Ryoji Noyori (2015) - Where am I From? Where Are You Going?

Good morning everybody. I'm very pleased to be back here to Lindau to speak to many world leaders and also respected seniors. My personal perception of scientific research is that it's a never ending journey of knowledge. There is more meaning in experience and various encounters and making a good journey itself than reaching the destination. And excellent research nurtures talented people and also contributes to society. This is my brief. Now I direct your attention to my personal journey which started with miserable days. At the very end of World War II in 1945, just when I was to enter elementary school, the centre of city of my hometown Kobe was reduced to ash by heavy bombing. Even after the World War II ended, my childhood was still very, very difficult because our country lacked food and supplies. Our family of six, my parents, two younger brothers and a sister, lived very frugal. My parents felt strongly that the only thing they could leave to their children was good education. I wanted to become a scientist ever since I was a small child. In 1949, when I was 11 years old, Professor Hideki Yukawa was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. He was the first Japanese Nobel Laureate, and our great admiration. Shortly after this event in 1951, when I had just entered junior high school, my father took me to a conference of the Toray company on new fibre nylon. The Toray president explained, proudly, that this new fibre could be synthesized from coal, water, and air, and that it was thinner than a spider's thread, yet stronger than a steel wire. I was highly impressed by this description. Here was a new material created by chemistry from almost nothing. Another person I admired in this connection was Professor Ichiro Sakurada, who invented vinylon, the first Japan made synthetic fibre. He was one of the reasons I decided to study chemistry at Kyoto University. Eventually I became an organic chemist, under the excellent guidance of my mentors, and later spent more than three decades at Nagoya University. I have long engaged in research of asymmetric catalysis, a very important subject in chemistry. Many organic compounds have right and left chirality. These are known as enantiomers. The right and left components diverge from each other only very slightly, but we know that this difference can become very large in biological living phenomenon. For example, enantiomers cause things to taste and smell very different. Monosodium glutamate with the left-handed chirality is umami taste enhancer, but that with right-handed combination has a bitter flavour. R-limonene smells like orange, while the S-limonene smells like lemon. Such a structural difference can become even more serious in administration of synthetic drugs. Lipitol is among the most important statin drugs, which efficiently reduce cholesterol levels. It's only right-handed and the left-handed enantiomers is inactive. This phenomenon happens because the receptors in our bodies are proteins, made up of only left-handed amino acids. Therefore, we need a practical method for the synthesis of single-handed molecules called asymmetric catalysis. However, this remained very, very difficult for many years until we came to this field. In 1966, when I was 27 and at the Kyoto University, we discovered the principle of asymmetric catalysis. This was a simple curiosity-driven research and the process was inefficient and practically totally meaningless. Later however, I moved to Nagoya University where we developed a range of asymmetric hydrogenation methods. These processes had universal application and came to be widely used in research and also in industry throughout the world. Our asymmetric catalysts are used for other reactions. Takasago International Corporation very quickly established in 1983 an industrial process for the production of l-menthol. Now then, what is a major impact of our science on society, besides the obvious economic benefits? In 1992, the US FDA set guidelines for racemic switches. At the time, more than 85 percent of synthetic drugs were sold as equally more a mixture of the left-handed and the right-handed compounds. However, this new regulation strongly urged pharmaceutical companies to manufacture and also commercialize pure left- or right-handed compounds. This regulatory addition contributed to a major improvement in medicine. At that time, some 23 years ago, no such large scale asymmetric synthesis existed in the world. I believe that the successful technology developed in Japan was a contributing factor to this important policy change. Well, this is a very small achievement done by us, which clearly indicates the significance of linkage between academia and industry. What are the origins of the competence of this Japanese science? The first is the poverty in our use as described, which nurtured us diligent patient and also hardworking. The second is Japanese culture. The culture permeates every aspect in science and technology. This is particularly important for designing asymmetric catalysts, a kind of molecular craft. We Japanese are blessed with a strong underpinnings of a unique culture and an ancient history since the Asuka and the Nara years spanning the sixth through the eighth century. Every country and region has its own culture which provides a basis for the sensibilities of the individual scientist. I have great respect for Louis Pasteur who once said, "Science has no borders, but scientists have their homelands or fatherlands." I fully agree with those great words. In any case, the contribution of science to society is enormous. Already more than 10 years ago, The US National Academy of Engineering labelled the 20th century as a century of innovation and selected 20 leading technological innovations that have changed or lives decisively during that period, 20th century. Without these innovations, we could not have realized the affluent, civilized society we live in today. I'm very proud of being a chemist because chemistry based materials are everywhere in this great list. However, I believe our chemistry community must reform the system of education, research and technological development toward creating a peaceful pleasant world. Importantly, we have long contributed to the improvement of healthcare, aided by pharmaceutical innovations based on man-made chemical substances. However, chemistry should not remain a mere tool of life science research and bioindustry. Our young generation is required to radically change their mindset by exposure to other scientific disciplines, to explore new scientific or technological possibilities. Industry must be confirmed that they can survive only within the limits of land, non-renewable energy and resources and also water. Therefore, they have to pursue artificial photosynthesis and also the elements strategy to overcome the resource problem. Here again in intensive interdisciplinary collaboration is needed. Furthermore, we must protect environment. As such, green chemistry is becoming extremely important. The essential aspect of use of safe scientific materials, renewable resources, such as biomass, and safe solvents. We must avoid toxic waste and conserve energy in chemical production. Most important organic compounds are synthesized in a step by step fashion. Obviously, each reaction should proceed with high atom economy or atom efficiency, hopefully without hazardous waste. In chemical industry, the E factor, or eco-factor, is significant. To obtain one kilogram of gasoline, by cracking naphtha, only 100 grams of waste is produced. But many important organic compounds are produced from raw materials in a multi-step process that gives rise to accumulated waste and large E factors. Synthesis of structurally more complex pharmaceutical drugs, for instance, forms as much as 100 kilograms of unwanted substances. Green chemistry is a key issue for chemical manufacturer in this century, and it's our responsibility to reduce the amount of undesired waste. This is a typical example already done in our laboratories at Nagoya. Currently, adipic acid, an important component of nylon-6,6 is being manufactured from so-called KA oil (ketone-alcohol oil) and the key oxidation is done by using nitric acid. This is efficient but generates N2O as an unavoidable co-product, not byproduct. In fact, current adipic acid production emits a very large amount of N2O, and we need to recover this N2O because it causes a series of unfavourable environment effects. N2O catalyses the destruction of the ozone layer and it has a very very strong greenhouse effect, and also causes acid rain and smoke. We took note of cyclohexene as a starting material which is produced by a remarkable technology by Asahi Kasei, a company in Japan. We found a very simple green route using aqueous hydrogenperoxide and a small amount of a tungsten catalyst, and this is a perfect reaction in H2O. Water is the sole byproduct. I have spoken my journey of knowledge, and where are you going from now? Currently, research activities in science are diverse and encompass science including chemistry, technology and also innovation. These three activities are strongly linked. However, they are very different from each other. So, scientific discoveries in principle are not something that can be designed. The scientist relies on uncertainty. Technological invention, on the other hand, doesn't happen by chance. Careful planning and determination to see things through are necessary. Individual talent is important, but teamwork is also needed. Innovation is defined as a creation of social and economic value that will change society. It's no simple technical invention. Innovation requires matching of science and technology with social environment and expectation. The value of those in research and society must be re-conspired. Innovation only covers about with timing, location, and teamwork or networking. However, innovation is not easy. Earlier, Goethe warned us. Willing is not enough; we must do.“ There is no reliable equation to realize innovation. We must create an inclusive platform and must act towards innovation. The benefit of modern science-based technology are crystal clear. Here I have listed just a few. Securing adequate food sources. Increases life expectancy. From 45 years to 80 years in just one century. And improving quality of life and also the high-speed communication. Where are science and technology going from now? We are fast-forwarding to a network society, we have never experienced before. Internet and the communication technology, or ICT, is sweeping away the constraint of time and distance, creating a new cyberspace where collective knowledge can be nurtured. The future will probably be a combination of real- and cyber-space, created by ICT technology. We are now able to extract useful information and knowledge from so-called big data. Huge investments are now being made to develop computers in a bit to achieve artificial intelligence. Soon we will have an internet of things, linking people and things as well as science, education, medicine and also industry, for diverse kind of innovation. For example, machine translation and the Google car are very certain to become a reality. Open knowledge will benefit science and technology and society in innumerable ways. A bright light however, also casts a dark shadow. We must share this very important message to engineers of 2020, sent from the US National Academy of Engineering some 10 years ago. For too long, engineering has been controlled by external events, changing only after circumstances dictated it. The pace of change today puts us at risk if we possibly wait for what is to come. Therefore, we need to prepare for the future now so that engineers who graduate in 2020 will not only be capable of implementing the most advanced technology but also be ready to serve as leaders in our society. The year 2020 is soon coming. Looking back the 20th century, there are regrettably a number of events that defied the good name of chemistry, our science. There is no denying that the chemical industry has not always addressed these problems effectively. To cite just a few examples. Acid rain caused by fossil fuel burning, disruption of the biosphere caused by DDT, and the depletion of the ozone layer by the use of halocarbons. Also global warming from excessive greenhouse gas emissions. In many cases, attempts to scientifically verify this kind of negative effect have been hindered by major political and economic pressure, as well as by the internal conflict between public recreation policies and free-market principles. We must learn from lessons of these failures and fulfil our obligation to prevent future disasters. Society demands this of us. In 1999, the world conference on science in Budapest issued a declaration of science and the use of the scientific knowledge, that stressed the scientist's responsibility to society. Over time, the emphasis has changed from mere creating knowledge to science in society, and science for society. In fact, many people worry that contemporary society may be the beginning of the endgame. We live in the 21st century, but we still grapple with the programs of the 20th century. Inherent in our modern society are a series of contradictions. We acknowledge the value of science-based technology. On the other hand, we are compelled to deny it. The negative aspects I referred to include problems related to the population explosion, prevalence of market economy, too rapid advances in industrial technology and major changes in lifestyles. Uncontrolled and excessive human activity is causing grave climate fluctuations, environmental changes and depletion of resources and energy and widening the North-South gap, leading our human society into a crisis situation. These are all programs that we have created, but no one is willing to take responsibility for resolving these problems. The environmental conditions needed for humanity's survival are likely to change in a non-linear and irreversible way. Therefore, before there are catastrophic results, we must pull our knowledge and take measures to guard off this change. We all have obligations to reinforce our shared social assets and reduce our impact on environment. We may already be too late, however. Four months ago, the Global Challenges Foundation and the Future Humanity Institute in the UK drew up a list of twelve risks that threaten human civilization. Many of these problems have already contributed to cause this, and we must have prepared for these possibilities. However still, there is no inclusive approach to address the risks and turn them into opportunities. Science must be for all. Science and technology, I believe, transcend economic activity and are essential for continued human survival, and existence. You all, are world leaders in trying to eradicate these problems by making full use of scientific knowledge and technology of highest standards. I'd like to deliver these words for our younger generations. We cannot walk alone. Our individual knowledge is inextricably bound to the combined knowledge of all humanity. We must connect the best minds to force the development of new and diverse leadership. The 20th century was one of international competition, symbolized by war and economic liberty. In the 21st century, however, we'll have to cooperate globally for the survival of our species within the limit of this planet. Whatever we do, we must do our best. Our German philosopher Martin Heidegger said, "Man is being to death. As soon as man comes to life, he is at once old enough to die. There is nothing as certain as that. All living creatures must die. But humanity must not be so foolish as to destroy itself." Those of a younger generation must work hand-in-hand to carry on. Thank you very much for your listening.

Ryoji Noyori (2015)

Where am I From? Where Are You Going?

Ryoji Noyori (2015)

Where am I From? Where Are You Going?

Abstract

Scientific research is a never-ending “journey of knowledge”. There is more meaning in experiencing various encounters and making a good journey itself than reaching the destination.
Basic science has eternal cultural value; it has served to heighten our awe of nature and helped to foster a healthy respect for nature and for life. Furthermore, the science-based technology is the foundation of civilized society. Today innovation, defined as the creation of value changing society, is what assures our continued survival as independent nations.
Our endeavor has contributed significantly to the knowledge-based society. However, modern civilization is in a state of serious crisis triggered by uncontrolled and excessive human activities. It is up to science and technology to tackle this grave situation. Any action counter to this does not contribute to social justice. Your global cooperation is an essential aspect to assuring the continued survival of humanity.

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