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Leading the way for an advanced society in energy and healthcare through collaborations in medicine, science and engineering nanotechnology

Research Organization for Nano & Life Innovation

The COEs (Center of Excellence) introduced by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) at the beginning of the 21st Century with the aim of producing universities of the highest global standard have fulfilled their role by developing programs such as the 21st Century COE Program (MEXT website) (2002-2008) and the Global COE Program (2007-2014). Work is currently underway on the next phase in which industry and universities will work together to tackle challenging and high-risk research and development topics, and turn Japan's vision for the future into reality through a transition to a COI (Center of Innovation) policy.

Waseda University has been selected as the base for numerous 21st Century COE and Global COEs which have been introduced in previous articles. Many of these COEs' achievements have led them to become research institutes, research centers, and COI projects engaging in global, strategic, and focused fields of research. One of these is the Research Organization for Nano & Life Innovation, established in April 2015.

The Research Organization for Nano & Life Innovation was created by merging and developing the Institute for Nanoscience & Nanotechnology (established in 2003) and the Consolidated Research Institute for Advanced Science and Medical Care, Waseda University (ASMeW, established 2004). Its purpose is to centralize leading nanotechnology research in various fields such as medicine, science, and engineering, and form large-scale horizontal partnerships and industry-academic collaborations. This is all done in order to welcome the next stage of advanced social applications. To discuss these developments we spoke to the Institute’s Director Professor Tetsuya Osaka.

Professor Tetsuya Osaka of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, and Director of the Research Organization for Nano & Life Innovation, Waseda University

Eight device and platform laboratories

Nanotechnology has developed into a foundation for horizontal support in fields of telecommunications, environment, energy, and manufacturing. It can lead to innovations and new technology, and bring about innovations that fundamentally revolutionize existing technology.

“Waseda University has a long-standing track record of research in physics, chemistry and materials, and we enthusiastically set out to tackle nanotechnology research through partnerships formed at an early stage between researchers from multiple fields. We have managed a series of research bases organized by time-frames of three to five years. Waseda University is managing its nanotechnology research system from a long-term perspective by consolidating its various resources. What we need now are environments for innovation that will greatly impact society.” (Professor Osaka)

Looking back, there have been many major projects we have pursued for basic research into nanotechnology. These include the Global COE for Practical Chemical Wisdom, which sought to establish practical chemistry at the meso-level using nanotechnology, the Nanotechnology Foundry, a project that uses state-of-the-art facilities to conduct nanotechnology research and development solutions in collaboration with experienced engineers from industry, the Research Center for Cooperative Development on Materials, Devices and Systems, through which cross-field research is conducted with numerous faculty, and The Kagami Memorial Laboratory for Materials Science and Technology, which has accumulated nanotechnology over its proud history of almost 80 years. The role of the Research Organization for Nano & Life Innovation has been to bring together the latest trends in research and energy research, such as renewable energy and batteries, as well as projects promoted by The Consolidated Research Institute for Advanced Science and Medical Care, Waseda University (ASMeW). By encouraging partnerships between medicine, science and technology, this institute promotes a system of comprehensive research and development.

As illustrated in Diagram 1, the new research system is large in scale. Research organizations include the Research Institutes of Nano- & Meso-materials which serves as the foundation for nanotechnology and is composed of two laboratories—the Research Institute for Nanotechnology, and the Research Center for Mesoscale Materials. There is also the Research Institutes of Nanotechnology Devices which specializes in device oriented research and is composed of six laboratories—the Research Institute of Green Device, the Research Institute for Low-power Consumption Optical Interconnection, the Research Center for Advanced Electric Energy Storage, the Nano-processes Research Center, the Research Institute for Life Support Innovation, and the Integrated Institute for Regulatory Science. Each laboratory is led by a research leader who is a preeminent expert in their field and possesses a long track record of collaborative research. (See the Research Organization for Nano & Life Innovation pamphlet for more details.)

Diagram 1: Research and development system at the Research Organization for Nano & Life Innovation.

Building on the foundation of green energy and smart life

The following fields are priority fields focused on realizing wide range functionality in energy and healthcare: Green Devices, Energy, Life Support and Innovative Materials. Through collaboration, the laboratories are pursuing various R&D initiatives to realize this vision. There has been much research in recent years in the field of green energy. These include projects such as the transition to ultra-low power consumption of electronic devices, the progression of efficient low-temperature operation at chemical plants, and the development of new nano and meso scale structures. We hope to conduct R&D in green devices utilizing the prestigious nanotechnology research of Waseda University, and pave way for breakthroughs in ultra-energy saving technology. The development of batteries is particularly significant in demand. In wake of efforts to create a smart-grid society and deregulation in the form of electricity retail liberalization (to be implemented by 2020) and the separation of electrical power production and power production and transmission, the development of highly-efficient batteries is crucial.

“Waseda University has been selected for the Battery Research Platform (→ National Institute for Materials Science website) of the ALCA project managed by the Japanese government. We are serving as a joint industry-academic research platform for the development of battery prototypes utilizing next-generation battery materials. This is likely the first time a university is working in horizontal collaboration with companies from various industries including battery manufacturers, automotive manufacturers and materials manufacturers, and carrying out R&D until the prototypes are ready for practical use.” (Professor Osaka)

After being selected as part of MEXT’s project to develop bases of international scientific innovation through industry-academia partnerships utilizing local resources (→ MEXT website), Waseda University has worked on industry-academic collaborations with multiple companies from different industries including Toshiba and Toyota in order to create the R&D environment, materials, and performance evaluation environment for new battery materials needed to develop high capacity, reliable, low-cost battery systems. This has been built on the platform of a solid system of collaboration with the Research Organization for Next Generation Vehicles, the Advanced Collaborative Research Organization for Smart Society, and others that have pursued breakthrough initiatives in this field.

The Advanced Battery Systems Research and Development Project (→Saitama Prefecture website) is being carried out in Saitama Prefecture where Honjo Campus is located. Local sites are used in collaboration with Shin-Kobe Electric Machinery, Mitsubishi Electric, small to medium-sized companies in Saitama Prefecture, and others with the aim of developing battery systems that can be used in every conceivable location including residential, commercial, and industrial sites.

Diagram 2: The competitive advantages of Waseda University in the development of advanced batteries

Diagram 3: State-of-the-art facilities and equipment used in battery research and development

In life sciences where medical treatment is the central field, there seems to be no end to healthcare innovations that utilize nanotechnology. These include molecular imaging technology that analyzes the structure and functions of the biological body, technology that directly controls molecules within the biological body, applied technology in the field of minimally invasive diagnosis and treatment equipment, and drug delivery technology that allows pharmaceutical drugs to be delivered to targeted cells. In addition to medical treatment, the potential is also growing for nanotechnology to be utilized in the field of health maintenance and illness prevention.

“In the field of healthcare, the scope of nanotechnology is undergoing a major transition away from “manufacturing” towards “the pursuit of human characteristics.” In addition to medical treatment, we will see biosensors incorporated into every aspect of people’s daily lives. This includes information detection from the body and the connection of such information through networks. It is used for everything from dementia prevention, health and beauty, to large data analysis. With this transition comes the challenge of reducing the cost of semiconductor sensors. We are working in partnership with an American bio-venture on the development of disposable sensors.” (Professor Osaka)

In terms of projects with a focus on semiconductor biosensors, after being selected as a satellite base for MEXT’s Radical Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program (COI STREAM) and receiving major research funding, the Smart Energy System Innovation Center at Waseda Campus was completed as a Center for Smart Life Sensing Innovation.

Diagram 4: Utilization of semiconductor biosensors in IoT (Internet of Things)/IoE (Internet of Everything) society

Diagram 5: The Smart Energy System Innovation Center was completed in December 2014 (It has 5 floors and a floor area of 1,743 m3)

Towards a future-oriented strategic research system

Behind the efforts to build this dynamic industry-academic research system lies the painful lesson experienced by Japan’s state-of-the-art technology. Diagram 6 shows how Japan has lost its top share in technologies to followers such as South Korea and China over a very short period of time.

“It is clear the speed at which Japan is losing its market share is constantly increasing. Japan’s share of automotive lithium-ion batteries market has somehow held up at this level (right-hand side of the diagram). In order to avoid the same situation happening with batteries, we need to strengthen our strategic R&D system in anticipation of commercialization and standardization.” (Professor Osaka)

There are huge expectations for future initiatives implemented by the Research Organization for Nano & Life Innovation, which aims to establish a nanotechnology R&D system that contributes greatly to society based on a future-oriented style of strategic research known as “back-casting."

Diagram 6: Japanese companies’ global share of the electronic devices equipment market (Koichi Ogawa, (11), “Standardization and Business Strategies as Part of a New Japanese-style Innovation” [Shin-Nihongata Innovation toshite no Hyojunka Jigyosenryaku], first publication, revised by Kazuaki Utsumi)

Related links

Waseda University Research Organization for Nano & Life Innovation (formerly the Institute for Nanoscience & Nanotechnology)
Faculty of Science and Engineering, Waseda University
Waseda Research Institute for Science and Engineering
Waseda University Nanotechnology Platform
Waseda University Nanotechnology Forum