Big Data, in life sciences and beyond

Everything with a sensor can connect on-line. Data is produced around the clock, describing our whereabouts, behavior, and health. It is rapidly accumulating in the cloud. It can be used at the moment it is produced. It has become Big.

On February 10, at the Dutch Consulate-General in Shanghai, ca. 25 people participated in a Bioclouds seminar dedicated to big data. Three guest, i.e. Sammy Shen from the Wuxi National Sensing Information Center, Georgio Mosis from Philips, and Jaap van Etten of Datenna, shared their views on how their professional -and in some cases, private- lives are being shaped by big data.

Big data was mainly discussed from the angle of data properties and contents, and the (analytical) challenges that coincide with obtaining information from it. Big data itself largely appeared to be a hard-to-define concept. Many discussions related to the trade-off between privacy issues vs. interests in the public domain, including health.

Measuring correlations, or finding co-incidents, may currently be the most common application of big data. Results are used to predict future events. As such, correlations are often considered as causalities. Jaap van Etten strongly reminded the participants on this misconception. Distinguishing facts from fiction may also be a big data pitfall: generally, when ideas are shown as data-points, people will interpret these as facts. Especially for big data purposes, Jaap advocated targeted data collection and targeted questions.

At least 85% of the audience agreed. Or not?

Not a single country has finished and implemented regulatory standards for the collection, storage, and use for big data, and Sammy Shen was the first to admit this fact. He stressed, however, that it was of interest to the community to make big data as accessible as possible. Nevertheless, in China, Georgio Mosis stressed that Philips is dealing with the present-day reality, meaning that health data of any sort in China belongs to, and has to stay inside, China. To a large extent, big data in many countries, including China, is still far too localized and protected.

The impact of big data and health sensor devices is likely to go hand in hand. Philips exemplifies this, by measuring and integrating health-data across the globe, and allow 3rd parties to develop digital products via their healthcare information platform. It will enhance prevention of disease, treatment outcomes, and open new ways in health monitoring. In this new era, people have to become aware of the impact of this, enjoy the benefits, while taking ownership of the data, as well as the regulation for data collection, storage and use.

David Naves' opening speech
Deputy CG David Naves’ opening speech at Bioclouds Big Data

Technology partnering between China and the Netherlands on Advanced Materials

‘New materials’ is one of the seven priority industries of China’s 12th five year plan. Also in the Netherlands the Dutch public and private sector focus on advanced materials. Both countries know leading companies, universities and institutions in this field. Therefore the Netherlands Office Science and Technology organized a seminar on ‘Advanced Materials’. Representatives of Shanghai Institute of Ceramics (SIC), Teijin Aramid, Jiaotong University, Energy Research Centre the Netherlands (ECN), Zhejiang University, Unilever, Shanghai Advanced Research Institute (SARI) and AkzoNobel discussed different kind of technologies and possibilities to cooperate.

SIC introduced their technologies to control PM2.5 through architectural coating. For AkzoNobel, the leading global paints and coatings company, an interesting possibility for future cooperation. Another Dutch world leader, this time in aramids, gave a presentation on the Twaron fiber: Teijin Aramid. An impressive product, used all around the world and applied when strength, safety, heat or flame resistance, low weight or sustainability is required. Jiaotong University told about their solid oxide fuel cells research activities, a challenging area.

After the break ECN elucidated their recent innovations in additive manufacturing of ceramic shapes. With ECN know-how, Formatec Ceramics and Innotech Europe launched a new company, which will be the first company in the world that is able to print ceramics quickly and at a very high quality. Zhejiang University described their innovations on novel silicon containing polymer materials. Unilever introduced a new type of toothpaste: Regenerate. A toothpaste that contains calcium silicate and sodium phosphate, which effectively re-builds a new layer of white enamel on the teeth!

The seminar ended with a presentation of SARI and AkzoNobel. SARI explained their activities in the field of membranes. In this field ECN has a lot of experience as well. AkzoNobel, with a huge branch in China, gave an introduction on their activities. An interesting example of one of their recent innovations is the Suprasel Loso OneGrain. A great tasting like-for-like salt replacement which contains up to 50 percent less sodium. It makes food healthier without compromising on taste.

During the drinks all the different parties discussed possibilities to cooperate. In the coming months some of the participants will visit each other to reify these possibilities. Technology partnering between China and the Netherlands on advanced materials is prospering!


Chinese government financial incentives didn’t enhance technological progress

China’s economy is expanding at its slowest pace in more than two decades. Among the main reasons are less industrial production and less investments. Innovation becomes essential to continue economic growth and facilitate a new earning model (from production to more innovation based). Recently Elsevier published a paper (of JianCheng Guan and Richard C.M. Yam) about the effects of Chinese government financial incentives on firms’ innovation performance during the nation’s initial economic transition period in the mid-1990s. The results of this investigation shed an interesting light on government stimulation of innovation.

Through an empirical survey among more than 1000 Chinese manufacturing firms, the empirical evidences show that the major part of the financial incentives of Chinese governments positively influence the innovative economic performance of the surveyed companies. However, the financial incentives did not play any role in enhancing technological progress of these firms. The findings also suggest the Chinese governments should shift more attention to Tax Credits, Special Loans, and direct competitive research funds in its subsequent financial incentives on innovation. Direct Earmarks provided ineffective and even negative results.

The study results imply that the Chinese government should further increase the role of market force in its reforms. A more market driven model by developing more Science and Technology initiatives to match the strategic directions of different enterprises, particularly SOEs, is recommended.

Direct Earmarks: Partial or even full financial support from the government (for innovative projects) without payback
Special Loans: Partial or even full financial support through government loans (meant for technology improvement and R&D development under priority and special emphasis from the government)
Tax Credits: Tax exemption or reductions for innovative projects (normally for a period of three years after the products have been successfully introduced to the market)

China brings supercomputer to Zimbabwe

Since last Friday, Zimbabwe is one of the few African countries equipped with a supercomputer. A Chinese-built supercomputer with processing capacity of 36 trillion calculations per second was provided by China’s leading personal computer and server manufacturer Inspur Group.

Huang Gang, deputy president of Inspur Group, said the supercomputer is expected to be used in agriculture, weather forecast, mining, gene technology, and stimulation. Zimbabwe can now process big data, for example to predict weather changes with unprecedented precision. The same technology can also help miners pinpoint sites that hold oil and other key mineral resources.

The Zimbabwe Supercomputer Center, located within the University of Zimbabwe, is provided with the supercomputer by a 5.5 million U.S. dollars interest-free loan committed by the Chinese government. Till now, Inspur Group has helped Sudan, Saudia Arabia, Venezuela and Cuba own and operate high performance computing centers.

Read more: Xinhua Net

Opportunities chemical industry in China

The chemical industry in China is a fast growing, dynamic industry and plays a significant role within the Chinese economy. With around 25.000 companies, €1000 billion sales and a global market share of more than 30%, China is also a global key player. For NOST the reason to investigate this industry in depth.

Major trends
One of the most relevant trends is the shift from mainly basic chemicals to specialties. This goes hand in hand with increasing R&D investments:
– R&D spending 2006: €2.1 million
– R&D spending 2007: €7.5 million
Besides that the awareness of the impact of chemical production on the environment is growing. This results in more stringent rules, forced relocation of polluting factories (outside urban areas), monitoring of environmental effects (by the government) and the fact that the biobased industry is becoming more important.

Advanced materials
A focus area of China in the field of specialties is advanced materials. Materials are of course the basics for all kind of sectors. Also in the Netherlands the subsector of advanced materials is well-developed and continually innovating. Therefore in China, as well in the Netherlands, there are various important institutions and companies involved in the development and application of advanced materials. To link Chinese and Dutch parties, NOST will organize a seminar on advanced materials on the 11th of February. NOST sees high potential in cooperation and strengthening the link between Chinese and Dutch parties involved.

Advanced materials

Biobased industry
Pollution, and related air and water quality, is currently a hot topic in China. Due to growing awareness on the environmental effects of industrial production, more and more attention is paid to the biobased industry and the potential solutions. As a consequence almost one billion dollar is spend within the biobased industry this year. In other words, the biobased industry in China is booming. As there is a lot of knowledge and expertise available in the Netherlands, Dutch companies, institutes and universities can act on this. Therefore NOST invites the Dutch biobased companies or related knowledge institutions to visit the International Biobased Technology and Partnering Conference in Shanghai. This is an international conference with valuable information on the Chinese biobased industry. Besides that it provides the opportunity to meet with potential partners and clients.

Interested in one of the events? Feel free to contact us on

More information on the chemical industry in China? Download our report (Chemical industry in China).