Brussels, 30 Jul 2004
The first recipients of the European Young Investigator (EURYI) awards were announced in Brussels on 29 July, providing 25 excellent young scientists with five year grants of up to 1.25 million euro to establish their own research teams in Europe.
The EURYI awards are a joint initiative of the European Heads of Research Councils (EUROHORCs) and the European Science Foundation (ESF), and have received the support of the European Commission. Most significantly, the scheme represents the first time national research funding organisations have pooled their resources in a common project based on open competition.
The awards are open to scientists from anywhere in the world, and in awarding grants, no consideration is given to the principle of juste retour for national contributions or to specific deliverables that may result from the team's research. The organisers believe that the scheme will help Europe to turn its brain drain into brain gain.
At a press event to introduce the awards and announce the winners, Professor Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, chair of EUROHORCs and president of Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, said: 'This is an important event for research in Europe and for the European Research Area [ERA]. The ERA must include everybody - not just EU funding, but also funding from national research councils - and these awards are the most important example of that collaboration to date.'
Professor Winnacker explained that the awards were made primarily on the basis of scientific excellence, but that other factors were also taken into account. 'We wanted to see evidence of a good scientific track record, the potential of the individual to become a world leader, the groundbreaking nature of the research, and its potential to improve European research at a global level,' he said.
Assessment of the 800 applications received was carried out in two stages. First, on a national level, the participating research councils reviewed those applicants who wished to establish their research teams in that country. 'National research councils are specialists in assessing science proposals, and they put all of their expertise into the evaluation process,' explained Professor Bertil Andersson, chief executive of ESF.
Having selected 130 applicants, the second stage of evaluation was carried out at European level by a panel of leading scientists, including Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt, executive director of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) Frank Gannon, and director general of the European Southern Observatory Catherine Cesarski. 'We want the best scientists to win the awards, so we need the best scientists to judge them,' said Professor Andersson.
As a result of this process, the first group of 25 EURYI award winners has been identified, with each individual receiving a grant of up to 1.25 million euro over the coming five years to build a team and further their research. The organisers point out that this is comparable in size to the Nobel Prize, and Professor Andersson believes that the synergies between the two awards may not end there: 'I would not exclude the possibility that one of today's EURYI award winners could go on to win a Nobel Prize - I obviously can't make any promises, but looking at the winners I'm left feeling very excited for the future.'
Looking at the list of winners, it is apparent that the organisers' principles of open competition and scientific excellence have had an effect, for while countries such as the UK and France hardly feature at all, Spain and the Netherlands produced ten winners between them. 'Many countries that paid money into the [5.2 million euro per year] fund will get no winners this year, but thankfully this hasn't been a problem. Science isn't the arena for nationalistic competition - we should leave that for Athens this summer,' said Professor Andersson.
Given the great emphasis placed on the awards being open to any researcher in the world, CORDIS News asked Professor Winnacker whether the fact that all but one of this year's winners is from Europe is due to its relatively low global profile at this early stage. 'It's true that this is the first time the awards have been held, and they will take a few years to become fully established. But it is important to recognise that while most of the winners originate from Europe, many of them have spent time in or just returned from the US,' he said, suggesting that in this way, the EUYRI awards are already beginning to turn European brain drain into brain gain.
A ceremony will be held at the Euroscience Open Forum in Stockholm, Sweden, this August to present the winning scientists and their research to a wider audience. This will help to gain worldwide recognition for the awards. 'These EURYI awards are going to be a success story - I'm sure of that,' Professor Winnacker concluded.
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