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European Commission

Press release

Nicosia/Brussels, 5 November 2012

Winners of first Marie Curie Prize announced

The first winners of the European Commission's new Marie Curie Prize for outstanding achievement in research were announced today at a ceremony in Nicosia, Cyprus. The three winners (details in annex) are Dr Gkikas Magiorkinis from Greece, in the 'Promising Research Talent' category, Dr Claire Belcher from the United Kingdom, for 'Communicating Science', and Dr Sarit Sivan from Israel, for 'Innovation and Entrepreneurship'. Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, presented each scientist with a trophy at the ceremony. This is taking place in the context of a conference focused on the future of the Marie Curie Actions and Horizon 2020, the Commission's proposed €80 billion programme for investment in research and innovation. Under the proposal, over €5.75 billion would be allocated to the Marie Curie Actions in 2014-2020. The scheme has supported the training, mobility and skills development of more than 65 000 researchers since its launch in 1996.

"We have created this new award to highlight the excellence and talent of Europe's best young researchers. I congratulate the winners who have each made their mark in their respective fields. It is vital that we continue to invest strongly in European research, which contributes to solving great societal challenges in areas such as health and the environment, and which is also important for the European economy. I hope the Marie Curie Prize will encourage other researchers and inspire more young people – especially girls – to consider a career in science," said the Commissioner.

Gkikas Magiorkinis was honoured for his work on tracing how the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) has spread around the world. The life-threatening virus attacks the liver and affects around 150 million people worldwide. Claire Belcher was recognised for her study of the Earth's geological past and its impact on plant and animal life – a subject she has brought to wider attention through regular appearances on television and in the media. Sarit Sivan developed an innovative treatment for lower back pain resulting from the degeneration of discs in the spinal column.

"The competition for the prize was very tight but the high quality of the winners' work clearly shows the potential of European research and the necessity to continue supporting its many talents," said Professor Anne Glover, the European Commission's Chief Scientific Advisor and a jury member. The members of the international jury, composed of prominent academics, scientists and experts, included Professor Pierre Joliot, the renowned French biologist and grandson of Marie Skłodowska-Curie, Professor Christopher Pissarides, winner the 2010 Nobel Prize in Economics, and Maria Da Graça Carvalho, Member of the European Parliament and former Portuguese Minister of Science, Innovation and Higher Education.

Background

The Marie Curie Prize promotes the achievements of the best Marie Curie Actions grant holders in three categories:

  • Communicating Science;

  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship;

  • Promising Research Talent.

The aim of the Prize is to encourage scientists to expand their field of excellence to innovation, entrepreneurship and science communication. It will also raise the profile of the winning researchers and their host institutions, while increasing the prestige of the Marie Curie Actions.

How were the prize winners chosen?

Nominations were made by members of the research community. They were restricted to current and former Marie Curie Actions researchers funded under the 6th or 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP6 and FP7).

The winners were selected by a jury of prominent experts according to a set of criteria in each category.

Marie Curie Actions

The Marie Curie Actions, which have a budget of €4.7 billion in 2007-2013, promote research careers in Europe through schemes managed by the European Commission's Research Executive Agency. Since 1996 the Marie Curie Actions have enabled more than 65 000 researchers from nearly 130 different countries to train or do research abroad.

The Commission has proposed to increase funding for the Marie Curie Actions to €5.75 billion under Horizon 2020. The Commission's proposal is now being negotiated by the European Parliament and Member States. The scheme is named after the double Nobel Prize-winning French-Polish scientist who pioneered research into radioactivity and discovered polonium. From 2014, the fund will be re-named the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions.

"Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions in Horizon 2020. Regional & international impact" conference

The conference, bringing together more than 250 experts and policy makers, will focus on the future how the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions under Horizon 2020.

For more information

FAQs on Marie Curie Actions (MEMO/12/830)

European Commission: Marie Curie Actions

Androulla Vassiliou's website

Follow Androulla Vassiliou on Twitter @VassiliouEU

Contacts :

Dennis Abbott (+32 2 295 92 58); Twitter: @DennisAbbott

Dina Avraam (+32 2 295 96 67)

Annex: Profiles of the Marie Curie Prize winners

Dr Claire M. Belcher, "Communicating Science" category

Dr Belcher (34) is a senior lecturer in Earth system science at the University of Exeter, UK. She studies ancient natural fires and their consequences for plant and animal life. Her research seeks to understand how global change events, from instantaneous asteroid impacts to global warming occurring over centuries, have influenced the Earth's system.

Dr Belcher's work was selected for the effectiveness of its outreach, its innovative and creative approach and its excellent coverage in mainstream media. She has taken part in popular TV programmes and radio shows and has been featured in numerous articles, including in The New York Times, The Irish Times and Nature, as well as contributing popular science articles herself. Dr Belcher's website was praised for its creativity in science communication. Dr Belcher was nominated for her work as a Marie Curie fellow at University College Dublin, Ireland (2007-2010) and at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Exeter, UK (2010-2012).

Contact:

Louise Vennells, Media Relations Manager

University of Exeter

Tel: 44(0)1392 722062 / 07827 309332

Email: l.vennells@exeter.ac.uk

Dr Sarit Sivan, "Innovation and Entrepreneurship" category

Dr. Sivan is a senior research fellow in the department of biomedical engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa (Israel). She was selected for her innovative work on materials that can restore the biomechanical function of degenerate discs in spinal columns.

Disc degeneration caused by the gradual loss of some of its main components, mainly due to ageing, leads to a decrease in biomechanical function affecting the spine. Lower back-pain, arising largely from degeneration of the intervertebral disc, is an enormous clinical and economic problem. It is often treated by expensive and invasive surgery.

During her Marie Curie fellowship at the University of Oxford (UK), Dr Sivan developed and successfully tested biocompatible gel-like materials that can replace, through a non-invasive injection, the lost disc components and mimic their functioning. For this work, she and her colleagues received the ‘Best Novel Disc Technology’ Prize from Orthopedics This Week.

The Jury praised Dr. Sivan's scientific expertise, innovativeness, entrepreneurial approach and her ability to exploit basic science findings commercially. She developed multiple innovations, an impressive number of patents and contributed to the creation of a company currently running clinical trials on related research.

Contact:

Amos Levav, Press officer

Technion –IIT,

Tel: + 972-4-8292734

Email: press@tx.technion.ac.il

Dr Gkikas Magiorkinis, "Promising Research Talent" category

Dr Magiorkinis (34) specialises in the study of human viruses – in particular the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). He was elected the most promising research talent for his innovative work on tracing the spread of HCV around the globe, a path that was unknown until now.

Dr Magiorkinis analysed molecular sequences of HCV to show for the first time that the most prevalent HCV types spread worldwide soon after World War II from the developed to the developing countries, coinciding with the expansion of blood transfusions and intravenous drug use.

Dr Magiorkinis introduced two innovations that allowed accurate reconstruction of the history of HCV. First, he analysed parts of the virus genome that were changing the most over time. Secondly, he used a novel method to combine molecular information from different parts of the genome. He has published more than 20 papers and commentaries, some of them in leading scientific journals.

Dr Magiorkinis is currently a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the department of zoology and a junior research fellow of St Cross College, both at the University of Oxford. He is an honorary lecturer and a consultant in virology at the University of Athens and is involved in several research projects.

Contact:

Pete Wilton, Press officer

Oxford University

Tel: +44 1865 280528

Email: pete.wilton@admin.ox.ac.uk


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