To make the most of existing RIs requires a constant effort to ensure that scientists can access them effectively, and that the infrastructures keep up with the latest technological advances and the ever-evolving needs of European scientists. Thus, since they have a crucial role in research and are very expensive to operate, RIs should be used efficiently and be well adapted in order to fulfil the requirements of the scientific community.
Several networks have already been created in Europe, with a view to optimising the use of infrastructures. Maximising the use and access to effective RIs in Europe is a key factor for competitiveness in research. Scientists working in the facilities can exchange best practices with external users. Remote users, industry users and foreign researchers can benefit from the services offered by the RIs. The same can be said for the RIs planned or under construction where several countries are involved.
The European Commission is supporting the development of a policy on research infrastructures at European level, providing added value by pooling talent, maximising resources, and helping to generate a strategic vision for the reinforcement of RIs in the European Research Area.
Through the Framework Programmes, the EC has been funding a number of projects which contribute significantly to boosting Europe’s research potential and reinforcing its research communities.
Under FP6, several schemes have been developed to better promote access to important research infrastructures through better networking activities. The Integrated Infrastructure Initiative (I3) was devised for larger projects to consolidate and integrate schemes into a single contract. In total, this activity represented 50% of the funds devoted to the RI programme. (See Networks of RIs funded under FP6)
The money available has been increasing: for FP7 (2007-2013) the EC will spend €1.85 billion on RIs.
Integrating existing research infrastructures is one of the key actions towards RIs under FP7. Since 2007, this activity has been implemented through both a bottom-up and a targeted approach: bottom-up responds to the needs of the scientific community in all fields of science and technology; targeted responds to the strategic research needs of thematic priority areas and thereby strengthen the consistency of actions. Ensuring continuity of support to existing networks of RIs is also part of the EU strategy.
73 Integrating Activity (IA) projects have been funded so far under FP7 with a total EC contribution of about €550 million. (See Networks of RIs funded under FP7).
One of the first I3 to integrate European Research Infrastructures is the Integrated Infrastructure Initiative for Neutron Scattering and Muon Spectroscopy, funded under FP6 and FP7. Neutrons scattering and muon spectroscopy are invaluable tools to study some of the most important research questions of our times. How can we safely store hydrogen to use it as fuel? How do we make smaller computer chips? Can nanoparticles be used to cure cancer? Since 2003, NMI3 has been funding Access to the best European facilities providing neutrons and muons to researchers working in fields ranging from materials physics to biology, from cultural heritage studies to food science, so that they can answer these questions.