I am a planetary scientist. But before going into the topic of planetary science including earth science, I want to mention what "science" is in my view. Science is to explore the causality of natural phenomena. Science is an approach that explores the relation between cause and effect through trial and error for a combination of various elementary processes and conditions, regarding the question "what are the conditions required for the phenomenon to occur?" Science may also be an instinctive activity, coming from human intelligence which quests to understand nature. Simply speaking, I think that science is a process to assign a reason for the various mechanisms of this world.
On the contrary, in Japan, we often see the word "science" paired with "technology", as in "kagaku-gijitsu" ("science technology"). From thousands of years ago, Western culture which has found significant value in questioning the mechanism of nature itself, has put the greatest emphasis on science itself rather than science technology. However, the biggest purpose of science that has come to be recognized in Japan is to become the direct benefit to people's lives and to create "technology" (to bring efficiency and good profit). As a result, in Japan, the mindset that does not first and foremost value "science as a tool to explore the causality and mechanisms of the natural phenomenon" has been spread, and eventually only "science technology" came to be primarily valued. This inevitability is understandable in the historical context. After the Second World War, Japan has rapidly reconstructed and achieved huge economic growth mainly through drastic industrialization and urbanization. However, I have been drawn to science to engaged in "science", and I want to continue in this path in the future, rather than the tendency for "science and technology". In addition and through my own work, I hope to promote the value, fun and appeal of pure science to Japan and the world.
One of the most important and fundamental questions of science is the "origin/s of life", which is ELSI's primary research mission to study it in the context of the planetary environment. Again, I am a planetary scientist and, in particular, working on the icy moons orbiting giant planets, e.g., Europa and Ganymede in the Jovian system, and Enceladus in the Saturnian system. As an ELSI scientist I am contributing to ELSI from the angle of "life in the universe". Through several previous exploration missions, in several icy moons it has been considered that a vast liquid ocean exists beneath the icy crust. The subsurface ocean does not consist only of pure water but some minerals and organics which could be important compounds as building blocks of life are dissolved. Finally scientists are considering that the icy moon and its subsurface ocean may have a potential for harboring extraterrestrial (ET) life. The important point is not to search for ET life but to explore and find an evolutionary path from simple organics to life in the ET environment. Recently, for example, glycine, the simplest amino acid, was confirmed to be present on comet 81P/Wild 2 from samples returned by NASA's Stardust spacecraft. We now know that biological components are present in the Universe and this first detection of extraterrestrial glycine suggests that amino acids can be formed by abiotic processes in the Universe. However, further chemical environmental information and subsequent evolution toward functional biopolymers remain unclear. In order to push forward investigation of ET habitability, we need further chemical and environmental information and need to get together various experts from across the world. And eventually I believe we will be able to shed light on the essence of astrobiology.
About two months ago, from July 1st to be precise, the ELSI Origins Network (EON) was launched to lead a new global effort into the origins of life, and I became the co-executive director of EON. The main mission of EON is not to address a specific research subject but to construct a human/research network for those working on the origins of life question. To tackle seriously one of the biggest questions in nature, we have to unite beyond the boundaries of the various research fields and each expertise to maximize research progress and benefit by intensively concentrating resources on it. Hopefully many researchers across the globe will utilize EON in order to widen research activities and each field of view. Eventually, I believe that exploring both the origins and evolution of the Earth and other planets/moons and the origins and evolution of life/lives will lead to creating a new field, "Bioplanetology". And personally, I hope and will continue to work so that "science" for understanding natural phenomena will take firmer root on Japanese soil and in the world.