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Ronald de Bruin

Director

COST Association

IN

an ever-more connected world, research is becoming more

open and collaborative. Nowadays, research has gone

beyond borders, be they national or scientific. It is also

connecting scientists who, until not so long ago, would not even ponder

the idea of collaboration, because they were working in completely

different fields. Digital technologies have seen scientists share and

compare their own work and ideas as Europe’s national borders have

disappeared. This is exactly how innovation happens. But innovation also

happens if researchers meet and network in open spaces.

It is these open spaces that help complete what is now becoming the

European Research Area. Initiatives like COST provide the right conditions

for these interdisciplinary open spaces, where mathematicians work

alongside sociologists, analyse the bigger picture, and start developing

standards. At other times, experts begin a dialogue on a topic where they

may not even agree on the most very basic of things, such as research

methods. COST Actions, or science and technology networks, are such

open spaces; they enable networking activities that build relationships

and ensure the freedom that researchers need in order to answer their

own burning questions.

Bottom-up research has seen scientists come together and challenge

their own approaches to answering questions, which can shift focuses

and lead to new discoveries. For example, after developing

photosynthesis-based biosensors measuring air pollution levels, the

PHOTOTECH network created a new type of cell that can harness clean

energy from light.

The same empowering way of doing research nurtures emerging and

rare sciences – those that are showing an increasing trend, as well as

those that are losing students or funds. These disciplines can help

shed light on some of the societal challenges that would otherwise

remain unaddressed.

What is more, we need our talents in under-represented countries to

stand out and work alongside peers in Europe’s leading science hubs.

This is how we empower talents and Europe’s next generation of

researchers, no matter their background, career stage or gender, and

boost the culture of innovation in Europe. Cutting-edge science is about

excellence, not nationality, as Commissioner Carlos Moedas said at the

EuroScience Open Forum in Manchester, UK, earlier this year.

Impact is another issue at stake for Europe’s research and development,

especially in times of crisis. Collaboration and connecting existing funding

programmes, pockets of excellence and projects can make the difference

when national investments are scarce. That is why COST has proven

itself to be such an important programme, as it has actively linked €5bn

worth of national R&D projects between 2007 and 2014. Still, we need

to constantly reassess the ways in which we measure the impact of

European research funding.

When it comes to policies, open science and cross-border collaboration

can also help guide policy making and lead to better living standards

worldwide. For instance, the GenderSTE network helped define

gender-related priorities for the New Urban Agenda, the UN strategy for

sustainable urban development for the next 20 years.

I made a case for openness at a conference about the European

Research Area in Berlin, Germany, in October 2016. Europe’s researchers

need to be open to the world, just like the ones that take part in COST

networks. We are proud to say that the only worldwide consortium on

systems chemistry – studying, amongst other things, the origin of Life –

is a COST-funded network, and one of this year’s Nobel laureates for

chemistry, Bernard L Feringa, is part of that group.

Europe’s researchers need to have the right setting that caters to their

curiosity, to serendipitous science, and to their need to tell us what is

important. After all, it is all about them. At COST, we know that the

opportunities and links that our networks create lay the foundations for

European scientists’ growth. This is why we strive to become the

reference point for open networking across Europe and beyond.

F O R E W O R D

www.horizon2020projects.com

H O R I Z O N 2 0 2 0 P R O J E C T S : P O R T A L

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