Conference on global research launches Horizon 2020

Around 1,000 participants from more than 100 countries participated in a five-day conference launching Horizon 2020 in Brussels this month. Its aim was to encourage worldwide collaboration in science and explore how Horizon 2020 could “enable an effective scientific response to global challenges”.

Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, the European Union (EU) commissioner for research, innovation and science, said at the opening of the conference that the EU provided a strong platform for research. While the EU has 7% of the world’s population, it invests 24% of research expenditure and produces 32% of global high-impact publications and patent applications.

Horizon 2020 would be open to participation from all countries, said Geoghegan-Quinn, “but we will be more restrictive as regards funding from the EU budget.

“This is to take into account the fact that a number of countries have invested so strongly in their research and innovation base that they are now able to cooperate on an equal footing.

“The common principles for engaging in international cooperation will enable researchers from across the globe to collaborate in full confidence,” she said.

“EU Science: Global Challenges, Global Collaboration” – or ES:GC2 – was held from 4-8 March and provided a platform for building new partnerships and increasing international participation, the European Commission said.

The conference was convened by Intelligence in Science and was hosted by the European parliament and the Irish presidency of the EU. There were more than 50 seminars, workshops and other events, and a large number of exhibitions.

Members of the European parliament and commission rubbed shoulders with top people from industry, scientists (quite a few of them Nobel prize winners), Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, and ministers or state secretaries of higher education and-or technology from Angola, Canada, Montenegro, Morocco, South Africa, Sudan and Swaziland.

ES:GC2 took stock of achievements under Horizon 2020’s predecessor, Framework Programme 7 (2007-13), and was also a Horizon 2020 pre-launch, looking at long lines of future research.

A focus of the conference was the “50 Year Roadmap for the Future of Medicine”, and there was a session on the future of medicine.

The ‘roadmap’ called for a new global health science policy as a top priority. As the conference website pointed out: “To achieve long-term sustainability of health care systems, substantial new concepts are required which have to be based on sound science.

“In order to ensure that these concepts will be available in time, an interdisciplinary and international collaborative scientific effort is required.”

European Patent Office (EPO) President Benoit Battistelli introduced a 20-year effort to create a unified European patent, and presented the EPO’s tool for free machine translation of patents, which might help reduce European patent costs and speed up the application process.

“The EPO also has a global reach: it provides an interface with the world beyond the boundaries of Europe. Intellectual property and innovation are global matters, calling for new perspectives and new forms of cooperation,” Battistelli said.

There was also a focus on space. Kevin Govender, director of the International Astronomy Union’s Office for Development, told SciDev that “to encourage the next level of innovators to pursue scientific careers, support must be given to science that engages people.

“It is great to create a new device or product, but people need to be inspired to get the training in the first place if science capacity is to develop,” he said, giving the example of the “almost overnight” doubling in the number of students on some physics courses in Kenya after it was announced that the country would host part of the massive Square Kilometre Array telescope.

There was optimism over European funding for African research facilities, according to SciDev, which reported Thomas Auf der Heyde, deputy director general of South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology, as saying:

“There is no point in Europe opening up its research systems and support programmes to the world and trying to link together the full human potential for using research to solve global problems, if it does not help to boost scientific capacity in countries which do not have it.”

* Several of the conference presentations are streamed and accessible here.