2021 – ASPIRE Forum

Dates: June 24–30, 2021
Host University: Tokyo Institute of Technology
Theme: Better Living for All in a New Normal

June 24–30 Student Workshop
June 28 14:00–17:00 JST ASPIRE Symposium
June 29 13:30–16:00 JST Vice Presidents and Senior Staff Meeting
June 30 13:30–17:00 JST Student Presentations

ASPIRE Forum 2021 Report

Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) hosted ASPIRE Forum 2021 from June 24 to 30 under the theme Better Living for All in a New Normal. Vice Presidents, senior staff, faculty members and students from member universities attended the annual gathering, which was held in full online and comprised a Student Workshop, a Symposium, and the Vice Presidents and Senior Staff Meeting.

Student Workshop, Part 1

Student Workshop participants

Student Workshop participants

ASPIRE Forum 2021 kicked off with the Student Workshop. The weeklong program comprised an orientation, lectures, and group work, and concluded with student presentations on June 30. Seventeen students from ASPIRE League member universities and five students from two IDEA League member universities (Politecnico di Milano in Italy and RWTH Aachen University in Germany) participated. Students were divided into four teams according to their selection of one of the following prompts, which were set in advance by Tokyo Tech faculty members:

  1. A) Propose super smart services and products (e.g. smart mobility, smart agriculture, etc.) realized by 5G and beyond.
  2. B) Propose services and devices to prevent accidents caused by changes in mental and physical functions of children or the elderly.
  3. C) Propose any biotechnology-based services and devices that you think we have to invent and develop in order for 100 people to
      live on the moon for a year.

To set the stage for the group work, Tokyo Tech faculty members gave lectures related to these topics. School of Engineering Professor Kei Sakaguchi spoke on 5G and Beyond to Realize Super Smart Society. Professor Yoshifumi Nishida, also of the School of Engineering, shared ideas on how to make society resilient to human physical and cognitive changes. Finally, Associate Professor Yasunori Aizawa of the School of Life Science and Technology introduced synthetic biology as a means of addressing global challenges.

Student participants then drew on their individual research backgrounds and information obtained through the lectures and the ASPIRE Symposium to develop their team's proposals.

Tokyo Tech Associate Professor Kazuaki Inaba of the School of Environment and Society served as the Student Workshop leader and moderator. In feedback sessions, Inaba and other Tokyo Tech faculty members shared advice on the student teams' proposals and presentations.


For the first time, the ASPIRE Symposium was held as a webinar, and all students, faculty and staff members of the ASPIRE League member universities were invited. Held on the afternoon of June 28, the event featured the following lectures by five faculty members, each representing one of the member universities:

  1. Sustainable Transformation in the New Normal, Professor Davis Bookhart (HKUST)
  2. Nature-inspired Structural Coloration with Colloidal Assembly, Professor Shin-Hyun Kim (KAIST)
  3. What is New about the New Normal? Viral Threats and Neoliberal Opportunities, Professor Hallam Stevens (NTU Singapore)
  4. Rethinking on Urban Planning and Design Under COVID-19, Professor Jian Liu (Tsinghua University)
  5. Engineering Design Education based on Design Thinking Approach: The importance and value for future engineers in
    Professor Shigeki Saito (Tokyo Tech)

Including the Student Workshop participants, a total of 73 members of the ASPIRE League community attended.
(Clockwise from top left) Moderator Takada, Prof. Liu (Tsinghua), Prof. Kim (KAIST), ASPIRE League Chairperson Mizumoto, Prof. Saito, Prof. Bookhart (HKUST), and (center) Prof. Stevens (NTU Singapore).

Vice Presidents and Senior Staff Meeting

Dr. Tetsuya Mizumoto, 2019–2021 Chairperson of the ASPIRE League and Tokyo Tech Executive Vice President for Education, convened the ASPIRE League Vice Presidents and Senior Staff (VPSS) Meeting on the afternoon of June 29.

Speaking on behalf of the ASPIRE League Secretariat, Tokyo Tech Professor Hidetoshi Sekiguchi expressed thanks to VPSS and their universities for their support of ASPIRE League activities held online over the past year, and Mr. Toku Hirasawa shared a report on ASPIRE League activities conducted between since the 2020 VPSSM. Subsequently, each vice president shared a presentation on their respective university's activities for international collaboration in a “new normal.”

VPSS then turned their attention to the discussion topics on the agenda. It was agreed that KAIST would assume the role of 2022–2023 ASPIRE League chair university, and Chairperson-elect Man-Sung Yim of KAIST proposed the tentative dates of July 4 to 7 for ASPIRE Forum 2022.

Turning to the ASPIRE League Partnership Seed Fund, HKUST provided a review of collaborative research project implementation in the 2019 and 2020 cycles and reported that a total of 17 applications had been received for the 2021 cycle. Eligible proposals were discussed, and 6 new collaborative research projects were selected to receive seed funding.

Vice Presidents at the VPSSM

Vice Presidents at the VPSSM

Student Workshop, Part 2

On the final day of ASPIRE Forum 2021, Student Workshop participants presented their group work achievements in the form of proposals for new services or products. As per ASPIRE League tradition, their group presentations were attended by the vice presidents, serving as reviewers, and senior staff members.

Following evaluations of the presentations, the vice presidents gave the Best Group Presentation Award to the Super Sci-fi Moonwalkers team in recognition for their proposed system to recycle water on the moon.

Sci-fi Moonwalkers team

(from left) Best Presentation Award winners Miele and Li

In addition, Riccardo Orlando Miele from Politecnico di Milano and Yicong Li from Tsinghua University received the Best Presentation Award, which recognizes the abilities of individual students in effectively communicating their knowledge and ideas.

Miele and Li

(from left) Best Presentation Award winners Miele and Li


Held in an online format in 2021, ASPIRE Forum—the flagship event of the ASPIRE League—once again brought together vice presidents, faculty members, senior staff, and students of the consortium's member universities for collaboration and fellowship. Participants in the Student Workshop, which also welcomed students from Europe's IDEA League, developed close ties with peers in a range of research fields while deepening their knowledge with regard to the overarching theme of Better Living for All in a New Normal. The ASPIRE Symposium, held for the first time as webinar, brought together stakeholders of all member universities to hear from and engage with five featured researchers. Finally, through the Vice Presidents and Senior Staff Meeting, member universities examined best practices in international collaboration during a year marked by continuing restrictions on international mobility, encouraged collaborative research through the ASPIRE League Partnership Seed Fund, and collectively set the direction for cooperation in the coming year.