Continuity of the Swedish Endowed Professor Chair program in a digital way

Since 2020, all organisations and activities around the world have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The same happened in international research, development and innovation (R&D&I), which needed to change its mode of operation to continue delivering results in the face of a new and challenging scenario.

Within the context of the Sweden-Brazil cooperation, the program “Swedish Endowed Professor Chair at ITA in Honor of Peter Wallenberg Sr.”, supported by the Swedish-Brazilian Research and Innovation Center (CISB) since 2015, also had to adapt to continue its activities and deliveries. “Work is developing in a more confined fashion, without so many interactions as previously”, says Prof. Ragnar Larsson from Chalmers University of Technology. The solution found has been to use different digital communication tools.

A more productive use of virtual meetings and video conferencing was one of the learnings during the period. “Overall, we have become much more digital”, points out Prof. Petter Krus, from Linköping University (LiU). The researcher believes that there will be a better combination between virtual meetings and face-to-face meetings. The hybrid format of meeting has become widespread and there is no going back. “I am convinced that we can expect a more efficient interaction and collaboration than we had before,” he adds.

“There will still be people who prefer to travel, but others who will want to participate at a different level and in new ways”, thinks Prof. Tomas Grönstedt, also from Chalmers. In his point of view, this change to the virtual environment can raise the level of research. “If you used to travel to two conferences per year, in the future you might travel to one but participate virtually in a number of events” he details.

Social interaction, however, will never be left out, as it is a fundamental part of the innovation development process. Contact between people has always been an important step in the 6 years of the Swedish Endowed Professor Chair at ITA program. Even with 10 thousand kilometres separating Brazil and Sweden, establishing new contacts and the exchange between students and researchers was constant. “What we have learned is that it becomes increasingly difficult to brainstorm new ideas and be creative without meeting in person and have social activities such as BBQ’s together”, explains Prof. Dan Henningson from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH).

On the other hand, Prof. Henningson says that several graduate students are working on new projects, both in Sweden and in Brazil. “They have been actively communicating on the internet over the last year. It is not as good as to meet personally, but we have been able to start and carry on about five projects”, he says with enthusiasm. “For the Brazilian-Swedish relations the virtual habits might lead to more frequent contacts and could lead to positive long-term benefits”, completes Prof. Grönstedt.

Future perspectives

In view of that, the scenarios are very positive in the medium and long term. Prof. Henningson, for example, started a partnership between KTH, the Foundation for Research Support of the State of São Paulo (FAPESP) and the University of São Paulo (USP), in the area of wind power. This project was started and has been carried out completely online, with novel and surprising results. But the idea is to resume face-to-face activities when everyone is cleared for such.

Prof. Petter Krus is also positive about what lies ahead. “We are already receiving two PhD students on CISB scholarship to my division. I am planning to go to Brazil as soon as it is possible” says the Professor from LiU. In addition, the university is preparing a project in partnership with Embraer and ITA, for application in the European Union.

“For CISB it was also a time of learning”, ponders Alessandra Holmo, Managing Director of the institution. “Nobody knew exactly how long this period would last, there were a lot of uncertainties. But it is very gratifying to see that the projects continued and generated new results after a moment of change and adaptation,” she says.

The CISB team remained on standby and continued its role as facilitator between different actors in academia, government and industry. “We have full confidence that the projects we support have advanced and will continue to grow from now on. As challenging as this period was, there was a great deal of learning involving the new format of relationships and interaction,” concludes Alessandra.