Just like last year, I visited ELSI for two weeks in January to attend the 4th international symposium as well as to have discussions with scientists at ELSI. On the first day at ELSI, I got into their new building for the first time. Asako-san, assistant to ELSI's director, kindly assigned me a desk in a visitors office, which was very nice - the wooden desks, nice chairs, and fusuma (a Japanese-style curtain) created a Zen-like atmosphere. Red carpets on the floor made me feel like I was a celebrity. Furthermore, the open space in the building was full of comfortable chairs (also snacks and coffee) and it was a great place to talk about science (and have a party).
A few days later, I was at the symposium to present my own work and to hear about new findings from scientists from all over the world. The symposium started off with presentations on volatile delivery, diversity of planets, and the chemistry required for life. We continued discussions on planet formation focusing on explaining the diversity of our terrestrial planets, Earth, Venus, and Mars. Even though we have detected a couple of thousands of planets in extra solar systems, ironically, we still have not understood well why our own terrestrial planets are so diverse. What was the determining factor that created the diversity? Subsequently, we moved onto an even more complicated question: Why does only the Earth host life (as far as we can tell) in the solar system? We discussed starting conditions and requirements for prebiotic chemistry regarding the origin of life. This subject is probably one of the most challenging scientific topics - we had a lot of time to discuss during the meeting, but unfortunately not long enough to reach a consensus. I am looking forward to attending the next symposium and continuing our discussions to get a little bit closer to the answer.
During and after the symposium, I had constructive discussions with ELSI scientists and visitors. ELSI is a special place that connects world experts from various research fields - for this reason, I was able to have insightful inputs from various perspectives. Moreover, scientists and visitors at ELSI are very friendly and always open to discussion. One day at ELSI, John Hernlund and I started an impromptu discussion and we ended up involving a number of scientists and talking about new ideas at the blackboards. I truly enjoyed having these kind of exciting interactions at ELSI.
Before the symposium, I enjoyed spending time with my family and friends in Japan. We also went on a trip to Tohoku to soak in hot springs surrounded by snow (see photo). We spent one full day to go to a couple of different hot springs in that area (Nyuto-Onsen) - it was far from civilization (no WiFi of course) and very relaxing. It was a "soul-washing" experience as Japanese people would say.