Shirakawa, Hideki (1936-) is a Japanese chemist. He won the 2000 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the discovery and development of conductive polymers, plastic materials in which electric current can flow. Ordinary polymers (the basic substances of which plastics are made) cannot conduct (carry) current. Shirakawa shared the prize with his research partners, the American physicist Alan Jay Heeger and the New Zealand-born American chemist Alan Graham MacDiarmid. Conductive polymers are used today in photographic film; in solar cells, which use sunlight to generate electric power; and in display features for television sets and cellular telephones.
Shirakawa was born Aug. 20, 1936 in Tokyo. In 1944, he and his family moved to Takayama, Japan, where he grew up. During his last year of junior high school, he decided he wanted to pursue a career doing scientific research in plastics that would have practical uses.
In March 1966, Shirakawa received a doctor of engineering degree from the Tokyo Institute of Technology. In April, he became a research associate at the institute. Later that year, Shirakawa married Chiyoko Shibuya. They had two sons.
Shirakawa's work on polymers in the late 1960's and early 1970's attracted the attention of MacDiarmid in the United States. In 1976, MacDiarmid invited Shirakawa to join him and Heeger at the University of Pennsylvania, where the three scientists conducted the research that led to their Nobel Prize. They reported their discovery of conductive polymers in a scientific journal in 1977. Shirakawa then returned to Tokyo.
In November 1979, Shirakawa became an associate professor at the Institute of Materials Science at the University of Tsukuba. He was promoted to full professor in October 1982 and retired in March 2000.