Friday, November 13, 2009

From Brussels: Time to think about innovation

The Enabling Grids for E-sciencE roadshow made a brief stop this week in Europe’s city of cobblestones and high gloss to be part of SciTech Europe 09.

The one day, policy-focused event, held at The Square in Brussels (the venue is literally a square glass box in the heart of Brussels), centered around the questions:
“How can we create the conditions to allow science and technology to flourish? What social, economic and environmental challenges must we overcome? Who is responsible for driving the European science base forward?”

The Square

Attendees, mainly but not exclusively from Europe, represented universities, research institutes, intergovernmental organizations, policy boards and industry.

At the EGEE booth a surprising number of people hadn’t heard of grid computing before and were amazed to hear about the extent of the project.

“And it works or it’s just an idea?” one booth visitor asked. “It works! It works and is used by thousands of people every day,” we replied.

To give delegates a deeper introduction, EGEE’s Rosette Vandenbroucke, coordinator of BEgrid, the Belgian Grid for Research, gave a masterclass, garnering a lot of attention and questions.

At the day’s closing session panelists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, CERN, the International Council for Science, the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, the Science Policy Working group of EUROSCIENCE and the European Research Area Board gave their thoughts on ways to help science and technology in Europe, inviting comments from the audience.

The discussion brought up issues such as funding flexibility, cross-border competition and collaboration, free movement of people and ideas, risk-taking, public outreach, early science training for students and media-training for scientists (a subject near and dear to this bloggers heart!).

One of the more interesting ideas put forth drew heavily on the US Man to the Moon mission. In 1961 US President John F. Kennedy announced his support for a manned moon landing when addressing Congress:
“ ... I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
This startling ambitious goal galvanized the research community and created the conditions ripe for innovation. Not only did the US achieve its goal, but the entire economy benefited as well.

Could the launch of a similarly lofty mission – perhaps a zero-carbon economy? – benefit Europe and the world at large? Time is running out to adjust the human contribution to climate change.

“We are at a critical time,” said Chairman John Wood in his closing remarks. “If we don’t do something now future generations will judge us very harshly. We all have to do something. Science and technology are – not the whole, but part of – the solution!”

Time keeping in Brussels

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