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Institute of Multidisciplinary Research for Advanced Materials, Tohoku University
Junichi Kawamura, Junji Murama
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Institute of Multidisciplinary Research for Advanced Materials
Tohoku University


Fig. 1: Logo of IMRAM and its four main buildings of Katahira campus in Sendai. The Advanced Materials Processing Bldg. S1 (Left), the Scientific Measurements Bldg. W1 (Top), the Chemical Reaction Science Bldg. E1 (Right) and the Material Physics Bldg. SM1, 2 (Center).

The Institute of Multidisciplinary Research for Advanced Materials (IMRAM), referred to as "TAGENKEN" or "TAGEN Bushitsu Kagaku Kenkyusho ()" in Japanese, was founded on April 2001 as the successor of three prestigious research institutes in Tohoku university with about 50 years of tradition; the Research Institute for Scientific Measurements (RISM), the Institute for Chemical Reaction Science (ICRS) and the Institute for Advanced Materials Processing (IAMP) in Tohoku university. The main buildings of IMRAM are located in Katahira Campus of Tohoku university, which is in downtown Sendai City, Japan. According to data from 2016, more than 350 people are working at IMRAM, including 48 full professors, 28 associate professors, 6 lecturers, 73 assistant professors, and 61 technical and 153 office staff members. In addition, approximately 350 students are studying here. The total budget is around 5 million yen per year, including the grants for personnel.

The meaning of TAGEN (多元) refers to the manifold sources of materials, including organic, inorganic, and biological materials, etc. It also expresses a new concept of material science, arising from the fusion of different fields of science and technologies such as physics, chemistry, biology, process engineering, environmental science etc., which is expressed in the English name of "Multidisciplinary Research". Since its establishment in 2001, IMRAM has been devoted to academic studies on fundamental material science and to innovative new fields based on the practical demands of human societies.


IMRAM has 50 laboratories, presided by full professors, that are grouped into four divisions and four annexed research centers. The four divisions are as follows: the Division of Organic- and Bio materials Research (8 labs); the Division of Inorganic Material Research (6); the Division of Process and System Engineering (8) and the Division of Measurements (8). The four annexed research centers are: the Research Center for Sustainable Science & Engineering (6);the Center for Advanced Microscopy and Spectroscopy (4); the Polymer-Hybrid Materials Research Center (6); and the Center for Exploration of New Inorganic Materials (4).

More than 50 technical staff members support the research activities, and work primarily at the Central Analytical Facility (Tagen CAF), which supports the analysis and characterization of various materials using electron microscopes and X-ray diffraction, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and laser spectroscopy devices, etc. Many staff members are also working in a machine shop and a glassware shop, where they can fabricate on-demand devices and equipment for various experiments.


A quite unique feature of the IMRAM is that it is now in charge of the head office of the "Network Joint Research Center for Materials and Devices", which is composed of five major national university institutes on material research in Japan, including the Research Institute for Electronic Science (RIES) of Hokkaido University; the Institute of Multidisciplinary Research for Advanced Materials (IMRAM) of Tohoku University; the Laboratory for Chemistry and Life Science at the Institute of Innovative Research (IIR, the former Chemical Resources Laboratory) of Tokyo Institute of Technology; the Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research (ISRI) of Osaka University; and the Institute for Materials Chemistry and Engineering (IMCE) of Kyushu University; see Fig. 2. Around 150 labs in this network center accepts and promotes joint research proposals from all over Japan and around the world. About 500 joint research projects are accepted and funded every year. More than 2000 scientists and students visit these institutes every year to conduct experiments using various high-tech equipment in the institutes and to engage in scientific discussions.

Fig. 2: "The Network Joint Research Center for Materials and Devises", consisting of five national university institutes in Japan.


Based the organization of the Network Joint Research Center (described above), a joint project called the "Dynamic Alliance for Open Innovation Bridging Human, Environment and Materials" (a Five-star Alliance) began in 2016 and will be funded for 6 years with the support of the Japanese government. Three research groups covering important topics have been strategically established and supported; "Electronics materials and devices (G1)", "Environment and energy materials, device and systems (G2)", and "Biological functions materials, devices and systems (G3)". Beside these more conventional projects, there are additional joint research projects among the five institutes, with some through the "Expanded Collaborative Research" project, which is headed by external researchers, and with other projects via the long-stay joint lab called "CORE Lab", which is earmarked for young researchers are where acceptance is based on proposals from all over Japan and abroad.


The three major fields of IMRAM - materials, measurement and processing - all relate to multidisciplinary science and technology, which covers the traditional scientific fields of physics, chemistry, biology and their respective areas of engineering, the industrial fields of process engineering, and environmental science, etc. Due to the limits of space in this article and the particular interests of the readers of AAPPS, only topics relating to physics will be introduced in this article. The majority of the physics groups at IMRAM are in the the Division of Measurements, and the Center for Advanced Microscopy and Spectroscopy.

Electron Microscopy and Electron Beam Technology

The electron microscope is an essential tool for the analysis of recent nano-structured materials. IMRAM has a long tradition in the development of electron microscopes in Japan. The first surface electron microscope in Japan was made in 1936 by Prof. Hibi of Tohoku University, who became the first director of RISM in 1947. This piece of equipment is still preserved as a monument at IMRAM, and it is now certified as an item of "Analytical and Scientific Instrument Heritage" of Japan (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: The first surface electron microscope in Japan, made in 1936, certified as an item of "Analytical and Scientific Instrument Heritage" of Japan.

Presently, in IMRAM, four major groups are developing and applying electron beam technologies to see and characterize nano-scale structures and properties of materials; Terauchi Lab (CBED, EELS, SXES); Shindo Lab (electron holography); Jinnai Lab (3D image of soft matter); and Takahashi Lab (electron momentum analysis).

TERAUCHI LAB: Development and application of nm-scale crystallography and spectroscopies

TERAUCHI LAB develops accurate nanometer scale characterization methods of crystal structures by convergent-beam electron diffraction (CBED) and electronic structures by electron energy-loss spectroscopy (EELS) and soft-X-ray emission spectroscopy (SXES) for the evaluation of new functional materials. For crystal structure studies, they developed a new Ω-filter electron microscope and refinement software, which can analyze not only atom positions but also electrostatic potential and charge distributions; Fig. 4 is a CBED image of BaTiO3 and the electrostatic potential of Si obtained by CBED.

Fig. 4: CBED image of BaTiO3 (Up). Electrostatic potential of Si obtained by CBED (Down).

For electronic structure studies, a high-resolution EELS microscope and SXES instruments have been developed. Fig. 5 shows the boron K-emission spectra of metal hexa-borides obtained by using a developed SXES instrument attached to a transmission electron microscope (Fig. 6). This technology has now been transferred to JEOL Co. and made commercially available, equipped to some SEM (scanning electron microscopes) and TEM (transmission electron microscopes).

Fig. 5: HREELS of metal hexa-borates.

Fig. 6: SXES probe developed at IMRAM.

JINNAI LAB: Three-dimensional electron tomography (3D-TEM)

Prof. K. Jinnai's group is developing a three-dimensional electron tomography (3D-TEM) application for polymers and biological materials. For example, self-assembling structures and their dynamical processes in block copolymers (BCPs) have been investigated using the 3D-TEM, where an order-order transition of microphase-separated structures is seen. Furthermore, they have developed a novel imaging technique for unstained polymeric specimens to enhance image contrast, which is then used together with a new reconstruction algorithm to generate 3D images. This novel imaging technique will open up a new route to "in-situ" nano-observations of the dynamic processes in BCPs (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7: 3D structure of SI during morphological transition from perforated lamella (right), to double gyroid (left).

TAHAKASHI LAB: Visualization of electronic motion in matter by means of electron Compton scattering

A unique technology of electron beams is being developed in TAKAHASHI LAB by using electron Compton scattering, which visualizes electronic motion in a molecule or transient species in chemical reactions by time-resolved electron momentum spectroscopy. The main themes of this group are as follows:
(1) The development of molecular frame electron momentum spectroscopy for momentum-space imaging of molecular orbitals in a three-dimensional form;
(2) the development of multiparameter coincidence techniques for studies on stereo-dynamics in electron-molecule collisions; and
(3) the development of time-resolved electron momentum spectroscopy for visualization of the change of electronic motion in transient species.
For these purposes, they developed original equipment to determine electron momentum distribution in a molecule as shown in Fig. 8.

Fig. 8: Equipment for determining electron momentum distribution in a molecule.

Laser and Optics

Optical spectroscopy, especially laser technology, is used as a common tool for material analysis. Prof. Sunichi Sato's group has been developing state-of the-art photonics technologies, and in particular, has been using "vector beams", which have inherent vectorial characteristics of electro-magnetic waves, focusing on their physics, the development of beam generation, the improvement of beam quality, and applications such as laser processing and super-resolution microscopy; see Fig. 9.

Fig. 9

They collaborate with Prof. Nemoto's group at RIES, Hokkaido University and apply vector beam technology to visualize the nervous system of the brain, which gives higher resolution of the nervous system, as shown Fig. 10.

Fig. 10: Demonstration of subtraction imaging in confocal microscopy with vector beams

CHICHIBU LAB: Quantum optoelectronics

Prof. Chichibu's group has been analyzing and developing nitride crystals as AlInN, GaInN for UV/VIS light emitters. For realizing compact and low power consumption light sources for high color rendering index (CRI) LED lighting and for sterilization and disinfection for human lives, near- to deep-ultraviolet (DUV) LEDs are indispensable. We demonstrated planar vacuum fluorescent display (VFD) devices emitting polarized UV-C, blue, and green light using essentially immiscible m-plane Al1-xInxN epitaxial nanostructure films (Fig. 11).

Fig. 11: vacuum fluorescence of AlInN containing 23% InN (left) and 30% (right).

TAKU SATO LAB: Neutron scattering study on spin structure and dynamics in solids

The neutron has the spin 1/2 and interacts strongly with the electron spins in materials. So, neutron diffraction and inelastic scattering are powerful tools for observing spin structure and dynamics in materials. Professor Taku Sato and his group are developing inelastic scattering to observe the spin fluctuation dynamics in solids: e.g., they measure dynamics of excited triplets from the singlet ground state in the quantum kagome antiferromagnet Rb2Cu3SnF12, with which they uniquely determine the ground-state singlet configuration. They also investigate the thermodynamic stability of skyrmion-lattice phases in Cu2OSeO3 (Fig. 12).

Fig. 12: SANS pattern of Cu2OSeO3 under different magnetic field treatments.

KOMEDA LAB: Single spin detection and manipulation for molecule-spintronics

The detection of a single spin is strongly demanded for variety of applications, e.g., for reading and manipulation of isolated spins for spintronics and quantum computation. Prof. Komeda's group is developing instrumentation of the detection of a single spin using a scanning tunneling microscope (STM). In particular, a method that detects the Larmor precession by monitoring a variation of the tunneling current, called ESR-STM, has a significant advantage due to its compatibility with solid devices and atomic scale spatial resolution. They successfully developed an ESR-STM instrument, which can detect a single spin in SiO layers. In addition, for the realization of molecular-spintronics, single molecule magnets (SMM) are one of the most promising materials. Prof. Komeda's group investigated the spin of an SMM by detecting Kondo states; the Kondo peak intensity shows a clear variation with the conformational change of the molecule, namely, in the azimuthal rotational angle of the Pc planes (Fig. 13).

Fig. 13: Orientation dependence of a single molecular magnet (Left) and the ESR-STM detection of Kondo state of YPc2 and Y2Pc3.

X-ray and Quantum Beam Measurements

X-rays are conventionally used for analyzing a material's structure, typically by using X-ray diffraction for powder or single crystals, which is used in daily characterization of the materials synthesized in many labs. Nowadays, with the use of synchrotron radiation (SOR) facilities, more sophisticated and detailed analysis is possible, including XAFS, EXAFS, DAS, XPS, etc. The development of new techniques in X-ray measurements is a key theme of IMRAM; Prof. Kimura, Prof. Suzuki and Prof. Yamane are specialists on the precise determination of crystal structures by X-ray and neutron diffractions. New technologies are also under development in the groups of Profs. Momose, Ueda and Takata, et al.

MOMOSE LAB: X-ray phase imaging technology

Since the discovery of X-rays in 1895, X-ray imaging has been used in many fields, including in medical applications. However, since conventional X-ray imaging relies on X-ray absorption, weak absorbing structures, such as biological soft tissues, cannot be imaged with a sufficient signal-to-noise ratio. In order to overcome this difficulty, X-ray phase imaging technology has been developed (Fig. 14). Professor Momose's group has been innovative in X-ray phase imaging technology and has released ground-breaking results beyond conventional expectations. The technique is powerful for objects consisting of low-Z atoms, such as polymers and biological materials, and recently its scope is expanding to metallic materials.

Based on quantum beam physics, they are developing unique experimental environments and are pioneering in advanced imaging research. This technology is attractive for practical applications, and they have started the MOMOSE Quantum Beam Phase Imaging Project with international collaborators. This project aims to make great leaps forward for phase imaging technologies that make use of the wave nature of beams of high energy photons (X-rays), neutrons, electrons and so on. The concept of X-ray phase imaging developed so far will be expanded to neutron and electron beam phase imaging, allowing us to establish an advanced platform for utilizing phase information of multiple quantum-beam probes.

Fig. 14: The configuration of an X-ray Talbot interferometer and the CT image obtained when applied to a round plastic object with a diameter of 1mm.

Fig. 15: A Bonse-Hart-type X-ray interferometer made of silicon.

Fig. 16: CT images of a rabbit liver (left) and part of a rat kidney (right).

UEDA LAB: Taking molecular movies, catching electronic motion

Quantum interference based on the wave-like nature of matter makes quantum processes completely different from classical processes. Professor Ueda's group works to analyze, visualize, and control quantum processes that determine ultrafast electron and molecular dynamics, such as electronic relaxation, charge transfer, fragmentation, and rearrangement in isolated molecules and clusters. For these purposes, they have been developing cutting-edge spectroscopic techniques that allow us to catch atomic and electronic motion. To trigger, probe, and control the processes, they use new-generation light sources such as ultrafast optical laser pulses, ultrahigh resolution soft X-ray synchrotron radiation, and ultra-short wavelength free-electron lasers (XFEL) that have been constructed at the Spring-8 Angstrom Compact Free Electron Laser (SACLA). In addition to other works, they developed an ion-ion coincidence measurement technique for XFEL-induced photo-dissociation processes.

Fig. 17: The combination of an X-ray free electron laser (XFEL) and an ultrafast optical laser to detect electron dynamics in atoms.

TAKATA LAB: Nano visualization technology based on synchrotron radiation X-rays

Strong and high quality X-ray sources from synchrotron orbit radiation (SOR) are also used for structure analysis of materials. Professor Takata's group has developed cutting-edge techniques through the maximum entropy method (MEM) to construct electron density images from the X-ray diffraction data obtained at SPring-8.

In addition, they are promoting the SLiT-J project, which focuses on the soft X-ray region of the spectrum where its performance is optimized. This spectral range covers the K edges of the light elements including, for example, Li as well as C, N, and O, which are all critical to current technological challenges. SLiT-J is a new 3GeV synchrotron radiation facility project in Tohoku. Its ambitious low-emittance light source design is optimized to make progress in soft X-ray imaging to investigate nano- and biomaterials.

Fig. 18: SLiT-J: A New 3GeV Light Source Project in Japan.