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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Europe in science-03

In this edition (my comments after the articles):

Member states outline research and innovation priorities

26 February 2008

Ahead of the next month's Spring Summit, the Council is calling on member states and the Commission to deepen their cooperation on knowledge, research and innovation to ensure better coherence between national research policies and contribute to the objectives of the re-launched Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs.

EU ministers for internal market, industry and research met on 25 February 2008 to agree on the key competitiveness and innovation issues they would like to see addressed by EU heads of state and government at the spring European Council in March.

They set out a number of recommendationsPdf external which the Spring Summit is expected to support. In particular, the ministers are calling on member states and the Commission to increase their efforts by investing more in higher-quality knowledge and innovation and to unlock EU business potential by ensuring the smooth functioning of the internal market.

In addition, the ministers ask the Commission and member states to develop initiatives for "joint programming of research in areas where this approach is appropriate," leading to the launch of more strategic and better-structured joint programmes and common calls for projects as of 2010. The Commission is expected to present a communication on joint research programming in 2008.

Among other recommendations, the ministers urge quick progress on the several research initiatives and programmes that have already been adopted and are awaiting implementation. These include the various Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs), Galileo and the European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT), which is expected to be operational in 2010.

The Council is also recommending better promotion of the different instruments of the current EU research framework programme (FP7), such as the European Research Council (ERC), which awards grants for independent researchers to conduct basis research, and the new €2 billion instrument to fund 'riskier' research in Europe, the Risk-Sharing Finance Facility (see EurActiv 05/06/07).source

My comment: Science needs freeing its flow. That's obvious. But not only as a possibility, but also as financing to scientists from poorer states to conferences in rich ones. Yes, I'm partial here, of course, but it's extremely unpleasant when you have something to say, but not the money to go and tell it.

EU hydrogen initiative gets green light

26 February 2008

EU research ministers have approved a regulation setting up a long-term public-private research partnership on hydrogen and fuel cells, with the aim of reducing the time to market for these technologies by 2-5 years and thus cutting CO2 emissions.

A Competitiveness Council on 25 February 2008 reached an agreement on the essential elements for the launch of the EU 'Fuel cells and Hydrogen' joint technology initiative (JTI).

Faced with climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, these technologies are considered by many to be a clean alternative to traditional fossil fuels. For example, when running on hydrogen, the only exhaust product of fuel cells is steam.

According to the Commission, EU-funded research had found that "introducing hydrogen into the energy system would reduce the total oil consumption by the road transport sector by 40% between now and 2050." But, the EU executive adds that "substantial barriers have first to be overcome" on economic, technological and institutional issues (for more on this issue, see EurActiv 27/10/06).

Currently, these technologies are not commercially available and further research and technological development is needed before they can be widely used. The aim of the joint public-private research undertaking, agreed by the Council, is thus to speed up the development of fuel cells and hydrogen technologies in Europe to enable their commercialisation between 2010 and 2020.

The EU is set to contribute some €470 million to this research programme over the next six years and the private sector is expected to gather the same amount. Reaching the critical mass of the JTI research effort in this field is expected "to give confidence" to industry, public and private investors and decision-makers to join this long-term partnership.

Potočnik also said that, in the short term, energy efficiency and creating conditions for markets to use low carbon energy resources were the most important efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the long term, however, investment in renewables should be the solution, he added. source

My comment: No comment, really. Hopefully this investment will bring the science in.

EU research initiative to turn micro into nanoelectronics

25 February 2008

A €3 billion public-private partnership aimed at miniaturising current microelectronics to nanoelectronics has been launched to drive new breakthroughs in areas ranging from computing and transport to health, energy efficiency and environmental protection.

Following the adoption by the Council, in December 2007, of a special regulation establishing the European Nanoelectronics Initiative (ENIACexternal ), this public-private partnership was launched on 22 February 2008.

Nanoelectronics refers to the use of nanotechnology in electronic components, in particular transistors, which are semiconductor devices used to amplify or switch electronic signals. The EU initiative aims to create sufficient critical mass in Europe for research into this field and improve interaction between research and production.

According to the Commission, Europe's semiconductor industry is currently worth around €200 billion, alongside an €800 billion electronic systems market. The sector is expected to grow some 8-10% annually over the coming years. According to the EU executive, the decade-long ENIAC initiative represents a "substantial boost to the longer-term developments based on nanoelectronics, which will largely supersede the current generation of microelectronic devices within the same time period".

Development of nanoelectronics is expected to lead to an increasing number of functions being integrated into simple consumer products, leading to the creation of intelligent everyday objects, but also to more assisted driving and greater autonomy for vehicles, intelligent portable medical equipment, intelligent building monitoring and reduced energy use.

ENIAC is one of the six Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIsexternal ) announced in the EU's Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7). JTIs establish long-term, public-private partnerships on specific research areas, combining private-sector investment with national and European public funding.

Originally, JTIs were envisaged as true industry-led initiatives, in which the choice of research to be funded would be based on excellence only. However, decision rights for ENIAC will be divided between industry, the Commission and the group of individual member states providing it with additional funding. This means that a member state can still decide on the use of the money it contributes, potentially vetoing its use for national initiatives.

On 22 February 2008, another JTI, this time on the Embedded Computing Systems Initiative (ARTEMISexternal ), was also launched. This €2.5 billion public-private partnership aims to drive innovation on invisible computers embedded in all kinds of electronic equipment, machines and devices. source

My comment: Ok, what can I say-the more money, the better. :)

Revolutionary technique to speed up chemical testing

21 February 2008

The chemicals industry could soon have access to a quicker and cheaper means of testing the toxicity of chemicals as the US Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have joined forces to use advances in computers, genomics and cellular biology to develop a new high-speed in-vitro testing method for this purpose.

The new method would "allow for the testing of thousands to hundreds of thousands of chemicals a day to determine their possible toxic effect," said Francis S. Collins, director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRIexternal ), speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAASexternal ) on 15 February 2008.

The aim of the collaborative agreementPdf external between the US government agencies, announcedPdf external on 14 February, is to shift chemical toxicity testing from animal screening to a cell-based, in-vitro system, while also exploring the possibility of using more primitive animal species, such as fish and worms, in safety testing. Ultimately, the data is expected to provide new risk assessors for the protection of human health and the environment.

Studying toxicology in-vitro consists of exposing different human cell lines - epidermal or in the brainl, for example - to a chemical in order to see how the cells react to it depending on the quantities used and the time of exposure.

The EU's chemicals regulation REACH, in force since June 2007, requires producers and importers of chemicals to register all such substances within the European chemicals agency and to prove that they are safe. Based on the safety data, the EU agency will then either authorise or reject the applications for market authorisation. The regulation was strongly objected to by the chemicals industry, which argued that the economic burden of the imposed safety testing was unacceptable.

Current safety testing of chemicals relies mainly on animal tests, which are slow and very expensive. In addition, the public has become increasingly "uncomfortable with the use of large numbers of animals, particularly in the kinds of painful tests which establishing toxicology sometimes requires," said Christopher Austin, director of the National Chemical Genomics Center (NCGCexternal ).

Another reason behind the initiative, according to NHGRI, is "the realisation that the presence or lack of toxicity in an animal does not necessarily correspond to toxicity in a human". The new trans-agency collaboration is therefore expected to generate data that is more relevant to humans. The budget for the co-operation has not yet been set.

The advantages of this type of automated testing could be considerable to the chemical industry, which in general bears the cost of its products' toxicology studies. Furthermore, it could reduce the time between the actual invention of a chemical and its introduction to the market. source

My comment: I'm naturally skeptical to US agencies, but using such sells sounds ok to me. At least no animals will be harmed. But still a cell is not entire organism. And let's hope that speed is not on the expanse of quality. Funny this comes in a moment when chemicals are under fire in EU. Coincidence? I doubt. But we'll see. And anyway, it sounds more populist than realistic.

U-Asia research co-operation gets a boost

21 February 2008

Thanks to its success, the high-speed telecommunications network linking researchers in the EU and South-East Asia will get an extra €18 million to upgrade its capacity and geographical reach.

The Commission and the Asian partners of the Trans-Eurasia Information Network (TEINexternal ) have agreed to allocate an additional €12m and €6m respectively to the network until 2011 to improve its operational capacity and invite more countries to join it.

The aim of the Commission is "to make global scientific collaboration seamless" and "abolish distance as a barrier to working together," said Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, whereas External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner emphasised that TEIN "reduces the digital divide" between the less-developed countries in Asia and Europe.

TEIN is largely a Commission-funded network linking research and education communities across the Asia-Pacific region. Since 2000, it has been aiming to improve intra-regional connectivity and act as a catalyst for the development of national research networks in the region. It currently links the national networks in Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The TEIN network was upgraded to TEIN2 in 2004 as it was directly connected to the pan-European research and education network GÉANT2external , identified as the world's most advanced international research and education network.

The TEIN2 network allows, for example, scientists in the Philippines to forecast typhoons with the assistance of German researchers and patients in Vietnam to receive surgery via remote consultation of Australian doctors. In addition, a number of students benefit from the network through e-learning applications.

Now, with the increased funding, the TEIN2 will be upgraded to TEIN3, which should become operational by October 2008. source

My comment: Eurasia, that's what I'm thinking lately. Funny how in totally independent ways, Earth walks in the direction of globalization.

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