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Japan’s Nobel Laureates

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The physicist Syukuro Manabe (Manabe Shukurō) was one of three researchers to share the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics. The twenty-ninth laureate of Japanese origin won the prize for his work on the physical modeling of Earth’s climate, helping to elucidate the causes and processes of global warming.

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics went to three researchers: the US scientist Syukuro Manabe (Manabe Shukurō, born in 1931 in Ehime Prefecture), a senior meteorologist at Princeton University’s Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences; the German oceanographer Klaus Hasselmann, professor emeritus at the University of Hamburg and former director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology; and the Italian theoretical physicist Giorgio Parisi, professor at the Sapienza University of Rome. The three won the prize for their work describing climate change and other complex natural systems.

One half of the prize will be shared by Manabe and Hasselmann for “the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming,” while Parisi will receive the other half for “the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.” The work done by the three has enabled deeper understanding of global climate systems, including the human impact on them. Manabe’s work in the 1960s “laid the foundation for the development of current climate models,” according to the Nobel announcement; Hasselmann followed up with work in the 1970s helping to prove that human emissions of greenhouse gases have raised atmospheric temperature, and Parisi’s theoretical work soon afterward gave scientists deeper insight into complex systems like the global climate.

The award has made Manabe the twenty-ninth Japanese-born Nobel laureate, with the inclusion of Nanbu Yōichirō and Nakamura Shūji, who like Manabe took US citizenship, and Kazuo Ishiguro, who is a British national. Of these winners, 12 have now been recognized for physics, 8 for chemistry, 5 for physiology or medicine, 3 for literature, and 1 for peace.

Year of Award Category Name and Cited Accomplishment
2021 Physics Syukuro Manabe (Manabe Shukurō), US citizen, senior meteorologist, Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Princeton University; for “groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex physical systems.”
2019 Chemistry Yoshino Akira, honorary fellow, Asahi Kasei, and professor, Meijō University; for “the development of lithium-ion batteries.”
2018 Physiology or Medicine Honjo Tasuku, distinguished professor, Kyoto University; for “discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.”
2017 Literature Kazuo Ishiguro, British citizen, author: “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.”
2016 Physiology or Medicine Ōsumi Yoshinori, professor emeritus, Tokyo Institute of Technology: “for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy,” how unnecessary or dysfunctional proteins in cells are degraded and recycled.
2015 Physics Kajita Takaaki, director, Institute for Cosmic Radiation Research, University of Tokyo: “for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass.”
Physiology or Medicine Ōmura Satoshi, distinguished professor emeritus, Kitasato University: for “discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites.”
2014 Physics Akasaki Isamu, professor, Meijō University; professor emeritus, Nagoya University: “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes, which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources.”
Amano Hiroshi, professor, Nagoya University: for the same.
Nakamura Shūji, US citizen, professor, University of California Santa Barbara: for the same.
2012 Physiology or Medicine Yamanaka Shin’ya, professor and director, Center for iPS Cell Research and Application, Kyoto University: “for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent.”
2010 Chemistry Negishi Eiichi, distinguished professor, Purdue University: “for palladium-catalyzed cross-couplings in organic synthesis.”
Suzuki Akira, professor emeritus, Hokkaidō University: for the same.
2008 Physics Nanbu Yōichirō, US citizen, professor emeritus, University of Chicago: “for the discovery of the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics.”
Kobayashi Makoto, professor emeritus, Japanese High Energy Accelerator Research Organization: “for the discovery of the origin of the broken symmetry which predicts the existence of at least three families of quarks in nature” (Kobayashi-Masukawa Theory of CP violation).
Masukawa Toshihide, professor emeritus, Kyoto University: for the same.
Chemistry Shimomura Osamu, professor emeritus, Boston University: “for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP.”
2002 Chemistry Tanaka Kōichi, Shimadzu Corporation fellow: for “development of soft desorption ionization methods for mass spectrometric analyses of biological macromolecules.”
Physics Koshiba Masatoshi, professor emeritus, University of Tokyo: “for pioneering contributions to astrophysics, in particular for the detection of cosmic neutrinos” (using Kamiokande facility in Gifu Prefecture).
2001 Chemistry Noyori Ryōji, professor, Nagoya University School of Science: for “work on chirally catalyzed hydrogenation reactions.”
2000 Chemistry Shirakawa Hideki, professor emeritus, University of Tsukuba: “for the discovery and development of conductive polymers.”
1994 Literature Ōe Kenzaburō, author: “who with poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today.”
1987 Physiology or Medicine Tonegawa Susumu, professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “for his discovery of the genetic principle for generation of antibody diversity.”
1981 Chemistry Fukui Ken’ichi, professor, Kyoto University School of Engineering: for theories “concerning the course of chemical reactions.”
1974 Peace Satō Eisaku, prime minister of Japan: for his renunciation of the nuclear option for Japan and his efforts to further regional reconciliation.
1973 Physics Esaki Reona, researcher, IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center: for “experimental discoveries regarding tunneling phenomena in semiconductors and superconductors, respectively.”
1968 Literature Kawabata Yasunari, author: “for his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind.”
1965 Physics Tomonaga Shin’ichirō, professor, Tokyo University of Education: for “fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with deep-ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles.”
1949 Physics Yukawa Hideki, professor, Kyoto University School of Science: “for his prediction of the existence of mesons on the basis of theoretical work on nuclear forces.”

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo: Manabe, at left, sits with Kenya’s Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, at a February 2010 ceremony at the Earth Hall of Fame Kyoto. © Jiji.)

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