15. Feb. 2022

Last Friday, CEITEC was officially notified by the European Commission that the CORMIC project passed the first stage evaluation in the Teaming for Excellence call. CEITEC´s project proposal on correlative microscopy, CORMIC, was one of ~30 projects that were invited to submit the second-stage proposal. The total budget of this call is 180 million EUR and will be eventually divided among 12 European projects. The two biggest partners of the CEITEC consortium – Masaryk University and Brno University of Technology – together with local and international partners will have to work hard to succeed also in the final stage of this call, where they could secure up to 30 million EUR of funding for the Brno region.

The acronym CORMIC stands for BRIDGING ACADEMIA AND INDUSTRY IN CORRELATIVE MICROSCOPY and this is exactly where CEITEC is heading. The progressive science centre has the ambition to combine its institutional strengths with regional opportunities and wants to bring interdisciplinarity and academia–industry collaboration to a new level. CORMIC will connect the best researchers in the area of life and materials sciences with the best microscopy developers the city has to offer in order to develop and validate new imaging technologies that combine multiple different microscopy approaches.

CEITEC performs fundamental research in life and materials sciences and uses microscopy as the primary tool to investigate living and non-living systems. A correlative approach, combining different microscopic techniques, is currently a hot trend in science and is also essential for progress because understanding natural phenomena requires probing its dynamics and structure at the same time, and no single imaging technique can so far adequately capture both.

The central idea of CEITEC´s Teaming proposal is to combine the undisputed regional strength in the electron microscopy industry by engaging major electron microscopy players in the region (e.g. ThermoFisher, Tescan and Delong Instruments, among others) with the excellent microscopy-driven research in academia.  CEITEC teamed up with strong players in this dynamically developing research arena, such as the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and the nearby Vienna University of Technology. Another important partner on board is the Brno-based Institute of Scientific Instruments of the Czech Academy of Sciences, where the local electron microscopy boom historically began. Together all partners will collaborate on an institutional upgrade that would lead to the establishment of a new correlative microscopy research unit (CORMIC). This process would provide an excellent opportunity for all partners to build bridges between scientific disciplines – between life and materials sciences, between academia and industry and also between technology developers and users in this high-impact area of research.

This idea is perfectly aligned with the purpose of the Teaming for Excellence action implemented by the European Research Executive Agency (ERA) of the European Commission. Teaming projects focus on institutional building and their aim is to update existing centres of excellence in Widening countries, such as CEITEC, through a coupling process with a leading scientific institution serving as a mentor. The Teaming project would help CEITEC to remain a regional role model and to stimulate excellence, new investments, and innovation. But this is not all that CORMIC has to offer.

CEITEC has realized the unmet need of Brno microscopy developers to find a qualified workforce for the dynamically growing electron microscopy industry. By investing in microscopy education and training through the planned School of Microscopy, run under the CEITEC brand, the CORMIC project aims to build up the next generation of brains that will fuel further growth of this sector in the region. Additionally, the collaboration with strong industrial partners such as Thermo Fisher, Tescan and Delong Instruments, create unique opportunities to validate newly developed imaging technologies. Due to the inherently high-tech nature of these instruments this cannot be realised anywhere else but in Brno. With the new CORMIC project, CEITEC plans to cover a complete value chain that will be capable of transforming fundamental research questions into correlative microscopy products that have impact on science and society. The new CORMIC centre will fully realize the potential of the recent investments in research and innovation, transforming it into high-tech job creation and economic growth.

Brno as a European capital of electron microscopy

Brno, the second-largest city in the Czech Republic, is now an established world leader in the field of electron microscopy, being responsible for 35% of the world’s production of these sophisticated scientific instruments. Electron microscopy companies in South Moravia employ over 2400 highly skilled workers and generate about 700 million EUR revenue by developing state-of-the-art microscopes. To remain globally competitive, the local electron microscopy producers invest annually around 41 million EUR into research and development. The origins of the electron microscopy boom in Brno can be traced back to the 1950s, when the world’s first commercially available tabletop electron microscope (Tesla BS242) was developed and successfully commercialized at the Institute of Scientific Instruments of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS). After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, several experienced engineers from the state-controlled Tesla company established their own successful companies – DELMI, TESCAN and Delong Instruments. DELMI was acquired by the private multinational enterprise FEI and is now ThermoFisher Scientific.

Pushing the boundaries of knowledge through a combination of various microscopy techniques

Brno has emerged as a leader in research and innovation in the Czech Republic, which was also influenced by support from the European Structural and Investment Funds that led to the foundation of the Central European Institute of Technology (CEITEC) consortium. CEITEC has become an internationally recognized research centre and the prime example of the positive impact of the EU funding invested into science. CEITEC maintains a very good performance in research in life and materials sciences (producing annually 700 scientific publications – 50% in Q1, 20% in T10 impact category) and a significant part of this research relies on advanced imaging approaches.

Besides electron microscopy, CEITEC scientists use and develop various types of light microscopy and spectroscopy to generate insights in areas such as virology, plant biology and nanotechnology. The broad scope of imaging at CEITEC makes it an ideal place to develop correlative microscopy approaches. Combining imaging modalities from life and materials sciences will unleash the power of examining dynamics by light microscopy and ultrastructure by electron microscopy in living and non-living systems. However, despite all efforts, this interdisciplinary bridge is yet to materialize at CEITEC. To awaken its potential, the CEITEC consortium decided to upgrade its capabilities by teaming up with world-leading institutions in microscopy technology development. The vision of this Teaming proposal is to leverage the experience of the partners and the excellent starting conditions in the local academia and industry and together push the boundaries of the current state of knowledge and to strengthen Brno´s position on the global map of electron microscopy, science and innovation.

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