Imperial-CNRS research centre ‘will be UK bridge to Europe’

French outpost is second worldwide and will host ‘transformational’ collaboration aligned with UN goals

April 12, 2022
Imperial College London
Source: iStock

France’s National Centre for Scientific Research has announced its second overseas research centre, which will be run jointly with Imperial College London.

The CNRS-Imperial International Research Centre for Transformational Science and Technology will cover a range of research areas, with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals acting as a common thread for the tie-up.

Imperial said the centre would use big data to tackle global issues in areas such as artificial intelligence, climate change, materials sciences, medicine and chemistry.

Imperial’s president, Alice Gast, said the centre would “make an impact globally for the public good in sustainability, health and resilience”. Her counterpart, CNRS chief executive Antoine Petit, said it would be a “creative hub of cross-disciplinary collaboration”.

The centre is the CNRS’ second – it follows the France-Arizona Institute for Global Grand Challenges, hosted by the University of Arizona, which was announced in April 2021. The CNRS also has 80 smaller international research laboratories, including a maths one at Imperial dating back to 2018.

The announcement comes amid continued uncertainty over whether the UK will have its association to Horizon Europe approved by the European Commission, which has said it was delaying agreement because of post-Brexit disputes on Northern Ireland.

UK researchers are eligible to apply for the programme but might have to fall back on UK funding, as European Union officials cannot sign grant agreements until the commission confirms the country’s participation. On 15 March, Westminster said it was extending a funding guarantee to cover all Horizon grants due to be signed in 2022.

Professor Gast said the joint centre would enable the “highest level of collaboration between French and British scientists”, while Professor Petit said it would be a “bridge of knowledge and learning” between the countries.

The two institutions also announced 10 more PhD candidates, expanding the cohort of their joint programme to more than 30. Alain Schuhl, the CNRS’ chief science officer, said doctoral students would be “major players” in the new centre.

UK universities have sought to bolster their ties to EU-based institutions since Brexit. At its founding, Imperial’s CNRS maths lab was celebrated as a sure path to continental funding after Brexit, among the wider benefits of cross-Channel academic ties.

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