Please note: Speeches appear in the language in which they were delivered.
Chancellor, Rector, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Please accept my heartfelt gratitude on this splendid occasion for having been honored with this most prestigious honorary degree of Doctor of the University. My emotion at this moment runs so deep that I am unable to adequately express my appreciation for your recognition of my scientific achievement.
In May of 1977, Professor Howard Alper kindly invited me to the University of Ottawa. It was my first visit to Canada. Later, in October of 1988, I had the honor of delivering the famous Raymond Lemieux lectureship in the Chemistry Department, as well as enjoying Ottawa's beautiful autumn leaves. The University of Ottawa is recognized as a centre of excellence in chemistry. This status owes much to the late Professor Lemieux, who initiated a glorious tradition of chemistry here before moving to the University of Alberta. He was a real giant, from whom I learned much about chemical science, particularly carbohydrate chemistry, and chemical research in this country. In fact, over the past three decades, I have been encouraged and helped by Canadian colleagues in many ways. These interactions have been highly fruitful from scientific, social, and cultural points of view. Without such friendship and collaboration, I would not be here today.
I am very proud that we have been able to contribute to human welfare through chemistry, particularly the chemical synthesis of organic substances with both practical and theoretical importance. Our accumulated knowledge can now convert natural resources, including petroleum and biomass, into high-added value chemical substances that determine the quality of our lives. I believe that chemical synthesis is crucial for the future of mankind because this scientific realm provides a firm, logical basis for molecular sciences and technologies.
I have personally focused on handedness of molecules, which is called chirality. When a carbon atom possesses four different atoms or groups, two stereoisomers become possible. These are mirror images of one another. This difference is very subtle but becomes important when these molecules are involved in biological or physiological phenomena. Although right-handed and left-handed molecules have identical free energies, they often smell and taste differently. These structural differences can become serious in the administration of synthetic drugs. Thus, gaining chemical access to pure single-handed compounds, called asymmetric synthesis, is among the most significant challenges in the development of pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, flavors, and fragrances. But until recently, this remained difficult. We could solve this longstanding, fundamental problem by inventing efficient man-made catalysts. Our endeavor, together with the efforts of other scientists worldwide, turned the chemist's dream into reality and dramatically improved the processes of chemical synthesis. The growth of this core technology has given rise to enormous economic potential in the manufacture of precious chemicals. I am very pleased to be involved in contributing to the progress of this significant scientific realm.
In summary, because of my strong relationship with this University, this honorary degree of Doctor of the University is among the highest honors ever given to me. I am most certain that I shall not forget this moment for the rest of my life.
Finally, I am very grateful to Professor Howard Alper, an outstanding scientist and also a very good friend of mine, for having nominated me to the selection committee of this prestigious event.
Thank you very much.
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