The WTEC panel made a particular effort to examine the status of thin film materials research in Japan in the context of superconducting electronic applications. Japan has traditionally made major investments in the materials science of important technological materials. This has been a key element in the country's technological strength, particularly in manufacturing. HTS materials appear to be a case in point. For example, the vast majority of the very substantial resources of ISTEC (~$30 million/year in the next few years) are focused on basic materials science studies, with a growing emphasis on thin film work. Figure 3.1 shows ISTEC's research goals as it starts its second decade for the bulk, wire, and electronics device applications. The same importance given to materials work is evident in industry as well. Every group the WTEC panel visited had serious materials studies underway. However, only two organizations, ISTEC and the Electrotechnical Laboratory (ETL) of Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry, have under one roof the full range of characterization capabilities necessary to carry out the thorough structure/property relation studies of these exceedingly complex materials that are needed to advance the field. Indeed, by virtue of these characterization capabilities (and the assured funding levels of ISTEC and ETL for the foreseeable future), Japan is well positioned to meet the materials challenges of superconducting electronics in the next decade. On the other hand, in the judgment of the panel there are some structural weaknesses evident. Among all the organizations we visited, only ETL had good coupling of its materials science work to high quality device physics efforts.

Fig. 3.1. Japan's targets and developmental subjects for high Tc superconductors, 1988-2008 (ISTEC).

In contrast, the United States does not have a single organization with characterization facilities and financial resources comparable to ISTEC (or even ETL), although there is typically in the United States better (if not ideal) coupling between the materials scientists and device physicists. Also, for cultural and political reasons it seems extremely unlikely that resources aimed at meeting the recognized materials problems would ever be concentrated in the United States to the extent that they are in Japan. For the United States the challenge is to mount an effort that can be competitive with that in Japan based on its distributed resources, perhaps linking them in new, imaginative ways. For Japan, the challenge will be to maintain the overall vitality of the field given its strong centralization of HTS materials research.

Published: July 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian