The past week has been marked with celebrations on “those who have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind”, as Alfred Nobel wrote in his will. Regarded as the most prestigious awards in the world, the Nobel Prizes were awarded this year to twelve people and two organisations.
Among them, Anton Zeilinger from the University of Vienna received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his ground-breaking research using entangled quantum states, where two particles behave like a single unit even when they are separated. He shares the prize with Alain Aspect and John F. Clauser. Their research has opened doors for new technology based on quantum information.
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Svante Pääbo, Director of the Department of Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and alumnus of Uppsala University, “for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution”. Through his pioneering research, Pääbo managed to sequence the genome of the Neanderthal and discovered a previously unknown hominin, Denisova.
The ground-breaking discoveries of Zeilinger and Pääbo are outstanding examples of curiosity-driven science that impacts on citizens and society in fundamental ways. Both awardees’ research has been supported by the European Research Council (ERC), highlighting the importance of EU funding directed for fundamental research. Zeilinger has received an ERC Advanced Grant, while Pääbo is a two-time ERC Advanced Grant winner. In total, three of this year’s European Nobel laureates have received funding from the ERC.
Anton Zeilinger also received funding through the European Innovation Council (EIC) Pathfinder scheme for technological breakthroughs. Excellent science clearly depends on a diverse ecosystem of funding instruments, beginning with universities and their capacity for interdisciplinary enquiry, and including instruments to support the entire research pipeline. This year’s Nobel Prizes demonstrated the effectiveness of European funding instruments, and calls for more investment in research and innovation.
As Jan Palmowski, Secretary-General of The Guild, noted: “The outstanding recognition awarded to Svante Pääbo and Anton Zeilinger is a tribute to years of hard work, dedication, and risk-taking, supported by a wide institutional ecosystem of colleagues, enabled by the right funding instruments. Politicians who are rightly keen on Europe being a powerhouse in science and innovation should take note: There are no short-cuts to producing outstanding science. We need proper investment in research and innovation, beginning with reversing the R&I budget cuts proposed by the European Council. And we need the investments made recently under the European Recovery and Resilience facility to be made permanent, across all EU member states.”
Homepage image: © Nobel Prize Outreach, photo: Clément Morin
11 October 2022