Revitalizing Japanese physicsLeave a Comment
Welcome to the latest Physics World special report on Japan, which examines some of the challenges and opportunities facing Japanese physics.
Physics World is published by IOP Publishing, which has a long relationship with the physics community in Japan, and this report is based in part on a week-long visit that we made to the country in November 2017. Organised with Kosei Kamata from the Tokyo office of IOP Publishing, we interviewed and held discussions with more than 30 physicists and policymakers, and visited notable labs such as RIKEN, Superkamiokande and the KAGRA gravitational-wave detector.
The Physics World special reports, which have so far covered Brazil, China, Korea, India, Mexico and the USA, are designed to shine a light on physics in different nations around the globe. The message that we received from our visit to Japan is that while it has traditionally been one of the powerhouses of world physics – 13 Japanese physicists have so far won a Nobel prize – the country is losing its international competitive edge. This is reflected in a declining number of papers published in physics and stagnant research budgets.
This report includes an interview with Yuko Harayama, a member of Japan’s Council for Science, Technology and Innovation, who advocates extra spending on science and doing more to attract foreign researchers. You can also read our interview with Yasuhiro Iye, executive director of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), who is worried that many potential physics students are being lured into other areas, such as biosciences and information science.
Meanwhile, Tateo Arimoto, a senior Japanese policy expert, says that the country must now reform its education system and give greater priority to basic science in an attempt “to make it more open, flexible, inclusive”. One interesting effort on that front is the World Premier International Research Centre Initiative (WPI), which seeks to bring talented overseas scientists to the country. Funded through the JSPS, there are currently nine WPI research institutes, each of which is mandated to have at least 30% foreign researchers.
However, Japan can be a difficult country for outsiders to settle in, especially for scientists with a partner or children. The country also suffers from a long-standing problem of “power harassment”, whereby bosses who don’t like certain staff can make their life tough. Help for international faculty is slowly improving thanks to the work of dedicated support officers at certain institutions, but much more needs to be done to make Japanese science truly international and to reverse the recent worrying decline in physics.