How COVID-19 changed RIs: An interview of Jan Hrušák, ESFRI Chair
Jan Hrušák, Chair of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), was recently interviewed by Science Business, and dicussed the impact of the new circumstances imposed by the coronavirus pandemic on Research Infrastructures (RIs), among other pressing issues.
In response to COVID-19, Europe’s research labs scrambled to make the best use of their resources and offered remote access for researchers. Now some of the enforced changes are set to become a permanent feature. According to ESFRI Chair Jan Hrušák, big labs will fine tune remote access schemes and allow more researchers to send in samples for those projects that do not require their physical presence in the lab.
In the face of the pandemic, research labs fast-tracked access for urgent health projects and had to put many other experiments on hold. Labs around Europe closed their doors as travel restrictions and lockdowns hit, and had to invent new ways of carrying out essential work safely. “Research infrastructures have been severely hit by the crisis,” said Hrušák. “They had difficulties working in the traditional way and they have been facing troubles in providing access to users.” However, as seen throughout this challenging period, “There might be new ways how research infrastructures will connect to the users and how they operate,” said Hrušák.
On the matter of international cooperation, RIs are increasing international access, but at the same time they have to find a balance between openness and keeping operational costs under control, according to Hrušák. He hopes EU stakeholders will discuss how to cover the operational costs of research infrastructures as the share of international researchers using these labs grows. “International access becomes an issue in several research infrastructures because when it becomes a sizable share of usage, then it certainly gives us an issue of who is covering these operational costs,” said Hrušák.
ESFRI Chair also highlighted the importance of establishing international labs with local impact, and brought attention to relevant investements realized over the past decade in his home country, the Czech Republic, such as the one of the three laser labs within the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) project and the Central European Institute of Technology (CEITEC). These investments are a “very nice demonstration of how research infrastructures have impact on the local innovation ecosystem,” said Hrušák, and accordingly several research infrastructures are currently being built with EU structural funds in Spain, France and Greece.
To read the published interview in full, please click here.