Brussels, 11 February 2004
The European Commission today presented the first NEST (New and Emerging Science and Technology) projects retained for funding for 2004. These ten projects cover issues such as bio-terrorism, obesity, atom optics and the environment.
NEST is a new research activity under the EU 6th Research Framework Programme (FP6 2003-2006), designed to respond to new scientific opportunities and challenges, and promote interdisciplinary high risk research. NEST will launch more focused calls on emerging topics that will be identified through consultation with the research community. With a budget of €215 million over four years and almost 300 proposals submitted in last October's second round of calls, NEST's potential is great for further unconventional, frontier research.
"NEST is leading the way in making the most of our scientific and technological potential," says Research Commissioner, Philippe Busquin. "Through visionary projects the European Union can build on the ideas and innovations of bright and iconoclastic researchers. The new NEST projects demonstrate how the initiative is open to new ideas within a wide range of scientific fields. It also gives the perfect opportunity for up and coming researchers to expand their horizons, with the focus being on the unexpected rather than solely on existing successes and consolidated scientific dogma. Yesterday's science fiction is today's science."
Interest and competition flying high
The Commission will allocate €215 million to NEST over four years. There has been a high level of interest from researchers, with around 170 outline proposals submitted at the first deadline in April 2003, and 265 submitted at the second, in October 2003.
Going the distance
The geographical distribution of the partner countries for proposals retained is very diverse, covering 19 countries, including all EU Member states, except Ireland and Luxembourg, and including Norway, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Cyprus. Candidate and Accession countries will receive about 9% of the total EU contribution.
Building on NEST's opportunities
The first projects demonstrate NEST's openness to a wide range of scientific fields and address both new opportunities for science and technology (ADVENTURE projects) as well as new problems and challenges (INSIGHT projects). NEST projects aim to develop new systems to immunize the human body against bio-chemical agents, to create novel coatings for materials using micro-organisms, to detect diseases from the human breath, and to develop new atomic scale manipulation and imaging methods.
These NEST projects will also strive to boost the capacity of electron microscopes, to manipulate atoms with lasers, to create new bio-materials from ionized gases for medical and surgical applications, to detect and study toxic chemicals such as Perfluorinated Hydrocarbons (PFCs), to produce new chemicals and clean fuels, and to develop policies to tackle the obesity epidemics.
Topics on the horizon
The Commission has now published the NEST calls for proposals for 2004. These include not only calls open to any kind of proposals, but also calls on three specific topics (deadline 14 April 2004):
- Synthetic biology: engineering new sub-cellular modules and organisms from scratch, to develop the knowledge and European skill base for a true engineering discipline in biology, as well as to improving understanding of fundamental biological processes.
What it means to be human: highly interdisciplinary research focusing on the unique characteristics of human cognitive faculties, and their evolutionary origins.
Tackling complexity in science: the focus is on complex problems and "generalized" methods for simplifying and solving them.
The objective of this project is to develop a completely new mechanism of rapid immunization against bio-terrorist weapons, using transformed GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) organisms. This includes genetically engineering Lactobacilli, micro-organisms which live in the human gastrointestinal tract, to create antibodies. After ingestion, the micro-organisms will colonize the intestinal mucosa and secrete antibodies enabling rapid protection against bio-terrorism agents or emerging diseases.
The project aims to exploit "electro active" (EA) micro-organisms that are able to form thin films and "plug themselves in" to conducting surfaces thus directly extracting electrical power from them. If successful, such micro-organisms could provide a new and revolutionary way to catalyze and control chemical reactions in diverse applications such as bio-remediation, bio-sensors, and corrosion prevention.
The Optical Nose
An on-line, non-invasive and total-profiling instrument for trace gas sensing applications in medical sciences. More than three thousand volatile organic compounds found in human breath may be markers of diseases. This project aims to develop and apply a novel type of laser-based analytical instrument, for rapid, non-invasive screening of human breath to identify specific markers related to various diseases.
INA Imaging with neutral atoms
The objective is to improve the resolution of helium atom microscopy by a factor of 50, from 1 micron to 0.02 micron. This would create a novel imaging method with unique characteristics and a wide application range (bio-physical, bio-medical, electronics, and other applications), and give European researchers a leading position in the technology of atom optics.
CHIRALTEM the next generation of electron microscopes
Using new experimental results, the aim is to develop a novel method for accurate measurement of chiral dichroism (the absorption of circular polarized photons). If successful it will provide a new analytical technique for transmission electron microscopy, allowing accurate measurement of magnetic properties below the surface and in multilayer materials at nanometer resolutions.
ATOM3D how to manipulate atoms with lasers
Advanced techniques for optical manipulation using novel 3D light field synthesis. The aim is to develop novel optical manipulation techniques, for "optical tweezers", whereby the momentum carried by the photons of an intense laser beam can be used to manipulate microscopic objects, ranging from atoms to particles in the micron size range. It opens the way for trapping and localizing tiny biological samples such as viruses and DNA, and has promising applications in fundamental science (optics, atomic physics) and technology, including micro-fluidics.
Bio-compatible and bio-active surfaces are crucial in many areas of biotechnology and in medical applications such as bone implants. BIOPLASMA aims to develop novel techniques using low temperature plasmas (ionized gases) to bind bio-molecules in order to create low cost bio-active coatings.
Perfluorinated Hydrocarbons (PFCs), presumably resulting from industrial activity, are increasingly present in the environment. The resulting health threat of such potentially toxic chemicals is a matter of growing concern but has not yet been measured. This project aims to establish means to assess both the prevalence and possible health impact of PFCs on human life throughout the EU.
By combining the size-selectivity of nanoporous membranes with the catalytic properties of noble metals, the objective is to realize an as-yet elusive vision: the production of chemicals from CO2 and H2 under "mild" reaction conditions. This could have enormous industrial and environmental implications ranging from the use of solar energy to produce fuels from CO2 and H2O, and the reduction of greenhouse gases, to chemical syntheses and processing.
PORGROW lean and mean research
Obesity has recently been recognized as a problem of epidemic proportions, but it is extremely difficult to address, given the range of factors at stake. The project aims to generate a novel form of systematic socio-technical intelligence based on the mapping of the problem according to different criteria, to assist policy-makers and help design a new cross-national methodology to develop more effective, forward-looking strategies.