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[Related article of the 9th main conference session]Nagoya University ITbM "Environmental Strategies to Generate Fusion Research" (3/6)


[From "Special Feature 2: Space Design to Accelerate Research" in "Research Support vol. 06 (June 2017)"].

Environmental Strategies for Fusion Research" will be held from 14:00-15:00 on the first day of the 9th Annual Meeting of the Association for Transdisciplinary Research. Here is an article from Research Support Vol. 06 that discusses the efforts of the Institute for Transformative Biomolecular Research, Nagoya University, in which the speakers are involved.


Embodying the connection between researchers in a building

Institute for Transformative Biomolecular Research, Nagoya University


It remains a hurdle for researchers to share values and promote interdisciplinary research among groups in different fields. It is a test not only of individual efforts, but also of how well an organization as a whole functions as a mechanism. Five years later (as of June 2017, the time of this booklet's publication), the Institute for Transformative Biomolecular Research (ITbM) at Nagoya University was established with the aim of creating a place where researchers from different fields can meet and interact, with young PIs focusing on the design of the research building. We caught a glimpse of the institute's new way of being by talking with Professor Tetsuya Higashiyama, Deputy Director of the institute, and Mr. Ayato Sato, Director of Research Promotion, who has a laboratory at the institute.


Interdisciplinary research institute led by young leaders

ITbM is one of the centers selected for the World Premier International Research Center Program (WPI) of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), where research is conducted with the fusion of synthetic chemists and animal and plant biologists at its core. The center's identity is "a research center where you can create the biomolecules you want. Compared to other WPI centers, young PIs have played a central role in creating the center. The average age of the 10 PIs assembled at the time of the launch was 43, and all were under 50. Some of them are also active as PIs at overseas research institutes. The group has also established a system called the Co-PI system, in which the group is managed by young leader researchers (Co-PIs) who are advised by the PIs as their right-hand man. In addition to this system for attracting young leaders, the group continues to take on the challenge of promoting joint research and fusion of different fields under the concept of "mixed laboratories. Even five years after its inception, the atmosphere of excitement continues to prevail, which suggests that this initiative is beginning to work well.


Research space that encourages human interaction

Design is meaningful only when it is combined with function, and ITbM, as a research building, seems to embody the concept of PI et al. well. What I felt particularly strongly was the strong focus on design to realize the concept of human interaction. The most important thing is people. The PIs firmly share the awareness that good research is born out of human connections," Higashiyama said, explaining the key points he emphasizes in the research environment. This concept developed naturally among the PIs, who discussed it with faculty members of the architecture department and incorporated it into the design of the research building.

The third and fifth floors of the building are residential floors, and the second and fourth floors are experimental floors, with the residential and experimental floors connected by a spiral staircase. The sixth floor houses the Live Imaging Center, the Compound Library Center, and the greenhouse, which are common facilities. Upon entering the building, one immediately notices that it is designed with as few walls as possible to provide a clear line of sight. The living rooms are not divided into separate laboratories, creating a natural environment for students and researchers to interact with each other. In addition, the walls around the main corridor and meeting rooms on the apartment floors are made of glass, rather than concrete or metal partitions, as much as possible. This seems to create a sense of openness not only for internal members but also for visitors from outside.


Cross-disciplinary talent is nurtured from mixed labs.

A key concept of ITbM, the mixed lab, is well represented in the aspect of the laboratory. In order to encourage interaction between members of the biological and chemical sciences at the laboratory level as well, the laboratories are shared. Although the chemical synthesis rooms are separated for safety reasons, the glass walls make it easy to see what is being done. In addition, equipment is basically shared, and attempts to eliminate barriers between groups can be seen in various areas. Because students can move freely within the building, it is said that it actually happens that students come and go from the organic chemistry lab for a few months to learn chemical synthesis, and then come back to their own lab to conduct bio-related experiments once they have created a compound. Some students in the Higashiyama group show up at the lab only once a week for a progress report, and spend the rest of the week doing experiments in the organic synthesis lab. The exquisite physical distance of being in the same building stimulates interaction among people and brings diversity to the ideas. We are seeing an increase in the number of students who can approach the subject from both biological and chemical perspectives," Higashiyama said with a real sense of accomplishment. The core values of each laboratory are maintained, but the concepts that surround them are removed. What the PIs aimed for when they were first established is finally beginning to bear fruit.

<From "Research Support Vol. 06, Special Issue on Space Design to Accelerate Research" >.

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Related Sessions by Dr. Kenjiro Tadakuma
March 6, 14:00-15:00 Environmental Strategies to Generate Fusion Research @ Session Room A