Europe’s leading big science labs form collaboration for commercialisation

26 Feb 2015 | News
Facilities including CERN, the European Southern Observatory and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory are joining forces to push advanced technologies they use in research into wider application and commercial products

Some of Europe’s leading research centres are joining forces to create new scientific instruments, products, companies and jobs in the field of detector and imaging technologies. 

CERN, the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility(ESRF) and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) are in the planning stage of putting together a new collaboration called ATTRACT.

The aim is to take technologies that these leading centres rely on to carry out their own research and work together to promote commercial applications. Detector and imaging technology in use for research could form the basis of improved computer tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography scanners for use in healthcare, for example.

The project will also share knowledge on areas of advanced manufacturing common to all participating labs, such as robotic arms, remote sensors and opto-mechanical assemblies.

“No one research infrastructure has all the questions; nobody has all the answers,” Sergio Bertolucci, CERN’s director of research and computing, told a Science|Business conference, ‘From open science to open innovation’, in Brussels on Tuesday.

“We are interested in going after the unthinkable [and really pushing] the envelope on new tech,” he said.

A pilot project is underway at CERN’s Geneva campus, with the aid of Aalto, the Finnish university.

Along with CERN, ESO, EMBL, ESRF and Aalto, the other founding organisations include Institut Laue-Langevin, the neutron facility in Grenoble, France, the European X-ray Free-Electron Laser facility near Hamburg, Germany, and ESADE, the Barcelona-based business school.

Open innovation

ATTRACT is an example of open innovation, a phrase coined by US academic Henry Chesbrough to describe how companies are moving out of their secretive dens to actively look for outside help and collaboration partners.

Chesbrough’s theory is that labs can accomplish much more, much faster, in an environment of friction-free collaboration. The idea involves researchers working together in a test-area or "living lab" where experiments to resolve problems can take place.

Chesbrough, who is advising ATTRACT in his role as visiting professor to ESADE, has suggested it can draw lessons from other open innovation models such as the Budapest-based European Institute of Innovation and Technology, which creates networks of companies, SMEs and universities; and KU Leuven’s IMEC venture, which pulls together institutes working in microelectronics and nanoelectronics.

Horizon 2020 seed money

To get started ATTRACT is seeking seed funding in 2016 or 2017 from the EU’s €80 billion Horizon 2020 R&D budget, to define a research work programme and run a competition for institutes and companies.

After a pilot phase, it is hoped to enlist private and other funders with the capital and expertise necessary to bring these new technologies to market more quickly.

Science|Business is a communications partner in this initiative

For more on ATTRACT, see here

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