Asia Research News 2021

Page 1


20 21

dynamic planets and the


of life

also inside Intelligent materials Deep ocean in deep trouble Women leaders in Myanmar The virus hunter

Credit: Denys Bilytskyi / 123rf


Share your research Spread the knowledge

page 18


Electricity drop by drop page 08

Fast spin test for infection page 25

page 28

Venus super-rotation page 32

Women leaders in Myanmar page 42


topic 04 Technology 15 Medicine 24 Space 32 People 34 COVID-19 48


Welcome to the 2021 edition of Credit: Petrica Ciprian Kis | 123rf

Researchers are investigating the formation of Earth and early life. Cover image credit: Johan Swanepoel | 123rf

Asia Research News Team Magdeline Pokar Laura Petersen Aya Kawanishi Nadia El-Awady Vivien Chiam Ruth Francis Sophie Protheroe


Gordon Doucette

Editorial Consultants Daniel Raymer Pokar Vellaykuti

Research featured in Asia Research News 2021 is based on information provided by the research institutions listed. Readers are advised to contact the researchers for additional information. All images used in whole or in part within this publication are credited to the respective image owners. ResearchSEA Limited and the Asia Research News team does not accept responsibility for any loss, damage or expenses incurred resulting from the use of information in this publication. ISSN 2042-0536 Copyright Asia Research News. We welcome you to reproduce articles in Asia Research News 2021, provided appropriate credit is given to Asia Research News and the research institutions featured.


General: Magdeline Pokar

As we complete this issue, most of the world has been on a pandemic lockdown for over a year. In the early days of Asia Research News, I remember attending a meeting where researchers predicted a worldwide pandemic. It was chilling to recently rediscover scribbled notes from that meeting which said: “Not if, but when.” In this issue of the magazine, we bring you a special report on the incredible work by scientists in our community, joining the global effort to overcome COVID-19. In some places, researchers battled more than a pandemic. We were writing up the article on women leaders in Myanmar when the coup broke out. The article outlines years of hard work by local teams to study and help shrink the gender gap, progress that we hope will continue when peace returns. Despite the immense challenges, researchers throughout our Asia

Research News community have forged ahead and we are pleased to showcase some of these findings. Journey with us to some of the most extreme places on Earth, see how climate change is affecting them, and search for clues about how life began. Find out how researchers are racing to develop more resource efficient technologies, production processes, and energy sources, as well as better tools to explore DNA, detect infection and treat diseases. Don’t miss our podcasts and videos that accompany several stories, which you’ll find at our website. We hope these stories inspire you as they have us. And please get in touch. We’re on a mission to bring new voices to international research news and we want to hear from you.

Singapore: Vivien Chiam Japan: Aya Kawanishi @AsiaResearchNews @ResearchSEA AsiaResearchNews company/ResearchSEA

Add your voice! Join our community and increase diversity in research news.


DEEP OCEAN IN DEEP TROUBLE Deep sea animals face greater risks compared to those nearer the surface as they become less able to maintain their preferred thermal habitats with climate change.

The curly-cue shape is a characteristic of this chrysogorgid octocoral, called Iridogorgia.


Credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research

202 1


Further Assistant Professor Jorge García Molinos | information Arctic Research Center Hokkaido University

An international team, including a Hokkaido University researcher, analysed contemporary and future global patterns of temperature change across the oceans’ depths. While a great deal of attention has been paid to how warming waters bleach coral and stress other animals living closer to the surface, this study shows creatures of the deep, where water is colder, are not safe. “We wanted to challenge the common perception that deep sea biodiversity is less exposed to climate change because deep waters are less variable than surface waters,” says Jorge García Molinos, a climate ecologist at Hokkaido University’s Arctic Research Center, who contributed to the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. “In fact, we find deep sea biodiversity is likely to be at greater risk because they are adapted to much more stable thermal environments.” Specifically, García Molinos and his col-


Credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research

Hariotta raleighana, a long-nosed chimaera

tested greenhouse gas emission scenarios,” García Molinos says. “This provides strong motivation for considering the future impacts of ocean warming on deep ocean biodiversity, which remains worryingly understudied.” Climate velocities in the mesopelagic layer of the ocean (200-1,000 metres) are projected to be four to 11 times higher than current velocities at the surface by the end of this century. Marine life in the mesopelagic layer includes great abundance of small fish that are food for larger animals, including tuna and squid. This could present additional challenges for commercial fisheries if predators and their prey further down the water column do not follow similar range shifts. The research team, led by the University of Queensland in Australia, also compared biodiversity levels and climate velocity for more than 20,000 marine species to reveal potential risk areas

where high biodiversity and velocity overlap. They found that risk areas for surface and intermediate layers dominate in tropical and subtropical latitudes, but risk areas in the deepest layers are widespread across all latitudes except for the polar regions. The scientists caution that uncertainty of the results increases with depth. Also, life in the deep ocean is limited by many factors other than temperature, such as pressure, light and oxygen concentrations. “Without knowing if and how well deep ocean species can adapt to these changes, we recommend following a precautionary approach that limits the negative effects from other human activities, such as deep-sea mining and fishing, as well as planning for climate-smart networks of large marine protected areas that include the deeper ocean,” says García Molinos.


leagues analysed climate velocity, which describes the speed and physical direction of temperature change, and serves as a proxy for potential shifts of marine biota seeking to maintain their thermal habitats. They found that globally, average climate velocities in the deepest layers of the ocean (deeper than 1,000 metres) have been two to nearly four times faster than at the surface between 1955 and 2005. This is due, in part, to the deep ocean having temperature layers that don’t change much as you move laterally, so animals have to move much longer distances to compensate for even small temperature changes. Notably, even though climate velocities are projected to slow down at the ocean surface if strong action is taken to limit global warming, climate velocities will continue to accelerate in the deep ocean. “The acceleration of climate velocity for the deep ocean is consistent through all

202 1



MACHINE LEARNING PREDICTS STRUCTURAL CORROSION Complex algorithms can be taught to predict steel corrosion rates in coastal regions, helping engineers choose the best materials for each location. Credit: Sean Pavone | 123rf

The massive Akashi Kaikyō Bridge structure boasts a 3,911m span.


Materials scientists in China report in the journal Science and Technology of Advanced Materials that machine learning algorithms can effectively predict how easily certain low-alloy steels used in bridges and other structures might corrode in coastal regions. “The corrosion resistance of metals affects the service life and safety of engineering structures like bridges and oil platforms,” says Kewei Gao of the University of Science and Technology Beijing, who led the study. “Evaluating corrosion resistance is an important aspect of construction and new material development, but doing so in the actual environment where they will be used is expensive and time-consuming, taking more than ten years in some cases. To save time, we propose a machine learning model that can directly predict the steel’s corrosion rate on the basis of specific information, like the material’s chemical composition and the environmental conditions.”

202 1


Gao and her colleagues applied six different machine learning algorithms to data from the Corrosion Data Sheet belonging to Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science. The data is based on a variety of low-alloy steels, which contain a low percentage of certain metals, exposed at three coastal sites around Japan for one to 10 years. Eighty percent of the data was used to train their machine learning models and the remaining 20% was used to test the model’s prediction accuracy. The scientists fed the algorithms information about the composition of 18 low-alloy steels and the effects of several environmental factors on their corrosion over varying time periods. By doing so, they were able to identify the factors with the strongest effects on corrosion. These included the composition of the metal itself, in addition to the surrounding temperature, humidity, salt deposition, the presence of combustion particles from ships, and exposure to solar radiation.

Further Professor Kewei Gao | information School of Materials Science and Engineering University of Science and Technology Beijing

Further evaluations showed that the total content of alloying elements, such as copper, chromium, nickel, manganese, silicon or phosphorus, was always one of the most significant factors affecting corrosion rates. Also, salt deposition on the metal and local precipitation were the main factors affecting corrosion in the first three years of exposure, while local humidity was the most significant factor after five years. Once the model learned the complex effects of the various factors on metal corrosion, the scientists used the remaining data to test its accuracy predicting the metals’ corrosion behaviour. “Our optimized model had high prediction accuracy for multiple steel samples in different environments,” says Gao. The team next aims to apply machine learning to real-time monitoring of corrosion in coastal steel structures.

Dr Yoshikazu Shinohara | Science and Technology of Advanced Materials National Institute for Materials Science

The nitty gritty of corrosion

In the early stages of corrosion, the scientists anticipate that a loose, thin layer of rust forms that is easily penetrated by chloride ions and precipitation, creating a wet, corrosive environment on the metal’s surface. After five years, the rust layer has thickened, making it difficult for chloride ions and rain to seep in. However, long-term humidity in the region helps form a corrosive microenvironment on the metal’s surface, causing corrosion to continue.

Akashi Kaikyō Bridge, Kobe, Japan


ELECTRICITY GENERATED DROP BY DROP A new device can light up 100 LED bulbs with a single drop of water.


Hydropower is nothing new, but harnessing the energy in waves, tides and raindrops has remained elusive because conventional technology does not efficiently convert low-frequency kinetic energy into electricity. That challenge has been overcome with an invention by researchers at City University of Hong Kong (CityU) and their collaborators. Their droplet-based electricity generator, described in the journal Nature, features a new transistor structure that enables highly efficient energy conversion rates from single drops of falling water. The research team, which includes researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems, spent two years developing the droplet-based electricity generator (DEG), which can produce thousands of times more power than similar devices. “Our research shows that a drop of 100 microlitres of water released from a height of 15cm can generate more than 140 volts,

202 1


and the power generated can light up 100 small LED light bulbs,” says CityU engineer Zuankai Wang, who led the research. Two crucial components make this possible. First, they used a material called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which has a quasi-permanent electric charge that accumulates charges better than other materials. The scientists found that the surface charges generated when water droplets continuously hit the surface of PTFE accumulate and gradually reach saturation, overcoming a bottleneck of low charge density encountered in previous work. Another key feature is a unique set of structures similar to a field-effect transistor (FET), the basic building block of modern electronic devices. Their transistor-like device consists of aluminium and PTFE-covered indium tin oxide (ITO) electrodes. The latter is responsible for the charge generation, storage and induction. When a falling water droplet hits and spreads on the PTFE/ITO surface,

Further Professor Zuankai Wang | information Department of Mechanical Engineering City University of Hong Kong

it forms a bridge to the aluminium electrode, creating a closed-loop electric circuit. When the spreading water connects the two electrodes, all the stored charges on the PTFE can be fully released to generate an electric current. As a result, both the instantaneous power density (the amount of power per volume unit) and energy conversion efficiency are much higher than other materials. The DEG works with rainwater and seawater, and efficiency is unaffected by humidity changes. Wang anticipates that, in the long run, the new design could be installed on a variety of surfaces where liquids come into contact with solids, including ferry hulls, umbrellas, coastlines and even inside water bottles. The team has filed a patent application in the US and mainland China. Wang hopes the technology will help address the global renewable energy shortage. “Generating power from raindrops instead of oil and nuclear energy can facilitate sustainable development,” he says.


Powerful design

The droplet-based electricity generator can reach an instantaneous power density of 50.1 watts/m², which is thousands of times higher than similar devices without a field-effect transistor-like design.

Credit: City University of Hong Kong

With the new droplet-based electricity generator, a drop of water released from a height of 15 cm can generate more than 140 volts, lighting up 100 small LED bulbs.


Credit: City University of Hong Kong



RARE ACCESS REVEALS EAST ANTARCTIC MELTING HOTSPOT Ice is melting at a surprisingly fast rate underneath Shirase Glacier Tongue in East Antarctica due to the continuing influx of warm seawater into the Lützow-Holm Bay. Hokkaido University scientists have identified an atypical hotspot of sub-glacier melting in East Antarctica. Their findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, could further understandings and predictions of sea level rise caused by mass loss of ice sheets from the southernmost continent. The 58th Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition had a very rare opportunity to conduct ship-based observations near the tip of East Antarctic Shirase Glacier when large areas of heavy sea ice broke up, giving them access to the frozen Lützow-Holm Bay into which the glacier protrudes. “Our data suggests that the ice directly beneath the Shirase Glacier Tongue is melting at a rate of 7-16 metres per year,” says Daisuke Hirano, a physical oceanographer at Hokkaido University’s Institute of Low Temperature Science. “This is equal to or perhaps even surpasses the melting rate underneath the Totten Ice Shelf, which was thought to be experiencing the highest

melting rate in East Antarctica, at a rate of 10-11 metres per year.” The Antarctic ice sheet, most of which is in East Antarctica, is Earth’s largest freshwater reservoir. If it all melts, it could lead to a 60-metre rise in global sea levels. Current predictions estimate global sea levels will rise one metre by 2100 and more than 15 metres by 2500. Thus, it is very important for scientists to have a clear understanding of how Antarctic continental ice is melting, and to more accurately predict sea level fluctuations. Most studies of ocean–ice interactions have been conducted on the ice shelves in West Antarctica. Ice shelves in East Antarctica have received much less attention, because the water cavities beneath most of them were thought to be cold, protecting them from melting. During the research expedition, Hirano and his collaborators collected data on water temperature, salinity and oxygen levels from 31 points in the area between January and February 2017. They combined this information with data on the



Further Assistant Professor Daisuke Hirano | information Institute of Low Temperature Science Hokkaido University

area’s currents and wind, ice radar measurements, and computer modelling to understand ocean circulation underneath the Shirase Glacier Tongue at the glacier’s inland base. The scientists’ data suggests the melting is a result of deep, warm water flowing inwards towards the base of the Shirase Glacier Tongue. The warm water moves along a deep ocean trough and then flows upwards along the tongue’s base, warming and melting the ice. The warm waters carrying the melted ice then flow outwards, mixing with the glacial meltwater. The team found this melting occurs year-round, but is affected by easterly, alongshore winds that vary seasonally. When the winds diminish in the summer, the influx of the deep warm water increases, speeding up the melting rate. “We plan to incorporate this and future data into our computer models, which will help us develop more accurate predictions of sea level fluctuations and climate change,” Hirano says.


Daisuke Hirano (centre) with a helicopter pilot (left) and a field assistant (right) having lunch on the floating Shirase Glacier Tongue.

The Japanese icebreaker Shirase near the tip of the Shirase Glacier during the 58th Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition. Credit: Kazuya Ono

Credit: Yuichi Aoyama


Warm water flows into Lützow-Holm Bay along a deep underwater ocean trough and then flows upwards along the tongue’s base, warming and melting the base of Shirase Glacier Tongue.

202 1

Credit: Daisuke Hirano et al., Nature Communications, August 24, 2020



WHEN EVOLUTIONARY TREES GET FROGGY A new study on frogs shows gene flow and population structure should be considered to determine if morphologically similar and genetically distinct animals comprise separate species.

Descriptions of new species have been rapidly on the rise since the turn of the century, especially in biodiversity hotspots like Southeast Asia. Many of these are cryptic species: animal groups that look alike but are genetically quite distinct. Distinguishing cryptic species is notoriously difficult and can lead to overestimates of species numbers. A new study characterizing species boundaries in a group of Southeast Asian spotted stream frogs urges a more cautious approach.

draneil Das, a conservation biologist at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS). Most new species boundaries are defined using statistical methods that use similarities and differences in genetic characteristics to estimate evolutionary relationships between species and produce a best guess at the family tree. But these conventional methods often ignore other important factors, such as the transfer of genetic material from one population to another, called gene flow.

202 1

“We showed that breeding between populations and then further interbreeding between hybrids and parent populations can produce evolutionary patterns and levels of divergence that resemble distinct species, but they are still part of one species lineage,” says In-


Further Professor Indraneil Das | information Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation Universiti Malaysia Sarawak

Credit: Pui Yong Min


Pulchrana signata, a member of Southeast Asia’s riparian frog assemblage.

The international team of researchers compared conventional methods of species description with more robust genomic analyses that take gene flow and other factors into account, using more than 12,000 genetic markers to produce a more unbiased representation of evo-


The science of communication

lutionary relationships. They studied frog populations from Pulchrana picturata, a single species that shows high levels of genetic diversity, leading scientists to suspect it may actually contain several cryptic species. The results showed two distinct evolutionary lineages within P. picturata: one comprising populations from Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra, and the other from Borneo. Conventional statistical methods show the Borneo population appearing to contain multiple cryptic species. However, the new approach indicates their genetic diversity is actually the result of historical interbreeding between Borneo and Sumatra populations, and there is not enough evidence they are on diverging evolutionary paths to call them distinct species. This implies all Borneo populations should be considered a single species under the name P. picturata. In contrast, the Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra population evolved separately and should be considered a novel species. These findings, published in the journal Molecular Ecology, demonstrate defining cryptic species should not rely solely on conventional methods, but should also examine population structure and gene flow. “Although the rapid addition of species to global and national lists can invoke a sense of national pride, species inflation can create burdens for conservation and wildlife management,” says Das. “A more robust genomic approach can help improve scientific estimates of biodiversity not only for amphibians, but many other animals across Southeast Asia and the tropics.”

You’ve got questions about communicating research to the public and media.

We’ve got answers. Find out more at

Credit: Juhani Viitanen | 123rf Credit: Micha Klootwijk | 123rf

ENVIRONMENT Credit: Curtis Palmer via Wikimedia Commons

Did you know?

An estimated 50 million tons of e-waste are produced annually.

BRINGING THE GREEN REVOLUTION TO ELECTRONICS From biomemory to implants, researchers are looking for ways to make more eco-friendly electronic components.


Researchers are investigating how to make electronic components from eco-friendly, biodegradable materials to help address a growing public health and environmental problem: around 50 million tons of electronic waste are produced every year. Less than 20% of the e-waste we produce is formally recycled. Much of the rest ends up in landfills, contaminating soil and groundwater, or is informally recycled, exposing workers to hazardous substances like mercury, lead and cadmium. Improper e-waste management also leads to a significant loss of scarce and valuable raw materials, like gold, platinum and cobalt. According to a UN report, there is 100 times more gold in a ton of e-waste than in a ton of gold ore. While natural biomaterials are flexible, cheap and biocompatible, they do not conduct an electric current very well. Researchers are exploring combinations with other materials to form viable biocomposite electronics, explain Ye Zhou

202 1


of China’s Shenzhen University and colleagues in the journal Science and Technology of Advanced Materials. The scientists expect that including biocomposite materials in the design of electronic devices could lead to vast cost saving, open the door for new types of electronics due to the unique material properties, and find applications in implantable electronics due to their biodegradability. For example, there is widespread interest in developing organic field effect transistors (FET), which use an electric field to control the flow of electric current and could be used in sensors and flexible flat-panel displays. Flash memory devices and biosensor components made with biocomposites are also being studied. For example, one FET biosensor incorporated a calmodulin-modified nanowire transistor. Calmodulin is an acidic protein that can bind to different molecules, so the biosensor could be used for detecting calcium ions.

Further Dr Ye Zhou | information Institute for Advanced Study Shenzhen University

Researchers are especially keen to find biocomposite materials that work well in resistive random access memory (RRAM) devices. These devices have non-volatile memory: they can continue to store data even after the power is switched off. Biocomposite materials are used for the insulating layer that is sandwiched between two conductive layers. Researchers have experimented with dispersing different types of nanoparticles and quantum dots within natural materials, such as silk, gelatine and chitosan, to improve electron transfer. An RRAM made with cetyltrimethylammonium-treated DNA embedded with silver nanoparticles has also shown excellent performance. “We believe that functional devices made with these fascinating materials will become promising candidates for commercial applications in the near future with the development of materials science and advances in device manufacturing and optimization technology,” the researchers conclude.

Dr Yoshikazu Shinohara | Science and Technology of Advanced Materials National Institute for Materials Science


AI HELPS DESIGN NEW ALLOYS MADE TO ORDER An artificial intelligence approach extracts how an aluminium alloy’s contents and manufacturing are related to specific mechanical properties. Scientists in Japan have developed a machine learning approach that can predict the elements and manufacturing processes needed to obtain an aluminium alloy with specific, desired mechanical properties. The approach, published in the journal Science and Technology of Advanced Materials, could facilitate the discovery of new materials. Aluminium alloys are lightweight, energy-saving materials made predominantly from aluminium, but also contain other elements, such as magnesium, manganese, silicon, zinc and copper. The combination of elements and manufacturing process determines how resilient the alloys are to various stresses. For example, 5000 series aluminium alloys contain magnesium and several other elements and are used as a welding material in buildings, cars and pressurized vessels. 7000 series aluminium alloys contain zinc, and usual-

ly magnesium and copper, and are most commonly used in bicycle frames. Experimenting with various combinations of elements and manufacturing processes to fabricate aluminium alloys is time-consuming and expensive. To overcome this, Ryo Tamura and colleagues at Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science and Toyota Motor Corporation developed a materials informatics technique that feeds known data from aluminium alloy databases into a machine learning model. This trains the model to understand relationships between alloys’ mechanical properties and the different elements they are made of, as well as the type of heat treatment applied during manufacturing. Once the model is provided with enough data, it can predict what is required to manufacture a new alloy with specific mechanical properties. All

this without the need for input or supervision from a human. For example, the model found that 5000 series aluminium alloys highly resistant to stress and deformation can be made by increasing the manganese and magnesium content and reducing the aluminium content. “This sort of information could be useful for developing new materials, including alloys, that meet the needs of industry,” says Tamura. The model employs a statistical method, called Markov chain Monte Carlo, which uses algorithms to obtain information and then represent the results in graphs that facilitate the visualization of how the different variables relate. The machine learning approach can be made more reliable by inputting a larger dataset during the training process.


Credit: Jozef Polc | 123rf

Dr Ryo Tamura | International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectonics National Institute for Materials Science

Dr Yoshikazu Shinohara | Science and Technology of Advanced Materials National Institute for Materials Science

Further information



ELASTOMERS DEVELOP STRONGER BONDS OF ATTACHMENT Molecular interactions within gels and rubbers can be controlled to fabricate stronger and more elastic materials.


Elastomers are the soft, elastic materials, like gels and rubbers, that are found in automobile and airplane parts, in sports equipment, and are used to protect precision machinery and buildings against vibrations. Scientists now want to make them thinner and tougher, without losing elasticity. Nagoya University materials engineer Yukikazu Takeoka and colleagues reviewed the most recent efforts towards improving elastomers for the journal Science and Technology of Advanced Materials. “Our review gives hints about the kind of molecular thinking that needs to go into making elastomers tougher,” says Takeoka. Elastomers are made of many long molecular chains of repeating subunits. They can undergo large deformations when stretched, returning to their original shape when the tension is released. They can do this because their molecular chains have enough mobility to stretch and crunch up. Elasticity and overall toughness depend on the interactions between the molecular chains inside the material. Scientists have been working on controlling how chains link together and interact in order to change elastomers’ mechanical properties.

Takeoka and his team from Nagoya University’s Department of Molecular and Macromolecular Chemistry explain that elastomers can be made tougher by introducing strong hydrogen or ionic bonds that can reversibly link elastomer chains together. These reversible bonds attach and detach from the elastomer chains as the material deforms. Scientists have used hydrogen bonds to fabricate strong hydrogels that can deform up to 600% and return to their original state within three minutes at 37°C or a few seconds at 50°C. Elastomer chains can also be linked through ring-like cyclic molecules, giving linked chains a large degree of flexibility and improved toughness. For example, scientists mixed solutions of polyethylene glycol and cyclic alpha-cyclodextrin in water to make slide-ring molecules, which they then used to fabricate a very flexible elastomer. Takeoka and his colleagues suggest that further combining elastomers linked by reversible bonds with moving cyclic molecules could lead to even tougher elastomers with better elongation. “It’s critical to examine molecular behaviour in detail while designing polymer materials,” says Takeoka.

202 1

Different kinds of bonds can link elastomer chains together, changing how the material behaves. Credit: Composition Olga Yastremska / Phana Sitti | 123rf


Further Assoc Prof Yukikazu Takeoka | information Department of Molecular Design & Engineering Nagoya University

Credit: Bond graphics based on image by Yukikazu Takeoka

Dr Yoshikazu Shinohara | Science and Technology of Advanced Materials National Institute for Materials Science


MANUFACTURING MADE EASY WITH ONE-STEP PRINTING Printing electronic circuits could soon get easier and cheaper.

Scientists at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) have developed a new printing method that can make fabricating integrated circuits and other tiny devices easier and cheaper. The approach overcomes issues in conventional micro-manufacturing processes, which require multiple steps, advanced equipment and highly trained personnel, and are prone to errors. “Our new approach directly prints patterns onto substrates,” says Sen Yang, a physicist at CUHK who led the research, which was published in the journal Nature Communications. “We can print metals, insulators, and magnets from the macroscopic scale all the way down to a few nanometres in size. For example, the

method can be used to print an electric circuit on a glass slide or even on normal tape, while retaining electrical properties as good as the bulk metal and having the flexibility of materials like nylon.” The method, called light-induced material deposition, starts with depositing onto a surface a mixture of two solutions, one containing metal particles and the other containing semiconductor nanoparticles. The scientists found their process works on a wide range of surfaces, including glass, quartz, sapphire, indium tin oxide, and tape. The metal particles in the first solution can be gold, platinum, silver, iron, zinc or nickel. Also, a wide range of nanoparticles can be used for the second solution. Interest-

Credit: The Chinese University of Hong Kong


The method involves depositing a mixture of two solutions containing metal particles and semiconductor nanoparticles onto a surface. Laser light shone on the surface induces a reaction that causes the metal particles to stick to the surface of the nanoparticles, and then to attach to the spot focused on by the laser. Once the patterning is done, the liquid part of the solutions is removed and the surface is cleaned, leaving a printed pattern. For example, the panda printed in platinum and gold (right) matches the design (left).

ingly, the researchers found commercial ink, which contains carbon-based nanoparticles, works surprisingly well for this purpose. Next, laser light is shone on the deposited mixture and moved over it to give the desired pattern. The laser light excites electrons in the nanoparticles, inducing a chemical reaction that cause the metal ions to stick to them. The laser light also acts like an optical tweezer, trapping the metal/nanoparticle compound on the printing surface precisely where the laser is focused. Once the pattern is complete, the extra solution is removed and the surface cleaned, leaving the finished printed structure. A series of tests confirmed the quality of the deposited materials and their electrical and mechanical properties. The scientists used the method to print a variety of structures, including a resistor flex sensor commonly used in robotics. The approach is cheap, versatile, and easy to use, so much so that it would be possible to print electrical circuits in the field. It could also make repairing electrical circuits easier than current approaches. The scientists are now trying to improve the process so it can print even smaller structures, down to 20 nanometres in size. “We will also try to further simplify the setup and make a market-ready prototype, with the aim of commercializing our product within five years,” says Yang.

202 1

Credit: Jürgen Fälchl | 123rf

Assistant Professor Sen Yang | Department of Physics The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Further information



PUTTING A SPIN ON HEUSLER ALLOYS Heusler alloys are promising contenders for faster and more energy-efficient computing and memory storage devices.


Spintronics, also known as spin electronics, is a field of applied physics that investigates the use of electron spins, instead of their charge, for carrying information in solid-state devices. A category of materials showing great promise in this area is Heusler alloys: materials formed of one or two parts metal X, one part metal Y, and one part metal Z, each coming from a distinct part of the periodic table of elements. The interesting thing about these alloys is that even though the metals are not magnetic on their own, they become magnetic when combined. “Spintronic devices using Heusler alloys are expected to replace currently used memory cells and magnetic sensors,” says Atsufumi Hirohata of the University of York, UK, who specializes in spintronics and helped review the major achievements made to-date in Heusler alloy spintronic research for the journal Science and Technology of Advanced Materials. A major advantage of Heusler alloys for spintronic devices is the ability to control their unique electrical and magnetic properties, which result directly from electron spins, by making changes to their crystalline structures. But this requires very high temperatures, which researchers want to reduce for practical device applications. Over the last few decades, scientists have investigated different ways to grow

202 1 Credit: Dmitri Stalnuhhi | 123rf


Further Professor Atsufumi Hirohata | information Department of Electronic Engineering University of York

Dr Yoshikazu Shinohara | Science and Technology of Advanced Materials National Institute for Materials Science

Did you know?

Spin is related to how an electron rotates around on its own axis at different speeds and angles, like a wobbly top, which in turn influences magnetism. Spin can be defined as the internal angular momentum of an elementary particle. That angular momentum determines which way a particle’s internal magnet points: north or south.

Credit: 123rf

Heusler alloy films on special substrates with crystal lattices that are similar to the alloy’s. Matching the two lattices can lead to the development of half-metallicity in the Heusler alloy film, where only electron spins in one orientation are conducted through the material, whereas those spins in another are not. Having such perfectly-aligned spins makes the film an ideal platform to carry information. Hirohata and his colleagues are currently working with Heusler alloy films to make a metallic magnetic junction. These junctions consist of two ferromagnets separated by a thin insulator. When the insulating layer is thin enough, electrons are able to tunnel from one ferromagnet to the other. There is low resistance to electron movement as long as the two ferromagnets have parallel alignment, but as soon as it becomes antiparallel via current-induced switching, the junction becomes highly resistant. This forms a magnetic switch, offering a fundamental building block for magnetic recording and memory. The team hopes to develop metallic magnetic junctions with much larger magnetoresistance than the current record at room temperature, realising next-generation memory with smaller junction size for a sustainable society.


SELF-HEALING GELS COULD POWER FUTURE ELECTRONICS Ion-conducting gels that repair themselves following damage are under development for wearable electronics.

Credit: Ryota Tamate


An ion gel cut into two pieces healed itself after several hours, restoring its strength and stretchable properties.

202 1


Flexible ion gels could become critical components in wearable and stretchable electronic devices, but first they must be able to withstand repeated mechanical deformation, such as bending or stretching, to be viable. “Despite their importance, ion gels with healing functions have only been developed to rudimentary levels,” says Ryota Tamate of Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science, who reviewed the latest advances in the field with Masayoshi Watanabe of Yokohama National University in the journal Science and Technology of Advanced Materials. “Material scientists are beginning to push these novel ion gels forward.” Ion gels are made of a polymer matrix containing ionic liquids: room temperature molten salts containing positively and negatively charged ions. Ionic liquids on their own are highly conductive, nonflammable and chemically and electrochemically stable. They are being considered for use in a variety of electronic devices, including supercapacitors, rechargeable lithium batteries, fuel cells and soft robotics. Ion gels have the same advantages of ionic liquids, with the added benefit of being pliable and durable. Scientists have been experimenting

Further Dr Ryota Tamate | information Center for Green Research on Energy and Environmental Materials National Institute for Materials Science

with various ion gel compositions and ways to boost their self-healing properties. For example, some researchers have made repairable ion gels by adding the compound azobenzene, which changes its shape in response to light. Exposing the damaged gel to ultraviolet light changes it into a liquid that fills the damaged region. Exposing it then to visible light restores the gel, damaged section and all, to its original state. Ion gels that heal in response to light have also been made using other light-responsive compounds. Scientists have also developed ion gels that repair when temperatures change. Perhaps even more intriguing is current research into ion gels that can autonomously self-repair. Tamate and Watanabe recently developed tough ion gels that self-heal because they contain hydrogen bonds between polymers. Damage usually occurs along these bonds, which come back together at room temperature without an external stimulus. “Spontaneous healing was observed within a few hours when we cut an ion gel into two pieces,” says Tamate, noting its mechanical and electrochemical properties fully recovered. Several proof-of-concepts have been demonstrated in soft robotics, such as a strain sensor for touch screens and rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Despite their promise, further research is needed to ensure high durability against the mechanical loads they would experience in practical applications. Scientists need to continue exploring the complex interactions between ionic liquids and polymers before self-healing ion gels can take off in the real world.

Dr Yoshikazu Chikashi Shinohara Nishimura | | E-mail: Science andScience Technology and of Technology AdvancedofMaterials Advanced Materials National Institute National for Institute Materialsfor Science Materials Science


GAINING MORE CONTROL OVER FUEL CELL MEMBRANES Controlling the organization of molecules within polymer membranes could lead to more efficient fuel cells.

Credit: Illustration based on graphic by Yuki Nagao

Polymer materials for fuel cell membranes conduct hydrogen protons better when their internal molecular structure is well organized.

Assoc Prof Yuki Nagao | School of Materials Science Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology

fuel cell performance. Molecules in another type of film, made from alkyl sulfonated polyimide, become more organized with water uptake. This property is the result of the material’s ability to enter a liquid crystal phase when solvent is added. “Developing a better understanding of these properties and their impacts on proton conduction will be important for clarifying proton conduction mechanisms,” explains Nagao. Further research is needed to understand how to control molecular organization through the application of external magnetic fields, by employing their liquid crystal properties, or by developing hydrogen bond networks between polymer chains within the thin films. This could help lead to a variety of applications using highly proton-conductive polymer thin films.

Dr Yoshikazu Shinohara | Science and Technology of Advanced Materials National Institute for Materials Science

Further information

202 1

ing polymer membranes is better than it is in the thinner ionomer ones. Therefore, the second part of the proton transport process must be studied to improve fuel cell performance, says materials scientist Yuki Nagao of the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, who has been researching proton-conducting films for many years. Using state-of-the-art technologies, he and others have been looking into the molecular structures of ionomer films and have been finding that they conduct protons better the more organized they are internally. Some ionomer films commonly used in hydrogen fuel cells are made with perfluorinated sulfonic acid. The films can be placed on surfaces made from substances such as silicon oxide, magnesium oxide, sputtered platinum or gold. Nagao found that proton conductivity in these films depends on the surface type and may affect


Credit: background no attribution | 123rf

More organization at the molecular level could improve the efficiency of membranes used in the hydrogen fuel cells that provide energy to electric cars and other industrial applications, according to a review published in the journal Science and Technology of Advanced Materials. Hydrogen fuel cells are the energyproducing components of electric cars. To work, they need to be able to split hydrogen molecules into positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons. A proton-conducting polymer membrane is used for this purpose. It only allows protons to pass through it, while the electrons get circuited around the membrane to create the desired electric current. Protons are then transported along a thin ‘ionomer’ film and then into an electrochemical catalyst where electrons and protons rejoin. Research has shown that proton transport through the thicker proton-conduct-


Intelligent strategy

Tell your story

Reach the next level in international communications.

Unleash the power of great content.

Maximize engagement

Know who is interested

Spread the word and reach more people.

Track coverage and build relationships.



THE PERFECT ANGLE FOR E-SKIN ENERGY STORAGE The trick to extremely thin supercapacitors with improved performance is spraying graphene ink at an angle. Researchers at the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science & Technology (DGIST) and their colleagues in Korea have found an inexpensive way to fabricate tiny energy storage devices that effectively power flexible skin sensors and other wearable electronic devices. The key to success is spraying a precise amount of graphene ink onto desired substrates at a specific angle and temperature. Their findings, published in the journal Nano Energy, help pave the way towards remote medical monitoring and diagnosis. Credit: DGIST

The micro-supercapacitor features interlocking graphene electrodes.


“Many scientists are focusing their research efforts on developing wearable electronic skin devices for remote diagnosis, which require extremely tiny and flexible energy power sources,” says Sungwon Lee, a materials scientist at DGIST. Lee worked with DGIST materials scientist Koteeswara Reddy Nandanapalli, and collaborators at Dongguk University and the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources to improve those power sources, called micro-supercapacitors. When micro-supercapacitors are charged, positive and negative electrical charges accumulate on their electrodes and are stored as energy. They have short charging and discharging times compared to batteries, but can’t store as much energy. Graphene electrodes show promise

202 1

for improving energy storage, as they are highly porous so provide a large surface area for the electrostatic reactions to occur. Micro-supercapacitors could also be improved by fabricating electrodes with interlocking teeth, like those of two combs, increasing the amount of energy that can be stored. But this process is expensive and doesn’t work on flexible, temperature-sensitive substrates. Lee, Nandanapalli, and their collaborators successfully combined the two approaches by fabricating a paper-thin micro-supercapacitor with interlocking graphene electrodes and excellent performance. The trick was to spray ten millilitres of graphene ink at a 45° angle and 80°C temperature onto a thin, flexible substrate. This led to the formation of porous, multi-layered electrodes. It solved the issue faced by previous researchers who had found vertical spraying of graphene onto a flexible substrate led to electrodes that aren’t very porous and have compact layers, giving them poor performance. The team’s micro-supercapacitor is 23 micrometres thin, ten times thinner than paper, and retains its mechanical stability after 10,000 bends. It can store around 8.4 microfarads of charge per square centimetre, which is twice as much as other similar devices reported to date, and has a power density of about 1.13 kilowatts per kilogram, which is four times higher than lithium-ion batteries. “Our work shows that it’s possible to reduce the thickness of micro-supercapacitors without degrading their performance,” says Lee. The team next aims to improve their storage capacity and energy consumption to make it feasible for use in real-world electronic skin devices. Credit: Stanislav Vostrikov | 123rf


Further Professor Sungwon Lee | information Department of Emerging Material Science Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science & Technology (DGIST)

Dr Koteeswara Reddy Nandanapalli | Department of Emerging Material Science Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science & Technology (DGIST)


A FAST SPIN TEST FOR URINARY TRACT INFECTION A spinning toy meets hydrodynamics and sets point-of-care diagnostics in motion.


A spinning microfluidic device, developed brane. As the sample drains through, to filter a one-millilitre sample, despite a by researchers at the Ulsan National Insti- bacteria particles accumulate on top. A large variation in the spin speed generattute of Science and Technology (UNIST) drainage chamber beneath the mem- ed by people with different hand power.” and Korea’s Institute for Basic Science brane is filled with a buffer solution that The team demonstrated the efficacy (IBS), can detect urinary tract infection ensures uniform filtration of the urine of their device by testing urine samples in under an hour. Inspired from 39 people suspected of by the popular fidget spinhaving urinary tract infection in Tiruchirappalli, India. The ner toy, it works much faster results were reported in the than conventional laboratory journal Nature Biomedical tests, which can take days to Engineering. Compared to return results. the gold-standard culture “Our simple, rapid test method, the diagnostic fidcan help improve patient care, especially in low-reget spinner provided a comsource settings, and ensure parable result on-site in only only those with infection 50 minutes. The device can receive antibiotics, helping also test bacteria susceptibilin the global fight against ity to two different antibiotantibiotic resistance,” says ics in less than two hours to UNIST biomedical engineer determine which one would The popular fidget spinner toy (above) inspired the design for the urinary tract infection test device (below). Yoon-Kyoung Cho, who led be more effective for treatthe research. ing the patient. Besides being fast, the Sometimes, people sustest is inexpensive, portable pected of having a urinary and accurate, requiring only tract infection are given ana small urine sample that is tibiotics before confirming added to the device by a test results. The study found pipet. A flick of a finger sets that 59% of patients were the gadget in motion. over- or under-prescribed The spinning motion creantibiotics while waiting for ates a centrifugal force that, conventional test results. combined with the research“I hope our rapid on-site er’s new fluid assisted septest can help more patients aration technology (FAST), get the most effective treatworks to filter and enrich ment, especially since UTIs Credit: UNIST bacteria in the sample so inare one of the most common fection can be detected by the naked eye through the membrane with minimal infections in the world,” Cho says. based on colour. A larger infection results hydrodynamic resistance. The team plans to continue investigatin a darker orange or red colour. “This allowed for maximized bacterial ing ways to adapt the diagnostic fidget Specifically, the centrifugal force cell enrichment efficiency while minimiz- spinner for other diseases, including viral pushes the urine sample outwards so ing the force needed for the filtration,” infection. that it spreads over a filtration mem- says Cho. “One or two spins were enough

202 1

Credit: antishock | 123rf

Professor Yoon-Kyoung Cho | Department of Biomedical Engineering Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology

Further information



MAGNETIC SPRAY TRANSFORMS OBJECTS INTO MILLIROBOTS A spray-on magnetic coat turns any object into a robot controlled by a magnetic field. The biocompatible robots can walk, crawl and roll, and switch motions on demand.


Researchers from City University of Hong Kong (CityU) and their collaborators at the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology and Chinese Academy of Sciences designed a simple way to make insect-sized robots, called millirobots, that adapt to different environments for exploration, remote sensing and biomedical applications. The key is coating objects with a composite, glue-like magnetic spray called M-spray. “Our idea is that, by putting on this magnetic coat, we can turn any object into a robot and control their locomotion,” says CityU engineer Yajing Shen, who led the research published in the journal Science Robotics. “The M-spray we developed sticks on the targeted object and activates it when driven by a magnetic field.” Composed of polyvinyl alcohol, gluten and iron particles, M-spray adheres to rough and smooth surfaces of one-, twoand three-dimensional objects instantly, stably and firmly. It forms a 0.1–0.25mm film, which is thin enough to preserve the original size, form and structure of the objects. The researchers then programme the alignment of the magnetic particles in the coating with a strong magnetic field to set how the object will move. Different alignments combined with differently shaped objects lead to distinct motions. The team converted cotton thread, flat origami, soft film and plastic pipe into robots that crawl, walk, flip and

roll. The robots adapted well to various obstacles and surfaces, including glass, skin, wood and sand. Notably, a millirobot’s locomotion mode can be reset on demand by reprogramming the alignment of the magnetic particles coating it. For example, the same millirobot could switch from a faster 3D caterpillar movement in a spacious environment to a slower 2D accordion movement for passing through a narrow gap, explains Xiong Yang, a PhD student in Shen’s lab and co-first paper author. All M-spray components are biocompatible and can disintegrate inside the body when needed, showing potential for biomedical applications. For example, the team demonstrated that a catheter coated with M-spray can make both sharp and smooth turns. They also guided an M-spray-coated capsule containing a drug to a specific location inside a rabbit’s stomach. Once there, an oscillating magnetic field caused the coating to disintegrate, releasing the drug. “The controllable disintegration property of M-spray enables drugs to be released in a targeted location rather than scattering in the organ,” Shen says. The team plans to continue improving M-spray’s ability to withstand the acidic environment of the body, broadening its applications in medicine, as well as exploring its use in other fields.

202 1 Credit: City University of Hong Kong


Further Associate Professor Yajing Shen | information Department of Biomedical Engineering City University of Hong Kong


Dr Yajing Shen places millirobots coated with the magnetic spray inside a Helmholtz coils system to evaluate their magnetic actuation performance.

Credit: City University of Hong Kong

The team converted cotton thread, origami, polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) film and plastic pipe into soft reptile, multi-foot, walking and rolling robots, respectively. Watch a video of the robots in action at Asia Research News. ASIA RE SEA RC H N EWS

Credit: City University of Hong Kong

202 1

M-spray transforms a bean shaped object into a biocompatible rolling millirobot.



MONITORING MALARIA PARASITE POPULATIONS IN MALAYSIAN BORNEO A simple tool allows researchers to track how different subpopulations of the Plasmodium knowlesi parasite are changing over time.


Did you know?

202 1

Anopheles latens, the mosquito vector for Plasmodium knowlesi in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, is a forest mosquito that is attracted to both monkeys and humans for blood meal. Credit: neydt | 123rf


Further Dr Paul Cliff Simon Divis | information Malaria Research Centre Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS)


Did you know?

In 2017 and 2018, a total of 7,745 cases of malaria caused by the Plasmodium knowlesi parasite were reported in Malaysia, 86.8% of which were detected in Malaysian Borneo.

Malaria caused by the monkey parasite Plasmodium knowlesi is a serious public health concern in Malaysian Borneo, and cases are on the rise. Researchers from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS), together with collaborators from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, have developed a simple tool to track different subpopulations of this parasite species, revealing new insights into the transmission of the disease. The P. knowlesi parasite is transmitted from monkeys to humans via mosquitoes and can cause severe malaria, which can be fatal. Back in 2015, a team of UNIMAS researchers discovered that P. knowlesi infections in Malaysian Borneo are caused by two genetically divergent subpopulations of the parasite: cluster 1 is associated with long-tailed macaque hosts, and cluster 2 is associated with pig-tailed macaque hosts. “The crucial question is to find out whether these parasite subpopulations are

changing in numbers over time,” explains Paul Cliff Simon Divis, director of the UNIMAS Malaria Research Centre. To do this, the researchers developed a new genetic test to distinguish between and survey the two parasite subpopulations. While previously used methods, such as microsatellite genotyping and whole genome sequencing, are time consuming and expensive, the newly developed genotyping tool – a type of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay – is simple and efficient. “The new test is remarkably sensitive and can detect as few as four parasites per microlitre of blood,” says Divis. The researchers used the tool to analyse 1,204 P. knowlesi infections in patients at Hospital Kapit in Sarawak state. They found the cluster 1 parasite subpopulation, associated with long-tailed macaques, accounted for two-thirds of all cases between 2000 and 2018. This makes sense because long-tailed macaques prefer cropland, wetland and urban areas, bring-

ing them into close proximity with humans. In contrast, pig-tailed macaques prefer more remote forests, making transmission of the cluster 2 subpopulation less likely. These findings were published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. The results also revealed an apparent increase in overall P. knowlesi infections between 2016 and 2018, driven mainly by rise in cluster 1 infections, which might have been caused by increased exposure to animals along with a reduction of other endemic malaria parasites. “What’s exciting about this study is that it reveals new insights into the biological, clinical and ecological characteristics of the P. knowlesi parasite and how it infects humans,” says Divis. Continued monitoring of the different parasite subpopulations along with tracking environmental changes, such as deforestation, may play an important part in future strategies for malaria prevention and control.

202 1

Dr Divis used the new PCR genotyping assay to clarify different P. knowlesi infections in malaria patients.

Microscopic images show the different development stages of P. knowlesi in infected red blood cells of a patient. A: early ringform, B: band-form trophozoite, C: schizont, and D: gametocyte.


Credit: UNIMAS

Credit: UNIMAS



WATCHING DNA STRUCTURAL CHANGES IN REAL TIME Researchers have observed DNA spooling and unspooling in real time using CRISPR to attach fluorescent tags to very specific DNA points in living cells. Researchers at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) have developed a way to label specific points in DNA inside living cells with fluorescent probes, using the gene-editing technology CRISPR/ Cas9. The labelling system, described in the journal Genome Research, enables real-time tracking of how DNA is packaged inside the cell nucleus. Each cell in the human body contains approximately two metres of DNA, efficiently wrapped around proteins called histones so it can fit inside the nucleus. The whole complex of DNA and histone proteins is called chromatin, and the physical structure and dynamics of chromatin heavily influence which genes are expressed. “New methods for tracking the movements of chromatin in real time could help

identify how changes in chromatin structure affect gene expression, aging and cancer,” says UNIST biomedical engineer Hajin Kim. Kim and his colleagues used the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology to attach fluorescent probes to precise segments of DNA, called loci, inside living cells. They were able to minimize background noise from the probes lighting up more than the targeted area to improve their ability to observe small sections of chromatin. They did this by combining a particular type of probe, called a tripartite superfolder green fluorescent protein, with another molecular system, called SunTag. This design amplifies the target signal and also allows certain components to be refreshed, extending the time the labelled loci glow.

Credit: UNIST

Using the system, the researchers were able to see the location and motion of the target chromatin segment by looking through a fluorescence microscope. The team observed that DNA strands not only move passively inside the nucleus, as ink spreads in water, but also actively in certain time scales, confirming an earlier prediction, says Narendra Chaudhary, PhD candidate and first author of the study. Now, researchers can use the system to target a wider range of loci throughout the genome and observe their movement inside the nucleus. It opens up new possibilities for studying genetic processes inside living cell nuclei, such as DNA replication, repair, recombination and transcription, through direct imaging.

Credit: UNIST


1 μm

1 μm

202 1

Existing techniques, such as Hi-C, have enabled scientists to infer the whole chromatin structure, but not to track specific sections along the DNA. The new technique allows scientists to label specific points or regions of DNA in live cells. Thus, it becomes possible to observe the structure of DNA regions (left) or to track their diffusing motions (right). Credit: Siarhei Yurchanka | 123rf


Further Associate Professor Hajin Kim | information Single Molecule Biophysics Laboratory Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology




Stay up-to-date all year long. Get Asia Research News straight to your inbox.

Daily Weekly Monthly Editor’s Choice

Subscribe at


ATMOSPHERIC TIDAL WAVES MAINTAIN VENUS’S SUPER-ROTATION Images from the Akatsuki spacecraft unveil why Venus’s atmosphere rotates much faster than its surface.


Venus rotates very slowly, taking 243 Earth days to rotate once around its axis. Its thick atmosphere, however, rotates 60 times faster, taking only 96 hours to whip around the entire planet. “The super-rotation of Venus’s atmosphere was discovered in the 1960s, but the mechanism behind its formation and maintenance has been a long-standing mystery,” says atmospheric scientist Takeshi Horinouchi of Hokkaido University. Horinouchi and his colleagues from Japan’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science and other institutes have solved a key part of the puzzle. Venus’s cloud layer is the fastest moving section of its atmosphere, racing

around the equator at 360 kilometres/ hour (224 miles/hr). To move so much faster than the planet, the atmosphere needs to generate enough angular momentum to overcome friction caused by the planet’s surface, even at the top of the cloud layer 70km (42mi) above the surface. Others have theorized that turbulence and waves within the atmosphere provide the needed angular momentum. Horinouchi and his colleagues found that they do play important roles, but the most critical factor for maintaining super-rotation has to do with heat. Since the planet rotates so slowly, Venus’s dayside faces the sun for months (in Earth time), getting very hot. At the

202 1 Credit: NASA/JPL


Further Professor Takeshi Horinouchi | information Faculty of Environmental and Earth Science Hokkaido University

equator, the heat warms and pushes the atmosphere towards the planet’s much cooler nightside, creating a powerful thermal tide. This tidal wave provides the necessary force to keep the atmosphere moving so fast. North and south of the equator, another circulation pattern pushes warm air towards the poles, distributing both heat and angular momentum. The interaction between the two circulations helps reinforce the thermal tide, propelling it in a westward direction, even despite turbulence and other waves working against it. Besides providing the angular momentum needed for super-rotation, the dual circulation system also helps even out temperatures across the planet.


Credit: Planet-C project team

Above: The proposed system that maintains the super-rotation (yellow) of Venus’s atmosphere. The atmosphere is controlled by a dual circulation system: a vertical circulation (white) that slowly transports heat towards the poles and the super-rotation that rapidly transports heat towards the planet’s nightside. The thermal tide (red) on either side of the equator forces the super-rotation in a westward direction.

Did you know? Venus is one of two planets in our solar system that rotate ‘backwards’, from east to west. Uranus is the other. The atmosphere on Venus moves in the same direction, but 60 times faster than the planet. Venus has the longest day of any planet in our solar system. One day is longer than its entire year!


The findings, reported in the journal Science, are thanks to the Akatsuki spacecraft, which began its orbit of Venus in December 2015. Using images provided by Akatuski’s ultraviolet and infrared cameras, the researchers were able to develop a new, highly precise method to track clouds and derive wind velocities. This allowed them to estimate the contributions of atmospheric waves and turbulence to super-rotation. “Our study could help us better understand atmospheric systems on tidally-locked exoplanets with one side always facing a central star, which is similar to Venus’s very long solar day,” Horinouchi says.

With an axil tilt of only three degrees, Venus spins nearly upright and so does not experience noticeable seasons.

202 1


PEOPLE Credit: N. Escanlar, ELSI

Specially-Appointed Assistant Professor Tony Z. Jia

EARLY EARTH DROPLETS AND THE ORIGINS OF LIFE Tony Z. Jia is a specially-appointed assistant professor and lab manager at Japan’s Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI), based at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. He is an astrobiologist and shared highlights from his dual research/management role. Q: What is astrobiology and what is your specialized area of interest in this field? A: Astrobiology investigates the origin


and evolution of planets, life, and life on Earth and in the universe. It encompasses many fields, including astronomy, planetary science, geology, chemistry, biology and more. Anyone in almost any field can contribute to astrobiology! My research is lab-based. We simulate processes that aim to reveal the origins of life on Earth, which could help us detect life elsewhere in the universe. Our laboratory simulations utilize the processes and chemicals that were likely present on early Earth to learn how they assembled into compartments that might have resembled the first cells. Specifically, we study the formation of membraneless droplets, which are similar in structure to the non-membrane-

202 1


bound organelles in modern cells, like stress granules and the nucleolus. We investigate what these membraneless droplets might have been composed of, and if they can encapsulate other molecules and perform other functions, like growth and division.

Q: What have been your most exciting scientific findings so far? A: We have observed two completely

novel systems that assemble into membraneless droplets that could be relevant as prebiotic compartments. First, we found that drying alpha hydroxyacid monomers leads to the synthesis of polyesters and rehydrating these polyesters results in the assembly of droplets that can encapsulate or interact with nucleic acids, proteins and lipids. The term polyester often brings to mind textiles or materials, but we believe that

Further Specially-Appointed Assistant Professor Tony Z. Jia | information Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) - Tokyo Institute of Technology World Premier International Research Center Initiative (WPI)

their potentially easy synthesis in prebiotic environments and their ability to form compartments with primitive functions shows their relevance to the origins of life and astrobiology. Second, we have shown that DNA liquid crystals can assemble within membraneless droplets composed of peptides and nucleic acids. Again, most people think screens and displays when they hear the term liquid crystals, but they could have been important for the origins of life!

Q: What does your lab look like? A: ELSI is very unique. Rather than a

hierarchical system, where a principal investigator is in charge of many students and postdocs, ELSI operates in a more flat or hybrid system, with more independent researchers. Most researchers work in a number of different labs at ELSI. Much of my research takes place


Polarization microscopy images show typical fingerprint textures indicating assembly of a large population of liquid crystal coacervate droplets.

Credit: Tommaso P Fraccia, ESPCI-Paris

in Unit B (biology), but I am the lab manager of Unit C (chemistry). Unit C has around 15 researchers, staff and students. We have a number of general spectroscopy and chromatography instruments. Since ELSI’s research goals are quite broad, we lack certain specialized equipment and often collaborate with colleagues in labs and institutes elsewhere in the country and internationally who have access to instruments we don’t have. The researchers and students focus mainly on research, while lab technicians support researchers by assisting with analyses, maintaining the facilities and with administrative tasks.

management, and the management of assets, safety and human resources. Since 2020, COVID restrictions have required cataloguing and sometimes restricting researcher movements in the labs. While we have become more accustomed to the current situation, policies are regularly updated, so we are learning to be flexible and to react quickly to keep in line with university standards, while still maintaining a safe environment. Lab operations would be impossible without support from our team of technical staff.

Q: What skills have you found are necessary for managing a lab?

A: Each aspect of my work is very

A: Managing the lab requires proficiency,

efficiency and organization. It involves instrument maintenance and repairs, stocking consumables, budget execution and

Q: What do you find most rewarding about your work? rewarding in different ways. Being able to work with many different collaborators at ELSI and around the world has been really rewarding intellectually. Most faculty do not get management experience before starting their own lab or research

group. I consider my management and grant-writing duties as great training for future positions. I find the mentorship aspect of my job especially rewarding. Many students and researchers, especially in still-developing Asian countries, may not have the same opportunities as their peers from other regions. It is up to us, in more senior or advanced positions, to advocate for them, provide opportunities and be supportive. I believe that it is very important for researchers in Asia to help expand the reach of astrobiology so that more students can have opportunities in the future. To this end, ELSI is hosting the Astrobiology Graduate Conference (AbGradCon) for the first time in Asia this year, and a few researchers around the region have banded together to found the Astrobiology Society of Asia-Pacific. Hopefully, together, we can all help to create a future where there are more astrobiology research opportunities in the region.

Credit: Tony Z. Jia, ELSI


Jia and his team showed that alpha hydroxyacid monomers, which were found in the chaotic prebiotic Earth soup, can form polyester microdroplets that could have acted as primitive compartments for very early life.

202 1

There’s more! Listen to Tony Z. Jia discuss his work on the Asia Research News Podcast.



Credit: Tomohiro Mochizuki

Above, colourful pH strips are used to measure the acidity of the water from Togo hot spring in Tottori, Japan.

Tomohiro Mochizuki taking 97 °C source water sample at Noboribetsu hot spring in Hokkaido, Japan. Credit: Tomohiro Mochizuki


THE VIRUS HUNTER Tomohiro Mochizuki tracks down viruses inside single-cell organisms thriving in boiling hot springs. His fieldwork is conducted in relatively extreme environments and, despite the significance of his investigations, he doesn’t need many fancy gadgets back at his lab at Japan’s Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI). ARN asked Mochizuki about his virus-hunting exploits and what they involve.

202 1


Further Specially-Appointed Assistant Professor Tomohiro Mochizuki | information Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) - Tokyo Institute of Technology World Premier International Research Center Initiative (WPI)


Q: The COVID-19 pandemic has made people more aware of viruses and how they function. But you study viruses that most people won’t have heard of. A: Viruses are everywhere on our planet and are found in every known cellular organism, from simple organisms like archaea and bacteria, to the more complex organisms known as eukaryotes, which include plants and animals. I work on viruses that infect hyperthermophilic archaea: nucleus-free, single-cell organisms that thrive in environments hotter than 80°C.

Q: What’s so special about archaeal viruses? A: Archaea, especially those that thrive

in high temperatures, are thought to have played a key role in the early evolution of life. Many scientists believe our last universal common ancestor (LUCA)

stranded DNA (ssDNA) virus found in hyperthermophilic archaea. All archaeal viruses found up until that point had double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) genomes, which were thought to be more stable physico-chemically. Finding a hyperthermophilic archaeal ssDNA virus suggests RNA viruses might exist in elevated temperature conditions, although this has not yet been proven. The textbook theory is that life started in a hot thermal environment with RNAgenomed cells, even though RNA is known to be extremely sensitive to heat. Finding a thermophilic RNA virus in the modern biosphere could help fill a missing gap.

Q: What are you working on now? A: One of my most recent findings is starting to look quite interesting. We found a new virus whose ancestral lineage seem to be quite ancient.

Transmission electron microscope image of Clavaviridae APBV1, isolated from a hot spring in southern Japan. This virus infects hyperthermophilic archaea Aeropyrum pernix, which grows optimally at 85-90 °C.

Credit: Tomohiro Mochizuki

Q: You’ve discovered several viruses. What can you tell us about them? A: I have discovered nearly half of all the

A: Researchers who do field work in hot

springs to study thermophiles have different approaches. Rather than spending a long time at a single source site, I try to collect hot water samples from as many sources as possible, from locations mainly in Japan but also in France, Italy and the US. On-site, I’ll measure temperature, acidity, salinity, and collect several hundred millilitres of water, often in several different tubes. So things are not too complicated. Over the years, I have equipped my lab at ELSI with high-temperature incubators and gassing systems for preparing

A: Our lab is shared between many people of different nationalities, research specialties and backgrounds. It is the most highly populated unit at ELSI. This means we have the largest budget, and I am in charge of handling this. Together with my colleagues, we try to maintain a healthy working environment, including ensuring lab safety.

Q: What do young researchers need to learn in order to run their own research labs? A: It’s a tough question, especially since I

am still learning myself. I’d say it’s most important to have a flexible mindset and to consider what would bring the most happiness to the most people you work with.

Q: What do you find rewarding about your work? A: I feel most rewarded when I get an extremely interesting lab result, like when I find a new virus, which often happens in the electron microscope room. I also really enjoy presenting to people who are not familiar with my field and seeing them get excited about the research I do.

There’s more! Listen to Tomohiro Mochizuki discuss his work on the Asia Research News Podcast.

202 1

known 24 viral families that infect archaea. Among the ones I found, the most significant, evolutionarily speaking, is Spiraviridae virus ACV (Aeropyrum coilshaped virus). This was the first single-

Q: What kind of equipment do you need during your fieldwork and what does your lab at ELSI look like?

Q: What are the various managerial roles you play to keep your research work going?


was a thermophilic organism that may have been very similar to today’s hyperthermophilic archaea. By learning about viruses in present-day hyperthermophilic archaea, we hope to get a grasp on the kind of viruses that existed billions of years ago. My long-term goal is to unravel the LUCA-era virosphere.

100 nm

anaerobic cultures. I do not use too many fancy, cutting-edge analytical machines. But there are two things I cannot survive without: an ultracentrifuge to separate viral particles and an electron microscope to observe them. We have an ultracentrifuge at ELSI and share an electron microscope with the Tokyo Institute of Technology. ELSI is a multidisciplinary institute. Our bio unit includes four researchers supported by the World Premier International Research Center Initiative (WPI) and about 15 students, postdocs and technicians. Our lab space is also shared with researchers in other fields, such as chemists and geochemists. We have around 60 users annually, including temporary visitors.




地球の底から、惑星誕生の謎に迫る 地球の中心部の物質を研究しながら、共に研究をしている仲間が働きやすい環境を作 るのが五味斎特任助教の日常だ。所属先の東京工業大学・地球生命研究所(ELSI)で地 球科学者として行う研究活動と、 ラボマネージャーの役目について、お話しを伺った。

Q:地球科学とはどんな学問ですか?そ の中で、先生はどんな研究を行ってい ますか? 地球科学というのは、文字通り 「地球」 を 研究対象にする学問ですが、実際には地 球以外の惑星や恒星である太陽、衛星で ある月なども研究対象に入ります。私の 所属する地球生命研究所では、 「地球と 生命の起源に迫る」 という大きなテーマ を掲げて研究を行っているため、 その研 究対象は生物にも及んでいます。

の密度、音波の伝わる速さ、電気や熱の 伝わりやすさなど、いわゆる物理的性質 が我々の住んでいる地球表層のものと大 きく変わります。 高温高圧状態での物理的性質を知るた めに、実験室で高圧実験を行って実際に その状態を再現したり、計算機内で数値 的に再現する数値シミュレーションなど を行っています。 私たちの研究は、 マントルと呼ばれる地 球核の外側層の物質の対流がどのように 起こっているのか、地球の磁場がどのよう に作られているのか、 などを明らかにする ための基礎知識となります。最終的には 「 地球がどのようにしてできたのか?」 「地 球という惑星がどの程度特別な存在な のか?」 「似たような惑星はたくさんあるの か?「 」生命はどのように誕生したのか?」 な どといった問題を解き明かしていきます。

Q:これまでに、 どんな発見がありまし たか? 私は、地球の中心部にある金属核の熱伝 導度を求める研究をやってきました。熱 伝導度というのは、熱の伝わりやすさを 示します。重要な結論として、金属核の 熱伝導度は、私の研究以前の見積もりよ り、 はるかに高いであろうことが分かりま した。熱伝導度が思っていたよりも高いと いう事は、 中心核が思っていたよりも速い ペースで冷えていたことを意味します。地 球ができたのは46億年前であることが 分かっているので、冷えているペースから 逆算していけば、地球ができたばかりの 中心核がどの程度の温度だったのか知る ことができます。 高温・高圧条件にある物質の熱や電気の 伝わりやすさ、いわゆる輸送特性を精密 に求めることはとても難しいのですが、今 Credit: Hitoshi Gomi

Credit: Hitoshi Gomi


広大な専門領域の中で私が着手してい るのは、地球や地球に似ている水星や火 星、金星などの太陽系の惑星と、太陽系 外のスーパーアースと呼ばれる地球型惑 星の深部の物質の研究です。惑星の深 部は、非常に高い圧力と高い温度の状態 にあり、例えば地球の中心部分は約360 万気圧・6000℃に達していると考えられ ています。 こうした過酷な条件では、物質

202 1

手のひらサイズにも関わらず、地球の中心部で発生する365万気圧を超え る高圧力を発生させることが可能なダイヤモンドアンビルセル装置。 ダイ ヤモンド製の堅い物質が内部に入っている。


Further 五味斎 | information 東京工業大学 地球生命研究所(ELSI) 世界トップレベル研究拠点プログラム(WPI)


後は熱伝導度以外の物理的性質を調べ ていきたいと考えています。

Q:地球科学者になろうと思ったきっか けは何ですか? 単純に高圧の地球科学の研究が面白か ったからです。世の中に興味深い研究対 象というのは色々あると思いますが、高 圧の地球科学という分野は 「まだ全然分 かっていないけれど、 ちょっと頑張れば分 かりそう」 と感じる研究テーマが、 とにかく 沢山ある印象です。重要な研究テーマで あっても、手も足も出なければ楽しめませ ん。 そういう意味で、高圧地球科学は私に とってちょうどよいバランスだと思ってい ます。

Q:ラボマネージャーとはどんな職種で すか?

私が担当しているUnit-Dは、高圧鉱物物 理学、 アストロバイオロジー、古地磁気学 を専門領域とする3つの研究室から構成 されており、各研究室のオーバーラップ は比較的少なめです。

Credit: Hitoshi Gomi

利用されています。 こういった外部の研 究者の受け入れもラボマネージャーの 仕事の一環です。

点でもあり、難しい点でもあると思いま す。 この点の良さを活かせるように、 自分 の実力向上をすることが目下の目標です。

それから、 ラボマネージャーや実験室運 用に関わる研究者たちで組織されてい るLab Manager Committee (LMC)で は、 メーリングリストなどを通じて、研究 所全体での実験の方針を決めたりしま す。例えば、 コロナ禍において、研究者 や学生の感染リスクと、研究遂行のバラ ンスをどのようにとるかなどについて議 論します。

Q:最も達成感を感じる時と、 これまで の最大の教訓を教えてください

Q:ラボマネージャーになって新たに 身についたスキルはありますか?

Unit-Dの管理下で一番有名な実験装 置は、電子プローブマイクロアナライザー (EPMA) です。 これは、いわゆる電子顕 微鏡の一種で、Unit-Dの研究室に限らず、 ラボのマネージメントを行うという立場 地球生命研究所外の研究室の方にも広く 上、私個人の裁量が大きいのは、良い

研究活動やラボマネージャーとしての活 動ともに反省点は幾つもありますが、未 だに何もかも手探りでやっている状況な ので、 これが私の最大の教訓ですと言え るようになりたいです。

Q:地球科学者を目指す・ラボマネージ ャーになる研究者にアドバイスをお願 いします 地球科学の研究も、 ラボのマネージメント もどちらもやりがいがある仕事です。いつ か一緒に働ける日を楽しみにしています。

五味先生の研究について、 さらに知りましょう。 Asia Research Newsのポッドキャストでお待ちしています。

202 1

ラボの実験装置を管理する上で、すべ ての実験装置を深く理解して、すべての 問題を一人で解決できる、 というのが理 想なのかもしれません。 ですが、複数の 研究室にまたがるUnitでそれは現実的 ではありません。 それぞれの実験装置に は、 その装置を深く理解しているユーザ ーがいるものです。 なにか問題が起きた とき、 そういった上級ユーザーの人たち と、問題解決のために上手にコミュニケ ーションをとれる、 というのが重要なスキ ルだと思います。

やはり一番楽しいのは、 自身の研究活動 です。論文が受理された時、研究室内の セミナーや学会で発表を面白いと言って もらえた時など達成感を感じる場面は色 々あります。滅多にないのですが、 自分の 新しいアイデアが、 これまでよく分かって いなかった問題点・矛盾点をピッタリ説 明できることに気づいたときは、最高です。


地球生命研究所では、大まかな分野ご とに研究室がUnitというグループに分 けられています。例えば、Unit-Aは天文 学、Unit-Bは生物学といった感じです。 複数の研究室をグループ分けすることで、 共同で利用する実験装置の管理などが 円滑に進められるようになっています。 こ れらの各Unitにラボマネージャーが配置 されており、実験装置などの管理を任さ れています。

パソコンを20台並列接続したPCクラスタで数値シミュレーションを行い、高 温高圧状態にある物質の性質を調べる。




見えない生態系が残した物語を紡ぐ 火山や湖、温泉の物質からは数十億年前に存在した微生物の生態系が見えてくると 語るのは、東京工業大学・地球生命研究所(ELSI)の中川麻悠子特任助教。異分野の 研究者たちと共に微生物の作り出した成分を解析する傍ら、 ラボマネージャーとして 国内外の訪問者サポートや最先端の機材の管理などを行っている。 特に、初期地球の嫌気環境から現在のよ うな酸素のある環境に変化していった時 に、生態系がどのような機能や物質、 エネ ルギーを必要とし、安定かつ効率的に循 環させるためにどのように対応していっ たのかを視覚的・数値的に描くことを目 指しています。

Credit: Soichiro Takemoto

Q:なぜ微生物の研究をしようと思った のですか?

高分解能安定同位体質量分析装置を管理する中川先生。 ラボマネージャーとし て、実験室装置の管理、分析相談や補助を行う他、自身の研究にも活用している。 Q:先生が行っている微生物の研究から どんなことが分かりますか? 「環境と微生物生態系」 をキーワードに、 環境と調和した生態系の物質循環の理 解を試みています。湖や温泉などの自然 環境の調査を行い、 その環境に適応した 生態系を営む微生物群集の種の組成と、 それらの競争・共生関係を、 環境物質に含 まれる 「安定同位体」 の比率や遺伝子情 報で 解析します。

作られたのかわかると、当時生息してい た生物の様子もわかってきます。 例えば、約34億年前の岩石から有機物 の塊が発見されたという報告があります。 調べてみると、炭素同位体元素の割合が 生物の作る割合に近かったことから、 この 時代に生物がいたことがわかりました。 こ れらのデータを積み重ねていくことで当 時の地球環境や生物の情報を復元する 手法を開発できないかと考えています。

私はもともと生物や自然が好きで、生物 がどういうしくみで生きているのかがとて も気になっていました。微生物は肉眼では 見えませんが、様々な場所で働き、影響を 与えています。微生物の働きはとても興 味深いもので、 自分でもっと理解したいと 思い、研究者になりました。

Q:最近の研究結果と、現在行っている プロジェクトついて教えてください 国際共同研究プロジェクトでは、 コスタリ カの火山域周辺にある噴出口や温泉の 地質学的、化学的、生物学的分析を行い ました。私は温泉水の炭素同位体比分析 を担当し、地球深部から表層へ輸送され る炭素循環解析のためのデータを出しま した。他の研究機関とのデータと合わせて 解析したところ、地球深部から表層へ二 酸化炭素が供給されている量がこれまで


同位体は地球上の物質を構成する元素 の中にある粒子です。 それぞれの元素で は、異なる重さの同位体が、安定した比率 で存在しています。 これを安定同位体比と 言います。 しかし、生物は軽い元素を取り こみやすいので、生物の中の重い同位体 元素の割合は、 自然環境の中よりも少なく なります。

202 1

生物は環境中の元素を取り込み、代謝し、 身体を作ります。 そして生物は死骸になる と、DNAを含む分解しやすい有機物から 分解されるため、遺伝情報を堆積岩から 取り出すことは難しくなります。 しかし、分 解されにくい有機物の安定同位体比な どの化学的情報は数十億年残ります。残 っている有機物がどのような代謝によって


Credit: Mayuko Nakagawa

秋田県奥奥八九郎温泉へのフィールド調査にて、温泉から湧き出るガス を採取している様子。

Further 中川麻悠子 | information 東京工業大学 地球生命研究所(ELSI) 世界トップレベル研究拠点プログラム (WPI)


Credit: Mayuko Nakagawa

微生物は肉眼では見えないため、試薬を用いて光らせることで顕微鏡観察をし やすくする。 「肉眼では透明なのに、顕微鏡写真では星空のようにたくさん表れて、 微生物の存在に感動した写真です」 と中川先生は語る。

推定されていた量より大きいことがわか りました。 その約90%は炭酸塩として地中 に保持され、表層では数%が温泉水中の 微生物活動により有機物へ変換されてい ました。 このような地球深部と表層間の炭素循環 は、過去から未来にかけての気候変動解 析に重要な要素であり、生物・非生物活 動も含めたモデルとして本研究で新しく 提案されたものです。

佐する形がとられていると思います。 ELSIのような国際的で複合的な研究所を 運営する場合、研究者と同様の専門性を 持つラボマネージャーという職名で実験 室を管理することは有効だと考えます。

Q:ラボマネージャーとしてどんな経験を 得ましたか?

率の小さい同位体分子の計測を可能に します。 ただ、 新しい装置のため、 メーカー のエンジニアと共にメンテナンスや分析 法の開発を進めており、最先端の分析装 置に携われていることを嬉しく思います。

Q:最も達成感を感じる時と、 これまでの 教訓を教えてください

202 1

中川先生の研究についてさらに知りましょう。 Asia Research Newsのポッドキャストでお待ちしております。


分析すること自体が好きなので、成果報 告に必要なデータが得られた時、学生と 実験室や装置の管理・維持を任されるた 一緒に研究を進めている時や、必要な実 め、 それらを利用する内外の様々な研究 私の研究グループでは、新たな安定同位 員や学生と交流する機会が多いです。 験装置や作業を適切に提案したり、成果 自 体比の分析法開発も行っています。 そこ 身の専門分野だけでなく、異なる分野から を出せるように補佐できた時に達成感を から得られる新しい同位体比情報によっ の研究や、装置利用法を相談されるため、 感じます。 て、 これまで判別できなかった分子の生 新たな利用法やより効率のいい方法に気 成・消滅過程の議論を行えるようになり、 づいたり、考えられる機会が得られます。 その そ 誰でも達成したいことがあります。 地球上の生命を支える環境条件や、地球 うして始まった共同研究が沢山あります。 道のりを長く難しく感じ、周りと比較して 外惑星における生命活動の検知等への 落ち込むこともあります。 ですが、 何か進 応用だけでなく、農作物の産地判別や新 一方で、未経験の利用者に対して研究所 められる環境であれば進めて続けること たな健康・病気診断法など、幅広い展開 が大切です。 最初は進みが遅いですが、 や実験室の使用ルールを遵守してもらう が期待できます。現在、様々な分野の国 ある段階になると加速します。研究者と ように確認するところは、難しいと感じま 内外研究者と共同研究を行っています。 す。専門分野が異なるだけでなく、国内外 交流したり、学生を見て、継続することで 成長する過程を実感しました。 の実験室ルールも異なるため、常識が共 Q:先生にはラボマネージャーの肩書きも 通ではありません。 しかし、 ルールを細か あります。研究活動においてラボマネー くしすぎると確認する方も利用する方も大 ラボマネージャーとして多様な分野・国 籍の研究員や学生と関わり、 これまでの ジャーの役割の重要性を教えてください 変なため、絶対遵守すべき大まかなルー ルを伝えるオリエンテーションと定期的な 知識を別の視点から見る機会が増え、新 サポ 研究者が研究に集中する時間を得るた ミーティングを行うことで対応しています。 たな展望などに繋げられています。 ートする側ですが、私の研究を進めるた めには、 ラボマネージャー職が必要になり ますが、職名の認知度がまだまだ低く、他 Q:ラボマネージャーとしてどんな機材を めの助けも得られています。 の職名で代替されている状況です。例え 管理していますか? 異分野融合、国際共同研究、 これまで経 ば、現在の日本の大学では、教職員が研 究室の運営・実験室の管理・学生の教育・ 私が管理している装置の中に国内で唯一 験のない試料や技術を扱うことには多く の障害がありますが、協力しながら一歩 研究活動の全てを担わなくてはならず、 ELSIが保有している最新型の高分解能 一歩進めることができると学びました。 多忙な状況にあります。 そのため、技術員 安定同位体質量分析計があります。 この や研究員が雇用され、 それらの業務を補 装置は、 これまで分析できなかった存在



ELEVATING WOMEN LEADERS IN MYANMAR Many hurdles remain to achieve gender equality in Myanmar politics and society at large. Research supported by Canada’s Knowledge for Democracy Myanmar Initiative is identifying opportunities to close the gap.

Credit: Michael Schmeling | 123rf


While Myanmar is home to numerous ethnic groups, traditional cultural and gender norms are widespread. Inspirational role models are breaking the mould.

202 1


Gender gaps were starting to shrink. In November 2020, the number of women elected to Myanmar’s national, subnational and regional parliaments increased from about 10 percent to around 17 percent. The military coup in February 2021 prevented many elected representatives from taking their seats. As of press time, the military had pledged to hold new elections after a one-year state of emergency. “We were happy to see more women elected in 2020 and believe they should be allowed to serve,” says Aye Lei Tun, gender research program manager at the Enlightened Myanmar Research Foundation (EMReF). “We still have a long way to go to achieve gender equality in politics and in Myanmar.” Over the past several years, Myanmar think tanks have been conducting in-depth research surveys to understand what helps and hinders women’s participation in governance and civic spaces at the local, state and national levels. While carried out before the coup, the findings still apply and provide nuanced insights. These locally led projects were supported by the Knowledge for Democracy Myanmar Initiative (K4DM), a five-year research initiative from Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

Further Edgard Rodriguez | information Knowledge for Democracy Myanmar Initiative International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

and Global Affairs Canada. “Research and data about Myanmar generated by Myanmar scholars is important for the country’s transition towards democracy,” says Edgard Rodriguez, the lead program officer for K4DM. “Local researchers are communicating their findings to their communities. These efforts can help boost gender equality and, in turn, prosperity for Myanmar.”

CULTURAL NORMS While Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader until the coup, is popular among many Myanmar citizens, the same level of respect for women leaders does not trickle down to the local level. “In villages and townships, women are not viewed as leaders,” says La Ring, an EMReF researcher. “Even though women attend community meetings, decisions are usually made by men.” Through surveys and interviews, researchers from EMReF and the Gender Equality Network (GEN) found social norms present a major barrier to women entering civic life throughout the country. Culturally, women are assumed to be caretakers who stay home, raising children, not out leading their communities or work-


It’s very clear that through the democratization process, there is more space for women to engage in governance and take leadership roles in their communities. May Sabe Phyu Director, Gender Equality Network Credit: Khin Su Kyi

ing as the primary income earner. This is a perspective typically shared by both men and women: the majority of women respondents said doing household chores is not a drawback for them. “Many women have internalized that household chores are their responsibility,” says Soe Myat Tun, a researcher at GEN. “This shows we need to educate women and men that chores are not solely the responsibility of women, they are also the responsibility of men, so women have more time to participate in public life.”


Credit: Shwe Paw Mya Tin

WATCH: Voices of Ethnic People in Shan State About Gender Equality


Women lack financial support for running for office and for childcare, putting them at a disadvantage compared to men. “When you get involved in politics, you have to use a lot of your own money,” says May Sabe Phyu, director of GEN. “Since women are not the primary income earners, they depend on their husbands or male family members for financial support.” Once elected, representatives are not paid very much, making it difficult for both men and women, but especially single mothers holding down a job and caring for their children. Women who do participate

in politics tend to come from political families with more resources, much like Aung San Suu Kyi. Having so few women in decision-making roles has a lasting effect, additional K4DM-supported research from the Myanmar Institute for Gender Studies (MIGS) found. Without women’s voices in decision making bodies, it is difficult to secure more funding for women’s needs and priorities, such as education, childcare and health services. This in turn continues to inhibit women from having the support they need to get involved. “This creates a vicious cycle inhibiting women’s opportunities and voices, which is why it is so important to have women in leadership roles and policies that elevate women’s priorities in budgets at local, state and national levels,” says Khin Ma Ma Myo, founder of MIGS.

Credit: Shwe Paw Mya Tin

Story continues...


PEOPLE POLITICAL PARTIES & GENDER EQUALITY Over the last decade, political parties in Myanmar – of which there are dozens – have played a huge role in deciding who can run as candidates. “Myanmar citizens tend to vote along party lines, so how parties recruit and

Na Bo served as assistant village head of her Lahu village in Shan State. Villagers respected her, especially her ability to help solve disagreements. She says education and role models are critical for helping more young women take leadership roles.

Credit: Shwe Paw Mya Tin

promote female candidates is critical to increasing gender equality and representation,” says Netina Tan, a political scientist at McMaster University in Canada who collaborated with EMReF. “Candidate selection committees are heavily male dominated and that influ-


A Gender Equality Network (GEN) research survey of 3,000 households found strong support among the general population for quotas for women members of parliament. However, they found those already elected were less enthusiastic about quotas and believed that female candidates could succeed based on their abilities.

202 1

Credit: Shwe Paw Mya Tin


ences how candidates are selected.” In-depth interviews with nine political parties by EMReF researchers found parties nominated and selected candidates in various ways. Those with clear procedures that start nominating delegates at the village level tend to have more women candidates than parties who control the nomination process via a central selection committee and party gatekeepers. The proportion of women candidates for political parties in 2015 ranged between 4 and 19 percent. That increased to between roughly 9 and 29 percent in 2020. In 2020, both the Chin National League for Democracy (CNLD) and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) set 30% quotas for women candidates running for seats. While CNLD fell far short of the goal, SNLD nearly reached it. “That was a big step forward and shows how even societies that are traditionally highly patriarchal can work to change gender relations,” says Tan.

67% 76%

CLOSING THE GAP Based on these findings, the researchers recommend parties expand female participation by taking a number of steps: set clear rules for the nomination process that starts at the local level; establish party quotas for women candidates; provide financial support for women candidates; help women campaign in rural areas by providing an escort to increase security; and provide more training for women interested in running to practice campaign and parliamentary skills. While there was some resistance to quotas among members of parliament, the general population supports the idea of quotas for female candidates, the researchers found.

ETHNIC VOICES As part of the K4DM research initiative, the Myanmar Institute for Integrated Development (MIID) and local partners interviewed several ethnic groups in Shan State to understand how decisions are made at the local level. Their research also showed traditional cultural norms are entrenched. For example, in the Pa-O Self Administrative Zone, in southern Shan State,

Women Men

Approve of quotas for women in parliament

PEOPLE customary rules mandate that men are the main decision makers. And in Eastern Shan State, “According to Palaung tradition, women are not allowed to participate. It is impossible,” says Paw Saung, one of four village heads in a Palaung village. But there are positive signs of change. For example, Ma Mi Shel is a respected leader in her Akha village, even though she is only in her 20s. Her father, a former village leader, encouraged her to be involved in village administration, and has ensured that she will inherit the family farm, despite Akha tradition preventing women from inheriting any family assets. In a Lahu village, Na Bo became an assistant village head. Originally, her husband was selected for the role, but since he was often away working, she took on the responsibilities, even though she cannot read nor write. “I resolved many problems. The villagers didn’t oppose me being a woman,” Na Bo says. “They said I have a sense of influence and leadership skills when I talk.”

EDUCATION IS CRITICAL Most of the MIID survey respondents stressed that education for children and adults is key to achieve gender equality. Several community organizers are hosting workshops to educate women about

women’s rights, domestic violence, and gender equality. They also aim to increase women’s knowledge about current affairs, so they have confidence to participate in village affairs. Trainings are having a positive effect. Mu Mu Aye is the Secretary of Shwe Inlay and heads a chapter of a regional women’s network. Before 2010, she said women in her region would only sit and listen during village meetings. After 2010, many organizations began conducting leadership and gender trainings. Now, women actively participate in meetings and serve on village development committees with widespread acceptance. While, as of press time, it is unclear what will happen in the coming months, this evidence shows how grassroots efforts, combined with larger structural policy and funding changes, can help continue to shrink the gender equality gap throughout Myanmar. “It’s very clear that through the democratization process, there is more space for women to engage in governance and take leadership roles in their communities,” says GEN’s May Sabe Phyu. “We must continue the hard work driving this change forward, using all of our local research to inform policies that will support girls and women.”

Mu Mu Aye is the Secretary of Shwe Inlay and leads a local chapter of the May Doe Kabar network, which represents women in the Intha community. She organises training workshops to help build women’s confidence to participate in village affairs, enhance livelihoods, and empower women to speak out in their communities.


The GEN survey asked who you would be more inclined to vote for between a man or woman politician with the same political views. Respondents were more likely to vote for someone of the same gender, all else being equal.

Credit: Shwe Paw Mya Tin

There’s more! Check out photos and stories in multiple languages at Asia Research News.




Fazlur Rahman Khan (3 April 1929 – 27 March 1982) was a Bangladeshi-American structural engineer and architect who invented the tube principle, which formed the basis for modern skyscraper design. Instead of designing high-rise buildings around a solid core, he proposed the perimeter walls should resemble a thin hollow cylinder. His design enabled towers to withstand strong winds or earthquakes, and significantly reduced construction costs and environmental impacts. Khan designed several skyscrapers, including Chicago’s Sears Tower, since renamed Willis Tower, which at 108 stories was the tallest building in the world from 1974 to 1998. Khan is known as the Einstein of structural engineering.


Bibha Chowdhuri (1913 – 2 June 1991) was an Indian physicist who, together with Debendra Mohan Bose, discovered the meson subatomic particle. She earned a Master’s degree in physics from University of Calcutta in 1936, the only woman in her class. After working at the Bose Institute, she went on to conduct her PhD research at the University of Manchester in the lab of Patrick M.S. Blackett (Nobel Prize in Physics 1948). Chowdhuri investigated cosmic rays and air showers—extensive cascades of ionized particles and electromagnetic radiation produced when a cosmic ray enters the atmosphere. She discovered that when particle density of an air shower increases, so does the density of penetrating events. Considered a forgotten legend by some, the International Astronomical Union named a star in the Sextans constellation “Bibha” in her honour.



Edgardo Dizon Gomez (7 November 1938 – 1 December 2019) was a Filipino marine biologist who recognized the need to protect marine resources in the Philippines. Gomez played an instrumental role in the world’s first national-scale assessment of coral reef damage, leading to conservation initiatives such as the Global Reefs and Risk Analysis, and the International Coral Reef Action Network. He founded the Marine Science Institute at the University of the Philippines Diliman. Gomez was also a pioneer in breeding giant clams, helping restore their populations. Gomez was conferred the Order of National Scientists, the highest Presidential honour for individuals who significantly contribute to science and technology in the Philippines.

202 1




Lin Lanying (7 February 1918 – 4 March 2003) was a material engineer known as the mother of aerospace and semiconductor materials in China. Lin’s family did not believe in educating girls and she was not allowed to go to school. Despite her family’s objections, Lin earned a Bachelor’s degree in physics at Fukien Christian University, a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics at Dickinson College, and a PhD in solid-state physics at the University of Pennsylvania. Lin was the first in China to synthesize the crystals of several aerospace and semiconductor materials, including mono-crystalline germanium, which led to the development of transistor radios. Her research laid the foundation for the development of microelectronics and optoelectronics in China. She was elected a Chinese Academy of Sciences academician, the highest academic title for science and technology in China.


Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman (7 November 1888 – 21 November 1970) was an Indian physicist who performed ground-breaking research in the field of light-scattering. He is best known for discovering that when light passes through a material, some of the deflected light changes wavelength and amplitude – a phenomenon which became known as Raman scattering. The principles of Raman scattering and the Raman effect are applied in Raman spectroscopy, a technique widely used for analysis and identification of materials. For his pioneering work, Raman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930.

To read more inspiring To read more inspiring stories, go to Asia Research News.stories, go to


202 1

Michiyo Tsujimura (17 September 1888 – 1 June 1969) was a Japanese agricultural scientist and biochemist, who discovered green tea contains vitamin C while she was a student at the RIKEN research institute. This discovery, made together with Seitaro Miura, led to green tea popularity increasing and a boost in green tea export from Japan to North America in the early 1900s. Tsujimura also isolated and extracted constituents with anticancer properties from green tea, including catechin, tannin and gallocatechin. Her research earned her a PhD from the Tokyo Imperial University, making her the first female doctor of agriculture in Japan. Tsujimura was awarded the Japan Prize of Agricultural Science in 1956 and conferred the Order of the Precious Crown of the Fourth Class in 1968.




COVID-19: OUR COMMUNITY ON THE FRONT LINES OF RESEARCH The global scientific community came together in an unprecedented way to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are selected research findings shared by our Asia Research News community.

3D PPE & DISINFECTING LIGHT At the outset of the pandemic, researchers immediately set to work developing innovative protective equipment and efficient disinfecting techniques to help keep medical workers and the general public safe. For example, City University of Hong Kong researchers produced low cost, anti-bacterial graphene face masks that are more environmentally friendly than conventional surgical ones. The team used a CO2 infrared laser to turn a raw material like paper into graphene. The resulting 3D graphene pores have an initial anti-bacterial efficiency of 80% that is enhanced to almost 100% with exposure to sunlight for about ten minutes. Early tests showed the masks deactivated two types of coronavirus. They are also reusable and biodegradable. In February 2020, Hong Kong Polytechnic University mobilised all its 3D printers to 24-hour-a-day operation to produce

eye and face shields for frontline medical personnel in the region. They then partnered with local industry to scale up manufacturing of the shields, which were specifically designed to provide a better fit for the local populace. Meanwhile, Hiroshima University researchers in Japan provided the first proof that ultraviolet-C light at a wavelength of 222nm effectively kills SARS-CoV-2. Far-UVC at this wavelength poses minimal health risks to human skin or eyes, making it a promising disinfectant for occupied public spaces, such as patient rooms in hospitals and clinics. Lingnan University researchers in Hong Kong are using a different ultraviolet-C wavelength to disinfect public spaces. The 253.7nm wavelength is harmful to human eyes and skin, so they have created a autonomous disinfecting robot that can get the job done without people being present.


City University of Hong Kong researchers produced lowcost graphene face masks, which are made by turning a material like paper into graphene.

202 1

Credit: City University of Hong Kong


To find out more, go to Asia Research News.

Credit: (manipulated background image)

SPECIAL REPORT Credit: A*STAR Institute of High Performance Computing

A*STAR researchers simulated how droplets spread through the air when an unmasked person coughs and people are standing 1 metre apart.

TRACKING THE SPREAD No one particularly likes the brain tickle of the nasopharyngeal COVID-19 test swabs. Scientists at Hokkaido Univer-

cal method for detecting the enveloped SARS-CoV-2 virus in untreated wastewater and have since partnered with industry to implement an automated analytical system.

A Tohoku University review directs future investigators where to focus their energy to make wearable virus sensors a reality.

Credit: Tohoku University

Story continues...

202 1

Researchers at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) provided free stool sample testing for children arriving in the region as a safer, easier alternative to swab tests. They detected asymptomatic infection in several young children through this program. They also found the viral infection persists in the gut even after it has cleared from the nose and throat. Besides physical tests, teams around the globe have employed the power of big data, machine learning and algorithms to track the pandemic’s spread. In Singapore, researchers at The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) teamed up with the National Supercomputing Centre to


sity and colleagues compared the test results of nasopharyngeal swabs and saliva samples of almost 2,000 people in Japan who did not have COVID-19 symptoms. They found that viral loads in saliva correlated with loads from nasal passages and had comparable sensitivity rates, suggesting self-collected saliva samples could offer an easy and effective mass testing approach for detecting asymptomatic COVID-19. Wastewater monitoring can help track the large scale spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This technique has previously been used for detecting non-enveloped viruses in wastewater. A Hokkaido University researcher and colleagues developed a fast, economi-

model the dispersion of droplets when a person coughs and is not wearing a mask. The supercomputer simulation took Singapore’s humid, tropical environment into account to produce more accurate estimates. Students at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology released a real-time map that tracks COVID-19 cases in their region in South Korea. Researchers in Malaysia and the UK led by Universiti Malaya developed a COVID-19 Research Information Super Hub, collating research findings into one centralized database to make it easier for both scientists and policy makers to stay abreast of the latest findings and track emerging trends. Computer scientists at Hong Kong Baptist University used a model to forecast COVID-19 cases and economic losses based on different reopening scenarios in five cities in China, to help policy makers determine when to ease social distancing and quarantine measures. Also, researchers at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology developed a smartphone app paired with a Bluetooth wristband to automatically monitor patients under quarantine and alert officials if they left their homes prematurely, helping save limited human resources. In the future, researchers envision wearable or integrated sensors will detect viral particles in the air. However, development of such devices has not made much progress in the past decade. A recent review of the field by a Tohoku University materials engineer in Japan aims to show up-and-coming investigators where they can focus their energy. No doubt the pandemic will increase interest in this area.



Duke-NUS Medical School researchers determined some of the molecular mechanisms enabling bats to carry viruses without getting sick themselves.



The wildly diverse reactions to SARSCoV-2 infection, from no symptoms at all to severe illness and death, have been a distinct feature of the pandemic. Researchers have made rapid progress understanding the risk factors associated with severe illness and what is going on at the molecular level. For example, Hokkaido University researchers investigated the pathways that trigger the so-called cytokine storm associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) that can lead to death. Identifying the pathways that spark devastating inflammatory responses can provide potential targets for drug interventions. The immune system is closely linked to microbes that live in our intestines. CUHK researchers found several good bacteria missing in the guts of COVID-19 patients, compared with healthy controls. Using big data analysis, machine learning and data from the Chinese population, they developed a probiotic formula that aims to restore the balance between good and bad gut bacteria, and thus help boost the immune system. While the source of SARS-CoV-2 has not yet been confirmed, many experts suspect it likely originated in bats, much like SARS-CoV-1, MERS and Ebola. Scientists from Duke-NUS Medical School

in Singapore discovered some unique molecular mechanisms that enable bats to carry such viruses without getting sick themselves. Notably, bats appear to balance the activity of key immune and inflammatory proteins, allowing them to minimize some of the detrimental consequences of immune activation. Tohoku University immunobiologists found that, as the pandemic wore on and the virus mutated, certain mutations led to more inflammation — and it’s partly our fault. Our bodies, as part of our natural defence system, appear to have edited the viral RNA in such a way that it does more harm than good. Also, as the pandemic has progressed, researchers have been able to examine how well innate and vaccine-induced antibodies work against the coronavirus. Scientists from Duke-NUS Medical School,

Credit: Zhu Feng

Singapore’s National Centre for Infectious Diseases and A*STAR’s Infectious Diseases Labs found that antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 wane at different rates, lasting for mere days in some individuals, while forecasted to remain present in others for decades. The results suggest annual vaccinations might be needed for some individuals to reduce the impact of future COVID-19 outbreaks. Many vaccines include ingredients called adjuvants to boost the immune response. Identifying potential adjuvants is now easier, thanks to an approach developed by scientists at Kyoto University’s Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS) and colleagues. The team scanned libraries of small molecules that self-assemble into larger structures and found a new possible contender for a vaccine adjuvant.

202 1

Credit: Mindy Takamiya/Kyoto University iCeMS

Researchers at Kyoto University’s Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS) and colleagues developed an approach to find new adjuvants, which are key vaccine ingredients.


To find out more, go to Asia Research News.


THE FALLOUT & SILVER LININGS The pandemic has had a profound impact in terms of lives lost, as well as the way we live and work. Quarantine, lockdowns, work from home and social distancing are here to stay until the pandemic is under control. The crisis has taken its toll, with one in three adults experiencing anxiety, depression or other psychological distress, according to a meta-analysis from Duke-NUS Medical School that spanned 19 countries and nearly 300,000 study participants. The analysis revealed women, younger adults and those of lower socioeconomic status were more likely to be affected.

Social scientists, including teams supported by Canada’s International Development Research Centre, have found women have borne an increased burden throughout the pandemic, especially already-vulnerable migrant workers throughout Southeast Asia. Social scientists are also evaluating the effectiveness of policies and responses. Institutes like SEAJunction have called for policies that do a better job taking cultural and social context into account, and SHAPE-SEA encourages social scientists to share their expertise, particularly observations about how human rights are being threatened during the pandemic. While lockdowns and quarantines have been brutal socially and econom-

ically, there have been some silver linings. An IOP Publishing study reported modest drops in NO2 air pollution following the lockdown in China, but not in the most fine particles that pose the greatest threat to human health, providing evidence to guide future reduction strategies. Now that most of us have been working from home for more than a year, many commuters see the benefits. A Lingnan University survey found more than 80% of Hong Kong workers wouldn’t mind working from home at least one day a week after the pandemic is over.

Credit: International Organization for Migration

Migrant workers streamed back to Myanmar when the first lockdowns were implemented in neighbouring Thailand.

Across the disciplines, the scientific community’s efforts and open collaboration to tackle this global crisis has been nothing short of incredible. As we write this in April 2021, a variety of vaccines are being deployed in many countries, even as variants spread, new lockdowns are announced, and scientists continue racing to develop the next generation of vaccines and treatments. While not over yet, the tireless work of so many researchers has rapidly accelerated us towards effective solutions, making us better prepared for the next pandemic and a healthier future.

202 1

In January 2020, we were tracking the news of a novel virus outbreak in Asia. As cases began to pop up around the globe, we quickly worked with our community to identify scientific experts willing to speak with the media as the situation unfolded. Our Focus On resource features experts who can address a range of issues, from virology to economic and social impacts.





[That’s our mission.]

Increasing diversity of voices in research news is a founding principle at Asia Research News.

Join us in bringing new voices to international news:

breakthrough there is a

Behind every


It's time for Asia Research News to tell yours.


Call for submissions 2022

WHERE RESEARCH STORIES ARE TOLD Expertly written, beautifully designed.

Asia Research News Submissions 2022: