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Europe updates research infrastructure priorities

16 October 2018

The latest list of recommendations promotes filling gaps and forming synergies.

Extremely Large Telescope
The Extremely Large Telescope, illustrated here, is slated to begin operations in 2024. The European Southern Observatory venture is named as a landmark project on a new road map for European research. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/ACe Consortium

An intense neutron source designed to analyze materials damage is one of six proposed projects to make it onto the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) 2018 road map, which was released last month. Gaining a spot gives a project visibility in the crowded European science landscape and helps it obtain funding to go forward.

The ESFRI road map lists proposed and operational (or nearly operational) projects in the broad categories of energy, environment, health and food, physical sciences and engineering, social and cultural innovation, and digital research. With 6 new projects and 8 new operational projects, or landmarks, the latest road map includes a total of 18 projects and 37 landmarks.

Composed of representatives of the European Union’s 28 member states and 12 associate states, ESFRI serves as an advisory body on research infrastructures of pan-European relevance.

One addition to the road map is the International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility/DEMO Oriented Neutron Source. It is largely intended as a support facility for ITER, the international fusion experiment under construction in France, and for a planned follow-on fusion demonstration reactor. The project comes with an estimated price tag of about €1.3 billion ($1.5 billion) and would likely be sited in Granada, Spain; Japan may also be interested in hosting the facility. The other proposed projects to enter the ESFRI road map this year are in environmental science, ecosystem research, industrial biotechnology, food metrology, and Holocaust research.

In the landmark category are many well-known international projects, most of which entered—or graduated from project to landmark status—in 2016, including the Square Kilometre Array, the Extremely Large Telescope, an upgrade to the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider. The HL-LHC is funded by CERN, but CERN wanted it on the ESFRI road map to increase the project’s profile and to remind individual nations to prioritize funding for the detectors and related activities that are not covered by the CERN budget.

About half of all projects competing to be on the road map passed muster. Projects are evaluated for their scientific potential, their maturity, their business and management plans, and their contributions to the overall infrastructure landscape in Europe. “We evaluate projects in a pan-European context,” says incoming ESFRI chair Jan Hrušák, a theoretical chemist at the Czech Academy of Sciences. At least three countries must support a proposed project and pledge funding.

ESFRI considers the “whole research ecosystem,” says chair Giorgio Rossi, a physicist at the University of Milan. “The road map is not just a list of infrastructures that are considered strategically important. They complement each other, and we want to encourage synergies between different fields.” Rossi cites health, environment, and climate research as obvious areas for synergies and compares them to multi-messenger studies in astronomy. “This is very important. It is intended to increase European competitiveness.”

In selecting projects for the latest road map, ESFRI worked with an eye to keeping the total cost of infrastructure to about €20 billion, says Rossi. That is 10–20% of what Europe’s governments invest in the roughly 300 national facilities across the continent that are open to international users, he notes.

The next ESFRI road map is scheduled for 2021.

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