Microsoft invests in European science centers

EuroScience initiative aims to accelerate technology development and R&D funding in Europe

PRAGUE -- Following the European Commission's call Wednesday for increased technology research, Microsoft launched an initiative to invest in scientific research centers in Europe.

The EuroScience initiative was unveiled by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates at the company's Government Leaders Forum in Prague, where he is due to give a speech later this afternoon. It was announced on the same day that the Commission relaunched the Lisbon Agenda in Brussels, calling for Europe to accelerate technology development and research and development funding.

The first research center is being established at the University of Trento, Italy, and will focus on using computational tools for biological research, Gates said, flanked by representatives from the university and the Italian government.

Trento's Computational and Systems Biology center was chosen as the first location for EuroScience because the university is on the frontier of biological sciences and will hopefully one day produce useful medicines, Gates said.

"There is a great level of innovation in European universities and software has become a great vehicle for research," he said.

Additional centers will be announced in coming months, and discussions are under way with institutes in France, Germany, and the U.K., Microsoft said. Gates declined to say how much Microsoft is investing in EuroScience but said details will emerge as the program advances. He also left the door open for expansion of the program into the U.S. and Asia.

"I'm sure we will be in other regions," Gates said.

EuroScience operates as a public-private sector partnership and, in the case of Trento, the Italian government is contributing 60 percent of funds, while Microsoft is contributing 40 percent. Microsoft will provide software, and its computer researchers in Cambridge, England, and in the U.S. will work with the lab. It will also be offering post-doctoral fellowships, scholarships, awards and workshops through the program.

The initiative will focus on computational science, intelligent environments, and new computing paradigms that draw from nature, chemistry and biology, Microsoft said. The Redmond, Washington, company will be able to generate intellectual property (IP) from advances in computing, while the research institutes will gain scientific IP, Gates said.

"We are at a great point where computing and software can advance science," Gates said.

The Microsoft chief has already demonstrated a keen interest in science and medicine, in particular through his philanthropic foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, dedicating hundreds of millions of dollars toward vaccinating children in developing nations, for instance. Although Gates said EuroScience is a Microsoft initiative, he expressed hope that the research could one day be fed into his other activities to solve real-world health problems.

"That is the dream," Gates said.

The Microsoft Government Leaders Forum ends Wednesday.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.