PLAN-E is working to expand eScience
Computer tools are an indispensable component of modern research, even if they are just being used to write a document, send an email to a colleague or for the visual presentation of findings at a conference. Most researchers require more advanced and specialised methods, software and techniques to move their research forward, however, and eScience (the development of applying advanced tools within information and communication technology (ICT)) and eInfrastructures (the underlying technical foundation) are being developed to keep pace with their needs.
eScience: a paradigm shift
According to PLAN-E, a small community of organisations founded in 2014, eScience supplements traditional research experiments and theories and would benefit from having a stronger platform. The European eScience organisations that are members take turns in organising meetings aimed at advancing eScience and developing its framework. The Nordic eScience Globalisation Initiative (NeGI) and the Netherlands eScience Center organised the Second Plenary Meeting of PLAN-E on 9–10 April, with representatives of NordForsk and organisations from Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, and The United Kingdom in attendance.
According to the meeting’s organiser, Dr Patrick Aerts of the Netherlands eScience Center, eScience represents a paradigm shift for research:
“eScience is a new direction in science, where ICT and eInfrastructures are used to enhance traditional ways of conducting science. The enhancement heralds a new paradigm which should allow research groups to use eScience to conduct research that would not otherwise be possible.”
Decentralised vs. centralised organisation
The organisation of eScience research varies widely from country to country. In order to learn from each other, PLAN-E invited keynote speakers from two countries where the field has been organised in very different ways: Dr Frank Seinstra, director of the eScience programme at the Netherlands eScience Center, and Professor Ingela Nyström, Programme Coordinator of the e-Science Collaboration (eSSENCE). While eScience research in the Netherlands has been consolidated in a centralised organisation, Sweden has implemented a decentralised structure of virtual centres distributed across several locations.
Professor Ingela Nyström describes the Swedish model:
"In the eSSENCE environment, we are inclusive in the way we work. In 2015, eSSENCE has a budget of SEK 26 million, and we distribute 90% of this directly to researchers at their universities, and 10% on joint activities such as workshops, conference participation, involvement in higher education, coordination, etc. We focus on the research level and on building contacts between PhDs and postdocs to promote learning and development. We have arranged a series of eSSENCE Academy workshops that more and more researchers attend. I am pleased to learn that Denmark recognises the importance of eScience and has created a centre. Because we need to take this to the Nordic level."
The Netherlands eScience Center has an annual turnover of about €6 million annually as an investment in eScience in the country. Frank Seinstra explained how the centralised Dutch model focuses on creating a self-stimulating loop where eScience research and development supply new ideas to the research areas and where the needs of research areas feed information back into eScience research.
Dr Patrick Aerts states:
“eScience encompasses computational science, big data research as well as all aspects of problem-driven cooperation across institutional, disciplinary and national boundaries. PLAN-E forms a European platform to promote these new ways of conducting science, of sharing the growing expertise in this field, and in this way enhancing science in the European Research Area while also enabling members to share their common interests to the benefit of the research community at large. Its members are considered ambassadors of eScience.”
New members of PLAN-E
Three new PLAN-E members were introduced during the meeting: Switzerland, Ireland and the escience center of the STFC (UK). Representatives from each new member state shared information about the status of eScience in their respective countries. Denmark, Germany, Greece and the UK also provided examples of best practice from their countries. A recent development in Denmark is the Danish e-Infrastructure cooperation’s (DeIC) establishment of a new eScience Competence Center, headed by Lene Krøl Andersen. The centre will make it easier for Danish researchers to use the eScience resources already in place at Danish universities. Thus, Denmark is moving from a highly decentralised system towards greater centralisation.
Sverker Holmgren, director of the Nordic eScience Globalisation Intiative (NeGI), participates in PLAN-E on behalf of NordForsk to take advantage of any opportunities that could be to the benefit of Nordic eScience researchers.
Text: Linn Hoff Jensen