Europe gives 2bn euros to science

Artist's impression of graphene sheet The project on graphene is one of two recipients of funding from the European Commission

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Research projects investigating the "miracle material" graphene and the human brain have won unprecedented funding of up to 1bn euros each.

Under the European Commission's Future and Emerging Technologies programme, the backing is designed to give Europe an edge in key areas of research.

Graphene - a single-layer of carbon atoms - has extraordinary properties which give it immense potential.

Possible applications include flexible electronics and lighter aircraft.

The Human Brain Project will attempt to build a computer-based copy of a human brain to understand neurological disorders and the effects of drugs.

Both projects involve researchers in dozens of institutes across Europe and will receive the funding over a ten-year period. They include the scientists who first developed graphene at the University of Manchester, UK.

The two fields of novel materials and brain research are described as fulfilling the criteria for the funding by being "ambitious and risky" while promising large returns.

The backing is meant to answer the criticism that Europe lags behind more dynamic competitors such as the United States and China in economic growth and scientific research.

By focusing the funding on two key areas, the hope is that a "critical mass" can be achieved which will give Europe an edge in technologies vital to future economic development.

Patent race

Last month the BBC reported on the race to secure patents on graphene and how, despite the UK's early lead, China was now leading the field with the South Korean electronics giant Samsung holding nearly ten times more patents than Britain as a whole.

Graphene is far stronger than steel, more conductive than copper and more flexible than rubber so it could potentially open up entirely new avenues for manufacturing, consumer products and medical devices.

The material, so thin it effectively has just two dimensions, was first isolated by two Russian-born scientists, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, at the University of Manchester, work that earned them a Nobel Prize and knighthoods.

The European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes, announcing the funding in Brussels today, said that it "rewards homegrown scientific breakthroughs".

"So, you've heard of Silicon Valley," she said.

"Where in Europe wants to be known as 'Graphene Valley'? That's the billion-euro question I am putting to you today."

The graphene funding will be spread across 126 academic and industrial research groups. It will be coordinated by Professor Jari Kinaret of Chalmers University of Technology at Gothenburg in Sweden who has stressed that it not attempt to match competitors in all areas.

"For example, we don't intend to compete with Korea on graphene screens," he said, a reference to Samsung's determined effort to lead the market in flexible electronic screens and e-paper. However graphene production - still not achieved on an affordable and industrial scale - is in the project's sights.

Profs Geim and Novoselov will play a leading role in guiding the collaborative effort.

Think big

Meanwhile the Human Brain Project will attempt to simulate the trillions of neural connections that make up a human brain in an effort to comprehend how the organ functions.

With an ageing European population, brain disorders, while becoming a more important feature of healthcare, remain poorly understood.

The Commission explains that the Human Brain Project will "collect the masses of clinical data available, mining for biological patterns, leading to new ways of diagnosing and classifying brain diseases."

The sheer volume of data involved in modelling the brain will itself lead to "radically new" IT with new computer technologies designed to manage the flow.

A further angle will be to explore how the brain manages such an intense workload with a relatively tiny power supply - "no more power than a light bulb". Understanding this could lead, it's hoped, to an entirely new way of powering energy-hungry supercomputer systems.

At a time of austerity across Europe and criticism of the European Commission's own budget, officials are emphasising the potential value of the funding for nurturing the kind of research that can produce an economic spin-off.

A key test will be how effectively the initial grants of 54m euros are handled. Beyond that, the precise level of future funding, which is meant to include contributions from industry, is still being negotiated.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    By the time 126 disparate European research centres have squabbled about how the spend €2B Samsung will have products on the shelves.

    Why? Because they are an efficient private company with common goals and a cheap (but well-educated) workforce which isn't drowning in red-tape & political correctness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Go get 'em! Increasingly, science and research in the States is controlled by greedy, insane, warmongering fools. One can only hope and pray that honest, meaningful research continues SOMEwhere, and Europe is better than anywhere else I can think of. Make my fellow Americans ashamed enough to take action to correct our problems, and you'll have my eternal gratitude.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    This is where George should be spending his 34bn not on some rich boys train set.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    I would like to thank the EU for their contribution towards this investment

    It’s one of the many benefits of being part of this forward thing

    A single twig is ease to break

    A handful of twigs are a lot lot harder to break

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    40.spam spam spam spam
    Very true, if it was left to the UK Govt, there would be no investment at all outside of the M25. Most people screaming about the EU have probably directly benefitted form EU money spent on a motorway or other infrastructure project near where they live. The UK Government's responsibilities seem to stop at south Mimms service station

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Its quite shocking how so many people have no foresight.

    These are both areas which *WILL* grow!

    New industry *WILL* be borne from the back of research like this, new jobs and careers where none existed before.

    I take great delight in explaining to my friends and family just what the EU does for us, it isn't all immigrants and human rights by a long shot!

    The EU needs tweaking, not dumping!

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    The Vatican has already conducted research into these subjects and concluded that graphene is the work of the devil and the human brain is a collection or turning cogs. Save your money, EU!

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    32 billion pounds of UK spending, will eventually transport EU officials to the home of their 2013, 2 billion pound investment.

    I wonder which venture will generate the greatest profit?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Wait a minute - Graphne, a British invention - currently being giving £ millions in development funds by the British government - in order to create high tech jobs in the UK - is now being hijacked by the EU in order to create jobs in Europe - and we UK taxpayers are going to contribute towards that loss of jobs via the 20% VAT we pay on all goods?
    I know we need to invent: a 100 Watt lightbulb!

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Sounds all well and good but does anyone realise the beaurocratic hoops that academics (such as myself) have to jump through to apply for this funding. They require 'consortia' to be established with 'end users' (so much for blue sky research) which involves academics flitting across Europe trying to establish partnerships.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    So, we send money to some people in Brussells, they decide what to do with it and take the applause when it's handed out?

    The whole things a stunt. They only Have the jobs because they take other-people's-money and spend months having meetings 'discussing' what to do with other-people's-money...

    We give them wads of notes for 30 years and they throw us a few pound coins...

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    During last recession & closure of the mines, the EU spent £billions in areas of UK that the Tory government refused to invest in.

    German government invests for long term benefit of the nation, Liebour & Torys invest in whats best to grease the palms of potential voters, which is why we have no long term national strategy & its always peacemeal, resulting in huge waste of potential

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    On a EU level 2bn is a drop in the ocean... but invested in research could make big waves... but lets not forget for every high profile media grabbing research project there are dozens of other less dramatic but equally important projects that get ignored... politicians have a habit of getting swept away with throwing money at what is in the news and forgetting the rest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    #36 Rolls-Royce derby build nuclear reactors (for submarines). The reason we don't build our own nuclear reactors for power stations is because we haven't built a new nuclear power station in my lifetimes. Its nothing to do with Thatcher.... how could a company stay in business with no orders for 30 years? Mention 'Nuclear Power' and HYS goes beserk about Chernobyl and Fukishima.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Great to see the EU financially supporting potentially society changing technology, unlike the Tories who are investing 32bn building a train set for their posh mates.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Its a good idea, here Thatcher took a syth to our science base which did an incredible amount of damage and its still not recovered and probably never will, today we can't even build our own nuclear reactors and as is the way of things we are forced to import such high tech bits of kit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Given the high quality of EU research and close collaborations between institutes in different member states, this can only be seen as a positive step. The UK is in a position to lead this research and continue to punch above our weight in the global rankings. Lets just hope that there is enough entrepreneurial spirit to kickstart the economy on the back of it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I'm changing my name by deed pole to science than I can get a slice of this. My wife is changing hers to charity!

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    There we go again, the same old idiots trolling the sites looking for any thing to do with the EU to stick the boot in, bunch of obsessives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    9.DavidPicken refers to the "Human Brian Project"

    Does this mean the money is going to prised from my cold, dead bank account via the outrageously high 20% VAT I'm coerced to pay on everything - just to be handed to lazy, overpaid EU scientists wishing to investigate men called Brian?

    Where oh Where is Monty Python when you need him!!


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