Flagship funding

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The European Union plans to throw serious money at serious problems.

The European Commission this week launches six pilots for its multi-billion-euro Future and Emerging Technologies Flagships programme, under the slogan 'science beyond fiction' (see Nature doi:10.1038/news.2011.143; 2011).

The programme is, by a considerable margin, the most expensive ever set up in Europe purely for academic consortia. The pilots have been awarded euro1.5 million (US$2.2 million) each for one-year feasibility studies. Two or three will go on to win a colossal euro1 billion in funding over ten years.

The science behind the flagship projects really is beyond fiction. The research is designed to address problems that we can foresee but don't yet know how to solve. How will we store the already overwhelming amounts of data we continue to generate? How can we build better, greener computers and robots? The funded projects will also focus on social or political priorities for the European Union (EU), such as dealing with an ageing society, or monitoring the environmental impact of human activities. Perhaps we will see perceptive robots built to befriend the lonely.

The funding could also be described as beyond fiction; the promised money has yet to be magicked up. The commission clearly hopes that once the projects are fleshed out, they will prove irresistible to the European Parliament and Council of Ministers who must support long-term financing. And the financing is beyond fiction too: the consortia must provide half of the funds themselves, so are relying on being able to mobilize the required half-billion euros from national research agencies, industry or other sources. That's not something that academics have much experience in doing — and, as they will discover, it's not easy to exact long-term commitments for such high-risk research.

The grand EU flagships experiment is itself high risk, but wise. There can be no real losers: all of the consortia plan to continue their work, whether or not their pilots are selected for funding by the commission. Beyond that, who knows?


  1. Report this comment #20878

    Anurag chaurasia said:

    But the funding should go to really serious minded researchers.
    Anurag chaurasia,ICAR,India
    anurag_vns1@yahoo.co.in, anurag@nbaim.org.in, +919452196686(M)

  2. Report this comment #20899

    Ross Nicholson said:

    Here's research going begging that needs only about 50 euros to complete:

    A broad-spectrum  medical treatment for thrill-seeking (crime, drug addiction, unwanted perversions) now exists: a human pheromone, the healthy adult male facial skin surface lipid 'kissing daddy's face' pheromone.  Perhaps due to differing metabolic/neuronal pathways, alcoholism is unaffected by pheromone treatment.  One dose of 150-250 mg provides permanent relief of even the most obdurate cases.  

    Nicholson, B. 1984;  Does kissing aid human bonding by semiochemical  addiction?   British Journal  of  Dermatology  111(5):623-627.

    Nicholson, B. 2011:  Of Love 2nd Edition  Textbook of medical science:  exocrinology.  http://www.amazon.com/dp/1456564889

    BBC-TV interview
    typical anecdote

  3. Report this comment #59674

    Farkas Lackner said:

    J'ai bien peur que l'union européenne va encore jeter de l'argent par la fenêtre.
    Farkas pour annimalice

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