“I don’t think of them as separate things. They go together naturally. Teaching and research are parts of the same activity. They complement each other.”
That observation helps explain Junichiro Kono’s success at Rice University, where he joined the faculty in 2000. Since then, Kono has been awarded more than $30 million in research funding from such sources as the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Office, W. M. Keck Foundation and the Robert A. Welch Foundation.
During the same period, Kono has advised 14 post-docs, 20 Ph.D. and 21 M.S. students, 52 undergraduates and 21 high-school students from the Houston region.
“Our job is to introduce the importance of research even to very young students. That is how science and technology progress,” “said Kono, professor of electrical and computer engineering (ECE), of physics and astronomy, and of materials science and nanoengineering (MSNE).
As part of his strategy to get undergraduates in the lab as early as possible, Kono in 2006 set up NanoJapan with $2.2 million in funding from the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for International Research and Education program. The summer research program permitted freshmen and sophomores to work each summer in Japan. NanoJapan was refunded with an additional $4 million from NSF in 2010.
“Research has become increasing international in scope,” Kono said. “Students must learn to collaborate with researchers from all over the world.”
In 2008, NanoJapan was given the Institute of International Education’s prestigious Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education. The funding for NanoJapan expired in 2015, but Kono’s lab was chosen by the Nakatani Foundation to implement the Nakatani Research and International Experiences for Students Fellowship. Last summer, 14 U.S. undergraduates, including three from Rice, did research in Japan, and eight Japanese students worked at Rice.
“Dr. Kono always gave me valuable insight into my terahertz time-domain spectroscopy research, and gave me additional scientific articles when I didn’t understand a particular concept. Thanks to him I pursued nanoscience research during my remaining time at Rice and beyond,” said Nicole Moody, a second-year doctoral student in physical chemistry at MIT, who spent a summer in the NanoJapan program while a Rice undergraduate.
“I completed an honors thesis on the spectroscopy of biomolecule-conjugated gold nanoparticles,” she said, “and I’m continuing to pursue nanomaterials research at MIT. Dr. Kono provided me with letters of recommendation for my graduate school and fellowship applications, and continues to offer research advice.”
Kono, 50 years old and a native of Osaka, earned a B.S. and M.S. in applied physics from the University of Tokyo in 1990 and 1992, respectively, and a Ph.D. in physics from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1995.
He spent two years as a postdoctoral researcher at the Quantum Institute of the University of California at Santa Barbara, and another three years as a fellow at the William W. Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory at Stanford, before coming to Rice.
His research interests straddle disciplines. He focuses on nonlinear, ultrafast and quantum optics in solids; optics and photonics of low-dimensional materials; physics and applications of terahertz phenomena; and high-magnetic field phenomena in condensed matter.
Kono has published almost 200 journal articles and given 280 invited presentations. He holds two patents and was a recipient of the National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2002. He has been a fellow of the American Physical Society since 2009 and the Optical Society since 2015.
“I believe I am a better researcher because of my students. I point them in the right direction and see to it that they challenge themselves. I work alongside them,” he said.
One student grateful to Kono is Brandi Ransom, a junior in MSNE and president of the Rice chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, who participated in NanoJapan in 2015.
“Professor Kono opened his home to the NanoJapan students and allowed us to meet Japanese students prior to and after our trip abroad,” she said, “meaning we were better acclimated for the trip. He wrote my recommendation letters so I was accepted into multiple programs. Although we are not close, I think of him as a professor that I will always be thankful for.”