4 Japanese awardees for increasing the capacity of optical communication networks and neural research using light-sensitive proteins

On the 24th, the International Science and Technology Foundation awarded the 2023 Japan Prize to Tohoku University Distinguished Professor Masataka Nakazawa (70), who has contributed to increasing the long-distance capacity of optical fiber networks by developing a semiconductor laser-pumped optical amplifier. Kazuo Hagimoto (68), chief researcher at the Institute, Professor Gero Miesenbeck (57) of the University of Oxford, who developed a technique to examine neural circuits using proteins that respond to light, and Professor Karl Deisseroth (51) of Stanford University, the United States. announced that he had chosen Mr. The award ceremony will be held on April 13th.

Mr. Nakazawa, Mr. Hagimoto, Mr. Miesenbeck, and Mr. Deisseroth, who have been selected for the 2023 Japan Prize (from left) (Provided by the International Science and Technology Foundation)
Mr. Nakazawa, Mr. Hagimoto, Mr. Miesenbeck, and Mr. Deisseroth, who have been selected for the 2023 Japan Prize (from left) (Provided by the International Science and Technology Foundation)

 Mr. Nakazawa and Mr. Hagimoto will receive the award in the field of “Electronics, Information and Communication”. Behind the diversification and increase in capacity of Internet use is the price reduction of optical communication systems. In the 1980s, Mr. Nakazawa and Mr. Hagimoto realized a compact, high-efficiency, broadband optical amplifier necessary for realizing a long-distance optical communication system by combining an “erbium-doped fiber” and an “InGaAsP semiconductor laser.” In just five years, repeaters equipped with this optical amplifier have been adopted for trunk line long-distance transmission networks connecting the world, including submarine optical cables that cross the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Based on this technology, development of optical communication systems continues.

 The foundation praised it as “opening the way for long-distance, high-capacity optical data communications, which is a core technology that supports the global Internet society.”

 Miesenbeck and Deisseroth are in the “life sciences” field. Elucidating the causal relationship between neuronal activity in the brain and behavior, thought, memory, and decision-making is an important topic in neuroscience. In the past, it was investigated by electrical stimulation and drug administration, but it was difficult to control only the activity of the targeted nerve cells. In 2002, Dr. Miesenbeck developed a technology that allows specific neurons to express proteins that respond to light and to freely control the activity of target neurons by exposing them to light. It can be used in live animals to directly examine the relationship between neuronal activity and behavior. In 2005, Mr. Deisseroth made this technology simple and highly accurate so that it could be applied to a wide range of research.

 The foundation said, “This technology has made remarkable progress in neuroscience research and has become indispensable. It is also expected to be applied to medicine.”

 The Japan Prize was established in 1981 to honor scientists who have contributed greatly to the advancement of science and technology and to the peace and prosperity of mankind through their creative and dramatic achievements. The first award ceremony was held in 1985. This time, four people were selected from 327 candidates recommended by approximately 15,500 scientists and engineers from Japan and overseas. It is said that it was a coincidence that light became the theme for both fields.

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