Frontier Research Institute for Interdisciplinary Sciences
Tohoku University

FRIS Interviews #12

FRIS Interviews#12

  • 中安 祐太Yuta Nakayasu

    材料プロセス工学、里山資源工学、エコライフスタイル創成学Materials Processing Engineering, Satoyama resource engineering, Eco-friendly lifestyle creation

Aiming for an innovative lifestyle and to become
a researcher who pursues the meaning of a rich life

Why did you choose FRIS?

I chose FRIS because I felt that my highly interdisciplinary approach would be accepted here.

I felt that FRIS would be flexible in accepting a researcher like me, who has an interest in a variety of topics. FRIS was the only place I applied to, but if I had not been hired, I would have been looking for a job in Kawasaki, where I live, because I’m aiming to become 100% energy independent. To achieve this goal, I moved to the Aone district of Kawasaki, next to Sendai, about two years ago. I moved to a satoyama with rich local resources such as hot springs, water, and forests. As I practice a highly interdisciplinary approach to subjectively deepen my research while also being a part of the local community, I felt that the philosophy of FRIS would suit my research style.

Please describe the research you are currently working on.

I want to utilize less-polluting materials in energy devices.

Typically, devices are made from metals. However, in addition to these materials being finite, a lot of CO2 is emitted in the process of making them. That is why I want to use woody biomass, which is an abundant resource in Japan. I am researching how to synthesize materials from biomass in a way that minimizes air and water pollution, and how these materials can then be utilized in batteries and other energy devices. Broad-leaved trees such as oaks will sprout again after being cut down, so we can create something like a materials farm. In my research, I am trying to create high-quality carbon materials from these trees and make them into devices. I am also focusing on the traditional technology of white charcoal and investigating new engineering uses for it.

In Japan, since ancient times, people have grown food in the fields, used wood as a heat source in firewood and charcoal, and used streams as a power source, including as a source of electricity. I believe that we should not just imitate these techniques but adapt them to modern technology and create new ways of using them to suit modern life. We are aiming to develop technologies that utilize the resources in the satoyama in a way that is compatible with modern engineering and incorporate them into daily life, in pursuit of a more sustainable lifestyle. Together with my colleagues and with others in the community, I am working to build a recycling system for local resources such as biomass, food waste and wastewater. In other words, as a member of a local community, I try to achieve as much food and energy self-sufficiency as possible, and at the university, we are conducting research about how to solve the technical obstacles to a local community in achieving energy self-sufficienc.
中安 祐太Yuta Nakayasu

Assistant professor, Frontier Research Institute for Interdisciplinary Sciences
Originally from Shizuoka, Japan, Yuta Nakayasu entered Tohoku University in 2009 and received his PhD there after nine years (one of which was spent in New Zealand) studying materials science, chemical engineering, and environmental science. After serving as a faculty member at the Institute of Multidisciplinary Research for Advanced Materials (IMRAM), he joined FRIS in April 2019. His research focuses on utilizing biomass feedstocks in energy device materials, with the aim of creating sustainable lifestyles in the region.

What qualities do you think make FRIS unique?

There are talented people from a variety of fields, whose diverse perspectives are a source of inspiration.

FRIS is unique in that it is a mixture of people from different fields. There are many talented researchers, who serve as a great source of inspiration. The research achievements of the people here are impressive, and many of their studies are based on thorough investigation. In addition, when other researchers ask about my work, they pose questions from all kinds of angles, which gives me new perspectives and is very useful. For someone like me who is interested in many different things, it is very enjoyable to have more points of view. It makes me think that I should not lose my originality but that I should also do my best to compete within the existing framework. We have a lot of freedom, anyway, and can conduct our research however we see fit.

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

By taking advantage of both the objective and the subjective, to be a researcher in the truest sense of the word.

First of all, I would like to be someone who can choose “research” as a means by which to explore and solve problems, rather than as a member of a group of specialists like “researchers” or “scientists,” who have been professionalized. As we can see in the concept called “post-normal science,” which fundamentally rethinks the scientific system, throughout the system’s long history, researchers have viewed science from an objective perspective. Nowadays, however, it is said that this alone limits what we can see. I think it is also necessary to focus on the subjective aspects of our day-to-day lives. I would like to think about how local communities can realize independence by achieving sustainable systems while also working on developing those systems myself.

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

People who can simultaneously undertake research that can be evaluated and research that is difficult to evaluate.

This is something that is unique to FRIS, but if you are rated as “an active contributor” by modern short-term evaluation standards, in some ways, that might mean you are not actually contributing. However, the lack of such an evaluation can be a cause for concern and makes it difficult to obtain research funding. Therefore, it is important to have both research projects that people consider “actively contributing” and research projects that make people think, “Just what is that guy doing?” I think that the people who can do both types of research in parallel and at the same intensity make the strongest case for the existence of an interdisciplinary research institute like FRIS.

Why would you recommend FRIS?

You can carry out your research without any strings attached.

The foremost reason is, of course, to receive research funding. Every researcher must obtain public research funding and do work that is somewhat in line with the wishes of funders and evaluators to keep their research alive. Funding that allows research to be done without needing to be mindful of anyone’s wishes (I might still be mindful of FRIS though... [laughs]) is very valuable. While I am still able to receive funding through grants, my aim is to try to de-institutionalize science—to raise funds through crowdfunding and other methods of no-strings-attached funding and to use my own salary, which I spend on miscellaneous expenses, to fund my research. While maintaining a healthy suspicion of the system, I want to keep finding ways to continue my research.

How do you like living in Sendai?

After moving to a satoyama, I’m working on building new environmental systems.

I used to live in Sendai, but now I live in neighboring Kawasaki. I am researching and working on the construction of a new environmental system along with the local people. It takes me 45 minutes to commute to the university. Last year, I bought a mountain with my friends. We are planning to cut down some trees together, dry them, and, under the guidance of a traditional carpenter, build a hostel from scratch with the wood. We are also aiming to establish a new method of cultivating tropical crops using the wastewater from natural hot springs, and we are cultivating cocoa beans. I also do some hunting, and I recently got a hunting dog named Chaco. We often spend weekends playing in the mountains and fields together. I work in the mountains, help on my friend’s farm, and do some work in the fields. At the university, I am also involved in several joint research projects on advanced devices such as organic batteries, microbial fuel cells, and sodium-ion batteries that are made from woody biomass as a base material. In the field, I have several environmental projects going on at the same time, and I enjoy living in the richness of nature.