Professor Koichi Kitazawa, President of the Japan Science and Technology Agency
Professor Koichi Kitazawa, President of the Japan Science and Technology Agency, talks to International Innovation about Japan’s long-term commitment to leading-edge research, and the JST’s integral role in promoting this work and establishing inter-institutional relationships around the globe
How has the Agency’s role changed since its inception in the guise of the Japan Information Center of Science and Technology (JICST) in 1957?
In 1996 the Japan Science and Technology Corporation was formed in a merger of ‘Japan Information Center of Science and Technology’ (JICST), which had been in charge of disseminating science and technology information, and ‘Research Development Corporation of Japan’ (JRDC), which had been promoting the creation and development of new technologies. Since that merger, in addition to the above mentioned activities, we have also been promoting international collaborations and public understanding of science and technology, thus making JST a legal entity which comprehensively facilitates the creation of infrastructure for science and technology promotion as well as advanced and creative R&D.
The JST employs a top-down promotion of national policy objectives. Can you outline how this system works together with the bottom-up grants-in-aid systems, employed by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), to promote academic work in Japan?
MEXT incorporates two types of funding agencies: the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), which supports basic research and is known as Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (bottom-up research support), that amounts to ¥200 billion. This can be used in a variety of fields and has an emphasis on researchers’ voluntarism, autonomy, and individuality. Conversely JST, which also supports basic research, involves the purpose of problem solving. We seek out research themes in accordance with a strategic goal designated by MEXT every year, thus supporting them in achieving that goal.
The top-down research support provided by JST guarantees a research fund (about 10 times as much as that provided in support of bottom-up research) to excellent researchers, who account for about 1 per cent of the researchers employed through bottom-up research support. The duration of the support is about five years and that is for use in addressing solution-type basic research which can settle issues in accordance with social and political needs.
You are committed to promoting international cooperative research programmes. Can you explain how this is achieved and why you feel it is so important?
JST has two main international cooperative research programmes: one is the ‘Strategic International Cooperative Program’, which supports international cooperative research programmes as part of a funding system in cooperation with overseas funding agencies; and the other, the ‘Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development’, provides support to international cooperative research programmes that aim at resolving the global issues of developing nations in collaboration with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) under the framework of Official Development Assistance (ODA).
I believe the joint promotion of research with various other countries to be truly significant, and that it can contribute to the generation of a synergistic effect which can produce mutually complementary outcomes, further progress being made and the greater sophistication of research. Moreover, it contributes to a friendly relationship between Japan and the partner countries.
The JST has cooperative organisations worldwide. Can you explain the broader function of these organisations and what activities they are involved in?
While we support domestic researchers, JST also participates in the ‘Strategic International Cooperative Program’, whereby cooperative organisations of counterpart countries concurrently support researchers in their own countries. Methods of support provided by JST and counterpart organisations includes joint research by each teams, research exchanges, dispatching and inviting researchers abroad, and organising symposia, as well as seminars.
In addition to international research cooperation, JST also advances personnel exchanges by sending and inviting trainees to or from the counterpart organisations for the purpose of developing better mutual understanding and building closer relationship with organisations.
Moreover, JST holds international symposia etc. by taking full advantage of its network with cooperative organisations. One of the successful examples of symposia was held this May to discuss efforts made by each country and future international coordination in promoting green innovation as a means of resolving global warming. This symposium was attended by several presidents and executives of overseas funding agencies (http://www.jst.go.jp/pr/gisympo2010e.html).
Through competitive funding programmes, you support R&D collaboration between universities and private-sector firms as a means of creating science and technology-driven innovation. Can you give examples of how this is achieved at a practical level?
Collaborative R&D projects between universities and the private sector have resulted in a large number of innovative technologies and products, including:
• the gallium nitride (GaN) blue LED developed by Professor Isamu Akasaki of Nagoya University and Toyoda Gosei Co., Ltd that enabled the creation of full-colour LED-based display devices
• a superconducting oxide material (Bi-based superconducting wire) jointly developed by myself during my term as a Professor at Tokyo University and Sumitomo Electric Industries, Ltd that results in less environmental burden and transmission loss and has demonstrated the world’s highest critical current density
• magnetic amorphous metals developed by Tsuyoshi Masumoto of Tohoku University and Hitachi Metals, Ltd that are being widely utilised in low-frequency antennas for clocks through to the iron cores of transformers
There is another type of success which could lead to research results at universities to start-up venture business. Ostrich Pharma Corp, for example, was established by Professor Yasuhiro Tsukamoto, Graduate School of Life and Environmental Sciences at Kyoto Prefectural University. His research team succeeded in mass-producing super-sensitive antibodies against influenza viruses from the egg yolks of ostriches at a cost of one four-thousandth (1/4000) of conventional one, thus leading to commercialisation of the ostrich antibodies.
You recently launched the ‘Asia Science and Technology Portal’. Can you explain what this is and why you think it will benefit the region?
This one-stop English language portal is designed to promote international collaboration in R&D and to enhance researcher mobility throughout the 16 East Asian countries.
The ASTP provides, among other things, information on research opportunities that includes research funding, fellowship programmes, and R&D job offers throughout the region, as well as a comprehensive list of international academic conferences as an opportunity to meet other researchers.
The overall planning of ASTP and international coordination was orchestrated by the Cabinet Office of the Government of Japan (CAO) with JST as the implementing agency. We believe that the Portal will result in enhanced international research activities taking place in Asia that will enable the region to be better prepared to cope with any large-scale problems, such as natural disasters, infectious diseases, and environmental and energy issues.
The JST are spearheading activities to make Japan a low-carbon society. Can you outline some of the Agency’s activities in this field and how you envision them progressing in the future?
JST focuses on innovative technology R&D that can contribute to a decrease in global emissions. JST recently established a Center for Low Carbon Society Strategy (LCS). The Center is attempting to develop an overall image of a society that retains the necessary affluence of life, then bring this to fruition. JST has also launched the fund ‘Advanced Low Carbon Technology Research and Development Program’ from this fiscal year. We intend to support any themes relevant to the Action Plan for Green Innovations such as photovoltaic power generation, secondary batteries, heat resisting alloy/recyclable high performance materials, and superconductive materials. We also intend to continue increasing funding opportunities involving energy and the environment through the programme, as well as related projects from other targeted basic research programmes that include ERATO (Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology), CREST (Core Research of Evolutional Science and Technology) and PREST (Precursory Research for Embryonic Science and Technology).
Strong long-term strategies are vital to ensure a country’s success as a provider of leading-edge research. How is the JST helping to foster the next generation of leaders in science and technology?
JST is supporting science and technology education at elementary, junior high, and senior high schools in developing the next generation leaders of science and technology. JST is primarily supporting Super Science High Schools (SSH) and Student Contests in Science and Technology (mathematics, chemistry, biology, physics, informatics, etc.) as an approach in identifying and developing students with excellent capabilities. SSH develops and carries out curriculums focusing on science and mathematics, promotes research on advanced themes and encourages acquiring international communication skills. The International Chemistry Olympiad was held in Tokyo in July 2010 as just one of the above mentioned Student Contests in Science and Technology.
We are also supporting activities to increase interest and motivation among students in science, mathematics, and science and technology. For example, in Science Partnership Project (SPP), schools, universities and science museums collaborate to carry out experience-based activities such as experiments and observations.
In addition we are also supporting teachers at elementary, junior high and senior high schools by developing digital educational tools utilising cutting-edge science and technology information as teachers are very influential for students.
One of the JST’s core activities is promoting the dissemination of scientific and technological information in line with its mission to support innovation. Can you highlight some of the ways in which you communicate your work and why this type of dissemination is important?
Enhancing the research base of Japan requires steady and efficient access to information of all kinds, including journals, conference proceedings and patents. Timely access to a variety of S&T information is the lifeblood of research and innovation. In line with this notion, JST provides a broad line-up of databases for use by industry and academia covering not only scientific literature, but also other areas, such as information on individual researchers, patents, chemical substances, genes, and other research output.
Furthermore, JST has just launched the new ‘J-Global’ service, which can be used to identify and link different types of scientific and technological information, such as journal articles and patents, in an interdisciplinary manner based on improved author identification, keyword similarities, etc.
Finally, would you like to elaborate on any other area of the Agency’s work?
In 1999 the International Conference of Science Unions reached the conclusion of ‘Science in society and science for society’ as the Budapest declaration. JST believes promoting science in accord with the Budapest declaration to be our essential role while also appreciating the essential desire of individual scientists to conduct research according to their own will. This is reflected in our policy of promoting top-down style research projects through voluntary proposals with the assistance of a supervisor or mentor for each strategic sector who designs the structure of the research group and promotes research in the temporary virtual laboratory for five to seven years.