Barcelona (ACN).- Through its FET-Flagship programme, the European Commission has pinpointed the main research priorities for the next ten years in Europe: exploring the properties of graphene and fully understanding how the human brain works. Catalan scientists and research centres are deeply involved in both of them. In order to take the lead at an international level in these two fields, the European Commission has decided to allocate €1 billion within the next 10 year to each of the two research programmes, in which Catalan research centres play a crucial role. In the ‘Graphene Flagship’ project, the Catalan Institute of Nanotechnology is one of the nine leading centres coordinating and implementing the project, which involves a total of 623 research groups from 32 different countries. Furthermore, twenty Catalan research groups from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), the Universitat de Barcelona (UB), the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) and other institutions are also participating. In ‘The Human Brain Project’, the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, which hosts the supercomputer Mare Nostrum, will take care of the calculations at a molecular level. In addition, ten researchers from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), the UB and the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona (IRB) will also be involved.
The Graphene Flagship aims to explore the properties of this new material, which is derived from graphite. Graphene is formed only by a layer of carbon atoms and it has amazing properties making it one hundred times more resistant than steel, and much lighter and very flexible. It is also a super-conductor of electricity, much more efficient than copper, and it has unique optical properties. In 2004, European researchers used it for the first time. However, there are still no practical applications since there is still a lack of knowledge about its exact properties. Nonetheless, experts and scientific gurus state that this new material could push for a huge technological and industrial revolution, as plastic did in the mid-twentieth century or silicon did in the 1970s.
From this perspective, Catalonia has made a strategic prioritisation, funding research groups on this material with the aim of becoming one of the future ‘Graphene Valleys’ in Europe. The Catalan Government’s Deputy Minister for Research, Antoni Castellà, has emphasised “Catalonia’s lead” in the research, being “one of the main knowledge centres in southern Europe”.
The Graphene Flagship project is lead by Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology. The main consortium is made up of nine institutions, including the Catalan Institute of Nanotechnology (ICN), based in the UAB’s campus, in Greater Barcelona. The ICN researcher Stephan Roche is an active part of this project, which involves up to 623 research groups from 32 different countries. Besides the ICN, Catalonia has contributed 20 other research groups, from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), the Universitat de Barcelona (UB), the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), CERCA centre, Barcelona’s Scientific Park and the Catalan Centre of Plastics.
The second flagship project will simulate a human brain, in order to fully understand its complex interactions and finally have a detailed knowledge of how it works in order to adapt existing knowledge and use it to fight neurone diseases. The project could also enable the development of new technologies for supercomputing. In fact, the project will create a network at a European level that will simulate a human brain. The Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC-CNS), which hosts the Mare Nostrum supercomputer – one of Europe’s most powerful and fastest computers – will take care of the molecular calculations. The project is lead by the professor Henry Markram, from the École Polytéchnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Some ten researchers from Catalan institutions are also participating, from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), the UB, the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona (IRB) and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center itself.