SPECIAL REPORT: ASIA - Optoelectronics research may pave the way toward prosperity in Asia

Aug. 1, 1999
When it comes to Asia, R&D has always been heavy on the "D," with most corporate research intended to result in products for the export-driven economies of the region. This perception that research should directly support industry is certainly strong, but many countries have come to understand that research of a more long-term kind also is needed to lay the groundwork for future economic health. Resources for such research may never match the scale of corporate investment for product develop

W. Conard Holton, Executive Editor/News

When it comes to Asia, R&D has always been heavy on the "D," with most corporate research intended to result in products for the export-driven economies of the region. This perception that research should directly support industry is certainly strong, but many countries have come to understand that research of a more long-term kind also is needed to lay the groundwork for future economic health. Resources for such research may never match the scale of corporate investment for product development, but a fundamental shift in attitude appears to be taking hold.

No country better personifies this growing faith in research than Japan. In July 1996, the government adopted its Science and Technology Basic Plan, setting the goal of investing $140 billion in R&D by 2001 and reforming the research and education process. The pace of investment has been irregular because of cuts forced by the recession. These cuts were sometimes followed by large budget supplements intended to stimulate the economy-with much of the new money going toward computers and research instruments.

Meanwhile, the Japanese optoelectronics industry has added to its research base by increasing R&D investment as a percentage of sales (see Fig. 1). This money primarily funds development of optoelectronic components and devices at corporate research laboratories, although some labs, such as Hitachi Central Research Laboratory (Tokyo) and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) Basic Research Laboratory (Atsugi), conduct fundamental research and also work with universities.

Funding matrix in Japan

The principal science policy-making body in Japanese government is the Council for Science and Technology, which is scheduled to gain more real power in 2001 when it is elevated to cabinet status. Government support for research flows from several quarters and is proposed to be $26.6 billion plus supplements in FY2000 (July 2000 to June 2001). The 93 national universities receive the majority of their funding from the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture (known as Monbusho), which controls more than 40% of the government investment in science and technology. The ministry's pool of optoelectronics research centers includes university labs, interuniversity institutes, and institutes attached directly to the ministry. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications also funds optoelectronics research at the Communications Research Laboratory (Tokyo) and the Kansai Advance Research Center (Kobe; see Fig. 2).

The Science and Technology Agency (STA) controls approximately 25% of the science and technology budget and reports directly to the Prime Minister. The agency provides overall coordination of science and technology policies and oversees major government science projects. Through its public entity, Japan Science and Technology Corp., it directs basic science programs such as Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology (ERATO) and Precursory Research for Embryonic Science and Technology (PRESTO).

Among other projects, ERATO has sponsored extended research by interorganizational teams led by Yasuki Masumoto (Tsukuba University) on quantum dots and Yoshihisa Yamamoto (Stanford University and NTT Basic Research Laboratory) on quantum fluctuation. In 2000, Monbusho and STA-which have sometimes worked at cross-purposes-are scheduled to merge as part of a government reform program. Akito Arima, a physicist and former president of Tokyo University, now heads both organizations. One of the most contentious issues he will face will be how to balance the desire of university professors to hold positions in private companies and the tradition of strict separation between the two worlds.

The Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), with approximately 16% of the total science and technology budget, has consistently provided the most government funding for optoelectronics R&D. By joining forces with the Optoelectronic Industry and Technology Development Association (OITDA; Tokyo), MITI also has helped fund a large-scale program that catalyzed industry activity in optoelectronics.

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The ministry's belief in a centrally directed technology policy-as opposed to developments shaped by market forces-was reinforced by the January 1999 MITI-led industrial revival plan endorsed by Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. The plan has goals of creating new businesses in advanced technologies, shifting labor to these new areas, and facilitating investment in infrastructure that will support the Japanese economy in the information age. Whether such an approach to R&D can pay off is an open question (see "Can science and industry communicate?" p. 118).

The Agency of Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), a MITI organization, funds numerous government/industry collaborative R&D efforts and governs a national system of 15 laboratories, eight of which are located in Tsukuba and the remainder in seven major cities. Specialties vary among labs, with, for example, the Osaka National Research Institute (Osaka) making optical materials an area of emphasis, while the Electrotechnical Laboratory (ETL; Tsukuba) makes information and energy technologies its focus.

At the ETL, optoelectronics research ranges from imaging carrier motion in quantum structures to nonlinear optical materials. The Femtosecond Technology Project (Tsukuba) has the goal of moving ultrafast techniques from research laboratories to industrial production. Researchers at several associated laboratories are developing ultrashort-pulse semiconductor technologies that will support Tbit/s telecommunications and ultrashort metrological technologies for nondestructive testing and real-time inspection of objects in motion.

Japan's science cities

Located an hour's drive northeast of Tokyo, Tsukuba is the first and most famous of the science cities in Japan. It was born from an idea in the 1960s and developed at a cost of more than $14 billion. Its population is now approximately 170,000 people, of which 12,000 are researchers-5000 at national laboratories, 2000 at universities, and another 5000 in the private sector. Half the national institutes in the country are here. The ERATO program has sponsored many projects at Tsukuba, including several at the Tsukuba Research Consortium where optoelectronics companies such as Hamamatsu Photonics (Hamamatsu), Nikon (Tokyo), and Stanley Electric (Tokyo) conduct basic research.

FIGURE 1. According to the OITDA, Japanese industry has continued to invest substantially in optoelectronics R&D. Investment has increased as both a percentage of sales and total funds.
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Amidst some criticism, regional science cities, parks, and high-tech business incubators are springing up across the country in an effort to spawn regional prosperity. The STA counted more than 140 of them trying to do locally what Tsukuba has done on a national scale. On the northern island of Hokkaido, a "Photonics World" is trying to form around Chitose Institute of Science and Technology (Chitose), which claims to be the only academic institution in the country that specializes in optics technology.

Kansai Science City, which straddles the prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara, promotes diverse research, including ultrafast devices, new imaging technologies, and new nonlinear optical materials at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology. The Institute has a novel academic structure that focuses on only a few disciplines and does not include undergraduate studies.

The nearby Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute is working on new multimedia communications, cross-language communications, and technologies for adaptive communication systems. The latter include lateral-junction vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers, chaos lasers, and adaptive switching in lithium niobate waveguide modulators. As a result of an agreement with the government, ATR is primarily funded by NTT to ensure support for communications research as the company breaks into three operating companies and a holding company.

Taiwan on track

Both Japan's economy and its R&D establishment dwarf those of its neighbors. For its size, however, Taiwan is a fierce competitor, with an optoelectronics industry growing approximately 30% a year-three times faster than that of Japan. Many end-product manufacturers are well established, while supporting component industries are at a much earlier stage of development.

Research and development is devoted almost exclusively to commercial products or improving manufacturing processes, not to developing new products. New technologies are either purchased abroad or developed at government-funded research labs. Most of this work is done at the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI; Hsinchu), which has nine technical labs staffed by 6000 people.

The Optoelectronics and Systems Laboratories (OES), directed by Eric Lean, is the main optoelectronics lab and has projects ranging from molded lenses to laser diodes and optical disk drives to faxes. The goal is generally to help industry in the near- to mid-term. Funding for OES comes from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Industry. It totaled $36.3 million in FY1998 (July 1997 to June 1998). The Ministry of Communications and Transportation also funds a similar scope of optoelectronics research at its Telecommunications Research Lab.

FIGURE 2. Researchers at the Kansai Advanced Research Center (Kobe, Japan) use a laser-diode-based system to generate gigahertz-rate optical pulses. In a recent experiment they were able to generate Fourier-synthesized 9.6-GHz optical pulse trains with ultralow timing jitter fluctuation.
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Conversely, investment in long-term optoelectronics research is much more modest. It is focused in four national universities: the Graduate Institute of Electro-Optical Engineering at National Central University, the Graduate Institute of Optical Science at National Chiao Tung University, the Graduate Institute of Electro-Optical Engineering at National Taiwan University, and the Electro-Optics Research Institute at the National Chung-San University. Funding from Taiwan's National Science Council for 32 projects in FY1998 totaled $686,000.

At National Chiao Tung University, the emphasis includes laser technology and applications, optical fiber communications, fiberoptic sensors, optical storage, optical metrology, nonlinear optics and spectroscopy, and display technology. The National Central University has projects in integrated optics, organic thin films, information processing, and holographic interferometry. Most of the staff in all the universities received their PhDs in the USA.

Like Japan, Taiwan is interested in science cities. The success story is Hsinchu Science-based Industrial Park, home to two major universities and ITRI. The city was established as part of a government policy in 1980 to stimulate the development of high-technology in the country. Its genesis comes in response to the fact that, though once a low-cost manufacturer, Taiwan has since lost many labor-intensive, low-skill businesses to China, Thailand, and Indonesia. A second science-based industrial park is planned for Tainan.

Basic research strong in China

Considerable investment in the past few decades has recovered enough of mainland China's great heritage in science and technology to rank it at the top of developing countries doing basic research-though still a long way behind the developed world. To promote basic research, the Chinese government has established an aggressive plan to make such research one of its "pillars of progress." The plan involves a streamlining process that is expected to be painful, cutting tens of thousands of staff members. The hope is that more people will be driven to provide technological innovations in industry, while a reinvigorated science establishment works on the knowledge base.

Research policy in China is directed by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), which last year replaced the State Science and Technology Commission. The National Natural Science Foundation, modeled on the US National Science Foundation, supports all sectors of the research establishment. In addition, the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS)-the largest piece of the puzzle with 123 institutes-operates the country's leading research labs. It has been given $650 million over three years-an amount equal to its annual operating budget-for the Knowledge Innovation Program to raise the quality of basic science.

In optoelectronics-related research several national laboratories have excelled, including Nanjing University (solid-state microstructures); Jilin University, Qinghua University, and the CAS Institute of Semiconductors (integrated optoelectronics); and the CAS Institute of Technical Physics in Shanghai (infrared physics). The Institute of Technical Physics is headed by Guo-zhen Yang, a professor of optical physics who personifies the institute's optical interests by studying photonic bandgap crystals, nonlinear optics, and laser-diode-pumped Nd:YVO4 lasers.

FIGURE 3. The Wuhan Research Institute of Posts and Telecommunications conducts research on optical fiber communications and also sells fiber systems and passive and active components.
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In addition to its scientific research, the CAS has a strong commercial side. Many institutes rely on sales or commissions from the government, foreign institutes, or companies for more than half their income. For example, the Institute of Semiconductor Physics is a large producer of light-emitting diodes and laser diodes. Spinoff companies are encouraged, such as Casix (Fujian, China, and Chatsworth, CA, USA), which spun off the CAS Fujian Institute of Re search on the Structure of Matter to produce LBO, KTP, and KDP crystals. The China-America Tech nology Corp. (New York, NY) is in the business of commercializing CAS technology in the USA and establishing joint ventures between US companies and Chinese institutes.

In April of this year, the Chinese government an nounced new regulations to further encourage scientists and technology experts to commercialize their knowledge through high-technology ventures. Research units and individual scientists can now contribute know-how to equal as much as 35% of total shares in new ventures. The previous limit had been 20%.

China boosts fiber systems

Outside of the scientific research establishment, the Ministry of Information Industry conducts highly regarded research on optical fiber communications at the Wuhan Research Institute of Posts and Telecommunications (WRI; Wuhan; see Fig. 3). WRI specializes in fiber systems, and passive and active components. It also sells them. Early this year the institute began marketing an eight-channel 2.5-Gbit/s dense wavelength-division-multiplexing system that it claims has network management software superior to products of its foreign rivals and will sell for 50%-75% less. The institute predicts it will sell six sets of this equipment in 1999 for a total of approximately $13 million. In a fiberoptic market growing more than 30% each year, the institute has an enviable position.

So China, like Japan, Taiwan, and other nations in the region (see "Singapore nurtures optoelectronics ventures," p. 124), continues to walk the path between basic research and commercial sales. Fortunately, evidence that the first feeds the second is making life a bit easier for researchers in optoelectronics.


The Asian Technology Information Program (ATIP), with offices in Japan, Taiwan, China, Korea, and elsewhere in the Pacific, provided valuable information on Taiwan's optoelectronics research and development. ATIP can be contacted by email at [email protected], by fax at 505-766-5166, or via the Internet at www.atip.org.

Can science and industry communicate?

Japanese industry has long been skeptical of Japanese academia. Never sure of the value and scope of what students learn, industry has a practice of making early job offers to students without regard for scholarly performance. The Science and Technology Basic Plan is trying to address this disconnect in many ways, including modernizing re search conditions and encouraging more PhDs.

The miscommunication between industry and the scientific community is reflected in many important ways, at least according to a recent report by Arthur Alexander, president of the Japan Economic Institute (Washington, DC), a research organization partially funded by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Alexander says that despite the scale and overall competence of its R&D effort, Japan is not obtaining many of its potential benefits. This fact is especially disturbing be cause, when the volume of spending is adjusted for the size of the two nations' economies, the Japanese government actually outspends the US government on R&D by a small margin. Japanese business R&D as a percentage of sales has been above the US level throughout the 1990s.

"All the evidence is that basic science is good for the economy," Alexander notes, "[but] there is little evidence but talk of this in Japan." Alexander says that Japan's economy is not achieving high returns on its R&D investment for several reasons. The quality of basic re search in Japan has fallen behind that of the USA and other developed countries as measured by the quality of scientific articles.

In addition, custom and law restrict relations between university and industry personnel. International ties are limited, as well. And Japanese industry prefers to depend upon its own resources when it needs science. Alexander's major concern is that unless these problems are overcome and Japan begins to make better use of its considerable scientific resources and talent, then the nation's technological advances and future productivity growth could be hampered.

These words of caution apply to all countries in the region.

Singapore nurtures optoelectronics ventures

In the hopes of loosening its highly structured society and economy, the government of Singapore is sinking $1 billion into developing homegrown, high-tech ventures through its Technopreneurship Investment Fund. Rather than stick to fundamental research, the optoelectronics research community is hoping to play a role in this business development.

The small island nation has 16 R&D groups with a total of 167 researchers working in optoelectronics. The engineers and scientists in these groups, distributed among two universities and five government institutions, work closely with local industry on contract R&D and joint development projects.


Nanyang Technological University-the Photonics Group studies include multiple-array photodetectors, integrated optoelectronic devices, and solitons; the Sensor & Actuator Programme works on sensors and optical microelectromechanical devices.

National University of Singapore-the Centre for Optoelectronics interests include mid-infrared sources, blue/green semiconductor lasers, and quantum-dot photodetectors; the Laser Spectroscopy and Nonlinear Optics Laboratory investigates materials.

Government institutions

Singapore Productivity and Standards Board-the Thin Film Lab works on coatings and optical systems; the Optical Radiation Metrology Laboratory develops optical standards and techniques for precision measurements; the Precision Engineering Application Centre develops fabrication techniques for plastic optics.

Gintic Institute of Manufacturing Technology-the Optical Technology Centre develops nanoaccuracy machining, injection molding for plastic components, and machine-vision systems.

Data Storage Institute-the Optical Storage and the Optical Media groups study optical recording systems and materials; the Laser Microprocessing Group develops surface cleaning, etching, and deposition techniques; the Optical Crystal Group studies crystals for many wavelengths and applications.

DSO National Laboratories (formerly Defense Science Organization)-the Signal-Processing Laboratory works on imaging; the Physical Science Laboratory develops high-power lasers.

Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE)-the Optoelectronics & Photonics Group works on light-emitting diodes and laser diodes and materials characterization and growth; the Organic Light-Emitting Display Group pursues light-emitting polymers. In addition, the researchers are hosting technical symposia and intend to form an optics association with other groups in the region.

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