Ronald de Bruin
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
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 Dwww.horizon2020projects.com
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