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Chair Of Micro Process Engineering and TEchnology

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - COMPETE (Chair Of Micro Process Engineering and TEchnology)

Reporting period: 2020-04-01 to 2022-12-31

The project aimed to help overcome the main barriers to research excellence and knowledge transfer in the field of micro-process engineering and microfluidics-based research at University of Ljubljana (UL), in Slovenia, and broader: lack of organization enabling intra- and inter-institutional connection of researchers and industrial partners (highly specialized and fragmented research), lack of financing (small number of PhD and Post-Doc students at UL), and lack of international researchers and academic staff. A Chair of Microprocess Engineering and Technology - COMPETE was established at UL, which builds on and extends the existing expertise of research groups from five collaborating faculties. This new knowledge center aims to improve research performance in the field of micro-process engineering, microfabrication, and micromachining, as well as fundamental research in biophysics, chemistry, and microbiology using microfluidics. Micro-process engineering and microfluidics-based technologies are also identified as key enabling technologies, fitting especially with Advanced manufacturing, Advanced materials, and Micro- and nano-electronics. The project focus falls into the areas which the EC has identified as a priority for research in view of exploiting the research potential of less advanced regions through collaboration with excellent research entities.
The new centre will foster knowledge transfer in applications in biotechnology, chemical and pharmaceutical production, biomedicine, food quality assessment, and environmental protection. It will decrease the brain drain evident in Slovenia and will attract excellent international researchers resulting in an improved reputation and internationalization of research and development at UL, in Slovenia, and in the region. Together with partners, COMPETE team members will apply for new funding for highly interdisciplinary research projects. Several tasks, e.g. structuring of standard procedure for the employment of researchers, data management plan, and preparation of long-term innovation and research action strategy could serve as a best practice example that will induce structural changes within the university and broader.
The ERA Chair COMPETE has the following overarching objectives:
1. To build on and extend existing expertise within UL to form a new knowledge centre that will significantly improve research performance in the field of micro-process engineering, microfabrication, and micromachining, as well as fundamental research in biophysics, chemistry, and microbiology using microfluidics, and will foster knowledge transfer in applications in biotechnology, chemical and pharmaceutical production, biomedicine, food quality assessment and environmental protection.
2. To establish a highly competitive research center that will attract and maintain high-quality human resources on a sustainable basis.
3. To create an interdisciplinary team that will be able to significantly increase the amount of obtained competitive funding and to enhance the collaboration with industrial and public stakeholders.
4. To position COMPETE as a strategic centre with connections with EU countries, particularly Croatia, Austria, Hungary, and Italy, as well as Western Balkan countries, with the ambition to become a leading centre for microfluidics-based research in the region.
i. To establish the centre as the hub of an extensive knowledge transfer in postgraduate studies at UL, as well as in other EU and Balkan countries.
ii. To set a best practice example that will induce structural changes on a larger scale (e.g. being a platform for future start-ups).
iii. To create a knowledge centre, which will allow UL to align with European, national, and institutional policies
The COMPETE project has spurred the establishment of the Research and Development Centre within UL, under which the Chair of Micro Process Engineering and Technology - COMPETE was positioned. The research group COMPETE was formally registered by the Slovenian Research Agency comprising members from 5 UL faculties. Despite the small number of team members recruited besides the Chair holder, all except one of the planned deliverables and milestones were achieved during the second reporting period. Moreover, one of the milestones that was planned for 2024 was completed in 2021. Among major accomplishments, a public conference, a presentation to investors and technology scouts, a 3-day international workshop on medical applications of microfluidics, and a 5-day international summer school on microbioreactors applications in bioprocess development were organized by COMPETE team members. Besides, four international and three national research projects, as well as one industrial project comprising microfluidics were obtained by the COMPETE team members from January 2019 to December 2022.
A standard procedure for researcher recruitment, a data management plan, and an intellectual property protocol have been written and can serve as a template for other research groups.
The high number of peer-reviewed open-access scientific publications and invited talks at scientific conferences and other events are good indicators of intense project dissemination. Interactions of PhD students from different UL faculties with COMPETE project team through PhD courses and joint research activities were accomplished.
The establishment of a new Research and Development Centre already brought structural changes within the UL that opened the opportunity for other interdisciplinary projects of the university to be positioned under the same centre. The formation of a regional research and educational centre for micro-process engineering, microfabrication, and microfluidics-based research aims to increase the attractiveness of the UL and Slovenia for internationally excellent and mobile researchers. Despite the problems with the recruitment of the new team members, an increased amount of collaborative research work on micro-process engineering was granted to COMPETE team members and improved strategic position for cooperation with academic and industrial stakeholders.
Implementation of a systematic search for new problem domain areas that can benefit from the COMPETE team's expertise in micro-process engineering including microfabrication, as well as chemistry, microbiology, and biophysics, aims to gain new knowledge for cutting-edge applications in diagnostics, therapeutics, drug discovery and development of new products, food quality assessment, and environmental protection. Improved capability to compete successfully for internationally competitive research funding was confirmed. Some results of the project aim to attract private financing, which will be transformed into products and services that will create new markets and foster a stronger culture of entrepreneurship at UL. Institutional changes within the UL are expected to implement European Research Area priorities regarding open recruitment policy, measures to foster gender balance, open Innovation, open science, and open-to-the-world policy promotion.
Disciplines covered within research groups established at the members of UL cooperating in the COMPE
Overall approach to research collaboration of COMPETE Centre with indicated potential colaborators.