The Ishida group was launched at RIKEN in 2009 for studies on soft materials with biomimetic functions. So far, more than 40 people with diversity in research background, expertise, and nationalities have joined the group and contributed to the progress of its studies.
Why soft materials?
Owing to their lightweight, flexibility, and biocompatibility, soft materials such as gels and elastomers have attracted increasing attention from various fields, including biomedical one. They are intrinsically similar to living tissues and therefore promising as the components of artificial organs, as well as ultimately simplified models of living systems.
Here, we would like to introduce “rubber”, a soft material that has changed the lives of people all over the world. Surprisingly, more than 3,000 years ago in Mesoamerica, rubber balls were already in use for games. Rubber became known around the world when Columbus brought back a rubber ball that was used by the natives of Hispaniola on his second voyage in 1493. Columbus, who saw natural rubber that was much lighter and bounced much higher than the “thread ball” that was in Europe at that time, said, “It’s like a living thing …!” Now, 500 years after Columbus’s voyage, rubber has become the foundation of various industries including medical, space, transportation, construction, and automobiles. There is no other substance that can be deformed so much and return to its original shape, and has been reigning as a unique material over 3,000 years.
Up to now, the science of soft materials made a large progress, and a lot of complex devices for measuring the properties of soft materials have been developed. However, the most interesting thing about soft material research is that we can directly feel the physical characteristics of materials with our five senses, which is characteristic of this research field. It would be good for all softer material scientists to keep in mind the surprise of human beings who first touched natural rubber.
What are remaining issues? How can we address?
Although artificial soft materials and living tissues have many similarities, there is a large gap between their structures. Artificial soft materials are significantly inferior to living tissues in that the shapes of their constituent units are not macroscopically oriented. Such structural disordering is one of the main reasons why the functions of artificial soft materials are inferior to those of living tissues.
After obtaining his PhD, Ishida had been involved in synthetic organic chemistry at the University of Tokyo for nine years. When he launched his group at RIKEN in 2009, he began the studies on soft materials for the first time. Apparently, he seems to have made a big detour in his career because he drastically changed his research direction. However, now he feels that this detour was not bad unexpectedly. Thus, by diverting the concepts and methods used in synthetic organic chemistry to soft material synthesis, the Ishida group has continued researches for facile control of the structures of soft materials, including the macroscopic orientation of their constituent units. For more details, please see Research.
If you are interested in working with us, please contact Ishida.
RIKEN Center for Emergent Matter Science
Emergent Bioinspired Soft Matter Research Team