Akiko Kobayashi
Chemist
Akiko Kobayashi

Akiko Kobayashi (b. 1943)
Akiko Kobayashi is proof positive that less is more. With a single discovery, the Tokyo-born organic chemist and professor challenged scientists to think differently about what makes a molecular metal a metal.

In 2001, Kobayashi designed and created Ni(tmdt)2, the world’s first single-component molecular metal. Prior to her invention, organic chemists believed that these metals required more than two molecular components to exist. Kobayashi’s new chemical substance, which maintains its metallic state even at extremely low temperatures, proved them wrong.

Kobayashi’s advance has lots of everyday applications: Molecular conductors are essential building blocks of light-emitting diodes, which form the basis for flat-screen TVs, computer monitors and solar panels.

Success didn’t come overnight for Kobayashi. After earning her Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo in 1972, she became a research associate at her alma mater. It would take 20 years for her to be named an associate professor and seven more for Kobayashi to make full professor. “Over the course of my career, one of the major difficulties I’ve encountered has to do with advancing to a new position, and I think this was probably a general problem for women scientists in Japan,” she has said.

Kobayashi moved on to Nihon University in 2006, where she continues to teach in the department of chemistry. She is the author of more than 400 scientific publications. And in 2009—more than 35 years after joining the field—this daughter of a musician mom and a physicist dad received worldwide recognition in the form of a L’Oréal -UNESCO Women in Science Award.