EU research facilities to pool international talent

An EU forum has identified 35 projects for building large-scale European research infrastructures. These facilities are expected to become international ‘talent and foreign brains’ pools.

The European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) has published its first road map for new European research infrastructures. After two years of negotiations and consultation with high-level European and international experts and representatives from member states’ ministries of research, 35 large-scale infrastructure projects, which a sufficient number of member states are ready to support, have been identified. 

for infrastructures range from a research icebreaker vessel for marine research to next-generation radio telescope or European social survey monitoring long-term changes in social values throughout Europe. Seven key research areas covered are: environmental sciences; energy; materials sciences; astrophysics, astronomy, particle and nuclear physics; biomedical and life sciences; social sciences and the humanities; computation and data treatment.

These projects are currently at various stages of development, but the main issue is that in order for these research infrastructures to become world-class, they need more funding than can be provided by one member state. The 35 projects that have been identified by ESFRI have been agreed upon by member states. Now, “member states who have already initiated some of these projects are calling for others to join in,” explained John Wood, the chairman of ESFRI, adding that “the decision [on what to fund] has to be taken by the member states as they are going to pcontribute most of the money”. 

Some €14 billion are needed to make all 35 projects to come true. So far, the EU has, through the FP6, funded only existing research infrastructures. The upcoming FP7 will finance both existing and new ones with €1.7 billion from 2007-2013. The success of the 35 projects thus depends on member states willingness to support them. 

All these projects will be pan-European, which means that every scientist has open access to these infrastructures. The only influence of a member state paying or not paying for the project is then on governance, the way the project is managed and the long-term vision for the next 20-30 years. 

To read a full interview with the chairman of ESFRI, John Wood, click here.

"We are weak in Europe, and worldwide, on energy research infrastructure," said John Wood, chairman of ESFRI. 

"We have research infrastructures on nuclear energy, such as Euratom, but non-nuclear energy research infrastructures are still very fragmented: the solar energy research people work together, the wind energy research people work together, and this even nationally speaking," explained Hervé Pero, head of unit for research infrastructures at the Commission's Research Directorate-General. 

"Big research infrastructures can only emerge when the scientific community agrees that they have to work together at European level. For energy, this is not done yet. Energy research community is very fragmented" said Pero, adding that not having a common European energy policy is also a drawback.

"Research infrastructures are a critical element of building research excellence in Europe. Not only can they support the work of European scientists, but world-class facilities attract the best scientific minds from around the world. We can't afford to have 25 separate approaches to such facilities and the work of ESFRI has been extremely important in providing a common European approach. This is the European Research Area in action," said Science and Research Commissioner Janez Poto?nik.

The European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) was launched in 2002 to develop a coherent approach to policymaking on research infrastructures in Europe and, in parallel, to conduct negotiations between member states on concrete initiatives for such structures at European level.  

European research infrastructures are major instruments, installations and facilities that provide top-class research services to support the work of scientists in different areas (materials science, astronomy, biomedical applications, protection of cultural heritage) They combine scientific equipment, software (digital databases) and technical support and can be single sited, distributed or 'virtual'.

Examples of current research infrastructures include CERN, the world's largest particle physics laboratory and Géant, the pan-European data communications network for research and education.

  • A debate will be launched, in 2007, on where the EU currently stands with the European research area (ERA). 
  • Calls for European research infrastructures, under FP7, will be launched in 2007 and 2010.

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