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March 21, 2011

Japanese Science Takes Big Hit from Earthquake

Nicole Hemsoth

Over a week after the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan, a number of research institutions are beginning to take a look at their centers to begin the process of evaluating damage.

One of the most affected centers is Tohoku University, which was near the epicenter of the quake in Sendai. The institution was one of Japan’s preeminent materials science, engineering and biomedicine centers, but will be shut down until at least the end of April, according to a report from Nature News. Tohoku University is home to the Cyberscience Center, which houses a 31.2 teraflop system, but as of now, there are no updates about the status of the resource. As it stands, the university area is difficult to access due to dangerous aftershocks, and recovery efforts are being hindered by a lack of electricity and water.

The problems extend beyond quake and tsunami damage; rolling blackouts have put an indefinite stop to computationally-driven research. As reported, “Many institutions in the region, including the University of Tokyo and some RIKEN institutes have been forced to drastically reduce electricity use and shut down large facilities such as supercomputers.”

The disaster has also caused something of a short-term “brain drain” at a number of institutions. For instance, as Adrian Moore, who leads a segment of the Brain Science Institute at RIKEN in Wako, noted, five out of six non-Japanese postdocs and students have left the area until the nuclear and other threats are resolved.

While the government is reportedly considering funneling emergency funds to aid in research center and university rebuilding efforts, in some ways it seems that this is an element of infrastructure that might need to be put on the backburner while more urgent human-related matters are handled.

Full story at Nature News