Candidate for ISC Governing Board 2022 – 2024

Nominator: International Mathematical Union (IMU)
Position: President-elect
Nationality: Japanese
Country of residence: Japan
Discipline: Mathematics
Born in: 1960

I happened to come across and was impressed by “Our Planet, Our Future — An Urgent Call for Action” at the 2021 Nobel Prize Summit. The expansion of COVID-19 has changed the world. I asked myself how many times I had used the term “sustainable development” in domestic and international conferences on science and technology policy, and how many times I had reiterated that humanity’s challenges are global and must be tackled by the whole world in a collaborative manner in the past, but how seriously had I thought about this and taken action?

In the ISC Action Plan 2019-2021 as an impactful global voice for science, Agenda for Sustainable development and the Digital Revolution caught my attention. They are very similar to what we proposed as Society 5.0 in Japan’s Science and Technology Basic Plan (2015-), which I participated in formulating. It is a society where the well-being of humankind is achieved in the balance of sustainable development and economic growth and to be realized through advancement of science and technology. It is emphasized that the key to realizing this concept is the integration of knowledge through dialogue between the humanities, social science, and natural science, technology. It discussed, because we live in a digitalized society, the development of date-driven research and development that creates values for the society and the fostering of digital natives to support it are issues we should address. I am also highly motivated to create the inclusive society with diverse values by providing viewpoints in an Asian context. As a member of the Committee of Women in Mathematics, IMU, I am now working to establish the Forum for Asian Women in Mathematics as a platform of exchanging information and encouraging young women to pursue a career in mathematics.

I would like to contribute to the ISC and to the future society via knowledge based on the engagement in policy making for several years, and the expertise as a mathematician who has put much effort in developing data-driven science through collaboration between mathematics and materials science.

Motoko Kotani
Executive Vice-President, Tohoku University

Academic background

Motoko Kotani’s expertise is Mathematics. She graduated from the University of Tokyo in1983, and got Dr. of Science in Mathematics in 1990 at Tokyo Metropolitan University, Japan. She started her academic career as a lecturer at Toho University, and then moved to Tohoku University in 1999 as an associate professor at Mathematical Institute, Graduate School of Science, and then was promoted as a full professor in 2004. She was awarded Distinguished Professorship, Tohoku University 2008-2013. She stayed in Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Germany 1993-1994, IHES in France 2001, and Isaac Newton Institute in UK.

Her interest has been in geometric analysis, related with Mathematical Physics. She was awarded the 25th Saruhashi Prize for study of crystal lattice via discrete geometric analysis in 2005. While she works in pure mathematics, she has been also active in communication with researchers in other scientific fields. She has led several big research projects bridging Mathematics and Materials Science. Based on her experience and achievement both in research and management, she was appointed to be a Director of Advanced Institute for Materials Research, Tohoku University with 200 researchers in 2012, an institute established under the national program World Premier International Research Center Initiative in 2007.


Past and current positions

The nominee is from April 2020 Executive Vice President for Research of Tohoku University. Before that she served as Executive Director of the RIKEN (Japan’s largest comprehensive research institution) 4/2017- 3/2020. She is Professor at Mathematical Institute (2004-), Principal Investigator (2011-) and Director (2012-2019) of Advanced Institute for Materials Research, Associate Executive Vice President (2014-2019) of Tohoku University.

Her social contributions are varied:

  • an executive member of the Council of Science, Technology and Innovation (2014-) comprised by Prime Minister, relevant Ministers, and experts to discuss and decide national policy of Science and Technology
  • a member of Council of Science of Japan, the representative organization of Japanese scientist community ranging over all fields of sciences subsuming humanities, social sciences, life sciences, natural sciences, and engineering (2017-),
  • Member of Board of Governors, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology School Corporation (2014-)
  • President of the Mathematical Society of Japan (2015-2016), board member (2008-)
  • Members of several committees of the MEXT and the Cabinet Office
  • Members of advisory committees of several national research institutes (such as National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, National Institute of Informatics, National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, National Institute for Materials Science)
  • Members of selection committees of Kyoto prizes, IMU prize, ICIAM prize
  • Project leaders for promotion of women in science

Affiliation to and/or current/past/future role within the nominating ISC Member organization

The nominee is a active in two ISC member organizations: International Mathematical Union (IMU) and Science Council of Japan (SCJ). In IMU, the nominee is a member of the Adhering Organizations and a member of its Committee for Women in Mathematics (CWM), which promotes international contacts between national and regional organizations for women and mathematics. It led the project A Global Approach to the Gender Gap in Mathematical and Natural Science. It has 150 CWM ambassadors that exchange information of activities and initiatives globally and organize meetings. The nominee organizes the first meeting of Asian CWM ambassadors to discuss the creation of a platform for Asian women in mathematics.

She is also a member of Science Council of Japan, which is under ISC. The SCJ deliberates on important issues concerning science, and helps to improve and develop science in Japan. It comprises three sections: Section I: Humanities and Social Sciences; Section II: Life Sciences; Section III: Physical Sciences and Engineering. It discusses global agendas through Science for Society. The nominee is active in the Section III, and the subcommittees for Mathematical Science, and for Materials Science.


Expertise, in relation to the mission of the ISC, the required range of qualities outlined in the call for nominations, and the role of the ISC Governing Board

As an expert to discuss on S&T for society, she has played roles in national policy making for S&T, advisors/BoGs of universities and national institutes. Among them, she has made notable contribution for deciding the 4th (2010-2014), 5th (2015-2019), and 6th (2020-2024) national basic plan of science and technology. Through her experience for more than 10 years, she is trained to be quick to grasp points technical information, and speaks her opinion in the way that can understood by people from different sectors (politicians, industry people, young and elder).

Diversity: Japan is behind in the gender issue. According to the Global Gender Gap Report, it was ranked 110 among 149 countries in 2019, and 121 among 153 countries in 2020. She was the project leader of Tohoku University’s action to encourage women to make career in science in 2006-2010. There were few supports and actions at that time and she initiated rules and actions, and improved child-care environment for researchers.
She started The Kato Sechi program at RIKEN to promote outstanding women leaders in science. Introducing the program at RIKEN, she claimed that diversity is a driving force of research dynamics.


Experience in scientific, academic and other relevant organizations

The nominee is highly motived and experienced. The nominee is a wonderful research leader. It was a big challenge for her to assume Director of the Advanced institute for Materials Science, as her expertise is mathematics and most members were outstanding researchers in materials research. It was a bold decision by the university president back then. She presented an attractive vision, a clear road map, challenges and incentives for interdisciplinary research to its members. She was fortunate to publish a paper in Science within one year (in 2013), a proof of her vision and strategy.

She is good at communicating with people of diverse background, sharing ideas and thought. Due to her passion and efforts to realize the vision, members were gradually convinced and worked happily with her. She is active in introducing Research DX environment and data-driven approaches in research. As Executive Vice President for Research of Tohoku University, she initiated Starting Grants for Research toward Resilient Society, and the Prominent Research fellowships as an initiative for young excellent researchers.

She has had many opportunities to participate in international conferences, workshops, and meetings both mathematical ones and meetings/workshops for collaboration agreements with foreign research institutes, or those related with S&T policy making. For example, she was a representative at the UN workshop/forum on STI for SDGs in 2019.


Why is the nominee particularly suited to hold the proposed position?

There are several reasons why we think Kotani is a good candidate and will contribute to the ISC: She has played a central role both in research and in policy making on science and technology for more than ten years. She is always highly motived, and willing to put as much effort as possible for the whole. Through her rich experiences as explained above, she cultivated a strong sense of science for society, and society supported science and taken actions to promoted science for global agendas of the society.

She is good in communication with people with different backgrounds, different cultures, different thoughts, and always eager to listen to their voices. It may be because she has been always a front runner and a representative of under-represented groups.


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