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Creating "Social Implementation Studies" to Bridge Advanced Chemistry and Future Societies

Institute for Social Implementation of Advanced Chemical Wisdom (Science and Technology Research Initiative)

Suguru Noda, Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering

Masahiko Matsukata, Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering

Commentary: Waseda Research Institute for Science and Engineering, University Research Initiative
Waseda University established Vision 150 to meet a variety of objectives for the 150th anniversary of its founding (in 2032), with 13 core strategies in development. One of the core strategies that have been laid out is "promotion of original research and enhancement of the ability to deliver this internationally." In order to drive this core strategy forward in the field of science and technology, seven research initiatives for responding to social challenges were newly established with the Waseda Research Institute for Science and Engineering (WISE) at its core. A research institute will be established for each initiative in April 2018 with the aim to pursue globally first-class research. In order to pursue interdisciplinary research and to strengthen international research in each field of focus, this group of research institutes, called the cluster institutes, will work cooperatively. The "Waseda Earth Restoration School" (WERS) will also be launched as a place where visions of future research can be formulated.

The seven cluster institutes established for each research initiative

Celebratory symposium for the establishment of the research initiatives, where research representatives and members of the seven initiatives gathered (December 22, 2017)

We asked the director of the institute, Professor Masahiko Matsukata from the School of Advanced Science and Engineering, as well as Professor Suguru Noda, also from the School of Advanced Science and Engineering and a member of the institute, to talk about the aspirations and vision of the Institute for Social Implementation of Advanced Chemical Wisdom, which was launched in April 2018 with a focus on the social implementation of advanced chemical wisdom research initiative, one of the seven research initiatives.

Contribution to a Sustainable Future is Imperative

Compared to the other research initiatives, the Institute for Social Implementation of Advanced Chemical Wisdom focuses on unique goals. In addition to the research in creating advanced studies in chemistry, they focus on the goal of establishing comprehensive research for effectively connecting chemistry and society (i.e. social implementation studies).

As civilizations flourished in the 20th century, chemistry supported the economic growth of developed nations. However, chemistry in the 21st century does not aim for the expansive development of the materials society, but rather contributions to the sustainability of our materials society. The vision of future societies, in which societies around the world achieve harmony not only in terms of conserving the global environment, resources, and energy, but also in terms of resolving the issues of poverty and disparity. This vision is laid out in detail in the United Nations Development Program called the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) (Figure 1). It is also a vision that aims to go beyond the various interests of governments and economies to prescribe options for the future that are the most beneficial to humanity as a whole.

Figure 1: The 17 goals to transform the world stipulated in the SDGs (United Nations Information Center)

"We've entered the 21st century, and are now living in an age where we must go beyond the interests of individual governments and economies to lay out guidelines for our global society. I strongly believe that now is the time for chemistry to change course and promote strategic research. The role of chemistry is large not only in the efficient utilization of resources and energy and the conservation of the global environment, but also in the 169 extensive targets set under the 17 goals of the SDGs. We consider the establishment of social implementation studies to be imperative, as a new methodology for planting the seeds of research that offer significant contributions to future societies, by assessing them objectively by a set of indices and clarifying the key seeds to be focused." (Prof. Matsukata)

The human body, the content of the natural world, man-made objects such as industrial goods and medical products—there is nothing in the world that is unrelated to chemistry. Despite this, because chemistry is an abstract and universal academic discipline for conversion and creation of materials, it is very difficult to visualize how it specifically relates to social applications.

"Because of the perplexing nature of chemistry, pure chemistry researchers, and even applied chemistry researchers, have been conducting research without knowing the ways through which their research is or is not contributing to the future societies, with vague believes that their research must have some impact. The distance between chemistry and society is not something that can be overcome by the individual efforts of researchers who are separated into complex fields of expertise. The central focus of our institute is to recognize the necessity of social implementation studies as a new academic principle for clearly presenting scenarios in which chemistry contributes to society." (Prof. Matsukata)

The Main Pillars - Cultivating Young Talents and Industry-Academia Cooperation

The vision of this institute is depicted as shown in Figure 2. We have established advanced chemical wisdom through activities of initiatives such as the Global COE for Practical Chemical Wisdom. We organize them into the following four interdisciplinary areas: function creation, advanced analysis, material conversion, and energy conversion. Furthermore, we raise the following three goals: 1. formulation of a new academic principle of social implementation studies, which focuses on connecting the advanced wisdom with society; 2. creation of new materials and medical products and advanced devices based on feedback from social implementation studies; and 3. cultivation of researchers that meet international standards for both social implementation studies and chemistry research grounded in social implementation studies.

Figure 2: Vision of the Institute for Social Implementation of Advanced Chemical Wisdom

"The core activities that will allow us to achieve these visions are cultivation of young talent through social implementation exercises at the graduate school and setting-up of an industry-academia collaboration consortium based on social implementation studies. In the industry-academia collaboration consortium, various companies involved in chemistry will participate to take part in discussions that are more realistic and have specific social applications as the premise, such as discussions considering the changes brought upon by the conditions of each country and region, or how in some regions, hydrogen fuels were more prevalent, while in another region, lithium batteries were more prevalent." (Prof. Matsukata)

The industry-academia cooperation consortium will be set up by the combined strengths of the members of the institute, who are faculty members representing each field of chemistry, as well as other faculty members who specialize in chemistry. Since the establishment of the institute half a year ago, two research conferences entitled the "Colloquium on Social Implementation of Advanced Chemical Wisdom" have already been held. They included lectures and discussions held by representatives of the industrial sector (shown in the photo below).

Photo: The Second Colloquium on Social Implementation of Advanced Chemical Wisdom (August 30, 2018)

The core of the institute's activities is led by newly hired young fixed-term faculty members. A young researcher who specializes in LCA (life-cycle assessment), that assesses the environmental impacts of a series of systems for products or services from the procurement of raw materials to their consumption and disposal, has newly joined and started leading the social implementation studies to move the practical research activities forward.

"LCA has focused on technologies, products, and services that already exist in the world today, but in practice, it rarely examines the emerging ones. This institute aims to establish an assessment method for future technologies. We will pursue a methodology for assessments from various aspects of not only the problems already covered by LCA, such as the impact on materials and energy, but also the impact on the social system as a whole, including economic, cultural, and regional values. The young faculty member will lead this new challenge.

The social implementation exercise has started in the graduate school, in which trials of quantitative technological assessments are currently underway to determine what technological systems are promising in terms of future social implementation, and what technologies are insufficiently developed to achieve it. More specifically, they will design multiple systems that combine the future technologies that will be introduced to society with various existing technologies to assess the performance of each system. Promising systems and scenarios will be clarified, which will be further researched in industry-academia collaborative projects." (Prof. Noda)

Waseda's Unique and Intrinsic Challenges

Starting with the assessment of emerging technologies and future systems based on LCA, the next step is to further advance the formulation of the academic principle of social implementation studies. The overview of social implementation studies as it currently stands is depicted in Figure 3. 1. Determine what technological seeds there are in the world, and what technological needs will arise in the future, and based on the information collection and knowledge organization of both the seeds and needs, 2. verify the environmental impacts and economic costs for those technologies and systems, 3. verify the feasibility of the capabilities and functions required for those technologies and systems, and finally, 4. visualize the results of phases 1 to 3 and present them in public to support the society to select technologies and research targets based on objective assessments.

Figure 3: Overview of social implementation studies

"Both of the following two approaches are indispensable for social implementation studies: a backcasting approach of examining the necessary scientific technologies based on the ideal vision of the future, and a forecasting approach of depicting our future image based on the seeds that researchers possess or envision. This is the reason why the first phase in the figure starts with the information of both seeds and needs, as well as the organization of that knowledge." (Prof. Matsukata)

"Currently, efforts in these four phases are only partially being undertaken in each of the various research areas. It will be difficult to establish a form of social implementation studies that satisfies all of these points in the five years of the first term of this institute, thus we first start with our target set to specific advanced research areas and determine the feasibility, and accelerate our research through cooperation with the industrial sector." (Prof. Noda)

There is no doubt that these unique initiatives conducted by Waseda will become crucial when considering how various scientific and technological fields, including chemistry, contribute to future societies in meaningful ways. The chemistry discipline in Waseda has long advocated Chemistry for Society, and in recent years, pure chemistry and applied chemistry researchers have joined together to develop projects with the aim of pursuing practical chemistry. Precisely because chemistry contains such a gap between research and social application, and because there is a social need in the 21st century to promptly fill that gap, Waseda University is in a unique position to intrinsically envision the social implementation studies. Future developments in this area are promising.