Associate professor Cédric Zaccardi spends a lot of time teaching and exploring the field of modelling and simulations in mechanics. Early 2019, he and some fellow researchers launched a new study on the intelligent materials and structures to strengthen infrastructural durability, a research project in affiliation with laboratories and research teams across Europe and Latin America as well as companies. So, when the Covid-19 spiralled out of control, numerous calls for new projects in the medical field were launched, an occasion to which the entire scientific community rose to.
“In research activities such as those classically carried out in engineering schools, we are very much linked to present and future industrial needs. Collaborations with companies are essential,” he says. “We have thus been able to see, right from the outset, a reorientation of societal needs to serve the health emergency. For example, we have been able to use our (albeit minimal) production resources in 3D printing to manufacture protective visors for local medical associations and people at risk.”
But this adaptation is just the tip of the iceberg. Countless labs in a variety of research fields have been compelled to reconsider their originally planned projects. “Numerous calls for projects have been launched in the medical field,” says Cédric. “In the near future, we can imagine that the classic calls for projects will be oriented towards these needs, which already existed in the past, but which have come to the forefront during this period.”
But while some research areas are gaining momentum, others are facing serious threats to their continuity. Steady fluctuations in activity and trends of industrial companies on a global scale could most inevitably lead to a major drop in the R&D funding by companies according to Cédric. “We can fear a difficult period for research activities in aeronautics, in the field of transport and more broadly for all industrial sectors impacted by the emerging economic crisis”.
Today, researchers are in fact responding to the fundamental need to grasp the political, economic and social impacts of this pandemic in the short and long term.“The impact on the economy is real and international. It is very likely that the funding allocated to research will be redirected towards activities linked to the economic recovery: relocation of industrial activities, acceleration of the transformation of industries. This implies two things: a decline in R&D activity among industrialists, and a reorientation of research themes to meet these new needs”, says Cédric.