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.”
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:
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.
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
Jens Marklof (Germany): Semi-classical Correlations in Quantum
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.
Gadi Rothenberg (Israel): Mobility – A catalyst for Research
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
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.
Stefano Zapperi (Italy): Internal avalanches and crackling noise
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.