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Highlights from the ATTRACT deep-tech conference

From medical imaging to a robotic fish, the ATTRACT conference explored a wealth of breakthrough technologies

Jean-Eric Paquet, Director General, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission opening the ATTRACT online conference.
Jean-Eric Paquet, Director General, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission opening the ATTRACT online conference. (Image: CERN)

The online ATTRACT conference on 22–23 September brought together more than 800 researchers, investors, entrepreneurs and European innovation policymakers to explore how breakthrough technologies could change the future. The ATTRACT project, coordinated by CERN and funded by the European Union, showcases 170 funded deep-tech initiatives covering some 15 domains, from fundamental physics to life sciences, environment and security. CERN has contributed to this joint effort by coordinating or participating itself in 19 of the funded projects.

These early-stage technologies not only benefit future particle physics research, but also offer promising uses in fields such as imaging, cancer treatment, particle optics, sensor manufacturing, data streaming and storage, fire detection, high-speed communication, cooling systems and… a cryogenic robot fish for visual inspection.

“We are closely following up a number of these exciting developments here at CERN, in particular those relevant for societal applications,” noted Manuela Cirilli, deputy group leader of CERN’s Knowledge Transfer (KT) group. Along with several KT colleagues, she was actively participating in the conference and found the interactive Marketplace website a “treasure trove” of ideas and possible new partners.

The conference programme consisted of panel discussions and keynote speeches on topics ranging from new paradigms in science to funding deep tech in Europe, its future and its societal impact. Young innovators also displayed new ideas resulting from selected ATTRACT projects.

“The ATTRACT project has been genuinely ground-breaking,” said Jean-Eric Paquet, Director-General of Research and Innovation at the European Commission, in his opening speech. “It is the first time that we have connected science and innovation so openly in Europe.”

“During this decade, we are transitioning from siloed technologies in areas like physics and biology to interdependent, interdisciplinary systems. The work being done at ATTRACT is so important,” continued Amy Webb, Professor of Strategic Foresight at NYU Stern School of Business in New York, in her keynote.

In the concluding remarks, Dr Michael Krisch from ESRF and Professor Sergio Bertolucci from the University of Bologna reminded the audience that ATTRACT hopes to move forward to its next stage of development, providing further funding and help to selected clusters of projects. This second phase is due to start next year, pending funding from the European Commission.

“Despite the unanticipated effects of the COVID-19 situation, we were able to showcase online the wealth of activities originally planned for the physical event in Brussels,” explained Romain Muller from CERN’s EU Projects Office, who organised and hosted the conference. “From the lively chatter we saw on the different media platforms, it seems we have been able to truly ignite the deep tech revolution in Europe.”


For more details and to watch the video recordings, visit the ATTRACT conference website.