Billions at stake for EU scientists with ideas to advance technology

BERLIN — Teams of scientists from across the continent are vying for a funding bonanza that could result in two of them receiving up to $1.33 billion over 10 years to keep Europe at the cutting edge of technology.

The contest began with 26 proposals that were whittled down to six last year. Four have made it to the final round.

They are:

• A plan to develop digital guardian angels that would keep people safe from harm.

• A massive data-crunching machine to simulate social, economic and technological change on Earth.

• An effort to craft the most accurate computer model to date of the human brain.

• A team working to find better ways to produce and employ graphene — an ultra-thin material that could revolutionize the manufacturing of products such as airplanes and computer chips.

The two winners will be announced by the European Union’s executive branch in Brussels on Jan. 28.

Each project will receive an initial $72 million from the European Union’s research budget, an amount that will be matched by national governments and other sources.

Further funding will depend on whether they reach certain milestones within the first 30 months, but it could total $1.3 billion each over the course of a decade.

Securing such vast sums will be made harder by the austerity measures imposed by many financially drained European governments.

Still, the senior EU official overseeing the so-called Future and Emerging Technologies Flagships program is confident that the money will be made available and insists that the investment is necessary if Europe wants to match the success of the CERN labs on the Swiss-French border that have become the world’s premier centers for particle research, thanks to their $10 billion atom smasher.

“Supporting research and development is not a nice-to-have. It is essential because no investment means no chance for a better future,” Neelie Kroes told The Associated Press in an email. “And especially during a crisis we all need something positive to look ahead to. Just cutting public expenditure and austerity don’t bring new growth and jobs.”

Ms. Kroes, whose title is European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, said she thinks it will pay off.

“By pooling resources across the EU and focusing on the two best projects we get a good shot at a manifold return on the investment,” she said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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