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Rewarded for Work on Liquid Crystal Displays (February 3, 2004)

liquid crystal displays
Consumers examine LCD TVs. (Jiji)
The German Future Prize, which rewards outstanding scientific research carried out in Germany, was won in 2003 by a team of researchers led by the Japanese scientist Tarumi Kazuaki. The team, employed by chemicals and pharmaceuticals manufacturer Merck KGaA, received the €250,000 ($314,623 at $1.25 to the euro) prize from German President Johannes Rau on November 13, 2003, in recognition of its work on liquid crystals. The German Future Prize was established in 1997 to encourage technological and scientific innovation and has even been described as "Germany's Nobel Prize." Tarumi is the first non-German to win this prestigious award, and his work is highly regarded by Germany's research community.

A Giant Leap for TV Picture Quality
The Merck team won the prize for its development of a new generation of liquid crystals that greatly improves image quality on LCD TV screens. Liquid crystal molecules have in the past been slow to react to the voltage that is passed through them to make them emit light, resulting in problems in displaying moving images on large screens. When using a computer with a liquid crystal display, for example, an after-image of the mouse pointer might remain on the screen after the user has moved the mouse and clicked an icon. Or when watching baseball on an LCD TV, a ball hit by a batter might appear to leave a trail as it flies through the air.

In order to eliminate these problems, Tarumi and the other researchers developed a new type of liquid crystal that enables a method of display known as vertical alignment (VA). VA speeds up the reaction of molecules to changes in voltage, eliminating after-images. What is more, crisp, clear images can be seen even from the side - indeed from a 170-degree-wide range of angles - on screens employing VA. In 1996 Fujitsu became the first electronics manufacturer to begin selling PC displays made using this new material. Other manufacturers, such as Sharp Corporation and South Korean firm Samsung Electronics, soon followed suit, and the popularity of large LCD screens subsequently skyrocketed. Most of the liquid crystals used in LCD TVs, which have rapidly become a common feature of Japanese living rooms, are made by Merck. Liquid crystal displays are more energy efficient and durable than plasma displays, with which they are often in direct competition. Experts credit the material developed by Tarumi and his colleagues for giving LCDs an even greater edge by enabling them to be used with no deterioration in performance for over 60,000 hours, twice as long as plasma displays.

An International Research Career
Merck's main business is pharmaceuticals, but the company has the largest market share in the world for liquid crystal materials. According to the Japan Electronics Information Technology Industries Association, shipments of LCD TVs between January and November 2003 were up about 90% from the previous year, a clear sign of the growth in this market. And Machida Katsuhiko, the president of Sharp Corporation, a major electronics manufacturer, stated at a New Year's press conference on January 8 that he expected 2004 shipments of LCD TVs to be double the 2003 figure, with the start of terrestrial digital broadcasting and the Athens Olympics boosting sales. In anticipation of increased demand from end consumers, principally LCD manufacturers in Japan and other countries, Merck is expanding its LCD production facilities in Germany.

Tarumi, who hails from Ehime Prefecture, went to Germany to further his studies after completing a master's course at Waseda University's School of Science and Engineering and subsequently gained a doctorate in physics from the University of Bremen. Nine years into his research career he returned to Japan and took up an associate professorship at Gunma University. In 1990 his research record and skills caught the eye of Merck, which recruited him to conduct research on liquid crystal materials. Tarumi is currently head of the company's Liquid Crystal Research/Physics Department. Past recipients of the German Future Prize include the researchers who developed the MP3 digital music technology, the most popular way of delivering music over the Internet, and the team that developed the speech-translation computer used in Sony's AIBO robot.

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Related Web Sites
Merck KGaA
Sharp Corporation
Samsung Electronics

Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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