The annual Nagoya Medal of Organic Chemistry is gaining wider prominence now that it has been recognized that two of the three recipients of this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry were previous winners of the award.
The medal, which recognizes the work of organic chemists worldwide, is known in Japan as the nation’s most prestigious chemistry award but is less famous outside that field. Thanks to the Nobel Prize, that’s changing.
The award was initially proposed in 1995 by professor Ryoji Noyori, who won the Nobel chemistry prize in 2001, and professor Hisashi Yamamoto, 73. The latter has since left the university to join Chubu University, but both wanted “an award for organic chemistry associated with Nagoya.”
Since its inception, the award has been organized by Nagoya University and the MSD Life Science Foundation, an incorporated public interest foundation that trains young researchers.
Nagoya University has produced many organic chemists who have global reputations now, but Noyori, 78, believes “the researchers (at Nagoya University) are able to produce good results because they are guided and disciplined by remarkable researchers from overseas.”
“I wanted a way to express my gratitude,” he said.
The design of the medals incorporates a tsuba, the hand guard on a Japanese sword — with the Japanese iris, the prefectural flower. The design was inspired by the Sanei-Ketsu, which refers to the three most famous warriors of the bloody Sengoku Period who were born in present-day Aichi Prefecture: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu.
There are two varieties. Researchers from abroad who produce outstanding work receive the gold version of the medal, while young, promising researchers from Japan receive the silver version.
Traditionally, the recipients are asked to attend the award ceremony at Nagoya University and give a lecture.
The organization has given out 21 medals so far and the 2004 winner, J. Fraser Stoddart of the United States, and the 2013 winner, Bernard L. Feringa of the Netherlands, were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry this year.
Combined with Robert H. Grubbs (U.S.), the 1997 gold medal recipient who received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2005, there are now three Nobel laureates who have received the Nagoya Medal of Organic Chemistry.
Of those who win awards globally recognized as heralds of the Nobel Prize, 20 to 30 percent usually go on to win it. At 14 percent (3 out of 21), the Nagoya Medal of Organic Chemistry is also on its way to becoming a Nobel Prize predictor.
“I think we’ll see more medalists being awarded the Nobel Prize from now on. They have chosen people who have produced exceptional results,” Yamamoto said.
“I hope the Nobel Prize will serve as motivation for young researchers and students to soar high,” said Nagoya University professor Kenichiro Itami, 45, who was on the Nagoya Medal selection committee.
This year’s gold medal recipient will be professor Stephen L. Buchwald of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the silver medal recipient will be professor Masaya Sawamura of Hokkaido University.
The award ceremony and lectures will be held at the university on Jan. 27.
This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Oct. 15.
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