What's New - FY 2015

Japan is cool : Food, Comics, Sightseeing, and Science!
The 1st Sakura Exchange Program Alumni Meeting in Singapore

24 March 2016 / Singapore

Since we launched the "Japan-Asia Youth Exchange Program in Science" in 2014 (SAKURA Exchange Program in Science), more than 120 talented young Singaporeans have experienced studying in Japan. However, it wasn’t until March 19, 2016 that we had the opportunity to get the participants together again for the very first Sakura Science Program Alumni Meeting.

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The alumni meeting had been planned for some time, specifically because we strongly believed that kind of event would encourage other students to join the program.

So taking the opportunity of the 50th Anniversary celebrations of Singapore-Japan Diplomatic Relations this year, the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) partnered with the Japan Creative Center (JCC), Embassy of Japan, to make the first alumni meeting a reality.

While at first we were worried we might not be able to attract enough participants to the meeting, soon we had more than 50 participants including people involved from Dunman High School, River Valley High School as well as Singapore Polytechnic (SP), and their supervisors.

After opening remarks by Deputy Chief of Mission, Mr. Naohiro Tsutsumi of the Embassy of Japan, we also welcomed Mr. Sin Kim Ho from the Ministry of Education, Singapore and Mr. Minoru Yasui from JST for the introduction of the program.

Following speeches by those three, the participants from three schools talked about their wonderful explorations in Japan and we were even treated to a video presentation from the participating SP students. The video, it was explained, had been shot and edited entirely by one student who had finished the entire piece before he left Japan!

As part of the program, participants undertake an intensive itinerary – visiting universities, private companies and national institutes such as the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC).

It’s not all work however – participants also have the opportunity to enjoy the food of Japan and sights such as Akihabara, a Mecca for Japanese animation and comic fans. Through their pictures and video clips, it was interesting to see how they observed Japanese culture – which even made me rediscover my own culture!

We believe that SSP plays a key role in promoting science and technology in Asian countries. And we also believe that such programs also provide Japanese youths with greater opportunities to encounter different cultures as well.

The first Sakura Science Program Alumni Meeting was a groundbreaking event which we hope will expand along with the SSP program in the years to come. And with that growth, we hope we will continue to build firm bridges between Asian and Japanese youths who hopefully will work together for a brighter future by developing new science and technology fields.

Against all odds - Vietnam gov. hangs its hopes on a SATREPS project

6 August 2015 / Vietnam

Landslides are the most destructive natural force in Vietnam, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MONRE) on flash flood zoning and landslide mapping in the country’s mountainous provinces.

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The nation stretches across the east-coastal region of the Indo-China peninsula where Typhoons often hit directly resulting in further natural disasters such as massive landslides. Moreover, major inter-state highways which run from Hanoi in the North of the nation down to Ho Chi Min City in the south are frequently shut down by landslides. The nation’s railways too, which serve as arteries of transportation for people and goods, are also heavily affected by landslides. Therefore, prediction of landslides has the potential to save vast assets the nation stands to lose in the wake of these disasters. Several men have stood up to tackle those odds.

A joint research team led by Dr. Kyoji SASSA of the International Consortium on Landslides (ICL) and Dr. Nguyen Xuan Khang, Director General of the Institute of Transport Science and Technology (ITST) is studying the mechanism of landslides and trying to find a way to reduce the damage caused by landslide disasters through monitoring and building an early warning system.

The joint research team is now working on a project called "Development of Landslide Risk Assessment Technology along Transport Arteries in Viet Nam" supported by JST and JICA.

I've known of this project for some time, but this was the first time to meet them and their team members, and the first time to join their field trips. Intuitively, I thought the way landslides happen would be similar to that of avalanches: too much pressure at the top tiers due to extra accumulation of mud would trigger the slide; but I wondered how this could be predicted.

On the first day of our field trip, we went to a site where many boring samples were collected and organized in different wooden sample boxes based on their depth. My first impression when I saw them was that they were just muddy and stony cylinders displayed in the boxes. "When the color of a cylinder changes, that is the active surface of landslide", said Dr. Shinro ABE. Dr. ABE is a Geological-civil engineer working for OKUYAMA BORING Co., LTD.

At first the team chooses mountainous spots where they suspect geographical features might lead to landslides. Then, they bore to get some samples from deep in the ground.

I was told that sedimentary rocks get weathered from the top by water. Then weathering phenomena progress and it goes down deeper. So, the soil has three tiers: surface, clay, and stone.

"The clay tier is the tricky one, usually that becomes a critical point where landslides are triggered", said Dr. Hiroshi FUKUOKA, vice president of the Research Institute for Natural Hazards & Disaster Recovery at Nigata University. Dr. ABE said, "Boring requires a highly special skill to dig a straight and deep hole."

He continued to explain how they used the collected samples: those samples are taken back to the lab where they are put into a very special and unique machine called a "high-stress landslide ring-shear simulator.” It is a very unique custom-made machine and measures how much pressure the soil sample can endure. It can simulate pressures of environments one hundred meters deep.

For example, Hai Vain train station located near Da Nang, faces a high potential risk of landslide. In that area, landslides have occurred before, so they will likely happen again but nobody knows exactly when. "If a landslide happens in this area, it would cause massive destruction", said Dr. Sassa. I asked him if we could predict and prevent such destruction. He said that there is "nothing we could do about a landslide of this size, but an early warning system could save peoples’ lives at least."

This SATREPS project launched in 2011. Since then, they have been trying to develop the landslide risk assessment technology. Also, they are working on making a wide regional landslide hazard map, and accompanying guidelines. They are currently extending their land slide research network throughout the mountainous areas of the Greater Mekon Subregion.

Vietnam is planning to construct a high-speed train as a part of its national plan. It is critical that they identify potential landslide areas before building the railways. The Vietnamese government is therefore effectively now hanging all its hopes on this project.

SATREPS: http://www.jst.go.jp/global/english/kadai/h2308_vietnam.html

http://english.vietnamnet.vn/fms/environment/111912/vietnam-has-10-000-sites-with-landslide-risks.html

http://www.landslide.itst.gov.vn/

NTU opens positions for assistant profs

29 July 2015 / Singapore

http://www3.ntu.edu.sg/NAP/index.html

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore now calls for opening positions.

For every year, NTU’s program “the Elite Nanyang Assistant Professors (NAP)” has invited outstanding talents from all over the world. In the past, there were three Japanese researchers were selected and they have been energetically working in their research fields.

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“NTU gives chance for even young researchers to set up their own labs and help them to organize their own research teams,” said Dr. Hirotaka SATO who won the grant in 2011.

Dr. SATO received one million SD as the research grant from NTU through the program. With the grant, a new large experimental room (16m x 10m x 4 m) was built and his research team has used the building for his experiment in which he tracks flying cyborg-insects.

Dr. SATO is really satisfied with NTU’s offer. “Many senior professors and school staff have supported. They gave me helpful advice such as how to handle the lab, or how to give lectures and tutorials. So I didn’t feel I was foreigner or inexperienced in the lab operation”, said Dr. SATO.

His focus is not only his own research: he believes educating young talents is also his task. He is enthusiastically supporting both undergraduates and graduates.
“If you work hard and show results, I am sure that NTU strongly supports you.”

Dr. SATO researches cybernetics by using beetles. He is currently studying how to regulate the locomotion of the beetle by using wireless communication and chips. You can visit the following URL for further information.

http://www.mae.ntu.edu.sg/Research/Pages/Detailed-Page.aspx?news=d5f477ab-7e45-4037-918c-7c83510ba188

Another Japanese assistant professor, Dr. Rei KINJO, also got this position at NTU in 2011.
He is interested in the development of novel molecules containing p-block elements (especially boron, carbon, silicon and phosphorus) , and design and synthesis of compounds featuring significantly unique bonds and structures. In practice, those compounds can be used for building blocks and ligands for transition metal complexes.
He expressed his excitement for his position.

“The unique start-up grant funded by NAP allowed me to launch independent laboratory very smoothly.”

According to Dr. KINJO, the division (Chemistry and Biological Chemistry ) where he belongs to has 11 NAP holders. These assistant profs. have different scientific backgrounds. “This diversification demonstrates that NAP establishes the center for research excellence attracting further high level researchers from all over the world”, said Dr. KINJO.

He also commented “such diverse environment and multidisciplinary interaction expands the scope and impact of individual research to the next stage.”

He also pointed, “If you want to work on your original projects in Singapore, NAP is one of the best choices and it’s worth trying for that.” You can visit the following URL for further information.

http://research.ntu.edu.sg/expertise/academicprofile/Pages/StaffProfile.aspx?ST_EMAILID=RKINJO

There is one thing for sure for both professors no matter their goal and interest are different: never give up and try to achieve something with passion.

For the detail of the scholarship, visit the following link.

Set a milestone on fighting against NTDs in Philippines

4 May 2015 / Singapore

Dr Nina Gloriani LepCon Symposium Dr YOSHIDA

-A project for Leptospirosis

According to Dr. Yasutake YANAGIHARA, if you ask a taxi driver in Manila what Leptospirosis is, there would be a good chance that he knows (even if the taxi driver in Manila doesn’t know the destination you’ve asked him to take you). That’s how well-known the disease’s name is in the Philippines.

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In brief, “Leptospirosis” is a zoonotic infectious disease with a worldwide distribution in tropical and subtropical regions, causing multiple organ failures ? including jaundice, renal failure and pulmonary hemorrhage in humans. Rats are considered its main vectors, although other infected animals such as dogs, cows, carabaos and pigs could excrete the bacteria through their urine and contaminate the environment. Usually, the disease breaks out in regions where hygiene or sanitation is bad.

Which is why Dr. YANAGIHARA instigated a research project into the disease which has recently concluded its first five-year term in the Philippines. The project, titled “Prevention and Control of Leptospirosis in the Philippines”, otherwise known as LepCon, and supported by JST and JICA under the SATREPS banner (Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development), was led by Dr. Nina GLORIANI of the University of Philippines Manila and Dr. Shinichi YOSHIDA of Kyushu University, Japan.

However, despite finishing its five-year term in 2015, the importance of the battle against Leptospirosis cannot be understated, and therefore the research team has been asked to continue its fight against the disease.

And so it was with that in mind that I had the opportunity to sit down with the project leader of LepCon, Dr. Nina GLORIANI, in March 2015 at the “National Symposium on the Outcome of the Program for the Control and Prevention of Leptospirosis in the Philippines”, to hear about the work she has been doing with Dr. YOSHIDA under the guidance of Dr. YANAGIHARA.

1. How did you get involved in LepCon project?

I have been working with Dr. Yasutake YANAGIHARA since 1998 when he first came to UP Manila on a JST grant for Leptospirosis research in the Philippines. Through this JST grant, we were able to establish a small laboratory capable of confirming diagnosis of Leptospirosis.

This grant was for three years, and ended in 2001. Another opportunity came in 2006-2009 when Dr. Shinichi YOSHIDA at Kyushu Universtiy, again through YANAGIHARA Sensei (meaning Dr.), brought a small MEXT grant to continue small projects on Leptospirosis in the Philippines. Together with YOSHIDA Sensei, YANAGIHARA Sensei, and MASUZAWA Sensei, a five-year program proposal for the Prevention and Control of Leptospirosis in collaboration with Kyushu University and the Chiba Institute of Science was submitted to JICA which was subsequently approved for implementation in 2010 as a SATREPS project ? otherwise known as “LepCon”.

My involvement in the LepCon project, I would attribute to my field of specialization which is Medical Microbiology and Microbial Immunology and my long term collaboration with YANAGIHARA Sensei. It also coincided with my term as Dean of the College of Public Health, which allowed me to provide overall supervision as well as technical expertise from the local side.

2. What was the scope of your research before you joined the project?

Before the LepCon project started in 2010, prevalence studies on Leptospirosis were conducted on a small scale that included human referrals from a few hospitals, testing animals and isolating the Leptospira from environmental soil/water samples.

3. With whom did you discuss the submission of the proposal?

The proposal was the product of several discussions with the three professors, with input from other Japanese scientists as well. From the Philippine side, I contributed most of the input, with consultative meetings with key faculty who could potentially get involved. We also considered the laboratory capabilities then at the department of medical microbiology where the project was planned to be based.

4. Could you tell us the condition of Leptospirosis in Philippines before the project was launched?

Before the LepCon project was launched, laboratory confirmation of suspect Leptospirosis cases was primarily done by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), the referral center of the Department of Health for emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. However, most of the cases reported from various regions were only clinically diagnosed, as RITM also had its limitations in conducting laboratory confirmatory tests, especially during surge of cases following typhoons and floodings.

5. What was a big issue about an epidemic when the project began?

The LepCon project began officially in April 2010. In September 2009, a big typhoon named Ondoy (otherwise known as Ketsana) hit the Philippines and submerged many parts of Metro Manila and suburbs in deep flood up to three stories high, causing big outbreaks of Leptospirosis in many areas affected. Such occurrences further highlighted the need to put in place a program that will address the prevention and control of Leptospirosis on a wider scale, and in a more pro-active manner.

6. After the project started, what was the challenge you faced?

The initial challenge we faced was to establish a network with government agencies. In particular, to establish a system for referring suspect Leptospirosis cases to our laboratory. Collaboration with DOH sentinel sites was slow at first, but later on improved, with the help of National Epidemiology Center (NEC) Director, Dr. Eric Tayag, and the officials of the Local Government Units (LGUs). During project implementation, we also faced problems with some lengthy administrative policies in academe and government but these were eventually successfully resolved.

7. In addition to the project’s goals, what kind of achievement did you get?

Aside from the goals and objectives that we set and for which we have accomplished much, the greatest achievement by far is that we were able to bring down to the community level, the research processes and results, for the benefit of the Filipino people.

The relationship between UP Manila as an academic institution and various levels of governance in health, science and technology has also been improved. Technical cooperation with the Japanese scientists was excellent and the interaction fostered good professional and personal relations which are all critical to any successful project outcome.

The capacity-building component of the LepCon program in terms of human resource development was one of the best things that happened. Our faculty and staff, including students, were trained in new, advanced techniques both in Japan (counterpart training) and in the renovated LepCon laboratory in the college. More students are now able to use the laboratory facilities for their special studies, research subjects, thesis and dissertations.

The program implementation itself was a test of perseverance, understanding, negotiation skills and many other learnings about interpersonal interactions, flexibility and openness to all possibilities and opportunities for growth and expansion beyond the initial plans. We met other experts, stakeholders, and in the process, opened up a lot of opportunities and possibilities for our faculty and staff, our students, and our partners at the grassroots level.

8. What do you think about SATREPS, the program itself?

SATREPS is a great program by itself, catering to the needs of underdeveloped countries to enhance their capabilities in various areas, through Japanese and recipient country-counterpart cooperation. It is based on mutual understanding, respect and desire to improve lives and health of communities.

9. What is the most memorable part of this five-year project for you?

The entire program development from proposal preparation to defending it in Tokyo JICA HQs, to its implementation, monitoring progress, meeting timelines and deliverables, including mid-term and up to terminal evaluation has been a great experience I will never forget. Each step of the way had its own challenges, and surmounting the difficulties was reward by itself.

10. What is the next step?

We have laid out sustainability plans to continue the project beyond JICA and JST-SATREPS support. Two big DOST-PCHRD projects will continue on to 2016. The DOH-NEC also has been requested to provide support to LepCon for continued human leptospirosis surveillance through the Philippine Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (PIDSR). We also have plans to submit additional project proposals for human, animal and environmental surveillance for this neglected disease, but also will consider branching out to other pathogens. Some initial discussions with other potential partners, also from Japan, the UK and from the USA have been made.

11. What is the reaction of Philippine government towards the project and its outcome so far?

At this point in time, and perhaps for the last two-to-three years, the agencies we worked with appreciated the service we were doing for the laboratory diagnosis of Leptospirosis cases.

The DOH-NEC slowly accepted the assistance we offered them which help confirm Leptospirosis cases, contributing to more evidence-based statistics.The Department of Science and Technology ? Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD), also recognized the value of what we were doing in terms of research and extension services to the community.

Through this project, I observed the strong bond among researchers beyond nations and cultures. I believe that achievement was made because of their mutual scope: making people’s lives better. Dr. YOSHIDA retired from the university as he completed the 5-year LepCon. When I met him at the conference, he showed his continuous motivation towards the eradication of the disease. At the last, he added “This would not have been done without the long-term dedication of Dr. YANAGIHARA to the research, and I would simply like to support his dream that the disease can be eradicated.” Their efforts will continue.

There are many diseases still roaming without certain cure in the Third-world where living environments are being devastated. Most of them are being neglected by advanced medical technology and services which people in the First-world countries have access to. And that’s why diseases like Leptospirosis are called “Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).” And even at this moment researchers are fighting against them all over the planet.

Can our future rely on palm wastes?

1 April 2015 / Malaysia

After we crossed the border from Singapore and into Malaysia, we kept driving for more than an hour.

The landscape here was changed and different from the city “Johor Bahru” which we passed on the way. Palm tree plantations were all over the place. Only one interstate road stretched out into the middle of a palm tree jungle and nothing more. As if it continued forever.

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We were heading to a mill where a team of Japanese researchers had built up a pilot test plant for a new type of energy called “biocokes”.

Dr. Tamio, Ida from Kinki University invented a new way to make powerful cokes out of biomass wastes such as leftover vegetables, natural plants and plant fibers.

His research started as a project in 2007, in Hokkaido, Japan. He set up a small pilot plant there and it successfully produced the first “biocokes” which could be used for a slug furnace or burn wastes. Later he expanded his research and improved the original plant.

He remarked that one of the biggest issues emerging in Asia was theoverflow of garbage.

He deeply considered how he could reduce the environmental impact caused by the by-products of rapid economic growth in the region.

So he talked to a Japanese gas company called Osaka gas engineering Co. , LTD. who agreed to work with him.

Their next step was where to start. Osaka gas had already setup a regional office in Singapore so they tried to talk to the Singaporean government. Unfortunately their negotiation did not work out well. That is the first time when they knocked on our door.

Back then, they were looking for extra funding to build a small scale plant. After hearing their ideas, our regional director, Mr. Osamu KOBAYASHI suggested one of our new programs beginning that year.

NexTEP is one of the programs that JST provides to support collaboration between universities and companies.

Later the researchers applied to the program and were successfully accepted.

In March 2015, we received an email from Dr. Ida in Malaysia. In his message, he said that they finally settled the plant site and were ready to operate to produce biocokes.

Now we would see their efforts as a reality. According to Dr. Ida, they already took orders from a Japanese company and were ready to ship out the first biocokes made of EFB, empty fruit bunch.

EFB is a fiber-like waste made after the rich oil in palm seeds is extracted. So far this waste has only been used for boilers to generate power on site. They obtain EFB from neighbour plantations.

“There were more challenges”, Dr. Ida said. He pointed out that the most critical part of the process was to control inner moisture. After EFB is ground to be nearly powder, it is conveyed into the compress machine to make biocokes. However, the air is so damp that the powders easily pick up moisture which makes the process ineffective.

To solve this problem, Dr. Ida introduced a heater where the ERP is kept until it’s used. However, he had to recalculate the cost of power consumption. So he repeatedly measured how much power was being used by a heater.

I have seen many of biomass projects being operated in the S.E Asia region. But, in fact, most of them still need more time to take off in a practical manner. On the other hand, Dr. Ida’s project seems different since the project has been backed up by a Japanese energy company and a trading company.

They will begin mass production from this month: producing 1.2 ? 2 tons per day. However, his dream still continues. Now he is improving production quality for use in power stations. Biocokes might someday change the energy landscape of this region.