Former ASU researcher receives prestigious Kavli Prize
Sumio Iijima, a former Arizona State University researcher, is a recipient of the first-ever Kavli Prize in Nanoscience. Among the world's most prestigious awards in the fields of nanoscience, neuroscience and astrophysics, the Kavli prizes are a joint venture of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, and the Kavli Foundation, which is based in Oxnard, Calif., and dedicated to the advancement of science for the benefit of humanity.
Iijima is one of seven pioneering scientists being recognized for transforming human knowledge regarding unusual forms of matter. He shares the $1 million nanoscience award with Louis Brus of Columbia University for their respective discoveries of carbon nanotubes and colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals, also known as quantum dots.
Now a professor at Meijo University in Japan, Iijima was a research associate at ASU from 1970 to 1982 when he developed a technique for characterizing nanomaterials using high resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM).
“Interestingly, there had been no word of ‘nanoscience’ in those days,” Iijima says. Yet, from the beginning, the HRTEM project was meant to be studying nanostructures at the atomic resolution, he notes.
“I was aiming at taking the world’s highest resolution electron micrographs from various crystals,” he says. “I could produce successfully the atomic resolution electron micrograph for the first time. It was 1971. Imaging crystals at the atomic level resolution was a big breakthrough in our field.
“Without the HRTEM technique there would be no discovery of carbon nanotubes ... The discovery was initiated during my time at ASU in 1971,” he says.
The HRTEM project that Iijima worked on was one of three under John Cowley, who joined the ASU faculty in 1970 when he was hired to fill the university’s first endowed faculty position – the Galvin Professorship in Physics. It has been written that Cowley’s scientific leadership had a significant impact on establishing ASU as a Research 1 University. Iijima worked as one of Cowley’s research associates. In 1988, Cowley was in the first group of faculty given the title Regents’ Professor. He died in 2004 and ASU’s Center for High Resolution Electron Microscopy is now named in his honor.
“It was a golden time in my research career,” says Iijima of his 12 years at ASU. “I was responsible for the HRTEM project and the latest commercial HRTEM instrument was installed within the Center for Solid State Science. Simultaneously, people in the department of chemistry, LeRoy Eyring, and the department of geology, Peter Buseck, shared the use of the microscope.”
Iijima recalls many interactions in the TEM lab with Eyring, Buseck and others: “Professor David Smith in physics was a graduate student (visiting) from Melbourne University and later joined the physics department; John Spence who joined the physics department as an assistant professor in the late 1970s; and I worked with Mr. John Wheatley for all my 12-year stay at ASU. He was the best lab technician and I had a really good time with him.”
“Iijima was probably the most careful, meticulous, and skilled postdoc with whom I have worked in over 40 years on the ASU faculty,” says Buseck. From 1973 to 1976 Iijima was a postdoctoral researcher with Buseck, with whom he published seven landmark papers on electron microscopy of minerals. Some of their photos still appear in the standard mineralogy textbooks as well as in many other books. Buseck is now a Regents’ Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“Sumio came here as a postdoc with John Cowley and later became a research scientist in the Center for Solid State Science,” says Smith, who is now a Regents’ Professor and associate chair of ASU’s Physics Department. The Center for Solid State Science has since been named for Eyring, who used the HRTEM facilities to study solid state chemistry.
“Sumio has returned to ASU many times and was one of the keynote speakers at our 2003 Silver Jubilee Symposium. He also was the first Cowley Distinguished Lecturer in spring 2006,” Smith notes.
While a researcher at ASU, Iijima, with Cowley, “carried out a steady stream of landmark research experiments that led the early development of the field of high resolution electron microscopy,” says William Petuskey, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
“One of their major accomplishments at ASU in the early 1970s was in obtaining and interpreting the first structural images of crystalline solids at atomic resolution,” Petuskey notes. “This has had enormous impact on understanding the nature of crystalline solids and the interfaces between solids at the atomic level. In a very real sense, this has had a major impact on the characterization and understanding of microelectronics.
“To be sure, the currently hot field of nanotechnology has been a major beneficiary of their work, making it possible to image and characterize materials and devices at resolutions greater than the nanometer scale,” Petuskey says.
As a scientist in ASU’s electron microscopy facility, Iijima published nine papers in solid-state physics and electron microscopy with Cowley. Together they received the Warren Diffraction Physics Award from the American Crystallography Society.
“Iijima did brilliant work while he was at Arizona State University,” says Regents’ Professor Subhash Mahajan, director of ASU’s School of Materials. “His pioneering studies on carbon nanotubes are now being recognized worldwide and are bringing accolades to our excellence in electron microscopy and materials research.”
ASU through its Center for High Resolution Electron Microscopy, was the leading institution for cutting-edge research in electron microscopy. In addition to the facilities, having faculty members from three disciplines – physics, chemistry and geology – all with an interest in electron microscopy, provided a unique breadth in topics of scientific interest. It was “the place to be" if one was interested in HRTEM studies.
“Professor John Cowley at ASU pioneered the development of transmission electron microscopy in the United States in the 1970s. He established the world-class ASU Center for High Resolution Electron Microscopy research facility, where many of the world leaders in this field were initially trained, including Dr. Iijima,” says Professor Nate Newman, director of the Center for Solid State Sciences.
“The recognition of Dr. Iijima’s accomplishments and the role that ASU played is very rewarding and we are very proud of all our workers, past and present, who have made important contributions to the development of electron microscopy, and in the creation and characterization of new materials,” Newman says.
In addition to his faculty position at Meijo University, Iijima serves as the research director at NEC Corporation in Tokyo, and director of the Nanotube Research Center at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Tokyo. He also is dean of the Sungkyunkwan Advanced Institute of Nanotechnology in Seoul, Korea.
In 1991, Iijima authored a revolutionary paper in the scientific journal Nature that seeded the field now called nanotechnology. Over the course of his career, Iijima has received a great many honors and awards, including being elected as a foreign member of the U.S. National Academy of Science in 2007. Most recently he was honored with the 2008 Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research.
The Kavli prizes were established by Norwegian-born physicist, businessman and philanthropist Fred Kavli. The three biannual awards will complement the Nobel Prizes, which since 1901 have been given for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace.
Ole Didrik Lærum, President of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, revealed the names of those selected to receive the awards at a ceremony in Oslo last month. The announcement was transmitted to Columbia University in New York where it was part of the opening of the first annual World Science Festival. The seven winners will receive a scroll and medal in addition to a share of the $1 million prize for each subject, from Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon during a Sept. 9 awards ceremony in Oslo.