FY2022 Graduate School Entrance Ceremony Remarks (7 April 2022)

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Nagahiro Minato, 27th President

Nagahiro Minato, 27th President

Today, Kyoto University welcomes 2,291 new students enrolling in master's programs, 325 enrolling in professional degree programs, and 895 enrolling in doctoral programs. On behalf of the executive vice-presidents, deans, and directors who have joined us today, and all of the University's faculty and staff members, I congratulate each and every one of you on your enrollment at Kyoto University. I also extend my warmest congratulations to your families, and all those who have encouraged and supported you thus far.

Your enrollment in a postgraduate program at Kyoto University represents a new step towards mastery of your chosen field of specialization.  Since the year before last, the Covid-19 pandemic has shaken the world, and imposed numerous restrictions on our daily lives. Despite such difficult circumstances, however, all of you present today were able to complete your bachelor's degrees, enabling you to advance to graduate-level programs. I have great respect for your commitment and dedication. It is still difficult to forecast how the Covid-19 situation will develop, but I hope that you can all embark on your graduate-level research activities with a fresh and optimistic mindset.

The year 2022 is a milestone year for Kyoto University. The University was founded in June 1897 as Kyoto Imperial University, and this year marks the 125th anniversary of that founding. On this occasion, I would like to talk briefly about the history of the University. In 1886, eighteen years after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan's first state university was established in Tokyo. The state university was called "Imperial University", and its main mission was to cultivate bureaucrats, engineers, and the other human resources required for Japan to become a modernized country. However, with the rapid introduction of Western sciences and culture, the opportunity for Japan to develop its own academic research and higher education increased. Then, by means of an imperial decree in 1897, Kyoto Imperial University was established here in Kyoto as the second imperial university, and the first Imperial University was renamed Tokyo Imperial University. It is said that this was greatly influenced by the politician Prince Saionji Kinmochi's assertion that "a university should be established in Kyoto, far from the center of politics, as a school that is free, new, genuinely inquiring into the truth, and advancing knowledge". Prince Saionji was a person of great knowledge and international awareness. He studied abroad at Sorbonne College (the University of Paris) while he was young, and in later life devoted himself to the modernization of Japan as "the last genro" (informal extraconstitutional advisor to the emperor).

At the time of the establishment of Kyoto Imperial University, the decree governing academic degrees was revised, and the graduate school regulations of Kyoto Imperial University were established in 1899. However, graduate education programs were not formally established, and degrees were mainly conferred on the recommendation of the university's president or based on the doctoral thesis submitted. The total number of degrees conferred at the time was approximately ten per year. For example, in 1911, Hideyo Noguchi, who, at that time, was 35 years old and worked at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York, was awarded a doctoral degree in medicine by Kyoto Imperial University based on a thesis that he submitted. That same year, the official government gazette reported that "the Minister of Education conferred a doctoral degree in medicine to Hideyo Noguchi of Fukushima Prefecture, on the recommendation of the Department of Pathology of Kyoto Imperial University". This means that the University made the recommendation, but the degree was actually conferred by the Minister of Education. Noguchi's doctoral thesis is still kept in the archive of the Kyoto University Faculty of Medicine.

The first university that founded a "graduate school as a degree-granting education program", such as we know today, was Johns Hopkins University in the United States in the late 19th century. It is said that Johns Hopkins' graduate school attracted outstanding students from all over the world. The graduate school system then spread to Harvard, Columbia, and other universities in the US, producing tens of thousands of degree-holding graduates every year. Many of those graduates went on to assume important positions in government organizations and private companies. In the US, therefore, graduate degrees attained a very high level of social merit and respect. In Japan, the first graduate schools following a US-style system were established by national universities in 1953. All of you here today are enrolled in a "degree-granting education program" at a graduate school whereby the degree is conferred by the university, just like the US graduate school system.

All of you are about to begin your research activities in graduate schools dedicated to different academic fields at Kyoto University, which will soon celebrate its 125th anniversary.  Academic research should be motivated by an individual's curiosity and desire to explore the unknown. That desire is the driving force behind academic and scientific research, and it is not something that changes with the times. On the other hand, science and technology have changed dramatically with the times, and the driving force behind the changes has been the ceaseless frontier spirit of scientists. Looking back on the history of science and technology's development since the 20th century, breakthroughs were accomplished thanks to the curiosity and inquisitiveness of the researchers themselves, who proactively developed new research areas. New research areas have also been developed through encounters between different disciplines.

Salvador Luria, a pioneer who opened the door to modern molecular biology research, was born in Turin, Italy in 1912, and became a radiologist after graduating from the Medical School of the University of Turin. However, he had trouble fitting in with medical work in diagnostic radiology and therapeutics, and he came across a paper on the mutagenic effects of radiation in drosophila written by Max Delbrück, an American scientist who has often been called the "father of molecular biology". This was during the 1930s when quantum mechanics pioneers, such as Wolfgang Pauli and Niels Bohr, were gradually beginning to show an interest in life science. Delbrück, who was a theoretical physicist, was also strongly influenced by that trend, and began to pursue genetic research. Of course, this was a time when the main body of genes was still completely unknown, and it was during this period that Luria encountered bacteriophage. "Phage" is a general term for viruses that can infect bacteria, and Luria was able to work with them using bacterial culture techniques he was familiar with as a medical scientist. At the time, it was known that when phages infect bacteria, most of the bacteria die, but sometimes a very small quantity survive, and all of their progeny acquire phage resistance. Through his ingenious experiments, Luria obtained data showing that this rare phage resistance was not induced by the phage infection, as was thought at the time, but occurred naturally at a certain rate.

Luria found it difficult to develop a theory to explain the results of the experiments by himself, so he did not hesitate to send them to Delbrück, who was in California. Delbrück immediately recognized the importance of these findings, sent to him by an unknown young doctor, and began collaborating with him, instead of returning to Germany, which was then under the Nazi regime. In 1943, they published the famous "Luria-Delbrück experiment", which demonstrated that bacteria also have genes which mutate spontaneously at a certain rate. With their discovery, genes, which had long been a mystery, became recognized as molecules, and at that moment, molecular biology was born. For this achievement, Luria and Delbrück, along with Alfred Hershey, won the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. In Luria's autobiography, "A Slot Machine, A Broken Test Tube", he wrote that "An eminent biochemist is reported to have defined molecular biology as the practice of biochemistry without a license. Some classical geneticist may have maintained that molecular biology is the study of genetics upon the wrong organisms". However, after their discovery, molecular biologists gathered around them, which became the so-called "phage group". Excellent researchers emerged, including James Watson, Francis Crick, and Renato Dulbecco, and molecular biology advanced dramatically. Professor Emeritus Susumu Tonegawa, a graduate of Kyoto University's Faculty of Science and a Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine, studied under Dulbecco. This also shows that how encounters and discussions with researchers from different backgrounds are important in the advancement of academic and scientific research, and the development of new fields.

The world around us is becoming increasingly complex, and in response to that, the development and advancement of new fields of academic research is required more than ever. It is, of course, important to acquire basic knowledge in established research areas. At the same time, however, I hope that you will maintain a broad perspective, and cultivate a frontier spirit that can open the way to new academic and scientific worlds by engaging and interacting with as many colleagues in different fields as possible. That is one of the great traditions of Kyoto University. You must all be excited about embarking on your new lives as researchers, and I hope that you will thoroughly enjoy engaging with science. I have already spent over 40 years in the world of academic research. I have been through many trials and tribulations during that period, but in the end, I was even able to enjoy the difficult times. I hope that all of you will fully enjoy every day of your studies and research in your chosen Kyoto University graduate school.

In closing, I offer my sincere congratulations once again to each and every one of you on your enrollment.