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No Small Success

by Pablo Vaccaro
Argentina

The May 17 edition of the British science journal Nature featured a new breakthrough in semiconductor technology that was picked up by the media and dubbed "micro-origami." The technology has been developed by researchers at the Kyoto research facility of the ATR Group, a telecommunications technology firm. The research team is led by Pablo Vaccaro, an Argentine scientist who has been living in Japan for the last 10 years.

Pablo with his research team
Pablo with his research team

Pablo was born in Buenos Aires in 1964. His family's circumstances were modest, so his father moved to Patagonia in search of work when he was five years old. Pablo's memories of those days are that he had difficulty adapting socially. Nevertheless, he was academically gifted and passed through secondary school two years ahead of his age group. As his classmates were all two years older than he, this compounded his difficulties in communicating with them.

Self-Confidence

When he was 18, someone explained to Pablo the principles of Buddhist philosophy and told him, "If you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, you will be able to solve any problem that you face." He was attracted to the practice of Buddhism and soon joined the SGI. Through committing himself to SGI activities he came to the realization that he could be of value to other people, and he started to gain self-confidence. His personality began to change, and he became more outgoing. Seeing this, first his mother and then his brother joined the SGI. He also took on responsibility for supporting other members in his local SGI organization.

After graduating from the Balseiro Institute, affiliated to Cuyo National University, in 1986, he enrolled in a doctoral program in physics. It was around this time that he began to feel the desire to go to Japan to study. Many of the best students in Spanish-speaking Argentina opt to study abroad in Europe or the United States since the culture and language are similar to those of Argentina, but Pablo wanted to learn Japanese so that he could study the writings of Nichiren and SGI President Ikeda in their original language. In 1991, he was awarded a scholarship from the Japanese Ministry of Education and entered the Engineering Department of Kyoto University.

After the scholarship expired, he decided to remain in Japan. His persistence paid off, and in 1993, he secured a position at a research laboratory in Kyoto.

The radical new technique that Pablo and his team developed is a way of creating micro-machined structures--such as hinges--that position themselves by taking advantage of the strain that naturally operates between a pair of semiconductor layers with a slight mismatch in chemical composition. The resulting strain causes the hinges to protrude and stand up by themselves, whereas previously they had to be manufactured and installed in a much more complex fashion. These micro-hinges are a few microns in scale (one micron is one-thousandth of a millimeter).

The current demonstration structure is relatively simple, but the use of multiple units, one unit added or folded upon another, enables the creation of structures of greater complexity, a process that scientists have likened to the ancient Japanese art of origami.

Based on Buddhism

Pablo, meanwhile, has been surprised by the amount of media attention the idea has attracted. His work has been featured on nationwide TV and described in several major newspapers. "All I can say," he comments, "is that it is all related to basing my efforts on my practice of Buddhism." Pablo is now part of a team that translates Mr. Ikeda's guidance into Spanish. "There is such a contrast with the anguish I used to feel in personal relationships. My research has focused on interactions on the molecular level, but my Buddhist practice has enabled me to develop the greatest interactions of all--relations with people."

[ Courtesy October 2001 SGI Quarterly ]

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