Introducing the new WIAS director and associate directors
In September 2020, the following three professors, appointed as director and associate directors, began work on a new system for WIAS.
- Director: Prof. Toshihide Arimura
(Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Research field: Environmental economics)
- Associate Director: Prof. Tetsuya Ogata
(Faculty of Science and Engineering, Research field: Intelligent robotics)
- Associate Director: Prof. Satomi Yamamoto
(Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Research field: Medieval Japanese art history)
The Waseda Institute for Advanced Study (WIAS) was established in September 2006 as an independent institute outside the existing faculties of the University. Since its inception, WIAS has been serving as an active matrix in which next generation leading researchers can conduct creative advanced research on a wide range of themes, beyond the constraints of conventional fields such as the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Within the new system, WIAS will continue making efforts in its established areas of endeavor, including the provision of opportunities for young researchers to develop in an atmosphere of friendly competition; collaboration with on-campus faculty members; the hosting of overseas researchers; and the promotion of interdisciplinary research projects.
Greetings from Director Arimura
In 2020, with the spread of the novel coronavirus, we found ourselves confronted with a set of threatening and rapidly evolving challenges unlike anything we had experienced before, and the activities of WIAS were of course greatly affected. Over the years, functioning as a free-spirited, international and interdisciplinary institute, we have provided young researchers with many opportunities for dynamic face-to-face exchanges with researchers in various fields, in an atmosphere of mutual inspiration. Suddenly, everything changed completely with the Covid-19 disaster, and all exchanges immediately shifted to remote mode. Moreover, we were forced to postpone or cancel our annual acceptance of visiting researchers and invited scholars from overseas.
On a positive note, even under these challenging circumstances, we are continuing with our own efforts, including the hiring of young researchers from all over the world; and the staging of a seminar series to publicize the activities of researchers in the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities who are taking new, innovative approaches as an academic institution, to the problems caused by Covid-19. In addition, we have launched new research projects on the themes related to the environment and sustainability, and are working to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to collaboration among researchers within and outside the University.
As WIAS activities in the context of this new lifestyle are expected to continue for some time, we are working in cooperation with the two associate directors to conceive of an ideal configuration of WIAS as a new institute in the new normal era, making use of the valuable traditions we have built over the years, and continuing with our cherished objective of providing a matrix in which young researchers can actively pursue their research.
Introduction of research projects
WIAS aims to foster young researchers through collaboration with researchers from within and outside the University; to strengthen research fields which are internationally competitive within the University; to promote interdisciplinary research across fields; and to create a research base that anticipates the acquisition of external funding. Reflecting those aims, we launched the following two research projects in AY 2020.
1. New Perspective of the “Global History” Studies
This project is a development from a previous research project, Potentiality of the New Notion of the “Global History,” which was carried out over the three-year period 2017–2019. The previous project has provided a new perspective on global history, spanning periods such as the Middle Ages – Early Modern Period and the Early Modern Period – Modern Period. Specifically, in the situation where democracy and capitalism were facing a crisis involving issues such as migration; cultural conflicts; the global spread of political, economic and military tensions, accompanied by the rise of socialism; and given that both the humanities and the social sciences have been failing to find means of resolving those issues, this research was conducted as a reflection of the idea of reexamining the notion of “modern,” whose meaning has long been taken as established and obvious.
New Perspective of the “Global History” Studies, launched in AY 2020, is centered on the 19th century, a period when sovereign nations and nation-states were formed. The project sheds light on “learning and knowing” through an analytical perspective of direct and indirect human contact among people including military personnel and intellectuals; human networks formed by global movements of people; translation of modern academic research which formed the base of the current humanities; and the global distribution and reception of modern academic research publications, with the aim of providing a new perspective in global history research.
2. Research Seminar for Transdisciplinary Perspectives Toward Environmental Sustainability
Issues involving the environment and sustainability, centered on climate change, constitute one of the most urgent challenges of the turbulent 21st century. Environmental and sustainability issues are multifaceted, and countermeasures against those issues (e.g., reduction of greenhouse gases) and adaptation (response to damage) require interdisciplinary approaches bridging the social sciences, humanities, and science and engineering. Therefore, in this research, a research team consisting of researchers engaged in interdisciplinary work on environmental and sustainability issues (faculty members from each school of Waseda University and researchers from WIAS) will be formed to promote collaboration among researchers from various backgrounds, aiming at the creation of a high-potential base in Japan for research on the environment and sustainability, and for the global dissemination of the research output. At the same time, the project will foster the research capability of early career researchers by encouraging the participation of young Waseda University researchers and graduate students.
A concrete initiative for this first year is the holding of research seminars, inviting lecturers from outside the University, to deepen latest knowledge of trends in environmental science and sustainability science. In order to conduct environmental research with a cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary approach, we will focus on inviting experts from various fields and seeking the active participation of young researchers from Waseda University’s faculties. In addition, there is a plan to publish research reports by WIAS researchers, and by Waseda faculty members who are also researchers at WIAS. The research seminars will provide a matrix for the exploration of the potential of joint research among participating members, for example cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary research.
Introduction of our activities
Open Symposium: “Frontier of the Studies of Indian Thought ” (September 12, 2020)
The open symposium Frontier of the Studies of Indian Thought hosted by WIAS, was held online on September 12, 2020. The following is an overview of the symposium by Assistant Professor Tomohiro Manabe, the organizer of the symposium.
MANABE Tomohiro, Assistant Professor (as of March 2021)
This symposium, with the main theme of Adhyātma thought (recently advocated by Dr. Kenji Takahashi (JSPS Overseas Research Fellow, University of Naples, “L’Orientale”), offered lectures by researchers such as Dr. Takahashi, Dr. Kengo Harimoto (Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Mahidol University) and Dr. Hayato Kondo（Assistant Professor, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Tsukuba）. The lectures were followed by a discussion, moderated by Dr. Takahiro Kato（Associate Professor, Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, University of Tokyo), which developed points such as the details of Adhyātma thought and the advantage of assuming Adhyātma thought as one of the roots of philosophy in future research on Indian thought. In the first half of the discussion, the speakers and the moderator exchanged opinions; in the second half there was general discussion including questions and answers about the lectures, with all participants contributing.
In his lecture, Dr. Takahashi explained how he came to advocate Adhyātma thought; the meaning of Adhyātma; the scope of instruction in Adhyātma thought; and concrete ideological influences that appeared in a later period. Then Dr. Harimoto gave a talk centered around examples of yoga from ancient Indian literature; and the process by which yoga emerged as yoga philosophy, integrated with Indian medicine, Buddhism, Jainism and Vaiyākaraṇa notions and practices, via the yogasūtra composed by Patañjali (in the early AD period). Dr. Harimoto also talked about the validity of assuming the group that maintained the tradition of yoga called Hiranyagarbha Yoga (the core of yoga philosophy) as adherents of Adhyātma (which explores individual existence). Finally, Dr. Kondo presented examples of Adhyātma found in a wide range of literature. Dr. Kondo’s report revealed specific properties of Adhyātma thought by comparing it with Sāṃkhya philosophy, reflecting apparent ideological similarities between Adhyātma thought and Sāṃkhya philosophy, which is Dr. Kondo’s specialty.
In the subsequent discussion, there was a vigorous exchange of a variety of opinions. Eventually, the group reached the tentative conclusion that although Adhyātma thought has some aspects in common with the ideology of ancient Indian thinkers, it may be clearly distinct from Vedic thought, a conservative form of Brahmanism.
This symposium was a challenging one, focusing on new theories not yet established academically, and questioning their appropriateness and effectiveness. It was a valuable opportunity for discussion of Indian thought research, attracting significant input from participants, both researchers and the general public.
Special Lectures by Nobel laureates in Physics (November 25, 2020)
Special lectures by two Nobel laureates in physics, co-sponsored by WIAS, were held online on November 25, 2020. WIAS Assistant Professor Rampei Kimura, who was involved in the preparation and holding of the event, gives the following overview of the event.
KIMURA Rampei, Assistant Professor
(as of March 2021)
On November 25, 2020, Gravitational waves –From their first detection to future observations, special lectures by two Nobel laureates, were held online (YouTube live), organized by Tohoku Forum for Creativity, Organization for Research Promotion, Tohoku University and co-organized with Waseda University Institute of Advanced Studies (WIAS). Professor Takaaki Kajita (Director of the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, the University of Tokyo) and Professor Rainer Weiss (Professor Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Adjunct Professor, Louisiana State University) gave talks with a focus on gravitational waves. The broadcast, in Japanese and English, was attended by over 200 people, including those involved in research and members of the general public.
In 1998, Professor Takaaki Kajita announced his discovery that neutrinos have mass, based on his observations of atmospheric neutrinos. In 2015 that achievement won him the Nobel Prize in Physics. In the first half of his lecture, Prof. Kajita explained what kind of particles neutrinos are, and how neutrinos were observed by his team using the experimental device Super-Kamiokande. In the second half, he gave a fascinating talk about the large-scale cryogenic gravitational wave telescope project (KAGRA project), of which he is currently the research representative, and talked about directions for future development.
In 2017, Professor Rainer Weiss was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention of a gravitational wave detector using a laser interferometer. In the first half of his lecture, he explained in an easy-to-understand manner, using animations based on numerical simulations, how gravitational waves, which were predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, are generated and how they reach us. In the second half, he talked about the mechanism of LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory installed in Livingston and Hanford in the United States, and recounted the moment of the first-ever observation of gravitational wave in human history.
In the question and answer session, the two professors graciously answered a variety of questions about gravitational waves from the non-specialists in the audience, which certainly served as an opportunity for the general public to gain a deeper understanding of gravitational waves.
After the lecture, there was time for a dialogue between the two professors: there were valuable stories about gravitational waves and space physics in the future, along with some human interest stories that people cannot hear ordinarily, such as why each of them followed the path of research.
We would like to thank Professor Kajita and Professor Weiss, all the viewers, and the staff who cooperated in the staging of the online event.
Lecture “Molecular Basis of Cellular Senescence Starting from Cell Membrane Damage” (January 13, 2021)
On January 13, 2021, Associate Professor Keiko Kono of Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OSIT) gave an online lecture entitled, Molecular Basis of Cellular Senescence Starting from Cell Membrane Damag e. The event was organized by WIAS Assistant Professor Takeshi Maruyama. We invited Professor Kono to talk about her research related to the control of aging as a part of the seminar series, Top runners lecture collection, in which the speakers are researchers who can be future role models for on-campus researchers, including WIAS members; and top runner researchers who are potential leaders in the specialized fields of the WIAS members who planned the lectures. The following is a summary of Dr. Kono’s lecture.
MARUYAMA Takeshi, Assistant Professor
(as of March 2021)
The cells that make up the body are constantly subject to damage and stress; this creates small pores in the surface of the cells. That damage and stress, accumulated in the cells, leads to diseases and disorders. Damage to the outermost cell membranes (plasma membrane) that control the shape of a cell is related to various diseases such as muscular dystrophy. It is well-established that the plasma membrane is of the most important structures of those that are essential for making cells, but surprisingly little is known about how it is repaired when it is damaged.
In their research to gain an understanding of how cells control the response to plasma membrane damage, Dr. Kono’s research group did studies with Saccharomyces cerevisiae,*1 which is easy to analyze. They found that plasma membrane damage can affect cell lifespan; for example, plasma membrane damage shortened the lifespan of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It is known that cells age just like humans do. The molecule involved in that cell aging is a protein called p53,*2 and it was found that plasma membrane damage to normal human fibroblasts induces rapid aging by means of p53. Interestingly, plasma membrane damage has been found to leave protrusions (a kind of scar), and it was found that removing the scars that form on the plasma membranes of those senescent cells extends the lifespan of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Consequently, it is considered that the accumulation of Scar is a new-found characteristic of cell aging and a contributor to the promotion of cell aging.
Dr. Kono talked about Scar formation and aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the life science phenomenon that she discovered when she was at Harvard University’s David Pellman Lab, and explained the latest information from research using recently established mammalian cells.*3 It is particularly interesting that the phenomenon in Saccharomyces cerevisiae is preserved in mammalian cells, and future research developments are expected. In addition, although in vivo analysis is at the preliminary experimental stage, she familiarized the audience with important research outcomes which suggest the potential for control of aging in the living body in the future, through efforts such as in vivo analysis using naked mole-rats, which have a long-life span and seldom develop carcinogenesis.
*1 Saccharomyces cerevisiae, known as baker’s yeast, is widely used in basic research. The genome of Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been completely deciphered, making it easy to manipulate genetically and easy to handle in the laboratory.
*2 A type of protein that acts as a DNA damage sensor
*3 Cells of mammals
Webinar Series: “Post-Corona Society: An Interdisciplinary Approach” (June–August 2020)
In May 2020, at a time when the whole of society was falling into disarray due to the corona disaster, convinced that WIAS could make a contribution to this situation, advisor Prof. Hideaki Miyajima; then WIAS Director Prof. Keiichi Maeda; and current WIAS Director Toshihide Arimura, conceived of and planned the online webinar series. Their proposal read:
The “new corona problem” is sweeping the world, a result of the infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The problem is having a great impact, not only on the health of humankind, but also on the world economy and people’s way of life. Not only that, we may be forced into a long battle against this virus. In this webinar series, different researchers will appear online each week to discuss a research theme such as globalization; infectious disease testing; and risk communication and decision making. How should we address this situation, and what kind of society should we aim to create? Waseda researchers will approach the new corona problem from the perspectives of various fields.
Less than a month after the idea of the series was proposed, researchers from within and outside the University, including President Aiji Tanaka, agreed to the proposal and we were able to hold the first webinar on June 19. The series of nine webinars, which were held every week until August, ended successfully with a total of about 1,300 participants. Since either the WIAS director or the associate director served as the moderator each time, and since the webinar was promoted in a format where the presenters encouraged discussion and questions, many questions were received from the participants, making the webinar even more meaningful. Also, thanks to technology and to the energetic contribution of WIAS faculty and staff, we were able to build a model for online research results transmission, including real-time distribution (simultaneous distribution on the Zoom webinar platform and on YouTube) and archiving.
The themes of the sessions are listed below. Some sessions are archived and can be viewed (in Japanese).
1. “The future of globalization in the post-COVID-19 era”
2. “A socio-economic analysis of infectious diseases: Some implications on the outspread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)”
3. “Attempts of improvement of diagnosis for infectious diseases”
4. “Corporate governance in the post-Corona era: New challenges and prospects”
5. “Risk communication and decision making regarding the COVID-19 problem”
6. “COVID-19 and the biomedical research futures”
7. “The practice of scientific advice in Japanese society”
8. “A new opportunity to actively move your body!” “Easy to prepare meals that are both well-balanced and colorful”
9. “Waseda University principles and policies for the Corona pandemic: How should Waseda respond to practical needs for education in the Post-Corona era”
Archive reference: https://www.waseda.jp/inst/wias/news/2020/06/08/6997/
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