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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 44 - February 2005   
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POLAND
Title  Taking a ride from science’s pole position

With 56 000 researchers, 31 000 doctoral students and a tradition of excellence in mathematics, astronomy and engineering sciences, Polish research is a force to be reckoned with in the European Research Area (ERA). Since the transition to democracy, Poland’s universities have gone from strength to strength. There is just one remaining weakness: private-sector industrial research in a country that, paradoxically, trains many excellent engineers.

The blue laser, produced from the synthesis of gallium nitrate monocrystals at very high pressure, permits a fourfold increase in the quantity of information stored on an optical disc. This technology was developed by the High Pressure Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
The blue laser, produced from the synthesis of gallium nitrate monocrystals at very high pressure, permits a fourfold increase in the quantity of information stored on an optical disc. This technology was developed by the High Pressure Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
To judge from the Nobel prizewinners over the past 100 years, for the sixth largest EU country in terms of population (38 million inhabitants) Poland would appear to be a minor scientific power. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, it is a country that has been carved up by its powerful Russian, German and Austrian neighbours on no fewer than seven occasions since 1772, only reappearing on the European map after the First World War.

Maria Sklodowska – better known under her married name of Marie Curie and the ultimate symbol of the scientist condemned to exile – won two Nobel Prizes, for physics in 1903 and for chemistry in 1911, but was living in Paris at the time. Later, Polish science tended to excel in areas for which there is no Nobel Prize: mathematics, in particular at the Lvov-Warsaw School between the wars, functional analysis and statistics; engineering sciences with the emphasis on aeronautics and mechanical construction; and agronomy and astronomy.  

From mathematics to astronomy
High Research Pressure Centre at PAN
High Research Pressure Centre at PAN
Poland in fact offers many examples of scientific excellence. The Stefan Banach International Mathematical Centre, founded in 1972 at the Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) in Warsaw, is very active in promoting East-West co-operation. At the PAN’s Institute for Fundamental Technological Research, Zenon Mróz is engaged in research on materials deformation that has found applications at General Motors in calculating the fatigue limit of automobile parts.

Meanwhile, at PAN’s High Pressure Research Centre, Sylwester Prowski has developed a technology for producing a blue laser beam from the synthesis of gallium nitrate monocrystals at high pressure, permitting a fourfold increase in the quantity of information stored on an optical disc. Then there is the OGLE (Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment) project carried out by researchers at Warsaw University’s Astronomical Observatory, who are among the frontrunners in the global race to identify planets beyond our solar system. 

With the exception of the Astronomical Observatory, whose research is not within a European Framework Programme, all these laboratories have become EU Centres of Excellence. More generally, Poland was a major participant in the previous Fifth Framework Programme (1998-2002): 13 899 projects involving Polish researchers were financed (including 192 coordinated by a Polish laboratory) out of the 46 460 submitted, representing a 30% success rate and total financing of €152.2 million. In 2003, Polish research teams also participated in 73 Eureka projects and 108 COST actions.

The weight of new instruments
The Southern African Large Telescope, to which Poland actively contributes.
The Southern African Large Telescope, to which Poland actively contributes.
Does this mean that Poland is fully integrated into the European Research Area? In their office at the National Contact Point in Warsaw, Zbigniew Turek, Director of nanotechnology, engineering sciences and aeronautics, and Anna Pytko, head of biotechnologies and medical research, make no secret of their scepticism. “Do you mean the Western European Research Area?” jokes Pytko.

The cause of her cynicism is what she sees as the excessive weight given to the “new instruments” of European research policy, i.e. Networks of Excellence and Integrated Projects. To date, there is just one Network of Excellence coordinated by a Polish team. “The new instruments are more suited to laboratories accustomed to managing large budgets or a very dense web of SMEs, which we do not have here in Poland,” argues Turek.

They both point to the falling attendance at the information days organised by the National Contact Point. “Considering the less than encouraging success rate for the first calls for proposals under the Sixth Framework Programme, many researchers are wondering what is the point of spending so much time putting together an application when the chances of actually being granted financing are almost nil.”

To meet this challenge of being a full player in the European Research Area, Poland now plans to make good use of the Structural Funds to which it has had access since it joined the EU. The Polish Government has announced that during the 2004-2006 period it plans to allocate €500 million of this to investments in R&D infrastructures, in particular technological platforms for applied research in the fields of transport, energy and construction.


Printable version

Features 1 2 3 4 5
  Taking a ride from science’s pole position
  The solid state of physics
  Behind the scenes of technological development
  The renaissance of the Nencki Institute
  Moving with the times

  READ MORE  
  The state of R&D

Following the dramatic destruction suffered by Poland in the Second World War, the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) became the focal point for the reconstruction of Polish research. Founded in 1953, it managed several dozen institutes around the country. The universities played a secondary role, although ...
 
  The heirs of Copernic

“In astronomy, competition is almost impossible due to the cost of the equipment and international co-operation is an absolute necessity,” explains Pawel Haensel of the Nicolas Copernic Astronomical Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. The history of the centre, which today ...
 

  TO FIND OUT MORE  
 

Some leading lights of Polish research

  • Warsaw University’s Astronomical Observatory
  • Stefan Banach International Mathematical Centre
    Contact : Feliks Przytycki
  • Centre of Excellence for High-Tech Materials and Structures
    Contact : Zenon Mróz
  • High Pressure Research Centre
    Contact : Witold Lojkowski
  •  

      CONTACTS  
     
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      Top
    Features 1 2 3 4 5
      The state of R&D

    Following the dramatic destruction suffered by Poland in the Second World War, the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) became the focal point for the reconstruction of Polish research. Founded in 1953, it managed several dozen institutes around the country. The universities played a secondary role, although some of them, such as Warsaw University and Cracow’s Jagellion University, had a rich research tradition. 

    After the transition to democracy in 1989/1990, the Polish Government’s policy was to restore the balance between these two players. The PAN, at one point threatened with closure, saw its mandate reduced. Nevertheless, the 4 449 staff working at its 81 institutes remain the elite of Polish science. At the same time, the universities have seen major growth. Student numbers now stand at 1.8 million, compared with 410 000 in 1991, and the number of   doctoral students has increased threefold over this same period. 

    Nevertheless, one major weakness remains: private sector industrial research which, in 2002, employed just 3 010 people, or a mere 5% of Polish scientific personnel. This is a paradox in a country known for the excellence of its technological research and that has the highest proportion of engineering students anywhere in the Union.

      The heirs of Copernic

    “In astronomy, competition is almost impossible due to the cost of the equipment and international co-operation is an absolute necessity,” explains Pawel Haensel of the Nicolas Copernic Astronomical Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. The history of the centre, which today has 45 astronomers and around 20 students, is itself a good illustration of the fact. Inaugurated in 1978, it was built and equipped partly thanks to funding from the US National Academy of Science that wanted to celebrate the 150th birthday of Copernic, that most famous – along with Marie Curie – of Polish scientists.

    “At the time, the centre already saw itself as a bridge between the East and West,” remembers Haensel, a world-renowned expert on neutron stars or pulsars. “This aim remains valid today.” The Astronomical Centre has entered many partnerships, including with the University of St Petersburg in Russia. It is also a partner in several European Space Agency programmes, such as First (Far Infrared and Sub-Millimetre Telescope) which will provide new information on galaxies, and Integral (International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory). It also co-operates on international programmes, including the Southern African Large Telescope, which is partly financed by Poland.

    Specialised in cosmology, the centre is a partner in the Planets programme, which is supported by the EU and coordinated by Heidelberg’s Institute of Astronomy. This project promotes mobility between German, English, French, Swedish, Swiss and Polish laboratories.

    TO FIND OUT MORE

    Some leading lights of Polish research

    CONTACTS