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Elite from Diverse Research Fields Creating New Tradition in Materials Science and Technology

Kagami Memorial Laboratory for Materials Science and Technology

1938 saw the establishment at Waseda University of the Casting Research Center, which specialized in casting technology, a leading-edge high-tech field at the time. Japanese industry was eager for a casting technology research center that could bring Japan up to the same level of industrial technology as Western countries and extend its national power, and there was pressure from various quarters on the teaching staff of Waseda University too. Materials research in those days was overwhelmingly left to Tohoku University’s Institute for Materials Research, and private universities’ ambitions for a comparable research center was considered fraught with difficulties.

The laboratory building was completed in Nishi-Waseda, Shinjuku Ward with a donation of 300,000 yen from the prominent businessman Koichiro Kagami and his son Yoshiyuki, and research equipment and goods including a cupola furnace for practical training were installed using the university’s own funds as well as contributions from various companies such as Sumitomo Metal Industries and Komatsu. In this way, Waseda University’s Casting Research Center was launched as the first private university affiliated laboratory “in readiness for a last-ditch battle” (from the speech of the then president Hozumi Tanaka at the opening ceremony). It drew a lot of attention in Japan and overseas, with photographs appearing in American academic journals and so on. Since then, the Center has developed many human resources and established itself as a materials research center, having been a driving force in the technology that formed the basis of the manufacturing industry underpinning Japan’s economic growth.

Left: Laboratory building has remained unchanged to this day since 1938/Right: Lighting ceremony of the cupola furnace during the Center’s opening

In 1988, on the 50th anniversary of its establishment, the Center was renamed the Kagami Memorial Laboratory for Materials Science and Technology (commonly called Zaiken), which has since developmentally succeeded the founding spirit of “taking the lead in advanced materials technology” and reorganized its areas of research for future generations. I talked to its 21st director Kazuyuki Kuroda, a professor on the Faculty of Science and Engineering, about the present day Zaiken with its 75 years of tradition.

Kazuyuki Kuroda, Director of Zaiken and professor on the Faculty of Science and Engineering

Developing diverse areas centered around electronic materials

There are currently 16 leading Waseda researchers enrolled at Zaiken, from veterans to newcomers (→ Researcher profiles) whose very wide range of research fields includes electronic materials, materials chemistry, surface physics, environmental materials, and so on. Of course we also have experts in the traditional field of casting technology.

Professor Kuroda: “On our 50th anniversary we set out to change into a center of materials research for the new era, bringing in a wider range of researchers who would focus on not only conventional casting and metal materials but also various fields centering on electronic materials. Amid the introduction of various new majors such as mechanics, chemistry, electricity, electronics, robotics, environment, and heath and medicine at the School of Science and Engineering, materials research has continued to play the role of fundamental research spanning all subjects.”

Figure 1 Example of Professor Tabe’s research: Schematic diagram of smectic-C liquid crystal monomolecular film composed of chiral rod-like molecules BC3 structure

Researchers are made up of members chosen from within Waseda University. Open recruitment is conducted on-campus when a certain position becomes available, and all aspects of candidates’ performance are assessed, not only their efforts on a leading-edge research theme but also their research papers, previous awards, external funding, joint research, international research, industry-university collaboration, social contribution, and so on.

Figure 2 Left: Phonon dispersion curves measured in the Oshima Laboratory (red points: graphite, blue points: graphene, solid lines: theoretical curves)
Right: Schematic diagram of crystalline structure of graphene-like new material BC3 discovered in the Oshima Laboratory

Professor Kuroda: “The researchers all thoroughly investigate their specialized areas with their unique research. For example, Professor Yuka Tabe has studied the physical property of the “soft matter” which, as its name suggests, is soft material that is in between solid and liquid. This area of research deals with high molecule and organic matter which are in complete contrast to metal materials.”

Zaiken also has researchers whose results have gained so much international acclaim that it would be no surprise if they won a Nobel Prize. The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of the University of Manchester for their groundbreaking work on graphene, and yet Zaiken’s Professor Chuhei Oshima had been tackling the same research more than a decade previously. Professor Oshima led the world in measuring phonon dispersion curves in his precise search of the lattice vibrational energy of one-atom thick graphene, and his paper went on to become a fundamental text cited worldwide.

Professor Kuroda: “No one would have thought it strange had Professor Oshima been awarded the joint prize. What is great about him is his ability to develop his own unique and important measuring equipment. That is why his work led the world and produced fundamental results still cited even two decades later.”

Figure 3 Aluminum alloy motorcycle super sports frame, test produced by new low-pressure die casting. The thin-walled, hollow structure achieved a weight saving of 50% or more. The result of joint research by industry-university collaboration (Nissan Motor Company, Yamaha Motor Company, Koiwai, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, and Gifu University)

Aside from physical research into the properties of matter, there are also researchers who take a chemical approach to pursuing advances in casting technology. Professor Makoto Yoshida is studying new casting and welding fabrication processes required for automobile parts and so on. There is an endless need for technical innovations not only in travelling performance but also things such as weight saving, energy conservation, environmental load reduction, and new parts for hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles. We are promoting the development of leading-edge technology through industry-university joint research with individual manufacturers or consortiums of manufacturers.

Professor Kuroda: “Zaiken is always equipped with the most advanced experimental research facilities. As well as the status of being a researcher, the ability to conduct projects in a rich research environment is a big motivation for our teaching staff.”

Figure 4 State-of-the-art analytical and testing machinery managed and operated as Zaiken’s shared use equipment

Elevating our international standing as a research center

While undergoing the bold transformation from a casting research center to a general materials science and technology laboratory, the challenge now is to turn our diverse research into organizational strength and build up our international standing as a research center. In a structure where many researchers hold dual posts, the systematization of unifying R&D will not be straightforward.

Professor Kuroda: “In our industry-university collaborative research and international collaborative research, we have to aim for even bigger scale development. We also need to put more effort into strategic management, such as obtaining external funding as a research organization, and partnership building with industries. So we are actively outreaching our research activities through issuing newsletters and so on.”

Ahead of our upcoming 100th anniversary, expectations are high for the creation of a new tradition as a center for 21st century materials technology.

Open seminar at the 70th anniversary celebrations in September 2008

Bellows Festival held every December. Fires are lit in prayer to the gods for another year of safety and research progress

Related links

Kagami Memorial Laboratory for Materials Science and Technology
Faculty of Science and Engineering, Waseda University
Waseda Research Institute for Science and Engineering
Research Institute for Science and Engineering, Waseda University