Tag Archives: Yue Chin

Solar Farmers in Japan to Harvest Electricity with Crops

Solar Farmers in Japan to Harvest Electricity with Crops

Farmers in Japan are maximising use of farmland by harnessing solar energy not only for food but also electricity. Sounds like a pretty good idea but may have some negative effects on land use as certain crops like rice do not flourish in the shade. Thoughts?


(Photo credits: Ryo Sugawara/Japan Organics Recycling Association (JORA))

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.


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

(Pictures ©2014 GPES Student Group)

Paper To Plants by Kelli Anderson and Daniel Dunnam

Had to share this! A breathtakingly perfect stop-motion animation of a forest biome, every single leaf and branch and feather cut out of paper. Anderson and Dunnam created it to advertise TinyBop, an educational app for kids (or inquisitive adults). The forest edition is an interactive diorama that makes learning about biodiversity pretty addictive. Oh, the possibility of becoming Tarzan just by swiping and tapping a screen! Just like swinging through the forest on a vine! Okay, not quite…

After you’re done with that do check out her post (http://kellianderson.com/blog/2014/05/a-paper-forest/) and their making-of video (http://vimeo.com/93623567). The amount of work and paper cuts that must have gone into the end-product is insane. Phenomenal mix of science and art.

Todai May Festival (Gogatsusai)

The other GPES students are rather involved in Todai circles (サッカル sakkaru) but I guess one would see me as a typical graduate student: a commitment-phobe with regards to university clubs and societies. In my defense, this term has been particularly insane for me and I didn’t manage to make it down to those I was actually interested in. No matter! The Gogatsusai is a brilliant time to catch up on what you’ve been missing out on and experience what those clubs (部活動 bukatsu) and circles have to offer! While you do get chances to take part in booths, like Amelia who was Ms. Moneybags at the Malaysian Student Association booth, I elected to be a normal paying customer and just had a walk around.

Stepping through the famous Red Gate (赤門 Akamon) of Todai’s Hongo campus, you enter a world of intense sensory overload. Loads of students shouting, “Come get some takoyaki/yakisoba/kakigori” and trying all sorts of ways to lure you to their stall (including cross-dressing – not sure how successful this trick is). My star buy of the day was the Okonomiyaki Moffle – a waffle made of mochi with an okonomiyaki topping. Say what?!?!

Not only can you get food lovingly cooked by Todai students, you get to explore the hallowed Hongo halls and learn more about what they do. Apparently you can even participate in a dummy dissection in the medical building! There’re also an assortment of cafés that are differently themed to cater to every possible whim. The centre stage has an amazing location right in front of the iconic Yasuda Auditorium and hosts a huge variety of acts. One of them we stopped to gawk horrifiedly at was a girl group not unlike AKB48, apart from the fact that they were wearing strange gold Power Ranger-esque masks. Indeed, a school festival beyond compare.

The Gogatsusai’s autumn counterpart is called Komabasai and is held in the Komaba campus amidst incredibly beautiful ginkgo trees that are Todai’s symbol. If you missed this one, come along for the next one and maybe I’ll be manning a Moffle booth – you never know!

(Picture source: http://fukutake.iii.u-tokyo.ac.jp/english/facilities_nearby-akamon.html)

Japan Geoscience Union Meeting 2014, Pacifico Yokohama


One thing I have been beyond grateful for in GPES is the freedom to select my laboratory and professor-in-charge. Research is everything here in Todai; as a Masters/PhD student, your lab will probably be where you spend most of your time at. Since arriving here and becoming a part of Dr. Yusuke Yokoyama’s lab, I’ve been given so many opportunities I didn’t expect to have as a Masters student. This year, we were privileged to attend the Japan Geoscience Union (JpGU) Meeting 2014 at Pacifico Yokohama. It was my First Ever Conference (though I did go for the Symposium on Polar Science at the National Institute of Polar Research last year) so apologies if I sound like a complete nooblet.

The conference showcased all aspects of geoscience, including planetary sciences, geomorphology, biogeosciences among other topics. Apart from the talks that focused on oceanic biogeochemistry, I was particularly interested in the NASA and JAXA ones. These made use of a Very Very Cool state-of-the-art hyperwall (basically a massive screen – check it out here) to detail the Even Cooler technology that goes into creating and operating the consortiums of currently orbiting satellites and the multitudes of impacts they have on earth science and human society in general. One fact I was pretty struck by was that the number of precipitation measuring instruments we have on Earth is only enough to cover 2 basketball fields. We take the accuracy of weather reports for granted but this wasn’t the case till a few years back – one actually had to look out the window to decide whether to put on wellies or flip-flops!  People think space exploration has no real impact on earthly life but it really does. It’s not all astronauts vaulting through space stations singing Bowie songs…though that definitely isn’t what space exploration is about either.

Back to the conference: it’s structured like a music festival. Multiple talks proceed concurrently throughout the days in different rooms, you have to pick and choose which ones to go to. As JpGU is at its very heart a Japanese conference, most of the talks were given in Japanese; they did however have quite a few sessions in English to cater to an international audience. There are also poster presentations so that you get a quick overview of a wider variety of research without having to attend the relevant talk. Relevant organisations such as the Kochi Core Centre, Springer and even Todai had booths where you could chat with the personnel and learn more about their research and what they do, buy geoscience-related texts or even cookies that look like geological formations (I have to admit I bought the tea-flavoured cross-bedding one! Yum!). I also had a peek at a core sampled from a site that showed the geological deformation due to the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. Scary but really interesting from a scientific point of view.

On the whole, I thought it was extremely well-done and subverted the image I had of conferences being pretty stuffy and boring. It gave me an opportunity for exposure to other forms of geoscience completely outside of my research area and also to be in the company of such esteemed members of the international Earth Sciences community, many of which had a hand in the IPCC 5th Assessment Report or even the Mars Curiosity Rover. Looking forward to JpGU 2015!