Available online 20 September 2010.
Foresight and research advice in materials science and engineering for the next five years is the aim of the newly established European Science Foundation
Materials sciences and engineering: European Science Foundation (MatSEEC), chaired by semiconductor expert Guenther Bauer of the University of Linz, Austria, has identified its first priority topics for the future of research in this field and will finalise and disseminate information and recommendations to its participating organisations and the research community in Europe by the end of 2010.
Within MatSEEC, working groups are examining education and training, materials and challenges, tools, facilities and infrastructure, computational techniques, technology and knowledge transfer, funding, outreach and communication. Of course, some areas will require more analysis than others in order to provide appropriate and useful advice to members that will shape future research programmes at national and European level. Advice will be offered to the 8th Framework Programme(FP8) and the European Strategic Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), for instance. MatSEEC anticipates that these more detailed analyses will garner input from the wider materials community across Europe.
MatSEEC has direct support from over 20 major national funding organisations, together with the European Space Agency and European Materials Research Society. Bauer points out that the risks Europe faces if MatSEEC's recommendations are not followed is that the region will fall behind other parts of the world in technology, its applications and in jobs.
Although there is a general consensus within the European scientific community that Europe has adequate knowledge and skills to compete with any other country, what is lacking to some degree is the ability to transfer this proficiency in materials science from the area of basic science to innovation and industry.
This transfer problem is another that the committee should rightly address. “MatSEEC will explore the origin of this problem, trying to develop programmes to counteract fragmentation, suggest proper mechanisms, generic ways of opening up boundaries, investigating whether or not sufficient infrastructure is available for fostering innovation,” adds Bauer.
Of course, with multidisciplinarity across such a broad area there is always the possibility that natural divisions between areas of research and between academia and industry could stifle development. Bauer is convinced that the committee membership, which includes engineering professionals from industry and applied sciences institutes together with industrial researchers engaged in applied materials engineering, will address this problem from the outset by ensuring that the full breadth of the community is represented. “MatSEEC also has working groups on careers and technology transfer, links to the European Research Council (ERC) and the European Materials Research Society (EMRS),” he adds, “but, it is very rightly an issue we shall have to watch.”
A deadline of the end of 2010 has been set for MatSEEC's first set of recommendations. The priority areas needing more analysis to provide valid advice include the 8th Framework Programme (FP8) and the European Strategic Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI). “We will be actively seeking input from the materials community for these more detailed analyses over the next four years,” adds Bauer. “The input for the national research agencies which support MatSEEC does not necessarily have these same timescales, these are likely to be a longer timeframe,” he adds. “It's important to remember that these national organisations together control at least 90% of basic research funding in Europe.”
That said, the “materials scientist in the street” would probably want better funding strategies, including more responsiveness to cutting edge research issues, better programmes with lighter bureaucracy, quicker responsiveness, international funding, and better research infrastructures. “We can't answer calls for ‘more money’ or ‘better recognition for materials’,” says Bauer, “these things come only when good strategy is put in place and delivers. The work MatSEEC will do to look for the challenges and needs ahead of us is fundamental in providing this.”
He adds that MatSEEC has decided to focus its work on the following priorities for which working groups were established for future actions: Education and training, what kind of materials and challenges, tools, facilities and infrastructure, computational techniques, methods and materials design, technology and knowledge transfer, funding, and public outreach. Indeed, MatSEEC has already established a working group on “What kind of materials” to focus on in Europe. “This is certainly the most challenging task which will need support and wider consultation from the research community but is also the most obvious and necessary challenge which requires foresight and a forward-looking approach,” Bauer adds.
MatSEEC will review progress on a regular basis and will identify new topics for attention, and may also provide scientific or foresight advice on request from specific organisations. All working groups have already delivered their first reports, that in the computational sciences is so far advanced that publication is imminent for a report for the broader scientific community, the policy makers, and the ESF.
Volume 13, Issue 9, September 2010, Page 6