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Pioneer in Mesochemistry, Connecting the Nano - World and the Actual World
Center of Excellence for Practical Chemical Wisdom

2nd Global COE Practical Chemical Wisdom International Symposium (July 2008, Waseda University Okuma Auditorium)

Life science. Information technology. The environment. Nanotechnology and nanomaterials. These are 4 of the main fields raised by the Japanese government in the Basic Plan for Science and Technology. Among these fields, nanotechnology and nanomaterials is a "base" field that provides underlying support for the development of the other 3 fields. Research and development for nano-level control technology, devices, and materials is a vital issue for the next-generation innovation of industrial fields such as medicine, semiconductors, information devices, electrical appliances, and food products.

Not only in Japan, but also in America, Europe, and various countries throughout the world, research and development in nanoscience has been developed with collective effort at the level of national policy. However, it is surprising that no one has noticed the unexpected pitfall that exists in these efforts.

A difference in the order of "109" (1 billion times) exists between the nano-world and the actual world which surrounds us. Nanoscience controls matter "on the nanometer level, which is slightly larger than the size of atoms", and attempts to use these materials as devices and materials. Nanoscience has unfolded a world of matter with special spatiotemporal dimensional characteristics that go well beyond what we can imagine.

Professor Kazuyuki Kuroda, Program Leader at the Center for Practical Chemical Wisdom.

As goes without saying, in order to apply these successes in the research and development of nanomaterials and nano-control to the world, it is necessary to bring the technology down to the level of materials and services in the actual world. At this point, it happens that characteristics which functioned well at the nano-scale do not work well when applied to products of a large order. Actually, this problem has not been sufficiently considered in conventional nanoscience and has become a lacking area.

The Waseda University Center for Practical Chemical Wisdom was established in 2007 and immediately focused on the importance of this problem. The center raised the original concept of mesoscale chemistry and was the first in the world to engage in research in the field. We talked with Program Leader Kazuyuki Kuroda, a Professor in the Graduate School of Advanced Science and Engineering.

(*) Note: Global COE is a program of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) that offers prioritized support for the formation of international outstanding education research centers. "COE" stands for Center of Excellence.

Leading the World in Nanotechnology

Figure 1: Overview of the Center for Practical Chemical Wisdom

"Meso" is a word which means "intermediate". Mesoscale chemistry (or mesochemistry) refers to chemistry on an intermediate scale, between the nano-scale and the scale of the actual world.

"Mesochemistry is still not a very familiar word in the world of chemistry. We were ahead of the rest of the world when we proposed the idea to establish mesochemistry as an independent scholastic field." (Professor Kuroda)

The awareness obtained through projects in nanochemistry, yet another field in which Waseda University has played a leading role, is a factor that is strongly related to Waseda' s proposals in mesochemistry. The predecessor of the current Center for Practical Chemical Wisdom was the Center for Practical Nano-Chemistry (selected by the MEXT as a 21st Century COE), which was established by Waseda University in 2002.

"In 2002, the word 'nanotechnology" had finally begun to be used in the world. At that point, no one had expressed interest in areas such as attempting nano-level chemistry. From a world-wide viewpoint, Waseda was very fast to act." (Professor Kuroda)

During the 5 years of activity at the Center for Practical Nano-Chemistry, the conclusion was reached that "mesoscale chemistry is absolutely necessary for the practical implementation of nanochemistry". The two projects, which have moved from nanotechnology to mesochemistry, are positioned as developing projects which are moving towards the shared goal of "Practical Chemical Wisdom".

"The whole point of chemistry is to create unknown materials from the bottom-up. Of course, our project fulfills this fundamental principle. We are pursuing a two-fold approach, which is to delve deeply into individual research fields, while also conducting top-down research and development that combines the results of research for the goal of practical implementation." (Professor Kuroda)

Figure 2: Photograph of a silica particle taken with a high-resolution scanning electronic microscope. The silica particle has a particle diameter of 30 nm and contains meso-scale pores. An idea exists to use this porous composition as a carrier for medicine. The medicine can be supported by 2 different types of voids. These 2 voids are the meso-pore voids which are seen in the particle and the void between each particle.

Exactly what is mesoscale chemistry? Let' s consider this question by supposing an easy-to-understand case.

Drug delivery systems are attracting attention as a new type of medical technique in which medicine can be freely moved inside of the human body, thus allowing for treatment of specific targets. A future idea for this medical technique is the use of nano-metallic particles which possess magnetic properties as the carrier for medicine. In this idea, a magnetic field is used to freely control the delivery and release of the medicine.

"In this case, it is necessary to satisfy a set of contradictory and complex conditions. It is not possible for the particles to possess magnetic properties unless they have at least a certain size. However, the particles must be small enough to enter the inside of cells. In actuality, technology is required to produce particles with a size of approximately 10 to 100 nanometers." (Professor Kuroda)

The cellular level is on a scale that is one or two levels larger than the scale which is already being targeted by nanoscience. This comparison allows us to sense the extreme microscopic level of the nano-scale world. In order to realize complex devices and materials which are based upon the successes of nanoscience, there is an overwhelming need for science and technology on the meso-scale.

Development of Practical Research Professional through an Industrial-Academic Alliance

In accordance with the shift from nanochemistry to mesochemistry, the name of the center was changed from the "Center for Practical Nano-Chemistry" to the "Center for Practical Chemical Wisdom". As the name implies, the center seeks a level of understanding which surpasses knowledge and intelligence, and can be defined as "wisdom".

"The application of academics is a theme which originally existed in the founding spirit of Waseda University. Therefore, it is only natural that we seek practical application. In addition, the center has been established with the idea that it is unacceptable for the activities of future researchers to end in self-satisfaction in research fields which have been segmented. Researchers must constantly possess the ability to pursue their individual research while also constantly maintaining a bird' s-eye view of the larger world around them. The ability to develop interdisciplinary research is also necessary." (Professor Kuroda)

According to Professor Kuroda, the phrase "a bird' s-eye view" refers to a wide perspective that is in no way limited to the viewpoint of industrial-academic alliances or social contribution. "I want researchers to engage in their work with an attitude of constant consciousness towards the problems that mankind will confront in the next 50 to 100 years. These problems include the global environment, energy, population, food, water, and even terrorism."

The center gives great importance to alliances with the industrial world. However, at the same time, a number of laboratories have been organized which are referred to as the "Mesochemistry Practical Laboratory Group". These laboratories engage in challenging research themes. "There is a mixture of laboratories which focus on fields such as semi-conductor engineering and biochemistry and which are led by researchers close to application and researchers active in other fields. It is important to prevent a self-centered view which considers only chemistry." (Professor Kuroda)

Education activities at the center also adhere to this philosophy. Students study practical chemistry by participating in research activities at the laboratories and experiencing ORT (On-the-Research-Training). A special feature of the center is a training camp for Doctoral Program students. At this training camp, which is commonly referred to as the "Young Researchers Assembly", each student gives a research presentation. Thorough questioning and raising of problem areas is then performed by management-class researchers who have been invited from the industrial world, as well as Associate Professor-class instructors from other universities.

"Students seem on the verge of tears when exposed to the severe environment at this training camp. Secretly, I am thankful myself that I am not one of those students! However, one can see the students being toughened up and acquiring increased ability." (Professor Kuroda)

Striving to develop young researchers who will play an active role in the world (left picture: "Young Researchers Assembly" training camp; right picture: Intensive English Course)

Transmitting to the World and Gathering Professionals from the World

As a pioneer of nanochemistry and mesochemistry, the center is also active in transmitting information to the world. The center utilizes its network with research centers throughout the world, and has already held symposiums and seminars throughout the world, in countries such as America, England, France, Germany, Italy, Korea, China, and Australia.

A scene from a poster session at an international symposium.

"We refer to our symposiums as 'home-delivery symposiums' . Members of our team have travelled around the world and, as the name implies, have "delivered" a great number of symposiums!" (Professor Kuroda)

Thanks to these activities, young students and post-doctorate researchers from around the world have begun to gather at our university, expressing the "desire to study at Waseda". The laboratory group seems to welcome a new visitor every month and has a rich international flavor. Japanese students are strengthened within this environment. "Recently, communication in English has become commonplace, even in normal conversation. In addition to the exposure to a foreign language, Japanese students are really inspired by the active attitudes and thoughts of young people from overseas, and the laboratories are full of energy." (Professor Kuroda)

Furthermore, a system which places American and European researchers in the position of judges for Doctoral theses has recently been fully implemented. This is common overseas but has not yet adhered in Japan. Presentations are made in English, and the presentations are then defended in English. Japanese students must consider it commonplace to do what is performed as commonplace overseas.

Now is an age when outstanding researchers move globally in order to study and research at even more superior research centers. "From the very beginning, the level of chemistry at Waseda has been extremely high even when compared to the rest of the world. However, from this point on, the research center will only continue to exist if we can gain more recognition in an international network and increase the mobility of our researchers." (Professor Kuroda)

Professionals who seek to become first-class researchers in practical chemistry gather at Waseda from throughout the world. This kind of ideal is already being realized.

Reference Links

Waseda University Global COE Program "Center for Practical Chemical Wisdom"
http://www.waseda.jp/prj-GCOE-PracChem/

Waseda University 21st Century COE Program "Center for Practical Nano-Chemistry"
http://www.waseda.jp/prj-prac-chem/

Waseda University Faculty of Science and Engineering
http://www.sci.waseda.ac.jp/

Waseda University Institute for Nanoscience & Nanotechnology
http://www.kikou.waseda.ac.jp/all-nano_open/index.php