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Nobel Prize

Chemistry

2010: Akira Suzuki, Ph.D. and Eiichi Negishi, Ph.D.

© ® The Nobel Foundation.

© ® The Nobel Foundation.

Eiichi Negishi was born in Changchun, China, in 1935. In 1958 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in applied chemistry from the School of Engineering, the University of Tokyo. He then moved to the United States to study at the University of Pennsylvania, where he obtained his Ph.D. Akira Suzuki was born in Chiba prefecture in 1930. He received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Hokkaido University’s School of Science in 1954, before going on to receive his Ph.D from the same university. The two men pursued research in the field of cross coupling, which brings together two kinds of organic compounds. In theory, a cross coupling reaction should occur when an organic metal compound is mixed with an organic halogen compound, using palladium as a catalyst. They proposed that by using alternatives to metal compounds - zinc in the case of Negishi and boron in the case of Suzuki - a more stable cross coupling reaction could be achieved. Their proposal has made significant contributions to the development of industry throughout the globe. Their achievement was recognized in 2010, when they received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis”. Today, Negishi continues his research at Purdue University in the United States, where he is Herbert C. Brown Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, and Suzuki was Emeritus Professor of Hokkaido University before retiring.

2008: Osamu Shimomura, Ph.D.

© ® The Nobel Foundation.

Osamu Shimomura was born in Kyoto prefecture in 1928. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from the Nagasaki Pharmacy College (now part of Nagasaki University), Shimomura began research into bioluminescence at Nagoya University, where he received his Ph.D. In 1956, he succeeded in purifying and crystallizing luciferin, a bioluminescent substrate found in Crypridina (a type of crustacean); this was the first time such crystallization had ever been achieved. In 1959, he moved to the United States to study at Princeton University. There, Shimomura succeeded in distilling and purifying the protein aequorin, a previously unknown luminescent protein, from the Aequorea victoria jellyfish. This achievement was quickly followed by success in purifying another protein, green fluorescent protein (GFP), which forms a composite with aequorin. Aequorin emits light in reaction to calcium ion concentrations and requires no catalyst in order to link to other proteins, while GFP will emit fluorescence simply by being exposed to ultraviolet light; both these proteins have contributed significantly to the development of biochemistry in their role as reporter proteins. Applications today include the development of treatments for cancer and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. In 2008, many years after the original discover, Shimomura received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP”. He currently lives in the United States, where he continues his research on bioluminescence. He is Emeritus Professor at Boston University.

2002: Koichi Tanaka

Koichi Tanaka was born in Toyama prefecture in 1959. In 1983, he graduated from the Faculty of Engineering, Tohoku University, with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He then joined Shimadzu Corporation, located in Kyoto prefecture, where he was involved in research on the mass spectrometry analysis of proteins. At the time, conventional mass spectrometry techniques were not ideal; the lasers used on the analyte protein would cause cleavage, leaving the protein in tiny pieces and making the observation of molecular mass impossible. Tanaka suggested using a mixture of glycerol and cobalt as a buffer between the laser and the analyte, thereby preventing the loss of the protein’s structure and making ionization possible. This discovery resulted in significant improvements in protein analytical technology. Tanaka’s achievement was recognized in 2002 when he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the “development of soft desorption ionisation methods for mass spectrometric analyses of biological macromolecules”. He was the first Japanese person from industry, rather than academia, to be awarded a Nobel Prize in science. He was subsequently awarded an honorary doctorate from Tohoku University. He continues to work at Shimadzu Corporation, and is also a visiting professor at The Institute of Medical Science, The University of Tokyo.

2001: Ryoji Noyori, Ph.D.

Ryoji Noyori was born in Hyogo prefecture in 1938. After graduating in 1961 from the School of Engineering, Kyoto University, with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, he remained at the University where he also received his doctorate. His postdoctoral research focused on optical isomers, which are mirror images of each other. He studied at Harvard University before taking a post as professor at Nagoya University in 1972. He continued to pursue his research, and succeeded in obtaining the BINAP catalysts, organophosphorus compounds which can be used in asymmetric synthesis. The capacity of this catalyst to produce right-handed and left-handed organic substances separately not only had a profound effect on academic progress in the chemical engineering field, but was also an extremely significant discovery for industry and medicine. Noyori’s achievements were recognized in 2001 when he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his “work on chirally catalysed hydrogenation reactions”. Following various senior academic posts at Nagoya University, he now chairs the Education Rebuilding Council.

2000: Hideki Shirakawa, Ph.D.

Hideki Shirakawa was born in Tokyo prefecture in 1936. After graduating from the Faculty of Engineering, Tokyo Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1961, he went on to receive a doctorate from the same university. His postdoctoral research focused on polyacetylene. At the time, polyacetylene could only be formed as a powder, but Shirakawa discovered a method which allowed him to form polyacetylene into a film, simultaneously revealing its molecular structure. In 1976, Shirakawa collaborated with Alan MacDiarmid and Alan Heeger at the University of Pennsylvania on joint research on the conductivity of polyacetylene, which led to the discovery that this conductivity could be significantly increased with the addition of bromine and iodine. Their work attracted global attention as a groundbreaking new discovery that would allow the production of plastic able to conduct electricity. Shirakawa received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2000 for “the discovery and development of conductive polymers”. He continued to work as a professor at Tsukuba University for several years, but has now retired.

1981: Kenichi Fukui, Ph.D.

Kenichi Fukui was born in Nara prefecture in 1918. He graduated from the School of Engineering, Kyoto University, in 1941 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial chemistry. He subsequently worked as a lecturer and assistant professor at Kyoto University, and became professor in 1951. At that time, the electron theory was widely accepted in research on chemical reaction processes that chemical reactions occurred as a result of the positive and negative charges of electrons attracting one another electrically. However, there were multiple chemical reactions which contradicted this theory, and it was impossible to explain all chemical reaction processes using this incomplete electron theory. Fukui applied quantum mechanics to the problem, and published his Frontier Orbit Theory which argued that where there are multiple molecular orbitals, electrons are pulled from the orbital with the highest energy to that with the lowest energy. This theory was able to explain even those chemical reactions for which electron theory could not account. His achievements were recognized when, in 1981, he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his “theory concerning the course of chemical reactions”. He died in 1998.