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Bridging the Gap between Academic Research and the Market in Greece

Self-healing concrete, which naturally fills any tiny gaps that form over time, could be the future of the building material. But first, there’s a bigger gap that needs to be overcome: that between academic research taking place in the lab and products available on the market.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Research Fellows at the “Demokritos” Center for Scientific Research go beyond academic research, conferences, and publications. They leave the lab to collaborate with multinational companies and their leaders, learning to work in accordance with real-world needs and the pressing deadlines of the market. They see theory turn into practice and their research translated, in many cases, into real products.

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For the past four years, through the SNF Industrial Research Fellowship Program for doctoral, postdoc, and adjunct researchers at Demokritos and in collaboration with 61 Greek and multinational corporations, something that had been missing in Greece has appeared: a link between academic research and the market. Each of the 74 fellows, from a variety of fields including nanotechnology, telecommunications, and nuclear and radiological sciences, has had the opportunity, for the first time in their research career, to step out of the laboratory, to work with companies, and to help them provide solutions to real-world problems and needs.

Since 2017, Kosmas Ellinas, one of the SNF Fellows at Demokritos, has been studying how nanotechnology can improve the effectiveness of a product we use every day. In just a few months, BIC’s latest razor will hit store shelves, with technology reaping the benefits of more than three years of research and collaboration between a Greek researcher and a major international company.

Another Fellow, Maria Amenta, in collaboration with the TITAN Group, one of Greece’s leading concrete and mortar producers, studies the use of minerals in the creation of “smart” concrete. Their goal is to reinforce concrete’s ability to self-heal, creating a more efficient material that could help drastically reduce the huge costs to maintain infrastructure for the Greek state, among other beneficiaries. These early-career Greek researchers, only two examples from the SNF Industrial Research Fellowship Program at Demokritos, demonstrate the incredible potential of researchers in Greece when they are given the opportunity to dedicate themselves to their research and to collaborate with the commercial stakeholders.

Beyond aiming to support Greek researchers and scientists and to change a culture in Greece that leads to academic research being cut off from the market, the grant seeks to help reverse the phenomenon of “brain drain” from Greece, encouraging Greek researchers to stay to carry out their research.

In 2015, when we were discussing supporting the Industrial Research Fellowship Program with the team from Demokritos, we were talking about something innovative, by Greek standards. In spite of the systematic planning and thorough preparation behind the program, we knew it would be a challenge, since there weren’t other comparable ventures to learn from,” said SNF Senior Program Officer Eleni Agouridi. “We are very proud, not only that this bet paid off, but also for the resulting synergy between the research ecosystem and industry, to the benefit of all involved, especially the Fellows, who were able to make great professional leaps forward while remaining in Greece.

The SNF Industrial Research Fellowship Program and the establishment of an Innovation Office at Demokritos have paved the way for the creation of other similar programs. And the Fellowship was ranked among the best programs promoting innovative entrepreneurship by the European Commission, alongside programs in countries with a long tradition in the field such as France and Denmark.

Of the dozens of programs implemented at Demokritos, the Industrial Research Fellowship Program is definitely my favorite,” said Dr. George Nounesis, President of NCSR Demokritos. “I am proud of the performance of the talented Fellows and particularly pleased with the excellent prospects that are developing for their careers.”

The SNF Industrial Research Fellowship Program at Demokritos is not the only such effort by the Foundation. SNF also supports two other similar programs at the Center for Research and Technology – Hellas CERTH and the International Hellenic University as part of its effort to support early-career researchers in Greece through the Recharging the Youth Initiative.

There’s a common old narrative that “young Greeks only excel abroad.” But there’s a new BIC razor, supercharged with nanotechnology, that says otherwise.

Meet our Fellows by clicking the photo below