The Institute for Materials Research (IMR), referred to as ”KINKEN” and established in 1916 as the 2nd Division of the Provisional Institute of Physical and Chemical Research, celebrated its centenary in 2016. The Kinken was the first of six institutes to be established at Tohoku University and is one of the oldest national university-established research institutes in Japan. The founding principle of the institute was ”to contribute to the well being of the human race and the development of civilization through the creation of new materials that are truly useful to society by studying both the application and basic research of a wide range of substances and materials such as metals, semiconductors, ceramics, compounds, organic materials, and composite materials.” Our aim has been to ”search for scientific principles related to material-based sciences and their applications” to realize the founding principles.
During the early years, the primary research focus was steel. Thereafter, the research domains gradually broadened to various types of alloys and metals. In 1987, the institute was reorganized into a national collaborative research institute affiliated with Tohoku University. Its name was also changed from "Research Institute for Iron, Steel and Other Metals" to the present one "Institute for Materials Research". This shows clearly that it started to expand its research fields to not only metals but also a wide range of other materials. Certified as a joint usage/research center for material science in 2009, the institute is thus now striving to establish a new framework and to promote the research and development of new materials.
In the 20th century, along with the development of material science, new materials that served as key elements in material civilization were studied and developed in quick succession, bringing hitherto unforeseen convenience to human life. Our institute also made great contributions in materials science fields. In the early years, the institute became globally known for KS steel, which was the first artificial permanent magnet and was invented under the leadership of Dr. Kotaro Honda, the first Director of the institute. In addition to major contributions to the Japanese steel industry with the development of techniques for producing high-quality steel, a considerable success was also achieved in the development of many types of practically useable materials such as special steels and materials for precision instruments. Moreover, significant effort was applied to basic research, which resulted in development of technologies associated with high magnetic fields and low temperatures. Pioneering research was conducted in magnetism, superconductivity, optical properties, and microstructure analyses for materials. Additionally, liquid helium, which was produced only in this institute at that time, also started to be provided for joint use throughout Japan. All of these have greatly contributed to Japan's academia.
The institute's vital strengths include the merging of basic and applied sciences, and science with engineering. We continue to uphold the ”KINKEN Spirit” of practical and innovative science since the days of Dr. Kotaro Honda. These days, our institute has opened up new genres in terms of material science and engineering, developing high performance, high quality, and multifunctional materials such as amorphous alloys with peculiar structures, bulk metallic glasses based on the amorphous alloys, nano-crystalline alloys, quasi-crystals, multi-component intermetallic compounds, oxides, ceramics, structure controlled metallic materials at a multi-scale (nano-to-micro) level, semiconductor materials, crystals for solar cells, fuel cell materials, hydrogen absorbing materials, nuclear materials, biomaterials, spintronic materials, strongly correlated materials, optical device materials, and organic materials. Such continued developments could also be said to be proof of the ”KINKEN Spirit.”
Unlike the 20th century, in the 21st century, we presently face global-scale environmental problems such as global warming and the depletion of resources and energy. As a result, there is an increasing need to preserve the environment and work towards achieving sustainable societies. Our institute serves these themes by striving to ”contribute to the well being of the human race and the development of civilization through the creation of new materials that are truly useful to society.” While putting effort into innovative material-based sciences that can bring about paradigm shifts, we continue to develop our human resources.
The institute celebrated its centenary in the constantly changing environment of globalization and university reform actions. Last year Tohoku University was selected as one of Designated National Universities, which aims at the formation of a world leading core research cluster on materials science. The role of our institute will be more important. This is a major turning point, and we intend to seize the opportunity for another century of development by upholding the ”KINKEN Spirit.”
We ask for your continuous support and encouragement in the years to come.