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Jan. 4, 2021

New Year's Greeting: Welcome to 2021

Image of President MatsumotoHiroshi Matsumoto, President, RIKEN

Welcome everyone to the new year, 2021. Last year, humanity found itself at the mercy of a novel coronavirus that has swept over the globe. I would like to express my deepest sorrow for the many lives lost to this infectious disease. I would also like to express my heartfelt sympathy to those who are still battling the disease and to their families, and to those have lost their jobs or livelihoods due to the pandemic.

In the face of the pandemic, RIKEN must respond to the needs of society and apply the wisdom we have accumulated during the more than 100 years since our founding, producing innovative research results. Based on this strong conviction, two weeks after the declaration of a State of Emergency in April 2020, we launched a special project on COVID-19, allocated funds to it from the President's Discretionary Fund, an internal funding mechanism, and began to encourage collaborations both inside RIKEN and with outside research institutes, universities, and companies in Japan and around the world. In 2021, we will continue to put our comprehensive resources into research related to COVID-19s. We will leverage our expertise in immunology, genetics, structural biology, and other fields, as well as a variety of technologies such as computational science, artificial intelligence, and AI-based drug discovery that we have been working on in recent years.

On specific issues, RIKEN was among the first institutes around the world to successfully carry out complex simulations to reveal the structural dynamics of the enzyme required for the propagation of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The MDGRAPE-4A, a supercomputer dedicated to molecular dynamics simulations that began operations in 2019, played an active role in this project. We hope that these results will contribute to the development of drugs that inhibit viral replication and to the screening of candidate molecules. The raw data from the simulations have also been made available in an international database for free use by researchers conducting drug discovery around the world.

Also, we have provided computational resources from the supercomputer Fugaku, which is still under development and scheduled for completion this year, is also still in the process of development and maintenance, to support research and development related to the pandemic. At present, six projects are underway, and already they have borne fruit: researchers have succeeded in making new simulations of the spread of virus droplets that are far more accurate than previous simulations. This was first announced in June, just as the State of Emergency was being lifted and economic activities were resuming. The findings on physical distancing in indoor spaces such as schools and offices, as well as comparisons of droplet spread depending on different types of masks and ways of wearing masks, were reported by media around the world. This research is continuing, and in addition to assessing the risk of droplet infection, which can be used as a reference when planning events and operating restaurants, we are expanding the scope to include analyses of the spread in high-speed trains, buses, and taxis.

In addition to our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been focusing on finding ways to return the results of our research more directly to society. As a pillar of this effect, we established a wholly owned subsidiary, RIKEN Innovation, in September 2019. Further, in the fall of last year, RIKEN and RIKEN Innovation worked in partnership with a private company to establish RIKEN Suuri Corporation, a firm that focuses on mathematical tools. At a time when society is being dramatically changed by digital transformation (DX) and the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), it is important to note that mathematical science is an academic discipline that forms the basis for the development of all science and technology, and ultimately for the development of society. We believe it is significant that our first venture investment was made into a company whose business is mathematical sciences. Through this, we have made a strong start toward creating completely new innovation during our first year of operation.

As I mentioned earlier, Fugaku will be completed this year. Already, in the biannual ranking of the world's supercomputers announced at major high-performance computing conferences, Fugaku became the first system to won all four top awards in June last year, and then repeated the feat in November. These awards are a testament to the high overall performance of Fugaku. Once it is fully operational, it will be used as an information infrastructure for solving social issues and accelerating AI research and development in the context of Society 5.0, a plan to realize an ultra-smart society.

Also, in April of this year, RIKEN will establish a new research center focusing on quantum computing. The center will carry out research and development involving basic science, technology, hardware, and software related to quantum computers, which could revolutionize the world of computing. In certain areas, they could quickly find solutions to problems that would take astronomical amounts of time for conventional supercomputers. By promoting the research and development of such computers, we will encourage the shift to Society 5.0 and take on the challenge of realizing quantum computers that can calculate and analyze big data, which will become increasingly expansive and complex, at high speed and high precision.

In addition, there is more big news for RIKEN this spring. With the rapid development of science and technology, the relationship between science and technology and the state of humanity and society is becoming more and more interconnected, and there are plans to revise the Basic Act on Science and Technology. In response, the RIKEN Law, which governs RIKEN's research activities, will also be amended. Based on the amendment, the scope of RIKEN's research will be expanded to include not only the natural sciences but also the humanities and social sciences, and we will be called upon to develop into a research institute that can conduct more comprehensive research. The English word "science" comes from the Latin word "scientia" meaning knowledge. By approaching the knowledge that mankind possesses from all angles, we will aim to develop a more comprehensive science.

At the beginning of this new year, all of us, including the other members of our Board of Executive Directors, renew our commitment to making further contributions to the development of science and technology, and to the creation of innovations that contribute to the lives of the people. In 2021, we will continue to carry out research activities to meet society’s expectations toward us as a specialized national research institute. I look forward to your continued support of RIKEN in the coming year.