Wednesday, September 26, 2018

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Chemist Toyoki Kunitaki is this year's Kyoto Prize Laureate in Advanced Technology. Photo: Kyushu University Chemist Toyoki Kunitaki is this year's Kyoto Prize Laureate in Advanced Technology. Photo: Kyushu University

Kyoto Symposium Honors a Pioneer

Registration is now open for the SDSU Kyoto Prize Symposium honoring Toyoki Kunitake, a pioneer in the field of materials sciences.
By Natalia Elko

As part of the 2016 Kyoto Prize Symposium, San Diego State University is hosting pioneering chemist Toyoki Kunitake, who received the 2015 Kyoto Prize — Japan’s highest private award for global achievement — in the area of “Advanced Technology."

The event will take place from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 16 in Montezuma Hall of the Conrad Prebys Aztec Students Union. It is free and open to the public, but registration is requested.

Kunitake established molecular self-assembly as one of the key concepts in the field of chemistry, which opened new frontiers in the materials sciences.

“I am surprised and honored to receive the Kyoto Prize, as this is one of the foremost scientific awards. I strongly feel that I am obliged to convey the excitement and the responsibility of science and technology to the younger generation,” Kunitake said.

Kunitake was the first in the world to discover that synthetic molecules could spontaneously produce bilayer membranes — a basic structure common to the biological membranes of living cells. The practical implications of his work cover an array of potential uses ranging from drug delivery systems to membranes for desalinization plants and improving the efficiency of fuel cells. Today, scientists around the globe are conducting research based on his groundbreaking discoveries.

Kunitake hopes that his scientific contributions will inspire future generations to explore science and create more technology.

“Some people think we have more than enough technologies. This is not the case,” Kunitake said. “We need more good science and technology. Many new problems appear as we solve some of the problems we face. To maintain proper scientific and technological literacy is essential for the new generation to survive in the future and to create a better world.”

SDSU has arranged for high school students — many from underserved areas of the region — to attend the symposium with the goal of introducing them to the university and the idea of pursuing a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

Kunitake’s presentation is one in the three-part Kyoto Prize Symposium hosted jointly by SDSU, University of California, San Diego, University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene. In addition to Kunitake, this year’s Kyoto Prize laureates include:

In "Arts and Philosophy," John Neumeier, a world-renowned choreographer, has combined traditional ballet techniques and vocabulary through bodily expression and human psychology. Neumeier will present at at 10:30 a.m. on March 17 at USD.

In "Basic Sciences," Michel Mayor, a world-renowned astrophysicist, honored for his discovery of the first extrasolar planet orbiting a Sun-like star. Mayor will speak at 3:30 p.m.on March 16 at UCSD.

Aspiring students

Each year, as part of the events, SDSU graduate students are invited to compete for an Inamori Fellowship. Applicants must have at least two semesters remaining in their program and are reviewed on work completed and planned; academic background; scholarly accomplishments; training environment including time used to focus on research; and a faculty mentor recommendation. Each Inamori Fellow receives a $5,000 scholarship.

This year’s Inamori Fellows are:

  • Jiue-An (Jay) Yang, geography
  • Chelsea E. Hunter, anthropology
  • Binh H. Nguyen, poetry writing
  • Katherine Vilchez, counseling science
  • Diletta Giuntini, engineering sciences
  • Nathan Alamillo, public health (health behavior track)
  • Shadi Gholizadeh, clinical psychology
  • Megan Morris, ecology
  • Duyen Trang, psychology
  • Pierre Winter, chemistry