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Press Conference announcing the 2019 (35th)
Japan Prize laureates, January 16, 2019 Welcome to the press
conference for the announcement of the
2019 (35th) Japan Prize laureates. The Japan Prize came into
being during early 1980s after the late Mr. Konosuke Matsushita,
the founder of Matsushita Electric, made a personal donation in response
to the then government’s wish to create a prestigious international
prize on par with the Nobel Prize that would express Japan’s
gratitude to international society. When I look back over the
lineup of 94 laureates honored during the past 34 years of
Japan prize and their achievements, I am strongly reaffirmed
that the pedigree records of Japan Prize recipients reflect
the history of world peace and prosperity
brought about by the advancement of science
and technology. Please allow me to announce
the 2019 Japan Prize Laureates. In the field of “Materials and
Production”, the award goes to Distinguished Invited University
Professor, Nagoya University, and Chair Professor, Harbin
Engineering University, Prof. Yoshio Okamoto. His achievement is:
Leading contributions to precision synthesis of
helical polymers and development of practical
chiral materials for separating chiral drugs. Next, for the field of
“Biological Production, Ecology”, the award goes to Distinguished University
Professor of Soil Science and Director, Carbon Management
and Sequestration Center, The Ohio State University,
Prof. Rattan Lal. His achievement is:
Sustainable soil management for global food security and
mitigation of climate change. This year’s Japan Prize will be
awarded to these two laureates. Two years ago in November,
the Foundation chose and announced
the two prize fields of “Materials and Production” and
“Biological Production, Ecology”. The Foundation then called
for nominations from 15,000 prominent scientists and
researchers from around the globe who were specially
invited by the foundation. As a result, we received
back 270 nominations in “Materials and Production” field and 99 nominations in
“Biological Production, Ecology” field. In total, we recieved
369 nominations. For those nominations,
a Selection Subcommittee setup for each prize
field performed evaluation on the achievements’
scholarly novelty and uniqueness. At the same time, the discovery
or invention’s contribution to the peace and prosperity of
mankind was deeply discussed, for it is the core idea
behind the Japan Prize. During this process, we also
received objective feedback from 85 prominent intellectuals
of relevant fields from home and abroad. It was through these
rigorous evaluations and considerations that this
year’s laureates were chosen. In 1979, Prof. Okamoto succeeded
in the world’s first ever synthesis of a stable one-handed
helical polymer in solutions. Prof. Okamoto also
discovered that helical polymers
had the ability to distinguish one from the
mixture of two enantiomers. He used a cloumn
and separated the enantiomers as it
passed through. The column was
packed with helical polymer
coated silica gel. When the mixture of enantiomers
is injected through, only one of the enantiomers is
captured by helical polymer and the other flows out
of the end of the column. The enantiomers is separated
by utilizing the time difference with which the
substances flow out. In 1982, just 3 years
after this discovery, he achieved the world’s first
practical application of polymer separation
column for enantiomers. Although some conventional
drugs could still be used with reduced efficacy due to the
mixing of enantiomers, it was now possible to separate
them using this column, which resulted in major improvements
such as reduction of side effects, enhancement of
antibacterial activity, and prolongation
of half-life. High-precision separation has
contributed enormously to the R&D and manufacturing of
precision chemical products and functional materials
such as pharmaceuticals. My research on the synthesis
of helical polymers and the development of high performance
chiral separation agents, which is the subject
of the award, started out as basic research. It gives me joy to think
that the awarding of basic research such as this
will especially be an encouragement for
young researchers who are currently
conducting basic research. In my life time, I have
been deeply moved at the laboratory
several times. I strongly hope that young
people in this field, especially those in chiral, polymers
or material science will feel the same kind of
excitement as I am. Prof. Lal established the
“No-Tillage Cultivation Method”. In a nutshell, it involves
growing cover crops, followed by the planting
the seeds of target crops after the withering
of cover crops. Prof. Lan analyzed enormous
amount of data and revealed the global carbon cycle
that revolves around soil. He also discovered that in
order to sequestration carbon, it is important to increase
soil organic matter. In order to stop the negative
cycle, he says we must plant crops between threes.
This helps to improve crop yields while sequestrating
carbon back into soil. He has been promoting
these practices to the international community
for a very long time. At the COP 21 in 2015, an
international effort to “increase the soil
carbon in the world by 4/1000 every year” started. Furthermore, of the
17 items of the “Sustainable Development
Goals (SDGs)” formulated by the United Nations in
2015, 4 of them are based on Prof. Lal’s recommendation
and came out of his achivements. Also, they will most
certainly contribute to the effort to reduce atmospheric
carbon into the future. The award of the 2019
Japan Prize to me is a recognition of the
importance of soil science and its impact in addressing the
global issues of the 21st century, including food security and climate
change, adaptation and mitigation. This award also recognizes the role
of farmers and land mangers who are the steward of soil and
natural resources. In particular, this award is a special
recognition of the prominent role that small land holders,
0.5 to about 5 hectare, totaling about 500 to
600 million of them, working throughout the world
under very harsh environments and difficult
conditions in managing global natural resources
and at the same time, attempting to provide food
and nutritional security.

Robin Kshlerin

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