Brussels, 25 Mar 2004
A workshop on the scientific, technological and societal aspects of multifunctional materials in Bologna, Italy highlighted growing research collaboration between the EU and China and was intended to facilitate joint responses to calls in FP6.
The Bologna workshop was the third under the specific implementation agreement on materials sciences signed in 2001 by the EU and China, and following their 1998 international scientific co-operation agreement. The event focused on: biomaterials, bio-inspired materials and organic/inorganic hybrids as well as the development of innovative nanostructured materials and multifunctional materials for macro-scale applications.
"Government and scientists need to pay attention to new materials," insists workshop participant Du Shanyi of the Harbin Institute of Technology. "We are making progress in China and many of our scientists, including young ones, are interested in this area. We need to make innovations in several ways, both in research itself and in encouraging our researchers to study abroad."
The level of scientific development in China impresses Professor José Kenny of the University of Perugia in Italy and another participant in the Bologna workshop. "They are getting results from sending people abroad and the extensive resources available in China," he points out.
Kenny's initial involvement in EU-China collaboration was in finding partners for two Networks of Excellence, one of which has now been selected for FP6 funding. "Our main introduction to potential associates came during the previous EU-China materials workshop in Beijing," he explains. However he believes there is a wider community that could open up more. But he is very happy with the Chinese collaborators for his nanotubes network, including one of the few experts in this field.
Issues and recommendations
Following presentations on research priorities in China and in the EU, the Bologna workshop split into two parallel sessions: biomaterials, bio-inspired materials and hybrid materials; and nanostructured materials and multifunctional materials for macro-applications.
The bio- and hybrid materials session identified five key topics and issues that require further attention:
- Surfaces, interface modifications and definition;
- Compositional nature of new materials;
- Biocompatibility, particularly where new materials are in contact with living organisms – responsible consideration of this issue would help promote citizen confidence in new materials and their applications;
- New synthetic, natural or modified natural materials – a source of strong debate about the importance of giving appropriate attention to nature's lead in terms of material and molecular design; and
- Fabrication processes for multifunctional and intelligent materials, including surface activation.
Issues identified by the nanostructured and multi materials session cover:
- Materials by design – including nanomaterial and nanocomposite synthesis, nanoparticles, and knowledge-based multifunctional molecular materials such as organic semiconductors, molecular switches, actuators and motors;
- Fundamental knowledge in areas such as nucleation and growth, self-assembly, hybrid organic/inorganic and bio/non-bio interfaces, and scale-dependent phenomena;
- New devices and functional systems – including architectures for information storage, molecular electronics, spintronics, nanoscale devices, energy storage and sensors; and
- New fabrication, manufacturing, and production processes – such as scaled-up production and processing as well as instrumentation for nanoscale production.
Overall recommendations from the conference participants to improve EU-China research collaboration include:
- Increasing awareness of existing instruments for bilateral collaboration;
- Mapping existing EU-China collaboration and how it is supported;
- Stimulating collaboration on a wider basis;
- Funding mutual exploratory visits by groups of potentially interested scientists;
- Organising exchange and visit programmes, particularly for doctoral students and other young researchers;
- Promoting and organising short-term events such as summer schools; and
- Promoting technology transfer between research and industry.
Overall, the European Commission and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) were very satisfied with the Bologna workshop, according to José-Lorenzo Vallés, head of unit for materials at the Research DG and formerly responsible for the China-EU science and technology co-operation promotion office (CECO) in Beijing. "The response was good, and shows the interest in collaboration," he explains. "And there were good contacts for joint proposals.
"The EU-China scientific agreement opened up the Framework Programmes to Chinese scientists and FP6 includes some EU funding for these partners. MOST is also interested in supporting such collaborative research and there is room in the Chinese programmes for funding. There were already some Chinese partners in FP5 but funded from the PRC. In FP6, the Commission and MOST will discuss who finances the Chinese partners – the Commission or MOST – once the project contract has been signed."
Existing EU-China collaboration includes: SPintronic INnovative technologies for ASIA (SPIN-ASIA), aimed at transferring a suitable technology to China for the growth of thin films for spintronics, with partners in Italy, Germany and China; and the FP5 GROWTH programme Carbon nanotubes for devices, electrodes and composites (CARDECOM) project, which is working on the application of carbon nanotubes. Partners here include universities, research centres and SMEs in France, Germany, the UK and China.
Future collaboration in FP6 could include:
- GREENCOMP (NE), which intends to develop nanocomposites based on natural materials and includes Italian and Chinese partners;
- HYPERSURF (IP), which aims to develop surface engineering based on nanomaterials and includes both German and Chinese partners;
- NANOFUN-POLY (NE), which would work on nanostructured and multifunctional polymers and nanocomposites with Italian and Chinese partners;
- NANOSPARK (CRAFT), which intends to develop instruments for the production of carbon nanotubes; and
- SPANG (STREP), which would work on the production of carbon nanotubes.