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'Descartes' makes its debut


Mathematician, philosopher, naturalist, inquisitive traveller, and humanist, this Renaissance man who laid the foundations of Europe's culture now lends his name to a major scientific award. The Descartes Prize is one of the most illustrious international awards in the field of scientific research.


Rewarding the excellence of teams, not individuals; highlighting international research conducted through networks; open to all scientific disciplines. This is what makes the European Union's Descartes Prize, which was awarded for the first time in November 2000, so unique.

About 100 nominations were submitted to the panels of experts for the various disciplines. Their task was to select eight finalists (see box). 'Unlike the assessment of projects submitted to the Commission, in this case it was completed research projects which were being judged. And, they had not necessarily received Union support,' explains Graham Blythe, a scientific officer at the Research Directorate-General.

The finalists included Antonio Pizzi of Nancy University, who presented an environment-friendly industrial process in the field of adhesives used for wood-based industrial composites. He sees the Descartes Prize as rewarding a double achievement: in terms of the major progress made, and in harnessing an international effort. 'The project must not only achieve a high scientific level, but also unite the human qualities necessary for the success of joint cooperation,' he said.

In the final, a grand jury of prominent figures representing a balanced mix of specialities, geographical origins and backgrounds - scientific, political, industrial, economic, etc. - selected three winners. Chaired by Yves Michot, former CEO of Aérospatiale Matra, members of the jury included Sirkka Hämäläinen of the European Central Bank, the astronaut Ulf Merbold, Nobel Physics Prize-winner Ben Mottelson, the Secretary General of the Academy of Russian Sciences, Nikolai Platé, and Anna C. Roosevelt, curator of the Field Museum in Chicago. All these people symbolise the essential link between science and society.

Descartes Prize 2001
Applications must be submitted before 6 April 2001.

The eight teams in the final

Booster Battery for high power demand - High-performance batteries for hybrid vehicles (DE, AT, UK, SE).
Chemistry close to the absolute zero*
- Studies on the mechanisms explaining atypical high-speed reactions of gaseous chemicals at very low temperature (UK, FR).
Cooperative research on solar thermal energy applications at the Plataforma Solar de Alméria
- New technologies in the field of thermal solar energy (ES, DE).
European identities in the 20th Century
- 180 researchers (mostly historians) analyse the concept of European identity
(FR, ES, IT, DE, HU, CH, LU).
Plastic transistors operating at 50 Khz for low-end high-volume electronic circuits*
- A new generation of transistors using the conductive and semi-conductive properties of certain polymers - Applications in the field of electronic barcodes (NL, DE, UK, DK).
Provost: Prediction of climate variations on seasonal to interannual timescales
- Modelling of interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere permitting six-monthly weather forecasts (UK, IT, DK, FR, DE, ES).
Natural tannin based adhesives for wood composite
products of low or no formaldehyde emissions
- Technology eliminating environmental and toxic pollution when manufacturing wood-based composite materials (FR, DE, IT).
The XPD gene: one gene, two functions, three diseases*
- Identification of the new properties of a gene whose malfunctioning is recognised as the source of skin cancers but with a second function which could be the cause of two different
diseases - (UK, IT, NL, FR).

(*) The projects marked with an asterisk are the three winners.


Graham Blythe
Research DG
Fax : +32-2-296 3270

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