Brussels, 25 Jul 2003
Now in its fourth year, the Descartes Prize has established itself as a prestigious European award for scientific excellence, with record numbers of submissions and strong candidate country involvement.
The European Union would like to think of Descartes as its 'Nobel Prize' for teams of scientists who have achieved outstanding results from European collaborative research projects in all scientific fields, including social sciences.
The winning projects share in the €1 million prize money offered for Descartes. This year, a total of 230 research teams, made up of over 900 scientists from 30 countries, were submitted for evaluation by a panel of experts, which has to come up with a short-list of finalists who will vie for the final prize.
According to data released by the European Commission, around 20% of the projects put forward for the Prize this year included candidate country or 'third country' partners. The number of women scientists involved in the projects submitted also increased – female project coordinators rose from 13% in 2002 to 17% this year.
Who was Descartes?
A mathematician, natural scientist and pioneering philosopher of the 'Age of Reason', Descartes was born in France (1596) and died in Stockholm (1650). In his most famous work 'Meditations on First Philosophy', he enlivened dialogue with his now famous phrase cogito, ergo sum ('I think, therefore I am').
Like the 'Enlightenment' scholars that followed him, he travelled and corresponded widely, fervently supporting exchange of ideas leading to new experiences – a principle now embodied in the Prize that shares his name.
Last year's Prize was won by two projects in the fields of medicine and astrophysics. The first provided leading research into multiple sclerosis, a painful degenerative disease affecting thousands of Europeans. The second unravelled the mysterious astronomical phenomenon known as gamma ray bursts, offering insight into how stars and planets are formed.
Since its launch in 2000, the Prize has attracted a string of remarkable projects in a wide range of fields. This year, life sciences, basic sciences, engineering and information sciences are especially well represented among the projects to be considered.
The final decision, which will made by a Grand Jury of eminent figures in the science world, will be reached in the coming weeks to months. The winners will be announced during an award ceremony hosted at Rome's Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in November 2003.