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Eight Tokyo Tech faculty members receive 2016 MEXT Young Scientists' Prize

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June 30, 2016

Eight Tokyo Tech faculty members received the Young Scientists' Prize in the 2016 Commendation for Science and Technology by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

To be eligible for consideration, candidates must be individuals under 40 years of age whose research and development exhibit uniqueness, highly advanced ability, and exceptional merit. The eight Tokyo Tech recipients spoke about their work.

Masashi Aono
Adjunct Associate Professor, Earth-Life Science Institute

Prize-winning research: Innovative computers inspired by slime mold amoeba

Assoc. Prof. Aono
Assoc. Prof. Aono

Conventional digital computers perform quick and accurate operations based on stable elements but cannot respond to unprogrammed situations in which previous knowledge cannot be provided. It has been expected that this limitation will be overcome if unconventional computing principles could be established as inspired by biological systems and natural phenomena. We have developed a bio-computer, which is an experimental system that searches for a solution to a combinatorial optimization problem by exploiting spatiotemporal dynamics of shape-changing behavior of a single-celled amoeboid organism (true slime mold). By abstracting the spatiotemporal dynamics of this bio-computer, we have formulated a solution-searching algorithm that is used for solving a complex constraint satisfaction problem called the Boolean satisfiability problem. Moreover, we have shown that this solution-searching algorithm is implemented physically by various nanodevices, which operate with their intrinsic physical interactions and stochastic fluctuations. These research achievements are expected to contribute to the development of compact and energy-efficient computers, which will be used to discover satisfactory solutions from among a vast number of candidates and to perform large-scale simulation of natural phenomena. This may lead to an innovative computing paradigm, which potentially has large impacts on social life and academic research.

I believe that this commendation has great significance for myself and my research collaborators. Our idea, which aims at developing innovative computers by learning from the seemingly witless amoeboid organism, has at times been subjected to curious and quizzical eyes that doubt its validity. However, we have been advancing our research with the belief that it is quite reasonable to learn from biological organisms with relatively simpler architectures in order to innovate unconventional hardware devices in which their architectures are tightly coupled with their intrinsic solution-searching dynamics. I feel privileged to be given this commendation by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan, as it will change how our idea is perceived and what is expected of us in the future. We will make further efforts to advance our research in order to open up innovation in unconventional hardware devices.

Tomohiro Amemiya
Assistant Professor, Institute of Innovative Research

Prize-winning research: New function appearance utilizing meta-materials and application to devices

Assit. Prof. Amemiya
Assit. Prof. Amemiya

My area of interest is the implementation of meta-materials in the major fields of engineering. With the aim of applying meta-materials to optical integrated circuits for use in communications, my research focuses on the development of miniature optical modulators and a wide range of other devices.

It is a great honor to receive such recognition for my research. Of course, this would not have been possible without the support I received from all the people involved in this research, both here at Tokyo Tech and at other institutions. I would like to express my deep appreciation to all of these people.

Shinsuke Inagi
Associate Professor, School of Materials and Chemical Technology

Prize-winning research: Development of polymeric materials based on electron transfer on electrodes

Assoc. Prof. Inagi
Assoc. Prof. Inagi

Demand has been increasing for light and flexible organic materials for use in electronics. In particular, development of methods for the achievement of new molecular design and function is required. Since I joined the faculty at Tokyo Tech, I have been interested in organic electrode reactions utilizing electrons as reagents, and have pursued post-functionalization of polymers via electron transfer on electrodes. I also developed an innovative method of controlling the distribution of electric potential and transferring it to polymer films, which paved the way for creating function-gradient surfaces.

It is a great honor for me to receive this award, and I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to my research partners, students, and the many others engaged in this research both at Tokyo Tech and elsewhere. I would also like to express my appreciation to Tokyo Tech for the financial assistance.

Jun Takaya
Associate Professor, School of Science

Prize-winning research: Development of efficient molecular transformations utilizing transition metal catalysts bearing a group 14 element-centered pincer type ligand

Assoc. Prof. Takaya
Assoc. Prof. Takaya

The creation and utilization of new molecules is one of the most important and interesting aspects of research in chemistry. We have synthesized new transition metal complexes bearing a group 14 element-centered pincer type ligand and successfully developed useful synthetic reactions of unreactive molecules such as carbon dioxide and unsaturated hydrocarbons utilizing these complexes as catalysts. We also clarified unprecedented non-innocent behavior of the group 14 elements as supporting ligands, which enabled new reaction mechanisms for bond activation and formation. These findings provide useful insights for designing transition metal catalysts in organometallic and synthetic organic chemistry.

It is a great honor to receive this award, and I want to express my appreciation to professor Nobuharu Iwasawa, my coworkers, and other faculty members for their generous support throughout this research.

Marie Tabaru
Associate Professor, Institute of Innovative Research

Prize-winning research: Non-invasive biological tissue firmness measurement utilizing elastic waves

Assoc. Prof. Tabaru
Assoc. Prof. Tabaru

We can estimate firmness by measuring the characteristics of vibrations applied to biological tissue from an external source. By applying this, I established a method of improving quantitativity in lesion diagnosis, ensured safety in applying the method, and developed basic miniaturization technology with applications to endoscopes.

It is difficult for me to describe what an honor it is to have my work recognized in this way. I feel that I share this prize with all the people who have provided me with guidance and support since I was a student. I am committed to continuing my work in this field to achieve better results as a means of contributing to society and improving lives.

Kazuhiko Maeda
Associate Professor, School of Science

Prize-winning research: Semiconductor photocatalyst generating hydrogen from sunlight and water

Assoc. Prof. Maeda
Assoc. Prof. Maeda

I have been focusing on the development of a powder photocatalyst that generates hydrogen from water under sunlight. The importance of hydrogen as a clean energy carrier is increasing, and generating hydrogen from water and solar energy, both in abundant supply, would be a true breakthrough. A powder photocatalyst would potentially open up use in much larger areas exposed to plenty of sunlight, paving the way for future commercialization.

Through my research into artificial compounds that have not yet been reported, that is, materials that do not exist naturally, I have clarified that oxynitrides function as photocatalysts that are effective in splitting water under irradiation of sunlight. Furthermore, my work on promoting surface reactions with photocatalysts has for the first time resulted in a solar energy conversion efficiency comparable to that of natural photosynthesis in green plants.

Development of semiconductor photocatalyst and co-catalyst for visible light decomposition of water
Development of semiconductor photocatalyst and co-catalyst for visible light decomposition of water

I would like to express my deep appreciation to all the people who have supported my research. I would like to express special thanks to Professor Kazunari Domen at the University of Tokyo, Professor Michikazu Hara at Tokyo Tech who taught me while I was a student, my research partners who sacrificed their time and energy discussing and finding solutions under difficult circumstances, and my family and friends, who supported me on a daily basis. Keeping this award in mind, I am committed to continuing my research and teaching.

Satoru Matsuishi
Associate Professor, Materials Research Center for Element Strategy

Prize-winning research: Functional electrides and oxyhydrides

Assoc. Prof. Matsuishi
Assoc. Prof. Matsuishi

Much research has been done on element strategy with the aim of developing alternatives to rare metals. I have attempted to build on more advanced research to design completely new functional substances utilizing abundant elements that enable us to reduce environmental burden.

I focused on the space between atoms in crystals rather than the atoms themselves. I chose a metal oxide crystal (a cement ingredient and insulator) composed of calcium, aluminum, and oxygen, all abundant ordinal elements, and allowed electrons to occupy the spaces between atoms. This enabled a new functionality called the low-work function, which allows the generation of metallic conductivity and electron emission characteristics. The inclusion of hydrogen, the most ordinal element in space, as an anion, allowed me to inject high-concentration electrons into oxides to prove that electron conductivity could be controlled.

This prize was made possible by the support I received from research partners and students here at Tokyo Tech. I would like to express my deep appreciation to them. I will continue to expand my work utilizing the results of substance design in this research with the aim of creating materials for the benefit of society.

Takahiro Muraoka
Assistant Professor, School of Life Science and Technology

Prize-winning research: Bio-inspired stimuli-responsive functional molecules

Asst. Prof. Muraoka
Asst. Prof. Muraoka

Biological molecules such as proteins are attractive not only for biologists but also synthetic chemists because of their diverse and sophisticated structures and functions. I have developed original synthetic functional molecules inspired by such biological molecules in nature.

Representative molecules are synthetic molecular machines inspired by proteins performing mechanical motions and synthetic ion channels developed by mimicking membrane proteins with transporting functions. I continue my research to make the best efforts to develop functional and valuable molecules on the basis of the concept "organic chemistry inspired by nature".

I am deeply grateful to all the collaborators and students who supported my research.

Figure 1: Chiral molecular scissors enabling interlocking motion between molecules

Figure 1: Chiral molecular scissors enabling interlocking motion between molecules
Elongation motion at the azobenzene part triggered by light is converted to axial rotation at the ferrocene part and opening/closing motion at the zinc porphyrin parts in the molecular scissors, which in turn induces rotational motion at the trapped biisoquinoline molecule. This is the first synthetic example of an interlocking system between molecules similar to protein machines.

Figure 2: Supramolecular ion channel mimicking membrane proteins

Figure 2: Supramolecular ion channel mimicking membrane proteins
A multi-block molecule consisting of repeating hydrophilic (blue) and hydrophobic parts (red) folds into a multipass transmembrane structure in a membrane, which forms a tetrameric assembly functioning as a supramolecular ion channel.

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