EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

INTRODUCTION

In the fall of 1996, the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation asked the World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) to assemble a panel to assess, relative to the United States, the advances Japan has made in the field of superconducting electronics in the decade or so since a previous report on superconductivity was conducted by WTEC, then known as the Japanese Technology Evaluation Center (JTEC).1 A separate WTEC panel was commissioned earlier in 1996 to investigate power applications of superconductivity in Japan and Europe.2 The panel on electronic applications of superconductivity was asked to focus on Japan's R&D activities in the areas of radio frequency (rf) and microwave applications of passive devices; however, the panel also attempted to review the entire range of Japan's work in the field of superconducting electronics.

This study was carried out by a small panel of U.S. experts in the field: Prof. Malcolm R. Beasley of Stanford University, Dr. Richard Ralston of the MIT Lincoln Laboratory (who was also a member of the earlier JTEC panel on high-temperature superconductivity R&D in Japan), and panel chairman Dr. John M. Rowell, who is a consultant to the superconductor industry (John Rowell, Inc.). The panel made a one-week trip to Japan to visit sites where work in this field is underway. Accompanying the panel on its site visits in Japan were Dr. George Gamota of WTEC, Dr. Martin Nisenoff of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and Dr. Frank Patten of DARPA. Much of the input to this report, in areas of SCE other than rf and microwave applications, came from the panelists' general knowledge of R&D activities in Japan, rather than from the week of visits. The panel also broadened the scope of the report to include activities in low temperature superconductivity (LTS) and high temperature superconductivity (HTS) that it considered relevant.

Chapter 1 reviews the mechanical details of the visits and this report. Subsequent chapters review the Japanese view of superconductivity (Chapter 2); work on HTS materials and thin films (Chapter 3); rf and microwave applications (Chapter 4); digital applications (Chapter 5); superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) applications (Chapter 6); refrigeration and packaging (Chapter 7); collaborative superconducting electronics projects in Japan (Chapter 8); and the work of Japan's International Superconductivity Technology Center (ISTEC) (Chapter 9). Appendix A contains the biographies of panelists and other participants in this study, Appendix B contains the complete set of site reports, and Appendix C contains a list of acronyms.

The panel presented preliminary findings at a workshop in Washington, DC, on April 10, 1997. This written final report, based on the panel's findings and on feedback from workshop participants, was reviewed by Japanese hosts as well as by sponsors prior to publication. An electronic copy of the report is available on the Web (http://itri.loyola.edu) or in CD-ROM format from WTEC in Baltimore.

BACKGROUND

Superconducting electronics (SCE) 3/4 indeed, the field of superconductivity as a whole 3/4 was reinvigorated by the discovery in 1986 of high-temperature oxide superconductors. While this was an event that changed the field globally, the strategies followed in Japan and the United States to understand the science of these materials and to develop applications based on them were, and still are, remarkably different. Thus, the findings of the WTEC panel, based largely on visits to laboratories in Japan during the last week of January 1997, deal with both style and substance. Style is the way human resources, instrumentation, laboratory facilities, and funding have been deployed to take advantage of this momentous discovery. Substance implies the technical advances that have been achieved, ranging from fundamental to applied science and to the manufacture of products.

In particular, this report addresses progress in superconducting electronics made in Japan in the 8 years since the JTEC panel visit in June 1989, shortly after the discovery of HTS. However, it would be too limiting if the scope of this panel were confined only to HTS activities, as almost all of today's HTS electronics applications were first developed with the more conventional low-temperature superconducting materials cooled by liquid helium. Hence, this report attempts to view as a continuum both LTS and HTS activities in Japan, and also in the United States for comparison.

MAJOR FINDINGS

The conclusions of the panel and of this report are summarized in Table ES.1, in which the R&D and commercialization activities of Japan and the United States are compared. Briefly,

Neither country's leadership in any of these capabilities is at present commanding except, perhaps, in the area of rf and microwave applications, where the panel members feel the United States is at least 2 years ahead in its push toward commercial products. While the United States enjoys this 2-year advantage in one application area, it is offset by the comparable lead Japan has established in providing vision for the field and in establishing plans and long-term funding for the next phase of research and technology development.

Table ES.1
Electronic Applications of Superconducting Materials:
Japan Compared to the United States

Technology

Japan

United States

 

Status

Trend

Status

Trend

Materials Science of Thin HTS Films

+

[gaining ground in comparision]

   

Film "manufacture," large areas and numbers

   

+

[gaining ground in comparision]

RF and Microwave

  • device design
   

+

[gaining ground in comparision]

 
  • device performance
   

+

[gaining ground in comparision]

 
  • systems
   

+

 

Digital

  • LTS process

O

 

O

[gaining ground in comparision]

 
  • LTS JJ memory

+

[gaining ground in comparision]

   
 
  • cryo CMOS memory
   

+

[gaining ground in comparision]

 
  • LTS logic
   

+

[gaining ground in comparision]

 
  • LTS switches

O

[no change in trend]

O

[no change in trend]

 
  • HTS junctions
   

+

[gaining ground in comparision]

SQUIDs

  • LTS sensors

O

[no change in trend]

O

[no change in trend]

 
  • HTS sensors
   

+

[gaining ground in comparision]

 
  • LTS systems

+

[gaining ground in comparision]

   
 
  • HTS systems

+

[gaining ground in comparision]

   

Refrigeration

  • commercial

+

[gaining ground in comparision]

   
 
  • miniature
   

+

[gaining ground in comparision]

 
  • Dewar package (rf)
   

+

[gaining ground in comparision]

 
  • Dewar package (SQUIDs)

+

[gaining ground in comparision]

   
 
  • advanced concepts
   

+

[gaining ground in comparision]

Key

+

ahead of other country

[gaining ground in comparision]

gaining ground in comparison

O

two countries even

[no change in trend]

no change in trend

DIFFERENCES IN STYLE

The differences between Japan and the United States begin at the highest level, with the vision of the future importance of superconductivity. There is no doubt that the Japanese have a long-term, expansive vision of the future of superconductivity. They see it as a key technology of the 21st century. Moreover, the Japanese government is making investments in the technology commensurate with this vision. It is not clear if the United States now has any collective high-level vision of, or plan for, the future of superconductivity. Indeed, it has not been the style of the United States to have one activity, person, or organization responsible for such a single high-level view. Instead, the United States has a number of companies, university groups, and individual scientists (including those in funding agencies), each of which has its own strategic vision, and which in many cases compete with each other for decreasing federal funding. In total, they represent a creative ferment of activity that drives the field forward in individual and only loosely correlated steps. This is in sharp contrast to the collective action of the community in Japan. As a result, in the United States neither the government as a whole nor any specific funding agency has current plans for investments in the technology comparable to those being made in Japan. This does not imply that such investments will not be made in the United States, but the style is likely to be through individuals, small groups, competing companies, and perhaps, some joint ventures.

Funding of SCE in Japan

The contrast between the collective vision of Japan and the disparate strategies of the individual groups in the United States is reflected in the styles of funding apparent in the two countries, both in the past and in plans for the future. To a large extent, superconducting electronics in Japan has been advanced through well-defined projects with stable funding extending typically from 5 to 10 years. Many of these projects have involved the formation of some type of consortium. In two organizations, the International Superconductivity Technology Center (ISTEC) and the Superconducting Sensor Laboratory (SSL), new central laboratories were built specifically for the R&D activity of the consortium, which in the case of SSL lasted for six years (SSL was dissolved in 1996). No such centralized and industry-based consortium has been created in the United States in the superconductivity fields, although examples for the semiconductor field are Sematech and the Microelectronics and Computer Consortium, MCC. Instead, in the United States a large number of small independent groups and a much smaller number of joint activities, in which the scientists continued to work in their own laboratories, have been funded in the past 10 years.

ISTEC is the largest of the consortia in Japan, indeed, in the world, that is focused on superconductivity. In 1997 it was funded for 5 more years (likely to be extended to 10 years). The budget will be approximately ¥4 billion per year, or over $33 million per year, excluding the salaries of the scientists sent by industry.3 In its second phase, the interest of ISTEC will be on the applications of HTS bulk materials, films, and wires. This represents a much more applied emphasis than was evident in its first phase, which dealt primarily with materials research. ISTEC clearly has the opportunity to be a dominant force in the worldwide development of SCE technology.

In addition to ISTEC, another joint activity has been approved in Japan in the area of digital switching using both LTS and HTS single flux quantum devices. For the first time in a Japanese collaborative SCE project, scientists from both industry and universities will be included. Japan's Science and Technology Agency (STA) will fund a 5-year collaboration at ~$1.5 million/year (personnel costs covered elsewhere), with a 3-year interim evaluation. The participants will include ETL, Fujitsu, Hitachi, ISTEC/SRL, and NEC, with university participation by Nagoya University, Japan Women's University, and the University of Tokyo Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST).

Thus in Japan, funding is in place for projects well into the next decade. Again, there are no such plans in the United States, but neither has such long-term planning been characteristic of the U.S. style in the past. The planning process for these new projects in Japan was extensive and involved many Japanese scientists across the field of superconductivity in discussions of the needs and opportunities of both the science and the technology. There has not been any equivalent in-depth discussion in the SCE research community of the United States, although a small workshop was held in 1997 on this issue, and a roadmap of the SCE industry is planned. Progress in formulating this roadmap has been slow, perhaps an indication that the U.S. SCE industry does not recognize collective action as a high priority or is uncomfortable with such action in a field that some in industry already see as competitive.

Another significant difference the WTEC panel observed between Japan and the United States is the level of SCE research activity in Japanese industry. A good number (certainly more than 10) of medium- and large-sized companies in Japan still maintain research groups in SCE. In the United States, except for TRW and Northrop Grumman, which are largely supported by Department of Defense (DOD) funds, only DuPont has a comparable program. On the other hand, the four small U.S. SCE companies (Conductus, ISC, SCT, and STI) created with venture capital now employ roughly 300 people (probably more than 200 technical employees). Thus, the total number of technical staff at these four companies is greater than that at ISTEC (130-140). The federal funding of these four companies has perhaps been about one-third to one-half the funding level of ISTEC, but the R&D activities of the four companies are declining as they emphasize engineering and manufacturing of wireless subsystem products.

Funding of SCE in the United States

Viewed from a distance, the progress in SCE in the United States has been jokingly compared by panel chair John Rowell to Brownian motion! Many small groups, nudged by small amounts of funding on an almost annual basis, move in apparently random directions. Yet, a drift in a forward direction has been superimposed on these seemingly independent groups. It appears that this drift has a number of stimuli. Among others, these include DARPA's interest in rf and microwave applications, the High Temperature Superconducting Space Experiment (HTSSE), and the encouragement of Conductus, Northrop Grumman, and TRW to collaborate in HTS junction development. For example, HTSSE demanded, in the early days of HTS, that groups deliver, by specific dates, operating and packaged devices (HTSSE I) or subsystems (HTSSE II). The effect in the United States of specific goals and deadlines, set even when the state of the HTS field was represented by films of marginal quality, should not be underestimated. Although much of the material and device development was funded by other programs (particularly through DARPA), the additional HTSSE funds with imposed deadlines spurred an impressive response. Most of the devices and subsystems were targeted at rf and microwave applications, so this area received substantial early encouragement in the United States.

The second reason for a collective motion of the apparently independent groups in the United States is that, in addition to formal joint activities, many informal collaborations occur at the individual scientist level, even if not specifically demanded by the funding structure itself. Such collaborations are now intrinsic to the U.S. research culture and have probably been strengthened in recent years by the migration of scientists into universities from the laboratories of large industry, where collaborative interdisciplinary research was the norm. Funding agencies are also inducing teaming (both formal and informal) within U.S. R&D.

In contrast, the WTEC panel noted many opportunities for collaborative research between the groups visited in Japan, but these had not occurred. Even when collaborative activities or consortia are funded, the panel noted that they become "vertically integrated," that is, they do not later expand informally to include skills and capabilities in other laboratories that are easily identified as relevant and valuable to the project. There is some evidence that this might be changing, for example in the STA project mentioned above, but the research cultures of the two countries are clearly still very different in this regard.

A third reason for U.S. progress in SCE is the interests of the defense agencies, such as DARPA, the Office of Naval Research, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, which have funded programs at a large number of laboratories, but overall have encouraged certain applications directions. These have been predominantly in the areas of HTS rf and microwave passive components and systems, lower cost refrigerators, and HTS digital junctions and circuits. Also, through the University Research Initiative (URI), the National Security Agency (NSA) crossbar switch project, and the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) hybrid system project, the United States made considerable progress in LTS digital technology. It is clear in Table ES.1 that it is in these areas, which are of interest (largely) to DOD agencies, that the panel judged the United States to be in a leadership position. A corollary is that commercial interests in SCE have, as yet, had little impact on the state of the technology in the United States. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that in the rf/microwave/wireless applications, the interests of DOD and industry have converged. The defense agencies have supported the development of LTS circuits for a crossbar switch, analog-digital conversion, and single flux quantum circuits, with the latter two areas potentially migrating to HTS in the far term.

A fourth stimulus to SCE in the United States, which has no equivalent in Japan, is the interest of the venture capital and investor community. The four small companies mentioned earlier, formed shortly after the discovery of HTS, have been at the forefront of the development of SCE technology and are now under intense pressure to deliver wireless products to the cellular and personal communication system (PCS) market. The panel did not identify any similar intense need to enter the marketplace in Japan. Indeed, the long-term vision and funding that is so apparent in Japan seems to bring an immunity to such pressure.

Educational Function of Consortia in Japan

The panel noted with interest an educational function of consortia such as ISTEC and SSL in Japan. In the United States, collaborations and consortia occur between groups that are already expert in the science and technology. In Japan a number of people from the laboratories of the industrial partners have received education and training in SQUID technology and cryogenics at SSL and returned to their companies with this knowledge. In the case of ISTEC, over 250 scientists have been informally trained in the field of superconducting materials and characterization and have returned to their companies. Although the U.S. Consortium for Superconducting Electronics (CSE) did train many students (at MIT, Boston University, Cornell, and SUNY Stony Brook), the dominant focus of CSE was on applications, and the training was not primarily of the industrial participants. Overall, there is no educational function equivalent to that of ISTEC achieved by any consortium, in any technical field, in the United States.

SUMMARY OF SCE CAPABILITIES IN JAPAN AND THE UNITED STATES

Turning now to substance and the achievements of the 1990s, the panel's findings summarized in Table ES.1 are described below in more detail. Despite the "randomness" of the U.S. funding process, the panel's conclusion, as reflected in the table, is that the United States has advanced the state of the art more rapidly in a majority of subfields, particularly those encouraged by DOD, namely rf and microwave applications and digital applications.

Materials and Thin Films

In the areas of materials and thin films, the panel found that Japan is more active and stronger in identification and synthesis of known classes of materials with structures and chemistries of particular scientific interest in the context of high temperature superconductivity. On the other hand, the search for entirely new classes of materials is probably still stronger in the United States and in Europe. There is more emphasis at the basic level in Japan on systematic physical property determination of interesting materials, mainly on bulk single crystals, whereas in the United States there is greater emphasis on theory and experiment focused on critical fundamental issues, such as efforts to determine the pairing symmetry of the cuprate superconductors. The United States is stronger in the fundamental study and modeling of the microwave properties of the HTS materials and on the transport and coupling mechanisms in HTS Josephson junctions.

Only in Japan do single organizations (ISTEC and ETL) have the full range of characterization capabilities necessary to carry out thorough structure/property relation studies of bulk and thin film HTS materials. In Japan, there are also many more molecular beam epitaxy (MBE)-type systems for thin film growth, equipped with a full range of in-situ characterization tools. More of the first steps have been taken in the United States towards a multilayer integrated circuit HTS process, the growth of crossovers, vias, and circuits on ground planes, but the Japanese are exploring the various materials combinations, interface properties, and deposition/processing approaches more systematically and in more depth.

Because of the lack of market pressure, Japan has not yet focused on manufacturing scale-up issues of thin films. The United States is clearly way ahead in this area for passive microwave applications (film area and numbers of wafers), at the expense, however, of broad-based exploratory work on alternative materials. The United States appears also to be unique in its efforts to develop new and advanced process control, deposition process modeling, and related instrumentation for HTS film growth. The panel notes, however, that in the commercial sale of coated wafers (e.g., a 5 cm substrate with YBCO film deposited on one or both sides), two companies that were created from the R&D activities at the Technical University of Munich, Garching, are now offering their products (e.g., double-sided, 2-inch-diameter wafers) at low prices.

RF and Microwave Applications

In contrast to the nearly total absence of HTS microwave effort in Japan at the time of the 1989 JTEC HTS report, there is today significant activity, including two multi-company team projects aimed at development of commercially viable HTS microwave filter system technology and its ultimate insertion into the rapidly expanding wireless communications market. These teams are Advanced Mobile Telecommunication Technology, Inc. (AMTEL), and the "Western Alliance" within ISTEC. Despite this growth, the microwave activity in Japan is still not the dominant commercial focus of the corporate HTS activity, as it is in the United States. U.S. achievements in rf and microwave HTS technology are still substantially beyond those of Japan.

A more diverse set of rf and microwave devices have been addressed in the United States than in Japan. Underlying this device development in the United States is a substantially more robust technology infrastructure for design, manufacturing, and cryopackaging than exists in Japan today.

U.S. researchers have driven much more aggressively to extract from the wireless hardware community the specifications for competitive HTS filter subsystems, and in response, have identified the need for both very low distortion and precise frequency setting/tuning. In these critical areas, the panel estimated that the United States has approximately a 2-year lead.

In Japan, NTT still sets, de facto, the standard and pace for wireless services, despite the existence of several other new common carriers. NTT's view, that cryocooled technology is impractical for the wireless market, has dampened interest in this application. On the other hand, a wider variety of microwave applications are being investigated in Japan, and there is a greater interest in satellite communications.

Although the results achieved by the wireless teams in Japan currently lag those of the leading U.S. companies by up to two years, the Japanese efforts appear to have a greater reserve of patient investment. The Japanese teams will likely persevere even if the size of the wireless market for HTS subsystems is insufficient for the four small U.S. companies to achieve profitability.

Digital Applications -- LTS

The differences between the relative levels of digital electronics activity in both Japan and the United States now, compared to the time of the last JTEC report in 1989, are remarkable. At that time, the Japanese Josephson Computer Project had clearly established Japan's leadership in latching digital ICs. The emphasis swung to HTS soon after the discovery of the new materials, and little additional effort was expended on LTS ICs after the end of that project (1990) in Japan. In contrast, despite the fact that the U.S. community had equally high expectations of HTS digital circuits, there was a trend in the United States to formulate candidate circuit architectures and test them for viability first in LTS form. This validation approach, coupled with the natural diversity of U.S. government funding sources, led to substantial innovation in nonlatching single flux quantum (SFQ) logic. This quite quickly became the dominant technology in the United States but was largely ignored in Japan, where circuit innovations were not properly stimulated in the 1990s.

In the view of this panel, the United States has established parity and is now moving ahead in LTS fabrication technology. One aspect of this ascendance is represented by Hypres, a readily accessible commercial foundry available to supply rapid prototypes of LTS circuits at moderate cost. No such foundry exists in Japan, although we understand that NEC will take on this role in the new STA project, at least for members of that project. Another aspect is that three laboratories in the United States (MIT Lincoln Laboratory, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and SUNY Stony Brook) are now making circuits with planarized wiring layers implemented with a chemical-mechanical polish identical to that used in state-of-the-art silicon foundries. A third aspect of note is the development at TRW of an NbN circuit technology that allows operation of digital circuits in refrigerators at 10 K. (The extensively used cryopump operates at this temperature.) At TRW this NbN process, as well as its Nb process, is now located in very high-quality cleanrooms. There is less NbN circuit capability in Japan, although NbN circuits have been fabricated at the MITI Electrotechnical Laboratory, and there is interesting research at Nagoya University and the MPT Kansai Applied Research Center (KARC) on using NbN at the junction level.

Should HTS junction technology soon be made controllable, or a compelling market for LTS digital emerge, the United States is well positioned to capitalize on the opportunities. The Japanese funding agencies have made commitments to rebuild a portion of the LTS activities there, and the current strong U.S. position could dissipate more rapidly than the market opportunities will likely appear, given the current uncertainty about the future of U.S. funding of both LTS and HTS digital activities.

Digital Applications -- HTS

Although SFQ circuits using HTS materials (predominantly YBCO) are now the focus of most of the funded research activities in both Japan and the United States, there is no evidence that there has been in either country, or elsewhere in the world, a thorough examination of the tradeoffs between bit error rate, operating temperature, choice of superconducting materials, and cryocooler technology. Remarkably, a system-level analysis of the likely operating temperature of SCE digital systems is simply lacking, although it seems to be agreed, or assumed, that this temperature will be below 50 K.

In keeping with the systematic long-term point of view prevalent in Japan, the Japanese have not tried yet to select a favored HTS junction technology. In the United States, there has been a strong recent focus on YBCO ramp-type SNS (superconductor-normal metal-superconductor) junctions using Co-doped YBCO as the barrier. This focus might change, given the results announced by Conductus on YBCO surface-modified junctions that eliminate the need for deposition of a barrier.

The Japanese are presently driven by materials growth considerations and are not yet maximizing device figures of merit. They therefore have wider spreads of junction critical currents than achieved in the United States, both with the Co-doped and the surface-modified barrier junctions. This is likely to change, given the announced goals of projects at ETL and ISTEC. (The panel heard later in 1997 reports of HTS junction uniformity -- one sigma about 10% -- at NEC, comparable to the best reported in the United States.)

The panel concludes that the United States is ahead in HTS circuit fabrication, although the state-of-the-art in both countries is primitive compared to their LTS capabilities.

SQUID Applications

Japan had essentially no SQUID technology until MITI funded the Superconducting Sensor Laboratory from 1990 to 1996. Now, prototype or product LT and HTSQUID systems are being made by at least 5 Japanese companies. While it is not clear the extent to which the SSL influenced the technology of these companies, the increase in Japan's SQUID capabilities over the past decade has been dramatic.

The United States had small SQUID companies selling products for over 20 years with no competition anywhere in the world. While SQUID technology in the United States is advanced at the component sensor level compared to Japan, U.S. activity to develop new systems and applications seems to be stagnant. In fact, the desire to innovate at the system level seems to have been lost. In contrast, Japan entered SQUID R&D very late, but in the 1990s, not only has Japan created competitive sensor technology in both LTS and HTS, but at the system level, Japan has moved ahead. A 256-channel magnetoencephalography (MEG) system prototype has been demonstrated, both MEG and magnetocardiography (MCG) systems have been integrated with refrigerators, an HTS nondestructive evaluation (NDE) prototype system is in routine use, and a 64-channel HTS MCG system has been developed. No such systems have been built in the United States.

The SQUID technology from SSL has been further developed at the private university Kanazawa Institute of Technology (KIT), at SEI and Daikin, and at other companies. The panel noted with interest the formation of the only small company in Japan involved with SCE. KIT formed the company Eagle Technologies to facilitate collaboration with and technology transfer to larger companies such as Yokogawa.

The panel members believe that if large SQUID markets develop, both Japan and Europe are in a position to compete vigorously. The United States still has sensor-level technology that could be used in competitive system products if funds were available from federal or private sources for system development.

Refrigeration and Cryopackaging

The performance, price, and reliability of refrigerators are critical issues in the market acceptance of almost all SCE products. The panel had only limited time to survey the refrigerator industry in Japan but did reach the following somewhat tentative conclusions.

There is a much higher level of industry R&D activity on pulse-tube refrigerators in Japan than in the United States. One company is already selling a pulse-tube cooler and another plans to do so very soon. Thus, Japan appears to be well positioned to supply pulse-tube coolers for both HTS applications and also to the cryopump market. Already, Japanese industry supplies many of the compressors for the civilian U.S. cooler manufacturers. However, the cost of refrigerators presently manufactured and sold in Japan is about 50% higher than that of similar machines made and sold in the United States.

At the system level, the panel did not see in Japan advanced cryopackages for wireless applications of the type already advertised by the four small U.S. SCE companies and currently in operation in base stations. However, Daikin has developed SQUID systems for both MEG and MCG that use 4 K refrigerators rather than liquid helium, as is universal in the United States. Daikin appeared to the panelists to have no equivalent in the United States, in that it is a refrigerator company carrying out R&D in a number of technologies that would benefit from the use of cooling. A number of U.S. laboratories completed hybrid systems in 1997 that use 4 K refrigerators to cool LTS digital chips and semiconductor devices. There appears to have been little progress in this direction in Japan since the end of the Josephson Computer project in 1990.

A LOOK AHEAD

It is much easier to predict the future of SCE in Japan, say at the time of the next JTEC report 8 years hence in 2006, than it is to predict for the United States. It is clear, however, that the fundamentally different styles employed by the SCE communities in the two countries will continue. In Japan, long-term funded projects are already announced that are likely to cover most of the 8-year time period. If the projects are successful, the technology will be well advanced in Japan in the middle of the next decade. The more difficult prediction is when SCE products will appear from Japanese companies. Will the dominance of ISTEC as an R&D institute in fact delay commercialization of the technology? This appears to be a possibility, except in the area of SQUIDS, where commercial activity seems to be imminent in Japan.

In the United States, commercial HTS products are available from a number of small companies in the form of HTSQUID sensors, NMR probes, and multifilter wireless systems. These small companies represent a large fraction of the U.S. applications activity in SCE. The concern of many, including the members of this panel, is that their future is fragile and uncertain. If those companies now focused on the wireless markets do not succeed in selling a substantial volume of products in the next year or two, some or all of them are likely to fail. With them would go much of the technology investment of the United States in SCE. That scenario, plus the uncertainty of continued funding for SCE projects in the United States, is unsettling to many in the field. Indeed, SCT announced on March 9, 1998 that it was ceasing commercial operations.

To use a U.S. football analogy, Japan is playing a conservative game, gaining about three or four yards on the ground with each play. The United States has thrown long passes and made some spectacular plays. In the view of many, however, the game is still in the first or second quarter. Japan has a game plan that seems unlikely to change, while it is not clear that the United States will still have coaches (funding agencies) on the field after halftime!

The challenge to the two countries is to build on the strengths of their different styles. In Japan, the large and long-term government support must, at some time in the future, be translated into businesses with economic impact. In the United States, creative individualism must be stabilized with sufficient continuity of funding so that R&D talent does not become discouraged by the burden of maintaining financial support, to the extent that it migrates from the field. Also, as U.S. companies become more product-focused, advances must continue elsewhere in materials understanding and device innovation.


1This report was published in 1989: Dresselhaus, M., ed. High temperature superconductivity in Japan. Baltimore, MD: Loyola College, JTEC. NTIS #PB90-123126.

2Larbalestier, D., R. Blaugher, R. Schwall, R. Sokolowski, M. Suenaga, and J. Willis. 1997 Power Applications of Superconductivity in Japan and Germany. Baltimore, MD: Loyola Coolege, WTEC. NTIS #PB98-103161.

3The exchange rate used throughout this report is U.S.$1 = ¥120, an approximate average of the rates in effect at the time of the site visits and at the time of the writing of this report.


Published: August 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian