December 11, 2008

COST Brings Australia, New Zealand and Europe Closer Together

Two pilot schemes introduced by COST are helping European researchers and their counterparts in New Zealand and Australia meet, learn from each other and explore opportunities for working together. The first researchers from Australia have already returned from successful study trips to Europe with tangible results. Both of the schemes, launched on 1 July 2007, will run for an initial two-year pilot period. Each scheme initially provided for up to twenty travel grants of approximately EUR 2 500 each. To cope with the overwhelming demand, the Australian Academy of Science has already increased its funding significantly since.


By encouraging visits to Europe, the schemes increase participation in existing COST Actions. Professor Wieslaw Krolikowski of the Laser Physics Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra visited the Centre for Nanotechnology in Münster, Germany, as part of COST Action MP0604 Optical Micro-Manipulation. He found out more about the state of the art in non-linear nanophotonics and laser trapping. He also established new contacts that could lead to further collaborative work.

My trip to Germany was very fruitful. Not only was I able to advance my collaboration with the group on non-linear effects in periodic systems but I also identified new research problems for my future activities. I exchanged ideas with a number of researchers from various European institutions and Universities which may lead to future collaboration, student exchanges and joint publications,” says Professor Krolikowski. “I was impressed by the extremely high-quality research in the field.”


Tomaso Aste and Tiziana Di Matteo, also from the Australian National University, in particular its Department of Applied Mathematics, were able to travel to Europe to visit colleagues working on COST Action P10 the Physics of Risk. The aim here is to apply the latest knowledge and tools from the physics of complex systems to understanding problems of risk in economics, social sciences, food safety and health.

“I participated in different international forums where I presented results from my research and collaborated with COST members in Europe. In particular, I enhanced my existing international collaborations and also started new ones. I discussed new EU research and COST Action proposals,” says Tiziana Di Matteo.

By helping them join international forums in Europe, the COST pilot scheme helped the Canberra-based researchers to showcase Australian research capacities. Furthermore, meeting with European colleagues working on similar problems in econophysics and complex systems, as well as concrete research carried out during the visit, has already produced two new research papers submitted for publication.

This visit was of fundamental importance to establish strong links with the European scientific community in a moment of high strategic importance: the first year of the Seventh Framework Programme. This will assure future participation in international collaborative programmes with Europe. Moreover this was a valuable occasion to showcase leading Australian research in important international forums.” explains Tomaso Aste.


In 2007, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Dr Di McCarthy explained the need for the new schemes, saying: “global scientific research still faces practical barriers such as lack of funding for travel. This agreement helps alleviate some of those barriers”.

The launch of the pilot programmes was also welcomed by Professor Sue Serjeantson, Executive Secretary of the Australian Academy of Science, who said last year that this agreement provides opportunities for people-to-people cooperation, which is essential to the success of global engagement in science.

The networking opportunities with hundreds of European scientists encourage work on proposals for new projects in EU research funding programmes. These links will grow in importance as the European Seventh Framework Programme progresses and should stimulate further international cooperation in future.

The missions can also lead to two-way exchanges or lay the ground work for longer-term collaboration. A follow-up visit to Canberra by the COST Action P10 coordinator, Professor Peter Richmond, for example, has led to the drafting of a new COST Action proposal.


The enthusiastic response to the pilot schemes could serve as a model for similar reciprocal agreements which “bridge” scientific communities in the 35 COST countries to their colleagues in the rest of the world. South Africa, India and Argentina are already looking at the possibility of similar arrangements.

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