Research targets and education philosophy

Policy of the Department of Physics

    Nature exhibits an extremely wide variety of phenomena. Over time, mankind has found patterns in these phenomena, and has made efforts to understand the mechanisms behind them. This kind of intellectual pursuit is a defining feature of human beings. A good example from prehistory is the discovery of simple machines, such as the lever. More recently, the discovery of Kepler’s laws, and the introduction of Newton’s laws of motion that followed, can be regarded as the first step towards the idea of the universality of physics. These laws enable us to predict the motion of objects, and have allowed us to send humans to the moon. The properties of heat engines have been reduced to the laws of thermodynamics, which govern not only the efficiency with which we can manipulate energy, but also the manipulation of information with the concept of entropy. Moreover, mysterious electromagnetic phenomena have been completely formalized as Maxwell’s equations, which make up the foundation of the present day electronics industry. Inventions such as today's various remote-control systems and mobile telephones, would seem like magic to people in the old days. Physics, therefore, takes such “magical phenomena” and explains them rationally and systematically, in a unified approach to the understanding of Nature.
    The depth and subtlety of Nature is reconfirmed when we find phenomena which are not explained by the established laws at the time. Indeed, at the end of the nineteenth century when the laws of motion, electromagnetism, and thermodynamics were well established, the famous “dark clouds” of physics, namely the problems of the aether and the equal partition of energy, appeared. These problems were examined carefully from the view point of the established laws, but finally it turned out that they were not explained by them. And so physicists then accepted them as new properties of Nature, from which a deeper understanding was realized. As we now know, the investigation of these phenomena brought about the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics. Conceptually similar processes took place when the heliocentric theory appeared, and when the orbits of the planets were found not to be perfect circles. In this way, our understanding of Nature experienced the change from “perfect” to “more perfect”. Although presently physics already explains many phenomena, it is the purpose of physics to develop a “more perfect” understanding of Nature, by which we understand various modern phenomena ranging from the existence and behaviour of elementary particles, nuclei, atoms, molecules, condensed matter, and biological systems to the universe itself, using simple, fundamental unified theories.
    The Department of Physics is making every effort to develop the above mentioned “more perfect” understanding of Nature in a multitude of ways. Research activities in the Graduate Course of Physics are conducted in a wide range of fields, namely, elementary particle physics, nuclear physics, astrophysics, fluid physics, plasma physics, condensed matter physics, quantum electronics, and biological physics. The Graduate Course of Physics has about 130 staff consisting of the members of the Department of Physics (core chairs) and physicists in various related organizations (collaborative chairs and adjunct chairs). The research done in all of these subjects is internationally recognized as high quality, so that our graduate course is surely an important source of information regarding the latest developments in the world. One of the unique characteristics of our graduate course is that all the fields are organized as a tightly unified graduate school. Making use of this, we aim to take a leadership role in discovering and guiding the latest developments in physics.

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Target of the undergraduate course

    In the undergraduate course, we teach the established fundamentals of modern physics . We also aim at training students to think and consider problems in a scientific manner, as well as to master experimental methods and the principle of observing Nature objectively and logically. For this purpose, we prepare curricula which help students, through various experiences of their own, to acquire a fundamental approach to thinking about physics, careful observation of Nature, and clear and complete logic, not simply teaching fragmentary knowledge.

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Target of the graduate course

    In the graduate course, students are assigned to one of the laboratories in the wide range of fields pursued at the Department in order to join the forefront of research, and are expected to act on their own initiative. We aim for the students to experience top-level research in which innovative and creative efforts are constantly required, and that they obtain the ability to act as independent scientists in the research and development of technology in various fields. We aim at making the students, through such research experiences, obtain incisive and logical ways of thinking for challenging and solving various unresolved problems.
    Internationalization is also an important issue in the graduate school. We have made efforts in having the students gain experience abroad as much as possible, by making use of projects such as the G-COE program, The International Priority Graduate Programs (PGP), and the Program for Systematic Dispatch of Young Researchers to Abroad. Our Department of Physics (including related institutes in the University of Tokyo) has been evaluated as top-class in international rankings, but it is not always easy to encourage talent to act internationally. In particular, in order to take a leadership role in an international collaboration, or to propose a new paradigm to the community at large, it is necessary for young people to have training and experience in an international atmosphere from the early stages of their career. Besides publishing papers in international journals, it is necessary for students to have a wide view by having experience abroad, discussing directly with famous physicists whom they know only through books or papers, and communicating with collaborators and competitors in foreign countries. Through these activities, students acquire an idea of their own position in their field as a whole, and become confident introducing their new ideas in that field. We try to create such opportunities as much as possible in order to prepare them as new leaders for the next generation.
    Among the master course students of our department, more than half continue to study in the doctoral course. Until recently, students who completed the doctoral course usually stayed in academia and became researchers, while those who graduated from the master course went to industry or the public sector. However, it has gradually been recognized that the education and research experience acquired by students during the doctoral course give them important capabilities to challenge unresolved problems not only in academia but also in other areas of society. Therefore at present students are strongly encouraged, by offering scholarships under various programs, to continue to the doctoral course, and after being awarded their degree, they are expected to utilize their skills and contribute in a creative manner to those areas of society, both domestic and worldwide.

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The Education Policy of the Undergraduate Course

    The undergraduate education system in our department consists of a standard physics course. In addition to this, we try to encourage our students to acquire a way of thinking which is beneficial both in their research career and in life after graduation. For this, we aim to educate the students so that they acquire a logical way of thinking, the ability to deal with difficulties, and a pure interest and reverence for Nature. In addition to lectures, for the sophomores and juniors, we impose exercises in fundamental subjects such as quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, mathematical physics, and statistical mechanics; the students have to solve problems themselves to practice clear and complete understanding. We also make much use of experiments, in which the students can experience and understand how what they learn in lectures and exercises is realized in the real world. These exercises and experiments are compulsory and they occupy almost every afternoon of the students' schedule.
    Complementarily to these standard physics courses, we provide several chances to experience advanced research which fosters the individuality of each student. One of these is seminar style courses in which a few students in a class discuss advanced topics with a professor. This is also compulsory in the winter semester for the juniors. For seniors, each student is assigned to a laboratory and takes on an experimental or theoretical research project which the student is interested in. There, he/she can learn how actual research is carried out, and what kind of concepts are involved. Because we view experiment so highly, he/she has to choose at least one experimental laboratory either in the summer semester or in the winter semester. We also hold physics colloquiums almost every month, in which we ask lecturers to give a talk on cutting-edge topics for beginners. Attending these colloquia is strongly recommended for the students.
    Our Department encourages and supports more spontaneous activities for undergraduate students. In particular, several mixed teams of juniors and seniors plan and carry out experimental demonstrations and poster presentations for the general public in the May Festival of the University of Tokyo every year. The Department of Physics provides financial support and the laboratories involved give advice for the exhibitions.

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The Education Policy of the Graduate Course

    In the graduate course, students are assigned to one of the laboratories in the wide range of fields pursued at the Department in order to join the forefront of research, and are expected to act on their own initiative. We aim for the students to experience top-level research in which innovative and creative efforts are constantly required, and that they obtain the ability to act as independent scientists in the research and development of technology in various fields. We aim at making the students, through such research experiences, obtain incisive and logical ways of thinking for challenging and solving various unresolved problems.
    Internationalization is also an important issue in the graduate school. We have made efforts in having the students gain experience abroad as much as possible, by making use of projects such as the G-COE program, The International Priority Graduate Programs (PGP), and the Program for Systematic Dispatch of Young Researchers to Abroad. Our Department of Physics (including related institutes in the University of Tokyo) has been evaluated as top-class in international rankings, but it is not always easy to encourage talent to act internationally. In particular, in order to take a leadership role in an international collaboration, or to propose a new paradigm to the community at large, it is necessary for young people to have training and experience in an international atmosphere from the early stages of their career. Besides publishing papers in international journals, it is necessary for students to have a wide view by having experience abroad, discussing directly with famous physicists whom they know only through books or papers, and communicating with collaborators and competitors in foreign countries. Through these activities, students acquire an idea of their own position in their field as a whole, and become confident introducing their new ideas in that field. We try to create such opportunities as much as possible in order to prepare them as new leaders for the next generation.
    Among the master course students of our department, more than half continue to study in the doctoral course. Until recently, students who completed the doctoral course usually stayed in academia and became researchers, while those who graduated from the master course went to industry or the public sector. However, it has gradually been recognized that the education and research experience acquired by students during the doctoral course give them important capabilities to challenge unresolved problems not only in academia but also in other areas of society. Therefore at present students are strongly encouraged, by offering scholarships under various programs, to continue to the doctoral course, and after being awarded their degree, they are expected to utilize their skills and contribute in a creative manner to those areas of society, both domestic and worldwide.

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