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CMU Portugal at 2024 Encontro Ciência: The impact of partnerships with American universities on the Portuguese ecosystem

On July 3rd, the CMU Portugal Program, along with the MIT Portugal Program and UT Austin Portugal, hosted the session “Collaborative projects under FCT’s international partnerships with CMU, MIT and UT Austin” at the 2024 Encontro Ciência Summit. The summit was held at Centro de Congressos da Alfândega do Porto with the session aimed to discuss the impact of partnerships with American universities on the Portuguese ecosystem. 

Seventeen years ago, Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT) established international partnerships with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin). These collaborations led to the creation of the CMU Portugal, MIT Portugal, and UT Austin Portugal Programs. Each program, while distinct in its characteristics and scientific focus, shares the common objective of advancing the Portuguese academic and industrial ecosystem in areas where these American universities excel globally.

José Manuel Mendonça, National Director of the UT Austin Portugal Program, welcomed the audience with a brief retrospective on FCT’s International Partnerships since 2006, emphasizing their significant impact on the Portuguese scientific and technological community. Mendonça stated, “It is about putting technology and science at the service of society” urging the current government to view these international partnerships as strategic allies for Portugal. The UT Austin Director highlighted that their value extends beyond research, influencing society and the environment.

Two discussion panels followed with representatives from academia and industry collaborating with the international partnerships.

The first panel, “International Partnerships and Talent Development”, was moderated by Inês Lynce,National Co-Director of the CMU Portugal Program and INESC-ID President. The panel included the participation of Lia Patrício, coordinator of the Center of Industrial Engineering and Management, Member of the Board at INESC TEC, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Engineering of Universidade do Porto, and the scientific director of the CMU Portugal Program; Nélson Costa, an Ergonomics and Human Factors Professor at Universidade do Minho who was a Visiting Scholar at MIT AGELAB, under the MIT Portugal Program; and Mariana Miranda, Ph.D. student in Computer Science at Universidade do Minho, who also completed an internship at TACC through the UT Austin Portugal Program. 

The session showcased the impact of the CMU Portugal Dual Degree Ph.D. programs, which create opportunities for students to develop technical skills and engage with key players and professionals. The discussion also covered the mobility initiatives of the three partnerships, emphasizing their role in promoting research projects with tangible social impacts. Additionally, these initiatives offer a unique opportunity for students to experience campus culture and immerse themselves in the innovative environments of American universities.

Inês Lynce, Lia Patrício, Nelson Costa and Mariana Miranda

The second panel “International Partnerships and their Contribution to Scientific and Technological-Based Innovation and Entrepreneurship” was moderated by Pedro Arezes, National Director of MIT Portugal. The second panel counted on the participation of Pedro Oliveira,  Dean of the Nova School of Business and Economics and co-founder of the Patient Innovation initiative created within  the scope of the CMU Portugal Program; Simão Soares (CEO of SilicoLife , a spin-off of the MIT Portugal program) and Rosa Romero (CEO of  Sphere Ultrafast Photonics and former beneficiary of UT Austin Portugal’s Global Startup Program. 

The session reflected on research projects that were leveraged by the partnerships, such as SilicoLife, that produce microorganisms and novel pathways for industrial biotechnology applications, combining Artificial Intelligence and Biological knowledge; Sphere Ultrafast Photonics, that develop products to improve performance of femtosecond laser applications; and Patient Innovation an online platform where patients and caregivers around the world connect to share the solutions they developed to cope with a health-related problem.

Through Patient Innovation, unconventional entrepreneurs, such as patients and caretakers,  are able to create and present innovative solutions to solve healthcare issues and work on implementing   their solutions in the market. “We launched a platform to offer patient-developed solutions: more than 5000 patient-developed solutions were created. The platform has more than 1 million annual users”, Pedro Oliveira shared. Since its beginning 10 years ago, the project grew to launch the Patient Innovation Bootcamp and, more recently, the CMU Portugal Patient Innovation Accelerator

Simão Soares believes that, through the partnerships, it is possible to develop very interesting projects with a global impact, and shared that Portuguese Academia should take advantage of the American culture and example by believing in projects and investing in them. 

Rosa Romero stated that the UT Austin Portugal Program played a crucial role, as Sphere Ultrafast Photonics was one of the 11 R&TD projects selected for an investment of €21.9M back  in 2020.  She also highlighted the importance of these partnerships as a way to better understand and support the integration of her company in the American market.

Pedro Arezes, Pedro Oliveira, Simão Soares and Rosa Romero

In conclusion, the session hosted by the three FCT international partnerships at the 2024 Encontro Ciência demonstrated the transformative impact of FCT’s international collaborations on the Portuguese scientific and technological landscape. CMU Portugal, MIT Portugal, and UT Austin Portugal initiatives have been able to nurture talent, foster innovation, enhance technical skills and industry connections, and promote groundbreaking projects with significant social impact. The insights and testimonies shared during the panels reinforced the importance of continuing to leverage these strategic alliances to further strengthen Portugal’s position in the global scientific community.

Finally, 8 CMU Portugal Ph.D. students presented their work in an e-poster format that will soon be available on the conference’s virtual gallery:  Cláudia Mamede (FEUP), Diogo Silva (FCT NOVA), Francisco Neves (FCT NOVA), Manuel Carneiro (Universidade de Coimbra), Maria Eduarda Andrada (Universidade de Coimbra), Marta Freitas (Universidade de Coimbra), Sofia Ferraz (FEUP) e Tamás Karácsony (FEUP).