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Chemical Education International, Vol. 7, No. 1, AN-1, Received October 21, 2006

To the Youth of the World Who Aspire to a Career in Chemistry

Message from Nobel Laureates to Young People (5)
Professor Ryoji Noyori, 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The Committee on Chemistry Education (CCE) of IUPAC edits and issues an electronic journal, Chemical Education International (CEI) ( cei). For the benefit of those who aspire to a career in chemistry, each issue contains a short interview with a Nobel Laureate in chemistry. In this way, we hope to provide a profile of those who are at the forefront of chemistry and give aspiring chemists role models for their future endeavors.

The intended readership of the interviews published in CEI are senior high school students who are at a point in their life where they must make decisions about their future career, or first year university students in science and technology who must begin to specialize in a chosen field of study.

We are extremely grateful to Prof. Ryoji Noyori* for his appreciation of the idea of this series of interviews and for kindly sparing us his precious time.

This interview with Prof. Ryoji Noyori (left, on picture 1 above), by Prof. Yoshito Takeuchi and Prof. Masato M. Ito was carried out at the office of the President, RIKEN on March 16, 2005.

*The 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was shared jointly by Prof. Ryoji Noyori (Nagoya University), Dr. William S. Knowles (Monsanto Co.) and Prof. K. Barry Sharpless (Scripps Research Institute) by virtue of their achievement in catalytic asymmetric synthesis.

CEI: Chemical Education International
Prof. Yoshito Takeuchi (Titular member, CCE), Prof. M. M. Ito (Editor)

RN: Professor Ryoji Noyori

CEI: First, let me ask your background. Were there any special circumstances or a particular stimulus that led you to pursue a career in science?

RN: I was born in 1938 and I entered primary school in the year the Second World War ended. This period corresponds to a time in Japanese history when the country was in an economically difficult situation, and also in a state of confusion. This might have made a difference between me and Japanese children of my era with children who grew up in other countries. I suppose my desire to become a scientist was fostered in such an atmosphere.
My father was a graduate of the Faculty of Engineering, the Imperial University of Tokyo. After he graduated from the university he was employed by Kanegafuchi Spinning Company, and then Kanegafuchi Chemical Industrial Co. (now KANEKA) as a chemical engineer. So our house was full of chemical journals and technical books. In addition, there were samples of powdered polymers and fibers; in closets I could find beakers and flasks. This was the situation into which I was born and grew up.
The first cue to awaken in me a passion for science was the news that Prof. Hideki Yukawa was awarded with the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1949. On this occasion I learned of the existence of the Nobel Prize. I was in the fifth grade at primary school. This news was very encouraging to Japanese people who were still suffering from postwar confusion.

CEI: I belong to much the same generation as yours. I also remember the impact of the news very vividly.

RN: Just after I was born, my father, accompanied by my mother, went to Europe to inspect research facilities there. He was lucky in that one of the passengers on the ship, the Yasukuni-maru, was a young Prof. Yukawa who was also going to Europe to attend the Solvey Congress. For one month my parents traveled on the ship and participated in dance parties and mahjong games. My father told me that Prof. Yukawa was asked to deliver a public lecture which turned out to be easy to follow though the topic was very difficult.
Soon after they arrived in Europe, the Second World War broke out. So my father had to return to Japan after visiting a couple of research institutes such as the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. The return trip was via the U.S.A. on the ship the Kamakura-maru; on which Prof. Yukawa also traveled.
When Prof. Yukawa received the Nobel Prize in 1949, my parents retold the episodes of their trip almost every night when we were dining. For this reason I felt that I knew Prof. Yukawa personally, and I also thought that I would like to enter Kyoto University.

Photo 2 This photo was taken in Hawaii in 1939. The Kamakura-maru stopped at Hawaii on her way from San Francisco to Yokohama. Prof. Yukawa (2nd from left; 32 years old at that time), Mr. Kaneki Noyori (3rd; 28 years old) and Mrs. Suzuko Noyori (24 years old).

CEI: Tell us about your primary school life.

RN: My primary school was attached to the Department of Education, Kobe University, and located at the foot of Mt. Rokko, which is rich in nature. Our school was a kind of experimental school, and there were many splendid teachers who taught us with care. I remember there was no particular subject which I was fond of, but I could say that I enjoyed studying in general.
During my primary school days, my time was mostly spent with friends, playing baseball, and strolling forests and woods nearby, rather than study. In those days, as a matter of fact, there were no TV or computer games; probably only the phonograph was around then. It was also an economically difficult period, and parents were busy with their work. So, I was in a circle of brothers and friends.

CEI: You entered Nada Middle School and then Nada High School, which is one of the leading secondary education schools in Japan. What were your experiences like there?

RN: I remember it was during the spring break before I entered middle school when an event took place which influenced my future career very significantly. I call the event "the Nylon case". For some reason or other, my father took me to the announcement of the new product, nylon, by the Toyo Rayon Co. (now TORAY). I attended to the meeting as a sole child among many adults. The President of the company told the audience something to the effect that the amylan (nylon) could be prepared from coal, water and air. I was very impressed, knowing that expensive materials such as nylon could be produced from very cheap raw materials. I was surprised to learn the power of chemistry.
This event took place in the midst of the postwar confusion, when economic reconstruction was a kind of national target. Though I was a child, I felt that I should study chemistry hard and contribute to society by producing useful materials as a chemical engineer. I may say that this experience was the first incentive to become a chemist.
In Nada Middle School I was taught chemistry by Dr. Kazuo Nakamoto who later became a professor of chemistry in the U.S.A. He was then a lecturer at Osaka University and taught us at Nada Middle School as a special teacher. I remember he was extremely smart. Because of the Nylon case, chemistry was my favorite subject, and I studied chemistry eagerly. Mathematics was also a favorite subject of mine.

Photo 3 Prof. Noyori when he was a student at Nada High School.

CEI: Judging from your story, we could say that you had pursued a career as a chemist from your middle school years straight through.

RN: This is so, though I am not sure which is better; to go straight through or to take a broader, less direct path. As for me, I made up my mind in my childhood to become a chemist.
As for extracurricular activities, I learned Judo. I remember I was a very active and naughty boy, although sometimes I was a little timid. At the entrance examination for Nada Middle School, I became a little nervous, and I misunderstood a mathematics problem, which had made me worry very much. I thought boys should be strong and tough, and this was the reason why I joined to the Judo club. At that time (1951), Japanese traditional sports (martial arts) were not allowed. However, the school had a deep connection with KODOKAN, and Japanese traditional sports were quite popular in Nada School. The Judo club was one of the most active. I belonged to the Judo club until the end of the second year of high school, which means that I played Judo for five years at school.

CEI: Please tell us about school life at Nada High School.

RN: The Kobe First Middle School (now Kobe High School) was famous for its severe discipline. It was said that pupils had to eat their lunch, without sitting on their stool, while other pupils on duty cleaned the classroom. On rainy days, one pupil ate his lunch while the other held an umbrella. After the war, excellent teachers from Kobe First Middle School moved to Nada Middle and High Schools mostly because of changes made to the educational system.
Teachers at Nada Middle and High School were truly excellent. All-around education was the motto of the school. For instance, Mr. Masanori Maino, a mathematics teacher, taught us lots of things, such as Chinese poetry for example, other than mathematics during class. Teachers of other subjects also guided us in a similar manner. By simply attending classes, we could acquire enough knowledge to pass the entrance examination for Kyoto University.

CEI: Now tell us about your life in Kyoto University. We were most interested in the process by which you chose your research supervisor.

RN: I was attracted by the reputation of Prof. Ichiro Sakurada and this was the reason why I entered Kyoto University. In the first two years of general education, I must admit I was not very diligent. I joined the rugby football club though I was not a regular member. Drinking alcohol and having fun with friends were my main activity during this period.
Prof. Sakurada belonged to the Department of Fiber Chemistry, while I was a student of Department of Industrial Chemistry. There were, however, several lectures common to both departments.
When I became a third year student, I began study in my major. Because I had not been very diligent, the initial stage was rather tough for me. I did like experiments though, and took the initiative to carry out experiments. I joined the group of Prof. Keiiti Sisido for the graduate research program. Prof. Sisido was very fond of baseball, and he was an elderly gentleman with many hobbies. He taught us in very nice way.
At that time there were not so many students who continued their study in the graduate school, but I began to think about further study at graduate school because I was then regretting somewhat my laziness in the initial stage of university life. I asked Prof. Sisido to accept me as a graduate student, telling him that I would like to study chemistry from the beginning. Prof. Sisido accepted and told me that I would be supervised by Associate Professor Hitosi Nozaki, who was known to be most strict with students.
I bowed to Prof. Nozaki, adding, "I am very immature, but I will try my best. Please supervise me." and I was accepted.
In his office a large number of abstracts of papers was neatly filed. Prof. Nozaki told me that I could read any of these I chose. It was only me who was allowed to use these. He supervised me very closely, and I studied very hard so that I could meet his demands. Gradually I realized there was nothing more interesting than chemistry and I became absorbed in it. Though my knowledge was limited, I had the vitality and health to compensate for this lack of experience. At least twice a week I did overnight experiments. I was really serious and intense. It was indeed the union of a bright professor and an average student! Life is indeed incomprehensible!
As for the topic of my research, Prof. Nozaki wanted me to help him with his study on the mechanism of organic reactions, especially on reaction intermediates. In those days we were not equipped with sophisticated instruments to prove the structure of the intermediates. What we could do then was just to imagine the structures in your mind.
Thanks to these experiences I mastered the fundamentals of organic chemistry, and established a way to think problems through in a thorough manner. Later, when I was investigating the chemistry of catalysts, I noticed that the power of thinking and the methodology I obtained in Nozaki's laboratory were very useful in developing new systems of catalysts. I could imagine something that no one had ever thought of.

CEI: You then began to investigate your main theme, asymmetric synthesis.

RN: A turning point in my career as a chemist was my appointment as an assistant, a junior faculty member. I intended to continue my study to obtain a higher degree after I finished my research for the MS degree. Then Professor Nozaki was promoted to full professor and intended to organize a new research group. Prof. Nozaki wanted me to be his assistant instead of continuing on with graduate study. My original intention was to obtain a PhD and then to enter the chemical industry as a senior industrial chemist. I was, however, persuaded by him, and finally accepted his offer.

Photo 4 At Kyoto University with young students.
Prof. Nozaki (standing) and Prof. Noyori (2nd from right) (1964).

The theme of my research was the study of carbenes, which are short-lived reaction intermediates. Carbenes, which are generated by thermolysis or photolysis of diazoalkanes, can exist in triplet or singlet forms with the reaction proceeding non-selectively.
It was already known that if one adds some copper compound during decomposition the reaction proceeds smoothly and selectively as the singlet. Some investigators attempted to explain this behavior by a physical phenomenon such as spin relaxation. I guessed, however, that a chemical bond might be formed between the carbene and copper.
How could I confirm my hypothesis? I thought that if we use a chiral (optically active) copper catalyst, the product of the reaction between carbenes and alkenes, a cyclopropane derivative, might be optically active.
One day we combined an optically active Schiff base with copper ion, and used this complex as the catalyst. If an optically active cyclopropane derivative would be formed, this would prove that a complex between copper and the carbene :CHCOOC2H5 was formed. With this assumption, we started the reaction.

Fig. 1 (new page) Formation of cyclopropane derivatives from alkenes and carbenes

Two nights' work was necessary to obtain enough sample to measure its optical rotation. Though the work was tough, I vividly remember the elation I felt when we found that the expected results were obtained.

CEI: Were you already aiming in your mind at asymmetric synthesis?

RN: Not at all. This experiment was aimed to prove the existence of the complex between carbene and copper ion. I hadn't yet thought of asymmetric synthesis at that time.
The result was submitted to the Journal of American Chemical Society, but was rejected. We had to accept their decision since the optical yield was only ca. 10 %. The paper was later accepted by Tetrahedron Letters to our satisfaction.
I immediately realized that what we had obtained was the general principle of asymmetric catalytic reactions. The asymmetric catalytic reactions was the first step in the challenge of Pasteur's principle, "Dissymmetry is the only and distinct boundary between biological and non-biological chemistry."

CEI: In a word, it was an attempt to challenge nature, was it?

RN: Indeed, exactly so. What I aimed at was not "catalysts as they are", but "catalysts as we want them to be." We believed that it should, in principle, be possible to design and synthesize any compound. My idea was to incorporate appropriate electronic and steric effects into molecules and to use them as catalysts. This was in 1966. Around that time, although some homogeneous catalysts such as metal carbonyls were known, the notion of molecular catalysts which would make use of the characteristics of molecules was not yet developed.

CEI: How you could succeed in the challenge to Pasteur?

RN: After this I moved to Nagoya University, but there were campus troubles at that time and I was allowed to study abroad at Harvard University with Prof. E. J. Corey*1 as my supervisor during this period. There I encountered hydrogenation reactions.
The reason why the asymmetric catalytic reaction was not highly estimated was the low optical yield of the reaction. Furthermore, the formation of a cyclopropane ring was a special reaction without the possibility of wider use at that time. I thought that I had to devise a reaction that was more general and with a higher optical yield.
The project given to me by Prof. Corey was to investigate the hydrogenation of an intermediate necessary for the synthesis of prostaglandin. It was necessary to hydrogenate selectively the cis double bond of a compound which also had a trans double bond. I became friendly with Assistant Prof. J. A. Osborn, the former student
of Prof. G. Wilkinson*2. We talked everyday, and I attended his lectures on inorganic chemistry. Mr. R. R. Schrock,*3 one of his students, once gave me a newly synthesizd rhodium catalyst.

*1 Corey, professor of Harvard University, U. S. A. Received Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1990 for his contribution to organic synthesis.
*2 Wilkinson, professor of Imperial College, London, U. K. received Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1973 for his contribution to the chemistry of organometallic compounds.
*3 Schrock received Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2005. Now Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Just at that time, Dr. W. S. Knowles, with whom I later received the Nobel Prize, and Prof. L. Horner discovered asymmetric hydrogenation. The optical yield was about 10% and hence the significance was not very great from the viewpoint of synthetic chemistry. This was the second example of asymmetric synthesis by means of an organometallic molecular catalyst. I believed that the reaction should be developed, and made up my mind to continue investigating asymmetric synthesis.

(Asymmetric synthesis is a synthetic reaction in which unequal amounts of (+)- and (-)-enantiomers are formed. If one enantiomer is formed in a 100 % yield then the reaction is called perfectly enantioselective. See reaction schema)

Photo 5 The Nobel Prize diploma awarded to Prof. Noyori.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2001

I returned to Japan and was so involved in so many things that it was difficult for me to start research on asymmetric synthesis. Prof. H. B. Kagan and Dr. Knowles advanced their research into asymmetric hydrogenation and Monsanto Co. successfully developed the industrial synthesis of L-DOPA. (DOPA = 3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine)

Fig. 2 The structure of DOPA. L-DOPA is the left-handed enantiomer.

I was unable, however, to even start my research along these lines. Many chemists thought that there was not much left to be investigated in the field of asymmetric hydrogenation, but it turned out in contrast that the study had only just begun.
When I started my research on asymmetric hydrogenation, I made up my mind to achieve a perfect asymmetric synthesis. For this purpose I chose a compound called BINAP. (BINAP = 2,2'-bis(diphenylphosphino)-1,1'-binaphthyl)
I was enchanted by the beauty of the structure of BINAP. Any chemist can appreciate its beauty if one draws its structure.

CEI: Indeed. We can say that splendid functions come from beautiful structures.

RN: I believe so. The dictum of the "Bauhaus" movement of Germany tells the truth. "The beauty of that molecule is brilliant". I started research on this molecule from 1974. We encountered a series of difficulties, and many Japanese and foreign chemists withdrew from such study. In 1980, we finally managed to publish a paper on the asymmetric synthesis of amino acids based on the BINAP chemistry. One of my coworkers on this project was the late Prof. Hidemasa Takaya who was at the Institute of Molecular Science and Kyoto University. Sadly, he passed away in 1994 while he was on a lecture tour in Germany.

Fig. 3 The structure of BINAP.

Notably, as we continued the study, it became clear that the complex of rhodium (Rh) and BINAP as catalyst was the worst possible combination in view of the reaction mechanism. The result looked nice since nearly a 100 % enantiomeric excess was obtained. However, this result was beside the point as Prof. J. Halpern pointed out. The hydrogenation reaction proceeded via complexes between the BINAP-Rh catalyst and an alkene substrate. Two equilibrating intermediates were formed; one was the major, favored complex and the other a minor isomer. The point is that the minor intermediate was more reactive and gave the desired enantiomeric isomer, whereas the major complex was less reactive to result in the wrong enantiomeric product. BINAP is very selective, and only the main complex could be observed using NMR. This complex was, however, not very reactive, and its minor isomer, which was not detectable by NMR, was active. This meant that a very strict control of the reaction condition was required to form the necessary minor complex. How you could form in sufficient quantity a compound which was hardly detectable? The suitable reaction condition was obtainable only with a very dilute solution and under a reduced pressure. Two years were necessary to find that appropriate reaction condition.
Nevertheless, the BINAP-Rh complex became famous not because of asymmetric hydrogenation, but because of its successful application to the asymmetric synthesis of menthol which was carried out in a joint collaboration with Prof. Otsuka's group (Osaka University) and Takasago International Corporation.
The turning point which allowed us to conquer the difficulty involved in the asymmetric hydrogenation was achieved when we changed the metal from Rh to ruthenium (Ru). With the aid of this new complex, the asymmetric hydrogenation of a variety of alkenes became possible, and a new dimension to asymmetric hydrogenation opened up. It was 1986 when the first report of that attempt was published. More than ten years had passed since the synthesis of L-DOPA by Monsanto Co., but our findings opened up a whole new dimension to the study of asymmetric hydrogenation. At present, the BINAP-Ru complex has been employed in numerous fields of study. It is now possible to asymmetrically hydrogenate a variety of C=C and C=O bonds, and the technique has been widely applied to industrial synthesis of fine chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs. The key was the unique reaction fields provided by BINAP.

CEI: Was the competition hard?

RN: Not necessarily. The essence of research is how to reply to the questions cast by chemistry. Hence I did not care at all about competition with other chemists.

CEI: Anyway, you solved the problem successfully. How did you achieve success?

RN: There were two problems to be solved in asymmetric hydrogenation. One was how to achieve high ratios of (+)-enantiomer to (-)-enantiomer as close as possible to 100:0. This could be solved by designing the shape of the catalyst. This success attracted considerable attention.
The second problem was more important. How could one make the reaction rate higher; in other words, how could the activation energy of the reaction be lowered? The catalytic reaction is multi-step in general. Which step should be accelerated? The prediction was very difficult and not all chemists could do that. One has to use insight to "see" what could not be seen by experiments. Without belief supported by rationality one could not achieve that.
Not many chemists have attempted to solve rationally such a problem. People tend to rely upon luck! There are many chemists in this field who are satisfied with imitating or modifying what has been discovered by other pionieers. In this regards, the competition with myself, or rather, with nature or the system of chemistry, was severe. I hardly paid any attention to competition with other chemists, but rather I relied upon my belief, and continued study, always thinking of a way to prove my hypothesis. This is most amusing!

Fig. 4 The characteristic asymmetric structure of BINAP is due to the twist of two naphthalene rings from the coplanar structure. For simplicity, the Kekulé structure (a) and a molecular model (b) of binaphthyl, which consists of two naphthalene rings. The Kekulé structure seems to indicate that the molecule has a planar structure. In fact, two naphthalene rings are largely twisted because of the repulsion between two hydrogen atoms indicated by arrows. A pair of enantiomers will be obtained depending on whether the twist is clockwise or anti-clockwise. In the case of the BINAP-Rh complex, the angle of twist is 74.4o.

CEI: What we have heard is really very valuable and useful for young people. The way you carry out research seems to have been influenced by the training you had received in Kyoto University concerning your research on reactive intermediates.
By the way, how did you come to change the metal you used for the complex?

RN: It was already discovered by Wilkinson and others that Ru as well as Rh could cleave hydrogen molecules and might be suitable for the hydrogenation catalyst. Famous chemists such as Kagan and Knowles had already obtained excellent results using Rh catalysts. Hence many chemists were tempted by these findings to study Rh.
Science itself is objective. The research is done, however, by scientists. I have understood over a long period of study that research is strongly influenced by the mindset of scientists.

Fig. 5 (new page) Changes over time to catalysts used in asymmetric hydrogenation. All these catalysts are useful depending on the structures of substrates.

CEI: Can you tell us about some lessons you have learned over your long research career that might be helpful to young people.

RN: After more than thirty years' studying hydrogenation, I realized that "fact is the enemy of truth". This is the dialog of Don Quixote in the musical "Man of La Mancha" written by Dale Wasserman. Facts are valid only under limited conditions while the truth is something general that is behind the facts. The facts known when we initiated the study of hydrogenation were scientifically correct at that time, but it was only a very small part of the world of asymmetric hydrogenation. The truth about asymmetric hydrogenation is very deep and expansive.
What chemists in the 1970s were doing was something like a "dot". I felt I could make that "dot" into a "line". Yet it remains as a line. The principles and possibilities of chemistry might be extended to a "plane" or even to a three-dimensional world. Facts should be respected as facts, but we should not just accept facts which are limiting and thereby overlook the great truth behind facts. Otherwise development of science will be retarded. You should consider alternative possibilities and think carefully about your work.

CEI: This is really the crucial point. We tend to be satisfied when we feel we have identified the facts. It is difficult to go on further from this point.
By the way, there is a worldwide concern that young people are not interested in science in general, and in chemistry in particular. Can you provide a personal message for aspiring chemists?

RN: The world of science will expand infinitely. However, scientific research today tends to be too special and fragmental. What is needed of science is 'generality'; that all fields are combined into one universal science. So far scientists have not been particularly eager for this. Scientists must have a wider view of nature. As I have said before, scientists must make a line from a point, expand to a plane from a line and then design and construct a space. Chemistry is a science of matter and is the basis of modern civilization. Generality is particularly important for chemistry.
I like to advise young people that though the role of chemistry is the synthesis of materials, it should not remain its only role. Chemistry should open new fields or create new fields. There have been a large number of scientific/technological developments across many fields of science. In chemistry, technical advances that have had large ripple effects did not merely involve the synthesis of materials, but the creation of new fields of thought.
Sure, the synthesis of matter is important, but chemists should consider how new materials affect our society. If chemistry is satisfied simply with the synthesis of materials, then chemistry will be subordinate to other technologies, which would indeed be a pity!
The National Academy of Engineering (USA) ranked the 20th century as the century of technological innovation, and selected twenty great technological achievements. The greatest innovation they considered to be electricity, the others being automobiles, airplanes, water supply, electronics, radio and television, mechanization of agriculture, computers, telephones, air-conditioning and freezing, highways, space ships, the Internet, imaging, electrification of housework, medicine, petroleum and petroleum chemistry, laser and optical fibers, atomic power and high-functional materials.
The list clearly indicates the great contribution of chemistry. We can also see that most of these items are innovations of new fields when considered as social technologies. Cellular phones provide a good example. These are composites of materials, but create an innovation and change society. It is important to carry out research with such an idea in view, and to design the system for research.

CEI: I am afraid that it is rather difficult, under the present educational system, for young people to grow up with such a wide perspective. Perhaps you have some advice for schoolteachers that might be useful.

RN: I expect teachers will understand the reason why human beings devote time to science, and convey this point to their students. Scientists devote themselves to science not because of bread, but because science will bring them spiritual fulfillment.
I was enchanted by the beauty of the logic of science, and have tried to do what is important and fundamental. I also expect that if the results of my study will be useful to many fields of science, and furthermore, to society, then I should be pleased. Basically I did science for the sake of spiritual fulfillment and the realization of my hopes. To achieve this, both sensibility and intelligence are necessary. I hope people will cultivate these virtues when they are young.

Fig 6 The telephone card produced in tribute to the Nobel Prize awarded to Prof. Noyori. He loved the beautiful structure of BINAP.

My motto is "Research should be fresh, simple and clear." I would advise young people to consider the way to promote science in the right direction, and tackle problems as legitimate and fundamental as possible.

CEI: The challenge to solve legitimate and fundamental problems is indeed a challenge to create a new field!

RN: From my forty years' experience as a researcher, I learned that a research project has its own lifetime. In most cases this is from twenty to thirty years. A new jump, making the results obtained thus far as the foundation for further expansion, is required when the project is fully grown.
I hope young people will try to find a project which will be widely developed and open a new field. If young people in their late twenties or early thirties could find such a project, they will become the core researchers in this field after twenty or thirty years. In this regard, it is not advisable to choose currently popular topics as your project. This is not interesting, anyway.

Photo 6 Prof. Noyori was enthusiastic about speaking with us for this interview series which has been put together for the benefit of young chemists.

When you tackle with a new project, at first you will be in a minority group. Originality tends to be a lonely existence. I hope young people will not fear loneliness. Rather, I hope they will be proud of it. There seems to be a kind of misunderstanding of the meaning of democracy; thus it tends to be accepted that the majority is mighty and correct while the minority is wrong. People tend to belong to the majority because it is safer. Such a tendency is by all means not good for science.
I hope that science teachers appreciate the wonder of science and teach it to children. A textbook is something like a jewel box. Teachers should master the textbooks and convey this inspiration.

CEI: There seems to be an increase in the number of high school teachers who have studied at graduate school. Such teachers have practical experience of research and can tell lively stories of their own experiences to students.

RN: Indeed, it is most important that teachers who have learned the wonder of science by themselves will share their experiences with students. One of the reasons why science is not so popular among young people is that science is treated much too objectively, which ends in disregard of the people involved. Humans are interested in humans. Einstein is an overwhelmingly famous scholar. Many people are enchanted by him not only because of his great scientific achievement but also because of his unique personality and physical features.
Scientific research is by all means human. I hope teachers will tell students about this aspect of science. One of the reasons for the lack of popularity of science is "the absence of humanity", at least in Japan. There are many people who like literature but do not like science. However, few people do not like literature. Most scientists like literature probably because human beings are always involved. I hope teachers who have good memories of research will make this point to their students.

CEI: Finally, can you send a message to young people who will read the transcript of this interview?

RN: So far scientists have pursued the truth about nature while engineers have solved practical problems faced by society. Hereafter scientists are expected to not only have specific abilities related to their research, but also have an ability to foretell the trends of future society. Both teachers and students should know and understand this point. The crucial point is to create and maintain a sustainable society for our offspring. Science and technology must contribute to this.

CEI: Thank you very much for your valuable comments.


Last modified 13.04.07

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