Issue 74 - 19th July, 2012

Providing a Boost
An Indo-Dutch Science Working Session for Indian and Dutch scientists, SMEs, NGOs, multinationals and funding agencies was held at the International Institute of Information Technology in Bangalore (IIIT-B) in April 2012. The Council for Physical Sciences of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) took the initiative for this session to help promote Indo-Dutch science collaboration at the intersection of computational research and creative industries. Connect caught up with Dr. Astrid Zuurbier, Manager Discipline Computer Science, Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research to know more.
Could you tell us a little bit about NWO and its focus areas?
Science is a champion’s league. For this reason, The Council for Physical Sciences of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) facilitates knowledge exchange and mobility, and is active in numerous international networks and programs. For assessing research projects, NWO consults renowned peer reviewers in the whole world. NWO mediates for the use of research facilities elsewhere in the world and finances large scale facilities in the Netherlands. Researchers from the Netherlands and abroad may apply for a wide range of (international) subsidies. NWO subsidies are held in high esteem. They are considered to be quality enhancing and fulfill an important role in the careers of researchers. Together with relevant partners, NWO wants to give an extra boost to solving urgent problems in society and shall commit itself to six themes for this strategy period. These have been chosen to realize strong ties between the agendas of world-class scientific research groups and the priorities of the government and national knowledge institutes.
NWO has chosen nine broad themes for the coming period that relate to national and international agendas:
Creative industry
Diabetes patients measuring their blood levels using their smart phones; virtual worlds where emergency response teams can practice disaster scenarios; the discovery of a 'new' Van Gogh beneath another painting - Science and creative industry reinforce each other.
Creative industry is the collective name for fashion and industrial designers, architects, advertising agencies and the creators of software and games. It also covers media and entertainment, the arts, cultural heritage and cultural events. This branch of industry has been one of the fastest growing sectors of the Dutch economy for a number of years now.
Via the theme Creative Industry, NWO is investing in scientific research into and for the creative production and commercial service industries. This ranges, for example, from software development for serious games, through research into the origins and workings of creativity, to rendering cultural heritage digitally accessible via the Internet and social media.
High Tech Systems and Materials
Within the NWO theme High Tech Systems and Materials, scientists are working on new materials, new components and new functionalities for high-tech applications, ranging from healthcare, lighting, computer chips, complex equipment, robotics, communications, logistical systems, aircraft and satellites to energy generation and safety.
Research areas within this theme contributing towards the technology of the future include: embedded systems, photonics, advanced materials, ICT research, mechatronics, medical technology, microelectronics, nanotechnology, sensor technology, fluid dynamics and the technical sciences in the broadest sense.
Water and ClimateWater is essential for life on earth and vitally important for society. It also plays an important role in the climate. The natural cycle from ocean to atmosphere, back to earth via precipitation and via rivers to the oceans, exerts a crucial influence on regional and global climate patterns.
The Netherlands enjoys an international status as a centre of expertise in the areas of water management, water safety, water technology, maritime research and shipbuilding. Dutch researchers are also carrying out important research in the fields of wastewater purification, climate models and delta technology.
Within the NWO theme Water and Climate, research is being done into areas such as the fundamental principles underlying extreme weather, flood security, fresh water supply, changing ecosystems and climate predictability.
Cultural and Societal Dynamics
Society is changing under the influence of globalisation, technology, commercialisation and individualisation. Via Twitter, Facebook and Skype, people maintain contacts the world over and, sometimes, even revolutions are started. World views and how people view each other are changing, both nationally and internationally. The relationship between the continuing scaling up of human societies and the limited scale of people as individuals is a varied and dynamic area for research.
The central question within the NWO theme Cultural and Societal Dynamics is what connects people, and what divides them. This central question is addressed within the theme on the basis of various topics: identity and the forming of identity, comprehensible language and multilingualism, religion, sport, citizenship, culture and heritage.
Researchers are working on questions such as: How should school textbooks be written to ensure that they can be understood as easily as possible? How should we handle forms of religious expression in the public domain, such as headscarves or loud bell-ringing? What is the role of sport in the integration of different population groups?
Sustainable Energy
Biomass, nuclear fusion, wind turbines, solar cells, or maybe solar fuels? In many areas, scientists are on the look-out for sustainable energy sources capable of meeting our future energy needs.
NWO is encouraging top-class research into the energy supplies of the future within the NWO theme Sustainable Energy. A thematic approach is needed to develop radical new solutions capable of meeting the increasing demand for energy in a sustainable manner. As a result, the research questions in this field are strongly interdisciplinary in nature.
The theme Sustainable Energy is a broad one, ranging from research into energy saving, through energy storage and transport, to research into new energy sources. The theme does not just focus on the technology. Understanding the (geo)political and social challenges posed by the essential transition from fossil fuels to more sustainable forms of energy is also on the agenda.
Connecting Sustainable Cities
The world's population is becoming concentrated in larger and larger cities. This poses challenges for society. How to keep a city with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants live-able? How many roads are needed and of what type? Where are all of these people to live and work, how do they live together and move around?
How to guarantee the vitality, live-ability and accessibility of cities is the central issue within the NWO theme Connecting Sustainable Cities.
Research within this theme focuses on every possible aspect: from accessibility for people, goods and flows of information to the live-ability of cities and spatial development.
In all of these areas, NWO is funding innovative, multidisciplinary research, of a high scientific level that has an international orientation.
Materials: Solutions for Scarcity
Raw materials are becoming scarce. Oil, for example, that we use to make plastics. Other materials such as indium (in LCD screens), platinum (catalysts) or lithium (lightweight batteries) are also increasingly difficult to come by. Because they are running out, or they come from areas where trade is impossible.
Within the NWO theme Materials: Solutions for Scarcity, science and industry are joining forces in a bid to find alternatives. Lightweight, powerful batteries for example, which do not contain lithium. Smarter design processes, with less use of raw materials and more re-use of parts or materials.
The aim is to make materials with useful properties as efficiently and sustainably as possible, because the world’s population is growing, emerging nations are developing into major economies and we are using more and more resources, energy, food and water.
Agro, Food and Horticulture
The agricultural sector, food industry and horticulture together make a contribution of ten per cent to the Dutch economy. Dutch exports of agricultural and food products are the second largest in the world.
Within the NWO theme Agro, Food & Horticulture, scientists are conducting innovative research into the major issues in the agricultural sector, food industry and horticulture. The research has three priority areas: sustainable and safe production, healthy food, and food security from a global perspective. The challenge is to supply the world with healthy food as sustainably as possible.
By 2050, we are expected to have nine billion mouths to feed. Current production methods will be incapable of meeting these growing needs. Due to scarcer raw materials, uncertain yields due to climate change, and increasing damage to our environment, it is necessary to change over to a sustainable production system that produces greater yields while respecting animals, people and the environment.
What is the history and current status of Indo- Dutch science collaboration?
Indo-Dutch science collaboration at the intersection of computational research and creative industries is, for several reasons, a promising area for collaboration between Indian and Dutch public and private organizations. NWO Physical Sciences main goals are to improve the strength of computer science by raising challenging research questions and stimulating (international) networking and to augment the quantity of computer science by attracting national and international public and private investors. With these goals in mind, NWO Physical Sciences has started bilateral Indo-Dutch networking and research activities in the area of Creative Industries at the intersection of ICT, creativity and content, matching the national creative industry top sector networks and the National ICT-roadmap. NWO is especially keen to getting deeper insights in the relevant areas for co-operation with the aim to develop new (low cost) applications that improve e.g. health, transport, logistics, security and/or education conditions in the Indian and Dutch society.
The Council for Physical Sciences of the NWO and the IIIT-B have joined forces and organized an Indo-Dutch Science Working Session where Indian and Dutch scientists from different universities, NGOs like Fields of View and multinationals like Shell, Logica, Infosys and Philips have met and made explicit plans and propositions for bilateral public-private collaboration. This Indo-Dutch Science Working Session has taken place at April 24th and 25th 2012 at the IIIT-B in Bangalore.
What are the goals of such collaborations especially the one between NWO and IIIT-Bangalore and how does it benefit both parties?
The Indo-Dutch Working Session in April 2012 was a tool to strengthen the ecosystem and to capture the ingredients for the roadmap (goals and instruments). NWO created in collaboration with Shell Technology Centre Bangalore, ) the NGO Fields of View and the IIIT-Bangalore a podium where scientists, SME’s NGO’s multinationals and funding agencies met and made explicit plans and propositions for collaboration. A smart mix of people with a mandate and knowledge about the research areas were invited. This Working Session was used to define what is needed for successful collaboration in the short-term and the long-term. Invitees benefited from attending the workshop: they expanded their professional network and obtained influence on decision making and thus augmented chances for funding as the result of the meeting. This will be the input for the funding partners to develop instruments. The Working Session was aimed at:
  • Creating opportunities for bilateral science collaboration;
  • Strengthening an active and sustainable Indo-Dutch community of interest; and Capturing the assets of a roadmap: the goals, the critical deliverables, the decision steps, the stakeholder engagement, and the basis
  • for successful collaboration in the short-term and the long-term.
The results of the Working Session were described in a roadmap and shared with the relevant stakeholders. The next step after the Working Session is to write this roadmap jointly with the stakeholders and build collaborations with future funding partners. This will take place in summer and autumn of 2012.
What are the similarities and differences that both sides bring to the table? And how do these- both the similarities if any, and the differences, make the experience more enriching?
India is an interesting research partner for the Dutch computer and computational scientists because India is the land of opportunity in the area of IT. IT is economically an important focus area in India and India has an urgent need for new IT services and products to face major societal challenges. Another reason why India is interesting is that the culture, the demography, the values, lifestyle, the overall level of education, etc. differ significantly from the western society. Interlinking Dutch and Indian communities in this research area will challenge them to create new services and products for unfamiliar users groups in unfamiliar contexts which will result in acceleration of socio-economic innovation which happens out of the comfort zone.
The Netherlands is an interesting research partner for India because nowadays IT innovation needs more and more creativity, design and understanding of man-machine interaction. Simulation, visualization, virtual worlds, serious gaming are major upcoming developments which need creative minds. The Dutch are known for their strong scientific communities in serious gaming and design and the creative Industries (Social Innovation, Virtual Worlds, New Media) is therefore selected as one of the nine national economic focus areas. Another reason why the Dutch are interesting partners is that the Dutch are known for their capacity to create smart design solutions in complex environments. The Dutch can deliver the skills and competences, such as design thinking, to operate successfully in a more and more complex multidisciplinary and -cultural environment accompanied by an ongoing increase in data generation.
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