The UK’s Natural Environment Research Council is investing £8 million in five high-risk projects in a bid to advance the understanding of key environmental and earth sciences questions.
The projects aim to establish whether the Earth’s core has multiple layers by building computer models to explain seismic and magnetic field data, study how the environment affects the way human genes work, investigate whether deep sea hydrothermal vents sustained or even created the first life on earth, assess the limits of stability of marine ecosystems, and examine how single cell super marine organisms use the sun’s energy to transform dissolved ions from the sea back into rocks.
“The grants are the outcome of an exciting new pilot scheme to encourage and fund some of the UK’s most exceptional environmental scientists to lead more risky and transformational research,” said Robyn Thomas, associate director of research and skills at the Natural Environment Research Council.
The EU should help its start-ups scale up and design innovation-friendly tech regulations to achieve technology sovereignty by 2040, according to the Joint Research Centre’s (JRC) new foresight report on open strategic autonomy.
While EU countries have historically been strong in research and development, they have struggled to translate knowledge into successful innovations. Supporting start-ups in scaling up such innovations in sectors such as AI, quantum and robotics could help Europe secure its spot in the global technology race and ensure its technology sovereignty, the report found.
The new report by the European Commission’s science hub identified emerging challenges in geopolitics, technology, the economy, environment and society, and detailed how they can be best addressed to ensure strategic autonomy by 2040.
All this fed into the Commission’s strategic foresight report produced to inform its decision making, published this week.
The EU wants develop new technologies across many fields to maintain its global economic influence as the world economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. “The pandemic has only strengthened the case for ambitious strategic choices today and this report will help us keep an eye on the ball,” said Commission vice president Maroš Šefčovič.
An European-wide public consultation aims to establish a joint strategic research and innovation for green hydrogen, the European Commission has announced.
The consultation is part of a pilot initiative in the new European Research Area (ERA), through which the Commission wants to bring together science, industry, civil society and public administration in a transdisciplinary green hydrogen community in Europe.
The survey takes about 30 minutes for stakeholders to complete and is open until 26 September 2021.
The European Commission’s Horizon Europe deputy chief negotiator Anne Haglund-Morrisey concluded the first round of association talks with the North Atlantic archipelago Faroe Islands.
The Commission says “important progress was made” in talks with representatives of the North Atlantic archipelago. “A significant part of the draft Agreement on the participation of the Faroe Islands in Union programmes and its related Horizon Europe Protocol and Annexes were discussed.”
The Commission has already concluded talks with Kosovo, as it is working down a list of 18 countries for which officials have said association is “imminent”.
Talks with Switzerland are still suspended pending broader political talks to resolve a dispute over Swiss contributions to the EU budget.
Individual countries are too small to play a significant role in the development of quantum technologies by themselves, panelists at the Science|Business conference agree. However, countries must find the right trade-off between cooperation and competition.
“In the early stage we should cooperate as much as possible,” said Portuguese MEP Maria da Graca Carvalho. “But we cannot be naïve on commercial and security questions,” she said.
“Early-stage collaboration would be followed by late-stage competition,” said Ian Walmsley, provost of Imperial College London.
Yuko Harayama, the executive director of the Japanese R&D agency RIKEN, said geopolitics is making the this question more complicated, as some countries are reluctant to cooperate even in early-stage projects.
The European Commission wants to cooperate with countries that share its ethical principles for science and technology. Yet, it is still deciding under which rules non-EU countries can participate in its quantum research projects, and traditional allies such as Israel, Switzerland and the UK are still waiting on a decision. "If we do not include these countries, then they will work with other countries," said Antoine Petit, the chief executive of CNRS. "At the end who will be the losers," he said.
Advances in quantum computing could enable us to share information secretly via connections secured by the very physics principles that underpin it, Ian Walmsley, provost of Imperial College London told the Science|Business conference this afternoon.
The new generation of computers would be able to run problems that are “intractable on normal supercomputers, no matter how large you make them,” said Walmsley, including running molecular designs for new drugs, materials and superconductors, but also to solve optimization problems in logistics.
“Quantum computing is as different from traditional computing as the laptop is different from the abacus,” Walmsley said, citing a colleague. “This radical new technology is coming.”
A key advisor to the UK government has said that science has never been taken more seriously by government – but needs to get better at identifying solutions, not just problems.
Speaking at a Science|Business’s conference on the post-pandemic state of global R&D, Paul Monks, chief scientific advisor at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said that “never has science been more listened to”. He said he didn’t sense any “mistrust” of science.
But he added: “where science has been lacking in this area, frankly is it’s been too easy to tell people what the problem is, and not that easy, and not so good as telling people what the solutions area.”
The secretary general of the World Energy Council has warned that a race for green energy technology could create international tensions, and might even trigger war.
“I’m really concerned about triggering a winner-takes-all race to zero [carbon], a technology race to zero, which is a threat to world peace,” said Angela Wilkinson at a Science|Business conference on the post-pandemic state of global R&D.
“We shouldn’t forget the significant roll that access to energy has played historically in generating conflict, and its still lurking potential,” she warned.
She cautioned about reaching for a “silver, or green, technology bullet” to solve climate change. “If I had the chance to change the future of energy, I wouldn’t simply focus on a big tech moonshot,” she said, instead arguing for solutions that help the “many”, not just “the few”.
Cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer in Europe but has not received enough policy attention in Europe. It is time for a change, Science|Business conference hears.
“I would argue cardiovascular disease is the one [disease] we should collectively focus on,” said Janneke van der Kamp, head of Europe at the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis.
The goods is that many tools and interventions are already available. However, the solutions are not reaching the patients. This gap must be fixed. “We know what we need to do to address cardiovascular risk,” said van der Kamp. “It’s doable.”
Even the most perfect internationally created framework will fail to lay roots if regional capacities are not respected, said Marion Dietterich, director of the global challenges division at the World Intellectual Property Organisation.
“I think we need to remember what each part of the system does. When we are talking about the international level, it’s mainly policy, it’s laying the rails… it’s not actual doers, getting their hands dirty,” said Dietterich. To succeed, international bodies must take into account local health workforce, financing and infrastructure challenges.
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