Gaining atomic mastery: From quantum theory to nanotechnology and novel biomaterials, a University of Tsukuba Master of Materials Science launches graduates into exciting careers
Arriving in Japan in 2010, Muhammad Farzik Ijaz, a graduate from Pakistan in 2010, was excited to be accepted by an institution with such an excellent reputation for Materials Science as the University of Tsukuba. It’s an indication of the calibre of the university’s Faculty of Materials Science and Engineering that among its staff it boasts a Nobel Laureate, Hideki Shirakawa, the joint winner of the 2000 prize in Chemistry.
“I was captivated by shape memory alloys and wanted to focus on these for biomedical applications,” Ijaz says. “My university advisor in Pakistan had recommended the University of Tsukuba master’s program to me and, in particular, Professor Shuichi Miyazaki and Professor Hee Young Kim who are regarded as the most highly ranked researchers in the field of Ti-based [titanium-based] shape memory alloys.”
Once he reached Tsukuba, Ijaz was not disappointed. “The master’s program was a great opportunity to broaden my understanding and knowledge,” he says. “The credit system gives students a lot of freedom in choosing courses according to their interests. The teachers have in-depth knowledge of their fields and are very open to discussion.”
The two-year course covers quantum properties, quantum theory, properties of materials, nanostructural engineering, chemistry and biomaterials. The faculty includes American, Chinese, and Korean nationals, and is rich in distinguished professors who are willing to devote a substantial amount of time to discussions with students interested in their respective research field.
“In addition to taking courses, students participate in a weekly ‘cluster seminar’ where we all present our research and discuss topics of mutual interest,” Ijaz says.
Facilities available within the department include molecular beam epitaxy, high-resolution transmission electron microscopy and terahertz time-domain spectroscopy, notes Professor Seiji Kojima, whose lab focuses on the study of dynamical properties of condensed matter by ultra-broad spectroscopy. There are also outstanding computing facilities and links with the National Institute of Materials Science (NIMS) in the wider Tsukuba Science City area.
Ijaz was able to follow his dream, completing the master’s degree and then a PhD on biomedical shape memory alloys in the Miyazaki-Kim laboratory. This internationally-renowned group has a focus on development of shape memory alloys including Ti-Ni alloy, shape memory thin films, micro-actuators and biomaterials, and the study of properties such as phase transformation, shape memory effect and superelasticity. “Professor Shuichi Miyazaki and his academic colleagues in the Miyazaki-Kim lab have a very unique way of making difficult content interesting and comprehensible,” Ijaz says.
The Department of Materials Science can provide financial support to graduate students in terms of teaching and research assistant positons. There are also scholarships specifically for foreign students provided by the Japanese Government, such as prestigious MEXT and JSPS scholarships.
Ijaz says he has enjoyed extracurricular university life too: “I’ve been an active member of the Tsukuba International Students’ Association, a volunteer organisation that assists newly enrolled overseas students in their daily lives. I feel the University of Tsukuba is big enough to offer a variety of activities and lifestyles, yet small enough for people to know each other and know what’s going on.”
Aohan Wang is also glad she chose Tsukuba for her studies in materials science. After doing her first degree at the University of Tsukuba she stayed on for the master’s course, where she researched polymers and liquid crystals, with Associate Professor Hiromasa Goto as her supervisor.
While Wang was still a first-year master’s student, Professor Goto asked her to attend a conference in France to represent the laboratory. “I had never been abroad alone before, and I embraced the wonderful opportunity,” Wang recalls.
The Faculty also hosts the annual International Workshop on Science and Patents. “It’s growing bigger every year,” says Wang. “We enjoy the preparation work and I have been honored to be the master of ceremonies.” She has benefitted from financial support during her time at Tsukuba, receiving a research associate fee and scholarships from the Japan Student Services Organization.
“This is my seventh year in the beautiful Tsukuba campus,” says Wang, who is now doing her PhD. “There are limitless possibilities at this university.”
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