The UW recently entered a contract with Tohoku University, located in Japan, to co-create an Academic Open Space to encourage academic and research collaborations between the two institutions. Fumio Ohuchi, professor and interim chair at the department of materials science and engineering, will serve as the director of the academic open space and oversee UW based exchange activities.

The UW hosted Japan’s Tohoku University on April 13-14 for a symposium to discuss plans for an Academic Open Space (AOS), the agreement for which was signed on April 14 by university presidents Ana Mari Cauce and Susumu Satomi.

During the symposium, faculty from both universities gathered to exchange ideas about the mission and logistics of AOS. They were joined by the Consul General of Japan and the director of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, an organization similar to the U.S. National Science Foundation, along with various businesses like Mitsubishi.

“As university partners on the Pacific Rim, the UW and Tohoku University share many common interests for research and education,” said Gayle Christensen, associate vice provost for the Office of Global Affairs.

The idea for AOS stemmed from UW professor Fumio Ohuchi, who has also taught at Tohoku University. During a meeting with other professors, Ohuchi proposed a plan to create a centralized network for research between students and faculty at both universities.

“Last summer I had a coffee chat with a few faculty in Tohoku when I was there,” Ohuchi said. “I was sort of brainstorming to see what we can do about it.”

Upon his return, he discussed his vision with Cauce, who swiftly agreed to aid the project. Ohuchi, who is also the interim chair of the department of materials science and engineering, will lead the UW’s end of the partnership. The Tohoku University side will be led by executive vice president and professor Toshiya Ueki.

“We just made up the framework right now, and how we go from here is a big challenge of course, but we have to set up the framework first and then we can go from there,” Ohuchi said.

The AOS aims to create a framework to support research projects between participating members of the two universities. The team’s goal is to expand the scope of collaborations between the two universities beyond aerospace engineering. In addition, Ohuchi is looking to collaborate in metallurgy, clean energy and transportation, and disaster science. 

In 2012, Tohoku University launched the International Research Institute of Disaster Science after the campus was struck by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. The earthquake was among the largest to occur in Japan and the Tohoku region is still in the process of recovering today.

At the UW, the M9 project is a team of experts studying to minimize the effects of a potential earthquake in the area. Ohuchi says that collaborating with Tohoku University will help to elevate each other’s research in disaster science.

“University of Washington and Tohoku University are global leading universities and both campuses are in port towns,” said Tomonaga Okabe, Tohoku University professor of aerospace engineering. “They are next to each other across the Pacific Ocean. Thus, Seattle is an ideal location for TU to establish an academic space to promote educational and research connections with U.S. universities.” 

Although its initial focus will be in various engineering departments, Ohuchi says the AOS is open to all who are interested.

“I think this is a rather interesting new idea of how we can do things,” Ohuchi said. “We are not restricting our two universities but everybody is welcome.”

Eventually, the AOS program is looking to include other universities and recruit businesses to join the network across the world. 

“It’s part of the way that the UW brings the world to our students, but also the UW to the world,” Vice Provost of Global Affairs Jeffrey Riedinger said.


Reach reporter Keiko DeLuca at Twitter: @keikodeluca

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