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Long-lasting cooperation

Many candles can be lit from a single one without diminishing the source of the flame.” Japanese and French researchers are surely familiar with this Japanese proverb, which sheds some light on the extensive nature of the alliance that unites Japanese scientific research with CNRS.

CNRS' primary partnership in Japan is with MEXT via the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), an agency that ensures the advancement of scientific programs in Japan and overseas.1 There is no question that both partners benefit from this relationship, and not only because of the complementary resources that they bring to it. Japan devotes a large part of its budget to the building of major infrastructure and the upgrading of equipment, whereas CNRS invests more in human resources, contributing the skills of high-level researchers to the collaboration.

This partnership is no brief flame, as the researchers at LIMMS (Laboratory for Integrated Micromechatronic Systems) confirmed this year when they celebrated the tenth anniversary of their laboratory's presence at the University of Tokyo.2 Initially established to enable development of microsystems capable of manipulating atoms and molecules, the LIMMS project has since gradually moved towards the frontiers of the “nano-world.” Its current goal is the development of functional molecules and nanostructures based on semiconductors–with invaluable applications to come, particularly in the medical field.

But CNRS and Japanese researchers also have other jointly organized laboratories, some of which are International Associated Laboratories (see box). One such research unit is the Joint Robotics Laboratory (JRL), devoted to research in the fields of robotics, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality, fields in which Japan excels, particularly in the area of humanoid design. Inaugurated in 2003, the JRL, with one of its centers in Tsukuba, Japan, is supported by French laboratories specializing in robotics. This French-Japanese association operates through both joint initiatives and researcher exchanges. So far, CNRS has sent two tenured researchers to the Tsukuba laboratories.

Another type of French-Japanese collaboration, International Research Networks (GDRI: see box), is focused on common research interests but within a broadly defined partnership. One example is the GDRI devoted to automated calculations of particle interactions, operations so gigantic that “manual” methods of computation are completely inadequate. Between now and 2007, the group hopes to develop processing techniques for automation and formal computation which will make it possible to solve this problem. Another GDRI, on the topic of “Catalysis and the environment,” aims to improve air quality and water treatment through three methods: reduction of nitrogen oxides (NO), development of clean fuel for fuel cells, and decontamination by photocatalysis.

Japanese and French laboratories are also working together on a number of cutting-edge research projects in less formal affiliations. One example is a study of brain function that will comprise at least two directions. In one instance, five teams will seek to understand the various stages of functional integration in the mammalian sensory cortex. To do this, researchers will develop methods for high precision imaging, down to the level of the synapse–in vivo! Other teams will attempt to clarify the interactions between various structures in the brain and their role in the neural network involved in the coordination and execution of specific behaviors. At another level, partnership agreements allow French researchers to use the Japanese “Earth Simulator” supercomputer, the envy of scientists around the world. This tool enables modeling of extremely complex phenomena such as climate behavior or ocean dynamics, all in record time. Last but not least are eight International Programs for Scientific Cooperation (see box) now under way, mainly in the fields of physics, mathematics, and chemistry.

All in all, these examples demonstrate the diversity of the themes and organizational structures selected by CNRS and Japan to bring together their scientific initiatives, especially in—but not limited to—the exact sciences. A new Program for Integrated Action (see box) entitled Chorus, which is entirely devoted to the humanities and social sciences, is intended to remedy the lack of joint research in these disciplines by the two countries.3 This gap will also be filled by the creation of an LIA entitled “Comparative Approaches in Social Sciences and Humanities” (CASSH), which unites four CNRS laboratories with teams from the University of Tokyo. Japan and Asia are central to many CNRS research projects, and researchers from the two communities have complementary skills and abilities in many areas. For example, French and Japanese historians doubtlessly can learn much from each other on the subject of Indo-China, as can economists with respect to post-World War II development of the two countries. Clearly a full-scale relationship between CNRS and Japan is taking shape; no longer limited simply to researcher exchanges, it is opening up the possibility of increasingly significant and effectively structured scientific projects. The many candles lit by Japanese researchers and CNRS are not about to go out any time soon.

Matthieu Ravaud

1. Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology


CNRS headquarters in Japan

CNRS has established an important foothold in Northeast Asia, more specifically in Tokyo, where its Japan office has been in operation since 1991. Since 2004, this office has been responsible for a broader regional mission extending to South Korea. Its task is to supervise the application of international agreements, ensure ongoing dialogue with universities and local research organizations, and enable the evaluation of projects in progress by CNRS' scientific departments. Its head, Günther Hahne, assisted by Kaoru Nishimura, also makes cooperation proposals to the CNRS administration, via the Office of European and International Relations (Direction des relations européennes et internationales /DREI), based on what his Japanese partners consider high priorities. Overall, the Tokyo office has one main mission: to strengthen the ties between French and Asian research.

CNRS Tokyo office/Maison franco-japonaise web site:


An organizational structure for every project

> GDRI/International Research Networks: A true research network, the GDRI brings together laboratories from at least two countries in a multiple and flexible partnership around shared areas of study. Its funding is intended to promote researcher mobility, information exchange, and the organization of seminars and workshops.

> LIA/International Associated Laboratories: An LIA is a “laboratory without walls” which associates one or two CNRS teams with one or two foreign laboratories for a renewable period of four years. Based on a jointly defined project, they pool their resources and receive additional support in the form of equipment, funded research trips, or positions for visiting researchers.

> PAI/Programs for Integrated Action: An “integrated action” is a research project undertaken by two teams, one French and the other foreign. Financial support, which comes from the Ministries of Research and of Foreign Affairs in the case of France, allows the researchers considerable mobility between the two countries in order to implement the project.

> PICS/International Programs for Scientific Cooperation: From one to three years in duration, a PICS grows out of an already firmly established collaboration between one or more CNRS laboratories and a foreign partner (through joint publications in particular). It makes funding available for research trips, meetings, and small equipment purchases.


In figures 

> 787,000: number of Japanese researchers in 2004 (out of a population of 127 million), a number that has grown continuously over the last three years.
> 31: number of CNRS-Japan cooperative actions at the end of 2004.
> 10: number of new joint research projects each year, funded through an agreement between CNRS and the JSPS.
> 800: average number of joint publications by France and Japan each year, more than half of which involve CNRS.
> 700: average number of CNRS researchers sent to Japan each year.

Contacts :

Minh-Hà Pham-Delègue
Office of European and International Relations (Asia-Pacific)

Monique Benoit
Office of European and International Relations (East Asia)

Günther Hahne
CNRS Tokyo office


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