Ayaka, Japan

10 Questions with Ayaka Usui

Ayaka from Japan is a PhD student at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University OIST in Okinawa, Japan.

Ayaka’s research field is theoretical physics. She investigates quantum effects by utilising ultracold atomic gases and try to control their behaviour.

Ayaka will participate in the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

Enjoy the interview with Ayaka and get inspired:

  1. What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

My motivation to become a researcher is to explore counter-intuitive phenomena. When I was a high school student, I read a scientific magazine “Newton”, and it reviewed superconductivity. In the magazine it was written that at low temperature the resistance in some metals drops into zero suddenly. I got interested in the mechanism “why persistent flow can exist without any disturbance unlike phenomena seen in our world”, but I did not really understand it, and then decided to major in physics in university. In undergraduate degree, I had a lot of discussion about persistent flow with students and professors. When I was a master student, I investigated the instability of superfluid, which is a sort of persistent flow, in a cold atomic system. There is not only persistent flow but also many other non-classical properties. I will investigate them in two-particle systems for PhD research, and then I will not only examine but also engineer non-classical properties, let’s say for quantum simulators and quantum computing.

  1. Who are your role models?

I do not have ones particularly, although I admire some TV show characters who are scientists. But I respect my supervisor Thomas Busch and my other collaborators. They have their own work styles, which inspires me. Thomas supervises me closely sometimes and leaves me sometimes. That is really comfortable for me. I wish I could be like him when I supervise someone. One of my collaborators, Thomás Fogarty is always relaxed and answers my questions kindly all the time. But he finishes up writing once work is done. Another one of my collaborators, Steve Campbell is so smart that his explanation is clear and he collaborates with a lot of people. When I told him I would visit a lab, he introduced me to a person who worked there and studied something similar to my work. There are a lot of people who I learn something from. So far most of them are men. Surely, it is said that there is some gender inequality in the academic, but that does not mean women should be against men. People can learn something from other people. Gender does not matter.

  1. How did you get to where you are in your career path?

I wanted to become a PhD student out of Japan after I had a bachelor degree and a master degree in Osaka city university. But I was sick for a couple of months and did not have time to prepare for it. Then I applied to OIST graduate university. It is very international and gives everything in English. It is also so funded that it offers students salary and some travel funding. It was not what I expected at all and shocking that I became sick, but I am really happy now studying at this university.

  1. What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

I studied a two-level impurity coupled locally to a quantum gas on an optical lattice and explored information encoded in the impurity dynamics. It turned out that by utilising the impurity dynamics we proposed a new method to probe the lattice system.

  1. What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself / your work?

It was when I realised there were much more things I can do by myself now than last year. This happened recently even though I did not have many results at that moment.

  1. What is a “day in the life” of Ayaka like?

Get up around 6, go running, have breakfast, go at the library to work alone, have lunch and tea with my colleagues, work at the office, go back home around 5:30, have dinner, play the piano, take bath, and go to bed around 9. This is a usual day and the best day.

  1. What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

An environment where you feel free to work at home and take holidays. I have one now, and so I am happy with that.

  1. What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

I like running and work-out. I am also a big fan of anime. Recently I enjoy playing the piano.

  1. What advice do you have for other women interested in science?

Do whatever you want. If there is no support, change a place. Then many things would become different, including you.

  1. In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science?

That could be when a quantum simulator is created. The next next one is when a quantum computer is invented. I will try to propose a method to realise both of them.

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

I do not feel inequality as a female student at the current university, when I was a high school student, only four of 40 female students took a physics class. Many people think women are not as good at physics and math as men. This happens everywhere in Japan, which is a problem. Also certainly there is some sexual discrimination in and out of the academic in Japan (http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201904130027.html). If an image that science is for men is removed, more female students would major in science, and more people would support them.

Photo Credits: (1) Ayaka Usui, (2) Ayaka Usui, (3) Ayaka Usui

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