UW Today

April 14, 2017

UW, Tohoku University establish Academic Open Space partnership for innovations in aerospace, clean energy, disaster preparedness

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The University of Washington and Japan’s Tohoku University have agreed to create an Academic Open Space to foster collaborations and academic exchanges between these two leading research institutions of the Pacific Rim. The agreement, signed April 14 by leaders of both institutions at the UW campus in Seattle, is expected to build upon current collaborations in aerospace design and materials, as well as launch new science and engineering partnerships.

“The Academic Open Space will foster educational and research collaborations that make the best use of the shared and complementary strengths of both universities,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce. “Working together, our two great universities can foster innovations and advancements in fields such as aerospace, clean energy and the development of new materials, among many others, all of which are critical to meeting the demands of growing industries in both regions.”

Based in the city of Sendai within the Tohoku region of northern Honshu, Tohoku University is one of the top research and teaching universities in Japan. According to Tohoku University President Susumu Satomi, the institution has held an “open door” policy for collaboration and innovation since its founding. Through this new Academic Open Space, the UW will serve as a gateway for Tohoku University to the United States.

“I am immensely grateful to the University of Washington for their cooperation in the conception and establishment of the Academic Open Space,” said Satomi. “Part of Tohoku University’s mission is to make an impact in our community, and our goal is for our research activities to further this impact. In bringing together people from a variety of backgrounds from several disciplines, each with their own unique contribution to make, this Academic Open Space will lead to a superior level of research.”

University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce and Tohoku University President Susumu Satomi, signing the agreement on April 14 to establish the Academic Open Space.

University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce and Tohoku University President Susumu Satomi, signing the agreement on April 14 to establish the Academic Open Space.Mark Stone/University of Washington

The goals of the Academic Open Space are to foster and expand educational and research opportunities for students and faculty at both universities, as well as develop a cooperative infrastructure to enable productive partnerships and exchanges. Participants from both institutions will meet regularly — remotely and in person — to plan and implement the academic and research work through the Academic Open Space. These will include regular WebEx research seminars, new distance-learning courses for students and researchers, study-abroad programs for students at both institutions, training in advanced techniques for researchers, programs for cross-cultural awareness and opportunities to meet with research collaborators and industry partners.

Fumio Ohuchi, UW professor and interim chair of the Department of Materials Science & Engineering, will serve as director of the Academic Open Space and oversee UW-based efforts and activities. Professor Toshiya Ueki, executive vice president of Tohoku University, will oversee efforts at Tohoku University.

The signing ceremony between Cauce and Satomi is the culmination of a three-day opening of the Academic Open Space in which researchers, administrators and industry representatives gathered on the UW campus to discuss ongoing and future partnerships between the two institutions.

UW President Ana Mari Cauce and Tohoku University President Susumu Satomi (both seated) at the signing ceremony, with officials from the UW and Tohoku University, as well as representatives of the Japanese government

UW President Ana Mari Cauce and Tohoku University President Susumu Satomi (both seated) at the signing ceremony, with officials from the UW and Tohoku University, as well as representatives of the Japanese government.Mark Stone/University of Washington

Scientists at the UW and Tohoku University already collaborate in aerospace research, including design and composite materials, which both universities are known for. But through the Academic Open Space, UW and Tohoku University researchers are exploring new cooperative endeavors in clean energy technology for transportation systems, new materials for industrial applications and seismic engineering.

UW leaders in these research fields spoke at a UW-Tohoku University joint symposium on April 13, including Michael Bragg, dean of the College of Engineering; Daniel Schwartz, Director of the Clean Energy Institute and professor of chemical engineering; Anthony Waas, professor and chair of aeronautics and astronautics; Kristi Morgansen, professor of aeronautics and astronautics; and Laura Lowes, professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Some partnerships have come about through shared expertise, such as aeronautics. But these regions are also brought together by shared vulnerability. Tohoku University is home to the International Research Institute of Disaster Science, established shortly after the region saw heavy damage and loss of life in the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. A similar event could strike the Pacific Northwest at any time.

“By location, faculty expertise, industrial partners and even shared seismic hazards, there are many ways that these two universities complement one another and can work well together,” said Ohuchi.

According to Ohuchi, there have also been discussions for collaborations and educational exchanges in metallurgy, big data and robotics. In addition, the Academic Open Space will include opportunities to collaborate with Japanese and American industry partners in the Pacific Northwest and the Tohoku region, such as Boeing and Tacoma-based Toray Composite Materials America, Inc. The Japanese government is also supporting the Academic Open Space, and attendees at the April 14 signing event include the Consul General of Japan in Seattle and a representative from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, one of the country’s major funding organizations for scientific research. The Consul General is also hosting a reception after the ceremony.

Though this week’s events have focused largely on the anticipated partnerships this Academic Open Space will start or expand, Ohuchi puts equal promise in the potential for partnerships that he cannot foresee — the connections that will be made when researchers and students get together and exchange ideas.

“Who knows what ideas can take off when you join people together in this manner,” said Ohuchi. “That is the real promise of this Academic Open Space, and the real promise for both institutions.”

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For more information, contact Ohuchi at ohuchi@uw.edu or 206-685-8272.

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