Meet the finalists
The European Inventor Award honours the individuals whose inventions impact our lives. Thanks to these pioneers, our world is becoming safer, smarter and more sustainable.
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The world's roads and motorways are much safer thanks to inventions by automotive engineer Anton van Zanten. His breakthrough achievement, the electronic stability control system (ESC), also known as ESP (electronic stability program), is now mandatory in a number of countries, and is second only to the seatbelt in saving lives in car crashes.
Dengue fever is an excruciatingly painful – and sometimes fatal – disease that affects millions of people each year. The culprit behind its spread is a mosquito that has proven tricky to keep in check. That is until now. British scientist Luke Alphey has come up with a way to use the mosquito as a tool to control its own species. By programming an extra gene into the mosquitos’ DNA, he has ensured that the resulting mosquito larvae never reach reproductive maturity.
Wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and LTE have transformed mobile phones well beyond their telephony roots to becoming veritable mini-computers. Now our pocket-sized telephones are taking on another role as virtual pocketbooks, allowing for quick purchases without the hassle of cash or credit cards. Paving the way in the field is a technology known as Near Field Communications (NFC), which was co-invented by teams of engineers at NXP Semiconductors and Sony in 2002.
Ugly pylons and power lines, long strands of cables and large, unsightly power conversion stations: Although modern civilization would be unthinkable without it, electrical distribution is often obtrusive. Dealing with this problem, Swedish engineer Gunnar Asplund has helped hide away much of a power grids’ infrastructure. At the same time, he’s boosted the efficiency of transmitting electricity from remote power stations, making renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, a more viable option.
The eyes are often called gateways to the soul. They have also inspired science to create devices that track and interpret their movements. A significant foray into our understanding of the mysteries of visual observation was made by a team led by Swedish engineer and physicist John Elvesjö. Elvesjö realised that a sensor designed to track the movements of pulp particles could also be employed on the human eye, paving the way for a host of applications.
The invention by Ian Frazer and Jian Zhou at the University of Queensland, Australia, changed preventative women’s health forever. Their progressive vaccine disrupts the link between human papillomavirus (HPV) – a sexually-transmitted virus infecting the skin and mucosal tissues – and cervical cancer.
Frenchman Jean-Christophe Giron is the pioneer of the revolutionary “intelligent” SageGlass. The inventor and his team at US-based SAGE Electrochromics have developed an electronically tintable glass that allows natural light to shine into buildings with uninterrupted views outside while simultaneously blocking harmful rays, keeping heat levels down, and enabling occupants to save energy.
Carbon nanotubes are ultra-small, cylindrical molecules that can only be seen under powerful microscopes, but catching a glimpse of one is like seeing into the future. Discovered by Sumio Iijima at Japan’s NEC Corporation, they are the hardest substance known to humankind and 1,000 times more conductive than copper. Carbon nanotubes could usher in a new era in which computers are faster and materials stronger than ever thought possible.
As solid and reliable as concrete structures may seem, they share one common enemy: tension. Over time, concrete will crack and deteriorate. An invention by Delft University microbiologist Hendrik Jonkers offers an innovative approach to creating more stable concrete by adding limestone-producing bacteria to the mix. This self-healing bioconcrete aims to provide a cheap and sustainable solution, markedly improving the lifespan of buildings, bridges and roads.
As 15th-century alchemist Paracelsus once said: “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician. Therefore the physician must start with nature and an open mind.” Accordingly, the Latvian scientist and inventor Ivars Kalvins has dedicated his research career to the improvement of medicine through chemicals found in nature.
Thanks to the invention of Polish-born French physicist Ludwik Leibler, the world of material sciences has taken a turn towards science fiction. Leibler and his team from the Laboratoire Matière Molle et Chimie at ESPCI ParisTech created a new class of plastics known as “vitrimers” that are sturdy yet mouldable at the same time.
The life-saving food supplement, marketed under the brand name “Plumpy’Nut”, is changing the way humanitarian groups such as UNICEF and the World Health Organisation treat starving children. The brainchild of French food processing engineer Michel Lescanne, the nutritional supplement has reduced the mortality rate of children in famine-stricken areas drastically. Lescanne has been instrumental in making Plumpy’Nut an important source for nutritional rehabilitation and created the French company Nutriset, which is dedicated to tackling malnutrition issues around the world.
Doctors once had to wait weeks for work on samples to return from a laboratory to diagnose patients. Thanks to Swiss analytic chemist and nanoscientist Andreas Manz, 58, today there is technology that takes all of the chemistry equipment of a lab and shrinks it onto a microchip-sized wafer – allowing for immediate, point-of-care diagnostics that could one day save millions of lives in impoverished or remote areas.
Kornelis Schouhamer Immink’s inventions jump-started a digital revolution. The 68-year-old has fathered three very successful generations, from the birth of the CD in 1982 and the DVD in 1995 to the first Blu-ray disc in 2006. Now he is named on more than a thousand patents worldwide.