These materials scientists are a ‘power couple’ in the physical sciences
From rejected material to career-defining discovery.
5 May 2020
Kenji Watanabe (left) Mark Zastrow
Kenji Watanabe (on the left) and Takashi Taniguchi synthesize high-quality hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) crystals, which have important applications in the study of two-dimensional materials.
Two decades ago, Takashi Taniguchi had one goal: to produce a flawless piece of cubic boron nitride (c-BN), an ultra-hard material with a similar crystal structure to diamond, so he could explore the material’s potential as a semiconductor.
While Taniguchi spent hours trying to produce pure c-BN crystals without defects in his lab at the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) in Tsukuba, Japan, it was the by-products of his work that caught the attention of his research partner, Kenji Watanabe.
These tiny crystals of hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) would soon become the material that Taniguchi and Watanabe are today renowned for. Since publishing their first paper on the material’s ultra-violet properties in 2004, the pair have worked together to produce high-quality h-BN crystals that are coveted by materials scientists around the world, as reported by Nature in August 2019.
Taniguchi says their crystals have made them “somehow famous” in the field of two-dimensional materials.
“Why Watanabe and Taniguchi? Because their crystal is the best,” Philip Kim, a condensed-matter physicist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts told Nature.
Part of the story of their success is told by Dimensions data showing that the pair have appeared as co-authors on 1,123 papers and preprints, including 452 papers published in the 82 high-quality journals tracked by the Nature Index, since 2011.
In 2019 alone, they co-authored 127 physical sciences papers in Nature Index journals, more than any other pair of researchers in the field, based on co-publications. The majority of their Nature Index papers appear in Nano Letters, Physical Review Letters, and Physical Review B, which are among the most prominent physical sciences journals.
Below is Taniguchi and Watanabe’s co-authorship network in 2019 for physical sciences papers published in Nature Index journals. Zoom in and hover the mouse over the lines to view the number of co-publications between authors, as shown by link strength.