Skip to main content

Article Category

Interview

Article available in the folowing languages:

Astronomers should reach for tech-transfer, as well as the stars, says Observatory President

'The Paris Observatory can, and in fact should do better, in improving the technology transfer of its research results in astronomy and astrophysics,' said Daniel Egret, President of the Observatory, at an event in Brussels organised by the Club of Associated Research Organisa...

'The Paris Observatory can, and in fact should do better, in improving the technology transfer of its research results in astronomy and astrophysics,' said Daniel Egret, President of the Observatory, at an event in Brussels organised by the Club of Associated Research Organisations (CLORA). 'The main problem is that we do not have a culture of thinking in terms of potential innovations,' the President told CORDIS News. 'We are more interested in acquiring and advancing knowledge for knowledge's sake,' the astronomer continued. So, although the Paris Observatory can point to many successful contributions that it has made to European and international collaborative projects in astronomy, according to Mr Egret, it could still do much better in transferring its research results to technology. This phenomenon mirrors the so-called European Paradox, whereby Europe does well in research but often fails to translate this into commercial success. 'We have to organise the conditions to foster a culture of knowledge transfer! By integrating basic and applied research and pushing multidisciplinary research, we could seize many more of the opportunities that are available to us Europeans, as world leaders in astronomy,' he said. For when Europe puts its mind to it, it can be just as successful as its main competitors in transforming knowledge into commercially viable products and services. Mr Egret highlighted the Oeil project as an example of a successful spin-off from the Observatory. Unfortunately, it could also be held up as an example of an exception that proves the rule. The project nearly failed to go ahead because for the astronomers it meant having to take time away from their first true passion; observing the universe through a very large telescope. The project was the result of research by the Observatory into 'Adaptive Optics' techniques, which are aimed at compensating for the random deviation of incoming light rays, caused by atmospheric turbulence, with deformable mirrors. Thanks to the combined efforts of astronomers and optical and electronic engineers, the technology was applied to in-vivo observations of the retinal tissue, used for early diagnosis of retinal pathologies in the renowned Paris Hospital XV-XX, famous for its ophthalmology department. 'The project demonstrates the possible achievements we can accomplish when multidisciplinary teams work together. The problem we face today is that our departments are too rigid and bogged down by artificial frontiers.' Interestingly, when the French scientific community originally asked Louis the XIV to create a Royal Academy of Science and an Astronomy Observatory, the Minister of Finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, imagined the two could be integrated into a national centre for multidisciplinary research. Unfortunately his vision was disregarded. So even as far back as the 17th Century, the so called 'French Dilemma' of not mixing research disciplines was already in full force, with the two institutions working separately. Together, the French Dilemma and the European Paradox suggest that France could be punching below its weight, and that perhaps the country should return to its visionary Finance Minster's original goal of pushing for more multidisciplinary research.

Countries

France