Two science projects win up to $1.3 billion each (Update 2)

Jan 28, 2013 by Don Melvin
In this May 9, 2011 file picture people use a infrared-DIC microscopy to do multi-neuron patch-clamp recording in the Blue Brain team and the Human Brain Project (HBP) laboratory of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), in Lausanne, Switzerland. Two European science projects - one to map the intricacies of the human brain, the other to explore the extraordinary carbon-based material graphene—won an EU technology contest Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, getting up to euro1 billion ($1.34 billion) each over the next decade. The projects were selected from 26 proposals. (AP Photo/Keystone/Laurent Gillieron)

Two European science projects—one to map the intricacies of the human brain, the other to explore the extraordinary carbon-based material graphene—won an EU technology contest Monday, getting up to €1 billion ($1.34 billion) each over the next decade.

The projects were selected from 26 proposals.

"European's position as a knowledge superpower depends on thinking the unthinkable and exploiting the best ideas," European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said in a statement. "This multi-billion competition rewards home-grown scientific breakthroughs and shows that when we are ambitious we can develop the best research in Europe."

The Human Brain Project will use supercomputers 1,000 times more powerful than those today to create the most detailed model ever of the human brain. Then the project plans to simulate the effects of drugs and treatments on the brain, for a better understanding of neurological diseases and related ailments.

In addition, the increased knowledge about how the brain works—and how it manages billions of processing units and trillions of synapses while consuming no more power than a light bulb —may lead to "a paradigm shift for computing," the European Commission, the European Union's executive branch, said in a statement.

"The economic and industrial impact of such a shift is potentially enormous," the commission said.

The leader of the project, Henry Markram, a professor of neuroscience at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale of Lausanne in Switzerland, said earlier this month that it could not be undertaken without this kind of funding.

"The pharmaceutical industry won't do this, computing companies won't do this—there's too much fundamental science," Markram said. "This is one project which absolutely needs public funding."

The other project will investigate the possible uses of graphene, the thinnest known material, which conducts electricity far better than copper, is perhaps 300 times stronger than steel and has unique optical properties. A sheet of it is one atom thick; scientists call it the first known two-dimensional material.

Important future uses include the development of fast, flexible and strong consumer electronics, bendable personal communication devises, lighter airplanes, cars that use less energy and artificial retinas.

The project will be led by professor Jari Kinaret of the Chalmers University of Technology in Goteborg, Sweden.

"The story of graphene shows there is still wonder in science," Kroes said Monday at a news conference. "It's like a miracle."

In 2010, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to two scientists at the University of Manchester in Britain "for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene."

"So, you've heard of Silicon Valley," Kroes said. "'Where in Europe wants to be known as 'Graphene Valley?' That's the billion-euro question I am putting to you today."

Each of the projects will initially receive €54 million ($73 million) from the European Union's research budget, an amount that will be matched by national governments and other sources. Further funding will depend on whether they reach certain milestones within the first 30 months, but over a decade it could total €1 billion ($1.34 million) each.

In this age of government austerity, the commission promised to monitor the projects carefully so they continue "to be an efficient use of taxpayers' money."

The winners were selected by a panel of 25 experts, including professors, scientists and Nobel winners.

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5 / 5 (2) Jan 28, 2013
Major funding of comments

Someone should mention guns, the weather or religion.
3 / 5 (8) Jan 28, 2013
Wonderful news. Together with the EU hosting and being the main force in developing the ITER fusion reactor in France, together with Europe about to begin construction on the worlds largest telescope (European Extremely Large Telescope), together with our European CERN expanding it`s leadership, investments and abilities, together with ESA expanding it`s activities, together with tons of other developments in robotics and medicine and transportation, etc taking place in Europe the future is really looking incredible for European leadership in science and innovation.

Like with CERN where we are now the number 1 world leader in physics like in the time of Albert Einstein (and stripping the US of that leadership). These kind of developments for Europe need to be greatly expanded upon.

Building the worlds first true and complete human-brain in a computer for medicine studies and massive investments in graphene are just more examples of where we can expand European dominance.
2 / 5 (4) Jan 28, 2013
Doves tails into my field. Promises the unexpected.
Of course future applications will need guidelines.
4 / 5 (7) Jan 28, 2013
Like with CERN where we are now the number 1 world leader in physics like in the time of Albert Einstein (and stripping the US of that leadership).

It doesn't really matter which conutry has 'science leadership' (least of all to the scientists).
Science is multi-disciplinary and also very much interconnected globally.
As long as the science gets done it's all good.

Someone should mention guns

(Cue music from 'Portal')
...and the science gets done, and you make a neat gun for the people who are still alive...
1 / 5 (3) Jan 28, 2013
"It doesn't really matter which conutry has 'science leadership'"

While science in general is good for everyone the fact remains that the performed science itself allows many researchers at work and spending that income mostly locally. The leadership status by your nation/nations attracts even more innovators and scientists from all over the world to come and live and work in your community. The spinoffs of the science advancements(new local business setup in all kinds of fields) etc all greatly contribute to your own economy.

That`s why being dominant is of epic importance. Otherwise you fall behind quickly. The difference between rich and poor nations. Now just pure science only goes so far in jobs and economic stimulus. Europe can do far more. Getting southern EU nations more inline with northern standards as is being done. An EU wide patent system, European united air control system and countless other projects for cooperation and integration being implemented or under study.
3 / 5 (2) Jan 28, 2013
The spinoffs of the science advancements(new local business setup in all kinds of fields) etc all greatly contribute to your own economy.

I'd argue that the spinoffs can occur anywhere. We're having that 'problem' in germany. Much of the development for the solar industry (and for wind power) has been done here - but the actual companies that profit from it are elsewhere.
Same with things like the music industry (where the major codecs for music like MP3 were developed here).
Zuse built the first computer but the companies that actually went to market were in the US and the UK.
Dito rocket technology.
Dito nuclear fission.

Getting southern EU nations more inline with northern standards as is being done.

That is a valid point. For nations that aren't as affluent it's better if the major research centers are close by (though with the internet that is becoming less and less of an issue)
3 / 5 (2) Jan 28, 2013
This is great news. I was just checking yesterday. I was really hoping for the HBP to win this. I'm really optimistic about this project, it seems to be a robust all round way to do it. I think this day will be one day celebrated (or damned, if "the terminator scenario" will occur :D).

1 / 5 (3) Jan 28, 2013
"But the actual companies that profit from it are elsewhere"

Yes i strongly agree with this problem. Basic science and start up companies are one thing but to continue to big business, large scale manufacturing or buildup of services and certain profits thats an end goal in itself and something Europe is still failing at. I believe the problems for these companies compared to US and China are the remaining barriers like language, laws per EU member state, remaining culture barriers to some extend. This is something that needs much more investigation.

We had for example great alternatives to facebook in many European countries. But they all stopped growing at national borders and slowly Facebook came in and replaced them for number 1. Same with google, etc. This is not exeptable And this weakness of Europe demands a solution. Perhaps growing a support network to get businesses to grow faster in new markets. Perhaps more focus in EU nations on Learning English as the main language, etc
not rated yet Jan 28, 2013

It doesn't really matter which country has 'science leadership' (least of all to the scientists).

Economically it can - for example alot of people educated in US might move to Europe because of job opportunities in science, resulting in a downward spiral for USA to get funding on major projects in the future.

Its not all that great here in the UK either though to be honest.

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