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Marie Curie Excellence Awards 2004

On November 7, the European Commission announced in Warsaw the winners of the 2004 Marie Curie Excellence Awards, with grants of €50,000 going to five outstanding European researchers. The Marie Curie Excellence Awards are given in recognition of the excellence achieved by researchers who have benefited from EU support schemes and to boost their careers by contributing to their international exposure. This year’s winners include two Germans, two Italians and an Israeli. They made scientific breakthroughs on issues such as the creation of galaxies, the roots of human empathy, quantum physics, new catalysts and the science of materials.

“The EU has some of the best scientists in the world. We have to recognise their excellence,“ said European Research Commissioner Louis Michel. “The Marie Curie Excellence Awards help address this issue by showing how bright European researchers, who have made the most of our mobility grants by acquiring and sharing knowledge, can achieve outstanding results.”

Fostering excellence
The Awards are part of the opportunities provided by a four-year €1.56 billion programme intended to support the training and mobility of researchers in Europe, coming from all over the world. Each year, between one and five prizes are presented to former “Marie Curie” fellows or other researchers who have benefited from EU funded mobility research programmes. EU “Marie Curie” actions foster the training, mobility and career development of researchers. Fellowships are available in any scientific discipline. They contribute directly to the objectives of the EU Sixth Research Framework Programme (FP6 2002-2006) and the Lisbon Strategy - to make Europe the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010.

The Grand Jury
The 2004 winners were chosen by a six member Grand Jury chaired by Professor Gerard ‘t Hooft, Dutch Nobel Prize winner for Physics in 1999. The project disciplines were in Chemistry, Engineering, Life Sciences, Mathematics & Information Sciences and Physics.

And the winners are…
The 2004 Marie Curie Excellence Award winners are:

  • Dr. Benedetta CiardiDr. Benedetta Ciardi (Italy): Unveiling the Primordial Universe
    In her own words:

    “To me, research means trying to answer questions about the environment that surrounds us, with the goal of expanding the scope of knowledge. I believe that the Marie Curie Award will contribute enormously to the further development of my research and career. It can be used to fund my participation in conferences and to visit collaborators at different institutes. I also hope that it will allow me to take some steps towards forming my own research groups in Europe.”

    Dr Ciardi is conducting her research at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics with the goal of shedding some light on the period when the Universe was in its infancy. During this time a number of important events happened which shaped the structure of the Universe we have today. Specifically, she has focused her research on what effects the radiation produced by the first stars had on the different gases that permeate the Universe and on the process of galaxy formation. (theoretical study of cosmic re-ionisation) To achieve this, she ran high-resolution computer simulations and the results were used to guide observational programmes.
  • Dr. Christian Marc KeysersDr. Christian Marc Keysers (Germany/France): The mirror system and the neural basis of empathy
    In his own words:

    “My main motivation in my research is to understand how our brains work. This award will contribute to my career by increasing the visibility of our research and contributing to my standing within the department and the financial contribution will help me to travel to scientific conferences.”

    Dr. Keysers is researching at the BCN Neuro-Imaging Centre at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in the Netherlands. He is investigating how people empathise with each other by using single cell recordings in monkeys and functional magnetic resonance imaging in humans. His research found that when we observe the actions, sensations and emotions of others we also activate areas in our brains that normally are used for our own actions, sensations and emotions. Therefore, we appear to understand other people when our brain translates the visual and auditory stimuli. The research showed that understanding and empathising with people becomes very intuitive and simple.

  • Dr. Jens MarklofDr. Jens Marklof (Germany): Semi-classical Correlations in Quantum Spectra
    In his own words:

    “From the time I started studying physics at university I quickly realised the enormous satisfaction that can be got from exploring unknown territory and cracking previously unsolved problems. Public communication of science is an important academic responsibility and this award will provide a vehicle for public lectures that can convey the excitement of fundamental research.”

    Dr. Marklof is a Reader of Mathematical Physics at the University of Bristol and his main area of research is quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics shows that microscopic particles such as electrons or atoms are not solid masses but behave like interfering waves. The theory of quantum chaos studies the wave dynamics in chaos geometries and compares it with the corresponding classical motion of macroscopic particles. One of the main objectives in quantum chaos is to characterise and measure the nature of the quantum fluctuations around the macroscopic mean. One of his current projects focuses on the localisation properties of chaotic quantum states and the results may have important applications in the design of micro-electronic devices.
  • Dr. Gadi RothenbergDr. Gadi Rothenberg (Israel): Mobility – A catalyst for Research Excellence
    In his own words:

    “Research offers new challenges every day and gives the opportunity to work with talented and enthusiastic people – there is no other occupation like it. I hope that the Marie Curie award will raise my profile so that I will be able to set up collaborative programmes to encourage young scientists to engage in interdisciplinary research.”

    Dr. Rothenberg is attached to the University of Amsterdam where his work focuses on combining advanced computational and experimental methods to discover new catalysts and materials for sustainable development – specifically to find new and environmentally friendly methods to make bulk and fine chemicals. He has devised solutions for data explosion problems in catalysis and in 2004, together with a colleague, he set up a company called Sorbisense in Denmark that manufactures and sells new water monitoring devices based on their own patent.
  • Dr. Stefano Zapperi Dr. Stefano Zapperi (Italy): Internal avalanches and crackling noise in materials
    In his own words:

    “I was attracted by a research career for the excitement involved in discoveries and for the intellectual challenges it posed and was motivated by the possibility of contributing in some part to human knowledge. The Marie Curie Award will certainly give a high visibility to my research activity and help me to establish new international collaborations."

    The aim of Dr. Zapperi’s research activity is to find common patterns in apparently different materials. He investigates how internal avalanches give rise to a measurable crackling noise in materials. Crackling noise arises when a system responds to changing external conditions through discrete, impulsive events spanning a broad range of sizes - from earthquakes to crumpling pieces of paper. A general theory cannot be expected to describe all particular cases however his research is a good starting point for more detailed analysis.


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last update: 22-11-2004