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  MARIE CURIE ACTIONS – EXCELLENCE AWARDS  -  The added value of mobility

Through its Marie Curie Actions, the EU makes a significant contribution to the mobility of young people who are attracted to research and want to make it their career. The annual Excellence Awards – or ‘EXA’ for short – are part of this approach and are awarded to researchers who seized the opportunity to work beyond their national borders and made their mark at the highest level of research in their field. At a ceremony in Dublin, in December 2005, a scientific jury chaired by Jocelyn Bell Burnell – the British astrophysicist who was involved in the discovery of pulsars – named the five winners of the 2005 awards. Below are brief profiles of these notable representatives of the up and coming generation of European excellence.

The added value of mobility
Sofia Calero - Spain/Netherlands/Spain
Sofia Calero
Sofia Calero
"Mobility was vital for my career,” believes Sofia Calero, a Spanish chemist who today heads a team of researchers working on multifunctional catalytic nanomaterials at the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville. After obtaining her PhD in chemistry in 1995, this young woman with a taste for travel embarked on a series of training courses and assistantships not only in Spain (at the Universities of Madrid, Corogna and Seville) but also in the United Kingdom, Austria, the United States and Switzerland. In 2000, after presenting her thesis in Madrid, she set off for the Netherlands. “I was interested in research headed by Berend Smit of the Faculty of Chemistry at Amsterdam University. At first, I was hired on a short-term contract but a Marie Curie fellowship gave me the opportunity to continue this research.” A second return fellowship then allowed her to return to Seville and set up the promising young team that she now heads.

Sofia sees the benefits of mobility in the ability to “continue learning, choose my own path, discover new working methods, draw on multidisciplinarity and immerse myself in another culture…”

Juan Bolaños - Spain/United Kingdom/Spain
Juan Bolaños
Juan Bolaños
"By moving around, by being catapulted into a great many meetings and seminars, I learned to overcome my shyness. I found myself face to face with very high level scientists. I learned that it is essential to establish relations with other researchers,” says Juan Bolaños, from Spain, who specialised in molecular neurobiology. While studying for his PhD at Salamanca University, he spent three months at Oxford, thanks to a grant from the British Biochemical Society. A Marie Curie fellowship then opened the doors to the ‘major league’ with a post-doctorate in neurology at University College London. “A group at Imperial College was working on the fields in which I had decided to concentrate my research, that is, certain molecular mechanisms of the brain’s metabolism, linked to nitric oxide, which are involved in neurodegenerative diseases. For me this was a vital opportunity.” Today, Juan is Professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at his Alma Mater in Salamanca. He believes that “Europe has an important human research potential that must be allowed to emerge. It is our responsibility as researchers to convince the public authorities to invest more in science.”

Arno Rauschenbeutel – Germany/France/Germany

Arno Rauschenbeutel

Arno Rauschenbeutel
"I have been fascinated by science since I was a child. My initial motivation was curiosity. I wanted to discover and understand,” explains Amo Rauschenbeutel. “Now science has become my job and enables me to express my creativity, to learn and to teach at the same time, and to be in contact with a lot of interesting people from all over the world.”

After already completing part of his studies in the United Kingdom and with a passion for quantum physics, Arno decided Paris was the place for his doctorate, at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure. “The Marie Curie programme gave me the ideal opportunity to spend the next three years working with one of the leading research teams in the field of quantum computing. I was free to concentrate on my research and establish the beginnings of a reputation in the field thanks to a number of publications.” Now back in Germany, Arno is currently at Bonn University as an active member of the Laser Physics Group , headed by Dieter Meschede.  

Maria Pia Cosma - Italy/Austria/Italy
Maria Pia Cosma
Maria Pia Cosma
After obtaining her PhD in cellular and molecular genetics from the University of Frederico II School of Medicine (Naples), in the late 1990s, Maria Pia Cosma received a Marie Curie fellowship to spend three years at the Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna. This post-doctoral mobility experience led her to concentrate her research on gene transcription mechanisms. On her return to Naples, she joined the Telethon Institute of Genetics and Medicine (TIGEM – Naples), a research body devoted to the study of hereditary genetic diseases. “After two years at the TIGEM, I was lucky enough to be given the responsibility of setting up my own research group. In 2004, one of our results was the specific identification of the human gene associated with the hereditary disease known as Multiple Sulfatase Disorder or MSD.” Maria Pia’s high-level research was given an added boost when she was approved as a Young Investigator by the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO).(1)

Emmanouil Anagnostou - Greece/USA/Italy/USA/Greece
Emmanouil Anagnostou
Emmanouil Anagnostou
"The importance awarded to fundamental research varies depending on the EU country. But, wherever they are, most researchers have to justify their activities with projects with very well-defined, short-term objectives – and this can compromise the level of European research at global level,” believes Emmanouil Anagnostou.

With a passionate interest in fundamental research in the environmental field, on leaving Athens University, Emmanouil set off for the United States for a PhD in hyrdometrology at the University of Iowa. But his success in the United States – where he went on to teach at the University of Connecticut and to work for NASA – did not mean he was going to be part of the ‘brain-drain’. A first Marie Curie fellowship saw him back in Europe for two years (1998-1999), at the University of Padua, for work on flood forecasting using radar detection systems under the European Environment and Climate programme. Today, a second Marie Curie grant, in the form of a return fellowship, has enabled him to return to his native Greece, to the Hellenic Centre of Marine Research. “I set myself this challenge of returning to Europe, and to Greece in particular, where I believe major progress has been made in recent years in terms of infrastructures and funds allocated to research. But reintegration is not easy. For the scientist, the challenge lies in leaving a career that is already mapped out for an uncertain future. While for the host institute, there is the challenge of coming up with a competitive offer…” 

(1) The EMBO Young Investigator programme provides three years of assistance to young researchers who have just set up their own group.


  The EXAs and how they work  
  The Marie Curie Excellence Awards (EXA) are open – without distinction on the basis of nationality or discipline – to all researchers with previous mobility experience thanks to EU support under the Marie Curie programmes. Applications are submitted by researchers in response to an annual open call by the Commission. A panel of independent experts is then charged with the selection process, basing their evaluation on all the scientists’ achievements and not only those during their Marie Curie mobility experience. The final choice falls to the grand jury of world-famous scientists, the composition of which changes every year. 

The five finalists receive €50 000, the use of which is left to their discretion. The only obligation for the award-winning candidates is to participate in public events of their choice aimed at stimulating interest in, and boosting the visibility of, research careers in the context of the European Research Area, and to help improve the public understanding of science. Within two years of receiving the award, beneficiaries must send a concise report to the Commission explaining their involvement in such activities.