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Monday, January 11, 2010

Science in Europe - Galileo on the move, 2010

Today:
  1. EU research networks slowly die away
  2. Europe tries to relaunch space policy
  3. German, French firms win Galileo money
  4. China doubles research output, leaving West in its wake
  5. EU attracting biobank research from US
  6. Accessing credit a daunting task for eco-innovators
Sorry for the delay, I have sever keyboard problems (some keys not working) and writing long texts is very frustrating.
Quote of the day: Science cannot function like a corporation for the simple reason that it's NOT goal (product) oriented. When a scientist works, it's not to sustain the network, but because s/he is genuinely interested and wants to discover the truth, sometimes motivated by applications of the discovery or even patents. But most of the time, most of us do it for the science and for the satisfaction of work well done and maybe some respect from the academics. So, the very idea of those networks, is maybe not wrong, but not entirely correct neither.

EU research networks slowly die away

14 October 2009

Most networks of excellence fall apart once EU funding dries up, according to a damning report by the European Court of Auditors. Billions of euros in European funding has been pumped into research networks in the hope that they will live on after funding expires, but very few are self-sustaining, it said.

The highly critical report published today (14 October) by the Court of Auditors says the EU's flagship research programme spent €17 billion, almost half its budget, on two types of pan-European project without setting clear objectives.

The report is likely to raise tensions between the Court of Auditors and the European Commission.

The Court urges the EU executive to "develop an explicit intervention logic" – and to set a single objective – before backing expensive research networks. However, the Commission hits back in a detailed and terse response published with the report, insisting that its work "has always been based on a sound intervention logic".

The report looks at FP6 , which ended in 2006, and points to several positive outcomes from EU spending on Networks of Excellence (NoEs), saying new knowledge was created and shared and the quality of work carried out by scientists was generally high.

However, public research bodies devoted only a small fraction of their research capacities to the network and resisted input from network governance managers on how European money should be spent.

The most critical comment by the Court of Auditors surrounds the long-term viability of the research networks created by FP6. Groups of scientists, companies and institutions were happy to cooperate while EU money was on the table, but the programme failed to reach the ultimate goal of attracting additional public and private funding, which would have stimulated a self-sustaining network.

In its response, the Commission noted that the possibility of supporting "certain promising NoEs" is addressed under FP7 on a case-by-case basis.

source

My comment:Ok, first of all, self-sustaining research is a myth. Science cannot function like a corporation for the simple reason that it's NOT goal (product) oriented. When a scientist works, it's not to sustain the network, but because s/he is genuinely interested and wants to discover the truth, sometimes motivated by applications of the discovery or even patents. But most of the time, most of us do it for the science and for the satisfaction of work well done and maybe some respect from the academics. So, the very idea of those networks, is maybe not wrong, but not entirely correct neither. I understand they want to stimulate SMEs to invest into science and to become the missing link - the middle man - in Europe, but our system is different than the US one, it's hart to expect what works there to works here too. That's why, I think the idea of those networks should evolve into something that share our values and ways, maybe being more government funded since Europe in general is more socially-oriented. There should be a way to keep those networks alive, we just have to find it.

Europe tries to relaunch space policy

16 October 2009

The European Union is stepping up its efforts to catch up with other global powers on space policy after the temporary collapse of its flagship project for satellite navigation, Galileo.

The EU executive is expected to publish new guidelines in the coming weeks to improve satellite monitoring of the Earth's climate.

Satellites can play a crucial role in this field. The European Commission is exploiting their potential through a programme called GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security), a project for earth observation designed to forecast environmental threats. It represents the second most important EU initiative in space policy after Galileo.

The EU document outlining future actions for GMES follows a draft regulation laying down the details of its operations up until 2013, which the Commission put forward last April.

But the main challenge remains satellite navigation. Europeans are still waiting for Galileo, the EU's alternative to the USA's leading Global Positioning System (GPS) and Russia's GLONASS. While Europeans were still fighting over the details of Galileo, China also began to develop an alternative system, which goes further than Europe's, according to many experts.

Contrary to its American and Russian counterparts, which are both financed and controlled by the army, Galileo has been designed specifically for civilian and commercial purposes.

In the meantime, at the beginning of October the Commission launched what has been labelled the precursor of Galileo, EGNOS (the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service).

EGNOS improves the accuracy of satellite navigation signals in Europe.

At the moment, EGNOS will be used in Europe by GPS subscribers, and tomorrow it will be an extra feature for Galileo-enabled applications, according to the Commission's plans. source

My comment: I sincerely don't get the idea to have always enabled GPS so that everyone can track your position in every single second, but I like Galileo, because it is a civilian project and because it will pour some money to ESA and European space companies. They deserve it. I only have to ask myself - isn't it the idea behind ever increasing GPS applications, just a fancy way to sell our freedom and independence. Because let's face it, IP's can be hidden or changed, but the mobile phone is usually non-stop with us. It really makes us traceable. And as long as you stay out of trouble, this is ok, but what happens when you do get into trouble. Nasty things do happen even to good people and maybe we have to be more careful about stuff as geo-tagging, sharing your positions with all of your friends and so on. Call me old-fashioned, I just think people should be more careful.

German, French firms win Galileo money

8 January 2010

Germany's OHB Technology is to provide 14 satellites for the EU's Galileo navigation system, while Arianespace of France will put them into orbit in order to build a European rival to the US GPS system by 2014.

"2014 is the year we will get it started," EU Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani told reporters on 7 January. "The first services will be available as of 2014, and then progressively we will be adding more."

Support services for Europe's biggest space programme will be provided by Franco-Italian group Thales Alenia Space in a contract worth €85 million euros, the European Commission said.

OHB secured its order, worth €566 million euros, after a competition with EADS Astrium. The two will continue to compete for orders for the remaining satellites in the programme, which will probably number between eight and 18.

The contract was a coup for the small German company which, in 2007, jointly with partners tried to buy three German factories from EADS planemaker Airbus before talks collapsed due to difficulties financing the deal.

OHB shares were up 10.4% to a two-year high at €13.97 euros at 1605 GMT.

Arianespace will be paid €397 million to launch the satellites on Soyuz rockets from French Guiana starting in October 2012.

according to a number of studies, Galileo will enable to save €90 billion between 2010 and 2027.

OHB, working in partnership with British-based, French-owned Surrey Satellite Technology, was expected to deliver its first satellite by July 2012 with the last delivered in March 2014.

source
My comment:It's good to know that the money are finally secured. I think we lost a lot from the delay, but better late than never, right :) Good luck to all the companies involved.

China doubles research output, leaving West in its wake

3 November 2009

Research output in China has exploded in the past five years, far outpacing activity in the rest of the world, according to a new report by Thomson Reuters. China has already overtaken the EU and Japan and will leapfrog the US within the next decade, the report predicts.

The Global Research Report on China shows the Asian giant published twice as many research papers last year as in 2004. The growth over the past decade is even more dramatic. Chinese scientists published 20,000 papers in 1998 but this figure jumped to 112,000 in 2008.

China's research centres on the physical sciences and technology, with a particular emphasis on materials science, chemistry and physics, according to the study. Rapid growth in life sciences and agricultural research is forecast over the coming decade.

Also of note is the increase in collaborative projects. Almost 9% of papers by Chinese scientists included a US collaborator, and cooperation with colleagues in Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Australia were also strong.

"China no longer depends on links to traditional G8 partners to help its knowledge development. When Europe and the USA visit China they can only do so as equal partners," Adams said.

This new study comes in the wake of the report by an EU taskforce which predicted that China and India would overtake Europe and the US to become world leaders in research by 2025.

source

My comment:Not exactly a surprise, now, isn't it? I can only admire the dedication of China and India to catch up with the great powers. Of course, I don't support the regime in China, not so much because it isn't democratic (i don't believe there is real democracy anywhere), but because it is oppressive and it hurts its own people. People should be free to talk and to gather and you know, all the small things we're used to. I sincerely don't believe that free speech has a lot to do with democracy, so they could have based their regime on less bans and fear and still be whatever they want to be. But unfortunately, the world isn't evolved enough for this. I wish them well and I wish us even better, because they are many and they are strong. And we get older, produce less and depend a lot on them. That has to change!

EU attracting biobank research from US

2 November 2009

The Netherlands and Luxembourg are battling to become the world's biobank research hub, as Europe begins to attract multi-million euro research projects from the US and beyond.

Industry sources say Europe is attempting to steal a march on the heavily-regulated biotech sector in the US, where biobanking faces political and ethical challenges from some quarters.

European leaders have agreed to offer VAT exemptions to a pan-European biobank initiative which will also be given special legal status, making it easier to recruit top scientists.

The EU, often criticised for overburdening scientists with red tape, is currently seen as friendlier to biobanks than the US, although work is underway to strengthen rules in this highly fragmented area of European research.

There is also wide variation across the 27-nation bloc when it comes to legal and ethical approaches to governing research on biological material, with northern Europeans being traditionally more receptive to biobanking.

The Netherlands and Austria are competing to host the European Biobanking and Biomolecular Research Infrastructure (BBMRI), which will benefit from VAT-free status.

Under regulations offering favourable legal status to pan-European research projects, the BBMRI must base its headquarters in just one member state but a final decision on its location has yet to be made.

In the meantime, a consortium from the Netherlands has received €22.5 million from the Dutch government to establish national biobanking infrastructure in a project that brings together eight university medical centres and several other research institutes and universities.

The BBMRI-NL project aims to establish quality-assessed biobanks with greatly improved accessibility to biomaterials.

However, The Netherlands also faces stiff competition from a small but wealthy neighbour. Luxembourg, previously better known for its financial banking than tissue banks, is pouring €140 million into a five-year project which will see the tiny European nation team up with Arizona-based biotech corporation TGenexternal .

The Integrated Biobank Luxembourg (IBBLexternal ) is a key part of Luxembourg's plan to turn itself into a biomedical hub focusing on diagnostic biomarkers.

TGen and Luxembourg investigators are jointly developing computer software that will help track and link tissue samples with patients for research. The tissue bank will serve as an international repository, analysis and distribution point for blood, serum, saliva, tumours and other samples, which will be made available to scientists across Europe.

source

My comment: Good idea, we have to use our advantage in that field, because it's obvious that USA has its problems on religious base. I just hope we don't do it on any cost - because a visit of US senators in Luxemburg looks kind of desperate to me. And I wonder why? And of course, if any country becomes a biobank, there must be very strict rules about the bio-material. We value so much our privacy, those samples are actually our bodies. We have to keep them safe!

Accessing credit a daunting task for eco-innovators

5 November 2009

Companies are finding it difficult to get loans for eco-innovation projects because banks lack the technological knowledge to approve them, according to European businesses.

Many innovative projects to slash emissions hit the wall when banks deny them access to venture capital, business representatives warned at a conference organised in Brussels last week (22 October) by the Lisbon Council think-tank.

"With guarantees, for example, a great problem is that banks don't have technical analysis, therefore [they] do not know what we're talking about [and] therefore do not give us a green light for capital," said Neil Turley, managing director of Net Green Developments, a small Portuguese company. "What we have to do in the end ourselves is to turn to a consultancy."

The problem is getting money to SMEs without incurring huge costs, while at the same time ensuring that the projects funded are financially feasible, companies say.

Turley suggested setting up a network of European experts, contracted by the EU, to help SMEs raise money for eco-innovation projects without holding assets. The idea is that a company could email a project proposal to the experts, who would analyse it and issue a guarantee which the company could then take to a bank.

source

My comment: That is a serious problem. It's like the world we live in has parted in two and those two parts don't communicate very well with each other. I mean imagine you going into your local bank to require a loan to produce solar panels with new and shiny technology. How could the guys there know you're not lying them? It is obvious that something has to be done and I think such a network isn't a bad idea. Of course, in the next step they will be plagues with corruption, but maybe we could set it up in a way that will be very discouraging for doing bad things.

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