Greek tech finds its way to global giants like Apple

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One of the largest Greek research institutions, FORTH (Foundation for Research and Technology – Hellas), has developed patents and technologies that have found their way to global giants like Apple, while success stories, such as the list of Advent Technologies -a FORTH spin-off from Nasdaq with a stock market value of over $ 700 million, are pushing Greeks who today excel at prestigious universities abroad to compete for a position of researcher in Greece.

FORTH President and Professor of Medicine at the University of Crete, Nektarios Tavernarakis

President of FORTH and Professor of Medicine at the University of Crete, Nektarios Tavernarakis refers to the worldwide success of the research produced at FORTH, as well as how this high-quality research and important steps have been taken to simplify procedures have created a “brain gain” trend as Greek researchers working abroad return to Greece.


FORTH-derived technologies are going global

At present, FORTH’s staff in its eight institutes – in Heraklion, Rethymno, Chania, Patras, Ioannina, Volos, Thessaloniki – exceeds 1,500 members (107 researchers, 156 associate faculty members, 607 scholarships per year , 648 specialist scientists, & support staff) and 330 regular staff. 80% of the Foundation’s funding comes from external sources and reaches 42 million euros from competitive, European and national programs. In terms of the European program “Horizon 2020” in the ranking of the best European institutions, based on funded competitive research and technology programs, FORTH ranks 10th, while the total funding of FORTH researchers by the European Research Council exceeds the 36 million euros.

Nektarios Tavernarakis notes that FORTH “has achieved significant success; it tops the list in Greece in terms of funding competitive EU programs. Indeed, today, hundreds of research programs are implemented within the Foundation, which has led to an increase in staff in order to meet the needs ”, adding that“ the Foundation holds more than 100 active patents. in various fields – from biology, biotechnology, clinics to lasers ”, and that“ more than 45 spin-off companies that have been created at FORTH have succeeded ”.

An excellent example of this success is FORTHNET, the very first Internet provider in Greece, which was a spin-off of FORTH: “later the company was listed on the stock exchange, the shares were sold and it became an independent company, ”observes Tavernarakis. .

Another successful FORTH spin-off is “Advent Technologies”, a fuel cell and hydrogen technology company that was recently listed on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange. Advent was founded in 2005 on the initiative of researchers working at the Institute of Chemical Engineering of FORTH (ICE-HT) and collaborating professors from the University of Patras. The company specializes in the production of next-generation fuel cells, which convert hydrogen and other renewable fuels into green electricity.

“Advent was a spin-off from FORTH and the CEO of the company was our researcher at the Institute of Chemical Engineering in Patras, where this technology was developed. Today, ICE-HT continues to develop innovative cutting-edge technologies. We are very active in the field of hydrogen, that is to say in the use of this technology, for example in the creation of hydrogen batteries that can be used in cars, boats and airplanes. We are very active in the energy sector in general because we are particularly interested in the green transition to renewable energies such as hydrogen; also, for example, in the development of photovoltaics from advanced materials that are much more efficient than those already available on the market, as well as in the alternative exploitation of the country’s mineral wealth ”, specifies the president of FORTH.

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Advents HT-PEM fuel cell platform technology

Another promising spin-off founded at FORTH is Biomimetic, which uses patented innovative technology developed by researchers working at the Institute of Electronic Structure and Laser (IESL). “Biomimetics is inspired by nature, the way biology creates structures in order to create materials with specific properties, like materials that cannot be etched, materials that cannot be wetted. These materials are generating a lot of interest from mobile phone companies, such as waterproof and shatterproof screens. At the moment, we are in discussions with Apple to apply this specific technology to the company’s mobile phones ”, announces Tavernarakis.

Combining the principles of medicine, neuroscience, pedagogy, mathematics and computer science, OramaVR is a spin-off from the Institute of Computer Science which has developed “MAGES”, a software which is the first platform. – Hyper-real virtual reality form in the world used for medicine education and teacher performance evaluation. The project has won the trust of institutions such as New York University, University of Geneva, University of Sydney, University of Southern California, National Capodistrian University of Athens and the medical group Swiss Inselspital of the University of Bern. .

Biomimetic’s new technology for laser nano-texturing of glass

PCN Materials, a spin-off of the Institute of Electronic Structure and Laser, produces photocatalytic materials that break down pollutants and kill bacteria and viruses, dramatically improving the quality of inhaled air in indoor spaces such as living rooms. hospitals, schools, hotels, biological centers, nursing homes, etc. Their technology has proven to be extremely effective in combating diseases caused by pathogenic microorganisms and related to the upper respiratory tract, such as asthma and bronchitis.

Other technologies developed by researchers at the Institute of Electronic Structure and Laser who have gained international fame are laser systems used to clean caryatids, and “such systems have been adopted by China in the Forbidden City of Beijing to preserve its own antiques. In other words, these are technologies that have been tested extensively. Technologies for the protection of works of art have also been developed, using graphene, a material with important properties, which “creates an insulating layer on works of art and protects them from the effects of the environment, from oxidation. and wear and tear ”.

Finally, FORTH has developed and made available to the Greek State a series of technologies and applications to deal with the pandemic. Among other things, we have developed diagnostic PCR tests, which are used in the field as easily as rapid tests but with molecular precision; an application for monitoring the state of health of patients with COVID-19 during their stay at home; a platform for COVID-19 contact tracing, as well as the development and implementation of 3D printers that create protective equipment for hospitals.

“We wanted to contribute to the fight against the pandemic, so FORTH mobilized to direct its research towards biotechnology and biomedicine, and everything related to the early detection and treatment of the coronavirus”, declared Mr. Tavernarakis .

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FORTH Institute of Electronic Structure and Laser Laboratory

From brain drain to brain gain
FORTH records a very strong tendency for the return of Greek scientists who left the country during the years of economic crisis. In the highly globalized scientific research environment, this “brain gain” is fueled by the quality and international reach of the research produced at FORTH.

FORTH President Nektarios Tavernarakis confirms this growing trend: “Recently, we have advertised some research positions in various Foundation institutes, and interest in these positions has exceeded all expectations. For every scholar position we advertised, we have received over 70-80 high-level applications from individuals pursuing postdoctoral research at renowned universities overseas, such as Harvard, MIT, and Cambridge, who wish to return in Greece.

“We Greeks who have lived abroad love Greece and going home is always on our minds,” he observes, adding that “what made people hesitate in previous years was the uncertainty of what they would find on their return ”, but if there are good conditions and a favorable environment so that they can do their work smoothly, without missing anything in relation to what they could do at the stranger, then they have no reason not to come back.

When it comes to facilitating the recovery of Greece’s scientific human capital, Tavernarakis believes that in recent years “very important steps have been taken to simplify procedures, reduce bureaucracy”, because “research is a a process that is globalizing – perhaps the most globalized human activity, for the arena of competition is the whole world, not any particular country, institute or university. A researcher who aspires to publish his research in Nature or who wishes to obtain funding from the European Research Council, is not only in competition with his colleague from the laboratory next door, or from the city next door.

Scientific researchers compete with the global research community, so they must operate in terms of international competition. They are evaluated only as researchers and on the merits of their research proposals, regardless of whether they are Greek or German. This is why Greek researchers must work in an environment which offers them competitive conditions, which is very important ”, concludes the president of FORTH.

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FORTH facilities

– Interview by Smaro Avramidou
– Interview by Ioulia Leivaditi


This article was originally published by the Athens News Agency.

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