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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Science in Europe in September, 08

In today's edition:
  1. EU hails leadership in exploring universe's origins
  2. Parliament demands ban on animal cloning for food
  3. Commission seeks to boost oceanic research
  4. Commission to revamp EU ICT research strategy in 2009
Bigger than big news :)

EU hails leadership in exploring universe's origins

11 September 2008

The most complicated and ambitious scientific project ever built successfully completed its first major experiment yesterday at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN). At the forefront of a revolution in particle physics, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is expected to shed light on conditions a few moments after the Big Bang.

The successful switch-on of the LHCexternal , a particle acceleratorexternal used to study "the fundamental building blocks of all things," was hailed by the French EU Presidency as "a huge success for Europe which demonstrates its world leadership in the main fields of science".

The first test beam to successfully complete a complete circuit of the accelerator's 27-kilometre tunnel on the French-Swiss border on 10 September was accompanied by doomsday scaremongering that it might create black holes with enough gravitational pull to swallow up the Earth. But a safety reportexternal published on 5 September had proven that safety fears about the accelerator were unfounded.

The collider is "perfectly safe", said CERN's chief scientific officer Jos Engelen, adding that "nature has already conducted the equivalent of about a hundred thousand LHC experimental programmes on Earth – and the planet still exists".

The experiment is expected to help scientists to understand the origins of the universe as well as find out what 96% of the universe is made of: so-called 'dark matter'. Current knowledge is limited to just 4%, represented by the ordinary particles that make everything we see "from an ant to a galaxy".

The findings are also said to be essential for various direct applications in areas such as intensive computing and medicine. CERN is already collaborating with thousands of scientists around the world to operate a distributed computing and data storage infrastructure called the LHC Computing Gridexternal (LCG). It has also been the driving force behind the European multi-science grid Enabling Grids for E-SciencE (EGEEexternal ).

EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik described the experiment as an illustration of the scientific excellence Europe can achieve through increased collaborative research between EU countries as well as the bloc and the rest of the world. The Commission has observer status in CERN, while 18 EU member states are full members.

The EU executive contributed some €40 million to the multi-billion euro LHC through its Framework Programmes for Research and Development (FP). The official launch of the LHC, the concept of which was first approved in 1994, will take place in Geneva on 21 October. The first high-energy collisions are scheduled to take place after this date. source

My comment: Well, I simply couldn't cut this article. The propaganda tone is too good to delete. In any case, the first experiment hasn't been done, the collider is still in test-mode. But the achievement of building this machine and to run it and to unite all those specialists from so many countries, is really worthy of hailing and even drinking for it. For more, read To The Future With Love.

Parliament demands ban on animal cloning for food

4 September 2008

The European Parliament yesterday (3 September) called on the Commission to submit proposals prohibiting the use of cloned animals in food products following the publication of a highly cautious report by the EU's food safety authority on the issue.

The parliamentary resolution was adopted by 622 MEPs in favour with just 32 against amid 25 abstentions.

It calls for an EU-wide ban on food from cloning animals; on farming cloned animals or their offspring for food supply purposes; on placing meat or dairy products derived from cloned animals or their offspring on the market, and; on importing cloned animals, their offspring, semen or embryos as well as meat or dairy products derived from cloned animals or their offspring.

The move follows the publication of a highly cautious scientific opinionexternal by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on the implications of animal cloning on food safety, animal health and the environment (EurActiv 25/07/08).

While EFSA had found that "food safety concerns are considered unlikely," it warned that the lack of available data on the subject meant the risk assessment was plagued by uncertainty and should be reconsidered at a later date. The EFSA report had also highlighted the "significant animal health and welfare issues" faced by cloned animals compared to conventionally bread ones.

MEPs are therefore highlighting the risk that whole herds could be decimated by disease and point to an EU Directiveexternal on the protection of farm animals, which bans any natural or artificial breeding procedures likely to cause suffering or injury, as a basis for a ban.

Currently no products derived from cloned animals are sold in Europe or the rest of the world, but experts believe that such products could reach the market by 2010, notably in the United States, where the Food and Drug Administration concludedexternal in January that meat and milk from clones of cattle, pigs and goats and their offspring "are as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals".

EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Androula Vassiliou said the Commission was closely following scientific developments in this area and "is aware that even though the efficiency of animal cloning has improved over recent years, adverse health effects on animal health and welfare still occur today".

She added that the EU executive "is now evaluating the necessary steps to be taken" and would take fully into account an opinion of the European Group of Ethics, which concluded that "at the moment there are no convincing arguments to justify the production of food from clones and their offspring" (EurActiv 18/01/08). source

My comment: Hm,nice! I have commented this before and I do agree with the position both Parliament and The Commissioner took. Hopefully, the Commission won't differ from it. We really should put a leash on the ambitions of USA. It's not likely it's a role-model for healthy food.

Commission seeks to boost oceanic research

4 September 2008

The EU executive wants to promote more coordinated research on sea and ocean resources in a bid to "reconcile" the competitiveness of Europe's maritime industries and the protection of marine ecosystems.

The new strategy, presented on 3 September, aims to overcome fragmentation of the European marine and maritime research landscape by:

  • Building capacity to develop new infrastructures such as pan-European ocean observatories or specialised research vessels.
  • Enhancing integration of research on maritime activities (such as shipping, oil platforms, fishing, etc.) and marine ecosystems through the promotion of inter-disciplinary study of cross-cutting issues. This includes evaluating the impact of human activity on coastal and marine ecosystems. Such projects could then receive support from a combination of EU funding schemes.
  • Promoting synergies between national, regional and Community-level research, without neglecting as international cooperation as oceans are a global issue.

A key aim of the strategy is to "reconcile" economic growth in sea-based activities and environmental preservation, while at the same time developing innovative solutions to better manage and exploit sea and ocean resources.

Indeed, maritime activities such as shipbuilding, tourism, coastal development, fisheries and aquaculture account for up to 5% of the EU economy, while seas account for roughly 90% of the bloc's external trade and 40% of its internal trade. But these activities can be a threat to the marine environment.

EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik welcomed the strategy, describing it as "one of the pioneering actions for the implementation of the European Research Area, which promotes scientific excellence and the development of cutting-edge innovation in Europe through better integration of existing research efforts and development of new capacities".

The strategy must now be approved by national governments and MEPs. The Commission is expected to hand in its first report on its implementation in 2012. source

My comment: Oh, well, I didn't see numbers in that strategy. And without numbers and strict regulations, it really doesn't matter. And I hope that they count also the seas in it, not only the oceans.

Commission to revamp EU ICT research strategy in 2009

5 September 2008

The EU executive has launched a public consultation on ICT research and innovation, asking industry, experts and policymakers to help it overhaul the bloc's agenda in this field.

Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding described the consultationexternal as "the first step towards an integrated strategy for research and innovation in the ICT sector".

The consultation, launched on 4 September, aims to gather stakeholders' views on the main challenges ahead for ICT research and innovation in the EU over the next decade.

The strategy, set for publication in April 2009, is expected to set out key priorities and identify new areas on which the bloc should concentrate its efforts to become strategic leaders. Energy, health and ageing are among possible new areas of focus, as Reding said these challenges "can only be tackled if we deploy ICT solutions". Europe is already considered the world industrial and technological leader in telecommunications and embedded systems.

The new strategy will also define the role of public policy in helping to make Europe the world leader in ICT innovation, addressing such issues as the creation of a consolidated EU market for ICT innovation. The role of complementary policy fields such as standardisation, licensing and intellectual property regimes will also be considered in view of adapting them to support the early commercialisation of research results.

The consultation follows an expert panel reportPdf external on the effectiveness of EU-funded ICT research published earlier in the summer (EurActiv 26/06/2008). The report, put together by former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho concluded that the effectiveness of Europe's high-tech research is too often stifled by red tape, a lack of venture capital and a risk-averse mentality in both national and European administrations.

The consultation will remain open until 7 November 2008. source

My comment: Not a bad idea, but still, let's hope there would be a balance between industry and populist needs and scientific and technology progress. It's way too easy to get lost in good public relations.

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