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 at the same time distinguish them 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-sided, distributed or virtual.” (ESFRI).
In terms of tools, they provide unique instruments or libraries that researchers can find, such as telescopes in astronomy, colliders in physics, observatories and databases in the context of environmental sciences or biobanks in the field of life sciences. They are changing the way research is conducted by providing access to a growing amount of data, by methodological innovation and novel approaches with respect to how data are gathered and used.
Apart from the key tools and services they provide to the scientific community, they also play a significant role in the dissemination of knowledge, scientific information, and know-how by network building. They propel cooperation across the scientific fields as well as national borders.
What makes the Research Infrastructures special?
Research infrastructures differ from other research facilities by their focus on providing the services and 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 the e-infrastructure side).