Statement of Work Assessment of Foreign Research and Development Related to Electronics Applications of Superconducting Materials

JTEC/WTEC Background

Purpose and Scope of the Study


The Japanese Technology Evaluation Center (JTEC) and a companion World Technology Evaluation Center at Loyola College have been funded by a cooperative agreement from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Additional support from the Department of Energy, DARPA, the Department of Commerce, the Army Research Office, ONR, USAF, and NASA has been received for studies in which these agencies have an interest. Panels of experts under the JTEC/WTEC methodology have assessed or are assessing Japanese and European R&D in a number of technology areas including: superconductivity, spacecraft propulsion, advanced computing, nuclear power generation, construction technologies, X-ray lithography, machine translation, bioprocessing, database systems, display technologies, knowledge-based systems, materials handling, separation technologies, satellite communications, microelectromechanical systems, electronic packaging, undersea technologies, manufacturing of polymer composites, optoelectronics, metal casting, and rapid prototyping.

The details of the methodology, including the reporting requirements, are documented in NSF's cooperative agreement with Loyola College. This statement of work is a brief plan for an assessment of R&D in electronic applications of superconducting materials in Japan, under the provisions of the cooperative agreement for 1995-6 studies now funded by NSF. This study is intended to complement and be coordinated with a JTEC/WTEC study on basic research on and power applications of superconducting materials that was initiated on February 28, 1996.

Purpose and Scope

The overall purpose of this study is to assess - relative to the United States - the manner in which Japan has responded to the discovery (in the late 1980s) of high temperature superconductivity (HTS) and how Japan is proceeding to exploit the electronic applications promised by these, still relatively recent, scientific discoveries. However, conventional "low temperature" materials will also be considered, given that the distinction between these older materials and the new "High Tc" ceramics is no longer clear. The approach will be to identify the roles and responsibilities of both public and private organizations in performing superconductivity research and analyze the effectiveness of these different national methodologies in promoting research progress. These activities and competencies will be compared to those in the United States. The study will also compare funding levels for research in Japan with those in the United States and, to some extent, related policy areas of standards, trade, and regulatory issues.


In 1989 a JTEC panel reviewed the state-of-the-art of Japanese R&D on superconductivity, including the (then) recently discovered family of high-temperature (i.e., liquid nitrogen temperature) materials: Y-Ba-Cu oxides (Tc = 93 K), Bi-Sr-Ca-Cu oxides (Tc = 80 - 110 K) and Tl-Ba-Ca-Cu oxides (Tc = 90 - 125 K) and related ceramics. These materials have the potential for a wide variety of revolutionary uses, primarily in energy and electronic applications. Economic sectors affected by electronics applications include the computer, telecommunications, and remote sensing industries, as well as the wide variety of other "downstream" industries that use the products of the computer and telecommunications industries. The potential for significant improvement in performance of existing devices used in these industries, as well as the development of new devices and functions, is great. For example, superconducting Josephson junctions pose a rival to silicon transistors and may revolutionize the computer industry as well as other electronic industries. The 1989 JTEC panel found that Josephson junction device research was proceeding in Japan at a rapid pace, in contrast to an apparent slowdown of U.S. efforts. It will be especially important for this panel to evaluate the results of recent Japanese work in this area, especially as compared to current U.S. activities.

Work on the fabrication of the new high Tc materials into useful electronic devices was in its infancy at the time of the 1989 JTEC study. Since then, research on fabrication and applications issues has progressed significantly in the United States and Japan. However, there is still much progress to be made in the development of superconducting parts for useful devices. Work is also ongoing in related technologies such as cryogenics, refrigeration, and insulation.

The range of materials under active consideration for these applications has also changed somewhat since 1989: Bi-Sr-Ca-Cu oxides have taken a dominant position as candidates for fabrication of wires, tapes, and ribbons, though Y-Ba-Cu oxides are now under renewed consideration. Hg-Ba-Ca-Cu oxides have entered the picture as well (though they are still considered to be outside contenders).

This study will review the current status of research, development, and applications in superconductivity in Japan with a view towards evaluating the competitive status of U.S. efforts, assessing current collaborative activities, and identifying opportunities for new approaches and topics for further international cooperation in this field.


Superconductivity applications primarily fall into either energy (where electric wire development is the key technology) and electronics (where Josephson Junction development is the key technology). Exceptions can, of course, be found to this general rule. This study will focus on electronic applications, in coordination with a parallel JTEC/WTEC study covering high energy/power applications and the underpinning science and technology base.

The purpose of this study is to evaluate foreign progress in the development and implementation of these technologies, including analysis of the implications for U.S. R&D programs and related infrastructure issues. The specific topics studied will be determined by the study sponsors and panel and may include the following:

Devices Based on the Josephson Effect

Fabrication and Implementation Issues


R&D Funding and Infrastructure

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20 August 1996; WTEC Hyper-Librarian