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4. Collaboration is the Foundation

NeurotechEU

Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour was a founder of the European University of Brain and Technology (NeurotechEU) in 2020. NeurotechEU is a collaboration between eight European universities to promote research, education and social impact at the cutting edge of neuroscience and engineering. The collaboration was formed within the framework of the European Universities Initiative, a European Commission initiative for exchanges in education, research and employment.

For the first three years, the alliance will focus on neuroscience. Under the leadership of Radboud University, the European University of Brain and Technology was established for this purpose. This prestigious group of universities is spending €5 million to build a European network of outstanding research and education in neuroscience and engineering. More than 250 European research institutes and organisations are involved in this initiative. Brain scientists from the Donders Institute were at the forefront of the collaboration.

In Europe alone, brain-related diseases such as dementia, vision loss and depression account for almost a quarter of all health problems. Due to the fast-increasing number of elderly people, this share is expected to increase further.

The impact of collaboration ultimately goes beyond education and research, says project manager Tansu Celikel, who is affiliated with the Donders Institute and is Professor of Neurophysiology at Radboud University. “The European Universities Initiative will actively promote diversity and foster a common European identity amongst students and researchers with multicultural, multilingual, international and intersectoral experiences across the European continent.”

‘This initiative is committed to the promotion of a single European identity’

- Tansu Celikel

ICAI-labs

In September, the third Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence  (ICAI) lab opened in Nijmegen: AI for Neurotech. In the ICAI labs, the business community works together with academic institutions. The new lab will focus, among other things, on restoring damaged or lost cognitive functions. “It would be fantastic if we could join forces with the business community to set up similar labs in other areas, such as smart systems, neurotechnology, education and sustainability,” says Marcel van Gerven, Scientific Director of the ICAI lab. Partners of AI for Neurotech include: Advanced Bionics, Abbott, Phosphoenix, the OnePlanet Research Center and several scientific institutes.

Other ICAI labs were already established in Nijmegen: the Thira Lab and Radboud AI for Health. In the Thira Lab, Radboud university medical center works with the companies Thirona and Delft Imaging Systems to improve medical image analysis of CT scans of the lungs, chest X-rays and retinal scans. Radboud AI for Health aims to make healthcare better and more efficient, for example with projects about AI-based diagnosis of genetic diseases or predictive models in intensive care.

Radboud Excellence Initiative

The Radboud Excellence Initiative, funded by Stichting Reinier Post, invites exceptional international postdocs to work and conduct research in Nijmegen for two years. In addition, leading senior researchers from abroad are given a professorship on the Nijmegen campus for six months. In 2019, it was decided to extend the funding, and in 2020 two new researchers were welcomed: astrophysicist Cole Miller (University of Maryland) and geneticist Paul Lasko (University of Montreal).

Horizon 2020

Between 2014 and 2020, Radboud University and Radboud university medical center received more than €200 million from the European Commission. This has funded 264 research and innovation projects, making Radboud one of the top three Dutch organisations with the highest contribution from Horizon 2020. The effort extends to a variety of areas: health, climate action, emerging technologies, ICT, food safety, biotechnology, transport, energy, space and security, inclusive society, nanotechnology, high-performance materials and research infrastructure.

The highlight of the Horizon 2020 programme is the awarding of two ERC Synergy Grants. Also noteworthy is a grant of €2.2 million secured by researcher Frans Harren (Faculty of Science) along with several partners. Their programme – Fast Track to Innovation – aims to reduce food loss between harvest and sale. Another programme within Horizon 2020 is PRIME (Prevention and Remediation of Insulin Multimorbidity in Europe). It focuses on unravelling brain abnormalities, tracing them through insulin signalling and determining their connection to type 2 diabetes and obesity.

With €200 million from the European Commission, 264 projects have been funded, making Radboud one of the top three Dutch organisations with the highest contribution from Horizon 2020

Another success in Horizon 2020 is SignON, a three-year project to support communication between hearing, deaf and hard of hearing people, which received funding of €5.6 million. That consortium aims to provide automated translation between sign languages and spoken (and written) languages with a smartphone app. The Centre for Language and Speech Technology (Faculty of Arts) is responsible for the system’s automatic speech recognition.

The Guild Research Network

In autumn 2020, the university presidents of The Guild set out a vision for European universities for the next ten years. The Guild is a network of 21 European universities, including Radboud University. It lobbies in Brussels on behalf of scientific research, education and research valorisation, and it wants to have a say in European research policy.

The intention is to strengthen research within and between institutions, including fundamental, groundbreaking research. At the same time, the presidents emphasise the need for educational change in a digital age. They call for increasing the autonomy of universities and strengthening the public understanding of science and its role in public policy and debate.

Green IT

With a grant from the European Research Council, Radboud researchers – under the banner of Green IT – are working on a promising, inexpensive method of storing data on long synthetic wires. In the autumn, researchers from Nijmegen and Groningen published in Nature about a new technology with which information can be written on a chain of molecules.

Researchers from Nijmegen and Groningen published about a new technology with which information can be written on a chain of molecules.

The global need for data storage capacity is growing rapidly. “If we continue at this rate, we will need about 2,000 billion hard drives by 2040. We will never have enough silicon to build that many hard drives,” says Roeland Nolte, Professor of Molecular Nanotechnology . New ways of storing data in an energy-efficient and efficient way are therefore urgently needed. “Technologies that we develop now can only be applied in ten or twenty years’ time, so we have to work on them now,” says fellow researcher Hans Elemans.