Groundbreaking work on cancer-causing chemicals and new manufacturing paradigms has earned four U.S. and Japanese researchers the 1997 Japan Prize, a lucrative award that sometimes foreshadows a Nobel Prize.
The prizes, announced in Tokyo on 10 January, are worth 50 million yen ($452,000) each and are awarded in two research areas. This year, in the category of "biotechnology in medicine," cancer researcher Takashi Sugimura, president of Toho University in Tokyo, and biologist Bruce Ames of the University of California, Berkeley, were honored for work done independently on how certain environmental chemicals damage DNA and cause cancer. Both scientists "demonstrated the close relationship between mutagenicity and carcinogenicity ... and established a method to identify environmental carcinogens by their mutagenicity," said the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan, which administers the prizes.
In the second category, "systems engineering for an artifactual environment," the winners were Joseph Engelberger, founder of HelpMate Robotics Inc. (formerly TRC) in Danbury, Connecticut, and University of Tokyo president Hiroyuki Yoshikawa. Engelberger is a pioneer in the development of industrial robots, having started Unimation, one of the first companies to produce them, in 1961. Yoshikawa is cited for helping to create a "techno-global paradigm" that includes the Intelligent Manufacturing Systems program, an international research project on the next generation of manufacturing technologies begun in 1994.
The scientists will be honored at a ceremony in Tokyo on 25 April.