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Chair Of Micro Process Engineering and TEchnology

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - COMPETE (Chair Of Micro Process Engineering and TEchnology)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-03-31

The project will help overcome the main barriers for 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 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 first achievement was the establishment of the Research and Development Centre within UL (UL RDC: under which the Chair of Micro Process Engineering and Technology - COMPETE was created. The research group COMPETE was formally registered by the Slovenian Research Agency comprising members from 5 UL faculties. A Chair Holder and Project Manager were recruited according to plans. However, the selected Chair Holder resigned, resulting in the suspension of the project for 12 months; during the suspension period, a new Chair Holder was selected.
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. Several research proposals were submitted by the project team members, and two interdisciplinary research projects, as well as a PhD project in the field of COMPETE activities, have been funded since the beginning of the project. 3 industrial project proposals have been prepared and many meetings with academic and industrial partners were executed. 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 are underway. Activities to organize a hands-on international workshop have started.
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. By employment of new team members in the upcoming months, we intend to increase the amount of collaborative research work on micro-process engineering and significantly affect cooperation with 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 is expected. It will also aim to attract private financing for its research projects, which will be transformed into products and services that will create new markets (e.g. biosensors, fully automated ultrahigh-throughput screening devices, etc.), fostering a stronger culture of entrepreneurship and assure sustainability of COMPETE after the 5-year grant period. In this respect, a long-term sustainable development strategy will be prepared. 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. By the end of the project, 4 international workshops and summer schools will be organized and a doctoral study field on microfluidics within the existing UL doctoral program will be launched.
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.