INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

As has been pointed out, the ERATO program requires that its research staff be heterogeneous collections of individuals. A particularly important element of the program is its opening doors to individuals from overseas. Of researchers currently involved in ERATO projects, 45 (17%) are foreign. This is roughly the same percentage as the aggregate for the thirteen-year course of the program, with present and former project members representing some twenty-nine countries.

According to Table 3.2 below, the greatest number of these researchers have come from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. This is not by accident. Japan has long admired the Western system of basic research, with its many accomplishments, as measured by major discoveries and Nobel prizes garnered. In particular, many Japanese believe that Western culture encourages individual thinking, competitiveness, and creativity while the Japanese system encourages group accomplishment and teamwork. It is presumed that by increasing interaction with Western laboratories and researchers, an exchange of research cultures and philosophy will occur, benefiting both parties.

Individual ERATO projects vary considerably with respect to foreign participation, with some projects obtaining one-third of their researchers from abroad, while others get few or none. The number of foreign researchers involved in a given project is heavily influenced not only by the type of research being pursued but also by the extent to which the project director has established an international network of personal contacts.

Table 3.2: Origins of Non-Japanese Researchers


As of 8/1/95

An interesting group dynamic occurs when foreigners are introduced into ERATO laboratories. This panel has been told that a certain "critical mass" of foreigners -- usually about four researchers -- is needed to change the group culture in the laboratory. For example, labs with fewer than that number tend to communicate primarily in Japanese, but when at least four foreign researchers are working in a laboratory, most conversations occur in English.

Currently, with the relatively high cost of living in Japan, it is more difficult to attract good people from the United States or Western Europe. ERATO's policy is to hire researchers on contract for the long term (two to five years), and there is not yet a mechanism to enable foreigners to visit for short periods of time under fellowships and grants.

In recent years, the ERATO program has received considerable international attention and even acclaim. For example, the 1988 JTECH study of ERATO was viewed as very positive by the Japanese government. Such international attention is furthering the development of the ERATO program, resulting in what Chiba calls "the internationalization of ERATO."

A number of ERATO projects have established laboratories overseas. For example, in a new project, headed by Dr. Daisuke Yamamoto, the Behavior Genes project, one of the research groups is being established at University of Hawaii under the direction of Dr. Ken Kaneshiro. The principal reason for this site is that the research project requires good established colonies of Drosophila subspecies, and subspeciation of these flies is unparalleled in Hawaii. The project is in its first year, and the primary effort is directed toward assembling the team and developing the laboratory facilities.

In an interview, Kaneshiro said that initial negotiations with the University of Hawaii and JRDC were very time-consuming because of issues concerning project management and patent rights. The agreement finally reached provides for a project that is well integrated with the university in terms of post-doctors, students, equipment, and facilities. To date, such agreements have not occurred with Japanese universities. Kaneshiro also reports some difficult administrative problems arising from differences between the U.S. and the Japanese systems; for example, there is too much time and paperwork involved in ordering new equipment. However, he is very excited about the ERATO project, stating that it allows him to pursue high-risk research that the normal U.S. peer-review system might discourage.

For the first time, as well, an ERATO project is now being led by a scientist based outside Japan. Yoshihisa Yamamoto, a Japanese national formerly with the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone research laboratories and now a professor at Stanford University in California, was selected in 1993 to lead a project in quantum fluctuations in nanometer-scale semiconductor devices, research focused on devices that will go into the computers of the future.

Greater international cooperation is the guiding principle behind another JRDC program, the International Joint Research Program (IJRP), informally known as the "International ERATO." Started in 1989, this program fosters collaborative research on a single theme across international borders. JRDC supports the Japanese side of the research; a foreign governmental organization supports the research in its own country; and the two sides exchange researchers. The fifth project is now underway, involving Hiroyuki Sakaki, a professor at the University of Tokyo's Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, and a University of California, Santa Barbara group supported by the National Science Foundation.

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Published: September 1996; WTEC Hyper-Librarian