JRDC first identifies an area of research, develops a broad, general work statement of the specific program, and appoints its mentor, based upon painstaking consultations with many researchers and research communities in selected areas. The mentor is then asked to choose eight or nine "associate mentors" from academia, industry, and government. This group then constitutes the researcher selection committee which reviews the applications which have been openly solicited through announcements in about 30 scientific journals and through the Internet. (JRDC has an attractive World Wide Web homepage at URL=http://www.jrdc.go.jp).
Most striking is the brevity of applications or proposals that JRDC requires for PRESTO grant applications. Compared to the bulky and very comprehensive research proposals that U.S. government funding agencies such as NSF receive, an application for PRESTO grants is simplicity itself. It is a brief document which includes biographical data, a technical proposal of up to five pages, a desired research site, a list of required equipment including the list of equipment which might already be available for PRESTO research, the type of participation (full- or part-time), support from other organizations, references, publications during the previous five years, and specific requests if there are any. The application deadline is usually around June.
Each proposal is reviewed by two members of the selection committee to decide whether it merits further consideration. This screening process results in a list of twice as many candidates as there are openings for each research area for that year. These candidates are then interviewed by a committee consisting of mentors, associate mentors, and JRDC management for 10-30 minutes before final selections are made and the chosen researchers are notified.
For each program, JRDC requested approval of funds for 24 research projects in each of three areas in l991: "Structure and Functional Property" (Mentor: Prof. Kazutake Kora, president of the Tsukuba Institute of Science and Technology), "Light and Material" (Mentor: Prof. Ken-ichi Honda of the Tokyo Institute of Polytechnics), and "Cell and Information" (Mentor: Prof. Fumio Osawa of the Aichi Institute of Technology).
Three more programs were added in l994: "Inheritance and Variation" (Mentor: Dr. Kumao Toyoshima of the Osaka Medical Center for Cancer and Cardiovascular Diseases), "Intelligence and Synthesis" (Mentor: Prof. Ryoji Suzuki of the Kanazawa Institute of Technology), and "Fields and Reaction" (Mentor: Prof. Akio Yoshimori of the Okayama University of Science).
It should be noted that these titles clearly imply the interdisciplinary nature of PRESTO research. For example, the "Cell and Information" program seeks research covering the interaction of cell biology and information science, i.e., from subjects broadly scattered in the two-dimensional plane defined by two coordinate axes representing "cell biology" and "information science."
JRDC's budgetary strategy means that JRDC has decided not to select all twenty-four researchers at once. For example, in l991 only twelve researchers were chosen for each of the three research areas mentioned above, which have been followed by four in l992 and eight in l993. For each of the research areas, the committee received approximately ten to twenty times more proposals than the number allotted for funding, and this competition rate has been steadily increasing. Table 7.1 is an overview of the number of grant applicants and recipients in the various research areas in recent years.
Table 7.1: Applications and Success Rate of PRESTO Proposals 1991-1995