PRESTO scientists have been very productive. According to data provided by JRDC as of September l995, the total number of researchers-participants in six PRESTO programs is 132. They have produced 328 technical papers (mostly in international journals) and 41 patent applications.
Of these 132 researchers, 14 (5 under "Structure and Functional Property, 4 under "Light and Materials," 4 under "Cell and Information," and 1 under "Fields and Reactions") were interviewed by a member of the JTEC panel, and 11 of their laboratories were visited. Their laboratories are usually small by U.S. standards, covering approximately 400 square feet of floor area, congested with standard lab furniture and equipment, including many shiny instruments, wall-high bookshelves, and computers and peripherals that scarcely leave room to walk about. Yet compared to typical Japanese university laboratories, all PRESTO laboratories are cleaner, better equipped, and more spacious.
The titles of the many PRESTO research projects that this JTEC member visited are basic -- "Interaction Dynamics of Excited States of a Highly Condensed Dispersion System," "Signal Transduction Mediated by Tyrosine Kinases," "Ion Selectivity and Pumping Mechanisms of Bacterial Rhodopsins," the "Molecular Nature of 'Weak' Cell-Cell Interaction during Development," "Functional Analysis of Flagellar Motor." The names may not excite many U.S. research managers or technology gatekeepers since they will see no immediate applications; however, the work may be more significant than the titles might imply to a layman.
JTEC has found all PRESTO researchers to be very excited, enthusiastic and deeply appreciative of the opportunities provided them. They are generally very happy except for some difficulties in procuring equipment and hiring assistants. What they like most in PRESTO are: (1) the ease of preparing a proposal to obtain a significant sum of research funds; (2) the freedom of research, procurement, publication, travel, and communication; (3) no formal review process; (4) very little paperwork; and (5) solid assistance from the research field office for miscellaneous chores involving laboratory maintenance, procurement, patents, and so on.
One of the major complaints is the manner in which research funds are dispensed. Instead of letting researchers have complete freedom to use their $300,000, JRDC has limited expenses to $100,000 per year, which has prohibited researchers from procuring expensive items at the outset of the project. Relaxation of this restriction could affect the type of research and the amount of research actually accomplished.
The majority felt that the research period should be extended beyond three years since at least one year is needed before a laboratory can become productive.
Although PRESTO is designed for individual researchers, a talented and ambitious researcher needs assistant(s) who can help assemble laboratory apparatus, prepare specimens, run computer programs, and take data when the researcher is attending a conference. Many researchers who lack affiliation with a university (where student assistants are available) complained about the difficulties in hiring suitable laboratory assistants. There are not many qualified laboratory assistants or technicians available in Japan who are willing to work for low wages for a period of three years. If such a person were available, he would be very expensive. Moreover, the researcher has to worry about how to discharge the assistant when his services are no longer needed.
The JTEC review found that there are four types of PRESTO researchers.
The first group consists of those part-time researchers who use the PRESTO funds to enhance their ongoing research programs or to start new laboratories, and whose PRESTO work is in harmony with the activities of their parent organizations, especially in those whose superiors encouraged them to apply for PRESTO support from the outset. These researchers have succeeded in producing tangible results in terms of publications and patents or else have improved the images of the parent organizations.
The most successful example has been Associate Professor Shuji Hasegawa of the University of Tokyo, perhaps one of the happiest and luckiest of the PRESTO researchers. PRESTO has provided a tremendous opportunity for his professional growth: he has received career advancement, more equipment, an improved laboratory, and a dramatic increase in research funding.
Prior to PRESTO, Prof. Hasegawa was a struggling joshu (research associate) in a crowded laboratory assisting Professor S. Ino on semiconductor surface structure. Hasegawa proposed to PRESTO to study the surface structure and conductance of epitaxially grown films of gold (Ag) and silver (Au) on silicon (Si) substrate. With PRESTO funding he was able to acquire a new ÁRHEED system for $50,000 and a monochromatic light illumination system for $100,000. With this newly acquired equipment he was able to show a strong dependence of the conductance on the substrate-surface and epitaxial growth styles at the early stages of Ag and Au deposition on Si (111) surfaces at room temperature. When the PRESTO project was completed, he was promoted to associate professor, was allowed to establish his own laboratory, and received funding of approximately $1 million from the Monbusho to equip his laboratory with an STM and two ÁRHEED systems. The Hasegawa laboratory is currently staffed by a graduate student and four undergraduate students. The recent government decision to boost science and technology research at the university level has created a situation where MITI's New Energy Development Organization (NEDO) program is offering him $2 million to expand his laboratory capability further so that the research on surface structure and conductance can lead to improved semiconductor circuits.
Although not as spectacular as Hasegawa, six of the fourteen PRESTO researchers JTEC interviewed fall into this category.
The second group is made up of independent full-time researchers who have no affiliations or who have resigned from their parent organizations to pursue their own research interests without giving due consideration to the immediate applications of their findings. After all, these are precisely the types of researchers for whom the PRESTO program was intended. Many of the researchers have gone through previous postdoctoral programs, or even ERATO, and have enjoyed the freedom and generous funding afforded by PRESTO. Yet they have begun to worry about what to do when their PRESTO project is completed. They want university positions but are afraid they are already overqualified for many available positions and know that to assume a professorship in a Japanese university from the outside is very difficult. They also know that U.S. university and research institutions are short of research funds, and that competition is very high because of the overabundance of researchers created during the 1970s and 1980s. They consider Japan still to be the best place to find research opportunities, especially in view of the recent special economic stimulus package of $300 million approved by the Ministry of Finance to conduct basic research at the Monbusho, at STA, particularly under JRDC, and at MITI under its NEDO program.
The third group consists of very strong-minded and articulate individuals who are convinced that their research will lead to other programs or to future industrial support for good applications. They assume PRESTO research will enhance that potential. These are very resourceful individuals, full of entrepreneurial spirit even in circumventing JRDC rules on procurement, on hiring, and on getting collaborative research from the outside. They are also very enthusiastic, and their results and activities are already well publicized in Japanese news media.
Associate Professor Gerhard Fasol represents the epitome of this type of researcher. He is an extremely talented, energetic, and prolific 40-year-old researcher at the Institute of Industrial Science (IIS) of the University of Tokyo, a native of Austria who has come to IIS by way of the Max Planck Institute, Cambridge University, and Hitachi's Cambridge Laboratory. He had significant and impressive accomplishments before PRESTO. He has been very productive (80 papers and four patent applications) and is the second foreign researcher that PRESTO has ever employed (the first one being Ronald O. Scott, who completed a PRESTO project on the "Statistical Properties of Biological Photoluminescence Measurement and Analysis" and has been with the University of Arkansas since PRESTO). Foreign researchers are accepted into PRESTO as long as they can conduct research in Japan and are able to work in a Japanese research environment (language capability is a major factor).
Prior to joining PRESTO, Fasol had an impressive research record. He was the laboratory manager at the Hitachi Cambridge Laboratory before joining IIS. At the Cavendish Laboratory of Cambridge University, he led a team of researchers involved in the construction of a Raman laboratory ($400,000) and a femtosecond laboratory under a grant from the Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) of the United Kingdom. At these research organizations he was able to supervise several research assistants and had complete freedom to purchase any equipment as long as he could manage within his allotted grant. But he had to work hard to get the grant by spending considerable time writing the proposal. Hitachi offered him the job of laboratory manager at its U.K. lab, an offer attractive enough for Fasol to quit prestigious Cambridge. He left Hitachi when the company venture did not work out as promised. At IIS, he discovered the spin polarization effect in semiconductor microstructure resulting from an analysis of electron-electron scattering and proposed a solution to the polarization control problem of surface-emitting microcavity lasers. He invented a new class of devices based on semiconductor/magnetic atomically thin superlattice in collaboration with M. Tanaka of the department of electrical engineering at the University of Tokyo. Based on these proposals, Fasol applied to PRESTO in order to supplement his funding from IIS (the University of Tokyo, l994 Shinsei-Kenkyu project) to develop new magneto-electronic and magneto-optic devices. The specific objective is the design and fabrication of these devices using CAD, optical lithography, selective etching, and a new simulation method. (Already he has made four patent applications.)
Dr. Fasol has been extremely happy that he can pursue independent research in the Japanese environment under PRESTO and is very optimistic about the future even when PRESTO is finished. He plans to set up a research laboratory in Japan where he can commercialize the results of his PRESTO research and use his experience in several European countries and Japan to help further technological cooperation among European, U.S., and Japanese industries.
The last group of PRESTO researchers consists of industrial researchers who were hired during the bubble days of the Japanese economy to pursue innovative research, and then found company support for basic research suddenly declining because of Japan's recent economic difficulties. PRESTO has been a salvation for them to continue basic research in a rather depressed company research environment. Unless they shift their research themes to make them more in line with company goals, these researchers see no future in their parent organizations after PRESTO and worry privately about their futures.
Another small group of researchers JTEC has not interviewed are older, retired researchers who have innovative ideas which they have had no opportunity to pursue as long as they were working for companies or at national laboratories. Generous retirement funds from their previous employers allow them to be free from worry in pursuing research beyond PRESTO. They are happily devoting their energy to their investigations.
As far as JTEC's interviews of researchers and published literature indicate, PRESTO projects appear to emphasize experimental research. Purely theoretical research involving advanced mathematical analyses, computer simulation, or large-scale software development is not apparent in the program listing. Of course, there are cases in which advanced software was developed during this experimental research. A good example is the development of a simulation program for quantum transport in semiconductor microstructures by Fasol, which was awarded a prize in the Japanese Computer Visualization Contest for its graphical presentation. We do not know whether this emphasis on experimental research is by design or due to the structural orientation of the JRDC philosophy.
Most researchers JTEC interviewed have access to the Internet and have a good use of on-line databases and e-mail. According to Dr. Ishizaka, researchers engaged in similar or related fields constantly get in touch with each other through e-mail to form a virtual laboratory consisting of a group of approximately ten people. In addition, people belonging to this virtual group even get together once or twice a year at a resort hotel for a two nights/three-day type camp workshop to make informal presentations. Since this is a meeting of researchers who are strongly bonded and share common interests and experiences, discussions that take place during these overnighters are so intense, frank, and productive that all participants come out refreshed, sometimes with new ideas. Professor Kohra, the mentor for "Structure and Functional Property," says, "The communication among researchers in [his program] is much more than expected. Their casual meetings strongly contrast with formal academic meetings controlled by university professors." This comment indicates a strong need for isolated individual researchers to communicate with each other.
All laboratories visited are equipped with advanced workstations or high-power PCs loaded with advanced software for data analysis and connected to experimental systems as well as to graphic display terminals for preparing technical papers and colorful demonstration exhibits. All researchers appear to be thoroughly familiar with the use of advanced software commonly found in the United States.
Anyone familiar with the U.S. research funding system will be dumbfounded when told that PRESTO research is never formally evaluated. Except for the quarterly progress reports and encouragement of publication in international journals, there is no formal evaluation system for PRESTO projects. In fact, Chiba is adamant that premature evaluation of embryonic research by outsiders who do not fully comprehend the particular subject does more harm than good. Many researchers have never even prepared project summaries in English, although every researcher has prepared attractive posters to describe the objective, scope, and progress of the research to be explained to visitors. PRESTO researchers are completely free to explore whatever they are doing. They do not have to worry about being criticized or proving that PRESTO money is well spent.
Ishizaka, for example, spent an entire three years and nearly $400,000 of PRESTO funds assisted by partial support from his parent company, Hitachi, on assembling a special- purpose ÁRHEED system for an STM investigation of semiconductor crystal growth during the epitaxial process. Although he produced only two papers under PRESTO, JRDC made an exception and allowed him to take his ÁRHEED system with him for an additional two years in order to continue his research at the prestigious Joint Research for Atom Technology laboratory located within the National Institute for Advanced Interdisciplinary Research in Tsukuba, Japan's most modern research center for atom technology based on the use of the STM. Ishizaka discovered that the transition temperature between high- and low-temperature growth models in molecular beam epitaxial systems is equal to one-half of the melting point of semiconductors. His work is well publicized, and the ÁRHEED system he assembled during his PRESTO research is expected to provide microstructural verification of his theory at crystal surfaces of many different semiconductors.
Since PRESTO is new, started only four years ago, it is difficult to find tangible technical spin-offs to credit to the projects, except that some universities and national research institutes have become better equipped and that there are potentially important technologies in the applications of electron spin devices, bacteriorhodopsin films, flagellar motors, nanotechnology, and so on. It all depends on whether these research results will be discovered by industry in the near future and on how PRESTO researchers will fare after their projects are over. The databases and networks developed during the projects should play a vital role.
The short-term spin-offs may be more in the area of intangible benefits. PRESTO gives talented individual researchers the joys and frustrations of conducting research all by themselves under a finite timeframe. There will be a number of innovative researchers who have become toughened to withstand and survive the harsh economic realities of independent research. They are taught to become self-reliant in building up new laboratories, much more self-reliant than in the more traditional laboratory environment. They have been forced to worry about finding sponsors for their research in their post-PRESTO period. The close communication networks developed among talented, innovative, and entrepreneurial researchers from different fields of science and technology appear to be strong and long-lasting and should definitely provide ample opportunities for future collaboration. These networks are expected to play a vital role for some innovative research finding its way into important technical innovations.