What are the Research Infrastructures?
There is not a single accepted definition of the research infrastructures, as the term can mean different things in the different fields of science. It is indeed a challenge to provide a comprehensive definition including all the elements of the research infrastructures and in the same time distinguish them enough from the other existing research facilities and organizations.
The most used definition in Europe is the one of ESFRI (European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures), defining research infrastructures as “facilities, resources or services of a unique nature that have been identified by research communities to conduct top level activities in their fields. They may be single sited, distributed or virtual.” (ESFRI).
In terms of tools, they provide unique instruments or libraries researchers can find. This can be for example telescopes when talking about astronomy, colliders in physics, observatories and databases in context of environmental sciences or biobanks in the field of life sciences. They are changing the way in which the research is conducted by providing access to steadily growing amount of data, by methodological innovation and novel approaches with respect to how data are gathered and used.
Besides the key tools and services they provide to its scientific community, they also play an increasingly significant role in the dissemination of knowledge, scientific information, and know-how by way of training and network building. They propel cooperation across the scientific fields as well as national borders. By this, they are structuring the scientific community and play a key role in the construction of an efficient research and innovation environment in Europe and beyond.
What makes the Research Infrastructures special?
Research infrastructures differ from other research facilities by their focus on providing the services, ability to gather the critical mass of people, knowledge and funds. Long-term funding, together with a sustainable governance model and legal framework ensures the long-term stability of the infrastructure and better possibility for strategic development and collaboration with other infrastructure facilities (e.g. on e-infrastructure side).