An intrinsic value of the ERATO project is training postdoctors for team-oriented exploratory research. The mixture of industrial researchers and academic researchers stimulates new interactions in research strategies and thought. In contrast to the postdoctoral system in the United States, ERATO projects provide postdoctors with sufficient funds and equipment for a period of five years. Thus, postdoctors have opportunities to help build a research facility from scratch as well as participate in the organization of a research team. The research atmosphere of the ERATO project is challenging and stimulating, key factors in attracting postdoctors to ERATO projects.
ERATO heavily emphasizes publications and is interested in patents. Typically 25-50 publications and 20-30 patents are produced from each ERATO project during its five-year existence. Furthermore, patents and publications are key criteria for evaluating ERATO's outcomes.
In addition, ERATO projects are heavily dependent on instruments and equipment. As a result, data analysis and evaluation are two major research activities across all ERATO projects. It is fair to say that ERATO projects are more experiment-oriented than theory- oriented.
In general, the first year of an ERATO project is mostly spent acquiring research instruments and developing research facilities. The major part of the project director's time is spent recruiting researchers from academia and industry. Undergraduate and graduate students normally are not involved in ERATO projects, thus there is no emphasis on curricular development or on the educational system. As a result, ERATO has had little impact on Japanese academic infrastructure.
The Engineering Research Centers (ERC) program in the United States was initiated by NSF in 1985 with the goal of addressing both intellectual and academic infrastructure challenges. ERCs and their industrial partners jointly develop strategic research planning for fundamental research through cross-disciplinary teams. A long-term goal of the ERC program has been to integrate research and alternative educational cultures for both undergraduates and graduates. Postdoctors are involved in the ERCs to develop test beds for proof-of-concept research. ERCs provide postdoctors with opportunities to develop leadership skills for seeking academic and industrial career opportunities. Throughout these efforts the ERCs have produced a new cadre of academic leaders and managers in addition to advancing knowledge in the fields of engineering. Curricular reform is as important as the patents and publications for researchers within ERCs. Most ERCs base the development of their research teams on existing research facilities and equipment by leveraging funding from NSF and from industry. This is completely opposite from ERATO, where staff, facilities, and equipment are all new.
This latter point illustrates two key differences between ERATO and the ERC program:
1. In the U.S. program, industry is expected to pay its way (and its people) in joint projects. In the ERATO model, industry scientists are paid directly by ERATO to join in the project -- and use ERATO facilities as the focus of their ERATO work, though they may also conduct some work in their company labs.
2. In the United States, the programs are continued for a long time, and staff and laboratories are built up and are in need of funding. In contrast, an ERATO project is set up for a specific purpose and then terminated at the end of the five-year term. Thus the director and the ERATO staff spend no time in continuously writing proposals or participating in reviews to ensure funding for their research.