The NeuralPro network was set up in October 2000 to offer training
opportunities to young post-graduate and pre-doctoral researchers
working in the field of rehabilitation medicine. The focus is on
electro-physiological research to assist in the rehabilitation and
movement of patients who have suffered damage to their central nervous
system from serious trama or disease. “By combining the results
of biological and electro-technical research, it’s possible
to make small devices which can be implanted into a patient’s
leg to stimulate muscles,” explains network coordinator, Wilbert
Pontenagel from the University of Twente.
At any one time, up to 20 European researchers have
the opportunity to participate in independent, high-quality research
with acknowledged experts in the engineering, biological, medical
and industrial spheres. Dr. Pontenagel believes the training experience
abroad is “extremely motivating” for these researchers,
particularly because of its multidisciplinary and networking approach.
“Fellows must learn to co-operate with a diverse range of
people from different academic backgrounds. The mix of countries
taking part allows them to compare whether a particular technical
solution can be accepted throughout the EU. They are also trained
in communicating with patients and in dealing with their reactions
to research ideas.”
Ten partners from the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy,
Northern Ireland, Germany, Slovenia, the UK and Belgium are involved
in the network, which brings together manufacturers, universities,
research centres and users around a single R&D objective. The
involvement of industry is particularly important and is something
Dr. Potenagel believes will prove invaluable to the researchers’
future careers. “Before these young researchers leave our
network, they will have an important decision to make – either
to continue with an academic career or to enter the business world.”
In an effort to help them decide, the network is planning a special
training course on entrepreneurship at their next general meeting
up to research success
The Mathematics and the Brain Research Training Network comprises
six laboratories in the UK, France, Belgium Austria and Italy, all
taking part in ground-breaking research to discover which brain
systems are involved in doing everyday numerical tasks like adding,
subtracting, multiplying and estimating. "Nobody is doing anything
like this research elsewhere in the world," explains network coordinator,
Professor Brian Butterworth from University College London. "My
guess is that if our work was not so exciting, we might well have
lost some of our researchers to labs in the United States."
Professor Butterworth believes the RTN idea is "very attractive"
to researchers. "The general standard of the 10 pre- and post-doc
researchers we've employed is very high. The big advantage for researchers
working in the network is that it's just such fun. There's about
30 to 40 people working in the various labs on the project and this
allows us to share findings, techniques, methodologies, and technologies."
Reaching a higher level of co-operation
The ETA Solar Cell Network takes the training of its six Marie Curie
researchers very seriously, so much so that it actually hired an
external project consultant to advise on the personal training aspects
of their time spent working abroad. “One of the most important things
the training teaches the researchers is how to co-operate with other
scientists within a network,” explains network coordinator, Dr.
Jeannette Wienke from the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands.
“This is a big step for many physicists and chemists because by
nature they are quite individual and their work up until now has
kept them quite isolated. The researchers are finding out that you
can reach a higher quality level if you co-operate and if you have
information exchange with other partners.”
The ETA Network, made up of research institutes in Estonia, the
Netherlands, Israel, Germany, Belgium and Sweden, was set up in
September 2000 and will run for four years. The aim of the research
project is to develop a new type of solar cell using inorganic compounds.
The new cell, which Dr. Wienke hopes will be ready in 2004, will
be cheaper to produce than traditional panels and will eventually
be used in the production of solar energy.
Examining the building blocks of our universe
Dr. Martin Haehnelt, a German scientist working at the Institute
of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge in the UK, is coordinator
of a Marie Curie Research Training Network on the Physics of the
Intergalactic Medium. Eight research institutes from the UK, Germany,
France, the Netherlands, Italy and Israel are involved in the network,
set up to study the gases that sit in between galaxies causing other
galaxies to form.
Over the four years of the network, EU funding allows the institutes
to hire 20 young researchers to take part in this cutting-edge research
and to organise numerous study visits and meetings between the institutes.
“I’ve a very positive feeling about the RTN. I think it’s a very
valuable experience for the young researchers involved. It gives
them the chance to develop collaborations outside their own institute
at an early stage in their career. As much of astronomical research
is driven by international collaborations, I think going abroad
is essential.” So far the network research has resulted in 70 research
articles which have either been published in the major astronomy
journals in Europe or are due for publication.
Training in new fields of research
Michael Udvardi from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology
in Potsdam, Germany, coordinates a network of nine research teams
from seven Member States (Germany, Italy, Greece, Spain, United Kingdom,
Denmark, The Netherlands) providing training in the new, multidisciplinary
research field of functional genomics. The group is investigating
the molecular and genetic basis of mutualistic symbioses (interactions
between plants and soil microbes) that provide legumes, such as Lotus
japonicus, with nutrients for growth. These symbioses are key to sustainable
funding allowed us to hire 11 postdoctoral fellow or PhD students.
The funding has been very valuable in two ways: providing training
in this new area of research, and in bringing specialised groups together
that weren't collaborating before. The funding has been used for various
activities including enabling trainees to spend time in a second network
lab, and organising three one-week workshops where trainees can learn
a new technology and network with other group members."
Professor Ilkka Hanski of the Department of Ecology and Systematics
at Helsinki University coordinates a network of seven universities
looking at the effect of habitat loss and fragmentation on populations
of animals and plants. "RTN support gave us the chance to hire eight
post-doctoral researchers, who spend at least two months of their
one- or two-year period in one of the other labs in the network.
We were able to hold five intensive workshops and a ten-day training
course, as well as our annual meetings," he says.
Susann Rohwedder of the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London is
very enthusiastic about the programme. Looking back on her four
years in a network analysing the structure of household saving and
wealth, she says: "One of the great benefits is that as a young
researcher you have the opportunity to attend regular conferences
with some of the global hotshots in your field. Moreover, you get
the chance to present your ideas to them at a much earlier stage
than would otherwise happen. so you build up contacts which stay
with you for the rest of your research career."
European training solution
Professor Rolf Reed from Bergen University in Norway is enthusiastic
about his Research Training Network on fluid exchange. Perhaps the
strongest point about the network he coordinates is that it means
that European researchers can meet regularly without having to cross
the Atlantic. "Before we started the network, we would only
meet the sort of people we wanted to meet at conferences in the
United States," he says.