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EU EUR 1 million Descartes Prize rewards excellence in high-tech and fundamental science


Today (Nov. 11, 2003) in Rome European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin awarded the EU Descartes Prize to two pan-European research teams, who presented outstanding projects in the field of basic sciences and high technology. The first winning team received €700 000. The consortium, including partners from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, achieved breakthroughs in light and image display screens, paving the way for a new range of innovative applications such as pliable TV and computer screens and switch-on wallpaper. The second team received €300 000. The project, carried out by researchers from Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Poland, Russia, Spain and Ukraine, breaks new ground in overcoming the difficulties caused by variations in the earth’s rotation axis, with a new model which improves the accuracy of global positioning and navigation systems from 2 metres to within only 2-3 centimetres.

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“The key to the success of EU research lies in its most important asset: European scientists,” said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. “The high standard of projects presented demonstrates the excellence of European research today and the value of bringing our top thinkers and resources together from across Europe and beyond. A true European Research Area (ERA) is becoming a reality and our citizens can benefit from an enhanced quality of life. Pooling talent, ideas and resources is also the way to boost EU competitiveness on the world stage. The Descartes Prize is an excellent example of how the dynamism and commitment of our researchers should be spotlighted”.

Two winners out of 230 candidate teams

This year’s Prizes were presented by EU Research Commissioner, Philippe Busquin in the presence of Guido Possa, Italian Deputy Minister of Education, Universities and Research, and Professor Ene Ergma, Descartes Grand Jury Chairperson, in the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome.

Prize-winners were selected from a shortlist of eight high-level finalists chosen from among the 230 research teams and 900 scientists that entered competition. Their work emphasises the crucial role played by European R&D in key science and technology fields ranging from information and computer sciences, geophysics, and life sciences, to engineering, molecular chemistry and materials engineering. The winners were chosen by the new Descartes Grand Jury, chaired this year by Professor Ene Ergma, Vice President of the Academy of Sciences of Estonia, and including leading personalities from world research and industry.

Towards roll-up screens and switch-on wallpaper

A first award of €700,000 went to a project which has carried out work on the revolutionary potential of polymeric light-emitting diodes (PLEDs) for light and image display screens. The project led by Prof. Richard Friend of the University of Cambridge (UK) in association with further researchers from Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK, aimed at developing the technology to replace deposited glass- or silicon-backed displays with flexible plastic substrates, allowing for cheaper processing.

The concept is revolutionary and there is no theoretical limit to the size of the displays that can be produced. Applications in the pipeline are expected to revolutionise high performance electronics used at home such as TV and video. Additional commercial benefits may include, amongst others, direct ink-jet printing.

Project co-ordinated by Prof. Richard Friend of the University of Cambridge (UK) in association with researchers from Cambridge Display Technology (UK), Materia Nova in Mons (Belgium), Linköping University (Sweden), Philips Electronics Nederland in Eindhoven (the Netherlands) and Covion Organic Semiconductors in Frankfurt am Main (Germany).


Pinpoint positioning in a wobbly world

A second award of €300 000 was presented to a project which considerably improves the efficiency of positioning and navigation systems. Led by Prof. Veronique Dehant of the Royal Observatory of Belgium, in association with researchers from France, Poland, Spain, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, the Ukraine and Russia, this project has produced a highly accurate reference model to predict future variations in the earth’s axis. The new model will have major concrete applications for European and international satellite systems, such as Galileo. It will also contribute to improving the efficiency of travel and personal security, and increase the reliability of geophysical measurements.

Project co-ordinated by Prof. Veronique Dehant of the Royal Observatory of Belgium in association with researchers from the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures in Sevres, Institut de Mécanique Céleste et de Calcul des Ephémérides in Paris and the Observatory of Paris (France), the Space Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw (Poland), Complutense University of Madrid, the Universities of Alicante and Valladolid (Spain), Technical Universities of Dresden and Munich and GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam (Germany), the Technical University of Vienna (Austria), Astronomical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of Czech Republic in Prague (Czech Republic), the Main Astronomical Observatory of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Kiev (Ukraine) and the Sternberg State Astronomical Institute of Moscow State University (Russia).


The call for proposals for the “Descartes Prize 2004” will be published by the end of December 2003.

For further information please visit:

Fabio Fabbi | European Commission
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