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Research infrastructure
02 June 2018
Last modified: 02 June 2018
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Research infrastructures (definitions, types, relevance)

As the Commission in its report on the consultation on long-term sustainability of research infrastructures points out: “ensuring access to world-class research infrastructure facilities is crucial to staying at the forefront of science and technology and remaining competitive in a global knowledge-based economy. But some science facilities are just too big or complex for a single country to build and manage alone. The European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) was set up in 2002 to help coordinate the development of large-scale research facilities in the European Research Area.”

In line with the definition stipulated in Section 2(1)42 of Government Decree 380/2014 (XII. 31.) on the rules of operation and use of the National Research, Development and Innovation Fund, which is based on the interpretation in Article 2(91) of Commission Regulation 651/2014/EU, the term ‘research infrastructure’ is interpreted as an umbrella term as follows:

the totality of equipment, laboratories, databanks, information systems, related human capacities (including researcher, operative, maintenance and management capacities), expertise and services supporting scientific activity which thematically match or form a single thematic unit and which are necessary for high quality, internationally competitive research work.

Research infrastructures not only take diverse forms (equipment, databank etc.) but also greatly vary by physical location and the number of scientific fields involved. Research infrastructures are used in all fields of science but in different forms. Some fields, however, have substantially greater demand for capacity than others due to their reliance on large and extremely complex equipment (going significantly beyond the national level of opportunities). This makes it reasonable to classify research infrastructures by various aspects.

Types of research infrastructures by physical location:

By physical location, we distinguish between single-sited, distributed and virtual research infrastructures.

  • Single-sited research infrastructures operate clearly identifiable equipment in a single location.
  • Distributed research infrastructures operate in multiple, mutually complementary sites (measuring stations, collections, laboratories).
  • Virtual research infrastructures comprise electronic services, networks, archives, databases and databanks. The latter group does not necessarily exclude the other two: many distributed research infrastructures are also virtual ones. For instance, in the case of ESFRI research infrastructure ‘Euro-BioImaging’ virtual research infrastructure means access to shared databases and software. Purely virtual SHARE-ERIC infrastructures and e-infrastructures also belong to this category.

Types of research infrastructures by physical location from a Hungarian perspective:

In Hungarian context, research infrastructures currently available to Hungarian researchers can be classified into the following groups in terms of physical location:

  • large-scale research infrastructure partly located in Hungary (ELI-ALPS – distributed research infrastructure)
  • single-sited, distributed and/or virtual research infrastructures not located in Hungary for which Hungarian researchers have access to (e.g. HL- LHC, European XFEL, ELIXIR, Euro-BioImaging, SHARE-ERIC, ESS-ERIC, PRACE etc.)
  • Not large research infrastructures located in Hungary in a single site or as a researcher cooperation network offering access to local, national and, as the case may be, to foreign researchers.

Thematic categorisation of research infrastructures by field of science:

Research infrastructures can be also be grouped thematically. The ESFRI Roadmap update 2016 identifies six thematic directions for the various fields of science:

  • Energy;
  • Environment;
  • Health and food;
  • Physical sciences and engineering;
  • Social and cultural innovation;
  • E-infrastructures.

This classification causes difficulty in many cases due to the interdisciplinary nature of research topics or to the extensive scope of the ESFRI categories (Health and food, Physical sciences and engineering).

Background research infrastructures should also be considered in context of the thematic classification. This category includes national and international information networks enabling high speed data transmission and communication and library services (in particular, access to international publications). The relevance and the quantity of these background infrastructures have substantially increased recently. In terms of ESFRI categories, they belong to E-infrastructure:

International research infrastructures

European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI)

The total annual budget of European research infrastructures is around EUR 10 billion. Infrastructures enabling cutting-edge research are so extremely resource demanding (in terms of equipment, appliances, data, ICT and human capacities) that no EU member state could operate them cost-effectively. This is why the European research infrastructures have to be designed and implemented in a coordinated way, using a strategic approach.

The European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) integrates the research infrastructures that are significant at European level and necessary for the long-term interests of the European researcher community. To this end, it regularly publishes roadmaps on the current situation and future goals of research infrastructures (for a time span of 10-20 years). The first roadmap was published in 2006 and has been updated several times since then, recently in 2016 (ESFRI Roadmap 2016). The document set the objective that projects should be completed in ten years, should be realistically sustainable, and should ensure maximum ROI from the perspectives of science, innovation, education, socio-economic benefits and competitiveness. The level of rationalisation is well reflected by the fact that out of the 38 infrastructures of the previous Roadmap in 2010 only 15 were left and only six new projects were added to the list. The preparation of the 2018 roadmap is already underway on the basis of the 2016 updated roadmap.

The research infrastructures listed by the ESFRI operate on a lifecycle model: ESFRI projects and ESFRI landmarks reflect different stages of infrastructure lifecycle. Projects are new initiatives selected on the basis of excellence and maturity in a complex assessment process. The 2016 roadmap identified 21 ESFRI projects, including 9 and 6 projects taken from the 2008 and 2010 roadmap, respectively. 5 new projects were added to these, and one additional project was modified during the review process. Landmarks are projects already started or soon becoming operational with a decisive role in boosting the competitiveness of the European Research Area (ERA). The 2016 roadmap lists altogether 29 ESFRI Landmarks. Projects which cannot be achieved in 10 years are removed from the roadmap.

Member states align their national research infrastructure roadmaps with the ESFRI roadmap. Hungary’s national roadmap will soon be published in collaboration with the National Infrastructure Committee (link). It will continuously monitor domestic researcher needs and compare them with achieved results using a complex assessment system.

Other international research infrastructures

Besides ESFRI projects and landmarks several other research infrastructures operate in different research fields in the framework of international cooperation, following various funding and control models. Hungary is a member of several such initiatives:

  • CERN – European Organization for Nuclear Research (French: Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire), (link)
  • EMBL – European Molecular Biology Laboratory, (link)
  • CERIC-ERIC – Central European Research Infrastructure Consortium, European Research Consortium, (link)
  • ITER – International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, (link)
  • ESA – European Space Agency, (link)
  • PRACE – Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe, (link)
  • GÉANT – pan-European data network for the research and education community. (link)


Hungary in the network on research infrastructures (ESFRI and other memberships)

Hungary has a long tradition of scientific research which is evidenced by countless scientific achievements and extensive international relations. In addition to the long-established relations and memberships, it is increasingly important to apply strategic thinking when planning membership in foreign infrastructures as global trends show that the current funding systems are not sustainable in the long term. This is the task of the National Research Infrastructure Committee (NKIB) established on the initiative of the President of the NRDI Office, comprising the prominent representatives of the domestic researcher community. The primary aim of this body is to recommend a national strategy for research infrastructure and coordinate it with the concepts of foreign infrastructure memberships, this way ensuring that the utilisation of available RDI funds are transparent and reasonable both in terms of domestic development projects and international membership fees. Relying on the assessment of the researcher community’s needs, the think tank makes proposals on joining new research infrastructures or terminating existing memberships.

In late 2015 a comprehensive survey was conducted on the demand for membership in foreign research infrastructures with the involvement of stakeholders in higher education and academia. The survey was aimed at identifying the infrastructures Hungary should join in consideration of domestic research capacities, results, objectives and the expected public socio-economic benefits of the membership. The 21 respondent institutions recommended altogether 55 foreign infrastructures for joining, which were assessed by the National Research Infrastructure Committee broken down by fields of science. As the next step, the NRDI Office decided, on the basis of the committee’s recommendation, on entering into negotiations about membership in the selected infrastructure. This resulted in the cooperation agreements which enabled Hungary to join new research infrastructures in several scientific fields. In 2017 Hungary participated in 16 research infrastructures as a full-fledged member, 14 of which had been presented in the latest ESFRI strategic report in 2016.

Name of research infrastructure
ESFRI Landmark/
Project
Type
Brief description

Health & Food


ECRIN-ERIC
European Clinical Research Infrastructure
Landmark
Distributed
Supports the creation of a high quality, transparent, multinational system of clinical trials by mitigating the negative effects of the fragmented clinical trial environment and poor interoperability.
ELIXIR
A distributed infrastructure for life-science information
Landmark
Distributed
This European initiative connects and integrates into a single infrastructure the major bioinformatics resources of national centres, hubs and services providers. It supports many fields of life sciences, including research in the field of agriculture and medicine.
EMBL
European Molecular Biology Laboratory
Not related to ESFRI
Distributed
A leading European laboratory in life sciences. Member of 80 independent research institutions covering the full spectrum of molecular biology from the molecule to the organism, including the fields of system biology and bioinformatics.
EU-BI - Euro-BioImaging Consortium
European Research Infrastructure for Imaging Technologies in Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Project
Distributed
Provides access to a wide range of state-of-the-art technologies in biological and clinical imaging. It aims to connect the specialised, geographically dispersed national hubs to reach all European researchers in the member states.

Physical Sciences & Engineering


CERIC-ERIC
Central European Research Infrastructure Consotrium, European Research Consortium
Not related to ESFRI
Distributed
The multidisciplinary research infrastructure integrates research projects in 7 European countries in the fields of materials science and nanotechnology at market price. The main focus of the consortium is open access (researcher exchange). Access is free of charge for commercial and industrial research projects.
CERN
The European Organization for Nuclear Research
Not related to ESFRI
Single-site
The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is one of the most prestigious research centres in the world. Its main mission is discovery research in physics to learn more about the universe. It designs, builds and operates complex equipment, particle accelerators to defy the fundamental laws of nature.
HL- LHC
High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (CERN)
Landmark
Single-site
CERN is the world’s largest particle physics laboratory where, among other things, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was born. Of the four large detectors of LHC, Hungary participates in the experiments of ALICE and CMS. The breakthrough discovery of the Higgs boson is partly the result of the CMS (and Atlas) project.
ELI
Extreme Light Infrastructure
Landmark
Distributed
The primary mission of the ELI Attosecond Light Pulse Source (ELI-ALPS) research infrastructure in Szeged is to provide access to a wide range of ultra-short light pulses sources for various user groups of the international scientific community. Another main element in the facility’s mission is to promote the scientific and technological developments necessary for delivering lasers with high peak intensity and high average performance .
ESRF UPGRADES
European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESFR) Upgrades, Phase II: Extremely Brilliant Source
Landmark
Single-site
The world’s leading X-ray source. A real European facility which forms an integral part of the ERA. A state-of-the-art equipment enabling the nuclear and nanometric examination of matter in various fields of science: solid-state physics, medicine, pharmacy, earth sciences, environmental science and archaeology. There are many synchrotron sources across the world, but the ESRF is unique in terms of test beam parameters and the number of channels.
European Spallation Source (ESS)-ERIC
European Spallation Source ERIC
Landmark
Single-site
ESS is the world's first so-called long-pulse spallation neutron source. Its mission is to build and operate a world leading facility for neutron research. The world’s highest intensity neutron source enables the examination of systems which has never been possible due to the small size of the sample or the small intensity of the examined signal. The equipment gives a great boost to domestic research in physics, chemistry and materials science.
European XFEL
European X-Ray Free-Electron Laser Facility
Landmark
Single-site
This facility is unique in Europe and is used for ultra-short (27 thousands/sec) and very bright X-ray experiments. With such parameters the facility opens up entirely new opportunities for scientific and industrial research. Researchers can map viruses at the atomic level, understand the molecular structure of cells, create 3D images of the nano-world etc.
ITER/
EUROfusion
International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor
Not related to ESFRI
Single-site
The ITER aims to prove that nuclear fusion can be use on Earth for energy purposes and testing technological solutions. ITER is considered unavoidable by competent researchers on the way to creating a fusion power. Fusion related research and development is performed by EUROfusion which integrates all member states’ research projects in this field.
ESA
European Space Agency
Not related to ESFRI
Distributed
ESA is an international organization with 22 member countries, including Hungary. It is responsible for the design and implementation of Europe’s space programme. ESA programs are designed to collect more information about the Earth and its immediate space environment, the Solar System and Space. A further task is to develop satellite-based technologies and services, and to support the industry.

Environment


DANUBIUS
International Centre for Advanced Studies on River-Sea Systems
Project
Distributed
Hungary has observer status in the project, so it is not a full member, as opposed to the other listed research infrastructures. It is expected to be operational in 2020. The aim is to support interdisciplinary research on the great river-sea systems (RS). It extends to environmental, social and economic research, and brings closer the various branches of environmental protection. It gives access to RS systems, related facilities and expertise facilitating the dissemination of knowledge and the coordination of data.
EPOS
European Plate Observing System
Project
Distributed
Hungary has observer status in EPOS, so it is not a full member, as opposed to the other listed research infrastructures. The EPOS project is still in the implementation phase, expected to become operational in 2020. It will be able to host innovative, multidisciplinary research projects which aim to better understand the physical and chemical processes of the Earth causing earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, surface instabilities, tidal waves and processes determining the tectonic movements and the dynamics of the Earth’s surface.

Social & Cultural Innovation


CESSDA-ERIC
Consortium of European Social Science, Data Archives
Landmark
Distributed
The only virtual research infrastructures which provides a single interface to the social scientific databases of all EU member states and associated members. It is indispensible for performing searches in comparative social scientific databases for administrative and scientific purposes.
CLARIN-ERIC
Common Language Resources and Technology
Landmark
Distributed
A research infrastructure that provides advanced digital language resources and tools – primarily for scholars and social scientists. The CLARIN ERIC was created by the merger of three ESFRI language technology initiatives. One of the founding parties was the Research Institute for Linguistics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, which played a leading role in the preparatory project as well.
ESS-ERIC
European Social Survey
Landmark
Distributed
ESS provides biannual comparative data about the demographic and social conditions of European societies, political and public preferences of citizens, and changes in social attitudes and action-guiding values. Data may significantly contribute to understanding social processes taking place in Europe.
SHARE-ERIC
Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe
Landmark
Distributed
SHARE is a multidisciplinary panel database of information on the health, use of the healthcare system, financial status and income, socio-economic background and social and family networks of more than 30,000 individuals aged 50 or older. The aim is to build up a database that allows for high-quality, fact-based decisions on issues related to aging.
E-RIHS
European Research Infrastructure for Heritage Science
Projects
Distributed
The E-RIHS supports research activities aimed at the preservation, processing, documentation and management of cultural heritage. It provides state-of-the-art equipment and services for various research communities to better understand cultural heritage at global level.

E-infrastructure


PRACE
Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe
Not related to ESFRI
Distributed
PRACE is an international non-profit association. It comprises 22 member countries participating in the development of a super computer infrastructure. It provides world-class computing and data resources and services for large-scale scientific and engineering research projects.
GEANT
pan-European data network for the research and education community
Not related to ESFRI
Distributed
GÉANT connects national research and education networks across Europe. It provides a high-bandwidth, high-capacity network with an ever-expanding service, which enables the strengthening of cooperation between researchers. It gives highly reliable, unlimited access to calculations, analyses, storage, applications and other resources to ensure that Europe remains at the forefront of research.

Updated: 02 June 2018
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