The increasing role of core facilities in modern research

plateformes technologiques dans la recherche moderne

As any other field, modern research increasingly relies on innovative technologies and collaborative work. These two elements have become pivotal to meet the global challenges facing research, such as energy, water, food, and climate change.

Research institutions cooperate with innovative industries that no longer dissociate the notions of research and innovation. In a knowledge-based economy, most countries rely on these two criteria to boost their long-term growth. Hence the competition is increasing internationally, thus increasing the cost of research projects.

In this context, research institutions are becoming aware of the strategic importance of technology infrastructures to address their competitive challenges (attracting and retaining the best talent, finding external sources of funding for their projects, maintaining a competitive edge in their fields of expertise, etc.).

What is a technology platform ?

A technology platform, also called “core facility”,  is a center of excellence that aims to pool complex technological infrastructures (scientific instrumentation, data management, etc.) and associated specialized expertise in order to offer services to a community of scientists from various disciplines.

Why use core facilities ?

Core facilities allow scientists to design their studies using technologies that they don’t have direct access to in their own organization, for lack of budget and / or expertise. Research teams can thus launch their projects more quickly thanks to the expertise and infrastructures offered by the core facilities.

This type of organization leads to rethinking economic models:

  • Emergence of new models of public / private partnerships to ensure the sustainability of the platforms;
  • Acceleration of technology transfer and marketing to create economic value.

Core facilities enable better collaboration

Technology platform users come from diverse research groups. The collaboration with a core facility fosters dialogue and exchanges between scientists from different disciplines, in a collaborative way mode accelerating the maturation of ideas and projects.

Core facilities also allow the sharing of protocols, a major problem for researchers. Indeed, a protocol or an experiment implemented for a given project can serve as a basis for another project afterwards, with a similar or slightly different request. Thus, by benefiting from feedback from other researchers, interdisciplinary projects will be delivered more quickly.

Core facilities enable the training of young scientists

The pace of technology evolution is so rapid that it is essential to train new generations of scientists to use these new tools. The use of technology platforms makes it possible to train young doctoral students through practical workshops and training at different levels of expertise that familiarize scientists with cutting-edge technologies.

 Core facilities are increasingly adopted by private sector firms

The primary mission of core facilities is to support academic research, but industrial companies are increasingly interested in using them. Most often, they are interested in specific areas of expertise that they can’t develop internally. They cooperate with academic platforms on a case-by-case basis around a specific project, or in the long term by building a consortium for example. An effective model since they benefit from the advisory role of the core facilities and can test the feasibility of their research ideas.

In addition, some companies, for example in the pharmaceutical industry, adopt internally this organizational model based on pooling and have their own technology platforms.

However, core facility managers still need to improve the visibility of their service offerings to further accelerate this move.

Key takeaways

In the world of research, technology is evolving very quickly and research institutions are becoming aware of the need to set up core facilities.

In the face of increased competition, core facilities enable research institutions to respond to their development challenges by fostering:

  • The creation of a sustainable competitive advantage by staying at the forefront of technological development in their field;
  • The acceleration of the innovation lifecycle, from the feasibility of an idea to experimentation;
  • Collaborative work between research teams and sharing of methodologies and knowledge;
  • The training of young scientists and their familiarization with new technologies.

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