Excellence in Research
Excellence in Research
Dr. Sanichiro Yoshida
Optical Interferometry / Field Theory
On any given day you can find Sanichiro Yoshida tucked into his unassuming corner office in Pursley Hall performing calculations on a laptop. Next door, his modest lab buzzes with undergraduate students working on the latest experiment to refine a process that determines the structural weaknesses of various materials.
The next day you may find “Sany” 25 miles away at the LIGO Observatory in the middle of a Livingston Parish forest where he collaborates with scientists around the world to probe one of the weightiest mysteries of the universe.
Yoshida, winner of the 2008 President’s Award for Excellence in Research, is an electrical engineer by training who operates in a world of physicists. Holder of the Alumni Association Endowed Professorship in Chemistry and Physics, he has taught or performed research all over the world including his native city of Tokyo, the Republic of Indonesia, the former Soviet Union (he was there when the Soviet Union collapsed), the Siberian city of Tomsk, and at several stops in the United States
before settling at Southeastern in 2001.
A graduate of Keio University in Tokyo, Yoshida is being recognized for his body of research work, which includes using laser interferometry -- intersecting light waves that can measure less than a millionth of a meter -- to detect weaknesses and stress points in materials ranging from massive steel girders to the nanostructures of super-mini electronic circuits. That research resulted in the first patent being awarded to Southeastern. A second, related patent application is now under consideration.
“This approach allows us to predict where and when fractures may occur in materials by determining the weak spot and the remaining life of the material,” Yoshida explained. “It also seems to work very well on the nanoscale, even though the structural dynamics are very different from more massive materials.”
That research benefits from collaboration with a group of engineers at Tokyo Denki University who are working with mechanics aspects of the experiment. The project will get an added boost next year from collaboration with Pennsylvania State University scientists, specialists in materials science including nanoscience, through a recently completed cooperative arrangement.
Yoshida’s other main research interest focuses on the other end of the spectrum, the universe itself. As a scientist at LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory), he and other scientists participate in an international network that’s dedicated to detecting and measuring cosmic gravitational waves. The observatories feature two 2.5-mile arms at right angles to each other. Lasers are beamed through vacuum tubes, and any gravitational waves will be detected by minute movement of the laser light at the Livingston facility and similar installations near Seattle and in other nations.
The waves are “ripples” in space-time caused by cataclysmic events such as collisions of black holes or shock waves from the origins of the universe. Yoshida explained that Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves in his 1916 general theory of relativity, and it remains his major unproven theory.
“We have indirect proof the waves exist. We can observe it by seeing the influence of gravitational waves on a binary system, two stars rotating around each other,” he explained. “So, now we need to directly measure the gravitational field itself. I think we are close to that. We are currently in a transitional phase, moving to Advanced LIGO where we will have more sensitive equipment that increases our chances of detecting the waves.”
Yoshida’s enjoys a worldwide scientific and teaching reputation, as evidenced by requests to write articles for scholarly journals, publication of 69 articles in peer-reviewed journals, his more than 80 presentations at international or national meetings, and his role as co-science chair in organizing an international conference in Italy in the emerging field of macro/nano science.
He is likewise sought after as a teacher and mentor having worked with numerous undergraduate and graduate students, including them in his research and sharing authorship with them on scientific articles. He has assisted many students in obtaining valuable research opportunities at centers throughout the world.
“Dr. Yoshida’s research brings national and international recognition to Southeastern,” said Gerard T. Blanchard, head of Southeastern’s Department of Chemistry and Physics. “His prominence in the LIGO project means that he works side-by-side with top professors at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute
“Few people have the talent of being a great scientist and, at the same time, a great educator,” said LIGO colleague Hiroaki Yamamoto of California Institute of Technology. “He is truly invaluable to Southeastern and the LIGO project. I am amazed how well he supervises his students to accomplish work that’s useful for us and guides them so they understand what they are doing.”
With a reputation and research track record that could allow him to work just about anywhere in the world, Yoshida likes his situation at Southeastern.
“I like to teach and interact with students; I think I can help them here,” he said. “Plus, my research work is very fundamental. Big universities can be like factories: you have to do the research that brings in the big grants. Here I can pursue what interests me. I have a lot of freedom here.”