Foresight Update 25

Page 2

A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 25 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5 | Page6


Japan Putting Major Resources Into
Nanotechnology Research

By Tanya Sienko

Dr. Tanya Sienko of Japan's National Institute of Science and Technology Policy tracks nanotech-nology R&D in that country. In addition, Dr. Sienko also serves as Director of International Relations for Molecular Manufacturing Enterprises, Inc.

Japan has emerged as one of the three leading research areas for nanotechnology, along with the United States and Europe (especially the United Kingdom). Japan has been responsible for several nanotechnology firsts (picking up and replacing individual atoms, for example) and has been extremely strong in developing instrumentation (variants of STMs and AFMs, etc.) for future efforts.

Nanotechnology research is an anomaly in Japan. Its broad interdisciplinary aspects are very rare in the standard structure of university and government institutions. Until now most of the leading-edge Japanese work in nanotechnology seems to have been done in institutions which have been specifically set up from an inter-disciplinary viewpoint, such as the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN), the Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology program (ERATO), the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST), etc. However, individual laboratories at particular universities also seem to have developed specialties in particular sub-areas.

The Japanese government, in its handling of nanotechnology research, seems to be attempting to create research networks within Japan as well as international collaborations. However, nanotechnology per se is not yet being handled as a full-scale research project (such as the Fifth Generation Computer Project) nor has it yet been identified officially as one of the technologies for the next century, in the same way that micromachines have been.

On the other hand, the sub-disciplines of nanotechnology have been realized as being very important. One of the projects within the Ministry of International Trade and Industry's Industrial Science and Technology Frontier Program deals with individual atomic manipulation. At present, most so-called "nanotechnology" research in industry is considered to refer to the construction of nanostructures on semiconductors and is being carried out by the giant electronics companies (NEC, Hitachi, Sony, etc.) with a view towards developing the next generation computer chip.

At present, the government should be considered the major player in more speculative nanotechnology-related research.

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MITI Projects

Within MITI is housed the Industrial Science and Technology Frontier Program (ISTF). These are projects dealing with research in either obviously important areas (Non-linear Photonics Materials, for example), or leading-edge technology. Each project lasts for 3 to 12 years, and receives anywhere from $2 million to $200 million of funding. Each project contains both public and private participants. The current projects related to nanotechnology include:

Advanced Chemical Processing Technology (1990-1996)

This breaks down into:

Synergy Ceramics (1991 onwards, first phase 5 years)

By introducing the concept of "hyper-organized structure controlling," that is the simultaneous control of structural elements at diverse scale levels from the atomic-molecular scale to the macro scale, this project attempts to create "Synergy Ceramics," a new family of advanced ceramics in which diverse properties are made compatible, and different functions are integrated in the same material.

Molecular Assemblies for a Functional Protein System (1989-1998)

Proteins suitable for artificial reconstruction are screened from protein assemblies in biomembranes. The basic conditions necessary to analyze the functions and structures of the proteins will be established. The elementary technologies necessary for artificial reconstruction of functional protein assemblies will be determined. Finally, working protein assemblies will be reconstituted, and their function and structure will be evaluated. So far, the protein involved in a photosystem reaction center utilizing solar energy has been artificially improved and stabilized. A world first was the production of a large amount of this protein using genetic engineering on E coli. Second, the ion channel receptor protein which controls a reaction through molecular recognition has been genetically determined and a technique for producing a large quantity of the protein has been developed.

Quantum Functional Devices (1991-2000)

This is working on the next generation computer chip, for a start.

"Stepping into the mesoscopic realm in fabrication size, conventional semiconductor devices can not work well due to the appearance of quantum phenomena. In order to overcome the problem, it will be necessary to control quantum effects such as electron tunneling, electron wave interference, and energy level quantization and to pursue operational principles of devices based on quantum effects. The purpose of this project is to establish basic technologies for developing innovative devices with ultra-high speed and multi-functions by utilizing quantum effects appearing in ultraminute structures."

So far for results, they have fabricated TiOx quantum wires of 18 nm width using a scanning tunneling microscope, as well as proposed and ascertained the basic operation of several kinds of quantum transistors.

The private sector partner for this project is the Research and Development Association for Future Electron Devices, while the public sector partner is the Electrotechnical Laboratory.

Ultimate Manipulation of Atoms and Molecules (1992-2001)

The purpose of R&D is to develop technology for exactly observing and identifying atoms or molecules, and arranging them in a desired layout. In combination with mechanical probe techniques and beam techniques, the new technology allows the identification, observation, measurement and manipulation of atoms and molecules on the surface of various materials, organic molecules such as DNA, and atomic assembly in free space. R&D of simulation technology will also be pursued to exactly predict atomic and molecular processes. In JYF 1994, it was found possible to manipulate structures down to the atomic level by means of magnetic fields. This suggests the possibility of creating new materials through the control of materials' structures at atomic and molecular levels. A list of targets to achieve by the final date (2001) include:

This last project has the Angstrom Technology Partnership as the private sector partner, and the National Institute for Advanced Interdisciplinary Research (NAIR) as the public sector partner. Both have come together to form the Joint Research Center for Atom Technology (JRCAT) to carry out the above-mentioned research. The research groups involved are the same as those in NAIR:

Foresight Update 25 - Table of Contents


ERATO Projects

ERATO projects are 5 year projects, each with a total budget of 1.5-2.0 billion (US$14-18 million). Although labeled as "interdisciplinary," each project focuses on one research topic, under one well-known research scientist. ERATO is more a mechanism for top-class, young researchers to concentrate on particular research areas than an institute by itself, since research is carried out in rented labs in universities, government labs, and industry. So far, nanotechnology-related quantum device research projects have been the following:

Quantum Wave Project (1988-1993)

Atomcraft Project (1989-1994)

Electron Wavefront Project (1989-1994)

Quantum Fluctuation Project (1993-1998)

International Joint Project on Atom-Arrangement: Design and Control for New Materials) (1989-1994)

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RIKEN (Institute of Physical and Chemical Research)

RIKEN (Institute of Physical and Chemical Research) is another research organization under STA. Known for its international flavor and interdisciplinary flair, three of its laboratories out of the 20 are noted for their nanotechnology slant: Laboratory for Nano-Electronics materials, Laboratory for Nano-photonic materials, and Laboratory for Exotic Nano-materials. So far, research seems to have been geared towards construction and characterization of quantum device structures. RIKEN projects which are related to nanotechnology research are:

Frontier Materials Research:

Laboratory for Nano-Electronics Materials

T. Sugano, Head
Research Subjects:

Laboratory for Nano-Photonics Materials

H. Sasabe, Head
Research Subjects:

Laboratory for Exotic Nano-Materials

was headed by W. Knoll who has now left
Research Subjects:

The other laboratories at RIKEN are the following:

Plant Homeostatis Research:

Glycobiology Research:

Research on Brain Mechanisms of Mind and Behavior:

Photodynamics Research:

Bio-Mimetic Control Research:

Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture (MESC)

MESC provides money to Japanese universities, so any direct university research in nanotechnology falls under its jurisdiction. At present, the major interdisciplinary research center under MESC is the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST). This center, part of Tokyo University and located at the Komaba campus, is one of the offshoots formed upon the reorganization of Tokyo University's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in 1981. Among the 22 areas of research are the following related to nanotechnology:

Advanced Materials Dept.

Advanced Devices Dept.

Advanced Systems Dept.

Life Engineering Dept

  • (being established)
  • Biomedical devices

  • (Prof. I. Fujimasa)
    This last research group's future goals lists "development of micromachines" and "nanomachines for biomedical use," but it is unknown how far this will be developed.
  • Many of the above projects have been done in conjunction with groups at Tokyo University's Institute of Industrial Engineering. Also not to be missed is Prof. Karube's work in bioelectronics, which deals with "organic sensors on a chip."

    Many individual universities are undertaking research projects which can be considered part of nanotechnology (quantum effect devices and mesoscopic structures, biotechnology, advanced and improved instrumentation), although I do not believe anyone has claimed to be doing research on "straight'' nanotechnology. The universities which seem the most active in these areas are the University of Tokyo's Institute of Industrial Engineering, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Osaka University (bioscience), and Tohoku University. Tokyo Institute of Technology has just established a new department for bioscience; it is also where quite a few of the quantum effect device research projects are based. Tohoku University, aside from other projects, is starting more STM-based work. This is by no means a complete list. We are also starting to see more collaborative work, such as the joint project between NEC researchers and a team at the University of Tokyo, who have found a way to apply computer-generated holograms to the fabrication of nanostructures.

    Foresight Update 25 - Table of Contents


    Private Sector Efforts:

    As mentioned, many of the large electronics firms are involved in the ATR project as well as in the Research and Development Association for Future Electron Devices. (It seems reasonable to assume that Japanese biotech and chemical industries are equivalently associated with the Research Association for Biotechnology--connected with the Molecular Assemblies for a Functional Protein System.) Individual research efforts, too many to list, are also being carried out. Just in passing I would like to mention the two "quasi-companies" NTT and ATL, both of whom are carrying out very interesting research, albeit in different areas. In nanotechnology-related work, NTT's Atsugi labs are working on Coulomb effect devices, using STMs to create holes in silicon, and self-organization of growth on strained materials to produce quantum dots. ATL is more on the "information" side of research, working on evolutionary programming, cellular automata, and virtual reality--Dr. Tom Ray and his computer program Tierra demonstrating evolutionary life; Dr. Hugo de Garis and his "growing an artificial brain." Another researcher, Dr. Hemmi, has been working on evolutionary programming techniques to "evolve" hardware circuits.

    One of the groups at Hitachi's Advanced Technology Laboratory has been able to incorporate a Transmission Electron Microscope inside the chamber of an STM, and has been able to directly observe in situ behavior under the STM tip. The STM in question is actually a "STM on a chip" formed by standard dry etching of a silicon wafer, and is the brainchild of Mark Lutwyche and Yasuo Wada. [M.I. Lutwyche, Y. Wada, Sensors and Actuators A 48 (1995) 127-136] They are hoping to additionally incorporate electron tomography as well, so both inside- and surface-behavior of the sample can be investigated.

    Another of Dr. Wada's ideas, more futuristic, is of atom/molecular switching devices, Atom Relay Transistors (ART) and Molecular Single Electron Switching (MOSES) devices. These devices would have total dimensions well below a few nm and an operation speed of more than a terahertz (1012 Hz). The basic ART configuration consists of an atomic wire, a switching atom, a switching gate, and a reset gate. When the switching atom is displaced from the atom wire by an electric field (supplied by the switching gate), the ART turns off. Memory cell and logic gates have also been conceived. A supercomputer based on such devices with 107 logic gates and 109 bits of memory would fit in an area of 200 microns square and operate at terahertz switching speeds.

    Dr. Wada's proposed molecular devices (MOSES) are actually a form of a Single Electron Tunnelling device. Here, metal and semiconductor are replaced with conducting and insulating polymers, respectively. Simulations have been carried out assuming polyacetylene and polyethylene. Polydiacetylene (a polyringed molecule) is another possible candidate if one of triple bonds linking its rings is changed to a single bond to produce a tunnelling gap. [Optoelectronics&shypDevices and Technologies Vol 10, No.2, pp.205-220, June 1995]

    The above-mentioned projects are just a small sample of the research involving construction of nanostructures and next-generation computer chip research. At present, my opinion of the scale of the biotech-related nanotech research is that it lags the US, although in certain areas (e.g., construction of enzymes and amino acids) Japanese industry is relatively strong.

    From what I have seen so far, the first wave of government ERATO projects focused on quantum effects and basic technology useful for next-generation electronic device research. This has now been picked up by the electronics companies. The second (present) wave of ERATO projects is far more biotech related. It may be that MITI, with an eye towards the future, is hoping that the Japanese chemical companies and pharmaceutical companies will pick up and run with the resultant technology. Japanese chemical companies have up to now concentrated on bulk production of chemicals and biologics (enzymes, amino acids, etc.) and are under steadily increasing competition from other Asian countries. Hence the need to find a high-value-added product, which biotechnology may provide.

    So far, nanotechnology research in Japan has proceeded along the line of extrapolation of existing fields and with obvious applications well in mind. As far as I can tell, all work has proceeded with the goal of "weak nanotechnology" in view. Even the concept of "strong nanotechnology," with the idea of nanobots, does not seem to be talked about.

    From the viewpoint of future nanotechnology research, Japan possesses both disadvantages and advantages. The disadvantages include a lack of expertise in software, more or less across the board. Simulation software lags the US in many ways. Japanese pharmaceutical companies are weak compared to the US pharmaceutical industry, which may place limits on the impetus provided by designing new drugs. Japan does not have a tradition of entrepreneurship, which may present problems.

    On the other hand, Japan does not seem to have the mental barriers between research areas in the same way that occurs in the US. Micromachine research can readily fuse together with nanotechnology research, and in fact, instrumentation used in developing the former will undoubtedly prove essential in developing the latter. Biotechnology is starting to become fused together with chemistry, electronics and mechatronics. Since it is at the point of fusion between all of these that nanotechnology is expected to occur, such seamlessness may be an essential condition for actual realization of nanotechnology.

    Member Firms in the Japanese Angstrom Technology Project

    Analeva Corporation
    Biosym Technologies, Inc.
    Du Pont Kabushiki Kaisha
    Ebara Corporation
    Fuji Electric Corporate R&D Ltd.
    Fujikura Ltd.
    Fujitsu Limited
    The Furukawa Electric Co., Ltd.
    Hamamatsu Photonics K.K.
    Hewlett-Packard Japan, Ltd.
    Hitachi, Ltd.
    Hitachi Chemical Co., Ltd.
    Kobe Steel, Ltd.
    Matsushita Elec. Ind. Co., Ltd.
    Mitsubishi Electric Corp.
    Mitsubishi Materials Corp.
    Motorola, Inc.
    NEC Corporation
    Nippon Steel Corp.
    Oki Electric Industry Co.,Ltd.
    Olympus Optical Co., Ltd.
    Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
    Sanya Electric Co., Ltd.
    Sharp Corporation
    Sony Corporation
    Sumitomo Elec. Ind., Ltd.
    Texas Instruments
    Toray Research Center, Inc.
    Toshiba Corp.
    Ulvac Japan, Ltd.

    Science and Technology Agency

    Foresight Update 25 - Table of Contents


    Nanotechnology: Possibilities and Prospects

    Seminar Available on Video

    A four-hour video of Dr. J. Storrs Hall taped June 2, 1996, is available on video from Frontier Research Seminars.

    Dr. Hall of Rutgers University is one of the leading proponents of nanotechnology. In the videotaped series he explains what nanotechnology is and how it might develop. Dr. Hall also discusses what types of products might emerge from the technology, based upon developments in the field, and how these products could dramatically alter mankind's existence.

    The video is available for $29.95 in the U.S. or $39.95 outside the U.S., from:
    Frontier Research Seminars
    1510 B Hamilton Street
    Somerset, New Jersey 08873 USA

    Note: Some of Dr. Hall's slides did not show up well on video, so the company is mailing paper copies of these with the tape.

    This video is only available on U.S. format video. Call Frontier Research at (908) 873-5374 or email them at for more information about the Nanotechnology Seminar video.

    Foresight Update 25 - Table of Contents



    Special thanks this issue go to Russell Whitaker for completing the conversion of the book Engines of Creation by Eric Drexler into World Wide Web hypertext format. This was a huge task, aided by the earlier work of John Quel, John Cramer, and Jim Lewis in getting the book into machine readable form. It can be found at

    For sending information, we thank Hagan Bayley, Wesley Du Charme, Michael Edelstein, Dave Forrest, Tom Glass, Frank Glover, V.S. Gurin, Norm Hardy, Mark Haviland, Tad Hogg, Marie-Louise Kagan, David Koehler, Joy Martin, Anthony Napier, Bill Pelican, Mark Reiners, Pat Salsbury, Donald Saxman, Ronnie Thomson.

    -Chris Peterson, Director

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    From Foresight Update 25, originally published 15 July 1996.