Director of Kavli IPMU

Hirosi Ooguri, Director of Kavli IPMU

It is a great honor to succeed Hitoshi as the second director of this institute. I have known Hitoshi for more than 30 years. First when he was a graduate student in Tokyo in the 80’s, then when we were both faculty members at UC Berkeley. For the last 11 years, I have been fortunate enough to have worked with him again at the Kavli IPMU and watched his leadership closely. Thanks to Hitoshi and the effort of many others, the institute has grown and flourished beyond my wildest imagination.

Over the last 11 years, the Kavli IPMU has produced high impact discoveries in mathematics, physics, and astronomy and has become one of the most attractive research destinations internationally. We have succeeded in training and mentoring students and young scientists, and many of them have landed distinguished academic positions at leading universities and research institutes all over the world. We have introduced new and more effective administrative practices, and our initiatives are transforming universities in Japan.

Nevertheless, I was still pleasantly surprised when the Kavli IPMU was chosen for the five-year extension, which started last year. Though there were many reasons I can think of why we should have been selected, it should not escape anybody’s attention that the research we do here is the most useless among those of the five WPI centers. It is significant that the Japanese government recognized the importance of the basic research we do here and care about, as something they should continue to promote.

Supporting basic science is a good investment in a long run, and there have been many testimonies to support the fact that curiosity driven research has produced enormous dividends to humanity.

In 1939, Abraham Flexner, the founding director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton wrote in his essay that “Most of the really great discoveries which had ultimately proven to be beneficial to the mankind had been made by men and women who were driven not by the desire to be useful but merely the desire to satisfy their curiosity.”

More recently, Jean-Lou Chameau, the former president of Caltech said – this one I heard in person – “While we cannot pre-determine where scientific research will lead, we believe that true innovation comes when people can dream with freedom and focus. I believe that this philosophy of encouraging curiosity as well as the pursuit of what may appear useless knowledge remains an advantage of the country that needs to be protected and nurtured.” I found it impressive that Chameau, who is a civil engineer specialized in building roads and bridges, thought that pursuit of useless knowledge is of national interest.

The Kavli IPMU is supported by the three partners: the Japanese Government, the University of Tokyo, and the Kavli Foundation. We are grateful to Dr. Christopher Martin of the Kavli Foundation for being with us today. In this context, I believe the most important thing for us to do is to continue to demonstrate that we are worthy of their support, by producing ground breaking discoveries, by training and mentoring young scientists to become future leaders, and by inspiring systems reforms within the University of Tokyo and by spreading them to other universities in Japan. My job as the director will be to enable all of you to perform at the highest level, by supporting your research initiatives and by proving an ideal environment for your research.

Usefulness of useless research may be obvious to us here, but the idea does not come naturally to many outside of this building. We should not take their support for granted; we need to earn it. On my part, I will take every opportunity to explain the importance of what we do here and to communicate your achievements effectively to our partners and to the general public.

Four years ago, Peter Goddard, the former director of the Institute for Advanced Study, visited here, and Hitoshi and I had a round-table discussion with him. You can read the transcript of our conversation on the Kavli IPMU News. There are two things Peter told us at the time, which have stayed with me.

One is that a truly academic institution should stay focused within its defined mission.

The Kavli IPMU has been successful, and it is well-supported, both in terms of funding and of human resources. We have become a permanent institution and our future is secure. We have many significant research achievements and have earned a high reputation. This means that many attractive opportunities are coming to us, and there are many good things we could do with them. But, there are only a limited number of things we can do. Rather than trying to do every seemingly-good thing that could be done, we should carefully choose the research directions that we are excited about and believe in, and do them really well, identifying the most effective way to use our resources, taking calculated risks, and aiming to become the best in what we do. The choices we make should be guided by our mission.

The genius of the Kavli IPMU is in its mission, which is to solve the most fundamental questions about the Universe. The Universe is big, and it can accommodate all of us. There are many different ways we can study it from mathematics, from physics, from astronomy, and contribute to advancement of our knowledge, in astronomy, in physics, and in mathematics.

My own research has also been influenced by this mission. I am a string theorist, but my association to the Kavli IPMU has made me acutely aware that it is important to ask why and how my research is relevant to questions about the Universe. This has impacted the direction of my research, positively I hope.

When I was a high school student, I read the book entitled “Science and Method” written by Henri Poincaré, and it has had a big impact on me. Toward the end of this book, Poincaré asked himself, “Why do some research directions give large returns and others don’t?” He wanted to devote himself to research directions that give large returns – the question is how to identify them. His conclusion was that the best research directions are the ones that inspire and influence progress in a broader area of science. Poincaré wrote, “as these sciences developed, we have recognized more clearly the link which unites them – the map of universal science.” He compares such science as “the nodal point of the Gotthard Pass in Switzerland, from which water flows and feeds four different basins.”

In the Google parlance, it is science with high PageRank that gives large returns.

At the Kavli IPMU, we are ideally positioned to practice what Poincare preached. Our common goal to solve fundamental questions about the Universe helps us place our work in the big picture. The questions about the Universe naturally motivate mathematicians, physicists, and astronomers to work together and to recognize their links – the map of universal science. Our mission is what unites us here. I will foster and enhance the environment where such collaborations thrive.

Another point Peter Goddard made at our round-table discussion was that one should have an idea about timescale for an academic institution.

Hitoshi started the IPMU with his grand vision, and it has worked extremely well over the last 11 years. I do not see any reason we should change this basic model at this point. But, we should not stay content. Some of the projects we started 11 years ago have matured, and we should build upon their successes to capture new opportunities. This year, the Kavli IPMU became a permanent entity within the University of Tokyo. We have earned a high reputation, and many talented scientists want to come here to work with us. This means that there are things we can do that we had not been able not do before. It is a good time for us to reflect upon the progress we have made over the past 11 years and plan for our future, by making the most of our resources and opportunities available to us.

I believe the science at the Kavli IPMU should be driven by people. This is very different from 11 years ago, when IPMU started from nothing – no faculty members, no building. Now the most important assets we have are the people – and by that I mean you. Since the beginning of last month, I have met more than 25 scientific and administrative staff members at the Kavli IPMU to listen to their dreams, learn new opportunities, and to find out how we can support them. I will continue to do so in the coming months. I will also call upon some of you to work together to construct our long-term strategic plan for the next 10 years of the Kavli IPMU.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to affirm our commitment to provide an inclusive and supportive environment to the diverse group of people in our community. To realize our mission – solving the most fundamental questions about our Universe – it is essential that all of us treat each other with respect, maintain our professional working environment free of harassment, challenge our preconceptions, and educate ourselves on our own biases, so that everyone can bring out the best in themselves. In this intellectual environment, audacious ideas are encouraged and shaped by rigorous argument from diverse perspectives, and new avenues of research are explored and realized with freedom and focus.

Together, we will boldly go where no one has gone before.

Welcome to our 12th year at the Kavli IPMU. I look forward to working with you and serving this institute as your new director.

国際高等研究所 カブリ数物連携宇宙研究機構長ご挨拶

Kavli IPMUの二代目の機構長になることを光栄に思うとともに、身の引き締まる思いです。


この11年の間に、Kavli IPMUは数学、物理学、天文学において数々の重要な発見をし、国際的にもっとも魅力的な研究所となりました。学生や若い科学者を育成し、彼らの多くは世界各地の一流の大学や研究所で指導的な職を得ています。また、研究所の斬新で効果的な運営方法を導入し、日本の大学に新しい風を吹き込んでいます。

それでも、Kavli IPMUがWPIプログラム支援の5年間延長に選ばれた時には、喜ぶとともに驚きました。Kavli IPMUが選ばれるべき理由は多く思いつきますが、最初の5つのWPIセンターのなかで、もっとも「役に立たない研究」をしていることも紛れもない事実です。私たちがここで行っている基礎研究を、日本政府が重要なものであり支援し続けなれけばいけないと認めたことは、素晴らしいと思います。



もっと最近では、カリフォルニア工科大学のジャン=ルー・シャモ―前学長が — これは、私が直接お聞きした言葉ですが –「科学の研究が何をもたらすかを予め予測することはできないが、真のイノベーションは人々が自由な心と集中力を持って夢を見ることのできる環境から生まれることは確かである。一見役に立たないような知識の追求や好奇心を応援することは、わが国の利益になることであり、守り育てていかなければいけない」と述べています。道路や橋の建築を専門とする土木工学者であるシャモ―が、役に立たない研究は国益にかなうものであり支援し続けなければいけないと語っているのです。

Kavli IPMUには、日本政府、東京大学、Kavli財団の支援の三本柱があります。今日は、Kavli財団からクリストファー・マーチン研究担当副理事長(暫定)にお越しいただいています。こうした支援を受け続けることがふさわしい研究所であるためには、研究において大きな成果をあげ、また若手研究者が世界のリーダーとなるよう育成し、さらには研究所の組織改革を大学の中に広げて、日本の大学がグローバルな競争力を持つことにも貢献していかなければなりません。そのために、研究者や事務職員を含むすべての構成員が最高の力を出し切れる環境を作ることが私の仕事です。


4年前、高等研究所のピーター・ゴダード前所長がKavli IPMUを訪問された時に、村山さんと鼎談をしました。そのときの口述記録は、Kavli IPMU Newsに掲載されています。彼が語ったことで、私の心に刻み込まれていることが二つあります。


Kavli IPMUは大きな成功をおさめ、資金においても人的資源においても多くの支援を受けています。恒久化も実現し、将来は安定しています。数多くの研究成果を挙げ、高い評価を得ています。そのため、さまざまな魅力的な提案が舞い込み、またできそうなことこともたくさんあります。しかし、私たちにできることは限られています。よさそうなことを何でもするのではなく、私たちがその可能性を信じて本当にやりたいと思う研究目標を注意深く選び、私たちの資源を最も効率的に活用し、計算されたリスクを取って、やるからには最高の成果を目指すべきです。そして、こうした選択は、研究所の使命によって導かれなければなりません。

Kavli IPMUの成功の一因は、「宇宙の最も深淵な謎を解く」という使命にあります。宇宙はとてつもなく大きく、私たちのすべてがすっぽり収まります。数学、物理学、天文学などの様々な側面から研究することができ、その各々で大きな成果を得ることができます。

私自身の研究もこの使命に影響されてきました。私は弦理論の研究者ですが、Kavli IPMUに関わってきたことで自分の研究が宇宙の問題にとってどのように重要かを自問することになり、私の研究の方向もこれによって変化してきました。


ポアンカレの結論は、よい研究の方向というのは、より幅広い分野に影響を与え、その発展を触発するものであるというものでした。彼は、「こうした方向に科学が発展していくと、それらを結びつけるものがより鮮明に表れてくる - 普遍科学の地図である」と述べています。彼は、そうした科学を「湧水が流れ出し、4つの盆地を満たすスイスのサンクト・ゴッタルド峠」に例えています。最近のグーグル流の表現では、ページランクの高い科学というところでしょうか。

Kavli IPMUは、ポアンカレの教えを実現する理想的な環境にあります。宇宙についての基本的な疑問を解くという使命は、私たちの研究を大きな視座でとらえることを可能にします。宇宙の問題は、数学者、物理学者、天文学者の連携を導き、その間の関係 — 普遍科学の地図を明らかにします。私たちの使命が、私たちを結びつけている。私は、こうした共同研究が育む環境を支えていきます。


IPMUは村山さんのビジョンから始まり、これは過去11年の間素晴らしく機能してきました。今のところ、このモデルを変える必要は思い当たりません。しかし、それに満足しているわけにはいきません。11年前に始めた研究プロジェクトのいくつかは成熟し、その成功に立った新たな可能性を開拓する時期に来ています。今年、Kavli IPMUは東京大学内で正式な恒久機関となりました。国際的な評価も高く、多くの優秀な科学者がKavli IPMUで研究をすることを望んでいます。そのため、これまでできなかったことも、できるようになりつつあります。過去11年の間に達成したことを振り返り、私たちの資源と機会を生かして将来の計画をするよいタイミングだと思います。

私たちの研究の方向は、私たちの科学スタッフが作り上げていくものです。11年前にKavli IPMUがゼロから — 人も建物もなく — 始まったときとは大きく異なります。今や、私たちの最も大きな財産は人です。私は、先月のはじめからすでに25名以上の科学スタッフや事務スタッフと面談をし、彼らの夢を聞き、新しい可能性について学び、それをいかにして支援していけるかを相談してきました。これは今後も続けていくつもりです。こうした対話から、今後10年間の長期戦略計画を作成する予定です。



Kavli IPMUの12年目にようこそ。皆さんと共に働くことを楽しみにしています。