Interview for Suzuki foundation scholarship award winner 2014

Péter Lajos Sóti

Term: From 4/6/2014 to 3/31/2015

Supervisor: Professor Nobuyuki MASE

Research title: Supported organocatalyst on gold nanoparticle: self-organizing construction of active site in artificial enzyme


Q1. How was your life in Japan in terms of private life and research?

It was a lifelong experience for me, both from scientific and personal aspects, to spend one year (between April 2014 and March 2015) at Hamamatsu Campus of Shizuoka University in Japan. I am very grateful to the SUZUKI Foundation and to the SUZUKI Company for this great opportunity. I am also thankful that I enjoyed special attention from Professor Mase and all his colleagues and students from the day of my arrival, which really eased my integration into the work of the lab team and into the Japanese everyday life as well.

Q2. What was the impressive and/or interesting things you experienced while your stay in Japan.

When I first came to Japan, I was impressed by the perfectly organized everyday life, such as the public transportation, the wide variety of easy-to-use automats and high-quality supply services. After that, I realized about the continual kindness and helpfulness of Japanese people in any situation, which must be unique in the world. Moreover, I was surprised by the simplicity and rapidity of the official administration.

Q3. What was your specific research topics you studied at Dr. Mase’s laboratory?

Nowadays, the catalysis is in focus of many industrial fields (transportation industry, chemical industry, etc.). Elaboration of cost efficient methods for asymmetric reactions is of great importance in production of active ingredients and other fine chemicals. Organocatalysts are widely applied for asymmetric reactions in organic synthesis. Unfortunately, high catalyst loadings are required in many cases; therefore, recycling and reuse of the active catalyst is required to ensure the environment-friendly and cost-effective character of these catalytic processes. Therefore, we aimed to develop a new type of recyclable organocatalyst for asymmetric synthesis.

At the end of my stay, we successfully synthesized a nanoparticle-supported catalyst which was characterized by numerous analytical methods and it was successfully applied in asymmetric reactions. In addition, the immobilized organocatalyst operates under pseudo-homogeneous conditions, and is easily recycled and reused at least five times without significant loss of weight, activity, and selectivities. The obtained results indicate the efficiency of our catalytic system.

Q4. How will you develop the research result you obtained in Japan? What is the targeted outcome?

During the 12 months research period; I had time for executing innumerous experiments and to evaluate them. Moreover, I attended four conferences and I had three poster presentations and I won a poster award in last January. Now, we summarized our results in a manuscript, titled “Synthesis of a self-assembling gold nanoparticle-supported organocatalyst for enamine-based asymmetric aldol reactions” which was submitted in a high level catalysis journal. I hope our new catalytic system may open a new strategy in the research field of supported catalysis.

Q5. Why did you apply for Suzuki foundation research funding to conduct research in Japan?

I have had a dream to visit Japan since my childhood and when I started my studies at the university, I have always been interested in science and research. Then I realized Japan is the center of modern sciences and high-tech innovation. Thus, I did not hesitate to apply for the scholarship offered by the Suzuki Foundation. But I just heard the great opportunity when my Hungarian research group got in touch with the Magyar Suzuki Company.

Q6. Did you travel in Japan?  How was your travel in Japan?

I tried to visit in Japan as many places as possible but it is a quite expensive. Beginning of last summer me and my host professor attended a conference in Sapporo. During the summer I enjoyed several beaches around Hamamatsu (Nakatajima Sand Dunes, Bentenjima Beach etc.). As for longer vacations, I visited Tokyo which trip is an unforgettable memory for me. One of my greatest experience was to travel by Japanese superexpress between the big cities. I especially enjoyed the comfortable seats, the easy-to-use and well-organized transportation. I was impressed by the speed and punctuality of Shinkansen every time when I used it. During my travels, what impressed me the most is the beauty and diversity of nature and surroundings of Japan, including the coastline, islands, mountains, volcanos, etc. and all with their exotic plants and animals and cultural values.

Q7. Was there a gap in between the actual life in Japan and your image of Japan before coming to Japan?

Actually, the life in Japan was much more easy and enjoyable than I imagined. Before experiencing, I think I was mostly afraid of being in a complete stranger Asian country without any language knowledge, and also of the cultural differences and the everyday habits.

But in contrast to my expectations, fortunately it seemed to be quite easy to get along in the everyday life with English. Thanks to the kindness and readiness of the people, I have never felt lost in Japan, and instead of being frightened by the cultural differences, I always enjoyed when I could get familiar with Japanese habits, customs or ceremonies. Furthermore, I also had to realize soon, that I love the Japanese food and high-level services in Japanese restaurants. Returning to Hungary, I really miss it.

Q8. Was there any difficulty you found in Japan?

The inconvenience is, which I could mention, maybe the climate. During the winter, the windy days and the lack of heating system were unusual for me. During the summer, sometimes I worried about the typhoons but I was informed by my Japanese colleagues and also the residence officer every time when they approached for Hamamatsu area. On the other hand, I really loved the mild and sunny autumn, the flowered spring.

Q9. Did you have any exchange with Japanese Student and/or Japanese people beside the research?

Yes, we often organized common programs with my Japanese colleagues and students, such as short tours in the surrounding mountains, picnics, excursions, karaoke evenings, sightseeing; sometimes we visited some special Japanese restaurants, and also organized BBQ party, etc. Among our common programs, the local Kite Festival is one of my greatest memories.

Q10. How did you find the cultural difference in between Hungary and Japan?

At the first sight the cultural difference between the two countries could seem to be enormous; the religion, the architecture, the philosophy, the history, the art, the everyday gesticulations (for example, the bow compared with our handshake habits), the importance of hierarchical order within an organization, etc. For me, there was the most difficult to understand the contrast between the traditional Japanese culture (including the wood based architecture, the kimono wearing women, the Japanese shrines and gardens, traditional Japanese sports, etc.) and the post-modern Japanese life (including the manga and anime culture, the widespread single life, the extreme shoes and hairstyles, etc.). But maybe, for an oriental people seem to be also enormous differences in the European or Hungarian daily life. I believe if someone spends more time in the both countries, he can understand the differences, and he will recognize more and more similarities between the cultures and the daily life.

Q11. Do you have any opinion about the international exchange in between Universities?

I consider it as a very important and useful opportunity. Such cooperation can provide innumerous benefits to the participants, including both professional and personal aspects.

Q12. How did you find the supports Suzuki Foundation offered?

First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Owada. Everything was very well organized without any problems. In addition, I am more than satisfied with the support I received from the Suzuki Foundation. I especially enjoyed the welcome and farewell parties and the visit of the Suzuki Plaza and the Kosai Plant of the Suzuki Motor Company, where I had a chance to meet many honorable professors and engineers. It was particularly interesting to me to see the production of automobile. I hope to keep in contact with the representatives of the Suzuki Foundation and I believe my collaboration with Professor Mase will be also fruitful in the future. Many thanks for this life-long experience!