The field of “nanotechnology and materials” is built on nanoscience based on fundamental sciences such as materials science, optics, life science, information science, and mathematical science. Nanoscience has been developed as science dealing with phenomena occurring at the nanoscale. Common basic technologies (manufacturing, measurements, and simulations) are structured on nanoscience, and applications of these technologies to materials lead to development of devices and components. Also, they become cross-cutting technologies in the fields such as environment, energy, health and medical care, social infrastructures, information and communications, electronics, and so on. Eventually, they give rise to innovation and the field of“ nanotechnology and materials” plays an important role as an "innovation-engine".
The field of “nanotechnology and materials” possesses a potential as a technological basis capable of leading the future of diverse industrial fields and carries the weight of high expectations for society. Such expectations include solutions for global problems related to the environment and energy such as climate change and depletion of the natural resources and drinking water, prevention of excessive rise of medical expenses, the improvement of quality of life of patients through early diagnoses and treatment, non-invasive diagnosis, and regenerative medical techniques in the fields of health and medical care. Growing expectations exist also in the field of information and communication technologies for advances in device technologies which realize a widespread dissemination of the Internet of Things (IoT) as well as for advances in exploration of novel materials fully utilizing data science taking into account the rapid advances in collection and processing techniques of “big data”. Through meeting these expectations, electronics, components and materials industries, which have been driving Japanese economy, possibly evolve into a new look.
While pursuing further advances in semiconductor microfabrication technologies as predicted by Moore’s law, researchers had developed techniques to observe nanoscale structures and to understand and control phenomena that occur at the nanoscale, leading to great advances in nanotechnology in the period from around 1990 to the early 2000s. Developments in semiconductor microfabrication technologies propelled progress in the digital technologies and improvements in the performance of electronic devices and, coupled with advances in network technologies, led to major innovation in telecommunications that became known as the IT revolution. In this context, nanoelectronics can be regarded as the driving force of nanotechnology during this period.
However, while obstacles to further miniaturization in semiconductor microfabrication began to come to surface after the early 2000s, many researchers began attempting to produce nanostructures through self-organization using autonomous chemical reactions. During this period, there were significant developments in biotechnology, including the human genome sequencing and the emergence of iPS cells, and the roles of nanotechnology and biotechnology became an inseparable part of each other’s development. Today, humankind is facing grave issues related to the environment and energy, such as climate change, and this has further increased expectations on the role that nanotechnology and materials will have in finding solutions to these issues. However, these issues cannot be resolved solely through nanotechnology. We, therefore, have to tackle these issues with the nanotechnology combined with biotechnology, information technology, and materials science and engineering.
Concerning the materials field, Japan has played a major role in promoting R&D, particularly leading the world in the development of new materials, to support key industries of components and materials and to create new industries. Many key technologies in the field of materials were greatly responsible for some of Japan’s most important inventions and achievements, including photocatalysts, lithium-ion batteries, permanent magnets, blue LEDs, and media and magnetic heads for hard disk drives. Under these backgrounds, components and materials industries have developed numerous products centered on functional materials that claim a large share in global markets, despite the market size of each sector is small. Japan’s companies also possess numerous products that have captured a large share of the global market in individual materials, such as semiconductor materials, display materials, battery materials, carbon fibers, and separation membranes for water treatment. On the other hand, Japan’s once high market share in hardware such as PCs, cellular phones, and TVs has declined considerably due to fierce global competition. Japan has also suffered a loss of shares in its previous stronghold of raw materials including some of its LCD materials such as photoresist and color filters, and materials for lithium-ion batteries. The global market for batteries, power semiconductor devices, and carbon fiber composite materials, in which Japan is presently very competitive, is expected to see great expansion in the future. Needless to say, it is vital for Japan to maintain or strengthen its industrial competitiveness in these markets.