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2006 Marie Curie Excellence Awards recognise five outstanding researchers

The European Commission has today announced the winners of the 2006 Marie Curie Excellence Awards. This year’s prizes go to Michal Lavidor from Israel/United Kingdom, Frank Keppler from Germany, Chris Ewels from United Kingdom/France, Nicolas Cerf from Belgium and Paola Borri from Italy/United Kingdom. Their scientific work covers areas as varied as: cognitive neuroscience and psychology, atmospheric science and environmental science, nanotechnology and materials science and physics. The Marie Curie Excellence Awards, with grants of € 50.000 awarded each year to five outstanding researchers, recognise the excellence of researchers who have benefited from European support schemes. The award ceremony took place at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. The awards showcase bright new talent within the European scientific community.

“The Marie Curie Awards are one way in which we acknowledge the excellent research being done in Europe,” said European Science and Research Commissioner, Janez Potočnik. “We want to encourage the potential of all European researchers and highlight the positive effects of moving within or outside the EU for the purposes of research.”

The 2006 Marie Curie Excellence Award winners are:

  • Michal Lavidor for “Interhemispheric stimulation promotes reading enhancement”
  • Frank Keppler for “Discovery of climate-relevant trace gases from terrestrial ecosystems”
  • Chris Ewels for “Computer modelling of doping and defects in graphite and carbon nano-tubes”
  • Nicolas Cerf for “Quantum information and quantum computation”
  • Paola Borri for “Semiconductor nanostructures and their ultra-fast response to laser light”

The Marie Curie Excellence Awards recognise results achieved by researchers in any field of science who have benefited from European support schemes. These support schemes, grouped together as “Marie Curie Actions” aim to develop and transfer research expertise and competence, consolidate and widen researchers’ career prospects and promote excellence in European research. They are open to research in all fields of scientific and technological research from EU Member States, countries associated with the Framework Programme and third countries. Eligibility for the various schemes is based on research experience and expertise, not age. All career levels are catered for, from researchers at the start of their career (i.e. post-graduate students) to world-class researchers with well-established scientific expertise. Actions are open to businesses, universities and other institutions active in research.

The 2006 winners were chosen by a five members Grand Jury, chaired by Dr. Ing. Jozef Ritzen, Director of the University of Maastricht. The other Grand Jury Members were: Ms Kristin Clemet, former Norwegian Minister of Education and Research, Prof. Athanassios Fokas, from the University of Cambridge, Dr. Birgitta Nordström, of the Niels Bohr Institute and Dr. Malcolm Skingle, Director of European Academic Liaison at GlaxoSmithKline.

The Seventh Research Framework Programme will devoted substantially increased resources - €4b over seven years – to activities to support the mobility of researchers within its “People” programme.

Details of the 5 winners

Michal Lavidor, Israel/ United Kingdom
“Interhemispheric stimulation promotes reading enhancement”

Michal Lavidor is not a “born researcher”: she worked for several years for a consulting company before re-entering university, where she became fascinated by human behaviour and, in particular, the unique human faculty of reading. Her current research is centred on this phenomenal reading system and what happens in our brains during this exercise. She acknowledges European leadership and excellence notably in neuropsychology, dyslexia research, and transcranial magnetic stimulation. She also points out the particular openess of the UK academic system to all nationalities. She praises the mobility opportunities offered by the Marie Curie fellowships: the grant she received allowed her to come from Israel to the UK, and to develop a rich network of international scientific contacts which formed the basis to an EC-funded network (Research Training Network: LAB), which itself enables the mobility of 18 young researchers in Europe.



Frank Keppler, Germany
“Discovery of climate-relevant trace gases from terrestrial ecosystems”

Frank was, from his boyhood, always driven by curiosity. He studied earth sciences in Heidelberg and discovered there the excitement of exploring “unknown territory”. Regarding the situation of researchers in Europe, he really feels a strong improvement in recent years, and underlines that increased attention is being paid to research issues and questions in the public. He clearly recognises that there is strong competition amongst researchers in Europe, as job opportunities remain limited. He however points out that there are always possibilities to move into industry or work at the interface between academia and industry. The Marie Curie fellowship he enjoyed during 2 years in Belfast helped him to establish international collaborations and get in touch with scientists working in disciplines different from his own. This experience proved invaluable when finding his current position within Max Planck Institute (Institute for Chemistry in Mainz-EURYI Research Group) where he makes use of the knowledge he acquired during his fellowship.



Chris Ewels, United Kingdom/France
“Computer modelling of doping and defects in graphite and carbon nanotubes”

Chirs Ewels always likes to be challenged, and does not like monotony. Research was therefore the ideal career for him, since no two days are the same when exploring the unknown. Science and research are like storytelling: pulling together disparate pieces of information and trying to build a coherent and credible story from it all. His specialisation also offers him a unique chance to make his contribution to tackling some of humanity’s current ecological problems. He really feels that the public at large appreciates researchers’ efforts to improve their quality of life. He is also convinced that government authorities appreciate researchers’ work, although he points out that supporting scientists is rather in contradiction with the usual short term constraints at political level. As to mobility, it has completely determined his career: he has worked in the UK, Italy, Sweden, and Germany. He now holds a permanent CNRS research position in France, thanks to a European Training and Mobility of Researchers position and a Marie Curie individual fellowship.



Nicolas Cerf, Belgium
“Quantum information and quantum computation”

As a child, Nicolas Cerf wanted to become an inventor, and to understand how things around him were working. Since inventor didn’t seem to be a serious professional objective, he became a researcher. He considers that researchers are increasingly appreciated in Europe, although a long way from the level of recognition that exists in the US, and also points out that the situation is dramatically different from one European country to another. Regarding the job opportunities for European researchers, he thinks it’s not really difficult to find a good job as a postdoc fellow, but the main bottleneck concerns permanent research or faculty positions. Mobility has been a key for his career: he worked for 2 years in Orsay (France) and 3 years in California. These 5 years offered him the opportunity to meet a large number of scientists from many countries, and to understand their way of thinking and doing research. He considers that this experience is without a doubt at the origin of the numerous international collaborations he still runs today.



Paola Borri, Italy/ United Kingdom
“Semiconductor nanostructures and their ultra-fast response to laser light”

Paola has always been fascinated by the discovery of the origin of phenomena. As a researcher, she still considers it terribly exciting to face unexpected effects and to be able to contribute to scientific progress. At a general level, she is convinced that researchers are well-appreciated in Europe, although some significant discrepancies exist amongst European countries. She maintains that finding an interesting fixed-term post doc position is relatively easy but that finding an academic permanent position remains quite challenging. Although starting to be mobile might be somewhat difficult at personal level, she recognises that her experiences in mobility, allowing her to work in Denmark, Germany and now UK, put her in competitive situations where she has the opportunity to progress much more than if she had stayed in her home country. Cardiff University , where she is working now, offered her a permanent position and the possibility to evolve from laser physics applied to solid state matter to biophotonics. And, last but not least, her husband, also a physicist, found a permanent position too, which allows the couple to have a close working cooperation.

last update: 27-11-2006