The FCT in response to COVID 19
The year 2020 was marked worldwide by the emergence of the pandemic of COVID 19, which we continue to fight in 2021. From the very first moment, knowledge and science were placed at the forefront of the response to the pandemic, with a widespread conviction from all sectors of society that only with more knowledge and science could solutions be found.
In Portugal, there was an extraordinary mobilization of the scientific community and public and private R&D institutions, with the development of initiatives that resulted in the availability of means and people to carry out diagnostic tests, in the search for new therapies to treat patients and in the development of innovative solutions for protection and treatment equipment. The educational community has also quickly adapted to remote learning.
The Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), within the scope of its attributions and competencies, immediately sought to trigger all mechanisms within its reach to be part of this collective effort to combat COVID 19. Throughout the year it developed and promoted, in its capacity as a funding agency for science, initiatives to support the scientific community. In general, this support was directed at research oriented towards responses to the epidemic, leveraging existing scientific capacity, advanced training in PhDs to create medium-term skills in the area of virology and epidemiology, and strengthening the capacity for distance work in academic and scientific circles and the availability of R&D information on the pandemic.
The FCT also reinforced all the technological capacity installed to support the scientific and teaching community managed by its National Scientific Computing Unit (FCCN), which ensured that the entire infrastructure of digital communication networks worked, even during the stress of the lockdown period.
In total, FCT invested around 13 million Euros in this framework of extraordinary support to the scientific community in the fight against COVID 19, which consisted of the initiatives summarized below:
1) Financing of research initiatives
a) "Research4Covid-19" - special support for rapid implementation projects for innovative solutions in response to COVID-19. Approved 121 proposals with a total funding of €3.8 million. Support with the collaboration of AICIB - Agency for Clinical Research and Biomedical Innovation;
b) "GenderResearch4Covid-19" - special support to stimulate the production and dissemination of knowledge on the gender impacts of the pandemic caused by COVID-19. Approved 15 proposals with a total funding of half a million euros. Support in articulation with the Secretary of State for Citizenship and Equality and with the support of the Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality;
c) "AI4Covid-19" - Call of R&D projects in data processing and artificial intelligence in Public Administration in the scope of the pandemic. Approved 12 projects with a total funding of 2.9 million euros;
2) Advanced training at the doctoral level
"Doctorates4Covid-19" - Call for the allocation of Studentships for doctoral research directed to the study of SARS-Cov2 and Covid-19. Approved 50 Studentships, for a total investment of 3.5 million euros;
3) Improving conditions for work in academia and science
a) "Summer with Science"an initiative to stimulate "Summer Schools" in Polytechnics and Universities, with on-site research activities. Support in collaboration with the Directorate General of Higher Education (DGES). Approved 80 proposals, with the attribution of 1078 Studentships of initiation to research or research. Investments of 2.2 million euros;
b) Science, Technology and Society Network (RCTS) and Gigapix - reinforcement of RCTS, which supports the internet connections of the education and research community, and of Gigapix, an infrastructure that acts as a neutral point for the exchange of internet traffic in Portugal, which allowed the exponential traffic to be secured during the lock-in period. Infrastructures managed by FCCN;
c) Colibri Platform - allowed to operate the response to the needs of distance learning and work in higher education and research, which in the confinement period (March and June 2020) recorded an increase in use of more than 2800%.
d) eduVPN service - services and digital tools to support teaching and science within the GÉANT network, to which the FCCN unit belongs: educast portal for recording, editing and sharing educational videos; Videocast for streaming video over the Internet; and filesender for secure file sharing;
e) NAU - platform strengthened training and qualification with free courses for the training of telecommuters and on how to deal with the pandemic situation. Managed by the FCCN unit.
4) R&D information about the pandemic
"Science4Covid-19" - portal to mobilize scientific communities in joint Research R&D projects and activities aimed at fighting COVID-19. 118 ideas and actions registered. In collaboration with AICIB.
The success in developing these initiatives was possible thanks to an extraordinary motivation of scientists and the entire educational community, as well as their capacity to mobilize and collaborate across scientific areas and sectors. Today we are faced with other complex global problems, such as climate change or demographic challenges, which require multidisciplinary intervention and cooperation of science with two sectors that intervene deeply in society: public administration and business. If this pandemic clearly showed this complexity and the limits of our knowledge, it also showed that the answers found were only possible because Portugal already had a strong scientific structure, with much accumulated competence in the areas of research and innovation.