Prof. Atsushi Nakajima of the Faculty of Science and Technology Awarded the Humboldt Research Award
August 14, 2020
Professor Atsushi Nakajima of the Department of Chemistry at the Faculty of Science and Technology was awarded the 2020 Humboldt Research Award. This is a highly prestigious award and is sometimes said to be the "German Nobel Prize." The award recognized his work in synthesizing assembled functional nanomaterials by aggregating well-defined building block constituents such as "silicon fullerene." Silicon fullerenes have the potential to break through the "physical limits of silicon-based devices," which has been a topic of concern in recent years. Furthermore, Prof. Nakajima has produced globally important research that has near-future practical applications in various fields, including solar cells, which converts light into electricity, areas related to magnetism, and as a potential catalyst.
Currently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, communication via the internet is becoming even more prevalent at schools, workplaces, and even people's homes, and needless to say, devices such as smartphones and personal computers are a prerequisite to be a part of this online community. The enormous amount of information, including images and sounds, processed by these devices is only possible because of the silicon chips that are embedded inside each one of these small computing machines. In other words, silicon forms the basis for today's digital and online society.
Thanks to the R&D competition between universities and companies, silicon chips have become smaller and smaller over the years, making it possible to integrate them more densely. This has led to the creation of small and portable yet powerful and capable devices such as smartphones. However, at some point, a physical limit will be reached. There is increasing concern about the "physical limit of silicon-based devices," especially among the industrial world. To maintain and advance the information and communications infrastructure that we enjoy today, there is a need for even smaller nanomaterials that possess properties similar to those of silicon.
The cover of the "Accounts of Chemical Research," an academic journal published by the American Chemical Society, in 2018
In 2005, Professor Nakajima's research group discovered a silicon nanomaterial (nano is one-billionth of a meter), a silicon fullerene (a hollow material with a cage-shaped structure made of silicon) called M@Si16. M@Si16 is a silicon fullerene with a metal (M) inside the cage. Afterward, in JST-ERATO's Nakajima Project (2009–2014), he devised a method to mass-produce M@Si16 and succeeded in measuring its fundamental properties. Furthermore, in a project he worked on at the Keio Institute of Pure and Applied Sciences (KiPAS; 2014–2019) he was successful in forming a thin film of M@Si16 and in clarifying the physical properties that will make it suitable for use in various nanodevices. A paper summarizing these outcomes achieved over many years of research graced the cover of the "Accounts of Chemical Research," an academic journal published by the American Chemical Society, in 2018.
KiPAS was established in 2014 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Keio University Faculty of Science and Technology with the aim of becoming a world-class research center for both basic science and fundamental engineering. Professor Nakajima's research succeeded in positioning "silicon fullerene" from only being a compound that exists under a special environment to a newly available chemical substance in nanomaterial science, and for KiPAS too, this has been an accomplishment of great significance and pride with worldwide potential.