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Another 'Transformative'

  • Read in Japanese
  • 2018/02/26

Institute of International Education and Exchange

Designated Prof. Atsuko Tsuji

At Nagoya University, the word transformative tends to evoke the Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules (ITbM), which is part of Japan's World Premier International Research Center (WPI) Initiative. But there's another "transformative" here, and that's Transformative Electronics, pioneered by Prof. Hiroshi Amano, of the Institute of Materials and Systems for Sustainability (IMaSS), who won a 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics for invention of the blue light-emitting diode (LED). ITbM use the word to reflect its intention to change the world through molecules. When Amano asked ITbM's Director, Prof. Kenichiro Itami, if he could use the same word, he replied, "In fact, please do. It has a synergistic effect. Let's make all of Meidai transformative."

Amano means to change the world with electronics. But how? And especially at a university? I paid him a visit to learn more.

He first thought about "transformation of energy", as a core function of electronics is to transform types of energy: LEDs transform electric energy into light energy, photovoltaics the reverse, transforming light energy into electrical energy, and speakers transform electric energy into sound. By getting to the heart of electronics, Prof. Amano wanted to have a great impact on society. An overseas colleague advised him, why not use the word "transformative" then?

Transformative is becoming a buzzword in the world of scientific research. The National Science Foundation (NSF) in the U.S. holds that transformative research will play a crucial role going forward, and is explicitly committed to supporting research with potential of becoming such. It defines transformative as follows:

"Transformative research involves ideas, discoveries, or tools that radically change our understanding of an important existing scientific or engineering concept or educational practice or leads to the creation of a new paradigm or field of science, engineering, or education. Such research challenges current understanding or provides pathways to new frontiers."

Amano himself originally wanted to create electronics that not only transform energy, but also move people. For example, while a display that converts white light into a full color spectrum by passing it through numerous filters is extremely inefficient -- only 5%, say -- if the people who watch a movie on that display are moved, the emotional energy is immeasurable, and therefore its efficiency is infinitely great. Creating new value beyond the obvious step of improving energy conversion efficiencies can truly change the world. "Transformative" was the perfect word to describe such a research mission.

Blue LEDs changed the world. Prof. Hiroshi Amano is looking beyond them to transform society through electronics.

But how, exactly? Taken together, electronics are extremely broad and, needless to say, much of our daily lives would be impossible without them.

Amano's focus is on electronics as infrastructure for realizing a more advanced information society. The coming technical age in which cars will drive themselves and artificial intelligence will dramatically alter our work and home lives is often spoken of, but the means of achieving those dreams are still inadequate. They require installing semiconductor devices in all sorts of places, along with a number of devices, and a communications capacity for processing their data, of an entirely different order of magnitude. Driverless cars, for example, require the processing performance of today's supercomputers (if all data is to be processed onboard), or a telematics system that can transfer data at 100 to 1,000 times the current technology (if data is to be processed remotely). Semiconductors powerful enough to meet those requirements are still being developed......>>read more on the Meidai Watch

Atsuko Tsuji: Earned B.A. in Arts, College of Arts and Sciences, the University of Tokyo in 1976. Joined The Asahi Shimbun Company in 1979 as a journalist and wrote many articles in science and technology area for newspaper and magazinespublished by the company including editorial pieces. Knight Science Journalism Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1989 and Reuters Fellow at University of Oxford in 2014. Designated Professor of Nagoya University's Institute of International Education and Exchange since October 2016.


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