The European Commission has approved the formation of a consortium, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Italy and Lithuania as the founding member states, to conduct laser research. Minister of Innovation László Palkovics spoke to a local newspaper about the European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC), which will maintain the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) facilities and which Romania will be joining soon.
Having all research centers under the same legal entity greatly facilitates the operation of the institution. The advantages of this include simpler taxation and application, as well as cheaper coordination and administration. ERIC will receive and distribute all payments needed for their operation.
Building a high-performance laser research infrastructure stemmed from Gérard Mourou’s Nobel Prize-winning work in 2018, which discovered how to generate and use a high-performance laser in an attosecond (billionth of a billionth of a second). The European Commission sought to build on this work and asked Gérard Mourou and his colleagues to develop the infrastructure of the European Laser Research Center, also with the aim of having the newly acceded Eastern European countries participate. The research center has been divided into three parts so that institutions specializing in different fields of laser physics and laser technology are created and become leaders in their particular field.
Palkovics emphasized that Physics World magazine listed the laser center in Szeged, Hungary, among the ten most important large-scale projects in the world.
He also noted that the construction of the ELI centers is being financed by the “host” countries from European Union funds, but the long-term operation should increasingly be ensured by ELI-ERIC. This is conditional on researchers coming to the center and on the sending countries paying their national membership fees to ERIC; however, the maintainer can also count on application revenues.
“The construction of the three units of the facility will cost three hundred million euros each, so the Szeged center is by far the largest scientific infrastructure development in Hungary in recent years,” emphasized László Palkovics.
László Palkovics said that the ownership rights of ELI-HU Kft. would be transferred by the Hungarian government to the University of Szeged.
ELI allows researchers to allocate 20 percent of their work to applied research, but it was essentially created to conduct basic research according to an EU decision. From a financial point of view, the goal is for ELI to sustain itself, as basic research has to be funded by the community, he said.
The construction of the EU-funded ELI-ALPS in Szeged is nearing completion, but it is already partially operational; the situation is similar at ELI-Beamlines at the Dolní Břežany site in the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, hundreds of researchers and doctoral students are already working in the field of nuclear photonics at the ELI-NP near Bucharest.