07/21/2004 07:00:00

Hiroo Kanamori Awarded Japan Academy Prize

PASADENA, Calif. — Hiroo Kanamori was caught by surprise on learning he had been awarded the prestigious Japan Academy Prize in June. Established as the Tokyo Academy in 1879, the Japan Academy presents the award for excellence in academic theses, books, and scientific achievement.

"Since I have been away from Japan for so long--32 years--I was surprised the Japan Academy still remembered me," says Kanamori, the John E. and Hazel S. Smits Professor of Geophysics at the California Institute of Technology. "Still, someone was very kind to nominate me, and I'm very grateful for that."

Kanamori sees this as a career award for his body of research since, as he puts it, "Research is different from running a 100-meter dash in nine seconds." The Academy recognized him for his work on the physics of earthquakes. As they noted, his investigations have provided insight into the physical processes taking place during earthquakes, especially his quantification of regional variations of plate subductions.

Kanamori was one of nine awardees to be honored with the Japan Academy Prize, and accepted his award, consisting of a medal and $9,000, at a ceremony in Japan on June 14. Kanamori says he was especially honored because the emperor and empress of Japan attended the ceremony. It was also a little nerve-wracking, he says, since, as a prelude to the ceremony, Kanamori made a three-minute presentation on his research to the emperor and empress that was followed by a question-and-answer period. Later the awardees attended a luncheon hosted by their majesties and had an opportunity to talk with them, the crown prince, and their daughter, the princess.

"That was the most interesting part of the event," says Kanamori. "I found that they had a good understanding of what creative research is, and what it means to our life and society."

Kanamori will give part of the cash award to two international earthquake relief organizations. "I always feel somewhat frustrated that my science is not helping to reduce the misery caused by earthquakes as effectively as I wish," he says, "and I respect those people who actually work on the relief efforts. So I hope I will be able to help them with this small contribution."

Written by Marcus Woo