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Europe’s premiere prizes for scientific excellence and communication

In a glitzy ceremony befitting the Nobel Prize, the EU announced the 2005 Descartes Prize-winning scientists and science communicators. This year, research teams in astronomy, climate change, genetic diseases, physics and the social sciences received the top honours, while a host of innovative science writers, producers, educators and animators took home the communication prizes.

Named in honour of one of Europe’s greatest men of learning, the mathematician, philosopher and natural scientist René Descartes, the Descartes Prize has built up a strong reputation since it was first launched by the European Commission in 2000. It has also added a second string to its bow, in 2004, with the creation of a special prize for excellent science communicators .

At the Descartes Award Ceremony, held on 2 December at the Royal Society in London (the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence), Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik announced the winners and finalists of the two research and communication prizes.

This year, the €1 million Descartes Research Prize was shared between five pan-European teams who achieved major scientific breakthroughs in key European research areas. Meanwhile, a further €250 000 was shared between five exceptional science communicators for their success in bringing science and technology to wider audiences in Europe.
The collaborative research prize grand jury, chaired by Ene Ergma, vice-president of the Academy of Sciences of Estonia and president of the Estonian Parliament, had the difficult task of choosing five laureates from a highly competitive field of 85 entries, whittled down to 14 finalists who attended the Award Ceremony.

One of the winning teams was EXCEL - Extending electromagnetism through novel artificial materials - which developed a new class of artificial meta-materials, called Left-Handed Materials or Negative Index Materials, which have the ability to overturn many familiar properties of light. The CECA team was celebrated for its breakthrough findings on climate and environmental change in the Arctic.

While the PULSE team received their award for demonstrating the impact of European pulsar science on modern physics. The European Social Survey - ESS team was acknowledged for its innovative approach to cross-national surveying. And EURO-PID - European initiative on primary immunodeficiencies - took home the prize for cutting-edge research on a group of rare genetically determined diseases known as primary immunodeficiencies.

From lab to TV
The Descartes Prizes for Communication were given to five leading personalities for their achievements in making science accessible and interesting to the public at large. The Swede Carl Johan Sundberg was feted for his lifelong quest to breathe life into science. Danish astrophysicist Anja Andersen was celebrated for her talent in presenting complex science to a popular audience.

Meanwhile, Jos Van Hemelrijck of VRT Television, Belgium, won his prize for the popular science program OverLeven (On Survival/About Life), an innovative science TV series which follows the work and personalities of scientists as they solve scientific riddles. The well-known American author Bill Bryson received his award for the informative and entertaining book A Short History of Nearly Everything. And the German professor Michael Seifert won his prize for the innovative ‘Children’s University’ concept, a series of lectures designed to stimulate young people’s interest in science.

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