Q&A with Dr Roland Brandenburg - funding network for materials science

Materials World magazine
,
29 Oct 2012

Dr Roland Brandenburg, Project Coordinator of M-era.Net, talks to Melanie Rutherford about the funding network’s recent joint call for transnational projects in materials science and engineering, and how companies can apply.  

M-era.Net is an EU funded network established to support, and increase the coordination of, European research programmes and related funding in materials science and engineering. The consortium recently announced a series of joint calls between 2012 and 2016 for transnational research and technical development (RTD) proposals, to ensure industry can meet the challenges it currently faces in terms of new materials being introduced, as well as the stronger integration of products and processes required.  

M-era.Net is welcoming funding applications from key industry players and research organisations, and encourages newcomers in transnational projects and SMEs, in the hope of creating a new dynamism in the fi eld of materials science and engineering. We spoke to M-era.Net Project Coordinator Dr Roland Brandenburg to discover more about the reasons behind the project and the application process itself. 

What is your background and main area of interest?  

I have a PhD in physics and a professional background in academic research as well as industrial research. Since 2004, I have been working for the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) in Vienna, with the main interest of helping to materialise the European Research Area by building networks between public funding organisations and the research community.  

What sparked the idea for M-era.Net?  

The ERA-NET instrument has been implemented by the European Commission since 2003 and over the years a number of successful networks developed. Nevertheless, some overlap between these networks has been observed in terms of scope and consortia. In the fi eld of materials research in particular, it became evident that at some stage a more coherent approach was needed, making best use of already existing networks and initiatives.  

How long has it taken to launch the project?  

We had first discussions among potential partners in late 2009 and thereafter commenced setting up this new network. As an EU-funded project, M-era.Net was fi nally launched in February 2012. Why is the project so important to you? When I look back on transnational research cooperation and on establishing successful networks, none have had the size and ambition that M-era.Net has set itself. I believe that this large network will be a powerful tool within the European Research Area and have a long-lasting impact on partnerships in materials research. It will be a big challenge to run it smoothly and effi ciently.  

Who is eligible to receive funding?  

With respect to the joint calls for proposals, this is probably one of the most challenging messages that we have to transmit to our applicants. M-era.Net relies on rules set up by the individual national and regional funding organisations. This means that there will be common criteria defined by M-era.Net, but in addition there may also be national or regional programme regulations defining, for example, the eligible types of organisations for each participating country or region. Researchers are requested to contact the funding organisations in their respective countries and regions to ascertain programme-specific regulations. When will first funding be issued? The first M-era.Net call for proposals was launched on 20 September 2012 as a two-step procedure, with a November deadline for pre-proposals, and an April 2013 deadline for full proposals. Contract negotiations with successful consortia are expected to start in summer 2013. Funding will be issued according to procedures of the individual funding organisations.  

Are you aiming to fund an even spread of industry sectors, or are decisions purely based on the standard of applications received?  

M-era.Net will implement work programmes with topics annually defi ned through a process of joint strategic programming. It remains to be seen which areas will be highlighted by our funding programmes as a result of this strategic approach in the course of the project, and to what extent. As projects will be selected on the basis of ectors is not predictable.  

Why it is important to centralise funding in this way?  

Finding answers to global challenges requires a coordinated approach. The M-era.Net parties have committed themselves to a joint strategic effort to identify common fields of interest and common goals, and to support common measures. Through this approach, we aim to mobilise critical mass and provide excellent researchers with a tool to generate and exploit high-level knowledge through transnational cooperation.  

Has the project developed or changed compared to how you initially envisaged it?  

We only started eight months ago and I am glad to say that we are on track. Given the large size of the network this can already be seen as a success.   

Will applicants need to fulfil specific criteria as a result of a successful funding application?  

Since the potential impact of proposed projects will be evaluated, applicants are requested to present convincing strategies for exploitation of project results, depending on the nature of their specific activities and to ensure highest possible relevance of their proposals to the involved funding programmes.  

Where do you see the project going aſt er 2016?  

Assuming a successful four-year period until 2016, long-term cooperation between funding agencies is targeted with a view to establishing sustainable joint strategic programming in the European Research Area. The network is certain to analyse options for cooperation in order to explore and fi nally set up appropriate structures beyond this four-year project.  

Is there still time for public funding organisations to get involved?  

While the M-era.Net network is already very large, we are still open for new partners. The typical approach for new parties would be to participate in our joint activities, such as the joint calls. We are operating in a so-called variable geometry, meaning different activities may be supported by a different group of funding organisations, according to specific needs and potentials.  

Applying for funding: how, what and when  

Full information on the application process and an online application for the Pre-Proposal can be downloaded at www.m-era.net/call2012. Below is a summary of the main points detailed in the documents, which anyone seeking to apply will need to consider.  

Applicant criteria  

Small to medium projects (consortia comprising at least three partners from two countries) are expected to apply. The roles of each partner should demonstrably add value to the objectives of the proposed project. Applicants should note that, depending on the relevant national/regional funding rules applicable to their particular project, only certain topics or types of organisations may be eligible to apply for funding. For example, some programmes fund only industrial projects, but no academic partners, or basic or applied research.  

How to apply  

Before submitting a proposal, all project partners must contact their respective regional/national programme funding organisations to discuss the project line-up and funding conditions. Once these have been clarified, the project coordinator must submit the pre-proposals via an online application form at www.m-era.net, by 12.00 on 27 November 2012 (GMT+1).  

Supporting evidence – Pre-Proposal  

Pre-Proposal Applications require details of the project’s cost, duration, and the partners that will be involved. Applicants must write a summary of their project’s objectives, the needs it addresses, and its impact and potential benefits, as well as justification of why the proposal is in-line with the objectives of the respective funding programmes.  

The next step  

Following review of the pre-proposal, applicants will be given feedback alongside a recommendation on whether or not to submit a full proposal, which again must be submitted online by the project coordinator at www.m-era.net – deadline 12.00 on 23 April 2013 (GMT+2).  

Supporting evidence – Full Proposal  

Projects recommended for full proposal submissions must detail in their application each partner’s role in the project, their qualification in the field, past experiences and expertise relevant to the project. Project details required include objectives, a detailed work plan, its expected impact and, if applicable, market analysis. The application goes on to ask for information on the impact of the results, the benefits these will have for partners and, if applicable, market impact. Project costs must be quoted on a per partner and cost category basis, and strategy for dealing with environmental and health and safety issues is also required.  

Final decision  

Following full proposal submission, each project will be evaluated according to its scientific and technical quality, implementation and impact. A centralised evaluation will be carried out by independent international evaluators, which will result in a ranking list. Based on this list, an agreement will be made by M-era.Net selection meeting parties, bearing in mind availability of finance resources. However, while M-era.Net recommends the funding of projects to the respective funding organisations, it is the regional/ national organisations that will make the final decision on whether funding will be granted.    

 

20 September 2012 Publication of joint call  
27 November 2012 Deadline for submission of  
mandatory Pre-Proposals and National/Regional  
Funding Applications (if necessary)  
Mid-February 2013 Feedback to applicants  
23 April 2013 Deadline for submission of Full Proposals and National/Regional Funding Applications (if necessary)  
Early June 2013 M-era.Net feedback to applicants  
Summer 2013 Contract negotiations for selected proposals on national/regional level  
Summer/autumn 2013 Start of funded projects