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Former Tohoku U. president Junichi Nishizawa, known as 'Mr. Semiconductor,' dies at 92

In this Nov. 10, 2006 file photo, former Tohoku University President Junichi Nishizawa smiles at the Minami-Osawa campus of Tokyo Metropolitan University in the western Tokyo city of Hachioji. (Mainichi/Yoshinori Matsuda)

TOKYO -- Former Tohoku University President Junichi Nishizawa, known as "Mr. Semiconductor" for his trailblazing work in semiconductor development and optical communications that have driven technological and economic advances worldwide, died on Oct. 21. He was 92.

Born in 1926 in the city of Sendai in the northern Japan prefecture of Miyagi, Nishizawa began research into transistors after graduating from Tohoku University in 1948. Only two years later, Nishizawa invented the PIN photodiode used in fiber optic network cards and switches.

Nishizawa also invented the static induction transistor, which can function at high speed with low energy levels and has a wide range of applications including in high-speed computers. He was also instrumental in developing the building blocks of optical communications such as the semiconductor lasers and glass fiber that enabled high speed, high capacity data communications indispensable in the modern world. He was also the developer of green and red light-emitting diodes (LED) used in traffic lights and displays.

Nishizawa registered more than 1,000 patents during his long, productive life. With so many inventions with far-reaching effects under his belt, Nishizawa was said to be a candidate for a Nobel Prize.

He was awarded the Japan Academy Award in 1974, and recognized as a Person of Cultural Merit in 1983. Six years later, Nishizawa won the Order of Culture. In 2000, the professor also received the prestigious Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)'s Edison Medal, given to engineers with meritorious careers in electrical science and engineering. Four years later, the institute even introduced the Jun-ichi Nishizawa Medal, elevating him to the realm of great inventors such as Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell.

Besides Tohoku University, Nishizawa served as president of Iwate Prefectural University and Tokyo Metropolitan University. He was a contributor to the Mainichi Shimbun's "Jidai no Kaze" (Sign of the Times) column from November 1997 through October 1998.

(Japanese original by Yasuyoshi Tanaka, Science & Environment News Department)

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