Materials Scientist John W. Cahn to Receive 27th Annual Kyoto Prize

On June 24th, it was announced that Dr. John Cahn, Emeritus Senior Fellow at NIST and UW Affiliate Professor (MSE and Physics), will receive the $625,000 Kyoto prize for Lifetime Achievement in “Advanced Technology” on November 10, 2011, in Kyoto, Japan.

KYOTO, Japan--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- The non-profit Inamori Foundation today announced that Dr. John W. Cahn will receive its 27th annual Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology, which focuses on Materials Science and Engineering for 2011.  Dr. Cahn, 83, a citizen of the United States, will receive the award for his outstanding contributions to alloy materials engineering through his establishment of the theory of spinodal decomposition. He currently serves as Emeritus Senior Fellow at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (, and as an affiliate professor at University of Washington.

The Works of Dr. John Cahn
Technology is often limited by materials. In renewable energy, computing, robotics, medicine, transportation, and countless other fields, a more capable material is often the missing piece separating today’s research from tomorrow’s breakthrough application. This challenge is often overcome by combining one element with another to yield an alloy material with superior structural or functional properties.

As a young researcher in the 1950s, Dr. Cahn was frustrated by the failures of prevailing theory to support a more systematic approach to materials development. At that time, researchers attempting to maximize the potential of alloy materials were forced to take a trial-and-error approach. Dr. Cahn collaborated with Dr. John Hilliard, a colleague at General Electric, in developing a method to describe the process of phase separation. Since its publication in 1961, the Cahn-Hilliard equation has played a key role in materials science and engineering, explaining phenomena as simple as the formation of frost patterns on a car’s windshield — and as complex as the clumping of galaxies in the early universe.

Dr. Cahn subsequently established his theory of three-dimensional spinodal decomposition by extending the one-dimensional theory formulated by Dr. Mats Hillert in 1961. In addition to expanding Hillert’s theoretical treatment into three dimensions, he incorporated an elastic strain-energy term, allowing alloy materials to be engineered for highly specific structural and functional characteristics. This theory has since found universal application in the design and production of better-performing metals, glass, semiconductors, polymers, and thermal materials requiring unique properties — including extreme strength, thermal conductivity, pore permeability, heat resistance, and magnetism. Dr. Cahn’s research findings have also laid the foundation for the phase-field method, one of the hottest research topics of recent years in the materials sciences. Taken as a whole, his work has spawned productive lines of research not only in metallurgy but also in physics, mathematics, chemistry, engineering, economics and demography.

About the Inamori Foundation and the Kyoto Prize
The Kyoto Prize, Japan’s highest private award for global achievement, honors significant contributions to the betterment of society. Each Kyoto Prize laureate will be presented with a diploma, a 20-karat-gold Kyoto Prize medal, and a cash gift totaling 50 million yen (approximately US$625,000) during a week of ceremonies beginning November 9, 2011, in Kyoto.   

The non-profit Inamori Foundation was established in 1984 by Dr. Kazuo Inamori, founder and chairman emeritus of Kyocera and KDDI Corporation. The Kyoto Prize was founded in 1985, in line with Dr. Inamori’s belief that a human being has no higher calling than to strive for the greater good of society, and that the future of humanity can be assured only when there is a balance between our scientific progress and our spiritual depth. The laureates are selected through a strict and impartial process considering candidates recommended from around the world.  As of the 26th Kyoto Prize ceremony (November 10, 2010), the Kyoto Prize has been awarded to 84 individuals and one foundation — collectively representing 15 nations. Individual laureates range from scientists, engineers and researchers to philosophers, painters, architects, sculptors, musicians and film directors. The United States has produced the most recipients (34), followed by Japan (14), the United Kingdom (12), and France (8).


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