Ryusuke Futamura

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When did you decide to become a researcher?

I was a junior high school student when I first became aware of the profession, but it wasn't until when I was a university student that I decided to get a PhD. I graduated from the Department of Chemistry at Shinshu University, and was a student of Professor Taku Iiyama. We are currently managing a laboratory together. Dr. Iiyama was doing research on nano-space science, and I became fascinated by that research, and spent 6 years at Dr. Iiyama's laboratory before getting my PhD. After graduating, I worked as a postdoctoral researcher for 6 years and as a specially appointed assistant professor for a year under Distinguished Professor Katsumi Kaneko at the Nagano campus of Shinshu University. In fact, Professor Kaneko was an academic advisor to Professor Iiyama when he was a student, and had been researching nano-space science and nano-carbon since he was at Chiba University, where he worked before Shinshu University. So, it's a long-lasting research topic that continues from Professor Kaneko.

What kind of research do you do now?

Deodorizers such as charcoal used for deodorizing refrigerators and shoe boxes work by adsorbing odor molecules in very small holes called the "nanospace" of the deodorant. We cannot see how odor molecules are actually trapped in the small pores. We only notice that the odor has disappeared. By observing the state of molecules confined in such small pores, I am studying the unique state of molecules in the nanospace, which had not been understood before. A substance that has many small pores, such as deodorizing coal is called a porous material. It has a large surface area because it has many small holes and can adsorb and remove odor molecules well. Among porous materials, porous carbon materials such as activated carbon have high electrical conductivity derived from the graphite structure. Therefore, in addition to the deodorizing effect, it is used as an electrode material in next-generation energy storage devices called supercapacitors. Here too, a large amount of electrical energy can be stored by the adsorption of electrically charged ions on the large surface of activated carbon. Since we belong to the Faculty of Science, I am interested in specific aspects of basic science such as "how the ions exist in the small holes of activated carbon" rather than an application-oriented approach for achieving high capacity of supercapacitors.


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I understand that the nano-world cannot be seen with the eye, but is there something in your office you could show us so we could understand the nano-world better?

The nano-world is invisible to the naked eye, but here are samples of carbon nanotube I purchased for use in my research. Metallic and semiconducting carbon nanotubes purchased from Nanointegris, cost 150,000 Yen for 1 mg. It's far more expensive than diamonds! This carbon nanotube looks like a black sheet when seen with the eyes, but when viewed through an electron microscope, it can be observed to be constructed of cylinders with a diameter of 1 nm bundled together. It's a nanometer-sized tube. I described the color of the nanotubes as black, but if you look closely you will see red or green. This is a phenomenon related to the absorption of light that is unique to nanotubes with a uniform tube diameter.


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Shinshu University is also famous for carbon nanotube research, and Special Emeritus Professor Morinobu Endo at the Faculty of Engineering is a leading expert in carbon nanotube research. The carbon-carbon double bond that carbon nanotubes has is extremely strong, and a strong fiber material can be made when mixed with glass fiber, and other materials. I am interested in the behavior of molecules and ions confined in nanotubes, focusing on the fact that carbon nanotubes have a nanometer-sized tubular structure and am continuing conducting research into them.

Is there anything you put extra effort into when conducting research?

I think that what is required of scientific research today is to be able to explain research results to the public in a manner that is easy to understand and welcoming. This is related to the importance of communicating Science, as noted by Michael Faraday, the prolific scientist who authored the book, "The Chemical History of a Candle." In recent years, I feel that there is a demand for science art especially in internationally renown journals that conveys the essence of the science. The concepts are understood not just by reading the text but by looking at its visual representation.


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Recently, (though I now realize it's been three years now), when I published our research results in Nature Materials, I created a cover image to summarize my research. This was a study on how ionic liquids behave in very small pores sized 1 nanometers. Normally, positive ions with opposite charges gather around negative ions, but when trapped inside the pores of carbon, a mysterious phenomenon happens. Some negative ions with the same charge gather in a "superionic state". I made this cover page when we were able to elucidate that in our research. The gray circles represent carbon atoms, and when the pink negative ions and green positive ions are confined in the pores of the carbon, the negative ions form a superionic state as shown in the picture. This was created by using dedicated CG software that draws molecules three-dimensionally and PowerPoint of Microsoft Office. Free CG software that draws and even renders has come in very handy. Slide sheets for academic societies are also made this way. This cover page is satisfactory for one made by amateur like myself and I was confident. Unfortunately, it wasn't chosen as a magazine cover (laughs). However, I think it is very important to convey science in an easy-to-understand manner. Especially for university faculty who also serve as educators at educational institutions.


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What are some challenges you face as a researcher?

I don't have any particularly difficult situations. I do occasionally come across some challenges. I start teaching this year so I'm half excited and half anxious. Currently, I guide students in graduation research and student experiments, but this is the first time that I teach in a classroom using the blackboard mainly as a method of teaching. Speaking of classes, I made a supercapacitor by hand last year with the first-year students who I was in charge of for the new student seminar. The supercapacitor itself can be made with items found easily around us, so it is also recommended for as a summer project for elementary school students. We the supercapacitors and left them out unused for more than half a year. Will it work? (It took about 1 minute of charging to get the blue LED to light for more than 10 minutes.) The good thing about the supercapacitor is that it can be used semi-permanently unlike Li-ion batteries, and it can be charged at high speeds. It takes less than a minute to fully charge. Therefore, it is not suitable for uses needing long charges. It's a power storage device that's getting a lot of attention right now (it also appeared in the Disney movie Baymax!).


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Would you mind showing us some of your favorite things in the office and laboratory? Books, work tools, or souvenirs?

1) This is a book written by Professor Kazuo Tsubota called "Life Design Guide for Science- From Economic Independence to Professor Selection and Company Establishment" recommended by Associate Professor Shinya Yamanaka, who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. It has important information on how to apply for research funds and other useful information needed for researchers today that no one really teaches us. When I read it when I was a student, I was shocked that "researchers also need skills and tactics like those who study the humanities."

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2) This is a mask I bought in Venice. When I was a studying abroad in Portugal, I found out Europeans take their personal life very seriously and even university researchers take a solid vacation during the summer months. As a student, I was able to have a full vacation of about two weeks. It was a good opportunity to plan a trip around major cities in Western Europe. That's when I visited Venice and saw this mask, fell in love at first sight and bought it. It's for carnival. I think it cost about 200 euros! In Italy, I stayed in Florence and Rome as well as Venice. All the pasta I had was delicious. Before travelling to Italy I didn't enjoy eating pasta so much.

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3) My favorite work tool is an X-ray scattering measurement machine with a two-dimensional detector purchased through research funds. Ordinary X-ray scattering measurement machines are equipped with a zero-dimensional detector that captures scattered X-rays at points. With the 0-dimensional detector, the scattering intensity must be measured by changing the angle of each point, so it takes a lot of time to measure. On the other hand, since this device is equipped with an imaging plate that is a two-dimensional detector, scattered X-rays can be captured on the surface, and the angular dependence of scattered X-ray intensity can be measured at once. As a result, highly sensitive measurements can be performed immediately, and even very small sample sizes of 1 mg or less can be measured. Previously, about several hundred milligrams was required. Therefore, it has become possible to measure very valuable samples. When special parts are needed for X-ray scattering measurement, I make them with a 3D printer purchased with research funds.


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The Iiyama/Futamura laboratory also has a prototype (the only one in the world!) of a device designed by Professor Iiyama during a joint research project and is currently being sold by the company that produced it. Professor Iiyama also makes a variety of equipments himself, so I have been learning a lot from him since I was a student. Although I am no match for Professor Iiyama, I sometimes make simple devices myself. I made a gas introduction device used in combination with the X-ray scattering device described above. Since the X-ray device can measure a very small amount of a sample, it has become possible to create a gas adsorption state for extremely expensive carbon nanotubes and perform X-ray scattering measurements. The scope and possibilities of research will expand if you can manufacture equipment and devices yourself.


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There is a prototype (the only one in the world!) of a device in the current Iiyama/Futamura laboratory designed by Professor Iiyama and sold by a company after joint research. Professor Iiyama also makes equipment himself, so I have been learning a lot from him since I was a student. Although I am no match for Professor Iiyama, I sometimes make a simple device myself. I made a gas introduction device used in combination with the X-ray scattering device described above. Since the X-ray device can measure a very small amount of a sample, it has become possible to create a gas adsorption state for extremely expensive carbon nanotubes and perform X-ray scattering measurement. In this way, the scope of research will expand if you can manufacture the device yourself.

To find out more about Assistant Professor Ryusuke Futamura, please visit his SOAR page:


Link to the paper discussed in the interview:


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