ノーベル科学賞 地道な探究心が実を結んだ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Steady scientific exploration has earned 2 Japanese Nobel prizes
ノーベル科学賞 地道な探究心が実を結んだ

For a second consecutive day, an outstanding feat was achieved.

Takaaki Kajita, director of the University of Tokyo’s Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, was announced as a corecipient of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics.

The announcement came a day after Satoshi Omura, a distinguished professor emeritus of Kitasato University, was selected as a cowinner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. We would like to heartily hail a string of honors awarded to these Japanese researchers as Nobel Prize-winners.

The award honors Kajita for his success in discovering that neutrinos have mass. Many mysteries remain about the neutrino as an elementary particle, an ultimate constituent of matter.

With a group of researchers he headed, Kajita measured neutrinos flying around by using observation equipment set up at the now unused Kamioka Mine in Hida, Gifu Prefecture. Findings from his group’s research provided epoch-making data that made it essential to reconsider basic theories regarding the universe, including the origin of the universe and matter.

His corecipient, Arthur McDonald, a professor emeritus at Queen’s University, Canada, observed a similar phenomenon by using observation equipment built on the opposite side of the Earth. The awarding of the prize to the two scientists shows that their efforts have come to fruition.

The theme of their studies has been explored since the 1960s. “It was good that I have properly continued [to carry out observations],” Kajita said with joy.

In Japan, the study of elementary particles has been continuously passed on since the late Dr. Hideki Yukawa was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1949, making him the first Japanese to win a Nobel Prize. Kajita’s glory shows that Japan’s tradition in this respect has proved its worth.

Fighting diseases

The Nobel Prize given to Omura honors his successful efforts to develop surefire medicines for such diseases as onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, a parasitic disease prevalent in African and South American nations.

Omura was selected as a recipient along with William Campbell of Drew University in the United States, who cooperated in the development efforts. They were praised for having “revolutionized therapy for patients.”

Their achievements can be described as a feat signifying what medical science essentially stands for — that is, saving life.

“I’m glad to have been useful to people,” Omura said. Many people may have remembered the late Hideyo Noguchi, a bacteriologist who worked hard to cure and investigate tropical diseases.

Microbes living underground or elsewhere create such natural compounds as antibiotics. Omura steadily collected a large number of microbes. He discovered a compound from which Avermectin, a surefire remedy cited in the Nobel award, is derived. And then he finally made his discovery into a marketable product through an industry-academia partnership

Tu Youyou, a scientist at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, was also announced as a winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her development of a remedy for malaria.

The fight against Ebola hemorrhagic fever and other infectious diseases is an important challenge facing the human race. The prizes given to these scientists will provide strong support in the fight against pathogens.

In recent years, Japan’s scientific research has been experiencing a conspicuous decline. This is because of a failure to nurture the next generation of scientists. The number of research papers published by Japanese scientists has been slow to grow.

The awarding of the prizes to the two Japanese researchers is bound to stimulate many scientists in this country. We hope young researchers will pursue even higher goals.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 7, 2015)

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