From several reports and podcasts, it seems that Europe’s leaders are not expecting a smooth ride in 2017 after a year marked by political upheaval, extremist attacks, unchecked immigration, and a rising military instability worldwide. Britain is struggling with its Brexit, America will soon inaugurate a new and surprising president. Elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany will certainly be important factors for European political stability in this New Year. According to EuroScience, 2016 was a challenging year for science and scientists in Europe as we are witnessing in many countries a political debate towards more focus on short term results. Indeed, research institutions, universities and scientists all over Europe, and beyond, are being constrained resulting from the increase of resources for “innovation” at the expense of fundamental research. But let’s admit that research and the dissemination of its results have undergone profound changes in the last decade or so. The enhanced digital technologies and the globalisation of our society, the demand for accountable, responsive science that addresses the societal challenges all increase the pressure towards open access for research results. This change of paradigm in the functioning of the research cycle has to be recognised with all the challenges that it generates for researchers and their institutions.
But, if you are tired of the bad news that is constantly reported in the media in our hyper-interconnected world, have a look at the Good News Network (http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/) to lift your spirits with positive things that happened in 2016. Among 10 undeniably good things, you will be glad to read that in first position is the reported detection of Gravitational Waves. A wonderful scientific breakthrough, proving that Einstein was right!
Well, let’s have a look back at some of the highlights of the EPS in the second part of 2016. Since 1st October 2016. the EPS has a new policy officer in its Brussels office, Walter van Doninck, a Belgian particle physicist recently retired from CERN. His role is to develop our point of presence in Brussels and enhance our interaction with the European Commission (EC) and other stakeholders. To help with this task, the newly created EPS Advisory Board on Science Policy (ABSP) with six highly recognised members, met on 14th Dec. in Geneva with Rolf Heuer, president of the DPG and member of the European Science Advisory Mechanism (SAM). Also present was our new EPS president-elect Rüdiger Voss from CERN, who was elected during the extraordinary Council in Mulhouse on Oct. 14th. An important step in the EPS engagement in Brussels is also our participation in the new Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP), established to propose to the EC recommendations on Open Science Policy. Indeed the EC’s vision for Open Science has been summarized by Commissioner Carlos Moedas as the three ‘O’s: Open Innovation, Open Science and Open to the World. The first OSPP meeting took place on 19th September, the second one on 9th December. EPS will continue its collaboration with the European Association for Chemical and Molecular Sciences (EuCheMS) and is preparing a joint policy workshop on ‘Solar Energy for a circular Economy’ for the members of the European Parliament in 2017. With our Energy Group and the support of our consultant on EU affairs, Luc Van Dyck, EPS has also submitted a contribution to the Interim Evaluation of Horizon 2020 with specific focus on the Societal Challenge `Clean, Safe and Efficient Energy´.
Some other relevant activities include the 7th EPS Forum Physics and Society that was organised on 27-28 October 2016 in London on the topic ‘Getting the Diversity Balance Right in Physics’. On 9th November the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (USA) was formally recognised as the second joint EPS-APS historic site, after the Einstein House in Bern in 2015. A Quantum Computing Experience event was organised at the IBM Research Laboratory in Rüschlikon on 21st November 2016 for Swiss Physics students and members of the EPS Young Minds (YM) sections of the EPFL and ETHZ. The YM program aims to recruit future researchers in physics, foster leadership among young physicists and develop outreach activities and is very successful. Started in 2010, it currently has about 40 sections in 21 countries.
Also worth mentioning is the Special Activity Fund of the EPS, created last year to support various projects on physics for development as well as to finance activities in developing countries, specifically in Africa. One recent example is a project in Morocco aimed in assembling solar kits and delivering light in remote areas and presented at COP22 Marrakech in November 2016. Donations to this Fund are welcome. More information can be found under www.eps.org.
Finally let me add that in 2017, Europe will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Erasmus+ Programme, which has enabled over three million European students to spend part of their studies at another higher education institution or with an organisation in Europe – a milestone for European integration! Events all over Europe will mark this anniversary, including conferences, forums, celebrations, debates and exhibitions. Maybe EPS can also contribute in its way to this celebration.
This being said, I wish all EPS Individual Members, Member Societies and Associate Members a very successful and peaceful New Year.