First Polish–French Science Award announced

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Dr Marcin Szwed and Prof. Laurent Cohen, as well as Prof. Jakub Zakrzewski and Dr Dominique Delande, have been honoured with the first Maria Skłodowska and Pierre Curie Polish–French Science Award. The award is given for outstanding scientific achievements resulting from cooperation between researchers from Poland and France.

Cognitive scientist Marcin Szwed from the Institute of Psychology at Jagiellonian University and neurologist Laurent Cohen from the Brain & Spine Institute (Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle épinière—ICM) have been recognized for innovative research on the processes occurring in the brain when reading. Physicists Jakub Zakrzewski from the Faculty of Physics, Astronomy and Applied Computer Science at Jagiellonian University and Dominique Delande from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) have received the award for achievements in the physics of quantum mechanical systems.

The Maria Skłodowska and Pierre Curie Polish–French Science Award was established in 2019 by the Foundation for Polish Science (FNP), the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MESRI), and the French Academy of Sciences to mark the Polish–French Year of Science. The aim of the award is to support and promote Polish–French scientific cooperation. The award is given through a competition and carries a prize of EUR 15,000 for each laureate.

“This is another initiative by the Foundation for Polish Science supporting cooperation between Polish researchers and researchers from foreign institutions,” explained FNP president Prof. Maciej Żylicz. “We are very pleased that with our French partners, we have succeeded in bringing the award to fruition. The interest in the competition was great, which demonstrates that scientific contacts between researchers from Poland and France is growing. We expect the Polish–French Science Award to serve as an element contributing to further deepening and strengthening of that cooperation.”

There were 51 nominations in the first competition for the award. The laureates were chosen by an award committee comprising distinguished scientists from France and Poland named by the Foundation for Polish Science and the French Academy of Sciences.

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Prof. Jakub Zakrzewski and Dr Dominique Delande, honoured for their research in the physics of quantum mechanical systems, began their scientific cooperation in 1991. Over 28 years they have managed to build a model system for long-term cooperation between Polish and French research teams, contributing to the creation of a prolific Polish–French school in the theory of the quantum physics of chaotic and/or disordered systems. The achievements of the duo of Zakrzewski–Delande involve phenomena triggered by disorder in low-temperature ensembles of atoms at dimensions relevant for experiments and future quantum technologies. This research is theoretical and computational, focussing on realistic quantum systems combined with experimental groups. The understanding of fundamental microscopic processes occurring in quantum systems is hugely important for rapid development of quantum technologies. The research has resulted in 36 joint publications, including seven articles in the prestigious journal Physical Review Letters.

Through their cooperation since 2007, Dr Marcin Szwed and Prof. Laurent Cohen have demonstrated that groups of neurons in the visual cortex appear to specialize in reading text, and that this phenomenon does not depend on the culture or the writing system. Experiments by the pair of scientists have shown that in blind persons, reading using the Braille alphabet stimulates the same visual fields as reading by sighted persons. This was a breakthrough, as it turned out that the cortical specialization of the brain arises from the specific nature of the task: the visual portion of the brain’s cortex learned to read Braille even though it might be expected that this task would be assumed by the tactile portion. The experiment shows that the brain is more flexible than scientists had previously assumed, and the areas of the cortex responsible for sight or hearing can adapt to receive information from other senses. The results of the research have been described in seven scientific articles.

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