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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 48 - February 2006   
 A scientific conclave and public meeting
 Concerted voices on strings
 Two months flat on their backs
 The wild card of distributed production
 Action stations for in vitro
 Wolfgang Heckl’s straight talking
 The added value of mobility
 Analysis of a stalled constitution

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263°C below zero at CERN

The cyrogenics experts working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the particle accelerator so eagerly awaited by researchers at CERN (Geneva), are notching up success after success. In September 2005, an initial test was successfully completed involving the pressurising and cooling of the first 600 metres of the cyrogenic distribution line that feeds the low-temperature supraconducting magnets. In November, a complete LHC sector – over 3 km, or an eighth of the total – began to cool. The line was first subjected to a pressurised pneumatic test and was cleansed of all impurities before the powerful surface refrigerators brought down the temperature. After three days it had fallen to -263°C. The cyrogenic temperature was then checked by thermometers, heaters and pressure sensors, while the heat losses on the line were measured regularly.

The LHC will operate at around 300 degrees below the ambient temperature, which is a temperature even lower than that of the space vacuum. With a circumference of 27 km, the accelerator will be the world’s largest supraconducting installation and will be able to probe space as never before. Start-up is scheduled for 2007. 

The number of researchers…

Source: Monitoring Industrial Research: The EU industrial R&D investment scoreboard
The private sector saw a 29% increase between 1995 and 2003, especially in the services (151%) and mainly in the field of computing. It is the large countries (Germany, United Kingdom, France) that employ most researchers in large industrial companies and the smaller countries that employ most in SMEs. In Germany, for example, around 80% of researchers are employed in companies with more than 500 employees.

Source: Monitoring Industrial Research: The EU industrial R&D investment scoreboard

Biotechnologies: 100 ideas to act on

Cover catalogue "100 Technology offers stemming from EU Biotechnology RTD results"
Aquaculture, bioremediation, gene therapy, nanotechnologies, new medicines, veterinary products, food, fine chemicals… are just some of the fields featured in the catalogue 100 Technology offers stemming from EU Biotechnology RTD results, recently published by the Commission. One hundred research projects in the vast field of the life sciences are presented in a series of very pragmatic fact sheets. For each project, details are given of the technology developed, the state of progress, acquired or desired intellectual property rights, the potential for exploitation (innovative aspects, product benefits, etc.) and fields of application. Finally, details are given of the organisation (university, start-up, industry, etc.) and contact points.

These 328 pages report on the work carried out in recent years by European teams who have benefited from specific EU support to encourage co-operative research in promising fields with real potential to culminate in industrial production. The last three RTD Framework Programmes (1994-2006) have gradually increased their action in this area, with the Biotech II programme (1994-1998), the Cell Factory key action (1998-2002) and the Biotechnology and Applied Genomics component of the Health priority (2002-2006). A budget of €10 billion is proposed to continue this specific support under the Seventh Framework Programme. 

For a number of years now, the Union’s desire has been to make researchers more aware of questions of intellectual property and technological innovation. As part of this approach, partners in projects supported by the EU are now required to draw up a plan for technological implementation. The Commission is also set to propose guidelines aimed at increasing the transfer of knowledge between the world of research and industry. 

  • To find out more
    100 Technology offers stemming from EU Biotechnology RTD results
    The brochure can be downloaded, in English.

Descartes Prize 2005

Sometimes known as Europe’s ‘Nobels’, the EU’s Descartes Prizes are awarded in two fields. The most important concerns excellence in research but, unlike the famous Nobels, they are not awarded to individuals but for work undertaken by pan-European teams. The other Descartes Prizes go to excellence in scientific communication and in this case reward individuals. The 2005 Descartes Prizes were awarded in London, at the home of the Royal Society, last December.(1)

Research Eighty-five projects competed – more than three times as many as last year – in the various fields.(2) True to tradition, a panel of experts first came up with a shortlist of 14 teams to go forward for consideration by the Grand Jury. With its members replaced every year, this is made up of key figures from various disciplines and backgrounds – scientific, industrial, political – who have the task of choosing the five winning teams who each receive a prize of €200 000 (see photos). This year, five other finalists were also selected for a second prize, worth €30 000. The jury was chaired by Professor Ene Ergma, Vice President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences and President of the Estonian Parliament.

Communication Prizewinners in this category are selected from among the candidates submitted by associations or organisations. 

This year’s winners include a Swede, Dr Carl Johan Sundberg , Professor of psychology, who believes that “the best way to learn is to teach”. Outside of the traditional university lecture theatres, Dr Sundberg has developed courses in bio-medicine tailored to the needs of journalists and courses in communication for pure science PhDs. His other activities include giving talks in schools and helping design exhibitions at science centres. 

A little further south, Anja Andersen from Denmark, a young astrophysicist, juggles her career as researcher and journalist – she is the expert adviser to the TV science programme Kosmos – with her role as a mother. Her special gift is the ability to explain the most complex information in the most understandable way.

Bill Bryson of the UK won the Aventis Prize for his popular science book back in 2004. In a trip through space and time, A Short History of Nearly Everything tells of the development of the universe, from the Big Bang to the present day, dealing with the theory of relativity and quantum theory along the way. 

The Belgian Jos Van Hemelrijck attracts a big audience every Thursday evening with his TV programme which invites an individual scientist or team of researchers to explain their work, the aim of their research, and how they set about resolving baffling problems. 

As to Michael Seifert, he is the originator of the Kinder-Uni movement that was launched at the University of Tubingen. This opened up the doors of the university to children aged between 8 and 12 during the summer months for discussions on subjects ranging from volcanoes to social differences and human cloning. The children are taken every bit as seriously as the adult students and the professors who teach have no option but to respond to their curiosity in the clearest possible language.   

These five prizewinners shared €200 000.

(1) See also the list of publications .
(2) There were 17 submissions for fundamental research, 22 for the life sciences, 10 for the Earth sciences, 8 for information sciences, 15 for engineering, and 13 for social and economic sciences. 

Exel Greek, German, Turkish and American physicists have developed a new class of artificial meta-materials – the LHMs (Left-Handed Materials) or NIMs (Negative Index Materials) – with potential applications in the field of medical imaging and telecommunications.

Ceca (Norway, Germany, Russia) is concentrating its research on the effects of climate change in the Arctic and was rewarded for its progress in understanding the melting of the glaciers in this region which is particularly vulnerable to pollution.

Pulse includes British, Italian, German and Dutch researchers who are trying to penetrate the laws of fundamental physics that governed the birth of the universe. They have demonstrated the impact of the European pulsars study on modern physics.

The EES project
The EES project developed new methods for carrying out transnational surveys to evaluate changes in the attitudes and aspirations of Europe’s citizens.

In the medical field, Euro-Pid has carried out research on PIDs (Primary Immunodeficiencies), a group of over 130 rare genetic diseases. Seven European teams worked on clinical trials and achieved progress in identifying gene therapy solutions.

Citizens for the city of tomorrow

Citizens for the city of tomorrow
A group of 26 people from every EU country plus Romania met in Vienna, then Rome, then Brussels, in September and October last year. They had been selected from 570 candidates by the Raise project to form a small ‘citizens’ conference’ that would hopefully be representative of the inhabitants of Europe’s cities. The purpose of these meetings was to evaluate the research programmes supported by the Commission under the key action ‘The city of tomorrow and cultural heritage’ and to discuss the subject more widely. Their analyses resulted in a joint declaration, presented to the European Parliament in December 2005.

Unsurprisingly, the text defends public transport (“we represent 10% of the world’s richest nations and yet it is us who show least respect for the principles of sustainable development”), walking and cycling, preservation of the heritage (“our cultural past must be part of our present”) and improvement of urban policies, in particular through greater citizens’ participation (“poor governance produces poor outcomes”).

"Responsible decisions must take into account the opinions of the people concerned. Initiatives such as this declaration are invaluable because they allow those who live and work in our cities to have their voices heard,” stated Janez Potočnik, Commissioner for Science and Research. His words were certainly an encouragement for the Raise members, a consortium of partners from Italy (Institute of Studies for the Integration of Systems -ISIS), Austria (The Interdisciplinary Centre for Comparative Research in the Social Sciences - ICCR), Belgium (Ramboll Management), Romania (Impact Consulting Ltd) and Poland (The Foundation for European Scientific Cooperation - FEWN).

Giove-A, a first step towards Galileo

Giove-A © ESA
To end 2005 in style, Giove-A, the first Galileo system demonstration satellite, was launched into orbit on 28 December. The fruit of a partnership between the European Space Agency and the Commission, Galileo is essential for Europe as it will provide it with its own global satellite navigation system. It will be compatible with the American GPS and Russian Glonass systems, on which Europe is currently dependent. Just about every aspect of daily life is linked to some extent to the constant ‘monitoring’ from space – from transport to telecommunications and including weather forecasting, civil protection, agriculture and construction.

Ethics: the EGE’s verdict and thoughts

"The EGE is concerned not with what can be done, but with what ought to be done (…). Their analyses are not carved in stone but strive to look back at the evolution of science and society and also to look forward to future developments,” writes Commission President José Manuel Barroso in his introduction to the latest general report on the activities of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies, which has just completed its second mandate.

Launched in 1997, this neutral, pluralist and multidisciplinary body advises the Commission – either on request or at its own initiative – on ethical aspects of designing and implementing Community legislation or policies. The most recent of these opinions concerns the patentability of inventions involving human stem cells, clinical research in the developing countries, genetic tests in the framework of employment, umbilical cord blood banks and ICT implants in the human body. The Group has also published a Report on the ethical aspects of the marketing of products originating in human tissue engineering.

Although addressed to the Commission, these analyses are of interest to a much wider audience. Available on the internet, the EGE texts offer a wealth of ideas and reflection that have attracted the attention of many people whose interests extend to their ‘environment’ – in every sense of the word – and the EGE site is experiencing growing success. In 2004, it recorded some 120 000 visits within the EU alone. Half of them say they visit the site regularly as an information source. Their interest in ethical issues and the position the Commission may adopt in this field should please Göran Hermerén, the EGE president. He believes that “standards and values play a primordial role in the integration of members of the European Union” and that “it is not the values in themselves that are typically European but rather the specific hierarchy that is constructed with them”.

The EU budget: a boost for research

The European Council’s agreement on the EU budget for 2007-2013, reached on 17 December last year, cut 24% off the Commission’s initial estimation of needs. In January 2006, this agreement was subsequently called into question by the European Parliament which took the view that the compromise would not permit the Union to implement the ambitious policies it needs.

Concerned at the prospect of delays in negotiating a new financial solution, Commissioner Janez Potočnik, responsible for science and research, believes that work on finalising and launching the Seventh Framework Programme must proceed as planned. If not, he warns, there will be a damaging interruption in European support for the research sector within the next year. 

Even reduced, the financial framework put together at the summit of EU leaders represents, in real terms, a growth in funds allocated to European research of 75% in 2013 compared with the 2006 level.(1) While this is not the desired ‘doubling’, it does mark certain progress. Moreover, Janez Potočnik has given the assurance that such a budget would not affect the structure or philosophy of the programme priorities as currently proposed. He therefore urges the EU political players – both governmental and parliamentary – to formulate as quickly as possible their common position on the ways and means of European research policy through to 2013. 

(1) The European Council has also given its backing to the Commission proposal to create a new financial mechanism, in co-operation with the European Investment Bank, that would make available €10 billion to strengthen R&D investments in Europe.

New Director for the Research DG 

José Manuel Silva Rodrigues
Since 1 January 2006, the European Commission’s Research DG has been headed by José Manuel Silva Rodrigues, Director-General of the Agriculture and Rural Development DG since 1999. His predecessor, Achilleas Mitsos, is not leaving the Research DG but will remain in the important post of adviser hors classe.

José Manuel Silva Rodrigues (55) is an agricultural engineer by training. A member of the team who negotiated Spain’s accession to the European Union between 1983 and 1986, he was subsequently appointed to Commissioner Manuel Marin’s office. He later joined the Agriculture DG where he has spent his entire European Commission career. 

Cleaner cars – the Euro 5 standards

Cleaner cars – the Euro 5 standards
The new Euro 5 limits could enter into force in 2008. These would reduce the particle emissions of diesel engines by 80% (by means of ad hoc filters) and of nitrogen oxide (NOx) by 20%. For petrol engine cars, nitrogen oxide and volatile component emissions would have to be cut by 25%. The draft proposal drawn up by the Commission, which must still be examined by the European Parliament and Council, follows wide-ranging consultation with the parties involved, as well as the general public, by means of the internet. Günter Verheugen, Commission Vice President and Commissioner for Enterprise Policy and Industry, believes that “the new emission standards will enable our automotive industry to retain its competitive position”.

Two days of reflection on the ‘soft sciences’

"Without access to high-quality social and human science, Europe will simply be unable to interpret its own situation in a global context,” declared Björn Wittrock of Uppsala University (SE) at the Social Sciences & Humanities in Europe conference organised by the Research DG in December. This was the first meeting of its kind and as such was symbolic of the EU’s growing interest in and recognition of the ‘soft sciences’. Already integrated in the Sixth Framework Programme, they are now set to be given a very real boost under the Seventh Framework Programme. During this two-day meeting, the various players in the social sciences and humanities looked at different avenues to be explored in shaping a European research strategy in this field. The subjects studied and the workshops organised covered the three main fields that will be targeted in the Framework Programme: growth, competitiveness and employment in a knowledge-based society; trends in society and European citizens; Europe and the world. 

The debates were not limited to concrete proposals in the various fields as, for many of the speakers, this was an opportunity to reflect on the nature and evolution of the human sciences.

The traditional frontier between natural sciences and social sciences or humanities was raised, for example, by the linguist Alain Peyraure, a specialist on the languages of East Asia, who showed how the divide is disappearing as knowledge develops, citing cognitive sciences and the sciences of complexity as an example. “These have not been developed on the basis of an empirical discovery and have not given rise to any major discovery, although they have contributed a lot to questions about the relationship between the body and the soul, and between thought and matter. They will doubtlessly be in a very good position in the future to participate in the epistemological revolution in progress resulting from a synergy between the four great master technologies of the 21st century: nano-sciences and nanotechnologies, biology and biotechnologies, information and communication sciences and technologies, and cognition."

In the context of this development, specialists in the humanities will become essential players in governance. “When certain conditions are fulfilled, social scientists can produce work that is both of high academic quality and that contributes significantly to policy debates,” stressed Christopher Whelan, professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin. 

As to Helga Nowotny, professor at the ETH Zurich and Chair of the European Research Advisory Board (EURAB), she stressed the importance of the social sciences and humanities in a world marked by concerns and uncertainties. She believes these result from two simultaneous and interacting processes. On one hand, the increasingly evident impact of globalisation – in the field of delocalisation, employment, finance, migratory movements or environmental problems – is shaking the model built on the nation state, while responses in terms of new forms of political and socio-economic organisation are finding it difficult to take hold. On the other hand, science and technology are increasingly transforming our relationship with the world, bringing changes to society and – in particular through the life sciences – changing our perception of nature, of ourselves and of our body. Thus “the question is how our collective system of pursuing and collecting new knowledge will cope with the presentation of the emerging new natural order, and which links will be established with the social order“.

This conference should enable the Commission to put the finishing touches to the work programmes on which the first calls for proposals under the Seventh Framework Programme will be based, from 2007. The quality of the contributions is also most certainly a reason for the organisers to repeat the experience.