Kanako Ueno

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Look for Your Own Style through Various Values

Kanako Ueno
Professor of Science and Technology
Department of Architecture

“My Career Path”

 When I entered university, I had yet to determine the subject I wanted to specialize in. Students at the University of Tokyo are required to choose a specialized field of study during the summer of their sophomore year. I casually decided to major in architecture only because I had always enjoyed drawing pictures and figures. While studying architecture, however, I realized I was more interested in exploring the role of architecture in terms of human senses and psychology than in learning designs and plans. With many science students at this university moving on to graduate school for a master’s degree, my decision to pursue a doctoral degree proved a turning point in my career. I was particularly inspired by a research theme provided by my mentor, Professor Hideki Tachibana, so much so that I felt the strong urge to follow the theme to my heart’s content. Thus, my career decision was driven more by my enthusiasm for research than a clear vision of being a researcher. Since then, my research style has been established through a combination of laboratory experience during the training period to be a researcher and research activities overseas in a completely different environment.

“Research Contents”

 My research theme focuses on evaluation and design methods of indoor sound environments. With various activities performed indoors for different purposes, my research work seeks to provide society with a pleasant and attractive living environment, while considering what types of acoustic effects are needed and how architectural designs should be developed to create a sound environment that meets the needs of each activity. I have consistently worked on the acoustics of concert halls since my student days at university, particularly acoustics from the performers’ perspective. This is basic research to create optimal acoustic models by testing and evaluating architectural designs and materials to conceive a concert hall ideal for performers. During my time as a graduate student and a research assistant, I studied this theme using a large-scale experimental facility in cooperation with professional musicians, including violinist Mariko Senju, with a view to serving as a bridge between art and engineering. Over the past few years, I have advanced my research work with the “Sound Cask,” a sound field sharing system developed by the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) and the Core Research for Evolutionary Science and Technology (CREST) from 2009 to 2015. This system is designed to reproduce spatial sound field recorded by 80-channel microphones in a barrel-shaped soundproof room equipped with 96-channel loudspeakers. While the system virtually realize the acoustic properties of a concert hall, connecting multiple “Sound Casks” also allows people in different locations to communicate with each other as if they shared the same space. The project aims to apply the sound system to audio rooms where even human presence and atmosphere can be reproduced with a high level of accuracy, as well as training devices for visually impaired people.
 Recently, I have begun studying issues on sound environments in kindergartens and schools. Investigating sound propagation in open-plan classrooms and high level noise in nursery and preschools, I have suggested design approaches to reduce their noise levels. Since sound environments play an important role in the linguistic and auditory development of children, I collaborate in some cases with teachers, students and nursery workers to explore the ideal sound environment that can support learning activities in everyday life. I find this research appealing because I am directly involved in meeting challenges on the spot.

“Experience of Research and Life Abroad”

 From October 2004 I attended Boston University as a visiting scholar for one year under the researcher exchange support program sponsored by the Kajima Foundation. I decided to join the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory led by Professor Barbara Shinn-Cunningham. Looking for a research field, I was impressed with her dynamic approaches to cognition in a sound environment by exploring not only the physiological functions of the auditory system but also active consciousness and even the human nature of learning and adaptation.
 Barbara was an inspiring researcher blessed with extraordinary senses and enthusiasm, in addition to her outstanding linguistic abilities. She looked sharply at problems with the eyes of a hunter watching its prey. I learned the value of intense concentration, like an explorer venturing into the unknown, and the importance of valuing people above all else. She communicated openly with people without regard to age or background, and respected individual motivation. At the time, she was also raising a child, and she sometimes arrived on campus after working out at a gym, so she didn’t spend long hours in the laboratory. But while she was in the lab, she sat on an exercise ball and handled one task after another with enormous concentration. Barbara spent only a small amount of her research grants on equipment, with most of her funding going to personnel costs. Her research style was completely different from my overall image of an engineering laboratory that prioritized facility and equipment outlays over labor costs to achieve better results.
 A few years after my overseas experience, I was fortunate to land a job at Meiji University’s Department of Architecture. Reflecting on my time with Barbara, I have searched for a research style through which I can contribute to society and culture while working with students assigned to our laboratory every year to enjoy the research processes and train ourselves with a spirit of inquiry.

“Messages for Students and Young Researchers”

 It is important to tackle whatever you do with a strong passion. You feel happy when you succeed and frustrated when you fail. These kinds of emotions help develop your abilities. University is the last educational institution before starting out on your career, but your potential is extremely high even after graduating from university, so I encourage you to maintain the motivation to further enhance your abilities. In my case, I chose a career path as a researcher without a clear vision of the future, but fortunately my boundless enthusiasm led me to the place where I could take advantage of my abilities and eventually to the job that I find interesting and rewarding. After all, I believe it was my passion for pursuing my interests and aiming ever higher that brought me various opportunities. Cherish the feelings of happiness, frustration and enthusiasm.