UT Chemist Wins Prestigious Japan Prize

Decades of research paid off last week for UT chemistry and chemical engineering professor C. Grant Willson. He won the Japan Prize—an international science award similar to the Nobel Prize—and 50 million yen to go along with it.

Willson will split the approximately $550,000 prize money with his colleague, Professor Jean M.J. Frechet, who is vice president of research and professor of chemical science at King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia. The pair earned the award for their chemically amplified resist polymer, a light-sensitive material that enables manufacturers to fit more onto computer chips.

As usual, necessity was the mother of invention—Willson and Frechet first conceived of the resist polymer in 1979 when available equipment couldn’t shrink microchips any further. Their technology was first implemented secretly by IBM in 1985, and today it is used to manufacture nearly all of the memory cards and microprocessors in the world.

Willson is no stranger to receiving praise for his work. In 2007, he was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President George W. Bush. UT’s Office of Technology Commercialization also named Willson and colleague S.V. Sreenivasan as 2012’s “Inventors of the Year.” The two earned the honor for imprint lithography, a technology intended to replace Willson’s resist polymers—which, according to Willson, will soon become obsolete.

Despite Willson’s long list of accolades, this is likely to be his first awards ceremony with the emperor of Japan in attendance. The Japan Prize presentation ceremony will take place in Tokyo on April 24.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Willson says. “I’m still amazed and shocked by all of this—how many people can say they’ve shaken hands with the emperor of Japan?”

Willson says he plans to spend a portion of his cash prize doting on his new grandson, born just two days after news of the Japan Prize went public. His first order of business, however, “will be buying Dr. Frechet a very nice, big bottle of burgundy. God knows he deserves it.”

Photo courtesy of UT College of Natural Sciences via Flickr.


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