AGORA – Once upon a time there was... knowledge in Belval
AGORA – your location developer

Once upon a time there was... knowledge in Belval

This is the history of the Science City, an ecosystem fully rooted in the knowledge economy, and increasingly a leader in technological development and the data economy.

In Belval, grey matter is the most fertile of resources. On the Terrasse des Hauts Fourneaux, a territory of knowledge and research, the buildings created by the Fonds Belval (Belval Fund) create an avant garde campus of teaching and research structures and innovative startups, from which the world of tomorrow is being built. This is the history of the Science City, an ecosystem fully rooted in the knowledge economy, and increasingly a leader in technological development and the data economy.

Once upon a time, there was a country renowned for its innovative character, but it had no university. Yet ideas and knowledge have historically always shaped Luxembourg, a favoured land of innovative industrial life, a space where financial engineering has developed, a nation that has always been marked by its entrepreneurial capacity and its creative spirit. This profile was confirmed in 2003 with the creation of the University of Luxembourg, around which the country’s public research would now be concentrated along with a hyperactive private sector which is an extension of it.

In Belval, where from 2015 the three campuses of the University have been progressively established (by virtue of a decision of the Government Council in December 2005), and which teems with startups and research centres, this intellectual effervescence can be seen on a daily basis. In twenty years, the former industrial site has become a major knowledge hub of international scope. Its epicentre is here!

One 12 August 2003

That day, the Chamber of Deputies ratified the law creating the University of Luxembourg. It’s the completion of a study started a few years earlier, when Luxembourg had to respond to the transformation of its economy, which required more brains (from an industrialised economy to an economy centred on the financial services sector) and noted the lack of teaching and research structures, obliging the brightest to pursue their career abroad.

However, there was no question of creating a university responding strictly to local needs. The University of Luxembourg was conceived from the outset as a university with an international and multilingual vocation, attended by students from all over the world and encouraging mobility. International agreements with other universities in the European Union are essentially the foundation of this University and are now part of its DNA. All bachelor programs in Luxembourg include in addition a term abroad.

The Ministry of Higher Education and Research has also guided the University towards a majority of masters programs and towards establishing doctoral schools, with the stated objective of setting up a high-level research hub. Today, research is vibrant in the three faculties of the University: the groundwork is being done for the field of biomedicine among others at the Faculty of Science, Technology and Medicine (FSTM); the school of tomorrow or the cities of the future at the Faculty of Humanities, Science of Education and Social Sciences (FHSE), while the outlines of sustainable finance are being defined at the Faculty of Law, Economy and Finance (FDEF).

So much more than a University

In addition to the faculties with 13 departments and 7 endowed chairs and currently 6,700 students, the University stands out thanks to its research centres equipped with state-of-the-art infrastructures: The Interdisciplinary Centre in Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT), the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB), et Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH).

At the request of the government, the Fond Belval was commissioned with the task of building this unique campus and knowledge quarter in a short period of time. The buildings and the infrastructure are worth a detour.

In Belval, the effervescence of the research is also unfolding within an ecosystem of research and innovation institutes such as the startup incubator and the Institute of Science and Technology (merging the former Henri-Tudor and Gabriel-Lippmann public research centres). Here, researchers make progress in a highly technological universe, inventing the digital economy of the future. The technology hub is complemented by startups such as SkyFlox, specialising in aerospace, or ExoAtlet, which develops exoskeletons for people with locomotor disabilities, and ANote Music, which has created a brand-new platform to bring together musicians and investors.

All this makes Belval “an amazing pool of talent and knowledge, as well as a science and technology park ideally suited to the digital and data economy,” according to Laurent Probst, partner, Economic Development, Digital transformation and Innovation at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in Luxembourg.

The future is already here

Recently invited by AGORA to reflect on the strategic positioning of Belval on the subject of research and innovation, Laurent Probst’s team concluded that the quarter which was “sometimes unrecognised but truly exceptional” but has everything it takes to be a world leader in “data modelling and simulation” both in the health sector and in the environmental, aerospace and other sectors.

“Belval has as many strengths in collecting data as in analysing and modelling it. In health, for example, data from all over the world is collected from Belval. Luxembourg’s technological infrastructure is very protected, which gives it an advantage at European level. The strengths there on site are able to aggregate multiple data sources and have strong expertise in data analytics. The quarter has everything it takes to be recognised as one the ERDI (education, research, development, innovation) centres for the data economy.”

An example? Let’s take one from the biomedicine sector, which is developing at breakneck speed in Belval, notably at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB). “Thanks to computer tools with high computing capacities, researchers are making great progress in research into degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, explains Laurent Probst. The next step is to accelerate discoveries by ensuring that all the sequences take place in the same urban area, from the researcher to the clinician, being required to work closely together.”

Another future area related to the data economy? “Belval is well positioned in environmental research and could become a world hub for data aggregation on themes such as CO2 emissions, pollution, the state of the oceans, agriculture and natural resources,” adds Laurent Probst.

In Belval, the joint work between the driving forces of the University and the private sector is successfully under way! The site is firmly on the international innovation map.

"Il était une fois" tells the history of AGORA through its events and encounters with people who have marked its history.

Discover all the articles of this series by clicking on the tag below.