Professor Haruo Kuroda

Chemist who developed the science of the synchrotron
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The Independent Online

Tools and techniques play as important a role in the evolution of science and technology as do concepts and theories. We need think only of how astronomy was transformed by Galileo's telescope, or of Hooke's optical microscopes and their impact on the growth of the physical, biological and medical sciences.

Haruo Kuroda, chemist: born Tokyo 28 June 1931; Research Associate, Department of Chemistry, University of Tokyo 1960-68, Associate Professor 1968-71, Professor 1971-77, Department Chairman 1977-79, Chairman of the Library Council 1988-91; Chairman of the Advisory Council, Photon Factory, Japan 1980-2003; Chairman of the Library Council, National University of Japan 1988-91; Professor, Tokyo University of Science 1992-2003, and Director of Infra-red Free-Electron Laser Center 1999-2003; married 1958 Hiroko Fujimoto (two sons); died Tokyo 4 May 2004.

Tools and techniques play as important a role in the evolution of science and technology as do concepts and theories. We need think only of how astronomy was transformed by Galileo's telescope, or of Hooke's optical microscopes and their impact on the growth of the physical, biological and medical sciences.

In the last half-century, few technical developments have had as much influence on the growth of natural science and engineering as the synchrotron, in which, by accelerating electrons up to velocities approaching that of light, intense beams of electromagnetic light (from hard X-rays to infra-red radiation) may be produced. These high-intensity, polarised beams of controllable wavelength are invaluable in a host of scientific contexts, ranging from the determination of the atomic structure of enzymes and other biological materials, to new drugs for conquering disease, or new inorganic catalysts for clean technology and green chemistry.

Haruo Kuroda was one of the world's foremost experts on the design and application of synchrotron radiation to the elucidation of a wide range of scientific problems. Identified, along with a collaborator, Professor Kazutake Kohra, by government and university officials in Japan in the late 1970s, Kuroda, who worked at the Department of Chemistry in the University of Tokyo, was charged with the responsibility of bringing into existence the "Photon Factory" (synonymous with a synchrotron) in the Japanese National Laboratory for High Energy Physics. This factory, now the envy of his worldwide colleagues, was commissioned in 1982, with Kohra the first Director and Kuroda the key person as representative of all potential and actual users.

Kuroda was born in Tokyo in 1931. He graduated from the Department of Chemistry at Tokyo University in 1953 and undertook graduate studies culminating in a much-praised PhD thesis (under the supervision of Professor Hideo Akamatu) on "Study on the Substructures of Carbons". Shortly thereafter he spent two years at the National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, where, inter alia, he studied the effect of ambient oxygen on the electrical properties of evaporated films of the organic molecular crystal pentacene.

Upon returning to Tokyo, where in 1967 he was promoted Associate Professor (and full Professor in 1971), he pursued research with conspicuous success in a wide range of sub- disciplines in solid-state chemistry, spectroscopy and surface science. Many of his graduate students and post-doctoral workers gained eminence in Japanese industry, other universities and governmental laboratories.

The techniques developed by the Kuroda school in studying so-called charge transfer complex salts and the electronic properties of organic compounds - now of great commercial interest in view of the potential replacement of silicon-based transistors by organic polymers - elicited the admiration of chemists and physicists throughout the world.

In parallel with this work Kuroda pursued several ingenious molecular orbital calculations and made inspired use of X-ray-induced photoelectron spectroscopy to clarify many hitherto chemical enigmas. (On this last topic we collaborated over a period of several years when he sent his Research Associate Isao Ikemoto - now Professor of Tokyo Metropolitan University - to my laboratory at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, in 1971-72.)

It was, however, his deep insights into the value of synchrotron radiation as a powerful new technique in the chemical, physical and biological sciences that exercised most of his thoughts from the late 1970s. At the time of his death, he was in charge of the uniquely powerful IR-FEL (Infra-red Free Electron Laser), initiated by funds - around a billion yen over the period 1999-2003 - made available jointly by the Kawasaki Heavy Industry Co and the Tokyo University of Science, at which he held a Professorship after retirement from the University of Tokyo in 1992.

What synchrotron beams permit surface scientists to do is to determine the precise nature of the bonding of adsorbed species on low-area solids, such as silicon or gallium arsenide, when they are present in trace amounts.

Under Haruo Kuroda's guidance and supervision, many scientists in Japan and elsewhere were able to carry out experiments of exceptional elegance and sensitivity in which X-ray absorption spectroscopy is used to determine the atomic environment of key elements involved in catalysis and other important surface phenomena.

In addition to his scientific work, Kuroda contributed greatly to the administrative and scholarly life of the University of Tokyo and of Japan. He was chairman of the Department of Chemistry (1977-79), Director of the Centre for Spectrochemistry (1981-87), and chairman of the Library Council of the whole university (1988-91). He also contributed greatly to his nation's cultural and scientific life, serving as a member of the Science Council of Japan (1978-85), a member of the Advisory Council of the National Centre for Science Information Systems (1988-91) and chairman of the Library Council of the National Universities (1988-91).

Like another famous chemist, Lord Dainton, he was passionately committed to the provision of library facilities to all constituent of university and national laboratories. As an individual, like Dainton, acutely aware of the need for future generations to access massive data basis and the legacy of previous generations, he harnessed his considerable organisational skills to the good of everyone.

In the period 1986-90, the Research Development Corporation of Japan (JRDC), a subsidiary of the nation's Science and Technology Agency (STA), embarked on an exciting new venture - the Erato scheme (Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology). Some 10 or so leading individual scientists across the entire spectrum were selected for the investigation of exciting and promising areas of research involving universities, industrial and governmental laboratories. The Kuroda Solid Surfaces project was one such endeavour, which was eminently successful. So also was that of his contemporary, Professor Ryoji Noyori of Nagoya University, which led to Noyori's being awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2001 for his work on chiral catalysts.

Haruo Kuroda was a humble, almost self-effacing individual, short in physical stature, but towering in his intellectual energy and authority. I well remember the buzz of excitement engendered in his audience after he described to the chemists and molecular biologists of Cambridge University in 1980 his compatriots' plans concerning their Photon Factory. He was a soft-spoken, gentle, respectful and charming man, known for his thoroughness, intellectual honesty and quiet humour.

John Meurig Thomas