27 April 2009

Japanese researcher makes the jump to NBI

With a large smile Namiko Mitarai welcomes one into the little office which she is temporarily sharing with another until she receives her own office. Namiko Mitarai has made the jump from a permanent position as a physicist in Japan and has just been appointed as an associate professor in biophysics at the Niels Bohr Institute and the cramped space does not worry her, she is very happy with her new job, her new country and her new workplace. "I really like the country and I love the international atmosphere at the Niels Bohr Institute, where there is always openness to scientific discussions", she says.

Namiko Mitarai received her Ph.D. in statistical physics from Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan. She researches granular materials and how they behave under different stresses. This knowledge can be used to better understand when there is a risk for mudslides or when and why foodstuffs, e.g. rice clumps and forms blockages in pipelines.

For a year from 2006 to 2007 Namiko Mitarai was employed at the Niels Bohr Institute and it was then that her interest in biophysics was aroused. Now her plan is to research biological systems, where her knowledge of statistical physics and granulated materials can be used, for example, to research how blood cells accumulate and form blod clots.

Another interesting topic to research is the processes in the chain reaction in the neurotransmitters in the DNA of cells, that see to it that the right proteins are formed in the functions of the cell. "It is incredible, how they can do it. It is something I would really like to understand", explains Namiko Mitarai.

But what does the family say about her choice to make a research career on the other side of the globe, in Copenhagen? "They are very happy and completely understand my choice", says Namiko Mitarai and explains that her father, Shiro Mitarai, is also a physicist and has visited the Niels Bohr Institute many times.