Chairman of Selection Committee Greeting
MBLA: Introducing Japan's Rising Stars to the World
Hisashi Yamamoto, Professor, the University of Chicago
In the United States, candidates for assistant professorships in their early 30's and candidates for tenured associate professorships who are slightly older than the former, come up in conversation among professors in early fall. Six months later, the list of such promising candidates from coast to coast is shortened to a few. In the course of this process, various discussions about who is going to lead the future of chemistry in the United States take place in conference hall lobbies, at university faculty club tables and over the telephone. This is how the list of candidates is narrowed down. Over the next few years the progress of these candidates is in some cases actively encouraged and in others impartially observed. The candidates themselves are fully aware of the attention being paid to them and they spare no effort in proving themselves in the subsequent years. Of course, after ten years not everyone has become a success. Most candidates disappear from the stage with hardly anyone noticing. Still, the pool of talent in the United States is amazingly deep and there are always rising stars.
It is a wonderful thing that the candidates are rarely mean spirited, which is a danger in situations like this. Rather, they are very forthright. This is another characteristic of America. Rising stars restrain themselves because they have high visibility, and they make efforts to unlock truly original concepts that can overthrow traditional ideas in chemistry. It is interesting to notice that these people are often both modest and supremely self-confident. These characteristics are surprisingly combined.
I somehow like this system because young people who are full of confidence (which could be almost unbearable) are appearing on the scene one after another. Most of them will drop out of the race as the years roll by. Even if they are successful once, they will be simply forgotten if they cannot repeat their success. I believe this is also an American characteristic. However, every few years true winners emerge through this process. The number of such winners may be small, but they can create innovative concepts that open the door to the next generation of chemistry.
"Who are the promising young Japanese researchers?" "Who is attracting attention?" My friends in the United States often ask me such questions. Of course, I can obtain a rough idea by reading theses, but usually there are many authors to one thesis, so it is difficult to discover the main player. Listening to lectures may further help, but compared with the United States there are few opportunities for young Japanese researchers to give lectures. Nevertheless, although they are not as visible as their counterparts in the United States, many of them are conducting unique research. The MBLA turns a spotlight on such Japanese rising stars. Once selected for the lectureship, a researcher can give lectures at major universities in the United States and he or she will be more visible in Europe and the United States. They may find lifelong friends. Wonderful world-class chemists have been selected as MBLA awardees. They have gone on to justify their selection through their continuing unique research.
It has been a long time since I first discussed the MBLA with Dr. Kunio Suzuki. To tell the truth, I did not expect the program to become so successful. The keys to its success have been strict screening by professors and doctors in addition to Dr. Suzuki's enthusiasm and the deep understanding and support, financial and otherwise, of Banyu Pharmaceutical, and later Banyu Life Science Foundation International and Merck's Process Chemistry.
There are several international awards, such as the Thime Award, available to young organic chemists, but they have strict age restrictions, which are quite disadvantageous for Japanese researchers. Many of these researchers are over the age limit when they are finally ready to be candidates. They have felt frustration watching young researchers from the U.S. and Europe receive the awards. My dream is to see MBLA awardees take such international awards one after another, matching America's and Europe's visible rising stars. This is the true goal of the MBLA.
I believe that before long a recipient of the MBLA will be awarded the Nobel Prize.