TOKYO—Advances in semiconductors and epigenetics are being recognized by this year's Japan Prizes.
Yasuharu Suematsu, an honorary professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, was chosen for the electronics, information, and communication prize for conceiving and developing the semiconductor lasers at the heart of the optical fiber networks that now carry voice and data communications around the globe. Hideo Miyahara, a computer scientist at Osaka University in Japan and chair of the communication prize selection committee, said that Suematsu, an engineer, worked out everything from the basic theory to the specifications of the ideal light source to the materials needed for a semiconductor laser exquisitely tuned for an optical fiber communications system. The impact of Suematsu's work is still being felt, Miyahara added: "The internet would not have been possible without this technology."
David Allis, of Rockefeller University in New York City, will receive the life science prize for showing how histones, proteins that form a core around which DNA winds in cells, contribute to the regulation of gene expression. Histones were once thought to be just a passive structure, but Allis "proved for the first time that modifications of histones are actually regulating gene activity," said Makoto Asashima, a developmental biologist who chaired the life science selection committee. Asashima, of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, noted that the work set the stage for the development of epigenetics, the study of changes in gene activity that result from factors outside the DNA sequence.
Each laureate will receive a certificate, a commemorative gold medal, and approximately $481,000 at a ceremony here in April. The Japan Prize categories change each year within broadly defined fields of science and technology. The categories for the 2015 prize are "Resources, Energy and Social Infrastructure" and "Medical Science and Medicinal Science."