International Women’s Day 2022: Martina Vijver

Martina Vijver

For International Women’s Day 2022, we at LifeWatch ERIC are putting eight scientists in the spotlight. Each of the LifeWatch ERIC member states has proposed a figure who has broken boundaries over the course of her lifetime, and is an inspiration to younger generations looking to pursue a career in STEM.

As we explored in the podcast we recorded for The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, women are still underrepresented in various scientific fields, such as engineering, computer science and AI. Additionally, scientific research in general is not only unbalanced in terms of composition (33% female) but also in terms of hierarchy, with only 12% of national science academy members being women, who are disproportionately overlooked when it comes to promotion and grants.

The women at the centre of our campaign are very diverse, hailing from a range of countries and time periods, but they all have one thing in common: overcoming the odds in order to contribute to scientific improvement. We want to draw attention to just a fraction of the women who have defied the cultural barriers pitted against them to bring good to the world, and bring recognition where they might have been overlooked. 

Martina Vijver is a Professor of Ecotoxicology at Leiden University, where she leads the research line “Chemical stressors and impacts on biodiversity”. She is also Chair of the University’s Permanent Committee for Academic Practice (WeCo) as well as the cofounder and director of the Researchers in Science for Equality network (RISE) and founder of the Living Lab.

Previously, Vijver was a modeller and scientific researcher at the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), gaining her PhD in Ecotoxicology (bioaccumulation) at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam before joining the Institute of Environmental Sciences at the University of Leiden in 2005. Now she investigates different stressors on biodiversity like chemicals, nanomaterials, electromagnetic fields or light, and is author of 110< peer-reviewed scientific articles. She is particularly passionate about fieldwork, believing in the value of carrying out ecotoxicology research under natural conditions, leading her to found the Living Lab at the University of Leiden in 2016, where she is the principal investigator. The Living Lab is an outdoor facility where professors and students of the University’s Institute of Enviromental Sciences can research the effects of mankind on the environment in the most realistic way possible.

She has been involved  in several different EU–FP7 and Horizon 2020 projects, like PATROLS, and is actively engaged in scientific outreach activities such as speaking in public lectures and giving tours to schoolchildren. In addition, she co-founded and directs RISE, whose mission is to support female scientists by stimulating their personal and professional development, advancing their careers and enhancing their visibility. The network also aims to raise awareness of the importance of gender equality amongst scientific staff “by providing solicited and unsolicited advice to the Faculty Board and Selection and Appointment Committees”. In 2017, she received a World Cultural Council Special Recognition Award for research with an impact on society.

HIRING | 3 open vacancies

LifeWatch ERIC is looking to hire a:

  1. Scientific developer for essential biodiversity variables workflows 

LOCATION: LifeWatch ERIC Virtual Laboratory and Innovation Centre, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

POSITION: Full-time, 24 months, with possible extension

DEADLINE for applications: 31 August 2020

Information is available on the website, in the Work with us section.

  1. Developer for Cloud-based Virtual Research Environments

LOCATION: LifeWatch ERIC Virtual Laboratory and Innovation Centre, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

POSITION: Full-time, 24 months, with possible extension

DEADLINE for applications: 31 August 2020

Information is available on the website, in the Work with us section.

  1. Scientific developer for ecological applications of LiDAR Remote Sensing

LOCATION: LifeWatch ERIC Virtual Laboratory and Innovation Centre, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

POSITION: Full-time, 24 months, with possible extension

DEADLINE for applications: 31 August 2020

Information is available on the website, in the Work with us section.

5th LifeWatch ERIC General Assembly

5th General Assembly

The Dirk Bouts Building in the Flemish Administrative Centre (VAC) in Leuven, Belgium, was the scene for the 5th LifeWatch ERIC General Assembly, from 11–12 December 2019, chaired by Gert Verreet. Composed of the representatives from all full Member States and observers, the purpose of General Assembly Meetings, the highest governing body of LifeWatch ERIC, is to set the overall direction and to supervise the development and operation of LifeWatch ERIC. 

At the heart of this 5th General Assembly lies the prototype of the LifeWatch ERIC Platform, an integrated initiative of LifeWatch ERIC Common Facilities presented by the CTO, Dr Juan Miguel González-Aranda. Thanks to its application layers and user-friendly interfaces, the prototype will enable the integration of all the resources, including web services developed by National Nodes over the years, as well as those resulting from Common Facilities and Joint Initiatives, like the recent investigation undertaken by the infrastructure members on the current and future challenges of NIS in Europe, into Virtual Research Environments (VREs). The prototype was adopted by the General Assembly, officially marking the beginning of the deployment and operational phase, with its implementation expected to continue until the end of next year.

With many other important issues on the agenda, this rich two-day meeting moved from a review of LifeWatch ERIC activities in 2019 to forward planning for 2020 and delivering general frameworks for implementation. Among these, the Assembly approved the general framework for Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to be used as the basis for a roll-out to national nodes in the course of the year, and an engagement policy to reinforce our dialogue with – and capacity to reach out to – external stakeholders. By finalising the rules and procedures for subsidiary bodies, and having established the selection committee to complete the recruitment of one of the most strategic positions, the Chief Financial Officer, LifeWatch ERIC will be in good shape to hit the ground running in 2020.

2nd Dahlem-Type Workshop

2nd Dahlem-Type Workshop

The LifeWatch ERIC Internal Joint Initiative was launched in October 2019 to design and construct a Virtual Research Environment capable of processing and modelling available data on one of the planet’s most burning biodiversity issues, the proliferation of Non-indigenous and Invasive Species (NIS), in order to help mitigate their impacts. 

Development of a new Virtual Research Environment (VRE) is essential to further integrate the tools and services available in the LifeWatch ERIC web portal. The process will allow stakeholders greater ability to develop their research activities within the e-Science Infrastructure, whilst also clearly demonstrating the added value that LifeWatch ERIC’s advanced technologies can bring not only to the biodiversity and ecosystem scientific community, but to policymaking and human wellbeing around the globe. 

The conceptual paper and workflow-timeline developed at the 1st Dahlem-type workshop in Seville, Spain, 14-18 October, formed the basis of this 2nd Dahlem-type Workshop, organised in Rome, Italy, from 2-6 December, this time coordinated by the LifeWatch ERIC CTO, Juan Miguel González-Aranda. This 2nd Dahlem-type workshop delivered the first prototype of the new LifeWatch ERIC Non-indigenous and Invasive Species Virtual Research Environment. The collaborative construction and deployment approach and the intense interaction between ICT and NIS experts made it possible to achieve definition of the requirements and needs of the scientific community and of the main architecture layers (application, e-Services composition, e-infrastructure integration, and resources) that underpin the VRE. 

1st Dahlem-type Workshop

LifeWatch ERIC just launched an Internal Joint Initiative (IJI) focusing on the topic of Non-indigenous and Invasive Species (NIS) with the aim of developing new dedicated Virtual Research Environments. The IJI kicked off with the organisation of the LifeWatch ERIC 1st Dahlem-type Workshop: Current and future challenges of NIS in Europe, which took place from 14th to 18th October, in the Casa de la Ciencia, and the V. De Madariaga Foundation, in Seville, Spain. 

The choice of the Dahlem-type1 workshop stems from the desire of the infrastructure to use the most participative interdisciplinary approach in the search for new perspectives to drive the international research agenda on NIS and to involve relevant communities in the development of validation cases. For this reason, experts from different domains – from scientists working in the field of NIS, to ICT specialists and bio-informaticians – gathered in Seville to select the most promising research and management questions, identify the resources and tools available and specify those to be developed.

As a first step, participants identified and clustered the main issues related to NIS and discussed two macro topics, 1) risks and impacts of NIS, and 2) long-term responses of both the NIS and the native communities after invasion. Participants agreed on the development of a general framework to describe and estimate both risks and impacts of NIS (Topic one) and responses from the perspective of both NIS and native communities (Topic two) in the context of climate change. Several validation cases were proposed for each topic to apply this new framework.

On topic one, the suggested validation cases focus on the EU-scale assessment of ecosystem and habitat-type vulnerability to NIS in the context of climate change, including an assessment of sink source dynamics for specific, model, ecosystem types such as harbour ecosystems. On topic two, the chosen validation cases are based on the availability of long-term data series on a number of relevant invaders: (1) Caulerpa taxifolia and racemose; (2) Callinectes sapidus & other Crustaceans; (3) freshwater fishes at a global scale; (4) Mnemiopsis; (5) Rugulopteryx; (6) Ailanthus invasion and response monitoring with satellite images; (7) Metagenomics for invasive species; and (8) early detection of NIS with the metagenomic approach. An additional validation case was also proposed for later collaboration dealing with the risk for human health of NIS as vectors of pathogens.

The  LifeWatch ERIC ICT team’s contribution was to highlight those data resources and services required for the development of the validation cases and to suggest the implementation of an innovative approach, LifeBlock, a LifeWatch ERIC service that for the first time ever applies blockchain technology to biodiversity science. 

As an immediate result of this collaboration, scientists and ICT experts jointly outlined a conceptual paper and designed a workflow that will serve as an organised timeline along which different e-tools have to be developed to help address relevant issues related to NIS for scientists, managers, decision-makers and society.

The next Dahlem-type workshop will take place in Rome from 2nd to 6th December 2019, this time driven and coordinated by the ICT community, to produce a second technical paper and pave the way towards developing the required Virtual Research Environments.

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1 A Dahlem-type Workshop is defined as a quest for knowledge through an interdisciplinary communication process aimed at expanding the boundaries of current knowledge, addressing high-priority problems, identifying gaps in knowledge, posing questions aimed at directing future inquiries, and suggesting innovative approaches for solutions. 

LifeWatch ERIC Internal Joint Initiative

Non-indigenous and Invasive species (NIS) are considered a major threat to biodiversity around the globe: they can impact ecosystems in many ways by outcompeting or predating on native species. Who has not heard of the Burmese pythons in Florida that eat alligators? The negative impact of imported rats and cats that have decimated island fauna populations? However, the long-term impacts of NIS on ecosystem integrity are poorly explored, and policy-makers are often left without sufficient information to make wise management decisions.

In the belief that the first steps in tackling biodiversity loss must be to improve our knowledge by developing better inter-disciplinary paradigms, LifeWatch ERIC is launching an exciting new Internal Joint Initiative (IJI), involving the scientific communities of National Nodes and other European Research Infrastructures, that will thoroughly describe the issues involved in ecosystem and habitat type vulnerability, and produce future scenarios under changing vectors to help decision-makers combat the impacts of climate change. 

The LifeWatch ERIC Internal Joint Initiative will combine data, semantic resources, data management services, and data analysis and modelling from its seven member countries – Belgium, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain – to bring together national assets on a scale never attempted before. This integration of Common Facilities and National Nodes will provide the comprehensive and synthetic knowledge so much needed by institutions and administrators.

By deploying and publishing on the LifeWatch ERIC web portal the federated resources and e-Tools and e-Resources, the Internal Joint Initiative will also define the requirements and architecture of the LifeWatch ERIC virtual research environments, and provide a clear demonstration of the Infrastructure’s added value for researchers in addressing specific biodiversity and ecosystem management issues. 

Non-indigenous and Invasive Species are a global problem. They are distributed among most plant and animal taxa, and present a number of key issues that remain challenging for both researchers and policy-makers. The knowledge produced by the Internal Joint Initiative will thus be of global significance. It is to be hoped that this demonstration case will be seen to have scientific and socio-economic implications for many different fields of investigation over the coming decades.

Towards a cultural change | First LifeWatch ERIC Scientific Community Meeting

The Scientific Community Meeting held in Rome from 27  29 May 2019 was designed to bring together the wider LifeWatch ERIC scientific communities of researchers and developers to generate and advance the discussion of the most promising lines of scientific development. In the view of the conference coordinator, Alberto Basset, Interim Director of the LifeWatch ERIC Service Centre in Lecce and Professor of Ecology at the University of Salento, the 3-day event hosted by the Italian National Research Council, leader of the Italian contribution to the infrastructure, “was a great success”.

A truly international event, the meeting boasted 150 participants from 12 different countries which, thanks to the contributions given by LifeWatch ERIC Common Facilities and National Nodes (Belgium, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain), delivered to its participants a rich programme featuring 20 plenary sessions and 40 presentations in working sessions. The Scientific Community Meeting was the first of its kind and ended in widespread positive feedback and calls for greater interdisciplinary cooperation.

The three days were structured around the three complimentary strands of Biodiversity & Ecosystem TheoryMarine Biodiversity & Ecosystem Functioning, and Data, Modelling & Supporting Disruptive Technologies. There was widespread appreciation of the e-Science capabilities that LifeWatch ERIC provides, and agreement that the architecture is flexible with a user-friendly interface.

Many technologies and innovative case studies were also on display: from remote sensor monitoring of fauna and flora populations, to collecting data on marine life. But beyond gizmos, the working groups ended up agreeing on the need for collaboration, to work across borders and to use metadata to create user stories that everyone can relate to, to create greater common understanding.

Over these three days in Rome, LifeWatch ERIC has moved closer to identifying major gaps in scientific knowledge that need to be addressed, has emphasised key societal challenges that biodiversity and ecosystem science are required to address, gathered indications of the services and VRE developments that user communities need, proposed innovative approaches, like the use of blockchain, and has identified the need to reinforce collaboration and trust. 

LifeWatch ERIC CEO, Christos Arvanitidis, closed proceedings by saying that the processes of life on this planet are complex; that we need complex infrastructures to model and understand that complexity, a task which no country can do alone; and that the scientific community has a responsibility to answer global concerns about climate change. He concluded, “We will use all our arsenal to integrate everything we have and try to give a synthetic knowledge to many more recipients, so we can make a proper response to society. All disciplines need to come together with open communication.”

You can find all of the presentations from the meeting on the minisite: www.lifewatch.eu/scientific-community-meeting

Metadata, Vocabularies & Ontologies

Metadata Vocabularies Ontologies

On 12 & 13 November, the LifeWatch ERIC Service Centre organised the first working meeting on “Metadata, Controlled Vocabularies and Ontologies” in Lecce, Italy.

The aim of the meeting was to set a roadmap for a common strategy to be adopted on these within the LifeWatch ERIC community and in accordance with the FAIR principles.

Interim Executive Board Meeting

Form 26 – 29 June 2017, the Interim Executive Board of LifeWatch ERIC took place in Melpignano, Lecce, in the magnificent and recently renovated Palazzo Marchesale.

The meeting, hosted by the LifeWatch ERIC Service Centre, thanks to the support of the Town of Melpignano, was the first operative session of the infrastructure, after the I General Assembly held in Seville. Representatives from Spain, The Netherlands, Belgium, Greece and, obviously, Italy, had been meeting for four days to draft the strategical lines of the operative construction of the infrastructure, based on the valorisation of what already produced in the course of the preparatory phase.

Welcome, LifeWatch ERIC!

Deepening biodiversity and ecosystem related issues has become a crucial value in contemporary society, which is tackling global scale challenges on capital elements, such as resource supply, economic development, environmental security and human well-being. The European Commission recognises research in this area as a priority, moving further from the punctual programmes funding the many fixed-term projects, to the institution of a European Research Infrastructure Consortium, as a long term strategy to ensure sustainability of research. Welcome, LifeWatch ERIC!

LifeWatch ERIC is the 14th European research infrastructure to be granted this important status, and it is composed by eight founding member states and three common facilities. Through the use of the ICT, the infrastructure guarantees the access to big sets of data on biodiversity, ensuring their standardisation and interoperability, and providing researchers and institutions with tools and services allowing the creation of customised virtual research environments, supporting policy making.

Italy, through its Ministry for Education, University and Research (MIUR) and its National Research Council (CNR), plays a key role in LifeWatch ERIC, hosting its Service Centre, one of the three common facilities, at the University of Salento, and contributing with its e-Biodiversity Research Institute, powered by a Joint Research Unit counting more than 30 among top level universities, national institutes, regional agencies and academies of the country.

On 8 and 9  May 2017, the first General Assembly of LifeWatch ERIC took place in Seville (Spain), and elected the interim members of the statutory bodies which will manage the Consortium until the formal ones will be appointed. Prof. Alberto Basset has been named interim Director of the Service Centre and interim Member of the Executive Board.

On 23 May 2017, European Commission Director-General for Research & Innovation, Robert Jan-Smits, awarded the LifeWatch ERIC Plate to the Spanish Secretary of State for Research, Development & Innovation, Carmen Vela, who received it on behalf of the entire LifeWatch ERIC community.

Welcome, LifeWatch ERIC!

To see the LifeWatch ERIC statutes, please click here.

You can find the Communication of the European Commission here.