Large-scale research infrastructures

Joint experimental facilities, joint survey programmes or large infrastructure projects bring together transnational financial resources and specialist staff based on the requirements which are beyond the scope of individual countries. In these contexts of multinational working environments, science diplomacy can be seen as a by-product. Within research infrastructures, international S&T cooperation happens – which is not always also “science diplomacy”. Yet it can be observed that taking the SD perspective, that the multidisciplinary and cross-national panels, research teams and projects do contribute to implicit science diplomacy and in certain cases provide input to transnational policy-making and science advice. Scientists develop long-lasting, cross-cultural relationships that may help to bridge difficult political situations. Proposals for large-scale infrastructure projects are often driven by an incentive to stimulate co-operation as much as for a need to build scientific capacity. Furthermore, realising such projects requires negotiations, for example about financial contributions, locations, intellectual property rights and investment returns.

Some research infrastructures need global investments and memberships and thus require long negotiations, international governance and decision making bodies and operate as meeting points for researchers from all over the world – several of them are located in Europe or operate with strong European involvement. Classical and often cited examples are synchrotrons.

CERN (in French: Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) helps to uncover what the universe is made of and how it works. They do this by providing a unique range of particle accelerator facilities to researchers, to advance the boundaries of human knowledge. At the end of the Second World War, European science was no longer world-class but a handful of visionary scientists imagined creating a European atomic physics laboratory. Founded in 1954, the CERN laboratory sits astride the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva. CERN is run by 23 Member States, each of which has two official delegates to the CERN Council. The CERN Council is the highest authority of the Organisation and has responsibility for all-important decisions. It controls CERN’s activities in scientific, technical and administrative matters. Read an article on CERNs science diplomacy here.

SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) is a “third-generation” synchrotron light source that was officially opened in Allan (Jordan) on 16 May 2017. It is the Middle East’s first major international research centre. It is a cooperative venture by scientists and governments of the region set up on the model of CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, although it has very different scientific aims. It was developed under the auspices of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) following the formal approval given for this by the Organisation’s Executive Board (164th session, May 2002). It is an autonomous intergovernmental organisation at the service of its Members which have full control over its development, exploitation and financial matters. And it is an outstanding example of science diplomacy, as the project brings together representatives of Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey and has been recognised as such being awarded the AAAS Science Diplomacy Award in 2019: SESAME was the focus of one of the S4D4C case studies. For more on that please see (case no 7).

The South East European International Institute for Sustainable Technologies (SEEIIST) proposed in late 2016 by Herwig Schopper, a former Director-General of CERN and initiator of the international SESAME project in Jordan. It received official political support by the Government of Montenegro in March 2017. After the signing of the Declaration of Intent in October 2017 at CERN, the Initiative was transformed into a regional project. For the full list of parties please consult the website. The initiative is clearly modelled after SESAME as a synchrotron research infrastructure and support draws partly also upon explicit science diplomacy references.

ITER (“The Way” in Latin) is one of the most ambitious energy projects in the world today. ITER is an international, large-scale scientific collaboration intended to prove the viability of fusion as an energy source and to collect the data necessary for the design and subsequent operation of the first electricity-producing fusion power plant. To achieve this goal, China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States, have joined forces to build the ITER Tokamak: the world’s largest Fusion Device. The seven Members have signed the ITER Agreement in 2006, and have agreed to share in every aspect of the project: science, procurement, financing, staffing, intellectual property, etc. The ITER platform is currently under construction in Saint-Paul Lez Durance, in the South of France.

In the following, a few European research infrastructures are listed as examples:

The Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) is a multidisciplinary and cross-national panel database of microdata on health, socio-economic status and social and family networks of about 140,000 individuals aged 50 or older (around 380,000 interviews) from 27 European countries and Israel. The data are available to the entire research community free of charge.

The European Spallation Source (ESS) became a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) on 1 October 2015. The ERIC legal framework was created by the European Commission in 2009 to facilitate the joint establishment and operation of pan-European research infrastructures like ESS. The European Spallation Source operated as a Swedish limited partnership, or AB, owned jointly by the Swedish and Danish governments from 2010 until 30th September 2015. The founding members of the European Spallation Source ERIC are the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The joint vision is to build and operate the world’s most powerful neutron source, enabling scientific breakthroughs in research related to materials, energy, health and the environment, and addressing some of the most important current societal challenges.

The European Plate Observing System (EPOS) is a long-term plan to facilitate integrated use of data, data products, and facilities from distributed research infrastructures for solid Earth science in Europe. EPOS ERIC (European Research Infrastructure Consortium) is joined by Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and the United Kingdom, and Switzerland participating as an observer (see website for an updated list of participating countries). It brings together earth scientists, national research infrastructures, ICT (Information & Communication Technology) experts, decision-makers, and the public to develop new concepts and tools for accurate, durable, and sustainable answers to societal questions concerning geo-hazards and those geodynamic phenomena (including geo-resources) relevant to the environment and human welfare.

Visit sites: (for CERN), : (SESAME), (SEEIIST), (for ITER), (for SHARE), (for ESS), (for EPOS)

Further relevant knowledge resource: Network: Big Research Infrastructures for Diplomacy and Global Engagement through Science (BRIDGES)

Keywords: Research infrastructure, Observations, Instruments, Data management, Science support systems, Science for Peace, International collaboration, Science collaboration, Workshops, Facilities, Analysis, Statistics, Surveys,  Publications, Research results, Sustainable development, Technology Transfer, Digital networks, Big data, Energy, Fusion, Synchrotron, Subatomic particles, Advocating investments, Middle East, Western Balkan

Marie Croce

Posted by Marie Croce