Professor of Materials Science
Director, Materials Research Center for Element Strategy
Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan
AsianScientist (Aug. 22, 2016) – When you watch the crisp feeds of the Rio 2016 Olympics on your flat-panel LCD display screen, you may not know that this is partly the contribution of pioneering materials scientist Hideo Hosono.
Based at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan, Hosono is best known for his discovery of iron-based superconductors and for pioneering the development of a type of semiconductor called transparent oxide semiconductors (TAOS), which are widely used in PC monitors and TV screens to improve the speed and resolution of flat-panel LCD displays.
For these contributions, and others, Hosono has won prizes that include the 2015 Imperial Prize of the Japan Academy and the 2016 Japan Prize.
In an interview with Asian Scientist Magazine, Hosono shares with us his hopes for the field of iron-based superconductors and his current research direction.
- What attracted you to the field of materials science?
Materials science encompasses physics and chemistry; researchers can concentrate on fundamental or applied materials science depending on their preference and the situation.
I love the large flexibility of this subject. Of course, the most attractive point is that materials science can contribute directly to solving issues that society is facing.
- How has the field of materials science evolved since you started your career?
My graduate thesis focused on electron spin resonance in oxide glasses. The research was almost fundamental. However, the materials I used were not simple crystals, but inorganic glasses.
After graduation, I was involved for almost a decade in the development of functional oxide glasses and the ceramics derived from these glasses, as well as the elucidation of point defects in silica glass.
When I moved to the Tokyo Institute of Technology in 1993, the focus of this research had totally shifted to the cultivation of electro-active functionality in transparent oxides. Oxide semiconductors ended up becoming quite ubiquitous.
- Why was your 2006 discovery of iron-based superconductors significant?
Previously, it was widely believed that iron was not suitable for inducing superconductivity. Our discovery of iron pnictide superconductors, which possess a relatively high critical temperature, changed this thinking. This is why iron-based superconductors have attracted much attention from condensed matter scientists.
- How different would the world be if we didn’t have superconductors?
According to some reports published in 2005, research on superconductivity would almost disappear if the present trend continues. Our 2006 discovery rekindled the intensive study of superconductivity, and this excitement has continued until now.
Researchers in this field now realize that iron-based superconductors have much more diversity in materials and physics than that in cuprates.
- Throughout your career, what is the one breakthrough or achievement that you are most proud of?
In terms of industrial impact, my group’s invention of indium gallium zinc oxide thin-film transistors (IGZO-TFTs) would be the largest breakthrough. IGZO-TFTs are now being used in PC monitors, tablets and large-sized OLED TVs.
In my personal view, my most impressive achievement is the successful conversion of cement material 12CaO∙7Al2O3(C12A7) to a transparent semiconductor and eventually, a superconductor. This research demonstrated a way to realize novel electro-active functionality utilizing abundant oxides, and may be regarded as a pioneering research of element strategy, which is now a national science and technology policy of Japan.
- What do you hope will be the impact of your research on a national or global level?
The discoveries of iron-based superconductors and IGZO-TFTs have opened new frontiers in condensed matter physics and flat panel displays, respectively. Both subjects have grown to be newly-established areas of interest in international conferences.
- What’s next for your research? What are you working on currently that excites you?
I am currently concentrating on two research subjects: efficient and stable catalysts for ammonia synthesis at ambient atmosphere, and new transparent amorphous oxide semiconductors for large-sized OLEDs.
Since I am not an expert on catalysis, I hope to approach the subject in a unique way, based on my own ideas. We have already published a series of papers on this subject, using our own materials. I want to approach this subject from the angle of electronic structure.
- What advancements would you like to see in the field of materials science in the next 20 years?
I would like to see material design that incorporates artificial intelligence.
This article is from a monthly series called Asia’s Scientific Trailblazers. Click here to read other articles in the series.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Tokyo Institute of Technology.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.