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Media Corner
27 June 2012

F4E welcomes EU Chief Scientific Adviser

Professor Anne Glover, EU Chief Scientific Adviser

Professor Anne Glover was appointed on 1 January 2012 as the first EU Chief Scientific Adviser reporting directly to the European Commission’s President, José Manuel Durão Barroso. An intense mandate has already started with high level meetings and conferences presenting her with the opportunity to be the first to set a high benchmark in this new function, and based on her proven track record Professor Anne Glover is no stranger to that. She previously served as Chief Scientific Advisor for Scotland from August 2006 to December 2011. She holds a Personal Chair of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Aberdeen, and has honorary positions at the Rowett and Macaulay Institutes. She is an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a member of the Natural Environment Research Council, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. Her academic credentials are complemented by her hands-on experience when she successfully set up a company to commercialise the biosensor technology that she developed in order to diagnose environmental pollution. In 2008 she was named Woman of Outstanding Achievement by the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology and made part of her mission to communicate science and improve women’s representation and career development in the field.

The newly appointed Chief has been entrusted with the duty to offer independent expert advice on any aspect of science, technology and innovation. The European Commission will turn to her for the interpretation of scientific evidence in the presence of uncertainty and ask her for guidance in terms of strategic planning. Her skills in building bridges between high level scientific advisory committees, EU bodies and member states will be used in order to improve partnerships.

During her first visit at F4E we met with her to hear her views on ITER, science and Europe’s role within the international R&D scene. The first thing that strikes you when you talk to her is how skilful she is in deconstructing complex ideas, the second is how incredibly humble she is.

She confesses to know very little about fusion but after a meeting with Frank Briscoe, F4E Director, she expresses her enthusiasm about the project. “ITER is a clear demonstration of Europe acting with vision and taking the lead, especially in times of austerity, in order to build more than just a complex machine. This whole project is about proving a concept that could revolutionise our energy mix. The commitment and resilience of the people that have dedicated their professional career to this scientific project is admirable. The foresight of the European Commission and the support offered by the EU member states backing this project are impressive because contrary to the fast-track payback approach, a choice has been made to invest in long-term benefits”.

The challenges posed by the multiple project interfaces enter our discussion and she explains that “the degree of sophistication in predetermining the location of components, assuring their compliance when their fabrication is carried out in different parts of the world and the degree of redundancy in the design of the machine brand this project as an absolutely astonishing intellectual exercise. These are the kind of projects in which Europe can really make a difference because they cannot be undertaken by one member state alone. The composition of the ITER consortium is impressive because what underpins this collaboration is the objective to deliver through collaboration. We, Europeans, are good in collaborating and generating new ideas but we are terribly modest. We ought to be more confident and compete with other world regions not on the basis of being cheaper but on the basis of being smarter”.

Europe’s economic reality, however, is pointing to another direction. Severe cuts have been noticed in the areas of education and R&D. So how can we unleash Europe’s potential? “We need to make the transition from knowledge to tangible economic benefits a priority. A lot of companies are poor at procuring knowledge and SMEs often claim that generating knowledge is a luxury. In my view it’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity. We need to unfold the best initiatives to build this collaboration. I understand that because of ITER a market is progressively developed, companies are learning how to manufacture components; they invest resources and develop know-how. They are fundamental to the success of this project and the future of fusion energy”. Her last remark brings us to some concluding thoughts on the future challenges that the scientific community will have to respond to. “The global population growth and the need to satisfy our needs suggest that we will have to tackle the distribution of natural resources and sustainable energy. This is where ITER is expected to play a role”. 

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