The European Commission’s Future and Emerging Technologies programme has awarded an unprecedented funding grant to two ground-breaking research initiatives in an attempt to give Europe an advantage in up-and-coming research fields. The ‘Graphene’ and ‘Human Brain’ initiatives have received initial awards of 54m euros, with the potential for funding of up to 1bn euros in the future.
The projects comprise researchers from at least 15 European member states and involve collaborations between 200 research institutes, making for a truly multi-lingual and multi-cultural venture. The 10 year duration is vastly longer than the usual two to four year funding initiatives and the large financial incentive will bring about a higher level of research and yield greater benefits for Europe in the long-term, particularly in the fields of technology and science. Certainly the backing is a response to criticism that Europe remains behind competitors such as the United States and China in economic growth and scientific research.
‘Graphene’, a project led by Prof. Jari Kinaret, from Sweden’s Chalmers University, will investigate and exploit the unique properties of a revolutionary material. Made up of only one layer of carbon atoms, Graphene is set to become the ‘wonder material’ of the 21st century. More than 100 times stronger than steel and a much better conductor than copper, the exploitation of graphene’s exceptional properties would allow for lighter aircrafts and flexible electronics, among many other innovations. Although Europe cannot hope to overtake South Korea in the field of graphene e-screens or China, (who currently lead the ‘patent race’ in graphene applications) it is looking to achieve viable graphene production on an industrial scale. This would open up possibilities for innovations in manufacturing, consumer products and medical devices in Europe.
The other project, ‘The Human Brain’, will attempt to simulate the trillions of neural connections in the brain in order to create the most detailed model in the scientific field. This development will help clinicians understand neurological disorders and the effects of drugs and will contribute to the collation of masses of clinical data, leading to new and more personalised ways of diagnosing and classifying brain diseases, many of which are not properly understood.
The two projects have been described as “ambitious and risky” and thus fulfilled the criteria for funding. Despite this, they certainly have the potential to improve the lives of millions of Europeans in the future.
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