National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

 Yukio Katsukawa

Foundation of my progress. Excited but pressured at the same time.

Advanced Technology Center

Risa Shimizu

This is my third year. I’m engaged in the designing of TMT and KAGRA.

I joined NAOJ back in April 2018, making this my third year. I spent the first two years training while engaged in designing and testing work through OJT (on-the-job training). My current duty is to first listen to design requests from NAOJ’s projects, such as TMT (Thirty Meter Telescope), KAGRA, and CLASP2; and then to design the requested products; create design drawings on a CAD system; place orders to produce them; and ultimately install the final products. I sometimes work from home when I’m mainly working on the computer.

In the design phase, I always ensure that not only do the products meet specifications, but also that they are easy to use and produce, and that their designs are slick. When placing an order, I create a design drawing for the manufacturer; it is important to specify the precision to which the product should be made. If the instructions are too complicated, the product will have more points to be checked against the drawing, and will get tougher to produce and cost us more. I still have many things to learn.

Risa Shimizu during the interview.

During job hunting, I experienced an internship at a private firm.

Actually, when I was in high school, I participated in a Regular Stargazing Party at NAOJ. At that time, I was wondering if I should study science or engineering at university. When I asked a researcher at NAOJ whom I met at the party, “Which subject should I choose?” she said, “You should choose engineering.” So, I decided to pursue engineering. I majored in precision engineering at university and graduate school. But during job hunting, I wondered if I might put an end to my academic career and did an internship at a private firm. I think this experience has broadened my perspective, but it also made me realize that I prefer to be a researcher or civil servant. I felt the private sector could not match research institutes in terms of the joy of creating new things and opening new frontiers.

I found a job opening at NAOJ on Twitter. It was just by chance. One of the assignments I was given as part of the recruitment exam was to “draw a plate fallen on the floor.” When I submitted my assignment, I was asked why my plate was broken in the center. When thinking about the answer to the question, I suddenly remembered a conversation at a university lecture, where my teacher explained how the impact propagates through a stick of chalk when it falls on the floor. I realized that everything I had learned so far was worthwhile no matter how trivial it might be. Even if a piece of memory is buried deep in my mind, knowing it and not knowing it are completely different.

“You have come to understand that you do not understand.”

After the designing team creates a drawing, we enter the manufacturing phase. What makes NAOJ a favorable environment is that it has its own on-campus factory, in addition to those located outside. When my instructions on manufacturing are insufficient, the people in charge will give me immediate feedback, or make up for the lack of information with their own skillful work. However, depending on them too much is not good for me because it will hinder the development of my designing skills.

Over the past year, I have been working on an analytical technique called the Finite Elements Method. It is often said that analysis is like a “pie in the sky”—in other words, it is useless unless we apply appropriate boundary conditions. But no matter how I tried, I never succeeded. Discussing with my boss, I worked for an entire week, only to find myself at a dead end. “What was I working on for the last one week?” I felt discouraged, but my boss said, “At least you have come to understand that you do not understand.” I received no reprimand at all. He is always positive about failure, and thanks to that attitude, my analysis skills have improved greatly over the past year.

Risa Shimizu with people in charge of manufacturing at the on-campus factory.
Around her desk, there are various reference materials, CDs, and miniatures of her motorcycle.

I was excited when CLASP2 was successfully launched.

About a month after I arrived at NAOJ, I was taken to JAXA to see a vibration test for CLASP2. This was a test to check if its components could endure the vibrations during lift-off. The components were to be placed in a vibration tester and then shaken vigorously, and the difficult part was to determine how to add vibration. It would mean nothing if unnecessary vibration broke the components. People from JAXA, private firms, and NAOJ were discussing how to add vibration, and all I could do was to follow the discussion. But being part of the team was so exciting. Actually, I felt excited … but pressured at the same time. That feeling was partly because I had not been good at vibration engineering when I was a student, and this situation made me aware that I should study harder. I was totally overwhelmed by their wealth of experience and knowledge. After having such an experience, I was excited when, in 2019, CLASP2 was successfully launched and yielded important results, even though my contribution was minuscule.

Although I still tend to consult with other people on the design team while I work, I would like to be able to put all my knowledge and ideas into practice as soon as possible.

Risa Shimizu commutes by motorcycle.

Interview Date: December 17, 2020 / Published August 5, 2021
Interview & Article: Masami Usuda / Translation: Ryo Sato and Ramsey Lundock / Photo: Yutaka Iijima
With a few exceptions, the contents of this article are as of the interview date.