Faculty and Research

The professoriate at OIST numbers about 60 faculty members with strongly international backgrounds, each leading cutting edge research in a range of disciplines. OIST does not have traditional academic departments, but you can use the tabs or keyword search to find faculty members according to their discipline or research topics.

To learn more about the Integrated Open Systems Unit (Hiroaki Kitano) visit the unit website
Hiroaki Kitano
BA, International Christian University
PhD, Kyoto University

Systems and computational approaches have emerged as critical elements of modern biology and medical science. The Integrated Open Systems Unit is developing software platforms to improve system drug design and therapeutic interventions. Its Garuda Alliance package ensures smooth operation among commonly used medical software programs, and the Units recent advances in molecular modeling could help predict the efficacy and side-effects of candidate drugs.

To learn more about the Mathematical Biology Unit (Robert Sinclair) visit the unit website
Robert Sinclair
BSc (Honours), Monash University
Physik-Diplom, the Freie Universität Berlin
Doktor der Mathematik from ETH Zürich

The Mathematical Biology Unit works across boundaries, creating new methods of analysis, even when the biological questions cannot easily be expressed mathematically. The Unit constructs mathematical approaches to problems in vertebrate evolution, morphology, neuroscience, microbiology and virology, usually in collaboration with other research units.

To learn more about the Structural Cellular Biology Unit (Ulf Skoglund) visit the unit website
Ulf Skoglund
BSc, PhD, Stockholm University

The Structural Cellular Biology Unit combines microscopy and computation to visualize molecules and cellular structures in 3D. A 300 keV transmission electron microscope, Titan Krios, is used to understand the dynamics of macromolecules in situ and to investigate how they bind and interact with each other. This work has potential for drug delivery, as it offers molecular details of protein binding, virus structures, and receptor interactions in cell membranes.

To learn more about the Cognitive Neurorobotics Research Unit (Jun Tani) visit the unit website
Jun Tani
Dr. Eng. Sophia University Tokyo
MSc University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
BSc Waseda University, Tokyo

The cognitive neurorobotics research unit focuses on understanding brain-based mechanisms for cognition and action by conducting synthetic brain modeling studies with utilizing robotics experiment platforms. The essential research questions include how compositionality in cognition and actions can be developed via consolidative learning of behavioral experiences, how novel actions and thoughts can be generated with “free will”, how social cognition can be developed to support spontaneous generation of cooperative behaviors with others. We investigate these problems by taking interdisciplinary approaches.

To learn more about the Topology and Geometry of Manifolds Unit (Anastasiia Tsvietkova) visit the unit website
Anastasiia Tsvietkova
PhD Mathematics (University of Tennessee, 2012)
MS (Honors) Applied Mathematics (Kiev National University, Ukraine, 2007)
BS (Honors) Applied Mathematics (Kiev National University, Ukraine, 2005)

Our main area of interest is low-dimensional topology and geometry.

Many of the topics overlap with various questions in classical knot theory, quantum topology,  differential geometry, and computational topology. The research of the unit is mainly centered around properties and invariants of 3-manifolds, but we are also interested in exploring the interactions with other areas of study. While most of the problems and results are from the area of pure mathematics, we often use programming and computational techniques to aid our research.

To learn more about the Computational Neuroscience Unit (Erik De Schutter) visit the unit website
Erik De Schutter
BMed, DMed, HabMed from The University of Antwerp

The Computational Neuroscience Unit studies how neurons and microcircuits in the brain operate. Unit researchers explore the influences of neuronal morphology and excitability on common neural functions such as synaptic plasticity and learning, and determine how molecular mechanisms enable these functions. Their studies focus on the cerebellum, as it has a relatively simple anatomy and the physiology of its main neurons is well known, allowing detailed modeling at many levels of complexity.

To learn more about the Neural Computation Unit (Kenji Doya) visit the unit website
Kenji Doya
BS, MS, and PhD from The University of Tokyo
Research Associate, Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the Salk Institute (1993-1994)
Senior Researcher, Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR, 1994-2011)
Principal Investigator, OIST (2004-2011)
Professor, OIST Graduate University (2011-present)

Formerly at UC San Diego, the Salk Institute and the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories

The Neural Computation Unit develops algorithms that elucidate the brain’s mechanisms for robust and flexible learning. The Unit focuses on how the brain processes reinforcement learning, in which a biological or artificial agent learns novel behaviors in uncertain environments by exploration and reward feedback. Top-down computational approaches are combined with bottom-up neurobiological approaches to achieve these goals.

To learn more about the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit (Evan P. Economo) visit the unit website
Evan Economo
BSc, the University of Arizona
PhD, The University of Texas

Our research explores how ecological and evolutionary processes generate and sustain biodiversity, and how those processes are being altered by human activities. Toward that end, our lab integrates mathematical theory, field work, genomic sequencing, and ecoinformatics approaches to documenting and understanding biodiversity.  We have projects focusing on the dynamics of ant communities in the Pacific islands, global diversity patterns in ants, and the evolution of “hyperdiverse” radiations.  On a more local scale, we have recently established an environmental observation network across Okinawa to monitor local ecosystems (the OKEON Chura-Mori project), an effort we are pursuing in collaboration with the people of Okinawa.

To learn more about the Mathematical Soft Matter Unit (Eliot Fried) visit the unit website
Eliot Fried
BA (Honors), University of California at Berkeley
MS, PhD, California Institute of Technology

The relatively new but rapidly expanding field of soft matter focuses on materials whose basic structural elements consist of many atomic or molecular subelements. These materials typically exhibit structure on length scales ranging from nanoscopic to mesoscopic and, as the name implies, are relatively easy to deform. Research in the Mathematical Soft Matter Unit focuses on fundamental and applied issues, combining techniques from statistical and continuum mechanics, differential geometry, asymptotic analysis, bifurcation theory, and large-scale scientific computing. Topics of ongoing interest include discoidal high-density lipoproteins, perforated lipid bilayers, suspensions of self-propelled agents like bacteria, and the contact-line dynamics of sessile drops undergoing evaporation and condensation.

To learn more about the Continuum Physics Unit (Gustavo Gioia) visit the unit website
Gustavo Gioia
Diploma in structural engineering, University of Buenos Aires
MSc in theoretical and applied mechanics, Northwestern University
PhD in solid mechanics, Brown University

Continuum Physics Unit members carry out theoretical and experimental research in the mechanics of continuous media, including cellular materials, granular materials, and complex fluids, with applications in geophysics, materials science, hydraulics, and structural engineering.

To learn more about the Biological Systems Unit (Igor Goryanin) visit the unit website
Igor Goryanin
BSc, Moscow Engineering Physics Institute
PhD, The Russian Academy of Science

The Biological Systems Unit is working on devices in which microorganisms break down waste, releasing energy in the process. Key Okinawan industries such as awamori distilleries, pig and chicken farms, sugar manufacturers, and municipal wastewater treatment facilities stand to benefit economically and environmentally from this approach.

To learn more about the Marine Biophysics Unit (Satoshi Mitarai) visit the unit website
Satoshi Mitarai
BS, MS, Osaka Prefecture University
PhD, The University of Washington

The Marine Biophysics Unit examines how ocean currents affect the marine life of hydrothermal vents and coral reefs around Okinawa. Using buoy deployments, population genetics, computer modeling, remotely and wave-operated vehicles, and physical oceanographic measurements, the Unit is mapping the Kuroshio current circulation, tracking larval dispersal, hunting for the source of an invasive coral-eating sea star, and monitoring plankton health. 

To learn more about the Quantum Gravity Unit (Yasha Neiman) visit the unit website
Yasha Neiman
Ph.D. in Physics, Tel Aviv University, 2013
B.Sc. in Physics, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, 2005
B.A. in Computer Science, Open University of Israel, 2003

The Quantum Gravity Unit is a theoretical group driven by an interest in the laws of nature. The group's work is at the interface of three pillars of modern fundamental physics: gravitation, particle physics and cosmology. Using new models and theoretical tools, the group aims to reconcile the conflicting lessons that Nature has taught us about the structure of reality. Current work involves higher-spin theory, de Sitter physics, holography and black hole thermodynamics.

To learn more about the Micro/Bio/Nanofluidics Unit (Amy Shen) visit the unit website
Amy Shen
Ph.D. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
M.S. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
B.S. Hunan University

The Micro/Bio/Nanofluidics unit focuses on using complex fluids and complex flows to create objects with morphology and structure tailored precisely for applications in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and energy. The unit employs lab-on-a-chip platforms with analytical capacity to study the physics of flow, the transport of mass, momentum, and energy, and reactive processes at nano- and micron length scales. Novel device designs have the potential to significantly enhance understanding of single-cell behavior, developmental biology, and neuroscience. These strategies can be used to address challenges in drug screening and the development of bio- and chemical-sensors for disease, security, and environmental monitoring.

To learn more about the Neurobiology Research Unit (Jeff Wickens) visit the unit website
Jeff Wickens
BMedSc, MBChB, PhD, The University of Otago

The goal of the Neurobiology Research Unit is to understand neural mechanisms of learning in the brain. The Unit studies physical changes that take place in synapses due to learning experiences, and how these changes depend on dopamine, a chemical that plays a key role in motivation. This research has the forward goal of developing better treatments for disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.