People in the Spotlight, Professor Kazuki Nakanishi

Since 2005, the ISGS has recognised the lifetime contributions of colleagues within the sol-gel community whose achievements have enriched sol-gel science and technology through the ISGS Lifetime Achievement Awards. The inaugural award was to Professor Helmut Schmidt (Germany), followed by Professors Jacques Livage (France) and Sumio Sakka (Japan) in 2007; Professor Doug Mackenzie (USA) in 2009; Professors Michel Aegerter (Switzerland) and Tsutomu Minami (Japan) in 2011; Professor David Avnir (Israel) and Clément Sanchez (France) in 2013 and 2015, respectively; Professors Jeff Brinker (USA) and Lisa Klein (USA) in 2017; and Professors Kazuyuki Kuroda (Japan) and Massimo Guglielmi (Italy) in 2019. In this issue, we shine a spotlight on one of the two awardees of the ISGS Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021, Professor Kazuki Nakanishi.

Kazuki Nakanishi was born in Osaka, Japan in January 1961. He graduated from Kyoto University’s Faculty of Engineering in 1983 and completed his Master Of Engineering (majoring in the physical chemistry of polymeric solids) within Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Engineering (Department of Industrial Chemistry) in 1985. During his subsequent PhD research, which commenced in May 1986, a phone call from one of the professors in glass science changed his life. In 1986, he joined the research group of Professor Naohiro Soga (former president of the International Commission on Glass (ICG)) at Kyoto University as a research associate, where he started his first work on the sol-gel synthesis of inorganic materials. He encountered the phase separation of gelling silica systems in August 1987, and has been enchanted by this field for over 35 years. His father was a professor of metallurgy and studied Martensitic transformations of shape memory alloys – and in a broader sense, the son was also captured by the magic of “phase transitions”. His Doctor of Engineering degree from Kyoto University was conferred in 1991, for his thesis entitled “Studies on morphology control of porous silica through polymer-incorporated sol-gel processes”.

In 1993, Nakanishi started collaborating with Professor Nobuo Tanaka (Kyoto Institute of Technology) and Dr Hiroyoshi Minakuchi (President of Kyoto Monotech Corp.) on the development of novel HPLC columns using his monolithic silica with hierarchically controlled macro- and mesopores. The commercialization of the columns was achieved in collaboration with Merck KGaA, Germany. Prior to this collaboration, the basic material patents had already been filed with the support of Professor Soga, which made it easy to secure the IP rights of the inventors. The first monolithic silica HPLC column was released worldwide in October 2000 with the brand name of “ChromolithTM ”. Starting from the normal analytical column (4.6 mm diameter), the product line expanded to include a capillary format for bio- and environmental separations and a preparative format for process chromatography. The work received several industrial awards, including the Gold Award of the Pittsburgh Conference and the R&D100 Award in 2001. Nakanishi himself stepped into the unfamiliar field of analytical chemistry through the development, acquiring new scientific knowledge and rich personal connections. Collaboration and mutual visit with German-based researchers, including Professors Magdalena Titirici, Markus Antonietti and Ferdi Schüth commenced during this period. Later, another intensive collaboration was established with Professor Gert Desmet of the Free University of Brussels including exchanging students on fluid dynamics (simulation) studies of separations with monolithic columns.

Around 2005, Nakanishi commenced a collaboration on the production of “Hybrid aerogels by ambient drying” with Drs Mamoru Aizawa and Kazuyoshi Kanamori. Using methyl-modified polysiloxane (PMSQ) compositions, organic-inorganic hybrid aerogels were successfully obtained via an ambient drying process. On this development, Nakanishi gives full credit to the above researchers and collaborators for their efforts and final success of fabricating hybrid aerogel panels with superior mechanical strength and comparable physical properties (visible-light transmittance, thermal insulation and density) to those achieved for conventional supercritically dried silica aerogels. Further collaboration with Drs Gen Hayase (NIMS), Taiyo Shimizu (AIST) and Guoqing Zu (Tongji University) explored a variety of hybrid materials based on this initial work, including marshmallow gels and highly bendable aerogels. These materials have now been commercialised by Tiem Factory Inc. (President: Dr Masahiro Yamaji) in energy-related applications. Concerning this development, The “Award for Academic Startups (Japan Science and Technology Agency)” was given to Yamaji, Higashi (YKK AP Inc.) and Nakanishi in 2017.

Bending aerogelNakanishi’s achievements throughout his career have been recognised through a variety of awards. These include the Ulrich Award in 1997 (ISGS); the ICG Prize in Memory of Professor Vittorio Gottardi in 1999 (ICG); the Academic Prize of the Ceramic Society of Japan in 2006; appointment as an ISGS Fellow (2019); and (as mentioned earlier) the ISGS Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021. He has collaborated with colleagues in over 60 Institutes/Universities/Companies in 25 Countries/regions, which have led to nearly 350 peer-reviewed publication (SCOPUS) in conjunction with over 150 co-authors. He has been a visiting Professor at the Johannes Gutenberg University (Mainz, Germany) and the University of Montpellier II (France), and is currently a full Professor within the Institute of Materials and Systems for Sustainability at Nagoya University. He also holds a cross appointment within the Institute of Integrated Cell-Materials Science at Kyoto University.

Nakanishi’s service to the sol-gel community is extensive and includes membership of the ISGS Board (2007-2013); Chair of the 17th International Sol-Gel Conference in Kyoto in 2015 (with Dr Kazumi Kato (AIST) and Professor Hiromitsu Kozuka (Kansai University)); Editor of JSST (since 2009) and President of the Japanese SolGel Society (since 2019; note that the JSGS was established in the same year as the ISGS). His first opportunity to participate in the International Sol-Gel Conference series was at the 1987 meeting in Kyoto, 28 years before the conference returned to Kyoto for the second time in 2015.

As is always the case with a long career that is replete with such a fulfilling range of experiences, Nakanishi notes that his 35 years in the sol-gel community have passed so fast, but the memories of exciting science, technology and precious friends, colleagues and students remain strong. Hopefully many more good memories will be forged before he turns his hand to activities other than those that are sol-gel related!