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VOICE No. 34


Ai Ueno

Graduate School of Engineering

My Favorite Saying: Everything in your life is proceeding in the best direction for you


Q: Why did you choose this saying?

When I was in elementary school, I was fascinated by space, and I had these nebulous dreams about working in a job related to outer space. I have been fortunate enough to have good relationships with others, and as a result I am now engaged in space engineering research. Even so, I still have a long way to go to achieve my dreams. Getting to where I am today has involved a lot of trial and error, and I faced a lot of failures, which I suppose you could call taking the long way around. When I was a student, my dreams and my personal efforts were enough to open doors. Now, with this being my job, I spend my days involved not only in education and research, but also in other work, trying to find ways to lead to my own growth.

What's more, I found that when raising a small child, you encounter unexpected incidents in everyday life. But it's precisely when facing such hurdles that I ask myself, "So what should I do?" By staying true to myself and always moving in the right direction, even if only by step by step, I started believing, "Everything in my life is proceeding in the best direction for me! Everything happens with the best timing."


Q: What kind of research are you doing?

My research is based in thermal control engineering and focuses on space engineering and nano- and micro-device engineering. Our laboratory's mission statement is "mastering heat to pioneer the future of the Earth and space," and indeed, this research has applications in a wide range of fields, from space, houses, and vehicles to small electronic devices. For example, satellites operate at an extremely low temperature of around -270°C, completely different from the Earth's temperature. We are creating new devices and systems that help satellites carry out their operations at such low temperatures, such as using thermal input from sunlight and heat from appliances installed in the satellites to maintain thermal balance (control heat).

Recently, I have been focusing on research into flexible slow-heating devices that work without electricity, which can be used for thermal management in wearable devices.


Q: How did you get into this research field?

The Japanese astronaut Mamoru Mohri once said, "I could see no border on Earth from space." When I was in elementary school, this quote left a deep impression on me. I thought it was so cool that space-related jobs could elicit such fantastic remarks. That was the beginning of my admiration for space-related jobs. Then, when I was an undergraduate student, I had the opportunity to do research at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), where I met a number of people I respected. This experience led me to graduate school in engineering.  


Q: What sorts of things make you think that research is interesting or rewarding?

The more difficult a research topic is, the lower the chance it proceeds according to the researchers' hypothesis. Accidents of all sorts are unavoidable in research. For that very reason, I'm deeply moved when I uncover an interesting phenomenon I didn't at first expect. This may be similar to the sense of achievement we feel when we look back while climbing up a mountain and recognize how far up we have come.



Conducting an experiment on a device



Q: You have pursued research in a variety of environments, such as universities and space development institutions like JAXA, and you have also conducted collaborative research with world-leading companies. Are there any experiences that are memorable for you?

I have devoted myself to advanced studies in various environments with a mind toward "seeds" and "needs." I have had many opportunities to visit the world's leading companies, both in Japan and abroad, as well as research and educational institutions, ministries, and agencies. Whenever I talked to non-Japanese people, the first they asked me was not about my company or my academic background, but instead, "What do you do?" I got the impression that they regarded themselves as the protagonists of their own lives and were active and proactive in building up their careers. These experiences inspired me to follow my curiosity when making decisions, even more than before.   




At the premises of the United Nations Environment Programme in Kenya


Q: How do you spend your days off? What do you do to recharge?

On weekends, I usually play with my child by doing physical activities at the park or in nature. I refresh myself through "earthing," a method to connect ourselves directly to the Earth by walking barefoot on the grass or in river or sea water. This method stimulates our normally unused five senses and refreshes our brains. It’s painful for unhealthy adults to walk barefoot, especially in rivers with rocky bottoms. The pain in the bottom of the foot is like the one we feel when we receive foot massage therapy. When I see my child walking barefoot without difficulty, I can't but help reflect on my lifestyle.


Q: Please tell us about an experience that you can only talk about now.

When I worked from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I attended online meetings while breast-feeding my newborn baby. When it was really difficult for me to look after the baby, I asked my husband to take care of her. This meant I was attending online meetings with my husband, who was holding our baby. Much to my surprise, this was received well by the other participants. Some of them told me that our meetings proceeded smoothly and time-efficiently.


Q: What are you goals and ambitions for the future?

The core of my research is to "link heat transfer to infinity," or using heat transfer engineering to create infinite possibilities by connecting a variety of materials, humans, and systems with each other. To accelerate this research, I want to expand it into the field of medicine and preventive medicine. I had a chance to study at Stanford University's Biodesign Program (a practice-based human development program for the development of medical devices). Based on this experience, I am thinking about doing something interesting in the future revolving around the idea of "supporting developing countries through biodesign." I am currently discussing with medical researchers on how to launch this plan.


Name: Ai Ueno

Department: Graduate School of Engineering

Title: Lecturer


She graduated from the Graduate School of Engineering at the University of Tokyo in 2012, earning her doctorate in engineering. She worked as a project researcher at the Department of the Mechanical Engineering at the Graduate School of Engineering, University of Tokyo. In 2016, she became an assistant professor at Nagoya University's Graduate School of Engineering before attaining her current position in 2022.

In her free time, she likes taking part in physical activities (earthing), listening to music, and finding nice restaurants.