Race is on for EU's $1.3bn science prize

CALL it Europe's Got Talent for geeks.
Teams of scientists from across the continent are vying for a funding bonanza that could see two of them receive up to one billion euros ($A1.28 billion) over 10 years to keep Europe at the cutting edge of technology.
The contest began with 26 proposals that were whittled down to six last year. Just four have made it to the final round.
They include a plan to develop digital guardian angels that would keep people safe from harm; a massive data-crunching machine to simulate social, economic and technological change on our planet; an effort to craft the most accurate computer model of the human brain to date; and a team working to find better ways to produce and employ graphene - an ultra-thin material that could revolutionise manufacturing of everything from aeroplanes to computer chips.
The two winners will be announced by the European Union's executive branch in Brussels on January 28.
Initially, each project will receive 54 million euro 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 one billion euro each.
Securing such vast sums will be made harder by the austerity measures imposed by many financially drained European governments.
Still, the senior EU official overseeing the so-called Future and Emerging Technologies Flagships program is confident the money will be made available and insists the investment is necessary if Europe wants to match the success the CERN labs on the Swiss-French border that have become the world's premier centre for particle research thanks to their $10 billion atom smasher.
"Supporting research and development is not a nice-to-have, it is essential because no investment means no chance for a better future," Neelie Kroes told The Associated Press in an email. "And especially during a crisis we all need something positive to look ahead to. Just cutting public expenditure and austerity don't bring new growth and jobs."
Kroes, whose title is European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, believes it will pay off. "By pooling resources across the EU and focusing on the two best projects we get a good shot at a manifold return on the investment," she said. Switzerland, Norway, Israel and Turkey, which are not part of the 27-nation EU, are also partnering in the program.


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