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First 'European Inventor of the Year' winners named

The ceremony for European Inventor of the Year was held for the first time in Brussels on 3 May. Winners from six categories picked up awards, and several of the recipients highlighted the role that basic research had played in their invention. Former BBC newsreader Michael B...

The ceremony for European Inventor of the Year was held for the first time in Brussels on 3 May. Winners from six categories picked up awards, and several of the recipients highlighted the role that basic research had played in their invention. Former BBC newsreader Michael Buerk presented the awards, for breakthroughs in fighting Hepatitis B, novel anti-viral properties, the DNA chip, methods for intercepting proteins that cause illness, technology to increase the data volume of hard drives, and the microchip. The selection was made by a high-profile, seven-member jury, headed by former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok. 'I am sure that, after a while, the European Inventor of the Year award will have the same prestige that the Nobel Prize has for the whole world,' said EU Vice-President Günter Verheugen. 'The quality of the inventions illustrates the high level of innovative research taking place in Europe. The fact that some of these inventions are the result of successful teamwork and are no longer attributable to one specific country only is further proof of an increasing transnational dimension of [research and development (R&D)] in Europe,' said President of the European Patent Office (EPO), Alain Pompidou. The lifetime achievement award went to Federico Faggin for his invention of the microchip. 'This is particularly meaningful as it comes from Europe. I'm European,' said Professor Faggin. Born in Italy, the scientist now works in the US as the CEO of a sensor company. 'The microchip involved the hands and brains of people from Europe, Japan and the USA. This is therefore an achievement that belongs to mankind,' said Professor Faggin. In the category 'Industry', Zbigniew Janowicz and Cornelius Hollenberg took the prize for their Hansenula yeast technology, which has helped in the fight against Hepatitis B. 'This is a great day for biotechnology,' said Professor Hollenberg. 'Biotechnology, especially in the EU, is not always considered very positive because of the wrong information that is given. This all started with basic research [...] but we needed help from a lot of friends,' he said. Professor Janowicz pointed to the international nature of the work that went into the technology, and said that while the team had had a lot of multicultural problems, it had managed to solve them all. The 'Small and medium sized enterprises' prize went to four researchers from the Netherlands, responsible for inventing the DNA chip. The chip has allowed scientists to study gene expression by providing a snapshot of all the genes that are active in a cell at a particular time. 'You can only ever be the first European Inventor of the Year once, and we've got it,' said team leader Dr Stephen Fodor. In the 'Research institutes/Universities' category, Peter Grünberg collected the prize for his discovery of the Giant-Magnetoresistance Effect (GMR), which vastly increases the volume of data that can be stored per square inch on the hard drive. The discovery stemmed from basic research, said Professor Grünberg on collecting his prize. In the category 'New EU Member States', a team from the Academy of Sciences in the Czech Republic was recognised for their breakthrough with chemical compounds, called 'prodrugs of phosphonates', which offer novel anti-viral properties. 'A discovery like this doesn't occur in a vacuum,' said head researcher John Starrett. Finally, the winners of the non-European award were announced as Larry Gold and Craig Tuerk from the US, who discovered that nucleic acids can bind to a protein to potentially intercept other proteins that cause disease. At an evening awash with awards, music, and dance, the EPO President quoted the UK's Queen Elizabeth II, who is reported as having said: 'Inventors should be treated as pop stars.'

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Czechia, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, United States

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