Heavy Damage To Japan Research | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: March 15, 2011

Heavy Damage To Japan Research

Disaster: Faculty and staff report widespread destruction in laboratories; human toll remains unclear
Department: Business, Science & Technology
Keywords: Japan, earthquake, Tohoku, Sendai

Many research laboratories and academic institutions in Japan have sustained heavy damage from the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami that have nearly crippled the country, say people with first-hand knowledge of the disaster reached by C&EN. But, these sources in the academic and research communities say, the disaster's human toll on the chemistry and scientific community at large remains unclear.

At Tohoku University, which has five campuses in the hard-hit northern city of Sendai, chemistry professor Hiromi Tobita says his eighth-floor laboratory on the Aobayama campus was "devastated" by the earthquake. He says fume hoods, shelving, equipment, and gas cylinders all fell down despite being secured to the wall or floor.

Tobita says staff and students in his group are safe. Tohoku U. emeritus chemistry professor Mitsuo Kira says that, to his knowledge, other people in the department are also okay. The university is closed until further notice.

Chemistry faculty at other universities in northern parts of Japan, including the University of Tokyo, could not be reached as of late in the day, March 15, Eastern Standard Time. In the southern part of the country, Kyoto, Osaka, and Nagoya Universities all emerged from the earthquake unscathed, faculty there report. "We felt some quake but we had no damage," says Osaka U. chemistry professor Koichi Fukase.

Facilities at Japan's research institute RIKEN generally suffered no serious damage from the earthquake, says spokesman Yasuaki Yutani. However, he says, he has no information on the fate of RIKEN's photonics research laboratories in Sendai.

Buildings at the Tohoku campus of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science & Technology (AIST) survived the earthquake, but laboratories and instruments might be damaged, says spokesman Masaki Shimonura. Shimonura adds that communication between AIST sites has been difficult due to power, telephone, and e-mail problems. AIST Tohoku focuses on chemical processing technologies. At AIST's Tsukuba headquarters, located about 30 miles north of Tokyo, the institute has shut down experiments pending infrastructure and safety assessments.

At the Tokyo headquarters of the Chemical Society of Japan, "the building shook violently" during the quake and ceiling panels, cabinets, and shelves fell down, the society said in a statement. No staff or visitors were injured, and the society has received no reports of earthquake casualties among society members, executive director Nobuyuki Kawashima says.

The society's annual meeting is scheduled for March 26-29 at Kanagawa University, in Yokohama. Yokohama is in Kanagawa prefecture, which is one of the areas affected by rolling electricity blackouts. A decision whether or not to go ahead with the meeting is expected later this week.

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