Coordinate and increase the visibility of neutron users
“With an aim of becoming more relevant and efficient, the notion of Nordic Added Value has become the key focus. What we are discussing today is exactly what Nordic Added Value is all about: How to collaborate to create greater value for all parties. A good example is the newly established Nordic Neutron Science Programme (NNSP).”
These were the words of Mikkel Leihardt, Danish member of the Nordic Committee of Senior Officials for Education & Research (EK-U) and Head of Division at the Ministry of Higher Education and Science, at the opening of the conference in Copenhagen on how the Nordic countries are preparing for the European Spallation Source (ESS) to be completed and ready to facilitate research experiments.
Dimitri Argyriou, Director for Science at the ESS, compared the steps involved in realising the ESS to competing in an ironman race. The first leg – swimming 4 km – he likened to the discussions and decision to establish the ESS. The next leg, cycling 180 km, is the lengthy construction process. Finally, the marathon run of 42 km corresponds to the actual operation of the ESS once the facility can accommodate users in 2023. Throughout the process the ESS is focusing on how the research community and industry can work together and in particular on the human talent involved, which Dr Argyriou believes is the most important asset – comprising individuals at the universities, the companies and at the ESS.
Several Nordic researchers highlighted examples of the opportunities that the ESS will open up, from developing new materials for supplying energy to finding new ways to combat multiresistant bacteria.
Coordinating Nordic neutron initiatives
Fredrik Melander, the conference host and Senior Adviser at the Ministry of Higher Education and Science, presented Denmark’s new ESS strategy, which involves among other things ways to build bridges between the ESS and the Danish research and innovation system. The strategy points out that the Nordic countries currently have roughly 300 users of neutron techniques in a variety of scientific fields and charts out a course for how to increase this number in order to realise the full potential of the ESS. Both Sweden and Norway are now working on developing strategies encompassing neutron research.
One of Mr Melander’s main points was that the Nordic countries must pool their talents and develop them jointly. He is also chair of the programme committee for NordForsk’s new Joint Nordic Neutron Science Programme, which has just issued a call for proposals with an application deadline of 3 February 2016. The programme has a common pot of roughly NOK 50 million to allocate for research activities over the next five years. Coordinating institutions must be located in Sweden, Norway or Denmark.
Professor Sine Larsen of the University of Copenhagen spoke about the Interreg project ESS & MAX IV: Cross Border Science and Society, a major cooperative effort between Denmark, Sweden and Norway, with Region Skåne as lead partner (EUR 136 million, of which half is co-funded by participating institutions). Senior Adviser Leif Eriksson of the Swedish Research Council presented the bilateral agreement on neutron research between Sweden and Germany, in which each country contributes EUR 3‒4 million annually. Joakim Amorim, Research Programmes Manager at the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research (SSF), informed conference participants about SFF’s National Graduate School in Neutron Scattering and its SEK 220 million budget. All in all there are a wide array of neutron initiatives underway which combined will prepare individuals and groups within the Nordic research and innovation system to make good use of the ESS facility.
Increased focus on neutron technique users
Later in the day, challenges related to Nordic cooperation were discussed by a panel comprised of Svein Stølen, Vice Dean of Research at the University of Oslo, Niels Chr. Nielsen, Dean of Science and Technology at Aarhus University, Stacy Sörensen, Pro vice-chancellor at Lund University, and Professor Lars Börjesson of Chalmers University of Technology, with Professor Robert Feidenhansl of Copenhagen University as moderator. Professor Feidenhansl’s main point was that the universities will play an important role in the success of the ESS.
Vice Dean Sølen stated among other things that the greatest Nordic challenge lies in that the region has too few neutron users and must become more deeply involved than is currently the case. Dean Nielsen mentioned that developing talent would be the most pressing task, and Professor Börjesson identified the challenge that neutron users are spread across the universities’ various departments and need to become more visible to their respective university leadership. To this end, Chalmers University of Technology has established a centre to enhance the focus on neutron users. Professor Börjesson also called for Nordic Centres of Excellence that apply neutron scattering techniques.
The full day ended with a presentation by Svend Ludvigsen, Vice President of Novo Nordisk, and Peter Eriksson, Department Head at Sweden’s innovation agency Vinnova, of industry perspectives and commercial potential related to the ESS. They stated that the ESS must make itself an attractive partner to industry, since industry operates within entirely different time frameworks compared to research. They recommended that the ESS employ skilled, young researchers who are able to “speak both languages” to function as interpreters between neutron researchers and industry.
Fredrik Melander was pleased with the outcome of the conference. “Today highlighted the completely unique opportunities that the ESS opens up for research, innovation and technology development in the Nordic region, as well as how all stakeholders involved are now beginning to develop strategies and initiatives to realise this potential. I’m convinced there will be excellent opportunities for Nordic cooperation in relation to the ESS for many years to come, and NordForsk will play a vital part in this,” concluded the programme committee chair.
Text: Linn Hoff Jensen