AXA Research Fund celebrates 44 new research projects tackling risk

The power of the data revolution to transform research, at the heart of the science philanthropy initiative

Data was the main course at the annual ceremony of the AXA Research Fund, on April 8, a feast of fascinating and innovative research. The AXA Research Fund presented the projects making up its 2015 selection and a common theme of the growing significance of data emerged among the environmental, health and socioeconomic topics concerned. 

“There was so much enthusiasm about bringing together industry experts and academics who have the same goals,” Isabelle Bergeron, Head of Communications at the AXA Research Fund, says of the event. “They come at it from different angles, but the objective is the same: to better understand and tackle the major risks our societies are facing. And data represents a great opportunity on both sides.”

Big data, open data, data privacy… These are both the tools for and motivators of a great deal of important new research, as attendees of the ceremony in Paris—and those following on Twitter—could clearly see. This includes many of the 44 newly funded #AXARF projects.

Consider:

• A vast flood monitoring system making use of an entire country worth of waterway data (Vazken Andréassian, IRSTEA)

Pioneering data protection methods: you’d only have to break the laws of quantum physics to hack these systems (Antonio Acín, Institute of Photonic Sciences)

• Studies of sand and dust storms, with impacts on the climate, human health and even the economy (Carlos Pérez García-Pando, Barcelona Supercomputing Center)

• Research revealing how the ocean may trigger extreme climate events, like heatwaves (Aurélie Duchez, National Oceanography Centre)

• Advancing predictive and personalized medicine for chronic disease, like diabetes, thanks to huge amounts of patient data (Helen Colhoun, University of Edinburgh)

“Win-Win-Win”

Isabelle Bergeron says that the daylong event highlighted the “win-win-win situation” characterizing AXA’s collaboration with the research world and its benefits for society. For example, AXA Research Fund fellows will be able to leverage the company’s anonymized database, creating new knowledge from their research. This will help insurers plan better for future risks. And the result? Greater protection for society. “We had planned to help people connect, but researchers were spontaneously approaching the AXA executives they wanted to meet, knowing their work could be useful to them. We all see there is much to gain from exchanging and collaborating.”

Incoming AXA CEO Thomas Buberl shares the feeling, saying that research is the leading indicator for their business and the AXA Research Fund “truly embodies our corporate mission, our noble purpose.” He added, “I want it at the forefront of support for first-class and independent research.”

Helping Data Fulfill Its Destiny

Keynote speaker and member of the AXA Research Fund Scientific Board, Lawrence Lessig delivered a clear message in support of open data. Unlocking data simultaneously unlocks innovation, he says—with benefits for science and citizens across the board.

A workshop on the future of data followed Friday morning’s ceremony. (Catch what you missed in the lively summary of the event.) Experts addressed the big questions at the frontier between science and society: In the name of innovation, must data be shared? Should it be monetized? How best to build business models upon it and to protect it from attack?

Thoughts on Science Communication

Rounding out the day was an interactive masterclass on science communication, with AXA Research Fund partner, and entertaining science presenter, Greg Foot. The diverse group of participants brought enthusiasm to the discussion and many different views on points like:

• What do we mean by “science communication”?

• Who are the key players and who benefits?

• What might the future look like, and what role might data play?

An image that nicely sums up the day, the event and the mission of the AXA Research Fund was tweeted by one attendee: this was a rich gathering of academics, executives and other leaders, gratefully celebrating science. Stay tuned to @AXAResearchFund throughout the year to learn more about the projects supported and see where they’re going next.


Did you miss the event? You can see all the highlights in the Storify summary of the day.


Follow the AXA Research Fund on social media to learn more about their work and to keep up with their fellows’ research advances: