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Interview of Koichi Kitazawa by Bing Liu on 1994 January 5, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/31337
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Professor Kitazawa recalls his earlier experience of studying and working both in United States and in Japan. He gives a detailed description about the research work of high Tc superconductivity in Japan from 1970 -1987, especially about some important events in the researcher of high Tc superconductivity that happened after the Bednorz and Muller discovery, which involved American, Japanese and Chinese scientists. He also gives some comments on the science policy and R&D of superconductivity in Japan, United States and China.
Here is Casa Sirena Resort Hotel, today is January 5, 1994, now I am interviewing Prof. Kitazawa. Prof. Kitazawa, do you agree to let me record our conversation?
OK, thank you! First, maybe you can say something about you, like early experience.
I used to be a chemist when I graduated from University of Tokyo. I finished my master course in the Department of Industrial Chemistry, and then I joint graduate student in ceramic division of the Department of Metallurgy at MIT.
In which year?
It was 1969, when I joined MIT as a graduate student. After getting my PhD there, I joined as a research associate in my former laboratory at University Tokyo, Department of Industrial Chemistry.
How many years have you studied in the United States?
I was in the United States for two and half year as a PhD graduate student, and then became a postdoc for one year, then went back to Japan. I was there as a research associate for some years working on high temperature ceramics. And the — I was suggested by my supervisor, who was a good friend of Tanaka, to join with Tanaka’s group and to start up a superconductivity project.
It was 1975 or so.
After that you had been studying ceramic superconductivity continually?
Yes. When I joined Tanaka’s laboratory, at first, you know, Prof. Tanaka was interested in oxide superconductor and sulfide superconductor. At that time, he told me that, although he used to work in semiconductor physics, he said that university (???) advantage (???) research on some semiconductivity, because companies were much better equipped, so there was a little chance for university to cooperate with them. That is why he said that he want to start research on superconductivity. But he said that his group was later comer, so he did not want work on standard type superconductor, but want to work on something very strange, like oxide and sulfide. And he said that, at that time, oxide superconductor was especially strange, because there should not be very high density of charge carrier in oxide superconductor, and according to BCS theory, a high charge carrier density is more favored for higher critical temperature, oxide superconductor should be just the other extreme, but critical temperature was quite high. He said it’s very strange. So if we can work out the mechanism of oxide superconductivity, he said there can be some way to raise critical temperature. That is why we studied oxide superconductor. So, at first, you know, what I had to do, was to synthesize oxide superconductor in a good chip, so that we can do various measurement, by (???) measurement and optical measurement. And he said also to me that so far superconductivity people think that superconductor is a metal, so they did not pay too much attention to what be thought the carrier isn’t high, so (???) measurement is (???) measurement. Semiconductivity people are (???) bring so, but not people worked on metal, because they think the metal are not carrier, (???) not sensitive to composition or to temperature. Semiconductor, you know, carrier density is very big subject of study, so we studied at first measuring (???) and then optical measurement. And we also measured (???). So we did a quite systematic study on oxide superconductor, known at that time, that was barium lead bismuth oxide.
Before 1986, what is the highest record of critical temperature you have studied?
The highest critical temperature reported at that time was 23 Kelvin, for a metallic compound superconductor, Nb3Ge. But the highest critical temperature for oxide was 13 Kelvin for barium lead bismuth oxide.
How many kind of new oxide superconductor you have found?
At that time there ware about four oxide superconductors were known. Barium lead bismuth oxide was one, and lithium titanium oxide was another one, having critical temperature more than ten Kelvin, and the other oxide superconductors have really low critical temperature. In case of sulfide, they have even higher critical temperature, up to 13 Kelvin. So at first, I was more concentrated on looking for new material in sulfide series. And my student tried to look for new material in sulfide system. The highest temperature that my student found was two Kelvin.
Do you think that experience for studying oxide superconductor in 1970’s has some help in your work in discovery of reconfirming Bednorz and Muller’s result, and making some new research on new oxide superconductor?
Yes, I think so, very much. Because for 1984, there was a Ministry of Education research project for new superconductive materials, in which Prof. Tanaka’s group was one member. And because of this project, they could buy such equipment like SQUID magnetometer, and we were ready to work for oxide superconductor already by the time that high temperature superconductivity was found. So, when High Tc superconductor appeared, you know, we were already working on it. Equipment (???) and also experience (???), we did know how to make oxide superconductor. Although the material was different, but the high temperature superconductive material has a very similar structure. So we could determine the structure very easily, we could synthesize, by various methods, those new oxide superconductors very easily, and we could do magnetic measurement, electrical measurement, and optical measurement very easily, because students at that time had been already (???) so.
You had studied oxide superconductor for long time, but it was Bednorz and Muller who discovered the new kind of high temperature superconductor and open the door to raise critical temperature. You think what difference lead them to success.
You know, the reason, why we did not work on keeping up with, was because of keeping away, I mean, (???) oxide is a magnetic material. According to BCS theory, it is known that magnetic component is very harmful on superconductivity. Magnetism kill superconductivity very easily. That seems to be the reason why we did not work on (???). That was a big fall. So I think, sometime, the common sense is a big harm in finding new material.
Just like so many person looked new superconductor in metal but not in oxide material, even oxide material has some difference.
You have send me your paper titled “the first 5 years of the high temperature superconductivity.” Is this paper published or not?
It was published in a book.
No, in English edition.
In this paper, you have recalled the course of the road to the high temperature superconductor in 1989, and you said that you first time contact Bednorz and Muller’s paper was introduced by Prof. Sekizawa. She told this paper to you. Before that, you said, that they had tried to reproduce it but did not get positive result.
Yes. It was said. We had a research laboratory called Electrotechnical Laboratory. People there, at Electrotechnical Laboratory, Dr. Ehara(?) and Dr. Hitobayahi(?) who saw Bednorz and Muller’s paper in September, and tried to reproduce their result. That was what we heard later. But they did not succeed.
It’s not Sekizawa?
But she known what they did. And in 1986, in October, you know, the Ministry of Education research project was about to end, and we could not found any remarkable new superconductive material. So, the Ministry of Education did not appreciate it very much. This project was become to be terminated, and we had a symposium of this project. After the symposium, we had a small party. Prof. Sekizawa of Nippon University seated next to me, she asked me if I had seen Bednorz and Muller’s paper. But I did not see it, I said no. That was the first time I got to know there was a paper from Bednorz and Muller.
What kind of idea you had in that time when you first time saw that paper?
Just (???) I wrote a review paper on USO, that mean unidentified superconductive object. I wrote this review paper on OSO in a commercial type of magazine in Japan. I recalled various high temperature superconductors, even critical temperature above liquid nitrogen temperature. There ware about four or five super high temperature superconductors reported in literature. So I checked those reports I reviewed those materials. So when I heard about this story from Prof. Sekizawa, I just thought it appeared another one.
That means at that time you did not believe such high critical temperature was possible?
No. Because, you know, those super high Tc were reported in literature, were not liquid nitrogen temperature, but according to Sekizawa, the critical temperature of Bednorz and Muller’s material seem to be about ten Kelvin for the (???)tivity. So, I didn’t think it was high Tc superconductor.
Then, what following was that your research associate Takagi…
At that time, I just was ignore about the significance of Bednorz’s paper. Although I heard this story, I (???) about it. But I just told it to the young people around me, including Takagi and other students. And later, Dr. Takagi came to see me, and asked me where the paper appeared. But I didn't know that. So I called a phone to Prof. Sekizawa, and found it appeared on Zeitschrieft fur Physik. And he checked it on the literature, said that he wanted to take on it. Because at that time, undergraduate students we had just finished their exams for graduate school, and they were ready to start working on experiment. So Dr. Takagi wanted one of the undergraduate student work on the Bednorz and Muller’s material.
What name is that student?
He was Mr. Kanazawa.
And he did the experiment on that?
Yes. Because he was a undergraduate student, so I just had Dr. Takagi to report it in the easiest way. And in Bednorz and Muller’s paper, Bednorz used very sophisticated method to synthesize the material, he used so called coprecipitation method. So I suggested student just make powder, and (???)
In your paper published in the Japanese Journal of Applied Physics, I have not found the undergraduate student’s name.
We usually don’t put undergraduate students’ name on the paper. If he had been graduate student, we would put his name.
After that was the first announcement of your result. In your paper you said that it was November 21st in a meeting of Ministry of Education project. But in the Tanaka’s paper, it was said that was in November 19th.
Tanaka’s recollection should be correct, because he presented it.
Next should be MRS meeting. Can you recall something about that?
I remembered it was November 28th, when I was in Japan, and Prof. Tanaka talked with a Japanese great newspaper called Asahi Daily about the finding, and this article just appeared in November 28th. So when I left Japan at the airport I bought the newspaper and saw the article. So I remember it was November 28th. When I arrived at Boston, and when I arrived at the hotel, where in MRS was the Hilton, I have already met many people knew about the rumor, and I was asked by many people if it was true. Because I am a scientist, and I think the scientist used to do such that if he find something interesting, he want to tell the other people about what he has seen. So, of course I said “yes,” and they ask me if there are interesting things, and I said “very interesting.” About (???) at Japan, I was supposed to give a talk at MRS for barium lead bismuth oxide. So I asked for Tanaka if I could talk about new material. He told me not to do so, because at the time I left Japan, he was not sure what the material that was superconductive. Because in Bednorz and Muller’s paper, the composition was described as perovskite material, so we started from their composition. After first sample showed the indication of superconductivity, then, there were many students who asked to work on the material, to change the composition, to change the (???) condition, to change the atmosphere for (???). What they did was that they examined on the signal intensity of diamagnetism on those materials, and they tried to get (???) diamagnetism (???), in order to find out what was the right composition. They were reaching towards the higher diamagnetism composition. At that time, the research structure was most (???), and besides the resistivity was not zero. So we could not say it was higher Tc material, although diamagnetism showed that the superconductivity set in more than 23 Kelvin, the resistivity was still not zero. That was when I left Japan. So Prof. Tanaka told me unless they find the critical structure, identify the material, I couldn’t talk about it.
Your first paper was received by Journal in December 8th?
That was the second paper.
Your first paper was sent to the magazine before end of November?
Some person, like Robert Hazen, said that you give a talk at MRS meeting because Prof. Paul Chu first announce his discovery.
Yes, that was written in the book. When I arrived at the hotel, everybody knew about what we did. Prof. Geballe ask me to give a talk on the new material. After every scheduled presentations was over, he assigned me party minutes on December 5th.
It was before Paul Chu’s speak?
Yes, it was scheduled already. Without asked me, Prof. Geballe announced in the meeting that I was going to give a talk. So I had to talk. So I told Tanaka on the phone that I had to talk. Tanaka said “no, you should not,” because he did not know the structure yet. I called him several times while I was in Boston, and it was just the day I give the talk when they waited the final composition and the final structure. It was December 5th.
You gave the talk at evening of December 5th?
You just got the newest result in noon?
Yeah, before doing so, my talk was just before Prof. Paul Chu’s talk. When I finished talking about barium lead bismuth oxide system, then Paul talked also about barium lead bismuth oxide system. At the end he mentioned that there was a material reported by Bednorz and Muller, and Paul also worked on the same material as Bednorz and Muller’s. And he found the resistivity drop. So he said the material was a formative one. Somebody asked if Paul checked Meissner effect. He said that the Meissner signal was weaker than four or five per cent. That mean that he did not seen any indication of diamagnetism of that material. Because we have got a very large diamagnetic signal, so I raised my hand and made a comment that we have a result of much larger diamagnetism when Paul finished his speech.
That comment was made without agree by Prof. Tanaka. If Tanaka did not agreed, or if your group did not got the newest result, you will cancel the…
That is a very difficult question. It was already scheduled but Prof. Tanaka did not like to let me talk. I told him that I found I had to talk on December 5th. So I thought that Prof. Tanaka finally would agree to let me talk. He just told me: “wait, wait, wait.”
And you received the final result in December 5th?
Yes, it was in early morning of December 5th when Prof. Tanaka called me, and he said that now he was sure what was the structure. And besides, you know, one of the students believed 23 Kelvin by the resistivity, so he was sure that it was a really higher Tc material ever. So I eventually had to do hereto. And the structure was not perovskite structure but was so called 2-1-4 structure. Because before I left Japan we discussed about the very (???) structure, so I memorized the structure, and after I heard that 2-1-4 structure was responsible to superconductivity, I draw (???) a viewgraph, so I can show the precise structure of 2-1-4, and then I give a talk.
That is why Hazen said that you showed well prepared two viewgraphs on…
It was very (???) we had a viewgraph because I just wrote it down by my hand.
In case you have said sometimes that you discovered another material, Sr-La, that material was discovered by another group of Japanese.
Yeah. As I told you, that I moved from Prof. Fueki’s group to Prof. Tanaka’s group. Prof. Fueki’s group belonged to the department of industrial chemistry, and Prof. Tanaka’s group was in the department of applied physics, but the building was next to (???), a neighboring building. Prof. Fueki’s group had been working on oxide material for very long time, but Prof. Tanaka's group was new working on oxide material, so very many samples were synthesized in Fueki’s laboratory. And, actually Shoichi Kanazawa, who did the first experiment, was Prof. Fueki’s student. So we were mixed at that time, because I moved from Prof. Fueki’s group to Prof. Tanaka’s group, and Prof. Fueki and Prof. Tanaka were very good friend. So we were a actually mixed group, but after lanthanum barium cupric system was found to be a high Tc superconductor, there were some people in Prof. Fueki’s group who want to search for new material, but Prof. Tanaka’s group were working to refine the material and to do physical property measurement on newly found material. So Prof. Fueki’s group started looking to new material. It was (???) research associate Dr. Kishio who found lanthanum strontium cuprite had even a higher critical temperature than lanthanum barium system. Lanthanum barium system at that time had critical temperature 23 Kelvin, but when he found lanthanum strontium system, the critical temperature was very (???)ly thirty Kelvin, so it was more than ten Kelvin higher. So we were very happy, although newly found lanthanum strontium cuprite had same critical structure as lanthanum barium system.
The date of this new discovery was on December…?
I remember it was written there, at that time when I wrote a paper just on the day.
You said it was reported by Kishio —
So the discovery should before that and you can't remember the day.
When you did such kind of work before MRS meeting, you didn’t know Paul Chu was doing…
I knew Paul Chu, but I didn’t know he was working on the same material.
But why all you research results sent to journals of Japan, but not journals like Physical Review Letter?
The first several papers we submitted to Journal of Japanese Applied Physics, it was a favorable journal of Prof. Tanaka, because his department belonged to department of applied physics. So it was naturally to be found of a Japanese journal of applied physics. But Kishio’s first material was submitted to Chemistry Letter, because his department belonged to department of industrial chemistry.
It was another Japanese journal?
When Paul Chu sent his paper to Physical Review Letter, some troubles, someone said, happened in the peer review or something like that. But in Japan, what about the process of peer review or something happened?
There was a very interesting story about this. Our paper was submitted in sometime of mid-November, but the paper did not appear on the journal until February of 1987. So that means our paper was not headed in the early days of high Tc superconductivity research (???) Kishio’s paper because there was very slow to publish the paper. But Paul Chu’s paper and Bob Cava’s paper were different, their papers were some written in January of 1987, but their papers appeared earlier than our paper. So it was very naturally that their papers were heard by the other people. The editor, (???), of Japanese Applied Physics said he was very sorry for that. So he decided to publish a special issue of 1987 for high Tc superconductivity. That was (???) at that time decided.
And there was also a editor’s note in that issue.
Yeah. So I think Paul Chu’s paper and Bob Cava’s paper were treated as special ones by the editor of Physical Review Letter.
After that, the next should be the discovery of liquid nitrogen temperature superconductor. In Japan, why did your group and Fueki’s group think about such kind of substitution?
We did it already. We worked on the (???). Tasanaka(?) worked with a student, did the measurement very carefully. We have already worked on the same system. This is very natural. Everybody want to work on the new material in high Tc cupric system. It was very natural to work on the yttrium and we did so. But the funniest thing was that these materials all became green, so I told the students that green material could not be a metal, so they should not seek for new material appeared so beautiful, like green or pink. So I told they to find out black colored material. So they just discarded those green material. And later, in mid-February, they heard a news from United States that Paul Chu's group had found super high Tc material.
How did you get this news?
It was reported on newspaper at first.
I do not remember.
It was a Japanese newspaper?
Yes. It was reported on a Japanese newspaper. Even before that, there were many news about higher Tc new superconductive material at the end of 1986 already. There was a news from Institute of Physics, Academia Sinica, that they have reached more than liquid nitrogen temperature. I have forgotten who is was, but there was a sketching news in a Japanese newspaper already. So, there were many news, and many rumors. But in mid-February, the news was gradually defined. Despite that Paul Chu was (???) to announce his result (???) in his press conference, that’s how (???), and Prof. Fukuyama of Institute of Theoretic Physics of University of Tokyo, talked on the phone to some friend in the United States. He heard from his friend that Prof. Chu’s material was green.
It was before or after Chu’s news conference?
I think it was after the news conference. So I was really shocked. And I asked many theorists if green material can really become metallic superconductive, but at such time, theorists, all the physical theorists have lost their confidence. Each one of them, when I asked them, replied to me that: “maybe, maybe.” That was their reply to me. So my students has worked on green material again, my student made fool me, say me when I was going to resign from Prof. (???)
But, in Japan, the first discovery of yttrium material was made by another group?
After we heard about Paul Chu’s news, everybody started to looking for new material very intensively, and we did so too, but we couldn’t find liquid nitrogen temperature superconductor. But sometime at the end of February, and I forgot exactly when it was, there again held a small symposium on new superconductive material, at that time, Prof. Kagoshima from Tanaka’s campus of University of Tokyo, he announced to us that his colleague Prof. Shinobu Kikami found a new material with critical temperature higher than liquid nitrogen temperature, but he said because of patent application he could not disclose the material. So we were very sure to know that we couldn’t get to know. But a few days later, there was a Chinese student in the department, from whom we got to know that People’s Daily in China reported about the liquid nitrogen temperature superconductor from the Institute of Physics, Academia Sinica. So we checked on People’s Daily, and rechecked on Chinese dictionary, the composition, it was said, was ytterbium, barium, copper and oxygen system. So there were many group in Japan who bought chemical ytterbium oxide. At that time, we have already ytterbium oxide.
Before Chinese People’s Daily published the report on the discovery by Institute of Physics, had another group already independently discovered the same material?
I am not sure which was earlier when I got to know People’s Daily or Prof. Kagoshima’s announcement, I forgot which was earlier. But, you know, what I did when I heard the People’s Daily’s news, again, a very funny thing was that ytterbium is another magnetizer. So I thought that ytterbium could not be a good component for very high Tc superconductor. So I asked the newspaper company to check at Beijing. When newspaper company (???) in Beijing, called the institute to prove it, he found it was a mistake on People’s Daily. It was not ytterbium, the true composition was yttrium barium copper oxide. So I knew it was yttrium barium cuprite, but most other Japanese groups did not know about it, so they all worked on ytterbium system.
Also in that period, there were some rumors after Paul Chu sent a paper to Physical Review Letter, during the course of peer review, some wrong message was disclosed.
Yes. I think it was the (???). I have heard that in Chinese (???) yttrium and ytterbium can be very easily mistaken.
Yes, but in English, the symbols of the one element is Y, and the other is Yb. They are very easy to be distinguished.
So I think People’s Daily printed mistake in announcement of Institute of Physics, and the rumor about Paul Chu’s paper was a different story. Later, I got to know that after (???) submitted the paper to Physical Review Letter, they were put in very intense (???), they even had to worry about in that case (???). So I think there was no way to Prof. Chu to (???) element.
So the reason for so many Japanese scientists’ choice of wrong element was because of Chinese newspaper, but not rumor from Paul Chu’s paper.
They did not know that. There was no rumor in Japan about Paul Chu’s paper.
Was it a rumor in United States?
It was a rumor in United States. So very many Japanese scientists worked on ytterbium, but even funny thing was that they found superconductivity even in ytterbium. It was very interesting.
Can you say something about R&D and science policy on superconductivity in Japan? Like something about MITI’s program?
When high Tc superconductor was found in 1986, it was a time when Japanese economy became a very good shape. So there was a general tendency in Japan that Japanese government as well as Japan company should contribute to basic science more. So far Japan had chaste act just application of technology. So there was a opinion appeared in newspaper saying that Japan should contribute to basic science more. High Tc appeared just in time. So Ministry of Education was happy that universities worked actively on high Tc material. Science and Technology Agency, and Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) both have national research laboratories under them. And at such time, there was another movement in the government, that they want to make the government setting, small government movement. So on these national research laboratories working very well, they were supposed to make smaller in the near future. So official were judging national research laboratories very anxiously to make activities of national research laboratories higher. So they thought that high Tc research should be a very critical research topic for the scientists in national research laboratories. So those officials wanted high Tc to be studied in the national research laboratories. So they tried very quickly to make project on high Tc material. It was even in 1986 December, there was a government officer, Mr. Hattori, of Science and Technology Agency who arranged a forum, I mean meeting, between the universities people and national research laboratories people under STA. That was the first movement. Only in 1987, there was a MITI officer who visited Prof. Tanaka, so I think, at first they were thinking of activating of national research laboratories. That was the first movement. After Paul Chu’s discovery of liquid nitrogen superconductor, then it changed to a even bigger project, a really national project. Because they had already started planning for a national project, so they just made the project even bigger. That was how they tried to make. And because at that time the Japanese economy was in very good shape, so it was very easy for them to set up a national project. Actually I have to tell that Prof. Tanaka was a person who had established two national projects already by the time of high Tc. The first one was proto-large scale (???), (???) project, a semiconductive project. He made it a national project under MITI.
It was in which year?
It was sometime in 1970’s. And then he made a national project of (???) electronic (???), and it was in early 1980’s.
MITI’s national project was the third one?
Yes, this project was. Previous two national project were also under MITI. So Prof. Tanaka had got used to it. So for him it was the third national project. So he wrote a review paper in order to persuade people in MITI and people among industry. So the (???) meetings were frequently held early in 1987.
In your paper, you said that under MITI there were two committee, one was round table committee, and another was investigation committee. What was the different function between these two committee?
Investigation committee was a committee where scientists met each other, and round table committee, I think, was consist of even higher ranked managers of companies and higher ranked officers of MITI, where they talked about what trusted to high Tc technology. But in the investigation committee, (???) people met each other to discuss about high temperature superconductivity science and technology.
What should be supported by the MITI’s project and what kind of research was worth to do, and something like that, were determined by the investigation committee?
No. Investigation committee was just a place for information exchange. But you know, when scientists exchange information, that automatically means that they started to work on it.
But who decided what project was worth to do and could get money…
Yeah, you know, research started before they established project, so researchers at national research laboratories, under MITI, and under STA, already started working on the high temperature superconductor because of the information exchange in investigation committee.
There was no direction from the…
It did not force any forced by any people. Just because of information exchange, they could try working on the high Tc material.
What I want to know is that if this project includes some research in universities.
At first universities worked on high Tc material, at such time only we knew about high Tc, and they did not know about high Tc. So by having this source of information exchange committee, I think that MITI officers and STA officers tried to let the information flow from universities side to national research laboratories people.
Did MITI provide some fund to this project?
No. No fund. But of course, you know, they expected the fund to come if they worked for it and if they got good result.
Oh, this project had no fund but just…
Afterwards. Because you know fund can’t be established very easy, their research can be started. So they started research, of course immediately. So, at early 1987, I think they had started. But, as I told you, at electrotechnical laboratory, especially MITI’s laboratories, they worked on Bednorz and Muller's material even before we did. So for them it was very easy to start working on high Tc material. So researchers started working, and research project followed afterwards. Our fiscal year started at April, so the budget was already decided a year before for the fiscal year 1987. So they could not change it. So the national research project that they were discussing about at that time was for the year 1988.
But the money used in 1987 should be just reprogrammed from other project.
Yes, from other project.
So the formal budget for high temperature superconductivity should begin from 1988.
Right. Although I think that a little bit of money was spent on high Tc research from the extra money from national research laboratory. But the big project was established from 1988.
The name of this project was…
The national research project was set up in (???) that MITI established ISTEC, International Superconductivity Technology Center. Under ISTEC, they decided to establish a new research laboratory, called Superconductivity Research Laboratory in Tokyo. Prof. Tanaka retired at the beginning of 1988, and soon Superconductivity Research Laboratory was opened, so after retirement he became the head of Superconductivity Research Laboratory.
This research laboratory belongs to MITI?
Not exactly. You know, MITI and companies made this research laboratory. The most of the money came from companies than MITI.
Was there a committee for this project?
Yes, I think so.
I also want to know in Japan are there some structures about science organization and the way that researchers get money depending on some project or something like that.
No. In that sense we do not have very powerful centralized system. So MITI can decide its own projects and STA its own projects, although they have to get improved on the (???).
So different department worked independently.
Such departments all get money from government.
Yeah, they are all governmental.
And they support some subject belonging to their projects.
And that all began from 1988.
Yeah, big one. For example, Ministry of Education had a previous project, scheduled to be over at the beginning of 1987. So we did not have any money for the research at 1987. But Ministry of Education decided remaining in 1987 that they will tentatively give us some money although they did not any project yet, in order for us to continue our research. So we got some money. But it was not a project yet. And the project started at April 1988.
Were there some organizations responsible for the coordination among the different departments?
No, they were just competing each other. But their competition was very nice at that time. MITI, STA and Ministry of Education all said that my department was most suited to make the project for high Tc technology. Ministry of Education at that time was responsible to Japanese Universities, but not national research institutes, so they were all competing for the budget.
That means national research laboratories belong to STA.
No, some of the national research laboratories belong to MITI, and some belong to STA.
Did the researchers in that kind of laboratories focus on application or pure science?
Do you think that they played a very important role in the development of superconductivity?
Yes. Universities’ researchers are always frontiers, they do not go far in application. But in the case of national research institutes, they have acquired research project, so some of them worked on application, and some worked on finding new material, their project was much more (???) than universities project.
So, in Japan, the three most important departments responsible for supporting research on superconductivity should be MITI, STA and Ministry of Education. And they worked independently.
It is very interesting. In United States, maybe half of the funding came to DOD, and same one third come to DOE and some national laboratories, and they worked independently. But in China…
It’s completely different.
You think, in the international race of commercialization of high temperature superconductivity, which country has more advantage and can go ahead in that race.
Well, at this moment I think that United States and Japan may be the first countries to make the commercial, because they are already trying to make commercial products. But in order for the new (???) come out in reality, I think somebody have to work for it. In those days, the European countries were playing the role, and other countries just followed. Until 1980’s, it was United States who created most of the technologies to be the reality, and Japan did not contribute to make new make new industries except small things. I think Japan could be one of those countries who open a new industry, like superconductivity industry. I think somebody have to pay for it, in the case of high Tc at least at the beginning. I think Japan want to be that country which make high temperature superconductivity as a new industry. But United States is investing in a large scale. So I think some of the fields will be opened by United States, and the other fields will be opened by Japan. And the European countries are not investing a lot.
In United States, both some research reports about science policy on superconductivity and legislation for superconductivity, all focused the commercialization of high temperature superconductivity and paid more attention on Japan and were afraid Japan could go ahead, because in so many technology area United States invented the technology but the market was possessed by Japanese companies.
Yeah, the journalists’ view is very interesting to see so, but the reality is that, in technological field, United States by far goes ahead than any other countries. So it’s not just technology that Japan in these days had been doing quite well and competing with American companies, but it’s not because of high technology. Technology itself is possessed by United States to much higher level. It is just my impression. The only difference, for ten years or so, is just in United States companies have not invested actively. That is one reason. And the other reason is the way of companies’ work to make product have not been actively than Japanese companies did. That is the only reason that why Japanese products, like automobile, TV set and all those things were so later than American products. But in these day again, the makers of car have got a challenge from Japanese automobile companies. So they have become more serious to be competent. My point is that, although United States is a very advanced country, too much advanced in capitalism, so after competent capitalist system, only giant companies had survived. There was no competition among these companies. If you think of automobile companies, there are just a few automobile companies in United States for such a big market. In Japan, for smaller market, there are ten automobile companies competing very severely. So it is very natural that American automobile companies become too lazy. But Japanese automobile companies are competing very severely, so they have to make product cheaper and better. But now American companies have got a challenge from Japanese car companies, so they are now making better car, but it's not because of technology.
You think that the competition among Japanese companies are much more severely than American companies, so that is the reason that Japanese companies are more enthusiastic to invest on superconductivity.
Well, in the case of superconductivity, I think the story is slightly different. Among American companies, although they are very big companies, giant companies in this country, but they are rather like monopolistic companies, so they do not have very server domestic competition, so their managements have become more lazy, not to invest on new technology but to maximum profit. That is American company so far, until recently. If you think of steel industry, there are very few companies surviving in United States, but in Japan, again, there are more than five big iron and steel companies competing each other. So they have to invest in order to compete with other companies. So in this way, for the American big companies, it is very easy to continue making profit without investing for new area. But Japanese companies have to do so. They are in good shape when the high Tc came in. So every companies want to open a new field, so they invest on new field.
So, for this reason, maybe Japan can go ahead in the commercialization of high Tc superconductivity.
But, you know, in this country, there had been a tradition to have venture company, so there are several venture companies created recently, such as American Superconductor, and Superconductor Technology Inc. and several others. So those venture companies are doing very well. So I do not know which is more effective to make commercialization of this technology. In Japan, there already exist big companies that are doing research on superconductivity, and in this country, venture companies are working for commercialization mostly. So I do not know which is more suited for the new technology.
Finally, can you give some comments on the Chinese scientists working on superconductivity?
Well, I think, in case of high temperature superconductor, for scientists, in the scientific level, China can do very well, can find new material, can do basic research. But when coming to commercialization, you know, commercialization is such that we have to find the way to make product competed with other product. It has to be commercially useful. But in China, I do not think that they have the idea of commercial product yet. So in that way, it is not very easy. Although they have very good knowledge, and sometime they have very good equipment as well, but still to make commercial product is somehow you need a wide area of cooperation. To make even one single product, there are many necessaries which have to be coordinated with a such final target: commercially useful. Because I am not a economist, I am not very sure but there are not many people in China who are really making commercial product yet.
OK, do you agree to let the interview record tape to be deposited in the Niels Bohr Library of AIP?
Niels Bohr Library. And do you agree to let other scholars to listen to the tape or read the transcript and quote something from it for their publication?
Surely, I am be willing to.
You are welcome.