Basic research at the centre

It’s often said that without curiosity-driven basic research, we wouldn’t have a Nobel Prize. Among those committed to basic research are researchers in the centre of expertise and research known as GoCAS, Gothenburg Centre for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology. GoCAS is a collaboration between the University of Gothenburg and Chalmers University of Technology.

Research today is largely about applications, and when researchers are asked to tell about their research, the question that often arises is ‘and what will the research be used for?’ But we don’t always know exactly how research results can be used in the future.
‘Basic research is long-term and driven by curiosity, not because there is a direct application around the corner,’ says Gunnar Nyman, professor of chemistry and vice director of GoCAS.

The Gothenburg Centre for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology was inaugurated in May 2015. The idea is that the centre will act as a network for researchers who are engaged in basic research, but within different disciplines. In addition to chemists like Gunnar, physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists and biologists are associated with GoCAS.

Naturvetenskapliga fakulteten. Gunnar Nyman

The Faculty of Science, Gunnar Nyman

One of the centre’s main purposes is to create a meeting place for researchers, not only from the two universities in Gothenburg, but also for foreign researchers. To this end, the centre has a chair programme, where a renowned researcher is invited to serve as a chair and leads seminars and other gatherings for several weeks.
‘A chair is to be an eminent researcher in his or her field who, in turn, invites additional people. The aim is to enable researchers from different backgrounds to get together around a problem’, Nyman says.

Leonardo Testi, an Italian astrophysicist, was the centre’s first chair (see article on page x). There are plans for additional guests in 2017, including evolutionary biologist Scott Edwards, who is coming here from Harvard in the spring. Karin Hårding, a researcher at the University of Gothenburg, will be his host.
‘It’s really great that we are getting Scott Edwards to come here, and I hope it will give us inspiration and energy’, Karin Hårding says. ‘It will be wonderful to dive deep into basic research in the spring.’

Her hope is that the visit will bring together mathematicians, physicists and biologists from various disciplines in a natural way.
‘I also hope that it will result in some scientific articles.’

In the autumn of 2017, the chair programme ‘Existential Risk to Humanity’ is scheduled to take place, with risk researcher Anders Sandberg from the University of Oxford as an invited guest. The aim is to investigate how existential risks — that is, risks that threaten not only our generation but the whole of humanity — arise and how they can be prevented. These can be risks that originate in nature, but also to an ever-increasing extent, those that humans create themselves. Moreover, many of the risks are linked directly to areas where future progress could provide huge gains, such as biotechnology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, which makes it even more complicated.

Mathematician Olle Häggström will host the programme.
‘This type of issue is inevitably interdisciplinary and requires not only scientific expertise about risks and how they can be prevented, but also knowledge in fields such as economics, international politics, security and philosophy. Something that also will be noteworthy among the participants in the programme.’

Gothenburg Centre for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology (GoCAS)

The Centre is a joint effort between Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg and aims to stimulate collaboration between researchers from different fields with an interest in fundamental questions. The Centre aims to strengthen basic research by promoting an open and stimulating research environment and ensuring that basic research is a visible and integral part of research at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg.