Science & Research
4. New frontiers
The Research Information Centre of the European Commission’s DG Research gives online access to hundreds of articles about cutting-edge technologies and scientific projects currently under way in the EU.
Recent success stories show how heavyweights from the European computing sector came together in the TALOS alliance to spur innovation in European High-Performance Computing (HPC) solutions for large-scale supercomputing systems; how intelligent and functional textiles are developed for cosmetic and even medical applications; and how the ECONOGENE project supports rural herding communities via animal gene pool analysis.
In the International Polar Year 2007-2009, EU research has highlighted the advances made in understanding the role of Polar Regions in climate change and the environment. The Polar Environment and Climate Report explains the results of over 60 research projects in the past ten years, in areas such as climate system, environment and health, natural hazards, natural resources and research infrastructures. The EPICA project has shown that levels of carbon dioxide are at their highest in 650 000 years, raising concerns about the intensity of global warming in the future. The DAMOCLES project has examined the human and environmental impact of reduction of sea ice cover in the Arctic. The data it yielded will be invaluable in forecasting the effects of melting icecaps and the project developed new tools for use in harsh, Arctic conditions.
Among the future forms of energy which EU funding supports is nuclear fusion, an environmentally friendly and sustainable but technologically very difficult alternative to the nuclear fission used in nuclear power plants at present. The raw materials required as fuel for a fusion reaction – deuterium and lithium – occur naturally in almost limitless quantities. The Cadarache site in southeast France near Lyon is preparing for the start-up of the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) project. The prototype ITER reactor will experiment, under real conditions, with generating energy from thermonuclear fusion. The reactor is expected to be up and running by 2016. The testing of this “energy for the future” will be an international project, bringing together scientific know-how from the European Union, Russia, China, the United States, Japan, India and South Korea – representing over half of the world’s population. To ensure construction of the ITER site within Europe, the EU agreed to shoulder about half of the construction costs of the project. The current cost-estimate for the thirty-year project is set at €10 billion. The ITER is second only to the International Space Station as the most expensive, international, scientific undertaking.
Space is another important research frontier in the European Union. In the last 40 years, Europe has built up technological know-how, both nationally and through cooperation with the European Space Agency ESA. EU’s joint programme with ESA covers launchers and areas such as communication by satellite, human space flight and micro-gravity. Ministerial meetings of the EU and ESA are held regularly.
Sustaining a competitive industry, including manufacturers, service providers and operators requires new research and technologies. For this reason, space was, for the first time, included as a separate theme to EU’s 7th Research Framework Programme. The aim is to support the European Space Programme , by focusing on applications such as ‘Global monitoring for environment and security’ (GMES), with benefits for citizens and for the competitiveness of the European space industry. Space applications are seen to bring significant benefits to citizens through spin-off effects and to give an indispensable boost to a high tech society. In the years 2007-2013, the EU will fund research of space-based applications serving European society, space exploration and the strengthening of space applications such as bio-medicine and physical sciences in space.
Separately, the EU is leading the GALILEO project for the next generation of satellite global positioning system. The GALILEO covers a range of applications from more efficient traffic management to search-and-rescue.
- 1. Remaining competitive
- 2. The European Research Area (ERA)
- 3. 7th Research Framework Programme
- 4. New frontiers
- 5. Key policy makers and contacts