Researcher displaced by Japan tsunami continues studies at UT

September 1, 2011 | Research, UToday
By Feliza Casano

The tsunami that struck the east coast of Japan in March destroyed Shotaro Hirase’s lab.



“All the equipment was gone,” he said. “In Onagawa, the buildings were all gone.”

Hirase, a PhD student at the Graduate School of Agriculture at Tohoku University, was studying at Tohoku’s Marine Field Science Center in the town of Onagawa in the Miyagi Prefecture, which was one of the hardest hit areas.

After the initial earthquake, faculty and students drove up to higher ground in the mountains. Hirase said no researchers were in the lab when the tsunami struck. When returning after, the researchers discovered all of the main equipment as well as most of the research and samples were gone.

“I lost the things on my desk, my personal computer and books,” Hirase said. “But my six years of research data and samples were miraculously not damaged, so I can take a new step quickly based on the six years of data.”

Hirase had been planning to study abroad since before the tsunami and took the opportunity to continue his research at The University of Toledo. He is attending the University with support from Tohoku University and the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

“I want to become a biological scientist that has global insight,” he said.

Hirase studies the marine coastal goby, Chaenogobius annularis, which is native to Japan. He decided to visit UT to study after reading a paper written Dr. Carol Stepien, UT professor of ecology and director of the Lake Erie Center. While in Toledo, he is studying the round goby in Lake Erie.

“My round goby studies at UT are not related to my graduate studies. If anything, I came here to take a new step as biological scientist,” Hirase said. “The round goby is currently forming its species distribution in the lake, so we are possibly able to observe the process of evolution now. I thought this was very interesting to study.”

While the Marine Field Science Center has not been rebuilt, Hirase said a reconstruction plan that includes the facility of Onagawa has been mapped.

Hirase has spent two months at UT and said he will leave with good memories.

“At the Lake Erie Center, the students and the teachers took good care of me,” he said. “They took me to do lots of things — camping and parties, going to museums, shopping and travel. I had a good time in Toledo.”

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