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Science in Southeastern Europe

New initiative aims to boost international cooperation in the region

Science in Southeastern Europe
Science in Southeastern Europe

24/01/2018 - Trieste

Southeastern Europe may someday be home to two cutting-edge research facilities operating on an international cooperation model similar to CERN.

Concepts for the two facilities were presented at a high-level meeting, hosted by ICTP, of representatives from European science agencies and institutes and the region's governments. Participants of this "Forum on New International Research Facilities for South East Europe" heard about plans for a synchrotron light source as well as a cancer research and treatment facility. Synchrotron light sources allow researchers to investigate matter at the nano scale and have applications in materials science, medicine, and many other fields. The cancer research facility would boost the region's biomolecular research capacity.

"This proposal for these projects has a twofold objective: one is to promote science and technology in the region and the other is science for peace and coming together," said Dr. Herwig Schopper, a former CERN director, a key early leader of the efforts to establish the newly active SESAME synchrotron in the Middle East, and the creator of the Southeastern Europe initiative. "We're very grateful to ICTP for hosting this meeting: it's a neutral place very close to the region, so many people could come here," said Schopper. "The meeting has been a success partly due to being able to have it at ICTP."

Dr. Sanja Damjanović, the Minister of Science of Montenegro and a vocal proponent of the SSE reserach initiative remarked, "As someone who comes from this region but worked outside it at CERN for nearly twenty years, I can confirm that research options in this region are really far from being attractive and stimulating. It is a kind of gray zone for science and technology. Our main goal is really to enable first-class research in the region, with the newest technology, to finally bring this region to be competitive with the rest."

The region's scientists, engineers and technicians would benefit not only from the facilities, but also from the proposed training they would receive prior to completion of the projects. In addition, transfer opportunities generated by the cutting-edge facilities could have wider benefits for the entire region. In particular, the projects could encourage the development of powerful digital networks capable of handling the transfer of data from the central laboratories to the users. "First class research and technology development has the ability to not only develop the economy and increase the standard of living, but most importantly it has the potential to reverse brain drain from the region," said Damjanović.

The Forum represents the first step by Southeastern European countries to establish an international scientific institute in the region since the signing of a declaration of intent in October 2017 at CERN. Among the signatories was Damjanović, who said at the event, "This is a really special day, because for the first time in history, representatives of the countries of South East Europe are considering the possibility of establishing a regional international institute." She added, "I am particularly pleased that the region has quickly realized the significance of this project and the benefits it will bring us, because it has the opportunity to carry out an economic, scientific and technological transformation of the countries of the region."

Schopper was also at the October signing, and said in a statement to the media, "I am glad that, after today’s signing, the initiative will become a regional project. In addition, I hope that this region will succeed in utilizing benefits from science and technology, which is of paramount importance for young people and their education."

"I'm really very happy, we presented for the first time to the public and the scientific community the two options for the project," said Damjanović. The two projects are very different and completmentary, she explained. "We were pleasantly surprised at the high number of attendees and the positive reaction from many organizations and many scientists," said Schopper. "One of the next steps is to develop communities of potential users in the region for this technology and these facilities."

ICTP Director Fernando Quevedo gave welcome remarks at the Forum, along with Martin Krause, Director of the Division for Europe at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Meera Venkatesh, IAEA's Director of the Division of Physical and Chemical Sciences, David Lee, Secretary General of the European Physical Society (EPS), and Robert Jan Smits, the Director-General of Research and Innovation at the European Commission. After the opening remarks, the participants of the Forum were addressed by Dr. Damjanović.

The "Forum on New International Research Facilities for South East Europe" took place at ICTP from 25 to 26 January and was co-sponsored by the Montenegro Ministry of Science, UNESCO, the IAEA, the European Physical Society and the Fondazione Internazionale Trieste.


Related link: Basic concept for a South-East Europe International Institute for Sustainable Technologies (SEEIIST)