Japan Maps Out Big Science Plans

TOKYO—For the first time ever, Japanese scientists have produced a roadmap of where they see major research programs heading in the mid-term-about 10 years out—and a list of large-scale facilities they will need to get there. The report released today covers all fields and among other big-ticket items lists a $130 million genomic medicine research center, a cluster of earth observing satellites, and upgrades for synchrotron rings and particle accelerators. "We do expect the Ministry of Education to adopt this master plan and use it in working out future budgets," says Yasuhiro Iwasawa, a chemist at the University of Electro-Communications here who headed the roadmap committee for the Science Council of Japan, the country's largest group of scientists.

The report is something of a clearinghouse for information on major projects in various stages of planning. Iwasawa says scientific societies and institutions submitted 186 projects; the committee winnowed the field to 43 it deemed particularly worthy. Some of the highly rated projects are fairly well-known, such as a linear collider that physicists around the world have been collectively studying for years. Others, including plans for a center to focus on glycoscience—the study of carbohydrates attached to membranes—appear to be just gaining traction. The committee did not prioritize the projects, something Iwasawa says will have to be worked out in a dialog with bureaucrats and politicians.

The Science Council hopes that publicizing big science plans while they are still in the making "will help ordinary citizens understand their significance," Iwasawa says. Another objective is to promote international cooperation by circulating information about the proposals more widely. They face a hurdle, though. "The council doesn't have the money to translate the documents," Iwasawa sighs. The master plan is posted on the Science Council's Web site in Japanese along with brief project descriptions in English.