Tag Archives: Seminar

130th Life Science GPES Seminar

Growth Anisotropy in Plants: Scaling Up from Single Cell to Stem.

Dr. Tobias I. Baskin

University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“Endless forms, most beautiful” – Charles Darwin

During the 130th Life Science Seminar, Dr. Baskin opined that ‘beautiful’ could be replaced by ‘functional’ – the myriad structures found in the plant kingdom are all results of millennia of fine-tuning so as to meet various requirements in functionality. A leaf is flat in order to absorb as much light as it can. A tendril extends almost two-dimensionally (i.e. a line) to grasp at supports. His research objectives are to understand why plants grow not isotropically, but anisotropically and the mechanisms by which plant cells allow this growth. In this manner, he uses a combination of biology and engineering in order to come up with theories about how plant cells deal with stress and strain. It was extremely enlightening; especially so with the question and answer session at the end, where students shot queries at him about both his research and his choice of career path which were answered openly and eloquently by Dr. Baskin.

Understanding plant biomechanics is all well and good, but throughout the talk I wondered about what the purpose of his research was. The answer? There isn’t one. His research can be said to be ‘basic research’. Instead of research that has a purpose such as understanding the mechanism of carbon uptake by the ocean in order to mitigate climate change, Dr. Baskin does investigative research into plant growth for the pure love and curiosity of it. Pure research furthers human knowledge without specific applications in mind but may one day be used as a foundation for progress. Applied research is useful, but without pure research contributing to the pool of knowledge, many new innovations (e.g. the discovery of X-rays for medical use) would not have existed.

The second part of the talk was actually given by one of our very own, Kim Schumacher. He used this opportunity to introduce GPES to other Todai students, staff and the guest speaker, giving them an insight into the programme and our student-led initiatives (thanks Kim!!). It is astounding how many people on our campus are clueless about the existence of this new programme and we hope that more students will be inspired to join such a pioneering venture by us actual students promoting our own programme. This was also an interactive session as we asked for advice and opinions from Dr. Baskin on how we can better create a more multi-disciplinary programme.

All in all, a really fruitful session. Thanks to Hamada-sensei for organising the seminar and Dr. Baskin for a fascinating talk.

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From left to right: Xuan Truong, Kim, Dr. Baskin, Yue Chin, Amelia

(Pictures ©2014 GPES Student Group)

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GraSPP Seminar “Peaceful and Safer Use of Nuclear Power: Role of Integral Fast Reactor” on May 28, 2014

Hello everyone,

Here is a short recount of my personal impressions of an event organized by the University of Tokyo – Graduate School of Public Policy under its “Global Leader” program.

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The event was held at Hongo campus’ Ito Hall and lasted all day long with several presentations, keynotes, speeches, movie presentations and panels.

For detailed information on the entire program please consult the following link: http://gsdm.u-tokyo.ac.jp/?p=444

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The event’s main theme was nuclear power and the main topic revolved around “Peaceful and Safer Use of Nuclear Power: Role of Integral Fast Reactor“. This nuclear reactor fission technology and design have already been in existence for more than 50 years, but throughout the entire period of commercial use of nuclear power, other reactor designs were preferred, mainly for cost or convenience reasons.

However, after the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster and the gradual meltdown in 3 of the plants 4 reactors (the adjoined Fukushima Dai-ni was virtually unaffected by the earthquake, tsunami or nuclear complications at it’s sister plant) led to a search of more safe and viable options for Japan’s future energy mix. The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), a design by US conglomerate General Electric (promoted in Japan in conjuncture with its partner Hitachi) is supposed to be a safer and more efficient reactor type that will reduce the risks emanating from nuclear power generation to a relative minimum.

The reactor type is considered a passive system as opposed to active ones. This means that the reactor is cooled through a closed system that does not require active cooling and will immediately and automatically shut down in a case of emergency. This would reduce the risks of meltdown significantly and could thus be operated also in country like Japan, which is historically exposed incessibly to natural disasters.

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To provide more backup to their arguments, the proponents of this technology presented a documentary called “Pandora’s Promise” by director Robert Stone (for detailed information see http://pandoraspromise.com/). This movie tells the story of former environmentalists, who confronted with the threat of global warming and air pollution among others, decided to revise the initial anti-nuclear to pro-nuclear views. The movie provided an emotional discourse on why mankind, especially in developed countries, should not abandon nuclear power and should reconsider its anti-nuclear stance to the benefit of a greater good.

Having assisted at this seminar, having listened to the arguments of the proponents, having read the profiles of most presenters and keynote speaker and panel participants, I have to say that this whole event leaves kind of a bitter taste for me. I am open to every technology that will make energy safer, cleaner, more sustainable and more accessible. Costs are are something that needs to be considered if we are debating which technology should be preferred over other for our future energy and electricity generation. However, I felt that this event was more or less a publicity event for the nuclear industry that tries to comfort people again after the general public has become much more cautious towards the government, the electric utilities and nuclear power in general.

Not a day goes by without new disconcerting information being released about the troubles and complications at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, and the government’s and TEPCO’s handling of the situation. This is the absolute opposite of what was presented at this seminar. I am aware that nuclear power is a business and that electric utilities want to make money, which is a legitimate goal. However, I have a hard time trusting the words of the people that said the same things about nuclear power decades ago, companies that tried to hide and falsify information for years, and politicians and experts that failed to regulate and control the nuclear sector appropriately.

The University of Tokyo is a public institution with a public mandate to engage in unbiased research. And although I do also reckon that universities and researchers are reliant on private funding from corporate sponsors as well, it should be assured that both views, pro and con, do get enough exposure during an event such as this.

Nonetheless, I sincerely do want to thank the organizers of this event for providing me with a lot information and providing me interesting views, opinions and perspectives on an industry that is often managed rather silently. I learned a lot and was able to engage in enriching discussions with some of the most proficient people and experts in this field.

However, I would have appreciated a more differentiated discussion of this controversial and currently highly emotional topic.

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Sincere regards,

Kim