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Editorial: Chemistry Nobel honors remarkable achievement that changed lives

  • October 10, 2019
  • , The Japan News , 7:33 p.m.
  • English Press

Research that has changed and enriched people’s lives has been evaluated highly, resulting in this award.


This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to three people, including Akira Yoshino, an honorary fellow at Asahi Kasei Corp., and a U.S. researcher. They were recognized for “the development of lithium-ion batteries.”


Lithium-ion batteries are lightweight and have high output, as well as being rechargeable and reusable. These batteries have been used widely in smartphones, laptops and electric vehicles, among other items.


Yoshino completed a prototype lithium-ion battery by focusing on the use of a particular kind of carbon material. It was a great achievement that created a driving force for the information technology revolution.


Electric cars, in particular, carry high expectations as vehicles that do not emit carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. “Electric vehicles are suitable for a sustainable society,” Yoshino said at a press conference.


If electricity that is generated from renewable energy sources such as wind power and solar power can be stored in lithium-ion batteries, the stable use of electricity will become possible. Such environmental contributions also appear to have contributed to the trio winning the award.


After completing his master’s degree at Kyoto University, Yoshino joined Asahi Kasei and worked on the development of rechargeable batteries.


Support young researchers


Yoshino’s winning of a Nobel Prize as a corporate researcher is a remarkable accomplishment, following in the footsteps of Koichi Tanaka of Shimadzu Corp. and others. It may inspire company researchers working on various development projects.


In this case, a Japanese company made progress on basic research at a U.S. university and eventually achieved commercial production. It also can be said that this case has once again shown the importance of industry-academic cooperation. It is vital for the government to proactively support and promote joint research between universities and companies.


Yoshino is the 27th winner of a Nobel Prize from Japan and the 24th in natural science. This nation saw a Japanese researcher win a Nobel Prize for the second consecutive year — Tasuku Honjo, a distinguished professor at Kyoto University, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine last year. This underscores the high level of Japanese researchers.


Yoshino was a student of a researcher who studied under Kenichi Fukui, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1981. This can be said to prove that Japan’s tradition of scientific research has been consistently passed down.


In recent years, the environment surrounding young Japanese researchers has been severe. They remain at universities but their terms are limited, making it difficult for them to conduct thorough research. As a result, the number of young people pursuing doctoral programs has been on the decline. It is essential to improve the research environment.


Referring to winning the award, Yoshino said, “It will be an encouragement for young researchers.” It is hoped that on this occasion, young researchers will be inspired to take up challenges one after another, bringing about research that could result in winning a future Nobel Prize.

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