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ERA-Can to direct research traffic between Europe and Canada

Janet Panford is new to her position of ERA-Can Director, but already speaks enthusiastically and confidently about what the initiative, intended to strengthen collaboration between Canadian and European scientists, can achieve. ERA-Can is funded by the Commission under the S...

Janet Panford is new to her position of ERA-Can Director, but already speaks enthusiastically and confidently about what the initiative, intended to strengthen collaboration between Canadian and European scientists, can achieve. ERA-Can is funded by the Commission under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), as well as by eight Canadian organisations. It is intended to raise awareness of opportunities for collaboration among the research communities in both Canada and Europe, using electronic tools as well as events. Dr Panford sees her job as directing traffic - she will be putting scientists from both regions in touch with one another using an electronic newsletter and a database as well as workshops, seminars, information sessions and networking events. 'I needed to come over and get the right answers,' Dr Panford told CORDIS News while in Brussels on 9 February. She has been 'bombarded with questions' on collaboration from the Canadian research community. 'I'm going to take the information back and also tell Europeans what potential there is in Canada.' At the moment ERA-Can is a one-woman show, but there are plans for an assistant for Dr Panford. 'Word is getting out' about ERA-Can, and that can only mean more work for its director. The initiative has around two years to prove its worth, and if the evaluation is positive, options for longer term funding will then be examined, says Patricia Ockwell, Canada's Science and Technology Counsellor in Brussels. At the last count, Canada had 83 research teams involved in 73 projects under FP6, although the number may be higher as Canadian researchers are not obliged to inform the Canadian authorities of their involvement. Canada's participation in information and communication technologies (ICT) projects has been the most notable, amounting to over 20 projects. 'There is room to capitalise on the opportunities that are there. Participation has been steady,' says Ms Ockwell. As FP7 gets underway, Dr Panford says that her personal objective is to double Canada's participation. 'Success is measured in increased awareness and that would translate into increased participation in FP7 and other programmes,' she says. Increased participation in the framework programmes is not the only indicator of success. There are currently lots of small scale partnerships in place. 'My vision is to see that grow, to see clusters inter-linking with each other,' says Dr Panford. Given Canada's location, next to the US and across the Atlantic from Europe, one might expect only a limited interest in collaboration with Europe. The US is Canada's principal partner, but in terms of research, cooperation with Europe is almost as high as that with the US. Historically Canada has had a strong relationship with Europe, and many of the challenges now facing Europe, such as an ageing population, are shared by Canada. While some Europeans might consider Canada's location a barrier to collaboration, Canadians are very accustomed to dealing with long distances. It can be faster to fly to Europe than from one Canadian town to another, meaning that 'distance was an excuse in the past, but is not valid any more,' according to the ERA-Can Director. Canada's geography means that its scientists are very adept at working with others in a different location, often in a virtual sense. 'Canadians are used to making things work over distances,' says Dr Panford.

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Canada