Panel discussion of the 4th Element Strategy Symposium: New Developments in Industry-Academia Research Collaboration

Element Strategy Initiative: To Form Core Research Centers, Final Phase
From Project to System

The Element Strategy Initiative has been implemented over the past eight years in conjunction with large-scale research facilities. Materials research conducted at the four research centers during this time began from the initial stage of materials searching. The importance of mechanisms of functional expression in actual materials was recognized, and the states of local structures manifesting these functions were clarified through advanced measurement techniques. Using the acquired information, research was then expanded to explain correlations with electron states in order to formulate scientific principles. With two years remaining in the project, we are now considering how the intellectual property accumulated thus far can be used for future research in materials science.

To address this issue, Hidetoshi Fukuyama, an expert advisor of the Element Strategy Initiative and the chair of this symposium’s steering committee, established the theme of the panel discussion as “From Project to System.” Based on this theme, the panel discussion was held on February 4, 2020, the second day of the 4th Symposium. The panelists offered their own perspectives on how they have tackled similar issues and how this issue could be handled for element strategy.


Systems That Produce Synergistic Effects

Fukuyama (moderator)The theme “From Project to System” was chosen to guide this discussion because we feel there is a need to establish a setting for developing this project into a system capable of creating a stronger synergistic effect to advance materials science as a whole. The research outcomes produced from each center of this initiative are their own individual forces, but the synergy produced by finding connections among these forces of activity at each center could lead to even greater developments. Such a setting has been gradually coming into shape through the activities of the initiative over the last eight years, and various efforts have been made in recent years to proactively create this setting. How are you all meeting the challenge to create a setting for developing this project into a system?

Masaki TakataI was engaged in a project on next-generation synchrotron radiation with an eye toward its completion in 2023. Next-generation synchrotron radiation has a variety of uses that include industrial applications since it has 100 times the brightness of SPring-8 and can visualize not only elements, but also chemical states.
We came up with a new concept called “coalition” in order to ensure that this facility would be used effectively in various fields. With a coalition, companies that invest in construction can use the facility under a ten-year contract. Creating such an environment for continuous use would create a setting much like a coffee corner in which industry and academia are encouraged to mingle. People from various departments gathered there could come up with many ideas. Academic researchers could use their knowledge to solve issues that arose in industry, and such knowledge would be transformed into value. These same academic researchers could further extract new concepts and new science from these issues. The repetition of this cycle will accelerate advancements in both industry and academy, which is the objective of the coalition concept.
A coalition system has advantages. First, since investing companies apply in advance for medium-to-long-term research topics, no applications are required for annual use of the facilities. This eliminates the enormous time and costs expended under the traditional system. Second, involving academic researchers in corporate experiments reduces the inherent risk. For academia, uniting with companies has the great advantage of eliminating the time and cost of facility use while also expanding the range of industry-academia collaboration.
This concept can be applied to all facilities and research infrastructure. So, who will put this system together? People will. I fully recognize that we will need to train personnel to understand this concept of a coalition.

Conceptual drawing of a next-generation synchrotron radiation facility

Innovation in Materials Science is Essential for Realizing Strategic Priorities in Cutting-Edge Technology

FukuyamaMr. Takahara, as the person in charge of policies on science and technology in the Cabinet Office, what is your perspective?

Isamu TakaharaFirst, I’d like to talk about the Integrated Innovation Strategy 2019 compiled by the Cabinet Office. This strategy includes the four measures
(1) implement Society 5.0 (smart cities), (2) strengthen Japan’s research capabilities,
(3) dramatically enhance international collaboration, and (4) formulate strategic priorities for cutting-edge fields. Strategic priorities for cutting-edge fields include AI technology, biotechnology, and quantum technology. While I myself am responsible for strategies aimed at quantum technology, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the key to realizing these strategic priorities lies in innovation in materials science.
For several years now, the Cabinet Office has also been working to implement and disseminate numerous programs, including the Cross-ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP). While these programs are being conducted in an effort to realize Society 5.0, progress in each program is made possible by innovation in materials science and collaboration on materials data.
So, what is our current status with regard to the next Science and Technology Basic Plan? The First through Third Science and Technology Basic Plans (April 1996 through April 2011) promoted an expansion in the budge for science and technology, while the Fourth Basic Plan (April 2011 through April 2016) emphasized implementation in society. Subsequently, the Fifth Basic Plan (April 2016 through April 2021) proposed Society 5.0, promoting a vision of a nation built on innovations in science and technology and a human-centered society that integrates cyberspace with physical space. Discussions have just begun on the Sixth Science and Technology Basic Plan, but I would like to propose the image of a human-centered nation that embraces sustainability and diversity.
In these times, we can anticipate proposals aimed at reinforcing the foundation of materials science, including basic and applied research and industrial competitiveness.

Open Innovation at AGC

FukuyamaNext, I would like to hear from Mr. Hirai, who has been promoting management strategies for business.

Yoshinori HiraiI’d like to tell you about the efforts being made to facilitate open innovation over the past several years at AGC Inc. (formerly Asahi Glass Co., Ltd. until 2018). In long-term management strategies, businesses are divided into two categories. First there are the core businesses that are well established and are regarded as a stable revenue base, and specifically areas such as glass, basic chemicals, and ceramics. The other category is strategic businesses that are being newly developed to drive growth and increase profits. Strategic businesses currently pursued by our company are mobility, electronics, and life sciences.
So, what kind of open innovation has been carried out to implement these strategic businesses? Well, up until 2011 the company was just groping around in the dark. This year, the company established the Business Development Division that reports directly to the president and switched to a scientific approach. To promote commercialization, the company has created quasi-startups based on the model of venture capital used in Silicon Valley in order to plant the seeds of businesses. I was the first general manager of the division. Through the present-day, we have developed many new businesses, which have led to the formation of the current three fields of strategic business.
The company has also adopted mergers and acquisitions (M&A) as a significant tool. In the past, M&A was used for restructuring a business or entering the European and American markets, but over the past ten years we have used it to promote new growth. While we have paid roughly 100 billion yen for acquisitions over the past few years, the profit margin for the acquired companies has been high, so I anticipate that M&A will continue to be a growth driver.
We are also participating in new businesses. In the Impulsing Paradigm Change through Disruptive Technologies Program (ImPACT, 2014–2019) under the Cabinet Office, we have been developing new materials through the integration of computational science and structural analysis and succeeded in developing a tough polymer having five times the conventional strength. In 2019 we also initiated large-scale industry-academia collaborative research utilizing an open innovation platform in collaboration with the University of Tokyo and the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Currently we are working on construction of a new research facility within AGC to provide a space for open innovation.

A Look at the State of Japan’s Research in Materials Science

FukuyamaNext, let’s hear from Mr. Hosono, who is an active researcher.

Hideo HosonoFirst, let’s look at the current state of materials research in Japan. While we used to lead the world in research on magnets, batteries, high-Tc superconductors, and amorphous silicon, our international standing has dropped considerably over the last ten years. So what will become of Japan? Owing to an abrupt decline in the labor force, regular members of academic societies have declined at a rate that could drop below half in another 5–8 years. Currently there are 31 materials-related societies, the majority having less than 1,000 members of which no more than 1% are from overseas, and the impact factor of their scientific journals is no greater than 2. The annual conferences held by these societies are primarily an opportunity to present master’s theses. At this rate, Japan will almost certainly drop out of consideration as an advanced nation.
Another issue is that we see very few cases of university research leading to products used in the world. As an example of a product developed at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, with which I am affiliated, ferrites are one of the widest known products that are used in society. TDK commercialized ferrites in 1938. This is like a fairytale to today’s students. It is essential for universities to regularly conduct research that leads to products used in society, but current students and postdoctoral fellows aim at submitting articles to journals that have a high impact factor, like Nature and Science, and hoping that their research proposals will be selected for JST CREST or PRESTO.
Next, I’d like to take a moment to consider whether we should simply pursue global trends in research. In the first place, the latest trend in the world is determined by the natural course of science and technology. This includes nanotechnology, materials informatics (MI), and the impact factor (IF). To determine whether Japan has an edge in these areas, we must make a clear distinction between global trends and trends specific to Japan. Major achievements are in fact not determined by the impact factor of a journal in which the results were published. The first articles on gallium nitride and amorphous silicon were not published in journals with a high IF, and their citations reached about 1,000 at most, and yet they produced a 10 trillion yen industry. Even neodymium magnets were first listed in conference proceedings on magnetic materials (a special issue of JAP). MI is another technology that has been glorified, but while MI demonstrates great power on subjects that are difficult to research theoretically, such as high-order structures having small differences in energy, I feel at present one cannot expect MI to produce any miraculous results in materials research.

What Is Needed to Develop Outstanding Researchers?

HosonoNow, what measures must we take to ensure the future of Japan? Just as Mr. Takata suggested early, I too believe that people are everything. Here, I submit to you three challenges we face in developing outstanding researchers. First of all, based on past cases, there are three conditions for creating a research environment in which young people can thrive. The first condition is to offer attractive research topics in areas that could have a great impact on society or that are thrilling because they are unexplored. The second condition is to provide academic meetings in which researchers can openly and freely debate. The third condition is that the social order or hierarchy is overlooked at these meetings; in other words, create a flexible environment in which even young people have a voice, provided that they produce results.

Prof. Hosono’s proposed conditions for developing outstanding researchers

Specifically, I am proposing that we expand the developmental period for the youth. While five years for the current project seems long, as many as ten years may be needed to develop young researchers.
The second challenge involves the issue with Japan’s scientific journals. We must improve the number of citations of Japanese journals. China produces a journal called Science Bulletin and has raised its impact factor above 6. This is largely due to China requiring that 10–20% of citations included in applications for research funding be for journals published in China. Japan needs this type of transformation.
The third challenge will be providing a salary or wages (such as employment as a TA or RA) that will allow students of doctoral courses to be self-supportive. Japan is the only advanced nation that does not provide wages to students of science. We cannot expect our projects to flourish without nurturing students.
The fourth challenge is the all-out implementation of an intellectual property strategy. While we call securing innovation an intellectual property, only a handful of universities in Japan have set up a structure for obtaining international patents. They need systematic support utilizing the JST intellectual property center, for example.
The fifth and final challenge is the existence of a high-level international conference held in Japan on transdisciplinary subjects. Discussions on creating just such a conference have been ongoing at the Japan Science Council and, through this planning, the Materials Research Meeting 2019 (MRM 2019) was held in Yokohama December 10–14, 2019. The conference drew more participants than was expected (1,805, of which 307 were from overseas) and created new bonds among societies that deal in areas of condensed matter. The conference will be held again this year, and I ask for your support.

Projects Driven by Inter-organizational Commitment

FukuyamaThank you everyone. Having now heard from all four panelists, I would like to hear some thoughts from members of the audience.

Masatoshi Takao (Expert Advisor of the Element Strategy Initiative)Having left corporate life for the university, I am now involved in university management and am also currently a committee member of the next-generation synchrotron radiation project. I have heard the argument even at this symposium that collaboration is not possible without commitment, but I gather from Mr. Hirai and Mr. Takata’s comments that management can be successful if there is inter-organizational commitment. Collaboration among industry and academia will not work with only one person in charge.
This is particularly true for materials science. Research and development itself is collaboration among industry and academia. Those in charge of the research cannot operate as they would like when there is no commitment from the top. Therefore, I propose that we re-label the system as “inter-organizational.”

FukuyamaSpeaking of carrying out projects as an organization rather than an individual, Mr. Tamaru of the University of Tokyo introduced to us the TACMI Consortium on advanced laser machining in an earlier session on industry-academia collaboration at this symposium. I wonder if you could give us more detail on this consortium.

Hiroharu Tamaru (the University of Tokyo)TACMI is promoting collaboration in numerous national projects. The thing that connects projects involving theoretical research on next-generation lasers, the development of light sources for next-generation laser machining, and their system development is data. Earlier Mr. Takata covered challenges in determining the best way to approach a project, and I feel this is a universal issue. I also agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Takao’s inter-organizational approach. When tackling a major challenge, the principal investigator of the research institute discusses the issue with the company’s research manager or CTO.

Providing Opportunities for Communication from Top to Bottom

TamaruIn the meantime, we have considered many measures for helping the Consortium run smoothly. We have made the Consortium more accessible by allowing the head of the technology department decide the procedure for joining and by letting their department approve the fees for using their equipment. We are now actively working on creating a framework for posting results of equipment use in order to facilitate in-house discussions needed to proceed to the next stage, such as joint research or participation in the projects.

FukuyamaMr. Takata, what are your thoughts on this point?

TakataI am in fact doing something similar to this. Instead of dealing only with upper management, I give 4–5 lectures at the same company to address all who work there, including the junior staff. I don’t bring up contracts or investments at this time. I discuss the coalition concept as a feasibility study and invite them to show a willingness to participate in the concept.
More than 70 companies are currently participating in the coalition, and approximately half are relatively new to synchrotron radiation. Consequently, researchers have difficulty understanding what they can visualize with a top-down approach. We must consider how to incorporate a bottom-up approach, how to design an incentive mechanism, and how to construct a system. While we have not yet established a management board for this purpose, creating a system will require us to clarify performance standards. I am saying let’s stop playing with synchrotron radiation and set goals for intellectual property. I’m stressing that, as a business, you must compete to acquire ISO certification.

FukuyamaI see. You’re engaging the junior members, who are most important for research activities. I believe the appropriateness and speed of the policy decisions raised in this discussion may be determined by how many opportunities are provided for such communication. When considering the issue of how to promote Japan’s research and materials science, it is necessary to create a setting from a comprehensive perspective that includes these types of hierarchical differences. Mr. Sakamoto, what is your view on this as someone in the Cabinet Office who has an overall view of the country.

Training Young Researchers to be Independent by Freeing Them from Existing Structures

Shuichi Sakamoto (Cabinet Office)Having listened to your comments, I feel that the keywords for the system in “From Project to System” should be “new bonds.” As Japan is now struggling, many people have adopted a silo mentality and a short-term perspective. By closing down communities and working as individual organizations, we cannot develop optimal management or research strategies or foster the best personnel, and Japan has been losing its collective strength.
Young people are the ones who will suffer the most. By not nurturing our youth, the nation and communities will not continue to grow. Sustainable growth. This begs the question how can we develop young people while still allowing them to be free and self-reliant. It is not an easy question to answer. Since Japan cannot survive without developing its youth, I think this should be an objective of the system.

FukuyamaTo develop a system, we must develop ourselves. If I may exaggerate, achieving such a lofty goal might require the mindset of tearing down the entire organization and starting again from scratch.

TamaoI think that a lot of people have considered the need to create an innovative organization or structure, but it is not realistic to just plow straight ahead. You move forward only as long as good results are being achieved. In this sense, the Element Strategy Initiative may be the preliminary stage for the creation of an innovative organization or structure. Perhaps that is why it has earned international acclaim. Moreover, formulating one strategy for creating an organization or structure is not something that can be done on occasion, but must be pursued continuously and persistently.

FukuyamaThis was a very productive discussion. I’d like to thank all of the panelists and audience members for sharing their observations.

Participants in the panel discussion


Hidetoshi Fukuyama

Professor, Tokyo University of Science / Expert Advisor to the Management Committee of the Element Strategy Initiative


Masaki Takata

Professor, Tohoku University / Photon Science Innovation Center

Isamu Takahara

Cabinet Office
Deputy Director General for Administrative Policy Matters

Yoshinori Hirai


Hideo Hosono

Professor, Tokyo Institute of Technology / Representative Tokodai Institute for Element Strategy

Participants from the audience

Masatoshi Takao

元素戦略プロジェクト専門委員/次世代放射光プロジェクト委員/ formerly of Osaka University, Panasonic Corporation

Hiroharu Tamaru

Program-Specific Associate Professor, The Tokyo University

Shuichi Sakamoto


Kohei Tamao

Toyota Physical&Chemical Research Institute / Program Director, Element Strategy Initiative