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  Descartes prizes

Aims and Objectives of the Descartes Prizes

The Descartes Prizes are among the activities supported under the European Commission's Sixth Framework Programme, within the Research Directorate Science and Society.

Descartes Research Prize

  • Into people’s hearts’, one scientist’s inspirational motto

    Don’t be fooled by Wolfgang Heckl’s high-powered position as professor of experimental physics and nanoscientist at Germany’s Ludwig Maximilians University, he is really a new breed of scientific entertainer. This youthful and enthusiastic scientist brings hard science softly to the ground so that everyone can appreciate it.

    As a scientist, university professor and newly appointed head of Deutsches Museu Munich, Wolfgang Heckl’s renown stretches beyond scientific circles. Seen on television, in glossy magazines and talking to children in schools, his calling is to pull science out of its ivory tower.

    In his many dealings with the media, he frequently tackles the question: what is nanoscience? Through experience teaching physics, he learned the best way to explain complex scientific ideas is to make them relevant to the audience. In the magazine Brigitte, he defined nanotechnology as the formula for the emergence of life – a study of molecules and nanoparticles or “physical dwarfs?. He backs up his definitions with creative examples, such as nonstick surfaces that mimic natural materials and new treatments for serious diseases using nano-molecules. In recognition of this unique ability to convey, in simple terms, his scientific activities to the public, Mr Heckl won the DFG’s 2002 Communicator Award for scientists, sponsored by the Donor’s Association.

    Science, music and art all rolled into one

    Wolfgang Heckl says that imparting the wonders of science, especially to young people, gives him great joy. And he wants to continue developing his communication skills and bring nanobiotechnology to life using different media to both communicate and involve people in the learning experience.

    With hundreds of peer-reviewed articles, conference and book contributions, reports and monographs to his name, plus countless interviews and citations in the mainstream press, Heckl has become a household name in Germany and even abroad. He has participated in television and radio programmes and writes regularly for German newspapers and popular science magazines. He is also an avid painter and, through such projects as his Atomic Landscape music, is building bridges between the sciences and arts. Perhaps his most unusual accolade is being in the Guinness Book of Records for creating the smallest man-made hole.

    Nanotechnologist engaged in communication by Professor Wolfgang Heckl

    Category: Professional scientists engaged in science communication to the public
    Contact information: GeoBioCenter, Department of Geoand Environmental Sciences, Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich
    Tel/Fax: +49 89 2180 4331


    This submission was made by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and Wolfgang Heckl won the 2002 DFG Communicator Award

Descartes Prizes:   2007  2006 2005  2004