Chapter 6

CONCLUSIONS REGARDING ERATO

George Gamota
William Bentley
Rita Colwell
Jay Lee
John Rowell
Leo Young

IMPACT ON SCIENCE/DISCIPLINES

Discussions with the scientists who have been involved in Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology (ERATO) projects have indicated that the major effects of its method of funding have been on the culture of scientific research, on the modes of doing research, and on the careers of the involved scientists, rather than on the scientific fields themselves. This is not to say that ERATO-supported science has not been important. The descriptions of just some of the projects, outlined in chapters 4 and 5 above (see also Appendix B), illustrate the very high quality of the work and its impact internationally in many cases. But in almost every interview, the discussion uncovered an impact that went beyond science. Some examples follow.

In all projects, scientists from universities and industry were brought together, often with group members from a government laboratory. In cases where the project director was from a university, exposure to the needs of industry and the objectives of industrial research was generally a new and broadening experience. The "management structure" of ERATO projects, with separate groups, a technical manager, and group leaders, represented a new style of research for those who had only been in a university environment before. Often at least one of the groups in the project was carrying out research which had not previously been the specialty of the project director. Thus interdisciplinary research was introduced to the universities. A loose comparison could perhaps be made with NSF-supported Materials Research Labs and Materials Research Groups (now Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers), but it should be emphasized that the deliberate inclusion of industry researchers into the projects funded directly by ERATO from their beginning implies a much stronger university-industry coupling than in any NSF-funded centers, where the NSF requires cofunding but does not require that industry researchers be on site, and where industry involvement is not supported by NSF through the center budget. There are U.S. government programs that fund industrial researchers, such as the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, the Advanced Technology Program (ATP), and the Technology Research Program (TRP), but none do it in a way to ensure that the team members all work for the same employer, which is the case with ERATO.

Before ERATO, research funding in universities came almost exclusively from the Ministry of Education (Monbusho) and was predominantly for a professor and a small number of students. ERATO has caused two changes: first, multiagency support of university research is growing;1 and second, both Monbusho and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) are starting "ERATO-like" projects in universities (i.e., projects that are carried on by larger teams, including postdoctoral researchers) that are more interdisciplinary. Increasingly, university facilities and equipment are becoming available to nonuniversity scientists through such projects.

From many of the project leaders, the JTEC panel heard the comment that ERATO funding "represented an unusual opportunity to expand the size and scope of the work," i.e., that ERATO made possible, for the first time in Japanese universities, a working group that could exceed the capabilities of one professor and a small number of students.

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Published: September 1996; WTEC Hyper-Librarian