2003 Kyoto Prize Laureates Named

David Braun
National Geographic News
June 20, 2003
Behind the Scenes: The Kyoto Prizes An interview with Kazuo Inamori>>

The Inamori Foundation announced the laureates of its 19th Annual Kyoto Prizes, international awards presented to people who have contributed significantly to mankind's betterment in the categories of Advanced Technology, Basic Science, and Arts and Philosophy.

This year's Kyoto Prize laureates are Harvard University Professor George McClelland Whitesides, 63, of Newton, Massachusetts; University of Chicago Professor Emeritus Eugene Newman Parker, 76, of Homewood, Illinois; and Bunraku Puppet Master Tamao Yoshida, 84, of Osaka, Japan.

Whitesides will receive the Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology for pioneering a technique of organic molecular self-assembly and its applications in the field of nanomaterials science. Parker receives the Basic Sciences prize for establishing a new perspective on astrophysics by elucidating the solar wind and other cosmic phenomena. Yoshida, a master of Bunraku puppetry, who was designated as one of Japan's "Living National Treasures" in 1997, will receive the Kyoto Prize for Arts and Philosophy for his significant contributions to Bunraku's current status as the world's most highly refined form of puppet theater.

Each laureate will receive a diploma, a Kyoto Prize Medal of 20-karat gold, and a cash gift of 50 million yen (approximately U.S. $400,000) at the Kyoto Prize Ceremony in Japan on November 10. In addition, the laureates will meet in San Diego, California, March 3 to 5, 2004, for the third annual Kyoto Laureate Symposium at the University of San Diego.

"I'm still trying to get used to the idea," Parker said in a statement released by the University of Chicago. "It's a tremendous honor."

Parker said his career has been full of scientific surprises. "It's been great fun. You let nature, in the form of astronomy, tell you what's happening, and then you sit there and try to figure out why, and sometimes you can and sometimes you still don't know enough to figure out why."

The other two laureates were not immediately available for comment.

The Kyoto Prizes recognize significant contributions to the scientific, cultural and spiritual development of mankind, the Inamori Foundation said in a statement.

"Today, we are rushing ahead with incredible scientific and technological achievements, while understanding of our emotional and psychological development lags deplorably," said Kazuo Inamori, founder and president of The Inamori Foundation. "It is my hope that the Kyoto Prizes will encourage balanced development of both our scientific and our spiritual sides, and hence provide impetus toward the structuring of new philosophical paradigms."

This is an edited version of the statement released by the Inamori Foundation which cites the achievements of the 2003 Kyoto prize laureates:

Advanced Technology

The 2003 Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology was chosen from the field of materials sciences and engineering. Chemist George McClelland Whitesides will receive the award for pioneering a technique of organic molecular self-assembly and its applications in the field of nanomaterials science.

Whitesides' activities cover a broad spectrum, from fundamental chemistry to applied technologies, and have produced major innovations in the creation of nano functional materials. Through exhaustive investigation of chemical combinations and physicochemical characterization of self-assembly in organic molecules, Whitesides has made a significant contribution to the development of new fields in materials science.

In the course of his research, Whitesides noted in particular that alkanethiolates absorb well to gold and silver substrates, an insight which he then used in developing a technique to fabricate self-assembled monolayers (SAMs). These ultra-thin layers of organic molecules occupy an indispensable place among the materials currently employed in organic nanotechnology.

Whitesides further developed SAM technology to propose a "micro-contact printing method" that employs organic substances, making complex patterning possible at the micron level. This method, now known as "soft lithography," does not require the expensive equipment or advanced technologies necessary for the photolithography used in conventional semiconductor manufacturing. The method can be utilized for patterning organic molecules and bio-molecules which exhibit a diverse range of properties. Thus, Whitesides' soft lithography could also be considered a type of "molecular printing," opening the way to innumerable potential applications in biotechnology and other fields.

Basic Science

The 2003 Kyoto Prize for Basic Science has been chosen from the field of earth and planetary sciences, astronomy and astrophysics. Physicist Eugene Newman Parker will receive the award for establishing a new perspective on astrophysics by elucidating the phenomena of the solar wind and cosmical magnetohydrodynamics.

In 1958 Parker made a theoretical prediction of a supersonic flow of plasmas (charged particles) emitted from the solar corona, which he called the "solar wind." Several years later, the solar wind's existence was proven through direct satellite observation, which made it possible to expound the mechanisms of magnetic storms, auroras and other solar-terrestrial phenomena.

Having shown that the space between the sun and the Earth is filled with this supersonic flow—and not a vacuum, as had been believed—Parker's theory triggered drastic changes in the perception of space.

In addition, he applied cosmical magnetohydrodynamics to the development of the "Dynamo Theory" and what has come to be known as the "Parker Instability." These have helped elucidate a broad range of phenomena involving fixed stars, the interstellar medium and the galaxy, creating a new perception of space physics.

Parker's book, Cosmical Magnetic Fields—Their Origin and Activity (1979), comprises the vast body of his many years of research findings. Regarded as the bible of cosmic magnetohydrodynamics, it is quoted authoritatively to this day in scientific papers within that discipline. Author of over 300 scientific papers himself, Parker has literally taken the lead in guiding the world's space sciences.

Arts and Philosophy

The 2003 Kyoto Prize for Arts and Philosophy has been chosen from the field of theater, cinema. Receiving the award will be Tamao Yoshida, regarded as the world's foremost master of Bunraku puppetry, a classical Japanese performance art. Yoshida has contributed significantly to Bunraku's current status as the world's most highly refined form of puppet theater.

At age 84, Yoshida continues to perform without any sign of decline, and indeed continues to bring new refinement and clarity to his art. Rather than indulge in crowd-pleasing spectacles, he is unswervingly devoted to exploring the expression of the human condition that is described in joruri (musical narrative) text. His subtle and refined performance techniques, rich sensibility and deeply detailed knowledge of traditional stories have all contributed to the accolades that Bunraku has earned among audiences outside Japan as an art that expresses the richness of the human heart more deeply than any other puppet genre.

Of all the roles he has performed, the one that best displays the depth of his talent is Tokubei in Sonezaki Shinju ("Love Suicides at Sonezaki"), which has received copious acclaim ever since its first post-war performance in a memorable 1955 revival.

In 2002, performed this role a record-breaking 1,111th time. Recognized for his dedication to expressing the spiritual essence of humanity through Bunraku, Yoshida was designated as one of Japan's "Living National Treasures" in 1997, and is considered a premier stage artist who has helped to make Bunraku the most refined puppet theater genre in the world.

© 1996-2008 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved.