Boosting societal engagement and harnessing synergies between science and art remain challenges that we as an academy must tackle.#

Interview with Jaume Bertranpetit MAE, AE Barcelona Knowledge Hub Academic Director#

About Professor Jaume Bertranpetit#

Jaume Bertranpetit is Professor Emeritus of Biology at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, where he leads the Evolutionary Biology and Complex Systems Program of the Department of Experimental and Health Sciences and co-founded the Institute of Evolutionary Biology. His research seeks to understand the diversity of the human genome and how natural selection has shaped evolution through genomic blueprints. His work has involved populations around the world and has featured research stays in Cambridge (UK), Japan, and Stanford (USA).

An author of over 320 original articles, Dr. Bertranpetit has held important scientific and administrative appointments, including Director of the Spanish National Genotyping Center (CeGen) from 2004 to 2011 and Director of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) from 2007 to 2015. He was elected Member of Academia Europaea (AE) in 2021 and has served as Academic Director of the AE Barcelona Knowledge Hub since 2023.

Professor Jaume Bertranpetit
Professor Jaume Bertranpetit

The interview#

Congratulations on becoming the Barcelona Hub’s new director. What are your priorities and ambitions for the Hub over the next few years?

“Although Academia Europaea exemplifies excellence in scholarship at the highest international level, is not as well-known an organisation as it should be. This is true, not just among the academic community, but especially among the general public. For this reason, the Barcelona Knowledge Hub, in addition to maintaining already consolidated initiatives such as the Hypatia Prize and the Disputatio of Barcelona, is launching new strategic lines with the goal of boosting public outreach and heightening its visibility among scholars and citizens alike.”

This sounds both exciting and challenging. How do you plan to achieve these goals?

“Our Hub is organising two different series of discussions, each aimed at a different audience. The first one, Frontiers of Science and Technology in Science (“Frontiers,” for short) will consist of high-level scientific discussions in English that cross disciplinary frontiers by bringing together two scholars -a scientist or technologist, and an expert in social sciences or humanities- to offer contrasting viewpoints on a scientific advance of social and/or ethical relevance with the goal of exploring possible paths forward. The second one, named Agora after the meeting ground of citizens in ancient Greek cities, also offers interdisciplinary discussions grounded in scientific rigour, but it adopts a level of language (in either Catalan and/or Spanish) appropriate for public dissemination and encourages citizen participation. We plan to make both available on digital platforms and open the Frontiers series to the entire community of AE Members.

Finally, the Barcelona Knowledge Hub is also developing a project focused on the crosstalk between art and science, engaging key stakeholders in both areas. We aim to enrich the dialogue that has begun between artists and scientists in our area of influence and to dynamise relations, first by holding round table discussions and joint work sessions and, in a later phase, by promoting the development and production of artistic projects built on partnerships with scientists and/or residencies at research centres. Our idea is to then exhibit these projects both locally and internationally, and to highlight their added value for scientists, artists, and others. This initiative aspires to be innovative, creative, and interdisciplinary, which we hope will make it of special interest to Academia Europaea as a whole.”

You only recently became a member of the Academia Europaea (in 2021). How did you become involved with the work of the academy and what drew you to the role of Hub Director?

“Despite being relatively new to Academia Europaea, I immediately became excited by the prospect of serving as Academic Director of the Barcelona Knowledge Hub. While I have held similar leadership positions within a number of academies, Academia Europaea is special in terms of its scope and calibre. However, I must confess that other factors weighed heavily: most importantly, a group of influential local AE Members convinced me of the position and of their support; furthermore, the opportunity arose at the right moment in my career, when I had just become Professor Emeritus at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.”

Could you tell us a little about your background and the key highlights from your career so far that have led you to your new role as Director of the Barcelona Hub?

“I am an evolutionary biologist, having worked for many years on investigating the human genome (and of related species, living or extinct), in order to understand our evolution and differentiation. Most of these studies have focused on reconstructing human population history beginning with our African origins. By analysing diverse regions of the genome and very different populations around the world, they have uncovered traces of extinct hominins in our genome. I have also worked on understanding adaptation in humans, as seen in the genome—I find research in this area to be particularly fascinating, as it triggers key questions regarding what makes us human.

Finally, throughout my career, I have also assumed various administrative roles (Dean, Vice-Rector, etc.). Of note, I served as Director of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA), aimed at attracting and retaining top scientific talent in Catalonia, from 2007 to 2015.”

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