Dr Robert Parker's speech at the RSC Tokyo official opening


01 November 2011

This has been a year when Japan has been very much in our thoughts.

As you know, we were due to open the Royal Society of Chemistry's Tokyo office in March but our plans were postponed due to the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck earlier this year.

We were glad to hear our friends and colleagues at the Chemical Society of Japan were safe and our thoughts turned to those who lost their lives.

The whole world was impressed with how Japan reacted to the tragedy and the unity shown by Japan in its aftermath inspires us all. 

The RSC is honoured to have so many good friends in Japan including members of the CSJ, journal and book editorial and advisory board members and those that have worked with us on scientific events and activities.

Many of you here today would have met my predecessor, Richard Pike, who sadly passed away earlier this year.

Richard oversaw the RSC's plans for the Tokyo office and we are delighted to be here today to celebrate its official opening and bring those plans to fruition.

You may think this is a sign of greater scientific co-operation between our countries - which of course it is - but in fact the UK and Japan have ties going back 150 years.

It was in 1861 that the University of Tokyo's chemistry department opened its doors to students for the first time. 

And I'm proud to say a number of British chemists played a significant role in those early days.

I want to tell you a short story about one of those chemists.

Dr Edward Divers was a 19th century British experimental chemist and medic. 

Educated at the Royal College of Chemistry, he rose to prominence despite being visually impaired from a very young age.

After a period teaching in England and Ireland he was invited to Japan in 1873 to become Professor of Chemistry at the Imperial College of Engineering in Toranomon.

Divers, who taught general and applied chemistry, was the first British chemist to go to Japan where he immediately set about building laboratories based on European models. He became principal of the college, which was later incorporated into the University of Tokyo.

Divers' research after arriving in Japan concentrated on Japanese minerals, with his findings communicated to academics back in England.

At the turn of the century and having spent 26 years teaching in Japan, Divers was awarded the second class order of the Sacred Treasure and Third Class of the Order of the Rising Sun.

His statue can be seen today outside the front of the University of Tokyo.

As an experimental chemist, Divers rarely occupied himself with the theoretical study of chemical questions. Naturally, he always encouraged the spirit of experimental research among his pupils.

Jokichi Takamine, the Japanese chemist and the first man to discover pure adrenaline, was one of Divers' students. 

Not only was Takamine a brilliant scientist, but - as the holder of the first patent on a microbial enzyme and the first too on a purified hormone - he was also an extremely shrewd businessman.

By marketing these through American companies, Takamine became a millionaire in a very short space of time.

Although Divers can take credit for developing Takamine's scientific mind as his teacher, I'm not sure if he can take the credit for his business brain!

It seems the spirit of Divers lives on today.

Who could not think that experimental methods enabled Japanese scientists this year to determine the ideal density of airborne wasabi to awaken sleeping people in case of an emergency and for applying this knowledge to invent the wasabi alarm!

These researchers sniffed around for long enough to find functional alerting smells that could be sprayed into the air to wake anyone with a working nose, including the deaf.

Divers and Takamine.

Two great chemists, British and Japanese, working together.

And that brings me back to why we are here today.

Japan remains one of the leading countries in the world in chemistry research, with advances in clean energy and novel processes in materials and electronics. 

Between 2005 and 2010, the number papers published by the RSC from Japan more than doubled to over 1,000 last year - and this year we expect to publish more than 1,400 articles from Japan, a 40% rise in just one year.

All this shows the strength and importance of society publishing - and the incredible growth in submissions from Japan to RSC titles is a significant indication of the way the RSC and Japanese scientists are working together to announce scientific breakthroughs.

Japan is therefore an important community for the RSC, providing opportunities for us to engage with high-quality Japanese research scientists and to build on our global network.

Our presence in Tokyo brings us closer to our Japanese members and our editorial and advisory board members.

History binds us here too.

A Japanese scientist, Kuhara Mitsuru, is credited for having made the first contribution from the University of Tokyo to an RSC journal, published under our former incarnation as the Chemical Society.

It was in 1879 and he published the results of his study on the extract contents of Lithospermum erythrorhizon, commonly known as 'purple gromwell', which was used in purple dye.

Now, as then, we hope the quality of research taking place in Japan regularly finds its way into RSC journals.

Our relationship with the Chemical Society of Japan will get even stronger by working on activities of mutual interest via the International Cooperation Agreement, which both our organisations signed at the Japan UK Symposium Catalysis for a Sustainable World, in London last July. 

The two-day symposium involved presentations from seven UK and seven Japanese based speakers, and 20 poster presentations from UK and Japanese based students. 

Each of the speakers in this symposium was an international expert in the aspect of catalysis that they presented.

With the theme of sustainability, the symposium provided a clear and topical focus for discussions and stimulated and encouraged the exchange of ideas and experiences between all participants in an important global issue.

The UK International Chemistry Olympiad team also joined the reception for the signing ceremony and were introduced to Professor Iwasawa and Professor Dave Garner, the RSC's then President, who wished them the best for their trip to Japan where they were to compete in the Olympiad finals.

The reception was a gathering of many generations in a celebration of Anglo-Japanese relations.

Our co-operation agreement is a five-year one.

It strengthens the already excellent working relationship our two societies have and will lead to joint projects and events designed to encourage collaboration between Japan and the UK.

We want to develop projects with industry and academia on key areas of science for our future - such as energy, health and sustainability, the main themes of our annual Chemical Sciences and Society Summit, where the RSC and CSJ are leading contributors.

In addition to our Tokyo office, the RSC now has bases outside the UK in India, the United States and China.

Together we can tackle important global challenges through chemistry.

And many challenges remain.

Not least of which, how can we ensure our chemists are adequately funded to carry out their vital research?

It seems these days you can be a Nobel Prize winner yet still struggle to obtain more funding.

Ei-ichi Negishi, the 2010 Nobel Prize winner for chemistry based at Purdue University, said that American funding agencies have stopped funding his award-winning work.

According to Negishi, the same thing happened to Purdue's first organic chemistry Nobel laureate, Herbert Brown, who lost most of his funding 10 years after receiving the Nobel Prize, which Negishi believes is a result of lost national funding. 

The problem is discussed in detail in this week's New Scientist, containing a special report called: "Unscientific America: a dangerous retreat from reason."

It concludes: "In these uncertain times. let's do all we can to ensure the nation's leaders embrace science."

We are certainly doing all we can in the UK but we have our own funding issues.

Although the science budget has been frozen until 2015, this equates to an around 15 per cent cut over the next four years once inflation is taken into account.

This year alone has seen a 5% drop in UK science funding and a 5.4% fall in research councils' budgets.

Japan, on the other hand, decided on a 2.1% rise this year. And the Ministry of Education, which accounts for the bulk of science spending, has proposed a further 5.8% rise for science-related spending in 2012.

Japan's science and technology budget for this year already gives priority to Green Innovation and Life Innovation, a review of the competitive funding system, and support for young researchers.

If only more countries followed the Japanese model!

It would seem we can also learn from you how to convince British politicians to follow this way of thinking.

Having spoken of important figures - both human and statistical - of the past and present, I think it's high time I introduced you to Dr Hirofumi Seike, the RSC's representative in Japan and who will be a very important figure in our present and future!

Dr Seike obtained his degree at the University of Tokyo and his supervisor Professor Tachibana is here with us today. 

Dr Seike then travelled to the US obtaining his PhD from Scripps Research Institute working with Professor Sorensen, following this with a post-doc in Professor Kishi's group at Harvard.

He then returned to Japan where he joined Professor Nakamura's group at Kyoto University and we are glad that Professor Nakamura is also here to celebrate this special occasion with us.

Hirofumi will be working to support both our publishing activities and international development in Japan.

We are gathering today at the home of the Chemical Society of Japan - and we are very glad to have our office in the same building.

Their friendship and collaboration has been, and continues to be, very important to us. 

The strength of the Japanese chemical science community is clear from the various societies that represent and support different areas of this field.

We are glad to welcome representatives from several of these societies and look forward to working with them and developing our relationships and connections through our many shared interests.

Our office is downstairs on the 6th floor and we invite you to come and visit today and hope to welcome you back here many times in the future.

Thank you very much.

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