Tokyo Metropolitan University Official web magazine
Where Are They Now? Vol.7

HOSONO Hideo(Professor Emeritus and Honorary Professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology Institute Professor at MDX Research Center for Element Strategy)

“Where Are They Now?” is a series of interviews with TMU alumni to explore how their studies, lives and experiences at TMU have shaped who they are today.

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細野 秀雄さん

After graduating from the Department of Industrial Chemistry, Faculty of Engineering at TMU, Hosono became a Doctor of Engineering through the doctoral program in the Department of Industrial Chemistry, Graduate School of Engineering, at TMU. Then, he successively assumed various academic posts, such as assistant professor and associate professor at the Department of Inorganic Materials, Faculty of Engineering, Nagoya Institute of Technology, associate professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, associate professor at the Institute for Molecular Science, and professor at the Materials and Structures Laboratory and Frontier Research Center of Tokyo Institute of Technology. Since 2019, he has been a professor emeritus, honorary professor, and institute professor. Since 2020, he has been a distinguished fellow and group leader at the National Institute for Materials Science.
In 2013, he was selected as a Thomson Reuters (now Clarivate) Citation Laureat in the field of physics, which is considered a Nobel-level research achievement, as his “Discovery of Iron-based Superconductors“ had been the most cited in the world.

“I am so fascinated by my research that I am propelled to do more.” My motivation as a student.

Why did you decide to go to Tokyo Metropolitan University?

 I dropped out of the National Institute of Technology, Tokyo College in Hachioji after three years and entered the Faculty of Engineering at TMU, where I continued to the doctoral program. I wanted to study at a university because I did not have a good impression of single-department engineering colleges. In those days, TMU had daytime and evening programs making it possible to attend classes of either program. This really attracted me to TMU which was one of the few universities that offered a doctoral program in engineering. That also contributed to my decision.
 The Department of Industrial Chemistry in the Faculty of Engineering, where I belonged, provided classes in basic chemistry, of course, but I took many classes offered by the Faculty of Science because that Faculty had up-and-coming prominent chemists. The faculty members of Engineering were perplexed by this. When they asked me why, I frankly said, “I want to hear lectures by the professors in the Faculty of Science.” I admit that I was such a cocky student.
 I believe that students should take full advantage of their university. Students should not just do whatever professors tell them to do. Sometimes professors conduct classes in a rambling manner when students do not show interest. On the contrary, they improve their classes if they feel it necessary for motivated students to choose them. Since I was a student, I have always believed that there should be tension between students and faculty members. I still hold his opinion now I am a teacher.

What did you study as a student?

 When I was leaving the Institute of Technology, I thought concretely about, and made a list of what I should study at university. That helped me focus on the motion of electrons in chemistry as my research theme from the first year of undergraduate school. In most science and engineering laboratories, professors decide their students’ research themes, but I chose my own theme for my graduation research. The lab I was a part of at TMU allowed me a great deal of freedom, or less restriction. I think it was a blessed environment where I was able to immerse myself in research that interested me. Thanks to that, I was able to write three papers as the first author during my master’s program. I expected that I would continue to the doctoral program and get my doctorate without any problem. So, I was not worried about my degree. The only thing that drove me to do research was that it was interesting. I was motivated most of all by my stupid obsession for what appealed to my curiosity, or perhaps I should say, the desire to deepen my research thoroughly.
 My specific research theme in the doctoral program was basic research on electron spin resonance. However, some of the faculty members who would be reviewing my thesis said to me, “This basic research topic would get you a doctorate in science, but I’m not sure about a doctorate in engineering.” To me, it is not essential to clearly separate science and engineering. That was why the two faculties offered the same courses in the undergraduate program. It seems that, at that time, there was a stereotype that engineering is something directly useful to the world, whereas science, in particular, chemistry is not.
 I had no intention of joining a company after my undergraduate degree, but neither did I have such a clear vision of becoming a researcher when I was a graduate student. However, it was encouraging for me to be with peers and senior colleagues in the same lab that I could engage in friendly competition with. For example, one of my younger colleagues, after working for a company, joined a national research institute, became a professor at Hokkaido University, and then was appointed as its vice president. KAWAZOE Hiroshi, who had worked as an assistant (today’s assistant professor) in my lab, has since moved on to becoming a professor and then professor emeritus at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. My own career path changed when at an academic conference I met Prof. ABE Yoshihiro of the Nagoya Institute of Technology, who offered me a position as his assistant.

I want the younger generation to have the guts to defeat the older generation and rise to the top.

Do you have any haunting memories as an assistant?

 Prof. Abe researched materials such as bioceramics. He was such an accomplished researcher that his work was published in Nature, a world-class academic journal, which was rare at the time. When I took the new position, he had just announced a new material. I vividly remember being amazed at the massive public response to the newly developed material, as many people crowded into his office. In contrast, to be honest, I had never studied materials, nor had I ever been very interested in doing so. Nevertheless, I naturally became accustomed to material research as I did it after starting my new assignment, just as ENDO Shusaku, an Akutagawa Prize-winning author, said about his Christian identity, “I gradually got used to wearing clothes that used to be uncomfortable.” I think it is important to change labs.
 Materials are among the most directly useful substances in the world. Materials themselves are studied in the field of engineering, but developing revolutionary new materials requires basic research in physical science. That kind of research was a good fit for me, because I knew it. I believe that the reason why Prof. Abe hired me was that I had been applying a basic method closely related to physical science to ceramics and he saw the importance of developing material research from a new perspective.
 Prof. Abe was extremely strict about the originality of his research, although he never gave strong orders or was bossy. Every time I brought him a paper draft, he would say, “Is this content competitive in the world?” This was because of his unwavering belief that research that was not world-class was meaningless. This has had an impact on my pride as a researcher.
 Throughout my life as a researcher, I have always valued being a professional researcher who is expected to win. For a researcher, winning means international recognition. This awareness makes the difference between professional scientists, who make a living from science, and amateur science enthusiasts, who only need to satisfy themselves. Being able to make a living means getting a job as a researcher and not getting fired. To achieve this, it is essential to be able to obtain external research funding and to attract excellent students to the laboratory.

細野 秀雄さん

The key to research is good luck, preparation, and originality.

What is your research philosophy?

 I have nothing worthy of being called a philosophy. I am currently doing research that combines quantum matter, which is treated in solid-state physics, with catalysis, which is a subject of chemistry. I believe that only this kind of cross-disciplinary research can pioneer the frontier. Every field has its own “common knowledge.” It is good if it is truly based on science, but in many cases, it is just based on rules of thumb. Therefore, we must overthrow the “common knowledge” from new perspectives, otherwise science will not progress, nor will originality be created. The Japanese word for “originality” means to create something alone. This shows the importance of doing research without going with the crowd.
 Let’s compare research to climbing a mountain. There are two types of climbers. One is those who start working hard after they have completed 80% of the trail and caught sight of the summit. The other is those who climb by running 60 to 70% of the way in an unexplored mountain. I am the second type. Once I set a new target, I feel compelled by my nature to go for it until I see almost the whole picture. However, I don’t make a roadmap, because the situation often changes drastically as I move forward with the research. Even if the research goes the way I originally envisioned it, I don’t think it will lead to groundbreaking discoveries in many cases.

His favorite quote: “Now is the most important moment”(Dr. HONDA Kotaro, physicist)

What will it take to change the situation?

 Good luck is also an important factor in making significant progress in research. It is said that MATSUSHITA Konosuke asked prospective employees, “Do you think you are lucky?” and hired those who answered, “I am.” The point is that we should be optimistic. I also think that people who think they are unlucky will hardly achieve results in their research. However, luck will never turn in your favor by chance. Those who are not prepared for it cannot run into good luck. That preparation requires studying, but stubbornly hard study is only required to obtain basic academic skills. This is because there is so much accumulation of learning that you would spend your whole life just studying. There is no end to it. This is another difference between amateurs and professionals. Professional researchers do not study to gain knowledge, but to acquire methods and ways of thinking that can serve as tools and weapons to create new things.
 Besides, at some point you must make a certain plan, make up your mind, and carry it out. Then, you must only reconsider it depending on the results. You must have the basic academic skills to tell whether the results you obtained are groundbreaking or not. I’m a cat lover, so I don’t want to use the saying, “Do not cast gold coins before cats” (This saying is offensive to cats!), but without basic academic skills, you wouldn’t understand the value of any new discoveries, no matter how wonderful they might be.

Just looking at a cat makes Prof. Hosono smile. He has a picture of a cat in his office

I hope to see cocky young researchers defeat their seniors.

What is necessary for the revival of Japan as a technology-oriented country?

 Look overseas. Chinese students study hard because of their fierce but fair competition. In our neighboring country, South Korea, both the total number of papers published and the number of papers in the top 10% of the most cited papers exceed those of Japan, even though its population is about half that of Japan. I think that, on the flip side of the coin, Japanese researchers are not in a tough competition. I lived through the “Japan as Number One” era. During that time, I sometimes heard conversations that missed the point overseas, such as, “Why is Japan so amazing?” “Because they practice Zen.” That time has passed. When I attend international conferences, I am keenly aware that Japan no longer represents Asia. The deterioration of academic conditions in Japan is shocking.
 In Japan, a considerable amount of budget is allocated to support young researchers, but Japan is one of the few countries where there is such a bias in favor of the young. In fact, I feel that it coddles them. To make researchers take it seriously, it would be better to let them compete for research funds regardless of their age. In any case, competition should be created and not everyone will be satisfied.
 In addition, some researchers in Japan are not willing to submit papers to overseas prestigious journals. Overseas students won’t be highly regarded in their home countries if their names aren’t published in some world-renowned journals. As a result, it is expected that capable foreign students will not come to Japan. This is a serious situation. It is urgent that we make the university attractive from an overseas perspective by, for example, raising its international ranking. It is critical for each university to have a clear vision of what kind of university it wants to be and to manage it. It is also important to enroll “cocky” students. To this end, I believe that faculty members should also be cocky and unique.

Do you have a message for young researchers, students and prospective students?

 I want the younger generation to have the guts to beat the older and rise to the top. If the younger generation and the older generation compete, over time, the younger will almost always defeat and overtake the older and rise to the top. I personally prefer spending my time developing myself to giving messages or advice to help the young.
 Of course, I know that the younger generation is diverse. For example, when I oversaw a research project of the Japan Science and Technology Agency’s PRESTO and had to hire young researchers, I always chose “cocky” ones. Some researchers are clearly cocky, while many others speak in an elegant and gentle manner, but I can sense in every bit of their words that they strongly believe in their superior ability over the older generation and their eagerness to defeat their seniors. Both personalities should be respected, but what is more important in research is the cockiness and piercing enthusiasm that does not allow them to flatter the faculty members. Even if you don’t try to train them, the cockier they are, the more likely they are to grow by sticking to their guns. Furthermore, cocky researchers tend to stimulate each other and compete fiercely with one another to improve themselves. This shouldn’t be wrong because I, who was the cockiest student of all, say so.

細野 秀雄さん
Major publications and awards

●In 2023
He created electrically conductive cement (12CaO・7Al2O3) (published in Science).This is the first report of stable electride in which electrons serve as aniona9.
He published “Transparent thin-film transistor (TFT) using crystalline IGZO” in Science.

●In 2004
He published a paper on amorphous IGZO-TFTs in Nature. IGZO-TFTs are now widely used to drive LCDs and OLEDs.

●In 2008
He was awarded Science’s Breakthrough of the Year for “Discovery of Iron-based High-Temperature Superconductors,” a paper on superconductive ironoxy-pnictides

●In 2009
He received Medal with Purple Ribbon.

●In 2010
He received the Asahi Prize.

●In 2012
Commercialization of products using IGZO TFTs, such as LCDs and OLED displays, began.
He reported catalyst for ammonia synthesis under mild conditions using electrides (published in Nat. Chem.)

●In 2013
He was selected as a Thomson Reuters Citation Laureat as his “Discovery of Iron-based Superconductors” had been the most cited in the world.

●In 2015
He received Imperial Prize and Japan Academy Prize.

●In 2016
He was awarded the Japan Prize.

●In 2017
He was selected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society, Great Britain.
He founded Tsubame BHB Co., Ltd., a startup aiming at the industrialization of electride catalyst technology.

●In 2018
He was awarded Von Hippel Prize by Materials Research Society.

●In 2023
He received Eduard Rheine Prize (Germany)