On Wednesday 29th of October, a group of 15 students from Saint Maur International School met with an equal number of their peers from Yokohama Science Frontier High School in order to take part in a visit of the Yokohama Campus of RIKEN (Rikagaku Kenkyūsho, 理化学研究所), a multidisciplinary research organization that is engaged in a broad variety of research within natural sciences.
Founded in 1917, RIKEN is a principally state-funded (approximately 88 billion Yen annually) institution that conducts research within a number of scientific disciplines ranging from physics, chemistry, biology, medical science, engineering, and computational science. As such, RIKEN finds itself at the frontier between academia and industry and as a result, its activities touch on both basic research and more practical applications.
RIKEN's invitation was extended to science enthusiasts from Grades 10 to 12 and because of the incredible level of interest that was expressed by our students, the science department had the difficult task of shortlisting the 15 scientists that would get to take part in this scientific experience. The students were accompanied by Miss Novick, Mr Marsh, and Dr Erard, who were as excited as them to be given the rare chance to visit these high profile facilities.
We were welcomed at RIKEN by Mr Kamaweka who introduced us to our guide for the day, Dr Jay Shin (D.Sci.). Dr Shin is the leader of the institute's Cell Conversion Technology Unit and he proceeded to give a 1-hour lecture on the nature of scientific research and about his work in the filed of Genomics. Thanks to Dr Shin's engaging delivery, all students were focused and attentive and they enthusiastically took advantage of the Q&A that followed to ask extremely insightful questions ranging from rather specific molecular mechanisms, to broader considerations on nature of scientific research, in particular the interactions between the human mind and the ever increasing power of the bioinformatic tools that are at his disposal.
Later on, Dr Shin gave the group a tour of the facilities, including the labs that host the robots whose job is to perform the day-to-day high-throughput screenings that are so crucial to his research. Dr Shin also gave students a summary of RIKEN's historic groundbreaking contributions to the understanding of Human Genomics, in particular via the building of cDNA libraries, a body of work that was conducted in parallel to that of the Human Genome Project and that was jointly published upon their simultaneous completion. Students were then given one last opportunity to ask some more questions and they were eventually asked to fill a satisfaction questionnaire that would help Dr Shin and his colleagues to fine-tune even further their outreach efforts.
This experience provided the students with an invaluable opportunity to deepen and consolidate their understanding of genetics and to understand the implications and conditions of scientific research as a whole.
We would like to thank the RIKEN Yokohama Campus for providing us with this eye-opening experience. We also thank Mrs Megumi Tabata and our colleagues at Yokohama Science Frontier High School for organizing this visit. We hope to be given this opportunity again to explore with them the works of some of the world's top scientists!