March 2008 visit to Japan Atomic Energy Agency


March 9-15 I spent a week as a visiting scientist at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, in Tokai Japan, as a guest of Dr. Ryota Kuroki.  Dr Kuroki is a leader in structural biology using neutron diffraction (to visualize hydrogens).  During this trip I became familiar with the application of this technique in protein structure, sent mutant FGF protein for crystal growth, and learned about the research projects in Dr. Kuroki’s lab that utilize neutron diffraction.


The following are some photos from my trip.


When I arrived on the evening of March 9, Dr. Kuroki took me to a golf course in the hills nearby Tokai and we photographed a comet (comet Holmes I believe).  The comet has no tail, and is near the North American Nebula:


Here is a shot of the Tokai Bushitsu guest house that I stayed in for the first two days.  Breakfast was grilled salmon, miso soup, pickles, rice and green tea.  It was really enjoyable!


To the right and behind of the guest house I found a small shrine.  The light in the early morning was great for photography.


Tokai is a very agricultural town, most houses have a plot of land and a lot of rice and vegetables are grown here.  This building looks like a bank but is a storage building for rice.  Tokai is also on the coast, so there is excellent seafood also.


Here is a picture of a garden I saw with lots of whimsical bear statues.


On the third day was the annual retreat for the neutron diffraction group, and we went to Izura Kanko Hotel, which is an Onsen (or hot springs).  The rooms are “Japanese style”, where four people share a room and sleep on an ofuton on tatami mats.  The view from the room window was striking.  The hot springs was outdoors and was really relaxing.


Here’s the view from our room:


On the drive back from Izura we stopped at a famous waterfall (forgot the name!).  Here is Dr. Kuroki:


Here are a couple of shots of Dr. Kuroki’s office and lab.  The office is adjacent to the lab.  Dr. Kuroki is wearing a mask – this time of year the pine trees are putting out a lot of pollen and many people in Tokai have serious hay fever from the pollen.  One difference between Japanese and Americans: when Japanese have pollen allergies they wear a mask; when Americans have pollen allergies, they take medication!


The lab:


Here is my desk in the office!


Here is a diagram indicating the relationship between protein crystal physical size, unit cell dimensions, and expected resolution in neutron diffraction.  Take-home message:  you need to grow large crystals.  We are trying to grow such crystals for human fibroblast growth factor-1 and to use neutron diffraction to study solvent structure.


All in all, it was a very successful and enjoyable trip, but we still need to grow larger FGF-1 crystals in order to collect neutron diffraction data.