Joint Research Centre - European Commission

The European Commission's in-house science service
European Commission

2000 -> Today

Preparing for the future

Technological advancements were continuing to develop at an impressive rate and were enhancing numerous aspects of everyday life across Europe. In this decade, amidst new ways of producing food, energy and consumer goods, the safety and well-being of EU citizens had to remain a priority.

GMOs: consumer choice

Genetically modified corncob (Bt maize)

Genetically modified corncob (Bt maize)

In 1998, the JRC started its activities on detection of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food by validation of analytical methodologies in the Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP) and production of certified reference materials in the Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM). This led to the creation of the European Community Reference Laboratory (CRL) for GMOs in food and feed in 2004.

Besides its activities on control of GMOs in food and feed, this CRL collaborates closely with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to support the authorisation process of GMOs in the EU.

Better testing for safer food

Sample preparation for verification of food origin

Sample preparation for verification of food origin

In 2002, a significant part of the activities on food and feed safety and quality was moved from the IHCP to the IRMM. From 2004, the JRC became a Community Reference Laboratory (CRL) in various fields of food control. The JRC increased the number of CRLs in 2006 and 2007 by inaugurating four more (to give a total of two in the IHCP and four in the IRMM).

The CRLs ensure that the testing for certain substances is performed to a reliable standard across the food chain, helping to guarantee the safety and quality of food for consumers. The JRC is well recognised for the support it has provided in emergencies, including the Belgian dioxin crisis in 1998, the BSE crisis and the 2002 discovery of acrylamide in food products.

Nuclear generation

The European Union currently imports 50% of its energy and, if the current trend continues, this may increase to 70% within 20 years. One third of the electricity in Europe is currently produced via nuclear fission, so the move to innovative reactor systems holds great promise.

In 2006, the European Atomic Energy Community became party to the Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems (GIF Framework Agreement). The “Generation IV” initiative concerns concepts for nuclear energy systems that can be operated in a manner that will provide a competitive and reliable supply of energy, while satisfactorily addressing nuclear safety, waste, proliferation resistance and public perception concerns. The JRC, with its strong international dimension, is not only the implementing agent for Euratom in the Generation IV international forum, but also participates actively in related R&D projects. The R&D projects are focused on fuel development, reprocessing and irradiation testing, fuel-cladding interaction and corrosion, proliferation resistance and basic data for fuel, reprocessing and waste treatment.

IAM --> IE

In 2001, the Institute for Advanced Materials (IAM) was renamed the Institute for Energy (IE) underlining its focus on EU energy policy development.

The three main scientific priorities of the new Institute are non-nuclear energy, nuclear safety and nuclear medicine.

Fuelling the hydrogen economy

Two new testing facilities opened in Petten, The Netherlands in 2005. They will provide policy-makers and industry with an independent evaluation of the performance of hydrogen and fuel-cell technologies in terms of efficiency, safety, environmental impact and reliability. The facilities contribute to the development and harmonision of test procedures, which are needed for the successful take-off of the hydrogen economy, and thus support sustainable development.

Smoke signals

Following the forest fires of 2003, the JRC worked with the European Commission’s Environment DG to establish the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS). This enables fire risk calculations to be made at EU-level while fire risk forecast maps are distributed via the internet to the civil protection and forest fire services in Member States.

Ispra cogeneration plant

Ispra cogeneration plant

Cutting down on waste

Cogeneration is the use of a heat engine or power station to generate both electricity and useful heat. The construction of the Ispra cogeneration plant was completed in 2003. After an initial period of testing, the plant was put into permanent operation in September 2004. It is highly efficient and saves around 30% in fuel consumption when compared to traditional technologies and produces fewer greenhouse gases.

Forward thinking

The JRC Futures Project was launched in mid-1998. With a 10-year time horizon, Futures identified the major drivers that Europe was to face in the beginning of the 21st century: new information and communication technologies and biotechnologies, strong environmental pressures, the Euro, as well as enlargement and significant demographic changes.

The Futures Project examined the individual and combined effects of technological, economic, political and social drivers.

Monitoring companies’ R&D spending

Published for the first time in 2004, the EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard provides information on the top EU and non-EU corporate investors in Research and Development (R&D). The Scoreboard has already become a reference document for evidence-based R&D policy-making.

As part of the overall EU strategy to foster private investment in R&D, the JRC uses the data collected in the Scoreboard to perform analyses of industrial research trends and developments.

Evolution in reference materials

Since 1994, when it took over the storage and distribution of all BCR® materials from DG Research, the roles and responsibilities of the Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM) have continued to grow.

The IRMM has developed a large variety of certified reference materials for industrial, environmental and food analysis, as well as for biotechnology and health applications. It was the first institute in the world to produce certified reference material for, among other things, the analysis of GMOs, genetic testing, and pathogens.

In May 2004, it launched the ERM® label, which is a guarantee of high quality and is only granted for reference materials that have successfully passed a peer evaluation.

October 2005 saw the inauguration of a new 1 550 m2 storage building to house about 600 different materials totalling 500 000 samples stored under controlled conditions. In 2006, 23 000 reference materials were distributed worldwide.

Design concept showing the new science zone

Design concept showing the new science zone in Ispra© EC (2007)


Ispra gets a makeover

Between 2003 and 2004, a careful analysis of the entire Ispra site was performed and a decision was taken to concentrate all scientific activities in a central area of the site, the “science zone”. New buildings are being designed and constructed, starting with the Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES). The overall aim is to make better use of space, reduce fragmentation, and so increase efficiency.


Targeted treatment

The JRC intends to improve the effectiveness of cancer treatment by radioimmunotherapy, which involves injecting the patient with a radioactive isotope “bullet” to selectively destroy tumour cells. In the past, treatment mainly involved the use of relatively low energy beta-emitters but, more recently, isotopes emitting alpha particles have been recognised as more effective. JRC researchers have been looking at ways to safely produce and handle these and, in 2001, the first European clinical trials of such alpha-immunotherapy started.

The JRC is also engaged in Boron Neutron Capture Therapy (BNCT) treatment, which is designed to damage only cancer cells wherever they are, sparing normal cells even in immediate proximity to the tumour.

Resisting conventional theory

Scientist operating glovebox at ITU

Opening of a source for insertion of plutonium samples

The JRC contributed to the discovery of the first plutonium compounds exhibiting superconductivity, a quantum mechanical phenomenon leading to zero electrical resistance when the material is cooled below its critical temperature.

The unconventional properties of the superconducting plutonium compounds are not completely explained by current theories. This sparked off extensive studies into the electronic structure of the actinide elements, yielding novel insights into the nature of superconductivity, magnetism and, ultimately, of matter itself.

Moving with the times

With the growing success of the Information Society, the JRC started a new line of research in the field of web technologies.

The Europe Media Monitor (EMM), developed by the Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen (IPSC) in 2002, is a web intelligence system. It provides a real-time press and media monitoring service to Commission cabinets and services, including daily reviews of press reports from Member States concerning EU policies. News articles are automatically detected as they appear across a large number of on-line media sites, and are immediately classified according to topic-specific lists of keyword combinations. EMM also provides a breaking news and alerting service.

Are EU policies effective ?

Modern econometric and statistical tools are essential for the analysis and assessment of key EU policies, such as growth and competitiveness, the internal market and education. Through its competences in data analysis, modelling, and information quality, in the 2000s, the JRC started to provide support to the European Commission in the fields of statistics, macroeconomic modelling, financial econometrics and sensitivity analysis, social multi-criteria evaluation and knowledge assessment.