Japan’s remarkable awards

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Japan’s remarkable awards

Two Japanese scientists have been named winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Ei-ichi Negishi, a chemistry professor at Purdue University, and Akira Suzuki, a retired professor from Hokkaido University, are the recipients. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded them the prize for developing a method of building complex molecules through a metal catalyst.

With the prizes, the total number of Japan’s Nobel laureates has increased to 18, ranking the country seventh in the world.

The remarkable success is likely tied to Japan’s investment in the basic sciences over a long period of time. We are envious of Japan’s achievements, particularly since it has received the prize in diverse fields, from physics to chemistry to medicine.

We are also envious of the fact that native Japanese scientists who devoted their whole lives to a particular field of science get to bask in glory, which reveals that the level of Japan’s science and technology development is now among the highest in the world.

What about us? How long should we keep watching Japan grab prizes? Our well-educated scientists who received doctorates overseas don’t lag behind in terms of the depth of their knowledge and expertise. But they still failed to get the prize. The fundamental reason can be found in the reality that a number of high school students try to evade natural sciences and engineering due to a grim outlook when they go to university.

Major scientific institutes have also been suffering from chronic fatigue, which piles up whenever a different political party takes power. That leads to another grim reality: The level of our basic sciences is lagging far behind other developed countries, especially when compared to Korea’s rank as one of the largest economies in the world.

Now, we have the government’s latest - and belated - decision to invest in basic sciences.

In 2008, the administration poured 25.6 percent of its budget for research and development into basic sciences, but it now plans to increase that share to a maximum of 35 percent. The administration has also decided to establish the National Science and Technology Committee, with President Lee Myung-bak taking the helm as chairman.

That will return the privileges that have been enjoyed by government officials to scientists themselves in matters ranging from crafting the blueprint for scientific and technological enhancement to budget allocation. It is scientists’ turn to do their best to enhance the standards of our sciences so that they can produce tangible results from their research and studies.
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