Brain and Graphene Projects Gain Billions in Funding
Projects to model the human brain in a computer program and to develop the remarkable new material graphene could each receive up to 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion) in funding over the next decade. The two projects won the European Commission's Future and Emerging Technologies competition, the commission announced today (Jan. 28).
Both projects are expected to help create faster computers in the future that are able to handle greater amounts of data, according to the commission, which is the European Union's executive body.
The brain-modeling study, called the Human Brain Project, plans to combine different brain models into one unified, global model that would represent everything science knows about how brains work. Doctors could then run experiments in the computer model that they couldn't ethically perform in people, such as testing the effects of new drugs.
It will take supercomputers to process all that data, so creating the next generation of computing hardware will be a part of the program, too. Eventually, the Human Brain Project's computing abilities may translate to other industries that have to crunch huge amounts of data, including artificial intelligence, according to a statement from the commission.
Graphene could become an essential part of the next generation of electronic devices after further development. Graphene is made of sheets of carbon just a single atom thick and has unique abilities that make it an appealing alternative to silicon for many gadgets. It's flexible and transparent, yet is stronger and conducts electricity better than any other known chemical. The European Commission expects graphene to be as important in the future as plastic and steel are now.
"Europe's position as a knowledge superpower depends on thinking the unthinkable and exploiting the best ideas," Neelie Kroes, the European Commission's vice president, said in a statement. "This multi-billion competition rewards home-grown scientific breakthroughs and shows that when we are ambitious, we can develop the best research in Europe." Kroes urged the European Union to agree to an "ambitious budget" for the commission's Horizon 2020 program for research.
The commission will contribute up to 54 million euros ($73 million) each to the brain and graphene studies. The rest of the promised 1 billion euros will come from universities, national governments and industry partners.
Henry Makram of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in France will lead the Human Brain Project, while Jari Kinaret of Chalmers University in Sweden will lead the graphene project. Together, the projects will involve researchers from 23 countries, the European Commission said.