First EURYI awards will help turn brain drain to brain gain says ESF

Publiceret Oktober 2004

The first recipients of the European Young Investigator (EURYI) awards were announced in Brussels on 29 July, providing 25 excellent young scientists with five year grants of up to €1.25 million to establish their own research teams in Europe.

The EURYI awards are a joint initiative of the European Heads of Research Councils (EUROHORCs) and the European Science Foundation (ESF). This is the first time European national research funding organizations have pooled their resources in a common project based on open competition.

EURYI awards are open to scientists from anywhere in the world, and in awarding grants no consideration is given to the principle of juste retour for national contributions or to specific deliverables that may result from the team’s research. The organizers believe that the scheme will help Europe to turn its brain drain into brain gain.

At a press event to introduce the awards and announce the winners, Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, chair of EUROHORCs and President of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, said, ”This is an important event for research in Europe and for the European Research Area [ERA]. The ERA must include everybody – not just EU funding, but also funding from national research councils – and these awards are the most important example of that collaboration to date.”

Winnacker explained that the awards were made primarily on the basis of scientific excellence, but that other factors were also taken into account. ”We wanted to see evidence of a good scientific track-record, the potential of the individual to become a world leader, the groundbreaking nature of the research, and its potential to improve European research at a global level,” he explained.

Assessment of the 800 applications was carried out in two stages. First, on a national level, the participating research councils reviewed those applicants who wished to establish their research teams in that country. ”National research councils are specialists in assessing science proposals, and they put all of their expertise into the evaluation process,” explained Bertil Andersson, Chief Executive of the ESF.

Having selected 130 applicants, the second stage of evaluation was carried out at European level by a panel of leading scientists, including Nobel laureate Tim Hunt, the Executive Director of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), Frank Gannon, and the Director General of the European Southern Observatory, Catherine Cesarski. ”We want the best scientists to win the awards, so we need the best scientists to judge them,” commented Andersson.

The largest EURYI grants, the organisers point out, are comparable in size to the Nobel Prize, and Andersson believes that the similarities between the two awards may not end there. ”I would not exclude the possibility that one of today’s EURYI award winners could go on to win a Nobel Prize – I obviously can’t make any promises, but looking at the winners I’m left feeling very excited for the future,” he said.

The guiding principles of open competition and scientific excellence are borne out by the list of EURYI award recipients; countries such as the UK and France hardly feature at all, whereas Spain and the Netherlands produced ten winners between them. ”Many countries that paid money into the [€5.2 million per year] fund will get no winners this year, but thankfully this hasn’t been a problem. Science isn’t the arena for nationalistic competition – we should leave that for Athens this summer,” said Andersson.

All but one of this year’s winners is from Europe, although the awards are open to all. Many of the winners, however, ”have spent time in or just returned from the US,” Andersson commented, suggesting that the EUYRI awards are already beginning to turn European brain drain into brain gain.

A ceremony to present the winning scientists and their research to a wider audience was held at the Euroscience Open Forum in Stockholm (Sweden) in August. This will help to gain worldwide recognition for the awards. ”These EURYI awards are going to be a success story – I’m sure of that,” Winnacker concluded.

The deadline for the second call for EURYI awards is 30 November, 2004.



Second call for EURYI awards:

This article appeared first in The ELSO Gazette, issue 21, October 2004 and is reprinted with permission.