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Peter J. Milianta reflects on his recent experience working at the University of Tokyo, Japan

PJ in Japan, June 2016

P.J. Milianta, second from left; Dr. Toshihisa Osaki (Project Assistant Professor, Artificial Cell Membrane Systems), fifth from right.

Peter J. Milianta ('16 Biochemistry) has recently returned from a month-long research participation in the laboratory of Prof. Shoji Takeuchi at the University of Tokyo. He lived and worked as a member of Prof. Takeuchi's group, as part of a collaboration between U. Tokyo and our laboratory. PJ reflects on his experience and how he has blossomed into a mature scientist with a global perspective, as a result of NSF funding.

It was both a tremendous honor and an exceptional delight to collaborate with the Takeuchi Group, one of the leading research teams at the University of Tokyo Institute of Industrial Science. I was welcomed by a kindhearted and hospitable group of individuals that helped me to acclimate to the customs and environment of their laboratory, as well as to my life in Tokyo. Working on a novel microfluidics device, I was openly exposed to chemical engineering and challenged to use my knowledge of biochemistry and surface chemistry to overcome a range of obstacles. Through our collaborative endeavor, I was successful in optimizing it for further experimentation in the United States.

Though my time at their Kanagawa Academy of Science and Technology (KAST) location was relatively short, the four weeks I spent immersed in research taught me what it means to be a graduate-level scientist. I worked both day and night, striving to accomplish the goals I had set for myself. Moreover, despite working twelve hours on average per weekday, I was able to explore many historic sights, befriend a variety of remarkable people, and even attend a party in celebration of my birthday. My experiences in Japan were so much more than those of an average research collaboration; I listened to the many stories of those I worked and lived with, familiarized myself with a culture that was completely foreign as an American born to European immigrants, and matured as a scientist and individual through the myriad of challenges I faced. From commuting to KAST via subway and bus to navigating the bustling streets of downtown Tokyo, I was faced with an array of unexpected situations to which I was forced to adapt. However, although these situations were unanticipated, like attempting to commute concurrently with subway construction or making a wrong turn in the middle of Shibuya, they positively contributed to the visit as a whole and added uniqueness and excitement to an already extraordinary venture.

My time in Tokyo was an incredible experience, one that I am sure will accompany me throughout my life. It facilitated my development into a more seasoned scientific professional and a more cultured person, which will undoubtedly aid me in my future endeavors. As a now twenty-one-year-old undergraduate student at Iona College, I feel remarkably privileged to have represented my team ("Project Symphony"), my college, and my country around the world. I am looking forward to the strengthening of this new bridge between our institutions and the further advancement of our collaborative efforts.