Research Center for Structural Materials
National Institute for Materials Science
AsianScientist (Oct. 15, 2018) – Rarely is the term ‘memory’ used to describe non-living objects, but in Dr. Yukiko Ogawa’s lab, the metal alloy she developed has the ability to recall its original shape. This is known as shape-memory and such alloys have a multitude of applications in the automotive and robotics sectors, as well as uses in the biomedical industry.
To Ogawa, the creation of novel materials with specific properties (like shape-memory) underpins progress in society. After all, everything we rely on, from our computers to our transportation systems, are combinations of materials that were discovered and modified over the years.
As a researcher at the National Institute of Materials Science, Japan, Ogawa strives to be part of this continual process of improvement. For her efforts in creating the next generation of smart materials, Ogawa was recognized as a 2018 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Rising Talent. Ogawa shared with Asian Scientist Magazine about her research and ambitions for the future.
- How would you summarize your research in a tweet (140 characters)?
I develop magnesium (Mg) alloys with high mechanical strength and novel functional properties.
- Describe a completed research project that you are proudest of.
One research accomplishment that I am proudest of is the world’s first shape-memory Mg alloy that we created. Even if the alloy is bent, it can revert to its original shape by unloading or heating. Mg is well known as a lightweight and practical metal, but I think most scientists never imagined that an alloy of Mg could exhibit shape-memory behavior.
- What do you hope to accomplish with your research in the next decade?
First, I would like to put our Mg alloy into practical use. To realize this objective, there are still some challenges that need to be overcome, such as improving the strength of the alloy and the operating temperature over which it exhibits shape-memory behavior.
- Who (or what) motivated you to go into your field of study?
I’ve always aspired to make myself useful to society and I have enjoyed crafting items since I was a child. When I was an undergraduate student, a Master’s course student whose major was in material science for semiconductors told me that he was making “the inside of a personal computer.”
He made me realize everything is made from materials and that the properties of materials determine the performance of the resultant products. So even though materials science may appear to be an obscure topic, it actually forms the foundation of our society.
Fortunately for me, I met an inspiring supervisor who nurtured my interest in materials science through countless discussions about our research. His advice, as well as learning from my fellow laboratory mates, is what made me who I am today.
- What is the biggest adversity that you experienced in your research?
The biggest difficulty was making the first sample of the Mg alloy. Because it was an alloy of Mg and scandium (Sc), the large difference in the melting points of the two metals complicated the fabrication process. We spent almost a year on trial-and-error to get the first Mg-Sc ingot.
- What are the biggest challenges facing the academic research community today and how can we fix them?
Recently, securing seed funding for research has become increasingly competitive and there is strong pressure to achieve good results so as to land an academic position. This situation is likely to lead to research misconduct.
Hence, for science to progress, we should build an education system that emphasizes research ethics and set up an institution of sorts to judge research misconduct strictly. Researchers should be under less stress so that they can be more reflective and considerate about their work, as well as collaborate more.
- If you had not become a scientist, what would you have become instead?
I would have become a doctor because that would allow me to save human lives directly. I might also have chosen an agriculture-related profession, because I think producing food to support life is important, as is the creation of a sustainable society. Since I was a child, I have enjoyed painting and craft, so I could have become an artist as well.
- If you had the power and resources to eradicate any world problem using your research, which one would you solve?
I would like to solve environmental issues by using the Mg alloy in transport systems. Because the Mg alloy is lightweight, we can increase the fuel efficiency of vehicles, thereby reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Shape-memory alloys are also known as superior damping materials. Thus, our alloy can reduce noise and improve the ride quality of transportation systems.
In addition, I would like to save lives by developing novel materials for medical devices such as stents. Shape-memory alloys made from nickel and titanium are widely used for stents. However, re-narrowing of the blood vessel around such stents remains a serious problem. Since Mg is more biocompatible and not harmful to the human body, I hope that our shape-memory Mg alloy can eventually be used in the context of healthcare to improve quality of life as well.
- Outside of work, what do you do to relax?
My hobbies are reading novels, sewing, embroidery and painting. I also enjoy traveling with my husband and family, and visiting hot springs.
- What advice would you give to aspiring researchers in Asia?
Have a dream, set a clear goal and strive to achieve it with utmost effort! Even if we are not geniuses, each of us can do our best if we don’t lose focus.
This article is from a monthly series called Asia’s Rising Scientists. Click here to read other articles in the series.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: L’Oréal.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.