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Jun. 20, 2014

A few-body view of the hypernucleus

Emiko Hiyama, Associate Chief Scientist

Please describe your role at RIKEN.

As an associate chief scientist, one of my main responsibilities is to manage my laboratory and team of researchers. The Strangeness Nuclear Physics Laboratory is a theoretical physics group tasked with expanding on a quantum few-body calculation method developed by Kyushu University and applying it to various fields, including hypernuclear physics, hadron physics and the physics of unstable nuclei.

How did you become interested in your current field of research?

During my master’s degree at Kyushu University, I attended a lecture by Professor Osamu Hashimoto, an experimentalist in the field of strangeness nuclear physics. Hashimoto described the appeal of hypernuclear physics and the importance of studying the hypernucleus, which is a nucleus that contains at least one hyperon—a subatomic particle composed of quarks. I also learned that strange quark matter exists in the core of neutron stars. Therefore, to understand the structure of neutron stars, it is important to study the structure of hypernuclei. This association between nuclear physics and astrophysics really impressed me.

What made you decide to become a scientist?

As a third-year undergraduate student also at Kyushu University, I attended a lecture on nuclear physics by Professor Masayasu Kamimura. In his talk, Kamimura elaborated on fundamental and current aspects of nuclear physics. I found the latest developments in the field fascinating and decided that I wanted to collaborate with Kamimura in conducting research at the cutting edge of nuclear physics.

How and when did you join RIKEN?

While working as an associate professor at Nara Women’s University, I felt that I wanted to pursue a role with a stronger focus on research. The position of associate chief scientist at RIKEN was exactly what I was looking for so I decided to apply for it, and succeeded. As a result, I moved to RIKEN in April 2008.

What is the best thing about working at RIKEN?

Image of Emiko Hiyama and the lab members © 2014 RIKEN

RIKEN is one of the most famous institutes for nuclear physics research. Many researchers from abroad have shown an interest in joining or visiting my laboratory. Here at RIKEN, I have the resources to welcome a number of postdoctoral researchers and to travel abroad to discuss new findings with fellow collaborators. This enables me to both expand the scope of my research and my network, something that has been very advantageous as it allows me to venture into new fields of physics. I am really enjoying my work here at RIKEN.

Please tell us about your professional and personal goals.

I have developed a calculation method for the quantum-mechanical few-body problem, which I have thus far been able to use in solving up to the five-body problem. One group of researchers has been able to calculate the motions of up to 12 bodies. I would like to develop my method beyond the 12-body problem to become a leading researcher in few-body physics.

How do you balance family life with your work at RIKEN?

Physics is my life. My husband is also a scientist and understands my research. We enjoy discussing our research together.