Thursday, November 17, 2016

Structuring internationality

I wrote some time ago about the immense importance of diversity and multiculturality for research. How important exchange is by going abroad and to have people from many different places around oneself. Also, and probably even more important so, at home. How this is indispensable to make research possible, especially at the utmost frontiers of human knowledge.

This is, and remains, true. There is no progress without diversity. In this entry, I would like to write a bit about what we did recently to foster and structure such exchange.

The insight that diversity is important is something fortunately embraced also by the European Union. As a consequence, they offer various support options to help with this goal. One possibility are so-called COST networks. These actually involve countries, rather than individuals, with the intention to foster exchange across borders.

Since mid of October, Austria is now member of one such network within one of my core research areas, the physics governing quarks and gluons at high temperatures and densities, relevant for how the early universe evolved, and what the properties of supernovas and neutron stars in today's universe are. In this network I am one of the two representatives of Austria, i.e. speaking on behalf of the scientists in Austria being members of this network. Representatives of the (so far) 26 member countries have met in Brussels in the mid of October to discuss how this exchange should be organized in the future. One important part of this agenda, also very much encouraged by the European Union, is the promotion of minorities and gender equality and to support scientists from countries with economically less support for science.

On this first meeting, which was actually only on these and other issues and not on scientific content, we have established an agenda how the funds available to us in this network will be prioritized to achieve this goal. This includes the possibility for members of the aforementioned groups to receive travel support to meetings and collaboration partners and/or preferential participation in events. We want them to be part of this effort as fully as possible. We need them, and their perspectives, to make progress, and also to reevaluate our own views and endeavors.

Of course, there were also many other issues to be discussed, many of them rather administrative in nature. There were also discussions involved, when there were some different opinions on which was the ideal way forward. But, as a democratic process, this was resolved in a way to which everyone could commit.

It was certainly a quite uplifting experience to sit together with scientists from so many different countries, not with the aim to find an answer to a physics problems as at a conference, but rather with the goal to get people together, to connect. In the roughly four years this structure will run we will have several more meetings. The ultimate goal will be a joint series of so-called white papers. White papers are statements describing the most urgent and challenging problems in a given branch of research. Their aim is to structure future research and to make it more efficient by separating the irrelevant from the relevant questions.

These white papers will then be a truly international effort. People from almost thirty countries will provide a mutual view on some of the most challenging problems at the frontier of human knowledge. Questions important for our origin and of the world we live in. Without such a network, this would surely not happen. Rather, the many groups in different countries would be more isolated. And then there would be too many smaller groups trying to achieve the same purpose. But without such a broad and international basis and connection, the outcome would certainly not have such a broad collection of perspectives. And only by enough views coming together, we may eventually identify the point were all eyes look on, giving us the clue, where the key to the next big leap forward could be hidden.

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