The BorderSens symposium was attended by more than 80 people in the historic building of the Klooster Van De Grauwzusters of the University of Antwerp on 21 November. It was opened by Ms. Annelies Verlinden, Belgian Minister of the Interior, Institutional Reform and Democratic Renewal.
During her opening speech, Minister Verlinden emphasized the need to work together more efficiently to combat the traffic of illicit drugs, “because it takes a network to fight a network”. Also, she mentioned that “projects such as the H2020 project BorderSens, therefore, have my full attention and my appreciation”, because BorderSens represents “an important innovation and technological contribution that will enable drugs to be detected more rapidly and more accurately”.
Then it was the turn of Ms. Viera Ehret, from the DG Migration and Home Affairs, who highlighted that “this project is a clear result of the increasing support and commitment of the European Commission”.
Prof. Ronny Blust, Vice-rector Research of the University of Antwerp, mentioned that “the presence of Minister Verlinden indicates the importance of this project and of this day”, and set the project as “a superb example of interdisciplinary collaboration”.
Then, Prof. Dr. Karolien De Wael, from the University of Antwerp and coordinator of the BorderSens project, reflected on “the milestones we have achieved together, the challenges we have overcome together and the devices we have developed together”.
Later on, Dr. Annemarijn Steijlen, from the University of Antwerp, and Dr. Filip Van Durme, from NICC, presented the three devices for the on-site detection of illicit drugs developed within the project: array, single sensor and nanoMIPs sensor, and show the demonstrations of these devices, that can be found here.
To conclude the first part of the symposium, Mr. Dragos Voicu summarized the collaboration carried out between Frontex and BorderSens, and how the results of the project were well received within their network. Mr. Pieter Lescouhier, from Belgian Customs, explained their needs as end-users and how these lead to the development of BorderSens project, and Mr. Ger Koomen, from Dutch Customs, highlighted the results achieved within the project and how they are aligned with their needs.
After lunch, Prof. Dr. Arien van Asten, from the University of Amsterdam, gave a presentation on the importance of on-scene, admissible illicit drug identification in seconds using portable technology and data science, highlighting the importance of providing a rapid response to the questions that may arise in a forensic setting. He also left us an interesting take-home message: you can always do better, and if you can do better, you have to try.
Then, Prof. Dr. Els Du Bois, from the University of Antwerp, led a panel discussion aimed to how the needs of the end-users and opportunities can be developed further in order to generate future interesting projects and promising solutions that end up in the market. To do so, several topics were discussed by Mr. Stefan Bijvoets, from Dutch Customs, Dhr. dr. Pieter Oomen, from Trimbos-instituut, Mr. Giulio-Maria Mancini, from DG HOME of European Commission, and Mr. Wil van Heeswijk, from DG TAXUD of European Commission, including if, in the future, portable techniques will provide admissible evidence in court regarding illicit drug identification, if a shared makerspace is needed to test and couple equipment using real illicit drug case samples, how can security research lead to market uptake, and if future innovations should combine portable technologies, data science and cloud storage.
The symposium finished with the PhD public defence of Robin Van Echelpoel from University of Antwerp, entitled “Making an impact with voltammetric illicit drug sensors – Bridging the gap between fundamental lab research and on-site application”.