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“Molecular Technology” is a series of technologies that enable us to qualitatively change existing science and technology through purposefully designing and synthesizing molecules and creating the physical, chemical, and biological functions of materials at a molecular level. The creation of new physical properties at the molecular level is the ultimate form of material synthesis in which the best and most suitable molecules selected from an infinite number are freely designed and synthesized by controlling molecular shape/structure, electronic state, aggregate/composite, and transport/migration with the collaborative use of precision synthesis techniques and theoretical and calculation sciences. With this, we can expect the creation of ultimate new intelligent materials that truly are competitive industrially.

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In this research area, we shall set as our final goal the establishment of molecular technology that can lead to the creation of unique new intelligent materials, devices, and processes that are innovative as well as precise and unachievable with a mere extension of existing science and technology, which remains at a conventional molecular library, by deepening our exploration of various problems needing to be addressed down to a molecular level and by designing / synthesizing / manipulating / controlling / aggregating those molecules that have desirable functions.

To bring more universality into our research and development in this molecular technology, we shall consider those bottleneck application problems that have not been solved by knowledge of such individual disciples as chemistry, physics, and biology as common and shared ones, and make an effort to build a unique technology system by overcoming those problems through an interdisciplinary approach.

Based on the common base of “Molecular Technology,” those researchers, who have been actively engaging in their respective projects of wide-ranging application and in special fields with little contact with other fields, shall come together to review each other’s research and technology and bring in new perspectives. Ambitious and challenging research topics shall be pursued by those cross-sectional team members who are strongly aware of their mission of making a breakthrough in the development of new intelligent materials to meet wider social needs.

Strategic Sector for FY 2012

1. Title

Establishment of molecular technology, which is the free control of molecules to bring innovation to environmental and energy materials, electronic materials, and health and medical materials

2. Goals and Objectives

Establishment of molecular technology is to be achieved, which is a series of techniques to exploit fully features of molecules to create the desired functions by designing, synthesizing, operating, controlling, and integrating molecules on the basis of scientific findings in fields of physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, etc. For this, the following technology systems are established, which are basic technologies to realize super-low-power consuming and ultra-light devices utilizing molecules for battery device, organic thin-film solar cells, and etc. and to establish innovative methods of treatment such as drug delivery systems, functional medical materials, etc.

  • Establishment of technology systems of molecular technology for designing and creating molecules, which freely design and create new functional materials in cooperation with precision synthesizing technology and the theory-computational science.
  • Establishment of technology systems of molecular technology for shapes and structure control, which leads to creation of new functions through accurately control molecular shape and structure.

3. Vision for Accomplishing Key Items

As represented by organic EL displays, various parts and devices are already shifting to soft materials, which are molecular materials. This trend implicates that soft materials gives fundamental solutions to issues that the entire human society faces, such as the reduction of environmental burdens, responses to restricted resources, and high biocompatibility; in other words, molecular technologies that realize soft materials give solutions to such problems.

Under this Strategic Sector, obtaining research outcomes described in section 2 “Goal and Objectives” enables the designs of functions as molecular materials, which consequently enables the application of the outcomes to solving a variety of problems associated with social needs. Green innovation and life innovation described in the 4th Science and Technology Basic Plan are to be promoted by building a cooperative structure between research of relevant academic fields and industries. For example, efforts will be made to achieve the following outcomes within about five years after the completion of projects.

  • Electronic devices build with soft materials
    Organic materials with conductivity control capability are used as components of electronic devices in place of the conventional semiconductors and metals, and computers with low environmental burden and ultra-low energy consumption and ultra-light portable information terminals are created.
  • Resource-recycling solar cell films with ultra-low energy consumption
    Solar cells that are ultra low cost and produce low environmental burdens are created with components that use molecular materials and conversion of manufacturing processes.
  • Medical treatments using drug delivery system, etc.
    Safe and effective medical treatments are realized through the development of sophisticated drug delivery system equipped with detection functions and functions to regulate the discharge of active ingredients and three-dimensional structuring of functional medical materials needed for regeneration of tissues and organs.

Besides these aspects, practical applications in fields such as reduced use of fossil resources, high-density secondary cells, advanced environmental monitoring, low-cost water production, and purification are possible.

4. Specifics of Strategic Sector

(Background) From molecular science to molecular technology!

In the recent years, for instance, the use of thin membrane, n-type semiconductor made with molecular called fullerene is resulting in rapid progress in the development of organic solar cells that are receiving attention as power generation technologies with low environmental burdens. Meanwhile, in the field of pharmaceutical development, designing molecular structures and shapes with computers has drastically reduced side effects and enabled the production of molecularly targeted agents that specifically work on lesions.

Basic science called molecular science exists in the background of such achievements. Conventional molecular science has discovered and analyzed various molecules by observing and exploring in nature and obtained similar functions as natural molecules by artificially mimicking their features. With the rapid progress in computer performances and drastic progress of measurement and analytical technologies in the recent trends, however, research and development that design intended functions and obtain suitable materials without seeking models in nature have emerged. Given these circumstances, this Strategic Sector aims to deliver a radical breakthrough to the series of material development technologies that support environmental and energy technologies, information communication technologies, and medical material technologies by developing molecular technology.

(Contents of study) For the establishment of basic technologies shared by life innovation and green innovation!

In order to produce innovative outcomes involved with green innovation and life innovation, this Strategic Sector aims to accelerate research and development of individual policies and fusion of different fields by building a solid foundation of molecular technologies that can be applied to a various fields separately from research and development in individual tasks of application. Research and development of molecular technologies cannot be easily implemented only by using the knowledge of independent academic fields, such as conventional chemistry, physics, biology, and mathematics. Thus, it is important to recognize the bottleneck in the tasks of application as a common problem and establish a system that overcomes this problem through the approach which integrates different fields. This Strategic Sector perceives molecular technologies as the technology consisting of the following six elemental technologies. 1) Molecular technology for design and creation, 2) molecular technology for controlling shapes and structures and 3) molecular technology for conversion and processes, which are trans-boundary technologies. Then, 4) molecular technology for controlling electronic state, 5) molecular technology for controlling aggregations and compounds and 6) molecular technology for controlling transportation and transfer, which are intended for the use in a specific field of application. This Strategic Sector specifically puts emphasis on molecular technology for design and creation and molecular technology for controlling shapes and structures, which are the most basic of all these technologies. Examples of specific topics of research and development are described below.

  • Molecular technology for design and creation
    Molecular technology for design and creation is the technology that aims to freely design and create new functional materials. In other words, in addition to the conventional method that largely depends on instincts and experiences, this technology gives governing principles to freely design and synthesize materials which have the target functions through tight cooperation between syntheses and theoretical analyses.
    (Examples of topics of research and development)
    - Production of theories for creating molecules from functions and development of simulation technologies
    - Cultivation of molecular design methods which enables forecasting of molecular structures
    - Development of methods for precision syntheses based on functional designs and forecasting
    - Development of high-purity purification method of molecular substances
  • Molecular technology for controlling shapes and structures
    Molecular technology for controlling shapes and structures freely creates one-dimensional, two-dimensional, and three-dimensional macro structures for building practical materials based on molecular-level nano structures produced from molecular sequences, molecular assemblies, and self-organization. This technology also leads to the production of new functions by tightly controlling molecular shapes and structures.
    (Examples of topics of research and development)
    - Technologies to create spatial and pore structures through build-up and top-down methods including self-organization
    - Technologies to expand sizes from nano to macro structures
    - Observation and analytical technologies of physical phenomena in materials consisting of macro structures
    - Designs and analyses of macro-level structures and functions using computer simulations

5. Strategic Positioning (Positioning of Strategic Systems, Strategic Necessity/Urgency, etc.)

Soft materials produced by molecular technologies have various capabilities that satisfy various tasks of the 21st century, such as low environmental burden, energy and resource efficiency, low cost, and compatibility with the people and the society. The greatest goal of this Strategic Sector is to solidify the position of molecular technologies that realize these aspects as the basic technology of Japan. Industries with added values that molecular technologies produce will support the economic growth of Japan and make great contributions to solving problems such as global environmental and energy issues, safety and security issues, and medical and health issues.

The 4th Science and Technology Basic Plan (Cabinet decision on August 19, 2011) states, “Research and development concerning innovative common basic technologies with high rate of added values and market share, high possibility of future growth, and international competitiveness that favors Japan such as basic technologies needed for the development and use of cutting edge materials and basic technologies that support the use and utilization of advanced electronic devices and information and communication shall be promoted while promoting proper strategies to make these technologies open to others” in order to solidify common grounds for the reinforcement of industrial competitiveness. It also states, “Research and development shall be promoted on scientific technologies that can be horizontally used in multiple fields and science and technology of integrated fields such as nano-technology and photo quantum science which lead to development of advanced measurement and analysis technologies, advanced information communication technologies such as simulation and e-science, mathematical science, and system science technology” in order to strengthen cross-boundary scientific technologies. In addition, “Policies on research and development of nano-technology and material science technologies <interim summary>” (July 2011, Nano-Technology and Material Science and Technology Committee, the Subcommittee of Research Plan and Evaluation, the Council for Science and Technology) stipulates, “Development of innovative technologies is essential for remaining internationally competitive; thus, efforts such as research and development toward the production of potential possibilities should also be promoted based on the mid- to long-term perspectives rather than emphasizing on technologies which are available when setting up social issues.” Molecular technology is listed as one of “technologies for designing and controlling substances and materials,” which is a focused research and development task for solving problems.

6. Linkages with Related Strategies and Differences
in Role Allotment/Strategic Results

Policies that try to solve problems in individual application themes, such as solar battery, storage battery, and pharmaceutical development have been the mainstream. This Strategic Sector, however, is intended to reevaluate technical problems that have become bottlenecks in various fields using a cross-boundary technical concept called “molecular technology” and to promote joint studies by researchers from different fields. Molecular technology constructively reorganizes the achievements of basic sciences that Japan has been accumulated over many years and constructs an unprecedented and new technical structure. Contributions from basic sciences, such as physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics as well as engineering fields such as nano-technology, information technology, and bio-technology are essential in the process of implementing and structuring molecular technology. These academic fields need to be integrated, and various technologies must be utilized as an integrated unit; therefore, these fields must be integrated at technological levels such as material design technologies and process technologies.

The Strategic Sector to be established in fiscal year 2012, “Advanced Catalytic Transformaiton program for Carbon utilization” plans to start a development of new catalyst for material conversion. This technology can supplement molecular technology for conversion and processes, which is an important elemental technology for establishing molecular technology and thus is expected to arrange necessary coordination.

7. Scientific Grounding: Degree of Necessity/Urgency/Feasibility Based
on Research Trends in Japan and Overseas

This Strategic Sector is a new material technology strategy for Japan to take initiatives in contributing to solving problems such as environmental and energy problems and problems on medicine and health. Japan has strong material industries grounded on nano-technology and material science and is especially competitive in molecular technology as a part of this Strategic Sector. For example, Japan’s market share for many molecular materials used in display products is overwhelmingly high in the global market. Neither Japan nor other countries has implemented strategic and comprehensive investment in research to academically explore fundamental aspects of this new technological field and improve its innovativeness. There is a possibility that Japan can lead the world if we worked on this field ahead of other countries.

8. Background

The Center for Research and Development Strategy (CRDS) of Japan Science and Technology Agency held the Substance and Material Field Overview Workshop in July 2008 in which participants discussed outcomes of nano-technology, effects of integration, and future issues and proposed the establishment of the concept of molecular technology. The Science and Technology Future Strategy Workshop “Molecular Technology” was held in December 2009. This workshop aimed to discuss whether molecular technology could become an important key technology through intensive discussions of specialists and find future directions and specific research and development topics. Based on discussions in the workshop, participants further examined research domains and themes to be intensively promoted in the future and summarized the strategic initiative, “Molecular technology, production of new functions from the molecular level - Contribution to sustainable societies with the integration of different fields” in March 2010.

Based on above discussions, Nano-Technology and Material Science and Technology Committee, the Subcommittee of Research Plan and Evaluation, the Council for Science and Technology of Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology listed molecular technology as one of “technologies for designing and controlling substances and materials,” a focused research and development task for solving problems, in “Policies on research and development of nano-technology and material science technologies” prepared as an interim summary in July 2011.

This Strategic Sector was prepared based on the outcomes of these examinations.

9. Points for Consideration

The development of molecular technology requires the environment for researchers from different fields to actively participate and effectively work together. It is also important to perceive molecular technology as a common basic technology in precompetitive domains for expanding the outcomes of this Strategic Sector toward the establishment of molecular technology and to actively use places such as Tsukuba Innovation Arena for the cooperation among the industry, the academia, and the government.

translation of JST

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