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Strategic directions in the European science and research

Eugene Eteris, RSU/BC, Riga, 08.11.2017.Print version
At the “Future and Emerging Technologies” debate, Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip underlined that combined and coordinated efforts among the EU institutions and the member states are needed towards gaining fore-front positions in the world. Some new directions have been mentioned: “human brain project”, which provides additional understanding of the human brain and its diseases, as well as graphene and quantum research projects.

EU’s future and emerging technologies (FET) are directed towards European perspective and pioneering positions in global science and technologies. FET flagships projects represent challenging and long-term research directions into uncharted areas that stretch the boundaries of science and technology, said Vice-President Andrus Ansip

From research and development (R&D) to research and investment (R&I)

In order for European research and innovation to be successful in the coming years, the member states need funding. The EU is now considering funding and priorities for its next budget period, including FP9, the successor to Horizon 2020, which is present EU’s research and innovation programme. A good deal of preparation is already done, e.g. contributions from the expert group chaired by Pascal Lamy on maximising the impact of EU research and innovation. The group suggested R&D priorities in both EU and national budgets; then, the EU’s post-2020 budget research should be doubled. Serious funding is required to maintain European excellence in scientific research and turn scientific discoveries into a greater number of industrial applications.

Several countries have already done so: China has already overtaken the EU in terms of R&D spending as a share of GDP; South Korea, Japan and the United States are at the top of the ranking.


The EU’s trend is to move from research and development (R&D) to research and investment –R&I, showing the importance of investment in science to make people see the results of EU funding. Two P. Lamy’s recommendations are particularly relevant (concerning FET flagships):  


= One is to fine-tune scientific community’s approach to more mission-oriented and impact-focused research addressing global challenges. Here, the EU flagships provide the power to change how the world sees whole industries and wider society: e.g. applications and devices that are developed based on their results in bringing major practical implications and benefits for everyone.

= The other is to improve how EU and national R&I issues can be combined in order to add “European value” to scientific achievements and projects conducted together with the EU states; thus, better coordination between EU and national research programmes is important.

Modern and important R&I directions

Vice-President Andrus Ansip at the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) underlined that there some projects of particular importance. For example, graphene and the Human Brain Project are clear signs of being on the right track to identify and develop practical applications that will make a positive difference to people's lives, to social and economic progress.


As to graphene project, sscientists theorized about graphene for years. It had been unintentionally produced in small quantities for centuries, through the use of pencils and other similar graphite applications. It was originally observed in electron microscopes in 1962, but it was studied only while supported on metal surfaces. The material was later rediscovered, isolated, and characterized in 2004 by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester. Research was informed by existing theoretical descriptions of its composition, structure, and properties. This work resulted in the two winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene”. Graphene as a composite material is a transparent and flexible conductor that can be used in various material/device applications, including solar cells, light-emitting diodes (LED), touch panels and smart windows or phones. For example, graphene-based touch panel modules produced by a China-based company (2D Carbon Graphene Material Co., Ltd) have been sold in volumes to cell phone, wearable device and home appliance manufacturers. Other commercial uses of graphene include fillers such as a graphene-infused printer powder; graphene super-capacitors serve as energy storage alternative to traditional electrolytic batteries. Among advantages are fast charging, long life span and environmentally friendly production. Graphene super-capacitors produced by Skeleton Technologies have been commercially available since around 2015 and were first used in some specialized applications instead of traditional batteries. Thus, industry interest for graphene properties is huge: for example, graphene-based sensor for collision detection systems, which combines visible and infrared light to avoid collisions even in fog; in sensors in a band around the arm to detect electrical signals from muscles in order to move a robotic hand. Source:


The EU’s other direction, the Human Brain Project tackles one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time: to understand the human brain and its diseases. This project should revolutionise neuroscience. Understanding and emulating some of the brain's computational capabilities should also lead to major advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and new computing architectures.


Among other perspective directions are quantum technologies: its ramp-up phase will begin in 2018 and cover the last three years of Horizon 2020.The quantum project aims to turn Europe's excellent research results into industrial leadership; it should place Europe at the forefront of one of this century's most promising technological developments. The first quantum revolution expanded scientific horizons to an amazing extent with lasers and transistors, which are used in computers, mobile phones and internet, the applications and technologies making the mainstream advantages. The second quantum revolution has just started: it is based on the growing ability to manipulate and sense quantum effects in customised systems and materials. This will mean totally new concepts for devices with the following real practical impact in: = ultra-precise synchronisation and enhanced sensitivity devices; = guaranteed data privacy and communication security; = unprecedented computing power that goes beyond anything now envisaged at the high-end of computing technology.


However, while Europe has many world-class scientists in quantum, so far there is little industrial take-up or commercial exploitation. In order to develop a strong quantum industry, the EU and the states should coordinate this work, which is one of the main objectives of the Quantum flagship research. “We should not lose any time, said Vice-President Andrus Ansip at the Future and Emerging Technologies discussion, there is presently a world­wide race for technology and talent in quantum. Despite several national initiatives on quantum, which are of course welcome, we have not yet had a coherent pan-European strategy”. 

Perspective priorities

Europe is home to 1.8 million researchers working in thousands of universities, research centers and world-leading manufacturing industries. By working together across borders, sectors and disciplines, the EU and the member states can push the boundaries of science towards developing practical applications that can make difference to people’s lives.


Vice-President Andrus Ansip described the rationale of political and financial commitment to future and emerging technologies, consisting of the following priorities: - develop a dynamic environment for research and innovation; - allow ideas to progress smoothly from laboratories to market; - attract and retain world-class talent; and - make sure that Europe remains a global science leader.

Reference:, Brussels, November 6, 2017. 

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