Focusing on the field of soft materials and interfaces, this year’s conference featured presentations by 20 researchers from overseas and 20 from Japan, who were all invited to the RIKEN Harima Institute to introduce their research.
One topic that attracted a great deal of attention this year was environmentally friendly materials. Tadahisa Iwata of the University of Tokyo demonstrated how radiation from SPring-8, the Harima Institute’s world-class synchrotron radiation facility, could be used to develop biodegradable bio-based polymers. Controlling the biodegradation rate of such polymers, Hideki Abe of the RIKEN Advanced Science Institute (ASI) explained, is key to their use as functional materials, a goal that his research team is striving to achieve.
A wide variety of other novel materials were also discussed. Jonathan S. Dordick of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute described enzyme-nanomaterial composites that endow surfaces with self-cleaning properties, and highlighted their potential use in places such as hospitals. David C. Martin of the University of Delaware conveyed the challenges of developing materials that could act as the interface between biomedical devices and living tissue, and Yoshihito Osada of the RIKEN ASI demonstrated how novel hydrogel materials with high stress and friction properties could substitute for certain living tissues entirely.
Asked about his impressions of the event, RIKEN ASI researcher Yoshihiro Ito referred to a comment by Kevin Healy of the University of Berkeley. “Healy reminded us that back in 1931, when Ernest O. Lawrence built the first cyclotron, it was only 4.5 inches in size,” Ito said. “Look how far we have come. We now have, thanks to Lawrence’s early guidance, a synchrotron the size of SPring-8, used by researchers across all fields of science, including soft materials.”
“Conferences like this one provide a crucial opportunity for scientists to forge new directions in research,” Ito said. Needless to say, these opportunities also lay the seeds for long-lasting friendships, which are also a vital part of the research enterprise.