On 13 December 2016, NWO officially presented its ‘Roadmap for Large-Scale Scientific Infrastructure’. The Roadmap contains 33 research facilities and clusters that will be given a top priority in Dutch science in the next four years. A total of 160 million euros is available to be distributed among the facilities. Professor Hans van Duijn is the Chair of the Permanent Committee that selected the facilities and clusters. “This has been a wonderful job. I was positively surprised by the talent that is present in the Netherlands and by people’s willingness to collaborate,” he says.
The Dutch government acknowledges that widely accessible state-of-the-art research facilities are crucial to science. That is why the cabinet has asked NWO to appoint a Committee to develop a strategic framework for large-scale scientific infrastructure. Hans van Duijn, former rector of Eindhoven University of Technology, was appointed as the chair and the Committee started its work in the late summer of 2015. Van Duijn: “We started from scratch, making an inventory of Dutch research facilities in need of investment. This resulted in a list of approximately 160 facilities. It was obvious to all stakeholders that there were insufficient funds to support all of these facilities.”
Condensing the list
Therefore, the committee made a selection based on the facilities’ importance to science and their compatibility with strategic priorities, such as the Dutch National Research Agenda, the top sectors, and the European roadmap for large-scale research facilities (ESFRI). The condensed list consists of 16 individual facilities and 17 clusters of facilities. Van Duijn: “We noted that various facilities requested similar equipment and new investments were planned even if there was capacity at existing facilities. It was clear that people needed to talk to each other. Therefore, we asked several facilities to work together and form clusters. This was well-received; people seemed to understand the necessity and we encountered a remarkable willingness to collaborate.”
Role for DTL
Among the 33 are many life sciences-related facilities and clusters in which DTL plays an active role. Van Duijn: “I was introduced to DTL during our landscape analysis. DTL has a very good reputation and knows the Dutch life sciences facilities from the inside out. DTL’s expertise has proven very helpful to the committee.” As a national platform for expert groups with advanced facilities, DTL aims to create a cohesive research infrastructure in the broad field of life sciences. DTL’s activities focus especially on combining multiple techniques, FAIR data stewardship, and education in this area. “We support this initiative and we call on the life sciences facilities to make use of DTL and to design their data policy in close cooperation with ELIXIR-NL,” says van Duijn.
Mid 2017, the 33 facilities and clusters can submit proposals for NWO funding. A total of 160 million euros is available to be distributed among the facilities; 110 million euros will be allocated in the 2017 funding call. “NWO’s Roadmap will provide funding for a five-year period. But of course, it is crucial that the infrastructure is sustainable for a longer period. This is a serious issue that deserves our full attention. The grant proposals for Roadmap funding should include a paragraph that explains how the facilities intend to finance their infrastructure in the long term. Again, this calls for collaboration and harmonisation: the facilities and clusters should sit together, find synergies, and make their own small Roadmap for a certain field. For the life sciences, DTL could play a central role in this next step.”