Is there a Catalan MIT?
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a world-leading academic institution that leads global research and signals the future of technology, science, and engineering. We often think that all innovation comes from outside, but is there a Catalan MIT?
The answer is a resounding yes: there is, and the great pillar that structures it is the SciTech DiploHub. This public-private institution is a centre for science and technology, based in Barcelona, which receives the support of pioneering research centres, world-renowned universities, entities that strengthen the social fabric, startups that build the future, and public corporations that are pillars of the country. The role of the SciTech DiploHub is crucial for Catalonia and, precisely for this reason, almost 200 leading scientists and technologists signed the founding manifesto.
Among the signatories are experts in new technologies such as Genís Roca and Josep M. Ganyet, biologists such as Anna Veiga, Salvador Macip and Oriol Mitjà, and heads of technology and science parks such as Caterina Biscari, Anna Omedes and Esteve Almirall, among others. All of them defend that the time has come to “mobilise the scientific wealth” of Catalonia in favour of a global strategy and speak openly of a “new urban renaissance” for Barcelona and its metropolitan area.
The Barcelona that wants to be reborn
In short, the aim is to position Barcelona as an influential player on the global stage, and to represent the Catalan ecosystem worldwide. In fact, thanks to the SciTech DiploHub, Barcelona has become a full member of the International Science Council (SALGO), which will give it a voice and a vote at the United Nations of Science.
In addition, this incorporation will enable Barcelona to participate in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and in the UN climate negotiations, and in the Science in Exile programme, which supports researchers who apply for the right to asylum or refuge. Barcelona is thus consolidating its position as one of the world’s and the country’s main scientific centres.
The institution’s objectives also include promoting a “robust and inclusive” dialogue between the scientific community, start-ups, policymakers, diplomacy, business, and civil society; and becoming a top-level think tank “where scientific knowledge and innovation are put at the service of policies”.
An international cooperation network
Another SciTech DiploHub initiative is the Barcelona Alumni network, a global network of scientists, technology experts, and innovation leaders trained in Barcelona. The aim is to identify, bring together and empower the international community of professionals educated in the city’s knowledge ecosystem and now abroad. This network fosters international cooperation, showcases scientific strengths, and helps to better understand and interpret global issues.
At the end of December 2020 and in collaboration with the Department of Digital Policies and Public Administration, the artificial intelligence chapter of the Barcelona Alumni was launched. The group brings together around fifty professionals from more than 30 countries who work in research centres, such as the Centre for Quantum Technologies in Singapore; in prestigious universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, the Technical University of Munich (TUM); and in leading companies in the field of artificial intelligence, such as Google, Apple, IBM, DeepMind, Facebook and Nvidia.
A leading country in technology
In fact, it should be borne in mind that Catalonia is also home to top-level research centres in technology. Possibly one of the most emblematic is the Alba Synchrotron, a 408-hectare technology park located in Cerdanyola del Vallès, which is actually a complex of three accelerators: a particle accelerator, a synchrotron or electron booster, and a storage ring.
The radiation obtained is useful not only in research in the field of physics, but also in all fields of science and technology where small samples have to be analysed, such as crystalline structures, new materials, biological samples of contaminants, or archaeological remains. It can also have applications in the design of new drugs and in medical imaging and therapies.
Another world technology flagship is the MareNostrum 4 supercomputer at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center-Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS), the leading supercomputing centre in Spain. MareNostrum 4 is 12 times more powerful than its predecessor, MareNostrum 3, and is designed to generate scientific knowledge.
Its computational architecture makes it the “most diverse and interesting supercomputer in the world”, and it has cost more than 34 million euros. Specifically, the MareNostrum 4 dedicates 11.1 Petaflops to scientific production, i.e. it can execute 11,100 trillion operations per second. This supercomputer is the third fastest in Europe and the 13th fastest in the world.
It is no wonder that technology companies are opening offices in Barcelona, such as Microsoft, which will open a hub specialising in Artificial Intelligence, the company’s first research centre in Spain, with a staff of 30 people. Now, thanks to the SciTech DiploHub, these technology centres and many more are joining forces to make Catalonia a leader in the international scientific arena.
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