Every step makes a different noise. This realization obviously amazes the young boy, who is stomping on the keys of a giant piano on the floor. Standing close-by, it raises a smile on the father’s face. An experience like this was the reason for coming to this special exhibition for children. The Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden (DHMD) has dedicated about 600 square yards solely to young discoverers. “Such locations turn Dresden into a great city especially for young families,” Atsushi Ikeda believes. “There are so many locations to spend time with your children – and none of them is overcrowded. In my home country Japan it wouldn’t be like that at all.”
This was one of the reasons that convinced the chemist to return to the Saxon capital about two years ago – for the second time in total. It seems that the first stay in the city from 2006 to 2008 – when he was single – has left quite a strong impression on the researcher. After his first return in 2011 he introduced his wife to Dresden, now his two-year-old son makes his first discoveries in Saxony. In between, Ikeda worked for the Japan Atomic Energy Agency at SPring-8, a synchrotron facility near Kobe, and the University of New South Wales in Sydney. “My colleagues keep joking that the main difference between the various stays is the size of my family,” the scientist recounts.
A structure of equals
However, with every return Atsushi Ikeda has also assumed more responsibility: postdoc, research associate, now head of his own division at HZDR’s Institute of Resource Ecology – nevertheless, every time at the research site in Dresden-Rossendorf. This openness fascinates Ikeda: “In Japan it is unusual that foreigners get management positions. Also, the research structure is much more hierarchical. Some members in my team are older than me. Such a “seniority-free” system wouldn’t be working in my country.” In Germany the levels are more equal, Ikeda assesses, which facilitates the flow of new ideas, since it makes scientific discussions easier.
And innovative ideas are always needed in the field of Ikeda’s research: the final disposal of highly radioactive waste. Together with his team he deciphers the chemical nature of the so-called f-elements. “As this also includes radioactive actinides like plutonium or uranium, such research is possible at a few locations in Europe only,“ Ikeda tells. “Based on this knowledge we can make predictions, how radioactive elements will behave in different environments, for example in nuclear repositories.” Such information is necessary to guarantee, that the waste will remain safely stored over thousands of years.
Atsushi Ikeda considers his contribution to finding a solution to this huge problem as kind of a legacy to his son. Thus, he does not mind spending weekends in the laboratory – although this is rather unusual, as the researcher mentions: “Compared to Japan the work-life balance in Germany is much better. I can have more time to spend with my family. And thanks to its many locations like, for example, the Hygiene Museum, Dresden is a really great place to watch my son grow up.”