The European Commission has officially announced that is to co-fund the creation of a new "Centre of Excellence" (CoE) for the industrial exploitation of new laser technology in partnership with the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. Scientists from the Czech Institute of Physics and the STFC's Central Laser Facility in Oxfordshire, UK, will work together on the 5.5 years/ 45 MEuro project. This is the first time to be funded under the "Widespread Teaming" programme within Horizon 2020 that aims to improve the innovation performance of Member states.
The new Centre of Excellence will be based at the HiLASE facility at Dolní Břežany, in the direct vicinity of Prague. HiLASE incorporates advanced solid-state laser systems that are ideally suited to hi-tech industrial applications, opening up new processing techniques for surface hardening, semiconductor processing and micro/nano-machining, for example.
Brian Bowsher, STFC Chief Executive, said "I am delighted that this project has been selected for funding by the European Commission. STFC recently delivered a £10 million contract to HiLASE and the funding for this new centre of excellence will allow us to ensure that the research at the facility is fully exploited for the industry. We also look forward to collaborating in the centre of excellence as an opportunity to build our ongoing partnership with our Czech colleagues”.
Indeed, the competition was very tough. Out of the 169 European projects, only 10 have successfully passed the evaluation in the second phase of the Call. The HiLASE CoE is the only Czech project which will be funded. Kateřina Valachova, Czech Minister of Education, Youth and Sports (MEYS) said "I am very pleased that arising from our previous investment of funds from the Operational Programme Research and Development for Innovation we have created an infrastructure that is able to obtain European funding that will significantly contribute to the growth of international competitiveness of the Czech Republic".
The HiLASE facility is located within the Science and Technology Advanced Region (STAR). Jan Ridky, Director of the IoP, highlighted the importance of a common strategy for the development of the STAR region. "From the very beginning, the management of the Institute of Physics and both laser centres is actively involved at the heart of regional matters. The Teaming initiative itself puts the emphasis on the active approach to clustering which has been shown on the European level as an effective tool to boost the convergence of scientific and research institutions and industry. In the longer term, we are committed to supporting education and awareness within the STAR territory. "
The H2020 programme will bring 10 MEuro to the project, with the remainder from MEYS upon fulfilling the conditions of the Czech Operational Programme for Research, Development and Education. The funding will be used for further laser development based on the actual needs of high-tech industry and the transfer of STFC know-how supporting effective cooperation with companies. The long term goal is to improve the financial independence of the new Centre of Excellence on public resources. The HiLASE CoE will also offer career opportunities for the most talented domestic and foreign researchers, and thus significantly strengthen the intellectual, knowledge and cultural level of the country.
John Collier, Director of the Central Laser Facility said: "The award of the Widespread Teaming Project with our colleagues in Hilase is really excellent news, that recognises both the already close and successful partnership we have and the current and future impact of the advanced laser technology we have developed together."
Jiri Drahos, President of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS) appreciated that the HiLASE centre is already following the new motto of the Czech Academy of Sciences - Top Research in the public interest. “The success of this proposal clearly shows that the CAS is able to develop basic curiosity-driven research as well as the high quality applied research in accordance with the needs of contemporary society, where the research results are shared with the industry."
The STAR region is rapidly growing based on cluster cooperation formed around HiLASE and ELI Beamlines laser centres and Biotechnology and Biomedical Centre BIOCEV that are situated on the municipality axis Dolní Břežany, Zlatníky – Hodkovice and Vestec. STAR aims to provide complex support for the development of the area, to create an environment that stimulates innovation and entrepreneurship based on the knowledge economy and to ensure the exchange of know-how and technologies among its members, partners, universities and companies.