Last week, the Society’s Foreign Secretary and I visited the Czech Republic and Slovakia, to find out more about science and innovation in both countries, and how they work with international partners.
Working with international partners is not new for the Royal Society (we have prioritised and recognised the international profile of science for over 350 years), but with global challenges facing us, it is more important than ever.
We already work with both the Czech Academy of Sciences and the Slovak Academy of Sciences through our membership of networks of European academies such as the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) and All European Academies (ALLEA), collaborating on providing policy advice on scientific issues to European policymakers.
Science is particularly in the news at the moment as the former President of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Jiři Drahoš, is currently running for President of the Czech Republic, with a second round of voting due to take place today and tomorrow.
In Prague, we learned about key areas of interest for Czech science. Czech science is increasing its profile and is making the most of the opportunities afforded for research by membership of the EU. We learned about its strength in laser science and the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) project, a pan-European research project located in the Czech Republic, with other facilities in Hungary and Romania.
Universities also play an important role in the Czech research system, and Charles University has strong links with UK universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Bath, and have nine research projects in train with UK universities. This cooperation is reflected in the Erasmus+ scheme, with 109 incoming and 130 outgoing students between the UK and Czech Republic in 2017-18.
Technological collaboration takes place with Czech funding organisations and the UK on pan-European initiatives such as EUREKA.
In Bratislava, it was clear that the automotive industry is a key area of potential, and there is opportunity for further research and development in this area, such as battery technology (an area the UK is very strong in).
A visit to the materials department of the Slovak Academy of Sciences demonstrated some of the applied work in this field, such as the use of magnesium foam in car applications, and the use of some new and high value equipment, such as a transmission electromicroscope (the researcher demonstrating had collaborated with SuperStem in Didsbury).
Overall, it was clear that the Czech and Slovak science communities take their international partnerships seriously, and are looking for ways to innovate and expand their growing sciences bases. They, like the Royal Society, recognise the value in developing international partnerships, exchanging ideas and expertise across borders.