On 4-5 May, Lithuanian life science researchers took part in a business mission to Belgium. The trip was organised by the Lithuanian Biotechnology Association LithuaniaBIO and the Lithuanian Research Development and Innovation Liaison Office in Brussels LINO.
According to LithuaniaBIO
, during the business mission, the scientists have visited and established contacts with Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant, the largest biotechnology process development plant in Europe. The Lithuanian delegation also visited the research and technology park of Ghent University, where they discussed cooperation opportunities and projects between this university and business.
The researchers also attended a presentation by the Research Foundation Flanders on the funding of research programmes and had the opportunity to present themselves and discuss at a conference organised by the LINO.
Representatives of the following institutions took part in the business mission: Invest Lithuania, the Vilnius University Life Sciences Centre, Center for Physical Sciences and Technology (FTMC), Kaunas University of Technology and Vytautas Magnus University.
Our Center was represented by Dr. Aušra Baradokė, a senior researcher in the Department of Nanotechnology, who conducts research related to green chemistry
. She presents her impressions from meetings with foreign scientists and the benefits of these meetings for Lithuanian science.
(Delegation of Lithuanian scientists on a business mission to Belgium. Photo: LithuaniaBIO)
Common themes for Lithuanians and Belgians
Aušra says that she was very inspired by the voyage; not only did she take part in the business mission, but she also managed to visit a few "extra" sites of interest. She went to Belgium a bit earlier than the rest of the Lithuanian delegation, because she managed to coordinate several visits with local scientists - which turns out not to be easy, as the Belgians are usually very precise and strict with their agenda - no minute less, no more.
She visited three of the most important universities in the world in terms of biotechnology development, especially the technical part of biotechnology - the Free University of Brussels VUB, Ghent University and the Catholic University of Leuven.
"FTMC, in the field of biotechnology, contributes the most on the technological side - in terms of electronics, equipment development, know-how transfer, etc.," says Dr. A. Baradokė.
The meetings started at the Catholic University of Leuven with a tour of the laboratories, presentations by local scientists on their activities, equipment and funding opportunities.
"Collaboration is usually forged in joint research proposals, when you look for links between your own work and the work of other scientists. We found them here because our topics are similar: it is a big help if someone at that university can synthesise a chemical reagent or make measurements that require stands/facilities and scientific work, and we would try to transfer to FTMC in the future.
We have agreed that they will prepare some samples and send them to us, and I will in turn prepare some samples for our FTMC and send it to them. This is how know-how works," Baradokė says.
(Dr. Aušra Baradokė and colleagues at the Photonics Campus Goiik laboratory. Photo: A. Baradokė)
A laboratory in the middle of the fields
Her next stop was B-PHOT Brussels Photonics, an autonomous research and innovation institute of the Faculty of Engineering of the Free University of Brussels VUB.
"It is very prominent in the field of biophotonics. This means studying different biological organisms that interact with light to produce something. One example would be a cyanobacteria, which can perform photosynthesis," Aušra explains.
One of the institute's laboratories, the VUB Photonics Campus, is located in Goiik, a town of 10,000 inhabitants that takes more than two hours to reach from Brussels!
She tells us that Professor Hugo Thienpont of the VUB University received huge funding to buy powerful equipment for photonics, i.e. light. However, there was no longer enough space for such equipment in the university itself. What did the professor do? He decided to build a laboratory in Goiik, near his home.
"When we arrived by bus, I didn't realise at first that we had already reached the lab. Dr. Tatevik Chalyan, a scientist here, said: 'I wanted to see if you would understand or not'," laughs the chemist. Indeed, from the outside, it looks like a simple brick house, with only a logo attached to the lettering to give away its purpose.
Inside, however, Aušra says, it's impressive: "I've seen this kind of equipment before in universities in England or Ireland only. I realised how motivated the people here are - it's a long way from Brussels and they go to the lab every day!"
(Dr. Aušra Baradokė visits the Photonics Campus Goiik laboratory. Photo from A. Baradokė's personal archive)
Local scientists told us that the three-storey lab will expand because there are wide fields around it. In addition, greenhouses have been built nearby, excursions are organised, and the visiting students are using AI tools to carry out a variety of research, such as monitoring the behaviour of chickens and even making optical devices which they hope to bring to the general public.
At this institute, Dr. Aušra Baradokė has agreed to send samples of her research. The possibility of supporting projects to produce environmentally friendly fertilisers, preceded by the development of innovative sensors, was also discussed.
An unexpected coincidence
The trip to Ghent was also rewarding and inspiring. Dr. Baradokė (this time in the context of a business mission, with other Lithuanian scientists) visited the large Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant mentioned at the beginning. Here, according to Aušra, strong progress is being made in the area that drives her most - the production of green chemistry using micro-organisms.
"I work with bacteria that take up nitrogen from the environment and produce ammonia from it. And they are exploring the scalability of such experiments. For example, how would our research work if we had a big tank with bacteria. It's all so coincidental! I didn't know these people before. Personally, if I needed to test the effectiveness of such experiments, I would only go there," says FTMC scientist. She adds that a cooperation agreement is usually signed for this purpose.
(A delegation of Lithuanian scientists visits the Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant for the development of biotechnological production processes. Photo: LithuaniaBIO)
This was followed by a visit to the research and technology park of Ghent University, which attracts the largest number of students in the world from the biotechnology field.
Dr. Baradokė thanks LithuaniaBIO for inviting her to join the business mission to Belgium, and LINO for funding the trip.
Written by Simonas Bendžius
(Top right. Dr. Aušra Baradokė. Photo: FTMC)