Dec. 5, 2007
Columbia Chemistry Professor Receives Honor from Emperor of Japan
Special from The Record
Koji Nakanishi, Centennial Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, was honored Nov. 3 with the Japanese Order of Culture award—the highest honor given annually by the emperor of Japan. Nakanishi, 82, who retired from teaching last spring after 38 years at Columbia, was one of five honorees selected for achievements in the arts, culture and academic pursuits.
“I’ve been living in the States for a long time, so I was quite surprised I was one of the five selected,” said Nakanishi, who left Japan in 1969 but visits frequently. “I did not know the impact would be so huge in Japan. I received many emails and bouquets.”
The Japanese government recognized his studies in physiologically active natural products including microorganisms, insects, growth hormones, toxins and marine sources, as well as his contributions in visual science. In 1996, Nakanishi determined the major fluorescent chromophore involved in age-related macular degeneration that may lead to blindness. His other research interests include studying the role of ginkgolides (from Ginkgo trees) in memory enhancement and neurological disorders.
Nakanishi taught chemistry for 50 years and, though officially retired, plans to continue his research for another two years. He is the recipient of numerous awards and the author of more than 750 papers.
In 1999, he was one of 15 recipients of Japan’s Person of Cultural Merit award, which recognized him for his breakthrough research in the organic chemistry of natural products. The Order of Culture awards are presented each year on Culture Day in Japan at the Imperial Palace. Honorees received a decorative medal and certificate.