After Nanotechnology, what’s next?

The Joint Research Centre’s Dr Elke Anklam spoke to SEQ about how the European Commission is supporting nanotechnologies.

In June, SciTech Europa Quarterly travelled to Bucharest, Romania, to attend the 2019 instalment of the EuroNanoForum, a conference that brought together scientists, industrialists and policy makers to discuss cross-sectorial challenges focusing on both the industrial application of research results and future strategic research priorities in the area of nanotechnology and advanced materials in Horizon 2020 and beyond.

Amongst numerous high level speakers at the event, the Director of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) Geel site and Director of JRC Directorate F: Health, Consumers & Reference Material, Dr Elke Anklam, delivered an interesting presentation during a plenary session entitled ‘Almost there – what’s next?’, which was designed to promote the discussion of the status and achievements in nanotechnology and advanced materials areas during Horizon 2020, now in its pen-ultimate year.

SciTech Europa Quarterly caught up with Anklam after the event to find out more about how the European Commission is supporting innovation in nanotechnologies, as well as about some of the ways in which nanotechnologies can benefit European society.

What do you feel must be done in Europe in order for industry to take proper advantage of nanotechnologies and novel materials in order to boost European society through job creation? How can nanotechnologies become a more strategic priority for Europe moving forwards?

Nanotechnology underpins a wide range of new products and technologies that have a huge potential to improve our daily lives, as well as creating jobs. Nanotechnology is also an important source of innovation worldwide and Europe is of course very active in this area. However, it is not without its challenges. The need for high tech instruments and facilities that require high-end interdisciplinary expertise can often impede the translation of innovations into real products and technologies.

The European Commission implements concrete actions to tackle this, including making research and technology infrastructures available to benefit research institutions and SMEs and help them bring their innovations to the market.

DG RTD tools such as Open Innovation Test Beds, Pilot Lines, the European Strategic Forum of Research Infrastructures Roadmaps (ESFRI), and research infrastructure projects are already in place to support innovation. The JRC offers access to more than 38 of its research infrastructures to external users, including the Nanobiotechnology Laboratory, which has state-of-the-art instrumentation to perform interdisciplinary studies aiming to characterise nanomaterials, micro/nanoplastics, nanomedicines, and advanced (bio)nanomaterials, enabling researchers to complete their studies using facilities that are not available in their institutions.

Besides giving access to infrastructures, the JRC co-ordinates the European Technology Transfer Offices Circle (TTO Circle), a network aiming to bring together major public research organisations to share best practices, knowledge, and expertise, perform joint activities, and develop a common approach towards international standards for the professionalisation of technology transfer. Such an initiative creates an interesting European ecosystem that favours the technology transfer from innovation towards the market.

To summarise, creating a sustainable innovation ecosystem including research infrastructures, technology transfer, as well as an active interface between research, policy, and regulators is necessary to be globally competitive in nanotechnologies. In addition, not only is it important to develop the regulatory landscape supporting the new technologies, but also to gain consumers’ confidence and acceptance to make the products a success, safe, and sustainable.

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