Nobel Prize of Japan

Brief Overview of Nobel Prize of Japan

Nobel Medal

The Most Prestigious Award for Science Fields
The Nobel Prize is a set of annual international awards bestowed in a number of categories by Swedish and Norwegian committees in recognition of academic, cultural and/or scientific advances. The prize is awarded for outstanding contributions for humanity in chemistry, literature, peace, physics, physiology or medicine. The Nobel Prize is widely regarded as the most prestigious award available in the fields of literature, medicine, physics, chemistry, peace, and economics. The will of the Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel established the prizes in 1895.

Japan is the First and Most Nobel Laureate Country in Asia
Since 1949, Japan is the first and most Nobel laureate country in Asia. As of 2015, there have been twenty-four Japanese winners of the Nobel Prize. Of Japanese winners, eleven have been physicists, seven chemists, two for literature, three for physiology or medicine and one for efforts towards peace. In the 21st century, in the field of natural science, the number of Japanese winners of the Nobel Prize has been second behind the United States of America.

Nobel Prize award ceremony in 2014
Nobel Prize award ceremony in 2014

Nobel Prize by Country (As of 2016)

No. of Nobel Prize laureates A
No. of Nobel Prize laureates B

Japanese Laureates of Nobel Prize

1949 : Hideki Yukawa

Hideki Yukawa

The Prediction of The Existence of Mesons on The Basis of Theoretical Work on Nuclear Forces
Atomic nuclei consist of protons and neutrons, kept together by a strong force. Hideki Yukawa assumed that the force is carried by particles and further, that there is a relation between the range of the force and the mass of the force carrying particle. Yukawa predicted in 1934 that the particle should have a mass of about 200 times that of the electron. He called the particle a meson. In later experiments, the existence of mesons was verified.

The spin-0 nonet of mesons

1965 : Sin-Itiro Tomonaga

Sin-Itiro Tomonaga

Fundamental Work in Quantum Electrodynamics, with Deep-ploughing Consequences for The Physics of Elementary Particles
Following the successes of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, a first relativistic theory was formulated for the interaction of charged particles with electromagnetic fields. However, partly because of the so called Lamb shift observed in 1947 in hydrogen, where two energy levels that were supposed to have the same energy instead was shown to have a small difference in energy, the theory must be reformulated. Sin-Itiro Tomonga solved this problem 1948 by so called renormalization and consequently contributed to a new quantum electrodynamics.

Renormalization in quantum electrodynamics

1968 : Yasunari Kawabata

Kawabata yasunari

His Narrative Mastery, which with Great Sensibility Expresses The Essence of The Japanese Mind
Yasunari Kawabata, son of a highly-cultivated physician, was born in 1899 in Osaka. After the early death of his parents he was raised in the country by his maternal grandfather and attended the Japanese public school. From 1920 to 1924, Kawabata studied at the Tokyo Imperial University, where he received his degree. He was one of the founders of the publication Bungei Jidai, the medium of a new movement in modern Japanese literature. Kawabata made his debut as a writer with the short story, Izu dancer, published in 1927. After several distinguished works, the novel Snow Country in 1937 secured Kawabata's position as one of the leading authors in Japan. In 1949, the publication of the serials Thousand Cranes and The Sound of the Mountain was commenced. He became a member of the Art Academy of Japan in 1953 and four years later he was appointed chairman of the P.E.N. Club of Japan. At several international congresses Kawabata was the Japanese delegate for this club. The Lake (1955), The Sleeping Beauty (1960) and The Old Capital (1962) belong to his later works, and of these novels, The Old Capital is the one that made the deepest impression in the author's native country and abroad. In 1959, Kawabata received the Goethe-medal in Frankfurt.

Yasunari Kawabata writing the novel at home

1973 : Leo Esaki

Esaki Leo

Experimental Discoveries Regarding Tunneling Phenomena in Semiconductors and Superconductors
The award is for their discoveries regarding tunneling phenomena in solids. Half of the prize is divided equally between Esaki and Giaever for their experimental discoveries regarding tunneling phenomena in semiconductors and superconductors respectively. The other half is awarded to Josephson for his theoretical predictions of properties in a supercurrent flowing through a tunnel barrier, in particular the phenomena generally known as the Josephson effects.

nobelprize Nage-waza against the enemy with nife
Quantum tunnelling through a barrier

1974 : Eisaku Sato

ASIMO running with kids

Prime Minister of Japan, For His Renunciation of The Nuclear Option for Japan and His Efforts to Further Regional Reconciliation
The reasons the Nobel Committee gave for awarding the Peace Prize to Eisaku Sato were that as Japanese Prime Minister he represented the will for peace of the Japanese people, and that he had signed the nuclear arms Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970. In the Committee's opinion, the award to Sato would encourage all those who were working to halt the spread of nuclear arms.

Atomic bomb cloud on the Nagasaki-city
Atomic bomb cloud on the Nagasaki-city

1981 : Kenichi Fukui

Kenichi Fukui

The Theories, Developed Independently, Concerning The Course of Chemical Reactions
Fukui was awarded the Nobel Prize for his realization that a good approximation for reactivity could be found by looking at the frontier orbitals (HOMO/LUMO). This was based on three main observations of molecular orbital theory as two molecules interact.

  1. The occupied orbitals of different molecules repel each other.
  2. Positive charges of one molecule attract the negative charges of the other.
  3. The occupied orbitals of one molecule and the unoccupied orbitals of the other (especially HOMO and LUMO) interact with each other causing attraction.
From these observations, frontier molecular orbital (FMO) theory simplifies reactivity to interactions between HOMO of one species and the LUMO of the other. This helps to explain the predictions of the Woodward-Hoffman rules for thermal pericyclic reactions, which are summarized in the following statement: "A ground-state pericyclic change is symmetry-allowed when the total number of (4q+2)s and (4r)a components is odd"

Frontier molecular orbital theory
Frontier molecular orbital theory

1987 : Susumu Tonegawa

Susumu Tonegawa

The Discovery of The Genetic Principle for Generation of Antibody Diversity
In a pioneering study published in 1976 Tonegawa could through a series of ingenious experiments show how parts of the genome of the cell (DNA) is redistributed under its differentiation from an embryonic cell to an antibody producing B lymphocyte. During the following two years Tonegawa completely dominated this area of research. He could in increasingly greater detail clarify how those parts of the genome which gives rise to antibody are moved around in order to allow each B lymphocyte to produce its own unique antibody.

Human antibody structure
Human antibody structure

1994 : Kenzaburō Ōe

Kenzaburō Ōe

Who with Poetic Force Creates an Imagined World, where Life and Myth Condense to Form a Disconcerting Picture of The Human Predicament Today
In the imagined world he has created, he succeeds in portraying the qualities humanity shares by intensifying what is individual. This is true in particular of his work since the 1960's, when he had the experience of becoming the father of a brain-damaged son. This is the event that provides the background in reality of "A personal matter" (1964).

The novel "The silent cry" (1967) is one of Oe's major works. At first glance it appears to concern an unsuccessful revolt, but fundamentally the novel deals with people's relationships with each other in a confusing world in which knowledge, passions, dreams, ambitions and attitudes merge into each other.

Kenzaburo reading the book he wrote at his house
Kenzaburo reading the book he wrote at his house

2000 : Hideki Shirakawa

Hideki Shirakawa

The Discovery and Development of Conductive Polymers
Plastics are polymers, molecules that repeat their structure regularly in long chains. For a polymer to be able to conduct electric current it must consist alternately of single and double bonds between the carbon atoms. It must also be "doped", which means that electrons are removed (through oxidation) or introduced (through reduction). These "holes" or extra electrons can move along the molecule - it becomes electrically conductive.

Research on conductive polymers is also closely related to the rapid development in molecular electronics. In the future we will be able to produce transistors and other electronic components consisting of individual molecules - which will dramatically increase the speed and reduce the size of our computers.

Chemical structures of some conductive polymers
Chemical structures of some conductive polymers

2001 : Ryōji Noyori

Ryōji Noyori

The Work on Chirally Catalysed Hydrogenation Reactions
He have developed molecules that can catalyse important reactions so that only one of the two mirror image forms is produced. The catalyst molecule, which itself is chiral, speeds up the reaction without being consumed. Just one of these molecules can produce millions of molecules of the desired mirror image form. The Laureates have opened up a completely new field of research in which it is possible to synthesise molecules and material with new properties. Today the results of their basic research are being used in a number of industrial syntheses of pharmaceutical products such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs and heart medicines.

A generic asymmetric hydrogenation of N-acetyl dehydroaminoacids
A generic asymmetric hydrogenation of N-acetyl dehydroaminoacids

2002 : Masatoshi Koshiba

Masatoshi Koshiba

Pioneering Contributions to Astrophysics, in Particular for The Detection of Cosmic Neutrinos
With gigantic detector, called Kamiokande, a group of researchers led by Masatoshi Koshiba was able, on 23 February 1987, to detect neutrinos from a distant supernova explosion. They captured twelve of the total of 1016 neutrinos (10,000,000,000,000,000) that passed through the detector. The work of Koshiba has led to unexpected discoveries and a new, intensive field of research, neutrino-astronomy.

Inside view of Kamiokande detector
Inside view of Kamiokande detector

2002 : Koichi Tanaka

Koichi Tanaka

"The Development of Methods for Identification and Structure Analyses of Biological Macromolecules" and "The Development of Soft Desorption Ionisation Methods for Mass Spectrometric Analyses of Biological Macromolecules"
For mass spectrometry analyses of a macromolecule, such as a protein, the analyte must be ionized and vaporized by laser irradiation. The problem is that the direct irradiation of an intense laser pulse on a macromolecule causes cleavage of the analyte into tiny fragments and the loss of its structure. In February 1985, Tanaka found that by using a mixture of ultra fine metal powder in glycerol as a matrix, an analyte can be ionized without losing its structure. His work was filed as a patent application in 1985, and after the patent application was made public reported at the Annual Conference of the Mass Spectrometry Society of Japan held in Kyoto, in May 1987 and became known as soft laser desorption (SLD).

Chemical structure of a polypeptide macromolecule
Chemical structure of a polypeptide macromolecule

2008 : Yoichiro Nambu

Yoichiro Nambu

The Discovery of The Mechanism of Spontaneous Broken Symmetry in Subatomic Physics
For a long time, physicists assumed that different types of symmetries characterise nature. In a kind of mirror-world, the physical laws should be the same if right and left are exchanged and if matter is replaced by antimatter. However, symmetries had sometimes been shown to be violated. Yoichiro Nambu formulated in 1960 a mathematical theory for understanding symmetry violations, giving a basis for better understanding the elementary particles and their interactions.

An effective potential, V(ϕ), in the form of a 'Mexican hat' leads to spontaneous symmetry breaking
An effective potential, V(ϕ), in the form of a 'Mexican hat' leads to spontaneous symmetry breaking

2008 : Makoto Kobayashi, Toshihide Maskawa

Makoto Kobayashi, Toshihide Maskawa

The Discovery of The Origin of The Broken Symmetry which Predicts The Existence of at Least Three Families of Quarks in Nature
The spontaneous broken symmetries that Nambu studied, differ from the broken symmetries described by Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa. These spontaneous occurrences seem to have existed in nature since the very beginning of the universe and came as a complete surprise when they first appeared in particle experiments in 1964. It is only in recent years that scientists have come to fully confirm the explanations that Kobayashi and Maskawa made in 1972. It is for this work that they are now awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. They explained broken symmetry within the framework of the Standard Model, but required that the Model be extended to three families of quarks. These predicted, hypothetical new quarks have recently appeared in physics experiments. As late as 2001, the two particle detectors BaBar at Stanford, USA and Belle at Tsukuba, Japan, both detected broken symmetries independently of each other. The results were exactly as Kobayashi and Maskawa had predicted almost three decades earlier.

Simulated Large Hadron Collider CMS particle detector data depicting a Higgs boson
Simulated Large Hadron Collider CMS particle detector data depicting a Higgs boson

2008 : Osamu Shimomura

Osamu Shimomura

The Discovery and Development of The Green Fluorescent Protein, GFP
Shimomura worked in the Department of Biology at Princeton for Professor Johnson to study the jellyfish. Aequorea victoria, which they collected during many summers at the Friday Harbor Laboratories of the University of Washington. In 1962, their work culminated in the discovery of the proteins aequorin and green fluorescent protein (GFP) in the small, mouse-sized umbrella-shaped bioluminescent jellyfish Aequorea victoria.

Structure of the 'Aequorea victoria' green fluorescent protein
Structure of the 'Aequorea victoria' green fluorescent protein

2010 : Ei-ichi Negishi, Akira Suzuki

Ei-ichi Negishi, Akira Suzuki

The Palladium-catalyzed Cross Couplings in Organic Synthesis
The chemical tool called "The Palladium-catalyzed Cross Couplings" has vastly improved the possibilities for chemists to create sophisticated chemicals, for example carbon-based molecules as complex as those created by nature itself. Palladium-catalyzed cross coupling is used in research worldwide, as well as in the commercial production of for example pharmaceuticals and molecules used in the electronics industry.

Sonogashira coupling reaction mechanism
Sonogashira coupling reaction mechanism

2012 : Shinya Yamanaka

Shinya Yamanaka

The Discovery that Mature Cells Can Be Reprogrammed to Become Pluripotent
In 1962, John Gurdon removed the nucleus of a fertilized egg cell from a frog and replaced it with the nucleus of a mature cell taken from a tadpole's intestine. This modified egg cell grew into a new frog, proving that the mature cell still contained the genetic information needed to form all types of cells. In 2006, Shinya Yamanaka succeeded in identifying a small number of genes within the genome of mice that proved decisive in this process. When activated, skin cells from mice could be reprogrammed to immature stem cells, which, in turn, can grow into all types of cells within the body. In the long-term, these discoveries may lead to new medical treatments.

Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells
Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells

2014 : Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, Shuji Nakamura

Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, Shuji Nakamura

The Invention of Efficient Blue Light-emitting Diodes which Has Enabled Bright and Energy-saving white Light Sources
Lighting plays a major role in our quality of life. The development of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) has made more efficient light sources possible. Creating white light that can be used for lighting requires a combination of red, green, and blue light. Blue LEDs proved to be much more difficult to create than red and green diodes. During the 1980s and 1990s Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura successfully used the difficult-to-handle semiconductor gallium nitride to create efficient blue LEDs.

Blue light-emitting diode
Blue light-emitting diode

2015 : Satoshi Ōmura

Satoshi Ōmura

The Discoveries Concerning a Novel Therapy Against Infections Caused by Roundworm Parasites
Satoshi Ōmura and William C. Campbell discovered a new drug, Avermectin, the derivatives of which have radically lowered the incidence of River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis, as well as showing efficacy against an expanding number of other parasitic diseases. Youyou Tu discovered Artemisinin, a drug that has significantly reduced the mortality rates for patients suffering from Malaria. These two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually. The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable.

Skeletal formula of ivermectin
Skeletal formula of ivermectin

2015 : Takaaki Kajita

Takaaki Kajita

The Discovery of Neutrino Oscillations, which Shows that Neutrinos Have Mass
Atomic nuclei consist of protons and neutrons, kept together by a strong force. Hideki Yukawa assumed that the force is carried by particles and further, that there is a relation between the range of the force and the mass of the force carrying particle. Yukawa predicted in 1934 that the particle should have a mass of about 200 times that of the electron. He called the particle a meson. In later experiments, the existence of mesons was verified.

Inside view of Super kamiokande detector
Inside view of Super kamiokande detector

2016 : Yoshinori Ohsumi

Yoshinori Ohsumi

The Discoveries of Mechanisms for Autophagy
Autophagy is the natural, regulated, destructive mechanism of the cell that disassembles unnecessary or dysfunctional components. Autophagy allows the orderly degradation and recycling of cellular components. Autophagy was already known when he started his career - the term was coined in 1963. During the 1990s, Ohsumi's group described the morphology of autophagy in yeast, and performed mutational screening on yeast cells that identified essential genes for cells to be capable of autophagy.

Inside view of Super kamiokande detector
Mechanism of autophagy
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Encyclopedia of Japan