Awardee Interviews | Biography: Maki Kawai

Maki Kawai

Maki Kawai, Institute for Molecular Science and University of Tokyo, “for elucidation of the role of vibrational dynamics in single-molecule reactions at surfaces”

Maki Kawai is the Director General of the Institute for Molecular Science at Okazaki, Japan. She is also a Professor at University of Tokyo. She has coauthored over 300 publications on surface science, physical chemistry, catalysis and materials science. She received Surface Science Society of Japan award (2005), Chemical Society of Japan award (2008), 2015 IUPAC Distinguished women in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, and 2015 Gerhard Ertl Lecture Award.

In addition to her fundamental scientific research, she is a widely-respected leader in scientific management. This activity, involving science in the USA, Germany, United Kingdom, and Japan has made her a highly valued member of the international scientific community, culminating with her former position as the RIKEN Executive Director in charge of research affairs. She is a member of the Science Council of Japan, and currently serving as an Executive Board Member representing Section III: Physical Sciences and Engineering. She is and has always been a highly respected member of the international community, serving as chair of the Surface Science Division, IUVSTA (International Union for Vacuum Science, Techniques, and Applications; 2001–2004), board member of the Institute of Physics, London, UK (2002–2004), as well as member of the Scientific Advisory Board at the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society since 2010. She was elected an APS (American Physical Society) fellow in 2010.

Prof. Kawai has also played an important role in the Japanese government’s planning of its science & technology policy, contributing to the drafting of a model plan for intellectual property strategy (2003–2007), and for new system for education as a member of Prime Minister Abe’s Education Rebuilding Implementation Council (2013–2015).

Maki Kawai received her BS in Chemistry at the University of Tokyo in 1975 and her PhD there in 1980 under the guidance of Prof. Kenzi Tamaru. She then did postdoctoral research for 5 years in several places including RIKEN, the University of Tokyo, Osaka Industrial Research Institute, Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) and at Osaka Gas Co. in Japan. These experiences of working in various places, university, governmental and private research institutes was especially important for Kawai to establish her direction of research in fundamental sciences.

Before becoming the chief scientist at RIKEN to direct Surface Chemistry Lab. in 1991, she worked at RIKEN (1985–1988) and served as TKD professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology (1988–1991). And from 2004, she is Professor at the University of Tokyo.

Maki Kawai is well known in her study on single-molecule chemistry, where spectroscopy of ultimate spatial resolution is performed. Of the most, single molecule vibrational spectroscopy utilizing inelastic tunneling process and extracting vibrational spectra from action of molecules (Action Spectroscopy) using STM stands to be unique. Interplay between the localized spin at adsorbed molecule and electrons at the Fermi sea of metal substrates is one of the recent topics of her group where Zeeman splitting or the Kondo resonance are resolved in sub-atomic resolution in space.