Two science projects — one to map the human brain, the other to explore the extraordinary properties of the carbon-based material graphene — have won an EU contest to receive up to 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion) in funding each over the next decade.
The EU’s Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS) is expected to award the grant to the two winning projects at a ceremony to be held today (Monday) in Brussels, Belgium. Twenty-one groups of researchers competed for the prize, six of them reached the competition’s final stage, yet only two were awarded the grant, to be paid out over ten years.
Europe'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 Monday.
The Human Brain Project aspires to meet one of the biggest challenges of modern science: understanding the human brain and creating the most accurate model of the human brain to date. The Human Brain Project seeks to aggregate information about the brain and its functions in an effort to develop treatment for neurological diseases, help test new drugs and model supercomputing techniques on the brain.
The project first came about during an initiative called the Blue Brain Project that began in May 2005 and was led by brain researcher Professor Henry Markram at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Lausanne, Switzerland. Markram, who completed his doctorate at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, is also heading up the current project.
His partners include more than 80 researchers from universities and research institutes throughout Europe and elsewhere. Israelis from the Weizmann Institute, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University are also taking part in the project, whose total budget is estimated at 1.19 billion euros.
An additional aspect of the project aims to create a database of all 560 known neurological diseases that will be accessible to physicians and researchers. These include Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s and epilepsy, as well as psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression and sleep disorders. The researchers plan to keep the public informed about new discoveries by cooperating with science museums throughout Europe, and the Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem.
The other winning project, called “Graphene-CA: Graphene Science and Technology for Information and Communications Technologies and Beyond,” will investigate the properties of graphene, which conducts electricity better than copper, is at least 100 times stronger than steel and is believed to be the future of nanotechnology.
Led by physicist Jari Kinaret of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, the graphene researchers, which also include Israelis, hope to use it to develop nano-materials – and ultimately nano-robots capable of producing energy and transmitting data from inside the human body.