Japan Prize by Land and by Sea

TOKYO--Resources on land and at sea were at the heart of research honored by the 2001 Japan Prize. Two winners of the prize were announced here on 14 December. John Goodenough, a materials scientist at the University of Texas, Austin, won the award for Science and Technology of Environment-Conscious Materials. Timothy Parsons, a biological oceanographer and professor emeritus of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, hooked the Marine Biology prize.

The Japan Prize, administered by the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan, is one of the world's richest. Each winner will receive 50 million yen (about $455,000) at an award ceremony in Tokyo next April.

Goodenough was cited for his development of lithium cobalt oxide, used for the electrodes of rechargeable lithium ion batteries. Hiroshi Yasuoka, director of the Advanced Science Research Center of the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute and a member of the selection panel, says lithium ion is lighter and can power cell phones and notebook computers for longer on a single charge than batteries based on other materials can.

"More importantly, the material is environmentally benign," Yasuoka says, adding that the popularity of lithium ion batteries is dramatically cutting the amount of toxic cadmium and lead piling up in landfills from discarded batteries. And, he notes, lithium ion could also prove to be an ideal battery for electric cars, once the cost comes down.

Parsons won an award for his lifelong contributions to biological oceanography, particularly for pioneering new approaches to understanding and modeling the complex relationships between marine life and the physical and chemical aspects of the marine environment. Syoiti Tanaka, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo and chair of the marine biology selection panel, says that under the old population dynamics approach to fisheries management, physical and chemical parameters "were just considered noise." Parsons' work underpins "a new holistic approach to the wise, sustainable use of ocean resources," he says.

Unlike the Nobel Prizes, award categories for the Japan Prize change every year, following a rotating schedule of six broad fields. Coming up next: The selection committee will be searching for candidates in Developmental Biology, as well as Computing and Computational Science and Engineering, for the 2002 Japan Prize.

Related sites
The Science and Technology Foundation of Japan
Goodenough's home page