Interview with Dr. Akira Suzuki

To young people pursuing the study of chemistry

The fun and potential of chemistry

In my opinion, chemistry is a very interesting branch of science. I say so not because I graduated from the Department of Chemistry. One of the characteristics of chemistry is closely related to manufacturing, For instance, the cross coupling chemical reactions we have studied are used to synthesize compounds for a wide range of applications including pharmaceuticals, agricultural chemicals, liquid crystal displays for TVs, and luminescent materials for organic light emitting displays. The only way for resource-poor countries like Japan to survive amid global competition is to advance science and technology, create high-value-added products and make people in many countries feel happy to buy them. Our future depends on the progress of science and technology. In this sense, I consider that chemistry is an important and interesting field of study. Chemistry still has potential to grow. Some might think that chemistry no longer has a place in the development of science. That is not true. For instance, in the natural world plants produce various compounds in the process of photosynthesis; however, we are yet to reproduce photosynthesis artificially using chemical reactions. There is a lot more to do in the field of chemistry. I always hope that more excellent students will step into the world of chemistry as well as science.

Make decisions for your future on your own

I have liked mathematics since I was a child, and I planned to study mathematics in university. However, my encounter with two books changed my plan and I decided to pursue the study of chemistry. One of the books was Textbook of Organic Chemistry by L.F. Fieser and M. Fieser, organic chemists in the United States. The other one was Hydroboration by H.C. Brown, my postdoctoral supervisor in the United States. These books have made me what I am today. Encountering them changed the course of my life. If you are young and are in the middle of making a career choice, I would advise you to take the time to broaden your academic horizon to find the career best suited to you, instead of rushing to a decision. Be sure to make decisions for your future on your own. Young people are relatively inexperienced, and advice from seniors, teachers and parents is important; however, you should take such advice as a guide. It is all right when you succeed in your career, but when you fail in your career, you will blame other people unless you are satisfied with your choice. “Build your future for yourself.” This is what I always tell young people.
Professor Akira Suzuki interviewed by students of the Department of Chemistry (February, 2017)

There is another piece of advice I have long given to students. Sometimes, researchers fail to obtain the expected results and everything goes wrong. Luckily for me, I am an optimist, but some students become pessimistic. When I see students suffering like this, I tell them to call it quits for the day and invite them out to a beer hall, or hold something like a mutton barbeque party. I tell them to go straight home and get some sleep. Tomorrow is a new day, and you can try it again. This is an important attitude not only for scientists like us but also for everyone.

Akira Suzuki – Biographical Information
He was born in Mukawa Town in 1930. After graduating from the Department of Chemistry in the School of Science at Hokkaido University, he completed a PhD program in chemistry at Hokkaido University’s Graduate School of Science. He was then employed as a research assistant in the School of Science at Hokkaido University and was invited to become an assistant professor in the School of Engineering at Hokkaido University. From 1963, he studied under Professor Brown, a leading expert on boron research, at Purdue University in the United States. From 1973 to 1994, he worked as a professor at the School of Engineering at Hokkaido University, and is now Professor Emeritus. He developed “Suzuki coupling” reactions of organic boron compounds, which are applied in a wide range of fields leading to epoch-making progress. In recognition of his work, he was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.