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Nobel winner urges today’s youth to pursue new challenges

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                                Akira Yoshino, left.


    Akira Yoshino, left.

TOKYO >> Akira Yoshino, 71, who on Oct. 9 was named one of three laureates of this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry, wants younger generations to challenge untapped fields of science with curiosity. It was a mindset that led to his own success.

“There are many fields that haven’t yet been discovered and I want (younger researchers) to challenge the unknown and pave new ways, without following the paths of others,” said Yoshino, who was acknowledged for his work on lithium- ion batteries that power countless electronic devices.

He said it was an approach that led to his contributions to the development of the widely used power source, which has become indispensable for cellphones and other electronic devices in everyday use.

“I want young people today to have bold curiosity,” he said.

Yoshino cautioned, however, that the fruits of his studies did not come overnight. Rather, it was the hardships he faced throughout his work that actually led to his success.

“I believe that any research resembles a marathon race with numerous challenges on your path that you need to overcome — that give you the strength to continue the race and brings you one step closer to your goal,” he said.

Yoshino, born in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, became interested in chemistry as a fourth-grader when his teacher introduced him to “The Chemical History of a Candle,” a collection of lectures by 19th-century British chemist Michael Faraday.

The lectures used a burning candle to explain chemistry, and Yoshino bought the book and immersed himself in it.

But the scientist didn’t focus solely on chemistry. Before joining Kyoto University’s Faculty of Engineering, he first delved into archaeology, an experience he believes provided him with a broader view that helped him continue his studies.

Yoshino is currently a professor at Meijo University in Nagoya and an honorary fellow of Asahi Kasei Corp., a chemical company, where he started his career in 1972. He said that if had he followed a different career path and pursued only one field of expertise, he wouldn’t have succeeded.

“If my research were solely focused on lithium-ion batteries, I would have never come up with an idea,” he said.

Yoshino shared the prize with John B. Goodenough, 97, an American engineering professor at the University of Texas, and Britain’s M. Stanley Whittingham, 77, a chemistry professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton. Yoshino said he was lucky that his fellow winners were engaged in related studies at the same time.

The researchers’ invention has quite a bit of room for improvement, he said. “The existing lithium-ion batteries are still too slow.”

The men will share an award of 9 million kronor (about $929,000), a gold medal and a diploma. They will receive the prize at a ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10.

Yoshino acknowledged his wife, Kumiko, 71, who he said put up with a lot during the years he spent on the research.

“But I want you to share my joy that comes at the end of a series of challenges we’ve been through,” he said.

Kumiko Yoshino said her husband has always been concerned with problems confronting civilization.

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