Brussels, 22 Jul 2005
The shortlist for this year's edition of the EU's prestigious scientific award, the Descartes Prize, has been announced. With collaborative projects investigating a range of issues from climate change in the Arctic to changes in Europe's social, political and moral climate, the competition looks set to be hotter than ever.
As any good team player knows, co-operation is the key to success. The Descartes Prize rewards pan-European teamwork – or collaborative research, as it is more formally known – with its €1.15 million in annual prize money.
The Prize's grand jury has announced its final shortlist of 14 multinational research projects – involving 76 teams from 22 European countries and the wider world – that will compete for the honour and prestige of a Descartes award. The final selection was made from a pool of 85 submissions, which is three times greater than in 2004.
The Descartes Prize – which is organised by the Commission as part of its science and society programme – is open to multinational teams from all fields of scientific endeavour. The shortlist is drawn from the fields of physics, socio-economics, engineering, as well as the life, earth, and information sciences.
The projects cover a broad range of topics, including the mapping of cancer genes; rare genetic diseases; climate change in the arctic; long-term changes in the social, political and moral climate; and a super hard disk drive using nanotechnology.
In the footsteps of a model European scientist
The annual Prize honours the name of a leading European thinker, scientist, mathematician and philosopher. Born in France, René Descartes is best known in the popular mind for his famous statement: "I think, therefore I am." followed a doctrine of mobility and communication, travelling throughout Europe and keeping in close contact with his peers. These traits are embodied in the prize that now bears his name and in other EU programmes aimed at promoting cross-border scientific collaboration.
The inaugural event, hosted in Brussels (BE) in 2000, set the scene for several years to come as the Prize built its reputation among the scientific community, in particular. From 2002, the award ceremony was hosted in different European cities, such as Munich (DE), Rome (IT) and Prague (CZ). Then, in 2004, to broaden awareness of the scheme among a wider community of stakeholders and the general public, a new Descartes Prize for excellence in science communication, worth a total of €250 000, was created. In addition to improving the quality of science communication to the public, this new Prize also aims to stimulate interest and careers in science communication, according to the new-look website launched last month.
Last year's two winning laureates illustrate the compelling benefits of active transnational co-operation in pioneering research. One team advanced the science behind quantum cryptography by allowing people to send truly secure, encrypted information over long distances. The second discovered a key factor behind degenerative diseases and ageing – revealed in mutations in the DNA of mitochondria.
Efforts by the Commission to create a 'Descartes Community' of past winners are also starting to pay off. This was clearly demonstrated at the fifth anniversary event held in Brussels last year which brought together the majority of past winners to talk about their achievements and progress.