Koji Nakanishi Wins Top Japanese Award | Chemical & Engineering News
Issue Date: November 16, 2007

Koji Nakanishi Wins Top Japanese Award

Reknowned organic chemist 'humbled' by Order of Culture medal
Department: ACS News, Science & Technology
Credit: Courtesy of Koji Nakanishi
Credit: Courtesy of Koji Nakanishi

Koji Nakanishi, an emeritus professor of chemistry at Columbia University, has been awarded an Order of Culture medal by the Emperor of Japan. The award is one of the highest honors given by the Japanese government to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions in science, technology, or the arts. Five badges were presented during a ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Nov. 3, which is Japan's Culture Day.

Nakanishi, 82, says he was shocked and humbled to learn he had won the award. He says he has been "flooded" with phone calls, e-mails, and gifts from well-wishers around the world.

Nakanishi developed new spectroscopic methods to analyze natural products and has isolated and determined the structure of more than 200 biologically active compounds, many of which occur in minuscule quantities. In addition, Nakanishi has synthesized more than 100 analogs of retinoids. Through the binding of these analogs to the visual pigment rhodopsin and the eukaryotic pigment bacteriorhodopsin, he has gained a clearer understanding of the mechanism of these pigments. Nakanishi has also identified A2E, the major eye pigment leading to age-related macular degeneration.

At age 82, Nakanishi says he has decided to cut back from working seven days a week to working only six days a week. He jokes that, out of habit, his wife still packs his lunchbox on Sundays and sends him to work.

Nakanishi received a Bs.C. in organic chemistry from Nagoya University in 1947. He completed two years of postgraduate work at Harvard University and then returned to Nagoya University, where he received a Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1954.

In 1996, the American Chemical Society and the Chemical Society of Japan established the Nakanishi Prize in honor of his lifetime of achievements. The annual award is given in odd years by ACS and in even years by the Chemical Society of Japan.

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