Every summer, Tohoku University's School of Engineering offers international students the chance to spend a fortnight learning from some of the academic world's biggest names in the field of robotics.
This year's Tohoku University Engineering Summer Program on Robotics featured 17 graduate-level classes taught by 10 renowned professors from the graduate schools of engineering, biomedical engineering and information sciences.
"It's an opportunity for students to get a nice overview of the different applications of robotics," said Professor Kazuya Yoshida, coordinator of the programme. "They can also interact with other students and professors working in different technology and application fields. It's a good starting point for future collaborations."
Fifty-four students from 19 partner universities across 12 countries took part.
"I'd never met so many people from so many different countries in a single place before," said Luca Bellen, a space engineering student from the Politecnico di Milano. "And they are all engineers, people who study the same thing as me, but not exactly the same. So we all have similar interests but different points of views and different ways of doing things. It's really interesting!"
The programme comprised four elements - lectures, hands-on laboratory work, culture workshops and a field trip. The core lectures touched on a variety of topics including field, rescue and space robotics, human-robot interaction and medical applications of microsystem technologies.
Tomas Golechowski, of AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow, Poland, said he chose to come to Tohoku University because of Japan's reputation as a leader in robotics. "Even though my expectations were really high, I was still surprised and really impressed with the quality of the lectures and the laboratories on this programme. We got to do things, create things, which was really good."
Martina Russitano Lanza, of the International Space University in France, agreed, though she had a slightly different motivation for coming on the programme. "My background is in physics and astrophysics so I'm not an engineer," she said. "I'm here to learn about different applications of mechanical engineering to see if I can switch from physics to engineering. I'm using this chance to find out what my options are."
The laboratory sessions were especially popular, as students were encouraged through hands-on activities, to implement the ideas taught in the lectures. They worked in groups on creative projects, not just among themselves, but also with local Japanese students.
"My school in Milan doesn't do a lot of lab work, so I really enjoyed sharing ideas and getting some hands-on experience," said Edoardo Redaelli from Politecnico de Milano.
Fellow Italian Nicolo Carletti agreed. "In Italy, the focus is on theory. Here, it's the reverse. You do experiments and you see how the theories you study apply in real life. I'm surrounded here by people who are doing real, hands-on work and I can feel the importance of what they do."
At the weekend, the students took a break from the classrooms and labs to enjoy a day of sightseeing around Miyagi and neighbouring Yamagata. They toured Nikka Whisky distillery, learnt how whisky is made and indulged in a bit of tasting.
In Yamagata, they had a soba lunch and visited a Shogi (Japanese chess) tile factory before ending the day with a cruise on the famous Mogami River.
"As a teacher, we always want our students to move our fields forward. When they have achieved a certain level, we encourage them to move about and do more extensive things in different places," said Professor Yoshida.
"In that way, we hope that summer programme students find inspiration from the things they learn and the people they meet here. And that one day, they will come back to Tohoku University with interesting ideas for a further degree or to work with us."
Since starting in 2010, TESP has grown significantly in scope and popularity. In addition to robotics, an electrical engineering course was offered for the first time this year, and organisers hope to add another course on materials next summer.
Contact:Tohoku University Engineering Summer Program