UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


IRDR academic joins Vice-Provost (RIGE) on visit to Japan to build on strong research links

28 March 2023

The IRDR's Dr Punam Yadav joined Professor Geraint Rees on his first delegation visit abroad as Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement) to build on UCL's strong links with higher education, industry, and government in Japan.

UCL delegation visiting IRIDES in Japan

In March 2023, a UCL delegation led by Vice-Provost (RIGE) Professor Geraint Rees travelled to Japan to meet with key partners in the country. The week-long visit was Professor Rees’ first in his Vice-Provost role and strengthened UCL’s longstanding relationships with Osaka University (OU), Tohoku University (TU), RIKEN, HORIBA, and the British Embassy in Tokyo.

Professor Rees said: “The breadth and depth of UCL’s collaborations with Japan are unmatched and the visit was a fantastic opportunity to celebrate shared successes with our key partners. It was also an opportunity to look ahead to facilitating new collaborations and research links, made possible by UCL and Japan’s strong tsunagari (connections) that continue to grow.”

The IRDR's Dr Punam Yadav, who is Associate Professor in Humanitarian Studies and Co-Director of the IRDR Centre for Gender and Disaster, was one of several academics from across UCL who joined Professor Rees for key meetings with partners. Other academics included Professor Sven Bestmann (Queen Square Institute of Neurology), Professor Pontus Stenetorp (Department of Computer Science) and Dr Alexander Rettie (Department of Chemical Engineering). Ciaran Moynihan, Director of Global Engagement, and Dr Yuchun Chiang Mathews, Strategic Global Initiatives Manager also joined the visit.

Accelerating research collaborations

Professor Rees signed Letters of Intent with both OU and TU senior leadership, reaffirming institutional commitment to working together to solve global challenges, and paving the way for the acceleration of joint research in areas of mutual collaboration.

With OU, these include global health and wellbeing, urban sustainable design, and society and education. After meeting with OU leadership, the delegation had the opportunity to visit some of the faculties conducting key research with UCL, including the Immunology Frontier Research Centre (iFReC) and the Centre for Information and Neural Networks (CiNet), with which Professor Rees signed a Memorandum of Understanding.

At TU, the delegation toured the synchrotron radiation facility ‘NanoTerasu,’ which will finish construction in 2024, the Tohoku Medical Megabank Organization (ToMMo), and the International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IRIDeS). Disaster science is a key area of collaboration between UCL and TU, particularly following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, along with neuroscience, data science, materials science, higher education, and equality and diversity. In April, the IRDR will welcome Associate Professor Anawat Suppasri from IRIDesS as a visitor until December 2023.

UCL has run joint seed funding schemes with both OU and TU for several years. The UCL-OU Strategic Partner Funds has run for four years and supported 19 projects so far; the UCL-TU Strategic Partner Funds has run for five years and supported 31 projects. Both will reopen again later this year.

The UCL delegation also visited RIKEN, a world-leading scientific research institute, to discuss building on shared strengths. UCL and RIKEN have strong research links in areas such as drug discovery, brain sciences, oncology, and computer science.

Partnering with industry and beyond

The visit was also an opportunity to meet with one of UCL’s key industry partners, HORIBA, a global leader in precision instruments for measurements and analysis, in particular vehicle propulsion technologies. The delegation visited HORIBA’s headquarters in Kyoto, where they were given a tour of the factory and development testing facility.

UCL and HORIBA are working together towards decarbonising the transport sector, with the company funding the HORIBA Chair in Advanced Propulsion Technologies and two PhD students to sit within the new UCL Advanced Propulsion Lab (APL) at UCL East. The APL will develop battery and fuel technologies to lead the way towards zero-emission transport.

Innovative collaborations such as this provided a rich backdrop for Professor Rees’ meeting with Matt Knowles, British Council Director for Japan. Their meeting at the British Embassy in Tokyo highlighted UCL’s deep engagement with Japanese industry, research institutions, and its historical and contemporary links with the country.

UCL and Japan’s history and modern connections

UCL and Japan share a rich history and tsunagari – meaning “connections” – going back 160 years when the Choshu Five, the first Japanese students to study in the UK, came to the university. The Choshu Five became influential political and industrial leaders upon their return to Japan and are regarded as "founding fathers" of modern Japan.

Today, UCL produces more collaborative research papers with Japan than any other UK university. In any given year, UCL academics have co-publications with around 150 Japanese universities, and currently produces around 800-900 research papers with Japanese institutions annually. The IRDR has established a strong relationship with Tohoku University, who recently hosted a visit from other IRDR staff.

A Provost-led visit to Japan later in the year will continue the celebration of the 160th anniversary of the Choshu Five arriving at UCL and further strengthen collaboration between the two countries.

Main image: The UCL delegation, including Dr Yadav, with TU leadership at the International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IRIDeS)