Message from our Researchers
Regarding my current research.
I am evaluating the reactivity of living organic matter (such as amino acids), especially from a thermodynamic perspective. From this evaluation, I would like to quantitatively define what sort of environment was conducive to birthing life on earth.
The mood at ELSI
I am once again surprised at how extremely high a caliber the members are, and at the same time it gives me motivation to work harder. The research environment is exceedingly good. We have twice-weekly lunch talks, daily coffee breaks, and performance appraisal meetings for the entire staff. All of these events are very important in conducting good research.
The environment at ELSI
The 1st floor communal space is very comfortable. The glass-enclosed meeting room is open to view from outside, and as it's immediately apparent what sort of discussions are taking place, it's possible to join in while in progress. On the 2nd floor is my desk space, where it is quiet and very good for concentrating on my work.
Inter-personal relations at ELSI
All the people here are of good character. I respect their stoic approach to research, their ability to not be distracted by unnecessary things. Many of the people here conduct themselves by thinking about how to continue doing exceptional research not just on a personal level but on a systematic level.
A typical day's schedule
A brief message
I invite those students who don't have any future affiliations decided yet, who are involved in ELSI research, to definitely consider applying. I doubt you will encounter too many chances to work at a research facility so blessed, now or in the future.
Regarding my current research
In my research, I experimentally recreate the time period when life first emerged on earth, to find out what kind of habitats gave birth to what sort of organisms, and then how they evolved. Specifically, I am conducting Miller-Urey experiments to recreate the atmosphere and conditions to simulate the origin of life, research into artificial life, and experiments in reconstructing primitive bacteria.
What motivated me to enroll in ELSI
First of all, I was attracted to the wonderful Japanese name of ELSI, the "Earth-Life Science Institute." At first I thought that perhaps a division to defend the Earth from space monsters had been created at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. But when I got more information I realized that it was a place which gathered researchers who encompassed a wide range of genres, from planet formation theory to artificial cells, all in one place. And it was a project which greatly stimulated my intellectual curiosity, one that would study the beginnings of the planets, including the origin of life on Earth. And the fact that among its members were several world famous scientists was attractive. Within this interdisciplinary system we would get to ask, what is life? I fell in love with the concept of ELSI, which would ask such an extremely general but difficult problem and attack it with all earnestness, and I wanted to join in.
Regarding my goals and dreams for research
My goal is to construct a new model which can totally explain, from a geological and biological base of knowledge, the environmental conditions for the origins of life, and route to evolution of modern organisms. With this model as a base, I would like to advance astrobiology, and think about the emergence of extraterrestrial life. It would be wonderful if through this process, I could make the construction of artificial life possible, and even the regeneration of extinct life forms.
A brief message
ELSI does not conduct itself like a normal university lab, where there is a hierarchy of professors, associate professors and researchers, and research is conducted on orders from above. Instead, the system is for individual researchers to independently come up with their own ideas within the common themes of the origin of life and the origin of the Earth. And so, I would recommend this for anyone who wants to conduct challenging, interdisciplinary research.
Please tell us about your current research.
My previous studies focused on understanding the isotopic fractionation (preferential use of either light or heavy stable isotope of a given element) in natural systems. In ELSI, I will use some specific features of biological isotopic fractionation and new technical developments to unravel biotic and abiotic signals from different geological settings. This will be related not only to early life on Earth but also to prebiotic chemistry that allowed the appearance of life.
Please share how you initially became involved with ELSI and also your reason/s and decision to join.
I heard from ELSI while I was a post-doctoral fellow in Naohiro Yoshida group in Tokyo Tech (a current PI of ELSI). Although my scientific background was not directly connected to ELSI's goals, I felt very interested in studying the origin(s) and evolution of life and the Earth. At that time, I wanted to extend my research to other fields and also to extend my life in Japan. ELSI thus appeared as the best opportunity to me.
What are some of your goals as regards to your research?
My main goal in the first months will be to work on analytical devices, with a particular focus on stable isotope measurements, to enable a new type of information to be obtained from geological matrices (sedimentary rocks, meteorites, hydrothermal systems...). Hopefully, this will allow to decipher biotic/abiotic signals from the early and the present Earth, and will lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms responsible for the abiotic formation of organic compounds. I am especially eager to work with prebiotic chemists, geochemists and biologists. In that sense, ELSI is the perfect place to work for me!
Do you experience difficulties that are the result of language barriers?
Not at all! My Japanese level is quite low so I need to speak English with people. But indeed, everyone speaks English so I have never felt any language barrier whatsoever in ELSI.
Please share your thoughts on the best aspects of life in Tokyo.
My main feeling is that it is a city that never sleeps: if you want to eat something, drink something, party... you can do that at any time in Tokyo. Another particularly pleasant thing is that everything is made to make everyday life enjoyable: automatic vending machines are never out of order, Japanese staff in the shops are really kind, trains are (almost) always on time (and strikes are a little bit less common than in France...).