ZAGREB, October 13, 2018 – The structural project “Open scientific infrastructural platforms for innovative applications in the economy and society” (O-ZIP) is a key part of the development strategy of Zagreb’s Ruđer Bošković Institute (IRB) that will make this leading Croatian research institution a 21st century institute, it was said at a presentation of the project on Friday.
The launch of the 72 million euro project was part of a programme of events entitled “From Horizon to O-ZIP” held at the IRB, with IRB director David Matthew Smith underlining that the main principle of O-ZIP was consolidating the IRB’s most competitive segments for closer cooperation with the business sector.
Attending the launch of the project, which is geared towards boosting Croatia’s overall competitiveness, were also Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, Regional Development and EU Funds Minister Gabrijela Žalac, and the State Secretary at the Science and Education Ministry and former IRB director, Tome Antičić.
The success of the project which, owing to infrastructure upgrading, will provide IRB researchers with the work conditions their colleagues in developed countries have, does not depend solely on the IRB, and a strong partnership with the government and relevant institutions is required, Smith said.
Addressing the event after the IRB director, Plenković said that the IRB had the government’s full support in implementing the project. “With our presence, we wanted to send a message to the academic community, notably IRB researchers, that you have to be the force that will enable Croatia to do what a project as big as O-ZIP is about – transforming scientific excellence into the best and most recent science-based solutions to be applied in the Croatian business sector,” said Plenković.
Speaking about the O-ZIP project in the context of strategic national projects, the prime minister recalled that at a meeting at the beginning of his government’s term, Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak had explained what O-ZIP was about and noted that it was one of a dozen strategic projects in Croatia.
“The Pelješac Bridge will cost 357 million euro, the LNG terminal will cost 101 million euro and as much will be invested in the internet infrastructure in Croatia, so with 72 million euro, I believe this is the fourth most valuable project,” said Plenković.
He said that this government wanted to promote excellence and the reform of the education system through investments in science and scientific infrastructure, and that science and its contribution to economic development should be made more visible.
IRB assistant director Marijeta Kralj held a brief presentation about the IRB and its projects implemented as part of the Horizon 2020 programme.
She said that the institute had 850 employees, including more than 500 researchers, and more than 300 PhD holders, who account for 5% of all Croatian researchers and 20% of research publications in the country. Fifty-percent of the country’s capital equipment is at the IRB and IRB researchers have absorbed more than 50% of all funds absorbed from Horizon 2020.
The IRB has withdrawn around seven million euro for 17 projects from the Horizon 2020 programme, Kralj said. Those projects have laid groundwork for the development of the capital structural project O-ZIP, which was presented by IRB assistant director Ivanka Jerić.
O-ZIP is part of the European Commission’s Operational Programme “Competitiveness and Cohesion” for the financial period 2014-2020. “At the project’s beginning, we asked ourselves what our researchers are the best at and what they are competitive in at the European level,” Jerić said.
As part of the project, launched in 2013, four globally relevant research topics were identified and transferred onto four platforms – bio-medical sciences, marine and environment research, advanced material and technology research, and information-communication sciences and technologies.
“At the same time, we had to take account of how that contributes to Croatia’s smart specialisation strategy because that, too, is one of the preconditions to use structural funds. The next step was identifying the necessary research equipment and in choosing it, we were rather strict. An important concern was that the equipment should be adapted to the needs of the business sector. The following stage focused on the fact that the IRB’s research infrastructure is obsolete and that we work in conditions that are below the EU average,” said Jerić.
The project therefore includes spatial reorganisation, expansion and renovation of the existing buildings, as well as the construction of new ones, including an IRB conference centre, Jeric said, inviting all to a Christmas reception to be held at the new conference centre upon the completion of the project in 2023.