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Brussels 7 March 2007

News Alert

Three Excellent European Research Projects share
€1m Descartes Prize for Research

Three research projects financed by the European Commission were today awarded a share of the €1m Descartes prize for Research at a ceremony in Brussels. The High Energy Stereoscopic System is a telescope system that has revolutionised existing astronomical observation techniques and increased our knowledge and understanding of the Milky Way and beyond. The Hydrosol project has developed a method of producing hydrogen from water-splitting, using the energy of the sun, which could lead to environmentally friendly production of hydrogen for energy purposes. The third project, APOPTOSIS, has made great strides in our understanding of apoptosis (programmed cell death), which will lead to new developments in future treatment of cancer and AIDS. The awards were given at a ceremony in Brussels, attended by the German Federal Minister for Education and Research, Dr Annette Schavan and European Science and Research Commissioner, Dr Janez Potočnik. The ceremony coincides with celebrations of the contribution of research to the European Union over the last 50 years.

The High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) brings together about 100 scientists from Germany, France, the UK, Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Armenia, South Africa and Namibia. With EU support they have designed and built the system, developed the complex software needed to collect and analyse data and offered training to young astronomers and astrophysicists.

The Hydrosol project is composed of academics and businesses from Greece, Germany, Denmark and the UK, and was awarded an International Global 100 Eco-tech award in 2005 and a Technical Achievement award from the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy in 2006.

APOPTOSIS brings together some of the leading names in cell biology, from Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden to examine the mechanisms involved in programmed cell death. Since 2001, the team's research papers have been cited over fifty thousand times in other publications, an extraordinary indicator of the team's success.

A further five projects were also recognised as finalists. These are: NEMABS (Gaining a clear picture of molecules through colouring); QGATES (Quantum mechanics for breakthroughs in information processing); TAMRAM (Thermally Assisted Magnetic Random Access Memory); DYNAQPRIM (Protein dynamics in cell nuclei) and GLOBALIFE (Life courses in the globalisation process)

Launched in 2000, the EU Descartes Prize for Research rewards teams of scientists for outstanding scientific or technological results achieved through trans-national research in any field of science, including the social sciences, humanities and economics.
This year's winners were selected from amongst 13 nominees, which were in turn selected from 66 submissions. The award is selected by the Grand Jury, chaired by Ms Claudie Haigneré, former French Minister for EU Affairs and ESA Astronaut. The Jury is made up of 22 eminent scientists from 11 EU countries, plus Brazil, Morocco, Russia and Turkey, and covers a broad range of scientific disciplines.
 

NOTE FOR EDITORS

For additional information on the EU Descartes Research Prize, and the Descartes Prize Press Conference, please contact

Patrick Vittet-Philippe
Press and Information Officer
Research DG
European Commission
Tel.: +32.2.296.90.56,
mobile + 32 477 27 4663
E-mail: patrick.vittet-philippe@ec.europa.eu

For background information on the Descartes Prize

Georges Vlandas
Project Officer, Research DG
European Commission
Tel.: +32.2.296.55.40
E-mail: georges.vlandas@ec.europa.eu

Spokeswoman for Science and Research

Antonia Mochan
Communication DG
European Commission
Tel: + 32 2 296 9921
E-mail: antonia.mochan@ec.europa.int

The Descartes Prizes online

http://ec.europa.eu/research/descartes/news_en.htm

 

Winners
Descartes Prize for Science Research

Winner : Project H.E.S.S.
A new glimpse at the highest-energy Universe

Prof Werner Hofmann (© mhw.foto)
© mhw.foto
Coordinator: Prof Werner Hofmann
Participating Countries: Germany, Czech Republic, UK, Poland, France, Ireland, South Africa, Armenia

The High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) – an array of four big “Cherenkov” telescopes built and operated in Namibia by a European consortium together with African partners – has in the last years revolutionized astronomy at the very highest energies of the electromagnetic spectrum, several orders of magnitude beyond the energy range accessible to satellite-based instruments.

The telescopes detect light emitted when cosmic gamma rays with tera electron volt energies – about a million times higher than the energies of normal light - are absorbed in the Earth’s atmosphere. By reconstructing the trajectory of the gamma rays, an image of the very-high-energy gamma-ray sky is generated. In its first years of operation, H.E.S.S. results have provided a number of breakthroughs in this young field of astronomy, such as the first resolved image of a supernova shock wave acting as a cosmic particle accelerator, the first survey of the central region of our Galaxy revealing a large number of novel gamma-ray sources, the detailed study of high-energy radiation from the centre of our Galaxy, or the discovery of a stellar black hole – a “microquasar” – generating gamma rays. The H.E.S.S. results reveal entirely new views of a “nonthermal” universe, governed by processes acting at energies well beyond the energy scales provided by even the hottest stars in the Cosmos.

The H.E.S.S. project involves about 100 scientists from Germany, France, the UK, Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Armenia, South Africa and Namibia. They have designed and built the instrument, have developed the complex software for data acquisition and data analysis, and are operating the telescopes for about 1000 hours each year, when the sky is dark enough to see the faint gamma-ray traces. The project also provides excellent training opportunities for young scientists.


H.E.S.S. - Exploring the Universe’s New Frontiers

The glimmering stars in the night sky have captured the human imagination ever since we started to look at the heavens. The ancients tracked the progress of planets and named the constellations. With advances in technology, the night sky became more familiar; entire galaxies were discovered and new theories about the structure of space emerged. The H.E.S.S. project is opening a new window for astronomy that raises as many questions as it answers.

In 1936, Victor Francis Hess shared the Nobel Prize in Physics, for his discovery of cosmic rays. His method, primitive by today’s standards, involved taking a balloon up to more than 5,000 metres where, with only a few instruments, he proved that ionisation occurring in the atmosphere was of cosmic origin. It was in his honour that the H.E.S.S. project was named. H.E.S.S. stands for High Energy Stereoscopic System and is the most sensitive instrument on earth for gamma ray astronomy in the Very High Energy range (VHE, above 1011 Electronvolts or 0.1 Tera Electronvolts).

H.E.S.S. is not an average telescope. In actuality it is not one, but a system of four 13 metre telescopes each with over 107 square metres of mirror area. Other telescopes view the cosmos through normal optical light, radio waves or X-rays. H.E.S.S. was specifically designed to observe gamma rays, which are the most extreme form of electromagnetic radiation. The energy in these gamma rays is over a million times greater than that generated by an average X-ray machine. Before H.E.S.S. no Very High Energy gamma ray sky survey was possible.

The initial planning of H.E.S.S. started in 1998, when a consortium of partners from Europe and Africa got together with the intention of constructing a telescope system to observe gamma rays, a project which had previously not been realised on this scale. This was a field in which new research had to be done.

Location is an essential element in the construction of any telescope. The world’s population creates a lot of background ‘noise’ which interferes with night time observation. This noise is audible, but visible also. The noise is created by domestic and street lighting. This is the equivalent of trying to listen to a radio during a rock concert. Also of absolute importance is the absence of rainfall and pollution. These background lights, pollution and cloud cover, severely limit a telescope’s ability to see into the night sky.

The perfect site was found in the Khomas Highlands of Namibia in the southern part of Africa. At 1,800 metres above sea level, the site provides clear skies for optimal viewing of the night sky. Another advantage is the fact that it is located in the southern hemisphere, which allows for a perfect view of the Milky Way.

The location is important due to the difficulty of tracking gamma rays, as they can’t penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere. A remarkable effect, however, occurs when gamma rays strike the Earth’s atmosphere. This is known as the ‘atmospheric Cherenkov effect’. The moment when gamma rays come into contact with the Earth’s atmosphere they create a flash of blue light which only lasts a few billionths of a second.

The H.E.S.S. telescopes detect these faint, short flashes of bluish light and collect it using the mirrors that then reflect it onto extremely sensitive and fast cameras. Each image indicates the position of a single gamma-ray photon in the sky, and the amount of light collected gives the energy of the initial gamma ray. Building up the images photon by photon allows H.E.S.S. to create maps of astronomical objects as they appear in gamma rays.

After only two years of operation, it has already revolutionised the field of astrophysics with a number of major achievements. H.E.S.S. was the first to record an astronomical image of a Supernova shock wave at very high gamma ray energies, thus making the hypothesis about the origin of Victor Hess’ cosmic rays in the remnants of Supernova explosions experimentally plausible. H.E.S.S. collaboration members are also world leaders in the theoretical foundation of this origin.

A second result was that the Galactic Centre - the rotational center of the Milky Way galaxy - has been identified as a potential strong gamma-ray source and that nearby interstellar gas clouds are ‘glowing’ in gamma rays. Scientists presume they are irradiated by high-energy particles generated in a prehistoric particle accelerator close to the Galactic Centre. A third achievement was the discovery of a stellar black hole source of gamma rays in our Galaxy.

H.E.S.S. also found that the VHE gamma rays from distant super massive Black Holes far beyond our Galaxy are characteristically absorbed in interactions with starlight accumulated in extragalactic space. Conventional wisdom believed that this accumulation began with the star formation in the Universe. The absorbing light was indeed revealed to come from known external galaxies. However, it does not show the same signature as the first generation of bright stars. As a result, the search for a clear sign of the primordial sources of radiant energy that lit up the Universe a few hundred million years after the Big Bang must go on.

Led By:
Max Planck Institut für Kernphysik
Saupfercheckweg 1, Heidelberg, Germany.

Contact:
Prof Werner Hofmann

Partners:

Dr Michael Punch, Institut National de Physique Nucleaire et de Physique des Particules (IN2P3/CNRS), France.
Dr Paula Chadwick, University of Durham, United Kingdom.
Prof Thomas Lohse, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (UBER), Germany.
Prof Götz Heinzelmann, Universität Hamburg (Uhamburg), Germany.
Prof Stefan Wagner, Universität Heidelberg (LSW) Germany.
Prof Reinhard Schlickeiser, Ruhr-Universität Bochum (Ubochum), Germany.
Prof Christian Stegmann, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (UErlangen), Germany.
Prof Andrea Santangelo, Eberhard Universität Tübingen (UTübingen), Germany.
Dr Philippe Goret, Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique, Centre de Saclay (CEA/DSM/DAPNIA), France.
Dr Helene Sol, Institut National des Sciences de l'Univers (IN2P3/CNRS), France.
Prof Luke O'Connor Drury, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS), Ireland.
Prof Ladislav Rob, Institut of Particle and Nuclear Physics, Charles University (IPNP), Czech.
Prof Ocker Cornelis de Jager, North-West University (NWU), South Africa.
Prof Michal Ostrowski, Jagiellonian University (JU), Poland.
Dr Rudak Bronislaw, Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Center Polish Academy of Sciences (NCAC), Poland.
Dr Ashot Akhperjanian, Yerevan Physics Institute (YerPhI), Armenia.

Winner: Project HYDROSOL
Solar Hydrogen Production via Water Splitting

Dr Athanasios Konstandopoulos (© mhw.foto)
© mhw.foto
Coordinator: Dr Athanasios Konstandopoulos
Participating Countries: Greece, Germany, Denmark, UK

The HYDROSOL team has developed an innovative solar thermo-chemical reactor for the production of hydrogen from water splitting, resembling the familiar catalytic converter of automobiles. The reactor contains no moving parts and is constructed from special ceramic multi-channelled monoliths that absorb solar radiation. The monolith channels are coated with active water-splitting nanomaterials capable of splitting water vapour passing through the reactor by trapping its oxygen and leaving as product pure hydrogen in the effluent gas stream. In a next step, the oxygen trapping material is solar-aided regenerated (i.e. releases the oxygen absorbed) and a cyclic operation is established on a single, closed reactor/receiver system. The integration of solar energy concentration systems with systems capable to split water will have an immense impact on energy economics worldwide, as it is a promising route to provide affordable, renewable solar hydrogen with virtually zero CO2 emissions.

The uniqueness of the HYDROSOL approach is based on coating nanomaterials with very high water-splitting activity and regenerability (produced by novel routes such as aerosol & combustion synthesis) on special ceramic reactors with high capacity for solar heat absorption. The production of solar hydrogen will offer opportunities to many poor regions of the world which have a huge solar potential. Producing solar hydrogen will create new opportunities for countries of Southern Europe that can become local producers of energy.

HYDROSOL - Heralding a new age in energy

With traditional energy sources diminishing, interest in alternative energy supplies is increasing. Hydrogen is considered by many to be the next link in the evolution of energy, after nuclear energy. A new chemical engineering process hopes to make the 'hydrogen economy' a reality.

The 19th Century saw the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Yet despite significant advances in technology, little has really changed in the way the world produces its energy. Most of the energy produced is created through the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil, which has the negative side-effect of releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, one of the main causes of global warming.

The global supply of fossil fuels will not last forever and so the EU has committed its member states to increasing their renewable energy use as well as reducing their CO2 emissions. Energy experts have long pointed to hydrogen as a bright energy hope for the future. Hydrogen is cleaner than fossil fuels and is the most plentiful element in the universe. However, hydrogen does not occur by itself in nature and is only found in combination with other elements, such as in the air we breathe or the water we drink.

The HYDROSOL project has come up with an innovative way of extracting hydrogen from water. Traditionally, the technology to split water (H2O) into its separate hydrogen and oxygen elements has been carried out through a process known as electrolysis. The problem with this method is that the energy required to extract the hydrogen comes from burning fossil fuels, resulting in an almost nil saving in fossil fuels.

HYDROSOL has overcome this problem through the use of a novel solar hydrogen production reactor, which produces practically zero carbon dioxide emissions and uses only solar energy and water. It is estimated that the cost of hydrogen produced in this way could be competitive within a decade, with non-renewable hydrogen currently produced from natural gas, attracting additional costs, for example, through emissions taxes. For Dr Athanasios G. Konstandopoulos - the project’s coordinator - clean, renewable and cost-effective energy is only half the story. For him, an equally significant achievement is the revival in the field of Chemical Engineering that Solar Hydrogen Chemical Technology promises to bring about.

Solar hydrogen production is made possible by a key development in the project: nanomaterials with high water-splitting ability, undergoing cycles of oxidation and reduction. These nanomaterials are used as coatings in the HYDROSOL solar monolithic reactor, the reactor itself allows this process to be simply repeated continuously without modifications.

Monolithic reactors first emerged from traditional Chemical Engineering, with their most familiar application being the automobile catalytic converters. For the first time, this reactor geometry has been successfully transferred to solar applications, creating a state-of-the-art solar hydrogen reactor. The reactor contains no moving parts and is made from a high temperature ceramic material, which is heated by absorbing concentrated solar radiation. The reactor geometry is that of a honeycomb with many millimetre-sized parallel channels, each of them coated with the active water-splitting nanomaterial.

As water vapour travels through the reactor, oxygen atoms are absorbed by the coating in the honeycomb channels, similar to the way a sponge soaks up water, leaving only the hydrogen to carry on. The hydrogen produced is clean and ready for use. The ‘oxygen-soaked‘ nanomaterial is then heated to release the oxygen allowing a cyclical operation, so that the entire process (water splitting and redox material regeneration) can be achieved in a single reactor. The process is easily adaptable for use with materials other than water where hydrogen can be found, such as natural gas.

This achievement was only made possible through the cooperation of four teams from complementary engineering fields of study and application. Co-ordinated by the Greek Aerosol and Particle Technologies Laboratory, the consortium consisted of; the German Aerospace Centre, Stobbe Technical Ceramics from Denmark and Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells from the UK.

The work has attracted interest from a number of international organisations including the UN who foresee a huge potential for technological transfer to developing countries with high ‘Solar Potential’"; thereby offering the prospect for the creation of new markets, as well as new energy sources.

The HYDROSOL project has attracted international recognition. In 2005, it was awarded an International Global 100 Eco-Tech award during the International Expo in Aichi, Japan, being selected among "… environment technologies that contribute significantly to the resolution of global environmental problems and to the creation of a sustainable future."

More recently HYDROSOL was awarded the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy (IPHE) inaugural 2006 Technical Achievement Award for being "…the world's first closed, solar-thermochemical cycle in operation that is capable of continuous hydrogen production." Results from this landmark research project promise the potential for long-term production of renewable based hydrogen, particularly for regions of the world that lack indigenous resources, but are endowed with ample solar energy.

Led By:

Chemical Process Engineering Research Institute, Center for Research and Technology-Hellas (CERTH/CPERI)
6th klm. Charilaou-Thermi Rd, Thessaloniki, Greece.

Contact:
Dr. Athanasios Konstandopoulos

Partners:
Dr Christian Sattler, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt E.V (DLR), Germany.
Mr Per Stobbe, Stobbe Tech Ceramics A/S (STC), Denmark.
Dr Andrew Steele, Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells Ltd. (JM), Great Britain.

Winner: Project APOPTOSIS
Understanding cell death: pathways for future treatments of cancer and AIDS

Dr Guido Kroemer (© mhw.foto)
© mhw.foto
Coordinator: Dr Guido Kroemer
Participating Countries: France, Austria, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, Germany

The project aims to understand the mechanism of apoptosis (programmed cell death) and the impact that deficient cell death regulation has in human disease. Excessive apoptosis participates in the cause of stroke and heart infarction as well as hereditary diseases and AIDS. Deficient apoptosis is one of the hallmarks of cancer and can cause chemotherapy resistance and treatment failure.

The findings of this project have specific importance for those wanting to find out how cell death occurs. Together 6 research teams from Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden have collaborated to gain an understanding of the mechanisms of apoptosis. The team has defined the pathways affecting distinct cellular organelles and has discovered cell death effectors (including AIF and lysosmal proteases) as well as inhibitory processes (in particular heat shock proteins). The teams have applied this fundamental knowledge in the areas of cancer research and AIDS research.

APOPTOSIS - The Autumn Time for Cells

During the course of a day millions of cells die as they reach the end of their natural life. To understand the complexities of the very foundation of life, six of Europe's foremost laboratories got together to unravel the mysteries of cell death.

The Apoptosis team reads like an all-star football team for the science world. It comprises some of the best and brightest minds involved in molecular cell biology today. The Apoptosis project is named after the subject of the team’s research: programmed cell death. Programmed cell death, is a natural occurrence where cells die, either because of damage, mutation or simply age.

Throughout its normal life span, a cell has one of three possible fates. It can either engage in proliferation, differentiation or simply die through apoptosis. Apoptosis happens to several million cells every second in a normal healthy human adult. The problem lies when this normal apoptotic process is cancelled. The onset of cancer is accompanied by a suppression of the natural apoptotic process, allowing the cancer cells to thrive and live on. This is further complicated when, as a result of therapy programs such as chemotherapy, which is aimed at inducing the apoptosis of cancer cells, certain cells acquire a resistance to cell death. This Darwinian selection leads to the survival of therapy-resistant cancer cells.
Another problem occurs when apoptosis is accelerated, for instance on infection with the human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1), the causative agent of AIDS. In this case, immune cells suffer from an accelerated rate of apoptosis which ultimately leads to immunity failure. Acute pathological cell death also occurs in victims of strokes, intoxication and septic shock.

If progress is to be made, apoptosis needs to be better understood. Talented researchers based in some of the best laboratories in Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden worked together in close collaboration to unravel the basic concepts of the mechanisms involved in apoptosis.

Apoptosis is a perfectly normal event in cell life. Despite the regularity with which it occurs; scientists did not really know how cells ‘decide’ to die. Following years of research the team has now managed to identify the point at which the cell decides to die, namely the permeabilization of mitochondria. These organelles are the cell’s powerhouses and required for normal cell life.

The team discovered that mitochondria have an additional function, the control of cell death and that this control is linked to the permeability or leakiness of mitochondrial membranes. Endogenous or exogenous stress can cause the permeabilization of mitochondrial membranes with the consequent liberation of toxic proteins that contribute to the cell digesting from inside. This controlled permeability seals the fate of the cell. By identifying the irreversible frontier between cell life and death, the team has created a paradigm shift in basic cell death research.

This increased understanding has meant that old and ineffective treatments can be abandoned and replaced with new and improved ones. The pharmacological industry has, for example, shifted emphasis away from traditional methods of treating increased cell death and is instead focusing on strategies to intercept the lethal signal pathways at different stages, before mitochondrial membrane permeabilization occurs.

In addition, the consortium has explored the mechanisms of cell death resistance in cancer cells, at the level of mitochondrial membranes. The team developed several strategies for restoring the cell death program in tumours, showing their therapeutic effectiveness in preclinical models.

Partners within the consortium have shown that it is now possible to determine the chemotherapy response in patients suffering from leukaemia by measuring the mitochondrial trans-membrane potential among circulating tumour cells.

The importance of these discoveries cannot be underestimated. Since 2001 the team’s research papers have been cited by other journals over fifty thousand times. This is a definitive indication of the importance that this research has had in the medical scientific community. To be cited so frequently also indicates that the research has not only been widely accepted but that it has also become a benchmark for future research.

Project Led By:

Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, CNRS,
Institut Gustave Roussy, PR1, Laboratoire FRE2939 "Génomes et Cancer"
39 rue Camille Desmoulins, Villejuif, France.

Contact:
Dr Guido Kroemer

Partners:

Dr Josef Martin Penninger, Institute of Molecular Biotechnology GmbH, IMBA, Austria
Prof. Marja Helena Jaattela, Danish Cancer Society DCS, Denmark.
Prof Piacentini Mauro, Department of Biology, University of Rome "TOR VERGATA', IROMA2, Italy.
Prof Boris Zhivotovsky, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Division of Toxicology, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.
Prof Klaus-Michael Debatin, University of Ulm Medical Faculty UULM.MF, Germany.

Finalists (short-listed)
Descartes Prize for Research

Finalist 1
Gaining a clear picture of molecules through colouring
Project NEMABS
Participating Countries: Germany, Belgium

The NEMABS project allows single molecules to be viewed by colouring them. Through this technique the behaviours of the molecule can be studied and analysed in a more efficient way than simply visualising it in a three dimensional space. For this purpose the team developed, designed and synthesized a new family of dyes attaching to them a number of special properties such as systematic control of absorption and emission, photo-stability, high fluorescence, etc. These properties allow the dyes to be fixed on various types of molecules such as DNAs, proteins, etc. Through this technique, molecules carry a dye as a tag so that this single vehicle can be detected in action. The group has also developed its own software for analysis purposes. The material developments of the product have also shown to be of practical importance. This aspect has led to many patents and interactions with companies for further exploration and technological application. The Mainz and the Leuven group have a long tradition of closely interacting at European level. They have gone across borders by applying their expertise to fields of classical polymer science, catalytic processes and medicinal chemistry.

The consortium stands out not only by the mere number of high ranking publications, training of young researchers and collaboration with industrial partners, but even more so by the width and depth of, both, the synthetic and the photophysical and physical chemistry methodologies based on a jointly developed conceptual approach. Therefore, we can conclude that this consortium is unique world-wide.

Finalist 2
Quantum mechanics brings breakthroughs to Information processing
Project QGATES
Participating Countries: Austria, UK, Germany, Slovakia, France, Spain

This project has studied approaches to information processing (computation) that embrace quantum mechanics - the fundamental physical theory that governs the behaviour of all matter. The QGATES project has realised the elementary building blocks of quantum computers using atoms and ions that are levitated (trapped) at well controlled positions, using electromagnetic fields. Inside the common computers on our desks, data are stored as bits which take the value 0 or 1. Bits are realised using transistors and an array of such bits is called a register. Other devices called gates are built using groups of transistors. A gate gives a specified output for a given input. At the heart of a computer programme lies an algorithm - a mathematical procedure implemented as a set of instructions that sets up the required network of gates. Data are fed into the computer and the programme is executed until the desired result of the task is realised.

Like today's ordinary computer, a future quantum computer will carry out computational tasks, however, theoretical work has shown that some problems can be solved much more efficiently on a quantum computer than on an ordinary classical machine. In a quantum computer, the information is stored in qubits (quantum bits of information) which can take values of 0 and 1 like their classical counterparts, but also any coherent superposition of 0 and 1. In a sense, a quantum bit can be both in the 0-state and the 1-state at the same time. The power of quantum computers is directly related to such superpositions: when applying logical operations to qubits one can perform operations in parallel. Another fundamental quantum mechanical resource employed in quantum computation is entanglement, where two or more remote particles share a single quantum state. In the prototype quantum computers of the QGATES project quantum bits were encoded by putting trapped atoms into states in which their constituent electrons had well specified energies. The atomic qubits were then manipulated using light or radio-frequency pulses and complex sequences of such pulses were employed to realize simple quantum gates and algorithms.

The project group believes their work is exceptional because they have achieved important milestones such as the demonstration of quantum registers, the operation of quantum gates and the demonstration of simple algorithms. They have also generated entangled states of up to 8 ions, demonstrated a process called quantum teleportation where the unknown state of one atom is transferred to another atom and have worked towards interfacing quantum information from atoms to light. They believe that their work has paved the way to scalable implementations of quantum processors.

Finalist 3
Thermally Assisted Magnetic Random Access Memory
Project TAM-RAM
Participating Countries: France, Portugal, Germany

The first objective of the TAM-RAM project was to offer an alternative writing scheme for non-volatile magnetic memories (MRAM) that could overcome the limitations of the standard MRAM technology (such as write selectivity errors and poor scalability). This new approach consists of combining a temporary heating of the cell together with a pulse of magnetic field. This concept solves all selectivity concerns since only one bit is heated at a time and only this bit can be written. The scalability of the TAM-RAM concept is also excellent since the magnetic anisotropy of the storage layer is reinforced by a large exchange coupling with an anti-ferromagnetic material at room temperature and only reduced to minimum at the write temperature.

Another benefit that makes the TAM-RAM concept so attractive is the good scalability of the power consumption which is expected to scale with technological nodes. In addition, TAM RAM are quasi immune from magneto-electrical perturbations, which is good for consumer electronics but also of high interest for spatial applications. Additional objectives of the project included: creating a pole of excellence in MRAM development gathering several partners with complementary skills in order to offer a large spectrum of expertise able to answer all kinds of questions or demand from industry; attracting the interest of an industrial partner to go beyond the simple demonstration of the concept and make a real implementation of the TAM-RAM technology; and bringing a new European equipment provider to the forefront of the MRAM scene with a unique know-how on advanced MTJ structures and connect it with industrial partners.

The project’s work is exceptional for several reasons, including: the innovative character of this research at the leading edge of spin electronics; the excellent complementarity of the four partners involved in the second phase of the IST-NEXT European project; the creation of a start-up company CROCUS Technology, who will further develop this technology and go to the production in partnership with a large European foundry; and the impact of this technology on the SINGULUS German Company. The excellent results obtained in NEXT were a good advertisement for the industrial TIMARIS deposition tool developed by this company. This greatly helped this company to recently sell several of these tools to some start-up companies in the US and Europe.

Finalist 4
Protein dynamics in cell nuclei
Project DYNAQPRIM
Participating Countries: UK, Germany, Denmark

The cell nucleus is where genes are located and expressed and is essential for life. The nucleus has separate compartments, each containing many protein complexes, and the correct functioning of the cell nucleus involves regular movements of these proteins between the nuclear compartments. This dynamic system can be disrupted in many human diseases, including cancer, viral infections and inherited genetic disorders.

The DYNAQPRIM project made important advances by allowing the detection and analysis of large multi-protein complexes in the cell nucleus through which scientists were able to measure and study protein dynamics in the cell. The work carried out during this project has pioneered the development of new applications and approaches in functional proteomics, using a novel combination of fluorescence microscopy and mass spectrometry. The new methods were developed to solve problems in cell biology, especially concerning the structure and function of the cell nucleus. The DYNAQPRIM project provides many benefits to the biological and biomedical research communities, stimulated by EU involvement, and will aid future work to develop improvements in diagnostics and therapeutics.

Finalist 5
Life Courses in the Globalisation Process
Project GLOBALIFE
Participating Countries: Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Hungary

The GLOBALIFE project made advances in being the first cross-national research project that has studied the impact of globalisation on individual life courses and employment careers in different countries. The findings of this project have undoubtedly made a major contribution to the fostering and developing of cross-national research in the social sciences. Benefits include the production of around 80 working papers and articles in peer-reviewed journals in addition to four comparative volumes.

The employment of scientists and interaction at the universities has allowed collaboration within 17 different countries. By offering this opportunity, all former project members have obtained excellent positions after their involvement with the GLOBALIFE project and furthermore, the international exchange and training of young scientists has opened new and promising opportunities in European comparative science.