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ノーベル化学賞 受賞の喜びを次につなげたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Oct. 8, 2010)
Joy in Nobel prize should be linked to future
ノーベル化学賞 受賞の喜びを次につなげたい(10月7日付・読売社説)

This is very encouraging news for Japan, which is beset by a sluggish economy and a diplomatic row.

It was announced Wednesday that the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to Akira Suzuki, a professor emeritus at Hokkaido University; Ei-ichi Negishi, a chemistry professor at Purdue University; and American researcher Richard Heck.

This brings the total number of Japanese Nobel laureates to 18, and the number in chemistry to 7. In both figures, Japan is ahead of the pack in Asia.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the winners were honored for their development of chemical methods for efficiently producing pharmaceuticals and liquid crystal substances.

Crucial tools for industry

The synthesis of organic compounds, in which carbon atoms are linked in complex chains, was at one time extremely difficult. But Negishi and Suzuki found new ways of easily bonding carbon atoms together.

Their methods have already become essential tools in a number of industrial fields, including the production of hypertension and cancer medicines and light-emitting organic compounds.

Chemistry is the basis for the synthesis and analysis of materials, and has helped Japan's basic materials industry. This latest award has demonstrated once again Japan's high level of research in this field, and we rejoice in the honor bestowed on Suzuki and Negishi.

Yet there are worrisome signs emerging as to how long Japan will be able to retain such technical prowess.

One such indicator is what has been called an inward-looking attitude among young Japanese researchers. An increasing number are studying only at home, rarely going abroad.

Only a few young Japanese researchers are pursuing knowledge in the United States, the country considered to be the international center of research.

Of non-American students who receive doctorates at U.S. universities, Chinese students account for about 30 percent and South Koreans for about 10 percent, compared to only about 2 percent for Japanese.

If things continue this way, won't Japan be left behind in the fierce international competition in research?

After graduating from Hokkaido University, Suzuki began studying with a prominent chemist in the United States. Negishi went to the United States after graduating from the University of Tokyo and lives there today.

Their unwavering diligence abroad led Suzuki and Negishi to the prize.

Foreign opinion worsening

Also worrisome is the fact that international opinion of Japanese universities is declining. One warning bell was sounded last month by global university rankings for this year compiled by a British education magazine on the basis of their achievements in teaching and research.

The University of Tokyo, which until last year was the top-ranked institution in Asia, was ranked 26th overall. This was still the highest among Japanese universities, but it was overtaken in Asia by the University of Hong Kong, which was ranked 21st.

Also, the number of Japanese institutions in the top 200 declined from 11 last year to five this year.

Due to harsh fiscal conditions, the central government's budget for science and technology is shrinking. In stark contrast, Europe and the United States are increasing their public investment in science and technology.

The Japanese government and research institutions may need to renew their sense of alarm.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 7, 2010)
(2010年10月7日01時37分 読売新聞)

by kiyoshimat | 2010-10-08 06:34 | 英字新聞

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