OIST Turns Five

Five years since OIST officially launched, we reflect on how the university has grown and evolved

November 19th 2011 was a very special day for the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST). Over 400 dignitaries from Okinawa, mainland Japan and overseas gathered in the Center Court for a very special event: The Inauguration Ceremony of what would become a world-leading graduate research university. As OIST celebrates its fifth birthday, we look back and reflect on how this unique university has evolved.

OIST Inauguration Ceremony, November 19th 2011. From left, OIST President Dr. Jonathan Dorfan, the then Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs Mr. Tatsuo Kawabata, and the then Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima.

In just five years the number of OIST members including staff and students has increased from 364 to 918*. OIST is truly international, with over 50 countries and regions from six continents represented on the staff.  As of now 52 research units are operating at OIST, with research covering Neuroscience, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Mathematical and Computational Sciences, Physics and Chemistry, Environmental and Ecological Sciences. Ten new units will join OIST in the coming year, further broadening the scope of the research fields. As the number of researchers has increased, so has OIST’s academic output: since 2011, 1,118** papers have been published in academic journals, attracting the attention of academia and media outlets worldwide.

With the help of the Technology Development and Innovation Office, 17 patents have been issued since 2011 for research conducted at OIST, with 170 more in the pipeline***. In June 2014, OIST celebrated the launch of its first spin-off company, Okinawa Protein Tomography Ltd. which provides technology capable of imaging macromolecules, including proteins, in various states at the single molecule level. Additionally, the Proof of Concept program established last year, is currently nurturing eight scientific projects from solar cells to a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, in preparation of commercialization by industry. In such a way, academic research that yields basic scientific understanding can be applied to many real-world problems.

Over 130 students from 35 countries and territories on 6 continents are enrolled in the Graduate School PhD program. As we prepare for some of the first graduate cohort to complete their degrees in spring, the fifth graduate class, welcomed in September of this year, are approaching the end of their first set of lab rotations.

To accommodate this thriving community of staff and students, the last five years have brought enormous and exciting developments in OIST’s infrastructure. Since 2011, when the university was comprised of the Center Building, Lab 1, and some off-campus faculty housing, two more labs have been built, as well as the Auditorium and associated cluster hall, on-campus faculty housing, the Village Center, the East and West Court apartments, the Child Development Center, the Marine Science Station, and the Engineering Support building.  Construction is already underway for Lab 4 and the extension of the Child Development Center will commence in early 2017.

OIST in 2011, comprising the Center Building and Lab 1.

OIST’s beautiful architecture and facilities are not exclusively for OIST members to enjoy. Over the last five years, OIST has welcomed over 150,000 visitors to explore the campus, including high school students from over 200 schools. OIST has also hosted 72 cultural events since it started, showcasing international, Japanese and Okinawan talent. Each year OIST hosts an Open Campus event, which celebrates science and technology with demonstrations, lectures and interactive activities for the public to experience and enjoy.

Amongst all the changes of the past five years, OIST’s commitment to its mission statement to conduct “internationally outstanding education and research in science and technology, and thus contribute to the sustainable development of Okinawa, and promote and sustain the advancement of science and technology in Japan and throughout the world,” has remained constant.

An External Peer Review conducted in July 2015 confirmed OIST’s commitment to its primary goals. In evaluating the university, the distinguished panel of international experts cited eight key measures of excellence, concluding: “The Panel is happy to state that progress across all key measures of excellence has been outstanding.”

As we celebrate OIST’s fifth birthday, it seems timely to reflect on the successes and growth of its early years, and to look ahead to the promising trajectory of the world’s best university. Happy Birthday OIST!

Children from the CDC perform at OIST’s 5th birthday party

*current as of 1 October 2016

** current as of 31 March 2016

*** current as of 31 August 2016

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