Institute for Interdisciplinary Sciences
Tohoku University

FRIS Interviews #11

FRIS Interviews#11

  • 川面 洋平Yohei Kawazura

    プラズマ物理Plasma physics

Leading the world with out-of-the-box plasma research

Why did you choose FRIS?

I chose FRIS to expand my area of investigation and take on more challenging research.

The first reason is that I have been doing interdisciplinary research for some time. When I went to the UK as a postdoctoral researcher, I changed my research focus from what I had been doing up to that point, so I had almost no research network back in Japan. I feel that in Japan, institutions tend to hire people who are in line with the research fields of their own departments and laboratories, so when I was thinking about finding a job in Japan, I felt that I was at a disadvantage because I did not have a network. One of the reasons why I chose FRIS was because I felt it would be easier for me to apply somewhere where researchers from all fields come together and are judged fairly based on their research plans. I learned about FRIS through the community of astronomy researchers; Associate Professor Toma posted the job opening.. While I was surprised by the possibility of such a position, I thought FRIS would be the best fit for me, so I applied. I wanted to expand on the research that I had been working on while I was in the UK, and FRIS would allow me to do that while also giving me the chance to do something more challenging.

Please describe the research you are currently working on.

Using my knowledge of plasma, I research the microscopic physics of astrophysical phenomena.

Most of the visible matter in the universe is in a plasma state. Plasma is a gas composed of ions and electrons and is the fourth state of matter after solid, liquid, and gas. In the universe, plasma includes things such as the wind blowing from the sun, the magnetosphere surrounding planets, and the gas that fills the accretion disks orbiting black holes and galaxy clusters. On the other hand, plasma is also used in microprocesses that we encounter in our daily lives. In addition, fusion power generation, which can be achieved by artificially confining high-temperature plasma, is expected to be a future energy source. Active use of plasmas will change our lives. Plasma physics is the discipline that explores the nature of such ubiquitous plasma throughout the universe. Incredibly, the governing equations of plasma physics can universally describe a vast scale of plasma phenomena, from those that occur in our nearby surroundings to those that occur in the wider galaxy. In this sense, plasma physics is essentially an interdisciplinary field. Plasma physics is a very old discipline, and Japan has been a world leader in this field for many years. The Institute of Plasma Physics at Nagoya University has long been a major presence in Japan, and the National Institute for Fusion Science in Toki, Gifu, is also a world-leading research institution.

My recent research interest is in the theory and simulation of small-scale plasma turbulence in accretion disks. Small-scale plasma turbulence has been studied actively in fusion research and in the heliosphere. It is possible to measure turbulence directly in laboratory plasmas, solar wind, and the magnetosphere, even on very small scales, and theories have been developed to explain the measured results. On the other hand, it is difficult to directly measure small-scale turbulence in distant objects such as accretion disks. So, my goal is to theoretically predict the physics of small-scale accretion disks using the knowledge obtained from laboratory plasmas and solar wind.
川面 洋平Yohei Kawazura

Assistant professor, Frontier Research Institute for Interdisciplinary Sciences
Originally from Tokyo, Yohei Kawazura entered the University of Tokyo in 2004, spending a total of 13 years there, including graduate school, a JSPS postdoctoral fellowship, and a period as a research associate. He then worked at the University of Oxford before becoming an assistant professor at FRIS in April 2019. He specializes in plasma physics and is currently studying plasma turbulence in astrophysical phenomena such as in solar wind and accretion disks.

What qualities do you think make FRIS unique?

An institution committed to improvement, where you can focus completely on your research.

The most attractive thing about FRIS is the environment, where you can focus completely on your research. In addition, the support system for independent researchers is well established. There are generous research grants, and we are invited to apply for competitive grants. Another advantage of FRIS is the opportunity to receive inspiration from young researchers working in a variety of fields. There are many opportunities to interact with researchers in different fields. The FRIS Retreat was a particularly stimulating opportunity to exchange knowledge with one another about our fields of expertise. When researchers from other fields asked me detailed questions about things that I had considered obvious, I sometimes found myself at a loss for an answer, which provided me with chances for deeper investigation.

I think the most significant characteristic of FRIS is that it is committed to improvement. Director Hayase and FRIS’s faculty members are always trying to improve FRIS by incorporating the opinions of young people. I heard a story about how an opinion expressed by a researcher was then implemented in the following year’s program. There are also many researchers from overseas research institutes at FRIS, and many of them have an international way of thinking and a strong will to improve the Japanese academic world. I think there is no other organization like this. I once submitted a request for a subsidy of several hundred thousand yen for publication fees for an open-access journal. This subsidy was then discussed at a meeting and soon became institutionalized. I am grateful to be in a place where young people’s opinions are readily accepted.

How do you plan to make the most of your experience at FRIS, and what kind of future do you see for yourself?

“If you want to know about plasmas, just ask Kawazura.” I want to become such a researcher.

Plasma physics is essentially an interdisciplinary discipline, but knowledge about plasma physics alone is not enough; knowledge of the system in which it is applied is also necessary. For this purpose, I think it is essential to be actively involved in different fields, not just in one’s own area of expertise. In the future, I would like to be able to understand the systems involved in plasmas so well that specialists from other fields will be able to say, “If you want to know about plasmas, just ask Kawazura.”

What kinds of people do you think would flourish at FRIS?

People who can think critically, are not bound by existing ways of thinking, and are willing to change the status quo.

I think that people who can think critically and are not bound by existing ways of thinking can play an active role at FRIS. The institution has its own systemic challenges, but I believe that people who are willing to change the status quo can flourish here. In fact, I think there are many such people at FRIS.

Why would you recommend FRIS?

If you feel a sense of academic isolation, FRIS will provide you with unbiased evaluations and encourage you to challenge yourself.

If you feel a sense of academic isolation because your research does not fit into an existing field of study, or if there are no other groups doing similar work, or if you want to explore a new field of study, I recommend coming here. FRIS will give you an unbiased, interdisciplinary assessment of your work and encourage you to pursue challenging research.

How do you like living in Sendai?

Walking to work in this environment, surrounded by nature, refreshes my spirit.

I love it. I had been to Sendai many times before for academic conferences, and I always thought it was a nice place. It is convenient and close to nature, but something else I have noticed since I started living here is people’s adherence to good social etiquette. There are many signs posted in the subway cars and at stations, such as “Don’t smoke while walking” and “Ride escalators equally on the left and right side.” When the novel coronavirus started to spread, they immediately had announcements about proper cough etiquette in the subway. Coming from Tokyo and the UK, where people’s adherence to proper etiquette is relatively low, I remember being impressed. On the other hand, it is a shame that not many restaurants serve foreign food. When I was in the UK, I would go to a market that opened twice a week to eat food from all over the world. Since returning to Japan, I sometimes go out of my way to gather ingredients to make things like Ethiopian food because I miss the tastes from that market. It would be nice to have more international foods.