11th German Innovation Award – Gottfried Wagener Prize 2019

On the occasion of a festive award ceremony at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, awards were presented to the winners of the German Innovation Award - Gottfried Wagener Prize 2019 on Wednesday this week.

Established in 2008 by the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan (AHK Japan) and German high-tech companies with research interests in Japan, the award’s goal is to foster bilateral exchange between business and science and support the development of German-Japanese networks and research cooperation.

Every year, promising young Japan-based scientists are awarded for outstanding research contributions. This year’s awardees were selected from a total of 52 entries by scientists from 22 Japanese universities and research institutions. There are three research fields, all of which have equal weight: 1) Materials & Energy 2) Digitalization & Mobility 3) Life Sciences.

The award-winning research projects are application-oriented and show innovative quality and scientific excellence.

The German Innovation Award is coordinated by AHK Japan under the patronage of the Federal Minister for Education and Research, Ms. Anja Karliczek. German scientist and co-founder of Tokyo Institute of Technology Gottfried Wagener (who made substantial contribution towards the development of the education landscape during the Meiji era) gave the award its name.

German Innovation Award – Gottfried Wagener Prize 2019 Awardee

Research field: Materials & Energy

Prof. Dr. Hirotomo Nishihara; Associate Professor, Institute of Multidisciplinary Research for Advanced Materials, Tohoku University
“Development of advanced template techniques for functional carbon materials”

Research field: Digitalization & Mobility

Prof. Dr. Pham Nam Hai; Associate Professor, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Tokyo Institute of Technology
“Giant spin Hall effect in topological insulator and its application to ultralow power magneto-resistive random access memories”

Research field: Life Sciences

Prof. Dr. Sadao Ota; Associate Professor, Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, The University of Tokyo
“Development of ghost cytometry technologies”

Team Member: Prof. Dr. Ryoichi Horisaki; Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, Osaka University  

Overview of the awardees work 

Materials and Energy

Prof. Dr. Hirotomo Nishihara; Associate Professor, Institute of Multidisciplinary Research for Advanced Materials, Tohoku University
“Development of advanced template techniques for functional carbon materials”
Carbon is an abundant material and an important element that is found throughout nature. Carbon-based materials offer many advantages, including lightness, toughness, electrical conductivity, and corrosion resistance, and are used in many fields. These include chemical industry, energy, transport equipment, environmental cleanup, and medicine, thus making them indispensable to modern society. However, the vast potential of carbon-based materials has not been fully explored yet. In particular, the development of techniques that offer precise control over the carbon material structures has become an important theme for realizing novel technologies.

Dr. Hirotomo Nishihara, a carbon materials scientist working in Prof. Takahashi Kyotani’s laboratory at the Institute of Multidisciplinary Research for Advanced Materials at Tohoku University, has developed novel molding methods by which the structures of carbon materials and composites can be controlled more precisely than those achieved in previous studies. By using a technique involving alumina nanoparticles as a template, he has pioneered the development of graphene mesosponge (GMS), a mesoporous graphene-based material with sponge-like flexibility and durability. Moreover, he has also developed a method using organic crystals as a template to synthesize catalysts in which the metal atoms are systematically arranged within a regular carbon matrix.

The use of these innovative molding techniques will allow the manufacture of industrially useful and high-performance materials such as high-performance energy-storage materials, nanosponge materials mediating gas-liquid phase transition for the development of high-efficiency heat pumps, and electrode catalysts embedded with metal atoms. These results have garnered significant attention from researchers and industry. Dr. Nishihara has applied for a number of patents in partnership with companies for these novel carbon material molding techniques with applications in structural design and other fields. In addition, he begun research on mass production of these materials.

Digitalization and Mobility

Prof. Dr. Pham Nam Hai; Associate Professor, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Tokyo Institute of Technology
“Giant spin Hall effect in topological insulator and its application to ultralow power magnetoresistive random access memories”
In spintronics, wherein the major goal is to utilize both the spin and charge held by electrons, the efficient generation, injection, and control of spin are major issues. Dr. Pham Nam Hai, a specialist in the field of semiconductor spintronics who conducts research that focuses on the fundamentals of material design theory, has developed a pure spin injection source with world-leading performance using a BiSb topological insulator with a unique BiSb (012) surface orientation. This has enabled high-speed data writing using pure spin current and could achieve next-generation nonvolatile memory, which retains information without using electricity.

Heavy metals such as platinum and tungsten used for previously pure spin current sources were problematic in that their attainable spin Hall angles were small. However, when Dr. Pham focused on the topological insulator BiSb and evaluated thin films of this material, he discovered that the BiSb (012) surface exhibited extremely large spin Hall angles even at room temperature. Moreover, by using the thin-film BiSb, he could demonstrate magnetization reversal in a MnGa film with perpendicular magnetization at a current density one to two orders of magnitude lower than that of previously used heavy metals and topological insulators.

When BiSb is applied for spin-orbit torque magnetoresistive random-access memory (SOT-MRAM) for devices operated at room temperature, the current and energy required to write data are reduced by one and two orders of magnitude, respectively. The recording speed is 20 times faster and recording density is also improved by an order of magnitude—numbers that suggest that the replacement of volatile semiconductor memory is possible. The results reported by Dr. Pham have greatly advanced the field of spintronics. With the potential for further energy saving in electronic devices and creation of a new spintronics industry worth trillions of yen, these developments are expected to have a substantial economic impact.

Life Sciences

Prof. Dr. Sadao Ota; Associate Professor, Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, The University of Tokyo
Team Member: Prof. Dr. Ryoichi Horisaki; Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, Osaka University

“Development of ghost cytometry technologies”
Cytometry, which consists of the prompt optical analysis and selective separation of a large number of cells, is becoming increasingly important in the fields of life sciences and medicine. A technology that would provide a highly accurate, high-speed identification of specific cells based on image information has been expected for a long time. However, it is difficult to process a sufficient amount of information per cell and a sufficient number of cells per hour. Speed and accuracy will be limited as long as human experience and recognition are involved.

Networked biophotonics and microfluidics scholar Sadao Ota and his colleagues, noticing that the image itself is not actually required for an image analysis without human intervention, developed a reverse concept, ‘viewing the shape without seeing the image.’ They invented the world’s first high-performance cell sorter, capable of ultra-high-speed analysis by applying an artificial intelligence (AI) technique called machine learning to directly distinguish between optically compressed image signals measured using a single-pixel detector. They called this technique “ghost cytometry” because it skips the process of image generation and provides analysis beyond the capabilities of human intellect. This is expected to enable the high-speed detection and separation of objects such as cancerous cells in blood, which are unidentifiable by the human eye.

Dr. Ota straddled academic and organizational frameworks to collaborate with Dr. Ryoichi Horisaki and others. They aimed to provide a practical implementation of technologies including a highly accurate and low-cost blood diagnosis combining optics, microfluidics, and electrical hardware with AI and jointly founded a venture company, “Thinkcyte.” As we enter an era of explosive data growth, these young researchers have gained attention by spearheading next generation industries and markets and aim to play active roles in these. Their efforts are expected to affect a wide range of fields, including healthcare and medicine.

Information of the German Innovation Award “Gottfried Wagener Prize 2019”

EligibilityApplicants must be affiliated to a research institute or university in Japan and be under 46 years of age.
Fields of ResearchThe prize is awarded for application-oriented research work in the areas of “Materials and Energy”, “Digitalization & Mobility”, as well as “Life Sciences.”
PrizeIn each of the three research areas a price of 2,000,000 Yen is awarded.
SelectionFollowing a round of pre-selection by technical experts of the partner companies, a jury composed of permanent and expert members will evaluate and select the awardees.
Jury

Permanent Members:

Prof. Dr. Masuo Aizawa (Chairman)
Counselor to the President, Japan Science and Technology Agency Professor Emeritus and Former President, Tokyo Institute of Technology

Prof. Dr. Akira Fujishima
Distinguished Professor, Former President, Tokyo University of Science

Prof. Dr. Makoto Gonokami
President, The University of Tokyo

Prof. Dr. Teruo Kishi
Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo

Prof. Dr. Juichi Yamagiwa
President, Kyoto University

OrganizersGerman Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan
Partner Companies Bayer Holding Ltd., Bosch Corporation, Carl Zeiss Co., Ltd., Continental Japan, Daimler, Evonik Japan Co., Ltd., Merck Ltd., Schaeffler Japan Co. Ltd., Siemens Group in Japan
Co-PartnersGerman Centre for Research and Innovation Tokyo (DWIH Tokyo)
SupportEmbassy of the Federal Republic Germany, Federal Ministry of Education and Research, German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), German Research Foundation (DFG), Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Japan Science and Technology Agency, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science