Ryotaro Okabe smiles in front of the Grand Canyon.

Graduate Student Spotlight: Ryotaro Okabe

Categories: Research, Students

Chemistry Graduate Student Ryotaro Okabe describes his research and answers 20 random questions as part of the Graduate Student Spotlight series.

Ryotaro Okabe spent most of his life in Tokyo, Japan, before coming to MIT to begin pursuing his PhD in Chemistry in the Fall of 2021. Ryotaro is a member of Professor Mingda Li’s group in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, where he focuses on understanding the relationship between material structures and their properties. Despite being composed of a limited number of elements from the periodic table, there is an immense diversity of materials with varying atomic species and structures. Each material possesses unique physical properties. The challenge in this research lies in uncovering unknown materials that can revolutionize energy sustainability. However, the sheer number of parameters to explore makes it difficult to identify or create such materials artificially. To address this, Ryotaro and his labmates are developing novel machine learning methodologies to predict material properties like phonon behavior and magnetism. Additionally, the researchers are establishing a framework for designing new crystalline materials with desirable properties.

“Driven by the desire to make a tangible impact on society, I have chosen to embark on a PhD journey,” said Ryotaro. “I am enthusiastic about unraveling the mysteries of the microscopic world and contributing to advancements that have the potential to shape our future.”

As the subject of this month’s Graduate Student Spotlight, Ryotaro shares the fictional universe he’d love to inhabit, the chance encounter that forever changed his life, the subject on which he could deliver an impromptu 40 minute speech, and more!


  1. What game or movie universe would you most like to live in? What would be the worst to live in?
    I want to experience the Pokémon world. I hate to live in a world of ‘Attack on Titan’.
  2. What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
    My high school friends visited me in the U.S. We went to Grand Canyon, which was an unforgettable experience!
  3. What’s worth spending more on to get the best?
    Good pillow.
  4. What are the best and worst purchases you’ve ever made?
    I got a comfortable mattress, that improved my sleep a lot. The expensive pillow I got recently was too hard, making my sleep bad.
  5. What movie title best describes your life?
  6. What is special about the place you grew up?
    I grew up in a suburb of Tokyo, Japan. My hometown area is called ‘Tanashi’, which comes from ‘No rice field’.
  7. If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
    I will work out at the gym so that I can sleep well after that.
  8. What chance encounter changed your life forever?
    Since I learned that 99.9% of life’s problems can be solved with muscle training, almost all of the problems around me have become negligible.
  9. If you could have a never-ending candle that smelled like anything you wanted, what fragrance would you want it to be?
    Korean BBQ and Kimchi. I hope to fill my room with tasty smells.
  10.  If someone narrated your life, who would you want to be the narrator?
  11. What job doesn’t exist now but will exist in the future?
    Instructor teaching how to become a friend with AI.
  12.  What would be the scariest monster you could imagine?
    An elder sister bullying a cute brother
  13. If you could pick any career other than the one you’ve chosen, what would it be?
    A talented child actor.
  14. What are some small things that make your day better?
    I feel happy when I can lift a barbell which I could not lift yesterday.
  15. What skill would you like to master?
    I hope to learn how to finish packing before the flight day.
  16. If you were given five million dollars to open a small museum, what kind of museum would you create?
    I want to display artwork by kids in kindergarten all over the world.
  17. What are your top three favorite movies?
    Spirited Away, The Quintessential Quintuplets, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  18. What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?           
    How to survive with as low expense as possible.
  19. What would be your ideal way to spend the weekend?
    Go out of town without bringing a smartphone.
  20. What is your secret talent?
    I am quite good at being caught in baggage inspection whenever I get on an airplane.

Many thanks to Ryotaro for these thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for more Graduate Student Spotlights in the months to come.