Faculty of Engineering


Teaching students “the fundamentals of becoming a successful, street-smart engineer” through reason

In this issue of “Tell Us Teacher”, we talked to Professor Nakamura, who believes in pursuing “reason” and teaching the basics at the Faculty of Engineering, which was newly established in April 2020.

Q:What is your specialty?

At the Faculty of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical and Electrical System Engineering, I preside over the “Quantum Materials Chemistry and Physics (QMCP) Laboratory” and conduct theoretical research on the properties of materials, such as their thermoelectric conversion or electromechanical characteristics. We also examine reaction processes on surfaces and interfaces, and related simulations based on quantum chemical and physical methods. Materials we intend to study include two-dimensional semiconductor nanomaterials, silicon carbides, and high-entropy alloys. We are also working on applied calculations of material systems using relativistic electronic state theory.

Q:What sparked your interest in quantum mechanics? And how have you studied it so far?

Since junior high school and high school, I have been interested in the invisible world of atoms and molecules. I like to think that these things have a reason (in Japanese: kotowari) and I enjoy verifying that reason myself.

I graduated from the Faculty of Engineering, Department of Hydrocarbon Chemistry (translated into Japanese as the same meaning as Department of Petrochemistry) and have been doing research based on quantum mechanics since I was first assigned to a laboratory in my fourth year of university. Since that laboratory had produced a Nobel Prize in Chemistry (Prof. Kenichi Fukui), I often saw replicas of the Nobel medal and was greatly stimulated by the proximity of these renowned professors.

As a student, I focused on ion-molecule reactions, theoretically clarifying the relationship between electronic processes and reactivity, reaction mechanisms, and reaction paths. In particular, my main focus was on the detailed behavior and properties of electrons in diatomic molecular ion systems consisting of a helium atom and a proton (hydrogen cation), all of which had nothing to do with “mechanical and electrical systems engineering” by the way.

By chance, when I finished my doctoral course, I was hired as a faculty member of a laboratory dealing with quantum mechanics in the Department of Engineering Physics and Mechanics at Kyoto University, and I started research on the design and characterization of semiconductors, dielectrics, and new nanomaterials using electronic structure theory, which could be tackled by students studying materials in mechanical engineering.

Q:The research at the university where you worked before had a great impact on the fabrication of nanodevices and electronic materials, didn’t it.

I moved to Ritsumeikan University and participated in a national project on silicon nanodevices, where I started theoretical research on piezoresistivity, a typical electromechanical property used in the principles of pressure sensors, accelerometers, and gyroscopes. We developed a new theoretical method for estimating the piezoresistance coefficient and the gauge factor of materials using quantum mechanical calculation. However, to estimate these accurately, special relativity must be applied depending on the conditions. We also started research on relativistic electronic state theory in material systems in earnest. The results of this theoretical research are widely used to predict the properties of materials in the actual fabrication of nanodevices.

Establishing the Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology

Q:It seems like you gained valuable experience teaching graduate students in Egypt.

To participate in the launch of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology (E-JUST), which was founded in 2010 as a result of a bilateral agreement between Japan and Egypt, I again joined Kyoto University in the summer of 2011. Educational and research activities started in Egypt shortly thereafter in the fall. This was just in the midst of the “Arab Spring”, and there were incessant surprises that most Japanese people would not be able to comprehend. At the university, our two cultures sometimes clashed on matters like administration and curriculum, but I also think we had a pretty good time. On the research side, I was consulted by an Egyptian professor who wanted to develop thermoelectric conversion materials but did not have any equipment, so I started theoretical research on thermoelectric conversion characteristics and developed a new theoretical method that combines fundamental equations of charge and heat transport phenomena with fundamental equations of quantum mechanics. I was impressed by the Egyptian graduate students who were studied engineering eagerly while carrying the future of their country on their back.

Q:How were you involved in the launch of the KUAS Faculty of Engineering?

In 2019, after seven and a half years in Egypt, I moved to KUAS, where I got to participate in the “start-up” of a Faculty of Engineering for the second time. At E-JUST, I was involved not only in teaching and research, but also in revising the curriculum and negotiating with the Supreme Council of Universities (the equivalent of the Japanese government’s University Establishment Council). These experiences have since proved to be an asset to me.

In terms of professional acquaintances, Professor Osamu Tabata, the current dean of the Faculty of Engineering, was a big help. I first met Professor Tabata when he moved to Department of Mechanical Engineering at Kyoto University, but we had very little contact, including in the area of research. Since then, I have had the opportunity to receive advice from him at every milestone, and it was largely due to his encouragement that I moved to Ritsumeikan University and to Egypt.

Q:What are you researching at KUAS?

In collaboration with Dr. Tetsuro Habe, Assistant Professor of the QMCP Laboratory, I have started a new research project on the simulation of the chemical and physical properties of two-dimensional semiconductor nanomaterial systems based on electronically excited state calculations. First-principles calculations, which are now widely used to evaluate the electronic states of material systems, are based on a fundamental principle called “density functional theory,” but the basic premise of this theory is that the electronic state is in the ground state (the most stable state), so it cannot be applied to electronically excited states (states with high energy). We have started to challenge qualitative and quantitative simulation of various material properties in excited states by electronic structure calculations based on time-dependent density-functional theory (TDDFT*), which is applicable to excited states. Since TDDFT has been mainly applied to molecular systems so far, it is not clear to what extent TDDFT can be applied to materials systems, and I am very interested to see what can be gained through its application.

*Published in Physical Review B
Optical properties of monolayer, multilayer, and bulk  Bi I 3  studied using time-dependent density functional theory

Q:In the future, how would you like to contribute to society through your research?

Since my research is what you could call “basic research”, it is difficult for me to answer the question of how to give back to society, but as a theoretical researcher, I am determined to do something new. When I was young, the laboratory I belonged to used the slogan “creation of new values,” and I think that this is a good phrase. I would like to continue to show that we are committed to creating new ways of thinking, whether it be concepts or methodologies, and I would appreciate it if the engineering students and graduate students of KUAS could relate to this.

There is a saying, “If you are going to research applications, do the basics”, or “No basic, no application”. This is a saying that has been handed down to us from Prof. Genitsu Kita, Prof. Fukui’s supervisor. I would like to convey this mindset to the students of our Faculty of Engineering. I would be happy if I could contribute to building a foundation for engineering students to be street-smart and successful in our modern, global world.

Q:Tell us about your hobbies and interests and what you were into when you were a university student.

My hobby is Shogi (Japanese chess), but I’m keeping my distance from it because of the way the media has been popularizing it lately. I think it is important to always act two or three moves ahead. I also have several other hobbies, but they seem to be widely known among the engineering students.

During my college years, I spent a lot of time working part-time jobs. I worked as a tutor at a private tutoring school for eight years from my first year of university until my doctoral course, and after I became a fourth-year student, I enjoyed doing research and studied mathematics whenever I had free time.

Learn more about Dr. Koichi Nakamura