English / Japanese

[Department of Information Science and Technology, School of Information Science and Technology]
Professor KAMIYAMA Yoshimi

Unraveling the mysteries of living things and putting them to practical use by recreating them inside computers. This has a broad range of applications, from robots to medical care.

My Interests Moved from Computers to Living Things

From a young age, I had a strong desire to know how things work, so it was my dream to become a scientist. It was during middle school that I took an interest in computers. My parents’ home was in Tochigi Prefecture, but for college I entered Toyohashi University of Technology, in Aichi Prefecture, to study information engineering. That was when departments of information engineering were finally beginning to appear in various universities, so I studied about a broad range of topics, mostly electronics, spending my time building computers and running them with software. As I learned more about computers, I became interested in the mechanisms of living things. That’s because computers are man-made objects, so we understand all of their laws. Living things, however, cannot be made artificially, so they are covered in things we do not understand. They are full of mysteries, like how do they see things and perceive the outside world, or how do they move their bodies? Fortunately, there was a professor at Toyohashi University of Technology who taught bioengineering, so I decided to enter his lab and grapple with this fascinating field.

Using Mathematical Models to Express Reactions That Occur in Organisms

My two main research topics are “Research Regarding Information Processing in Neural Circuits for Early-Stage Vision” and “Research Regarding Mathematical Model Construction and Simulation Technology for the Nervous System.” The reason why I focused on neural circuits for vision is because they are a good target for examining the mechanism of information processing in the brain. Specifically, I mathematically describe the mechanism by which living things use their eyes to see, and I build the same mathematical model in a computer. For example, I calculate the amount of light that enters the eye, and then I use a mathematical model to represent how the cells in the eye react when the light enters and what kind of signals the brain produces. In addition to the mechanism of information processing in the brain, I also construct computer models for other mechanisms, such as the body’s blood vessels and the pumping of the heart.

It may be standard practice now, but expressing the mechanisms of biological reactions through mathematical models is something that I began some twenty-five years ago, when I was a doctoral student in the lab at graduate school. No one in the world had ever attempted that before. So, until I was recognized, it was a difficult situation, with every article I wrote getting rejected at first. Now, though, it has become possible to recreate the reactions that occur in organisms inside a computer by inputting numerical formulas. As for the mechanism of using eyes to see, I already have made it into a mathematical model and have inputted it into the next generation supercomputer “Kei,” which is being developed primarily by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and it is scheduled to be up and running later this year.

Putting Built Technology to Practical Use and Giving Back to Society

I have two purposes for recreating biological reactions in a computer. The first is scientific interest. We cannot cut open a living human being’s head and examine it, but if we have a computer model that works in a similar way, we are able to solve things that we could not understand before, such as why this kind of reaction occurs, or which information processing parts are important. Furthermore, if we can understand the mechanism for the way people see, we can transfer something like human vision into robots. That is to say, to put it to practical use and make it useful for people, which is the other aim of this research.

I am now participating in Aichi Prefecture’s “‘Base of Knowledge’ Priority Research Project,” which is an effort that aims to bring practical applications to the field of medical care. I am in charge of “Development of a Mathematical Model for the Circulatory System,” which is aimed at developing devices for early detection of arteriosclerosis, heart disease, and so forth. Once this is completed, simply by measuring the condition of blood vessels, for example, the same model will be recreated in a computer, allowing us to predict the regions where arteriosclerosis is likely to occur. It will become possible to take preventive measures at an extremely early stage. This project also intends to create new industries by sowing seeds of stimulus for companies in Aichi Prefecture and helping them grow. In February of this year, a research space was set up at the Aichi Center for Industry and Science Technology, which opened on the former site of the Aichi Expo, so everything is ready to go.

There is a Reason and a Mechanism to Everything

I teach undergraduates computer literacy, for knowing how to use computers effectively, and operating systems, which are the basic software of computers. What I always say to students is this: properly understand the reasons and mechanisms for things. For example, when a computer is not working, I sometimes whack it and it works. I call that “strike repair,” but the reason why I hit it is because I know why that will fix it. In other words, in cases like this, the problem is usually caused by a soldering defect on the electronic board, so hitting it causes the resistance to change, which solves the problem. No matter what you do, there always is a reason to it. I convey to my students that I want them to understand the reasons for things by neatly building up their logic on a regular basis.

In my lab, I ask students to submit a monthly report once a month and a simple report of about one page every week, and I collect these in a notebook. The topic is basically whatever the student wishes, but I monitor the situation for a while and sometimes offer advice. In research, we mostly do simulations with computers, but in the initial training course I devise ways to enable students to study the basics. In addition, since there are increasing opportunities for reading articles in English, I provide guidance to students such as telling them to make time for studying English every week so that they will gradually acquire these skills and be able to stand on their own two feet. So far, none of my graduates has become a researcher, but one of them entered the development division for retina-applied displays in a company. I am looking forward to being able to do joint research with these graduates one day.

One of my favorite phrases is one that appears in the children’s story The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It goes: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” When I was student, I carefully read this book in English translation, so it made a lasting impression on me. The Japanese translation goes something like: “If you do not look with your heart/mind [kokoro], things are hard to see. What’s important cannot be seen.”

When I am asked to sign shikishi (formal autograph or poetry cards), I change the part of “with the heart” to “with the brain” to change the meaning to “What’s important is seen with the brain.” This connects to my research as well, but we see everything that we see though a model built inside our brains. We must not forget that, and I believe it is my mission to understand and explain that.


Department of Information Science and Technology, School of Information Science and Technology

Professor KAMIYAMA Yoshimi

Areas of Specialty: Neural Information Science, Bioinformation Science

After completing a concentration in systems and information engineering in a doctoral course at the Graduate School of Engineering at Toyohashi University of Technology, he received a Doctor of Engineering. In 1998, he took a position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Information Science and Technology in the newly established School of Information Science and Technology at Aichi Prefectural University, becoming a Professor in 2008. Focusing on neural circuits in the retina, he is conducting research on neuroinformatics, which combines neuroscience and information science. Every morning, he runs about ten kilometers from his home in southern Nagakute to the campus. He competes in marathons twice a year as a regular citizen runner. He boasts the youthful vascular age of a man in his twenties.

Interview: ITō Yuji; Writer: MIYAUCHI Kyōko


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