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Living & Learning: Japanese students overseas / Physics offers fascinating unsolved puzzle

Courtesy of Shion Kubota
Shion Kubota, center, with her college friends

By Shion Kubota (Mount Holyoke College) / Special to The Japan News)This column features reports by Japanese students studying overseas about their life on and off campus.

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This is the story of a puzzle that I find enjoyable.

I entered Mount Holyoke College, an all-women’s liberal arts college, as a physics major. I became interested in physics through my hobby of playing the flute, since playing a musical instrument involves physical understanding. MHC was the first of the Seven Sisters, the female equivalent of the once predominantly male Ivy League. I actually was not satisfied with my decision to go to MHC at first. Due to wait list letters and rejection letters from several universities, I just had no choice. However, it was a consolation that it focused on educating women interested in science. Professors are eager to detect students’ academic passions and to recruit those with strong passions as their research assistants.

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A physics professor recruited me as her research assistant to publish her research on oobleck [a non-Newtonian liquid]. After some meetings, we started discussing philosophical topics. One day, I talked about my idea that all our actions are determined according to physics laws and we are not free. To me, physics seemed to have complete control over us. I thought she would agree, but she did not. She just kept silent. I waited for her next words, feeling insecure. She surprised me when she finally spoke. “Let’s watch a movie. It’s my favorite one. You will like this.” She started to show a documentary about the discovery of Higgs Boson, the final piece of information needed to prove the standard model of particle physics. If the model could not be proved, all the laws of physics we have so far compiled would collapse. And fortunately, we found Higgs.

Seeing how the pieces of the puzzle called physics fit together beautifully, I was overcome by awe. But at the same time, I realized that we just knew they existed, but not how they work. We still lack pieces to complete the puzzle.

The incomplete nature of human development — it’s such a simple concept, but so crucial to me. I used to embrace the successes physicists made and would enjoy a feeling of superiority as a human being. However, now as a freshman, I embrace the innocence of humans and dream of [finding] new pieces that would let us complete the puzzle. Now I am ready for the journey [to find] the new piece of physics, which will last my lifetime, to complete the huge puzzle.

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Mount Holyoke College

Founded in 1837 and located at South Hadley, Mass., Mount Holyoke College has about 2,200 students from 75 countries. Foreign students make up 25 percent of the student body.

In partnership with Ryugaku Fellowship

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