2004 EU Descartes Prizes reward scientific excellence

December 6, 2004

Brussels, 2 December 2004

Today in Prague, EU Commissioner for Science and Research, Janez Potocnik awarded this year’s €1 million EU Descartes Prize for outstanding cross-border research to two pan-European teams, in the field of life science and physics. The first winning team has made revolutionary breakthroughs in the field of quantum cryptography, a crucial advance towards secure global communication networks. The second team contributed to greater understanding of mitochondrial DNA, believed to be one of the keys to the ageing process. Illustrating the essential link between science and science communication, a new €250,000 EU Descartes Prize for Science Communication rewarded five personalities for their exceptional role in bringing science and technology to wider audiences in Europe. The award ceremony was hosted by Vaclav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic, in the magnificent historic setting of Prague Castle.

Commissioner Potocnik said “The Descartes Prize recognises the best in European collaborative research. It shows just how much we can achieve when we work together at European level. I am also honoured to be presenting the first Descartes Prize for Science Communication. It is high time that we recognise the significant contribution made by those who communicate on science issues to a greater awareness, understanding and acceptance of science.”

Eight finalists, representing a broad field of science and technology disciplines, competed for the 2004 Descartes Prize for Research. The two winning teams were selected by a high-profile panel of leading personalities from the worlds of science, industry and government, chaired by Ene Ergma, Vice President of the Academy of Sciences of Estonia and President of the Estonian Parliament.

Both winning teams illustrate the compelling benefits of active cross-border co-operation in pioneering research. In the first, “From quantum teleportation to secure communication”, a joint EU-US team has developed a global communication system using particles of light. “Quantum cryptography” represents a revolutionary advance for global electronic networks, paving the way for a more secure global infrastructure, notably for e-business and e-government. The second, “Secrets of degenerative diseases and ageing revealed in the mitochondria,” has shed new light on the complex biological processes involved in ageing, which could possibly lead to the development of anti-ageing therapies.

This year the Descartes Prize for Science Communication was awarded for the first time. Five leading personalities from the worlds of science and the media were honoured for their outstanding contribution to stimulating interest in science among the European public. Sharing the € 250.000 were:

  • French producer Vincent Lamy for an award winning documentary on stick insects,
  • Prof. Ignaas Verpoest for an innovative mobile exhibition on composite materials,
  • British broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, for his pioneering wildlife filmmaking and his universally admired oeuvre,
  • Prof. Wolfgang M. Heckl for his inspirational work in making hard science understandable to a broad range of audiences,
  • Hungarian scientist Peter Csermely for his innovative initiative to help disadvantaged students participate in advanced research.
For more information on the Descartes Prize 2004 winners, see MEMO/04/281 .

Item source: IP/04/1435 Date: 02/12/2004

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