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Show of unity

Since its first meeting in Stockholm in 2004, the EuroScience Open Forum has established itself as comfortably the largest and most important multidisciplinary science meeting in Europe.

The biennial conference is an unequalled opportunity for senior investigators, junior scientists, students, policymakers and science journalists to come together and exchange ideas.

ESOF 2016 marked the conference’s first appearance in the UK, held in Manchester in late July. It took place against a backdrop of Britain’s vote on 23 June to leave the European Union. The repercussions of the vote permeated every policy discussion at the meeting.

But, perhaps unexpectedly, it also infused the event with fresh energy: a determination on the part of scientists from the UK and elsewhere that the dream of a genuine European Research Area will never die.

In this context, EU research and innovation commissioner Carlos Moedas delivered an impressive speech in which he spoke with genuine passion about the roles that open access and open data will play in the development of European science. He also reflected on the growing role of Europe—including the UK—as part of a Global Research Area; an approach mirrored in wider discussions on global disease responses, science diplomacy and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Some of the biggest EU policy news of the conference was on the future of Horizon 2020 and the development of science advice. The science agenda also developed apace throughout the event, with topics such as personalised medicine, big data and astrophysics topping the bill. Given Manchester’s billing as the home of graphene, a whole afternoon was dedicated to the 2D material.

ESOF’s long-standing careers track provided original discussions on responsible research, social media and the place and prospects of early-career researchers.

And the organisers experimented with novel session formats including ‘fishbowl’ sessions, Pecha Kucha presentations, PI with the Prof, and speed-dating for researchers. As evident from ESOF organiser Luke Georghiou’s hectic diary, there was never a dull moment.

We’re biased, perhaps, as the editor of Research Europe sat on the programme committee for the event. But we think that the city of Manchester did a great job of hosting the conference, and that the programme provided a superb snapshot of European research policy. It also featured an unusually high proportion of excellent contributions—from academics, university leaders, students and policymakers—including many that, for reasons of space, are not included in this brief retrospective.

Research Europe maintained a lively and well-received presence on Twitter, as well as providing free news coverage of events as they unfolded, which was available at www.researchresearch.com/news. We also had a stand in the exhibit area, and would like to thank the many readers and contributors who dropped by to say hello.

For us, the take-home message from the meeting was that the development of a genuine European research community continues with momentum, regardless of the aftermath of the Brexit vote. We already look forward with great anticipation to ESOF 2018. That event will be hosted in Toulouse, the home of Airbus, which, like ESOF, is exemplary of what Europe can achieve when it puts its best foot forward. 

This article also appeared in the ESOF 2016 Special