Faculty of Engineering


Imagining and creating unknown materials

In this edition of “Tell Us Teacher,” we spoke with Kishida Ippei, an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Electrical Systems Engineering of the KUAS Faculty of Engineering. Dr. Kishida specializes in inorganic material properties and computational materials.

Q: How did you come up with your current research topic?

I am currently working on materials research for lithium-ion batteries (LIBs), but my main motivation is not to work on LIBs, but to use computers to predict the properties of materials from a theoretical point of view.

One day, in a class in high school, we were studying a unit on atoms in my chemistry class. The teacher told us that the properties of atoms are determined by the way that electrons are arranged around their nucleus. I thought to myself, “If we know why the properties of matter are the way they are, then we should be able to figure out how to arrange atoms to get the properties we want without actually creating matter. If that’s the case, then we should know the nature of a material before we create it, and we should have already found all the materials that are useful to mankind. But the news often reports the discovery of new substances. Why?” That little question that came to my mind during class was buried in my daily life and soon forgotten.

When I was a student at university, my department had a course selection at the beginning of my third year. That’s when I remembered the question I asked myself in high school. At that time, I knew that human wisdom had not yet reached that level, but I realized that I did not know how far it had reached. So I set out on the path of materials science.

Q: The questions you had when you were a high school student led to your current research?

That’s right. When I was finishing my master’s program, I remembered that “question” again. I knew the role of computation in bridging theory and experiment, and I knew that what I needed to know was a computational understanding of the behavior of electrons that determine the properties of materials. So I entered the doctoral program and began research in the field of computational materials science.

My mentor gave me a topic in LIB materials, which is now my main research area. The LIB is one of the most powerful batteries. It is relatively expensive and suitable for use in high value-added products such as smartphones and laptops. However, the LIB has two drawbacks. The first is that the electrolyte is a flammable liquid. By replacing this with a solid electrolyte, the danger of the battery burning can be radically eliminated, and the size of the battery can be made more compact. The same size would result in a higher capacity battery, which would make the battery life of smartphones much better. Another drawback is that they are expensive because of the rare metals used, such as lithium and cobalt. The role of batteries is not limited to smartphones. The use of renewable energy is being promoted to create a sustainable society, and since energy generation from solar, wind and other sources is dependent on the weather, batteries that store the generated power become important. Expensive batteries such as lithium-ion batteries are not suitable for huge batteries that support power systems. For such applications, batteries that can be mass-produced at low cost using cheaper elements are required. I am trying to design materials for such next-generation batteries.

Q:What are your areas of focus?

Computational materials science is the study of materials through calculations. The performance of computers has improved 10 times in 5 years and 100 times in 10 years. As the performance of computers has improved, it has become impossible for humans to fully process the output results. This is where technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and deep learning come into play. It reduces the overall computational complexity by inferring results under unknown conditions from known results. However, machine learning is not a magic bullet that solves all problems.

In contrast to machine learning, it is also important to use deductive methods to solve problems. For example, let’s say we want to understand how ions move from the cathode through the electrolyte to the anode in a battery. It is practically impossible to investigate all of these states, and most of the calculations are useless for states not related to migration. For such problems, a mathematical field called graph theory plays a major role. Graph theory began with the seven bridge stroke problem, solved by Leonhard Euler.


Q: How would you like to contribute to society through your research?

By bringing new materials into the world, and being useful somewhere along the path to doing so, would be what I could contribute to society. First of all, to foresee the properties of unknown materials, and to suggest what kind of materials should be made from among the countless unknown materials, is something I can help with. There are many researchers in the world who are better at synthetic experiments than I am, so I would like to be a guidepost for such people by suggesting materials that they should make. Also, in the future, I would like to be able to perform synthesis and analysis experiments myself, so that I can become a direct developer of new materials. Understanding the phenomena occurring in invisible places is useful for creating new materials.

It is important to create a new material, but I believe that developing a new method for developing new materials can be an even greater contribution if it is useful to many researchers involved in computational materials science. This is the purpose of my sublimation of the “question” I have been asking since high school.

Q:Tell us about your hobbies, interests, and things that fascinated you in your undergraduate student days.

I played baseball in high school and drew manga in a manga club in university. Where my cartooning skills come in handy now is in making presentation slides: balancing pictures and text in a single page slide, layering and shadowing to make things feel less cramped, and adding contrast to one point while keeping the colors consistent.

In school, often played Final Fantasy, Tetris, Tactics Ogre, Shiren the Wind Waker, Crazy Taxi, and a bunch of “gal games” in a hangout room with my friends who loved games. I got a computer, and at first I probably wanted to make games, but I never made any games. I was blessed with a friend who knew a lot about it and seemed to have an aptitude for using computers, so I was able to use PC-UNIX to a reasonable degree. I built a LAN for the dormitory, set up a server, and managed and operated it. These skills have been useful in operating my current research environment.

Q: What message would you like to share with your students?

I want my students to think about many things in their classes and their daily lives. Just a little bit of awareness is all that is needed, and they should be able to come up with their own answers to the questions that pop into their minds. You don’t have to memorize all of the answers to these questions; they will naturally come to you when you need them. If you always have a bit of curiosity, your daily life will become quite enjoyable. This pertains not only to academic questions. One mathematician once said, “A good question is more important than the answer.” Whenever a question pops into your mind, hold onto it and make a collection!

Learn more about Dr. Ippei Kishida