EU Research Spring 2021

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EU Research Spring 2021

From the new normal to a new future

A focus on solar energy EU Covid vaccine rollout latest

ERC Cut calls back from 5 to 3 Europe’s united plan to beat cancer

Disseminating the latest research from around Europe and Horizon 2020 Follow EU Research on

Editor’s N O

ur ability to mine and manage data has become a defining achievement for humanity. We are on the cusp of something amazing, but it is also a world that has no hiding places, where algorithms can arguably know you better than you know yourself, where every street, household and perhaps one day every person, is on the map in 3D in real time. It is a world where you can potentially know anything and see anything that you want, in the moment. Every second of everyday, data is pouring into devices, as if they are sponges absorbing reality constantly, segmenting it, and also segmenting you into a profile or demographic, filtering what they need and analysing it for use to relevant stakeholders. Satellites, mobile phones, CCTV, cars, watches, ATMs, Wi-Fi and GPS, Internet Service Providers, together they can know everything, can paint a full picture of what is where, who is where and what they do. Information around us and on us is flowing full time, all the time and there is more data available out there in servers, than any one person or organisation could ever hope to fathom or indeed exploit.

As a seasoned editor and journalist, Richard Forsyth has been reporting on numerous aspects of European scientific research for over 10 years. He has written for many titles including ERCIM’s publication, CSP Today, Sustainable Development magazine, eStrategies magazine and remains a prevalent contributor to the UK business press. He also works in Public Relations for businesses to help them communicate their services effectively to industry and consumers.

In some ways it feels like we are hoovering up and harvesting reality in a way that mirrors our consumption of products, or resources, we have an appetite that never relents for taking what we can, perhaps, rather than what we need. Whilst big data is incredibly useful for good, for understanding intimately what the bigger picture looks like, we must be mindful that it stays in the right hands for the right purposes. Data is one of the big commodities today, data has intrinsic value and the more data the more value. Understanding this is important as we must understand how to, and who should regulate data. Social media companies have been under fire lately for accountability, or lack of it, when it comes to abuse, elections and misinformation, but social media is one example in a world that feeds off data. We need to think about the future – how we can guard data, how we can use it well, and who should be in control for its uses.

Hope you enjoy the issue.

Richard Forsyth Editor


Contents 36 SENSiSOFT


Research News EU Research takes a closer look at the latest news and technical breakthroughs from across the European research landscape.


CONTOURS OF THE CAREGIVER EXPERIENCE Providing long-term care to an individual with a spinal cord injury can affect the caregiver’s health. This topic is at the heart of research in Dr Christine Fekete’s group.


Cerebral creatine deficiency syndromes: New in vivo AAV approaches to treat SLC6A8 deficiency Deficiency of the creatine transporter SLC6A8 is linked to intellectual disabilities. Researchers are developing a new approach to treat this genetic disease, as Professor Olivier Braissant and Dr Cristina Cudalbu explain.


Glycomics@Expasy Bioinformatics tools can help researchers draw links between different pieces of information and gain deeper insights into biological processes, a topic at the heart of Dr Frédérique Lisacek’s research.


LOTUS We spoke to Dr Mandy Jeske about how she is combining a range of different techniques to research several fundamental questions around germ cell development.



Researchers in the ERC - funded SENSiSOFT project aim to integrate oxide nanomaterials with silicon, and also develop new nanosized sensor devices, as Dr. Adrian Carretero Genevrier explains.

PECUNIA Researchers in the PECUNIA project are developing new, more systematic, harmonised and comparable methods of assessing healthcare interventions, which could in future lead to more optimised, cost-effective care, as Professor Judit Simon explains.

38 MODELLING OF RC MEMBERS Shape memory alloys are applied in several different areas of industry. We spoke to Dr. Christoph Czaderski about his and Prof. Dr. Moslem Shahverdi’s groups’ work at Empa in developing these materials.

24 Why Innovations Die With 100 billion precious euros invested in the Horizon Europe budget for research and innovation from 2021-2027, the awkward question is always lurking in the shadows, ‘how much of this investment comes to nothing?’ Richard Forsyth reports.

28 FarFish The FarFish project aims to develop new tools and methods to improve fisheries management, with the wider goal of supporting the longterm sustainability and profitability of the industry, as Jónas R. Viðarsson explains.

30 HybridSolarFuels Dr Csaba Janáky and his colleagues in the HybridSolarFuels project are developing hybrid materials to photoelectrochemically convert CO2, which could help to provide a more sustainable source of fuels in future.

33 BEACON Patrik Sellin of the BEACON project explains why modelling bentonite’s mechanical behaviour will lead to improved predictive models, benefiting both engineers and regulators.


PLATIRUS Researchers in the PLATIRUS project are developing innovative, cost-efficient processes to recover Platinum Group Metals (PGMs), which it is hoped will provide the basis for a new PGM supply chain..

44 MARISURF Surface active agents are used across many areas of industry, from cosmetics, to food, to nanomaterials. Researchers in the Marisurf project are developing a natural method of producing biosurfactants and bio-emulsifiers.

47 EXOPLANETS As Principal Investigator of the ExoplANETS A project, Dr Pierre-Oliver Lagage is working to characterise the atmosphere of exoplanets that lie far beyond our own solar system.

50 EXPLORING ENERGY RELEASE We spoke to Professor Louise Harra about her research into how energy is released from magnetic fields on the Sun at different scales,using images from the Solar Orbiter satellite.

EU Research

52 So2Sat

So2Sat is a pioneering European Research Council (ERC) project, led by Professor Xiaoxiang Zhu, which aims to create 3D/4D models of individual buildings on a global scale.

68 JUSTICE VISIONS Mass atrocities and abuses leave significant scars on society. What role should victims play in transitional justice? This question is at the heart of Professor Tine Destrooper’s work in the Justice Visions project.

54 BRAIN-IoT Enrico Ferrera of the BRAINIoT project explains how a new approach for the Internet of Things around distributed artificial intelligence creates a powerful tool for industrial use.

70 SPIRIT We spoke to Felice Ferrara and Costas Davarakis about the work of the Spirit project in developing tools to acquire and analyse data from different parts of the World Wide Web.

57 ICONET The digital internet has revolutionised the way information is transmitted, now researchers in the ICONET project are investigating the novel concept of the physical internet, as Philippos Philippou explains.

72 SHIVADHARMA Hinduism is a very broad religion containing several different devotional movements, including Śaivism. Dr Florinda De Simini is examining how Śaivism spread across South Asia in the Śivadharma project.

58 The Internet of Things Of all the emergent innovations, the Internet of Things (IoT) is arguably the most exciting and transformative of technologies with the potential to save time, save effort and even save lives. Richard Forsyth reports.

62 ATTRACT We spoke to Professor Sergio Bertolucci about how the ATTRACT project is funding disruptive research that he hopes will help create jobs and boost the European economy.


Banks play a crucial role in financing the European business sector. We spoke to Professor Christian Keuschnigg and Dr Michael Kogler about their research into the issues around resource turnover and the re-allocation of finance.

66 PROTAX Researchers in the PROTAX project have worked together with stakeholders to develop effective toolkits for the investigation and prosecution of tax crimes, as Professor Umut Turksen explains.


InSPIRES The InSPIRES project has developed a new conceptual framework that will make Science Shops more responsive to the concerns of the communities around them. We spoke to the ISGlobal team about the project.

EDITORIAL Managing Editor Richard Forsyth Deputy Editor Patrick Truss Science Writer Holly Cave Acquisitions Editor Elizabeth Sparks PRODUCTION Production Manager Jenny O’Neill Production Assistant Tim Smith Art Director Daniel Hall Design Manager David Patten Illustrator Martin Carr PUBLISHING Managing Director Edward Taberner Scientific Director Dr Peter Taberner Office Manager Janis Beazley Finance Manager Adrian Hawthorne Account Manager Jane Tareen

75 SySTEM 2020 Partners in the SySTEM 2020 project aim to build a deeper picture of science learning initiatives outside the classroom, and their importance in boosting scientific literacy, as Mairéad Hurley explains.

78 Combining Actuarial and

Behavioural Perspectives to the Understanding of Longevity Risk We spoke to Professor Enrico De Giorgi and Dr Giovanna Apicella about how they’re combining behavioural and actuarial insights to bring a fresh perspective to how we perceive longevity risk.

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The EU Research team take a look at current events in the scientific news

ERC funding calls to be cut back from five to three in 2021 Leaked draft indicates there will be no open calls for synergy and proof of concept grants this year. Only 980 projects will be funded, down from 1,213 in 2020. The European Research Council (ERC) will open three calls for proposals in 2021, two less than in 2020, because both synergy and proof of concept grants have been suspended this year. Synergy grants, which fund groups of up to four principal investigators, have been scrapped due to the transition to the new research programme, Horizon Europe, but are likely to reinstated in 2022. Meanwhile, proof of concept grants, for demonstrating the commercial feasibility of ERC-funded research, are currently under revision. Through three bottom-up funding calls with a total budget of almost €1.9 billion, ERC expects to back 980 projects this year, compared to 1,213 in 2020. It seems inevitable success rates will fall in 2021, an issue raised by researchers during the long negotiations over the Horizon 2020 research budget. With current success rates of 12%, ERC is already unable to finance all the excellent scientists applying for financing. Facing a clamour from researchers asking for details on how and when they can start applying for 2021 grants, ERC had planned to publish the draft work programme for the year in the first week of February.

The call for consolidator grants for mid-career researchers will go live on 11 March and close on 20 April. The €633 million on offer will fund 317 research projects. Each grant will be worth up to €2 million for five years, with an opportunity to get a €1 million top-up. This call will finance fundamental research in any field and must be led by a researcher who was awarded a PhD between 2009 and 2013. Researchers with a significant track record over the last 10 years can submit proposals for an advanced grant from 20 May to 21 August. A total of €626 million will fund an estimated 250 projects. Starting this year, the principal investigators in projects that reach the second step of the selection process will be invited to present their proposal to the evaluation panel. Until now, this step was reserved for starting and consolidator grant applicants. Each applicant can ask for up to €2.5 million for the next 5 years, with the option to request a top-up of up to €1 million.

At the launch of Horizon Europe this week, ERC president Jean-Pierre Bourguignon stressed the need “to inform the scientific community as soon as possible about the pending grant competitions,” and called for a timely opening of the calls. Now however, ERC says publication is postponed until the programme is formally adopted by the European Commission. A spokesman confirmed that the call dates in the leak draft are as currently envisaged. The first call for proposals to go live this year will be the starting grants, which support researchers in any field setting up their first independent research teams or programmes. Early career researchers that received their PhD between 2014 and 2018 will be able to submit applications from 25 February - 24 March. As in previous years, they can request up to €1.5 million for five years and a potential add on grant of up to €1 million. The total budget for the call is €619 million and it is expected that 413 projects will be funded.


EU Research

Life after Brexit: UK negotiate access to Horizon Europe Deal secures UK access to EU’s €95.5B research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe. Through the Brexit deal struck between the UK and EU on 24 December, the UK will be part of Horizon Europe, the EU’s next framework program for research and innovation. Horizon Europe will run from 2021 to 2027 with a proposed budget of €95.5B ($114.4B). EU research programs are open for researchers, microenterprises, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and non-profit organisations. They promote collaborative innovation to drive growth and competitiveness across Europe. The UK-EU trade deal will give UK researchers and businesses access to Horizon Europe funding on equivalent terms as EU counterparts, including eligibility to lead projects. However, the UK will be excluded from the new European Innovation Council Accelerator fund, which was specifically set up to provide equity investments to start-ups, university spin-offs, and SMEs. Horizon Europe will focus on oncology, as the EU has defined fighting cancer as one of five missions to be tackled through this program, with the aim to reduce the significant cancer burden across Europe. The UK is weeks into its new relationship with the EU, and while many of the bad tempered arguments of the last four years have died down, what remains is a litany of potential headaches and red tape to sort through. UK researchers will be allowed to both lead and participate in future EU science projects, according to the terms of the EU-UK trade deal struck on Christmas Eve. The deal clears the way for them to take part in the EU’s seven-year €95.5 billion research programme, Horizon Europe, due for its soft launch next week. But after decades collaborating inside the EU’s customs union and single market, it’s likely researchers will confront myriad changes and challenges. “I still think there’s a big legacy around all this,” said Hilary LappinScott, president of the Federation of European Microbiological Societies. “I want this to work. How do we get everything quickly working? How can we clearly show it is all open?” Participants raised the logistical, regulatory and administrative wrinkles still to sort through. According to Ronald de Bruin, director of the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) Association, postBrexit visa requirements, and changes to passenger and healthcare rights, will make things more cumbersome for researchers traveling across the Channel. Brexit ended freedom of movement between the UK and EU, although visits of fewer than 90 days remain visa-free - for the most part. So if a researcher wants to attend a conference or a meeting in the UK, no visa will be needed. However, if a researcher is invited to the UK as a paid expert for longer than a month, for example to give guest lectures at a university, a work visa will likely be needed. “What about those mobility projects that go beyond 90 days – what happens then?” de Bruin asked. (Though it’s hard to see that researcher travel won’t be affected everywhere so long as the pandemic continues to take a toll on the world.) UK officials say a ‘Temporary Worker Government Authorised Exchange visa’, which allows researchers to do work experience, research or a fellowship in the UK for 24 months, would appear the most appropriate option. Some officials in Brussels are concerned about healthcare costs for researchers who plan to do a spell in the UK, pointing to the country’s Immigration Health Surcharge. According to the post-Brexit treaty, the EU can suspend the UK from Horizon Europe if it substantially increases fees associated with researcher travel. For UK scientists

who want to spend more than 90 days in the EU, there’s a patchwork of national immigration schemes to navigate – no single EU-wide visa for scientists exists. “These are not show-stopping issues but they require some attention,” de Bruin said. Another big issue left to sort out is cross-border data flows, said Christian Ehler, MEP, noting that a short-term agreement between the two sides runs out in June 2021. The UK still needs an ‘adequacy ruling’ from the European Commission demonstrating its data protection standards match Europe’s GPDR legislation. Without this, UK entities like universities that depend on sending and receiving personal data from the EU would have to resort to alternative arrangements. That could mean a considerable price tag added to a growing stack of GDPR red tape. Researchers are impatient to make up some of the ground lost in the last four years, said Julie Maxton, executive director of the Royal Society, the UK’s national science academy. Applicants want to “get back to doing what they do best,” she said. But she added her concern about the lingering uncertainty around administrative and logistical issues. The sooner both sides could provide full clarity on these points, the better, she said. Wallace said the UK government will look into producing webinars and fact sheets to encourage researchers to participate in Horizon Europe, and to explain changes they may come across. The new rules state that the UK’s financial contribution to Horizon Europe will be calculated annually according to the UK’s GDP relative to the EU27’s. As an associated country, the UK will also need to contribute to the overheads of running the scheme. The fee starts at 0.5% of its basic contribution in 2021, and increases to 4% later. All told, the UK contribution should be around €2 billion per year, officials say. That money buys the UK access into all elements of Horizon Europe apart from calls that cover sensitive security research and the equity financing pot in the European Innovation Council’s accelerator fund, which offers companies investments of up to €15 million. “We hope [these] will be the exception[s],” Wallace said. The Commission proposes that non-EU partners pay for the exact grants they receive. This pay-as-you-go system would see successful partners adding to the pot rather than taking from it. If the UK wins back more than 8% above what it pays into Horizon Europe for two consecutive years then it will see an automatic top up added to its fee. If the UK grant haul is 12% below the government’s financial contribution, then the UK can request a performance review process. If it reaches 16% then it can ask for changes to payments, or withdraw from the programme. The UK will continue to have a role in four other EU programmes, namely the Euratom nuclear research programme, the ITER project to build the world’s first functioning nuclear fusion system, the earth monitoring project Copernicus, and EU satellite surveillance and tracking services. In the absence of defence cooperation, the UK will not have access to Galileo encrypted military data. A plethora of joint committees and working groups will be set up between the UK and the EU to govern the new relationship. The UK, like other associate countries, will only have ‘observer status’ in Horizon Europe, with no voting rights. It is a shame for the UK to lose the “strong voice it had in the past,” said Lappin-Scott. “I can’t see how we’d still have that [same] input”. However, others expect the UK will still make its “soft influence” felt.


EU praises US return to Paris Agreement on Climate Change Following the inauguration of Joe Biden, top EU officials hailed the decision of the new US Administration to re-join the Paris Agreement on climate change. “The European Union welcomes the decision by President Biden for the United States to re-join the Paris Agreement on climate change,” EU Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans and High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell said in a joint statement. “We are looking forward to having the United States again at our side in leading global efforts to combat the climate crisis. The climate crisis is the defining challenge of our time and it can only be tackled by combining all our forces. Climate action is our collective global responsibility,” the statement read. Biden signed an executive order at the White House just hours after being sworn in, to reverse the previous administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 accord, which seeks to limit global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Timmermans and Borrell said the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this November will be a crucial moment to increase global ambition, and the bloc will use the upcoming G7 and G20 meetings to build towards this. “We are convinced that if all countries join a global race to zero emissions, the whole planet will win,” the joint EU statement read. Last year, the UN was forced to postpone COP26 due to the pandemic. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres also said he looks forward to an era of new leadership towards accelerating climate action. “I warmly welcome President Biden’s steps to re-enter the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and join the growing


coalition of governments, cities, states, businesses and people taking ambitious action to confront the climate crisis”, the UN chief said in a statement posted on the UN website. The US was among 194 countries that signed the Agreement in December 2015 under then President, Barack Obama. Two years later, the Trump administration announced the country would withdraw from the treaty: a decision which became effective last November. A new instrument of acceptance of the Paris Agreement by the US, expressing its consent to be bound by the Agreement, was deposited with the Secretary-General, later in the day. According to the UN chief’s spokesperson, the Paris Agreement will enter into force for the United States on 19 February 2021, in accordance with its article 21 (3), the UN said on its website. The Paris Agreement requires governments to commit to increasingly ambitious climate action through plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). The SecretaryGeneral recalled that countries producing half of all global carbon pollution committed to carbon neutrality, or net-zero emissions, following a summit held last month. “Today’s commitment by President Biden brings that figure to two-thirds. But there is a very long way to go”, he said. “The climate crisis continues to worsen, and time is running out to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and build more climate-resilient societies that help to protect the most vulnerable.” The Secretary-General underlined his commitment to work with the new US President and other world leaders to address the climate crisis and COVID-19 recovery.

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Magnetic vortices come full circle The first experimental observation of three-dimensional magnetic ‘vortex rings’ provides fundamental insight into intricate nanoscale structures inside bulk magnets, and offers fresh perspectives for magnetic devices. The SNF funded Wrinkles and wrinklons project which first published with EU Research in Autumn 2020 have had a major paper appear in Nature Physics. Principal Investigator Sebastian Gliga provided the following update. Magnets often harbour hidden beauty. Take a simple fridge magnet: Somewhat counterintuitively, it is ‘sticky’ on one side but not the other. The secret lies in the way the magnetisation is arranged in a well-defined pattern within the material. More intricate magnetization textures are at the heart of many modern technologies, such as hard disk drives. Now, an international team of scientists at PSI, ETH Zurich, the University of Cambridge (UK), the Donetsk Institute for Physics and Engineering (Ukraine) and the Institute for Numerical Mathematics RAS in Moscow (Russia) report the discovery of unexpected magnetic structures inside a tiny pillar made of the magnetic material GdCo2. As they write in a paper published today in the journal Nature Physics [1], the researchers observed submicrometre loop-shaped configurations, which they identified as magnetic vortex rings. Far beyond their aesthetic appeal, these textures might point the way to further complex three-dimensional structures arising in the bulk of magnets, and could one day form the basis for novel technological applications. Determining the magnetisation arrangement within a magnet is extraordinarily challenging, in particular for structures at the microand nanoscale, for which studies have been typically limited to looking at a shallow layer just below the surface. That changed in 2017 when researchers at PSI and ETH Zurich introduced a novel X‑ray method for the nanotomography of bulk magnets, which they demonstrated in experiments at the Swiss Light Source SLS [2]. That advance opened up a unique window into the inner life of magnets, providing a tool for determining three-dimensional magnetic configurations at the nanoscale within micrometre-sized samples.

Utilizing these capabilities, members of the original team, together with international collaborators, now ventured into new territory. The stunning loop shapes they observed appear in the same GdCo2 micropillar samples in which they had before detected complex magnetic configurations consisting of vortices — the sort of structures seen when water spirals down from a sink — and their topological counterparts, antivortices. That was a first, but the presence of these textures has not been surprising in itself. Unexpectedly, however, the scientists also found loops that consist of pairs of vortices and antivortices. That observation proved to be puzzling initially. With the implementation of novel sophisticated data-analysis techniques they eventually established that these structures are so-called vortex rings — in essence, doughnut-shaped vortices. Vortex rings are familiar to everyone who has seen smoke rings being blown, or who watched dolphins producing loop-shaped air bubbles, for their own amusement as much as to that of their audience. The newly discovered magnetic vortex rings are captivating in their own right. Not only does their observation verify predictions made some two decades ago, settling the question whether such structures can exist. They also offered surprises. In particular, magnetic vortex rings have been predicted to be a transient phenomenon, but in the experiments now reported, these structures turned out to be remarkably stable. The stability of magnetic vortex rings should have important practical implications. For one, they could potentially move through magnetic materials, as smoke rings move stably though air, or air-bubble rings through water. Learning how to control the rings within the volume of the magnet can open interesting prospects for energy-efficient 3D data storage and processing. There is interest in the physics of these new structures, too, as magnetic vortex rings can take forms not possible for their smoke and air counterparts. The team has already observed some unique configurations, and going forward, their further exploration promises to bring to light yet more magnetic beauty.

For more information please contact Dr. Sebastian Gliga at


EU Covid response: Vaccine rollout varies across the continent. United Kingdom racing ahead with vaccinations while much of Europe awaits first doses. The World Health Organization’s Special Envoy on COVID-19 has called on the UK to give vaccines to other countries once priority groups have been inoculated. “I think we should,” Dr David Nabarro, who is British, said on Sunday when questioned over what should happen after those most at risk and the over50s had been vaccinated “It’s really a question of what makes sense economically, what makes sense for society and how we’ll want to be remembered in 10 or 20 years’ time,”


The European Commission, which took charge of vaccine procurement for the bloc, did get competitive prices, but it took time — and the difference of a few months has cost it dearly. The EU was also slower to approve vaccines, opting for a longer process that gave the shots fuller scrutiny from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), rather than emergency authorisation, to ensure greater public confidence, a decision it still defends.

British Government figures updated on Saturday showed that more than 11.4 million people in the UK had received a first vaccination dose, while more than half a million have had a second jab as well. Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said that at one stage on Saturday, health service workers were administering jabs at a rate of almost 1,000 a minute. The UK is aiming to give all over-70s and frontline health care workers their first dose by February 15.

As a result, Britain started giving out vaccine shots on December 8, while the EU did not get going until December 27. It has not caught up since. The EU’s deliberate approach, however, may have prevented other problems. Without a joint strategy, smaller and poorer EU nations could have struggled to secure and pay for vaccines. With open borders, diverging national approaches could have led to chaos. Despite the slow start, the pledge by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — to have 70% of the bloc’s adults vaccinated by the end of summer — still stands.

The UK has managed to avoid some of the vaccine supply problems the 27-nation EU has faced — as when AstraZeneca said it hit a production issue. While the British government invested aggressively and early in coronavirus vaccinations, the EU has taken a slower, more cautious approach. For both the OxfordAstraZeneca and Pfizer-BionTech vaccines, the UK announced deals more than three months before the EU did the same. For other vaccines too, the EU has either ordered after the UK or is still in negotiations. When the EU had a major row with AstraZeneca last month over a huge shortfall in planned supplies, CEO Pascal Soriot pointed out that “the UK contract was signed three months before the European vaccine deal. So with the UK we have had an extra three months to fix all the glitches”.

The World Health Organization’s special envoy on COVID-19 also said that the world needs to have equal access to coronavirus vaccines, and urged richer countries to leave behind vaccine nationalism. Dr David Nabarro told EU Research that the priority is to vaccinate first whoever is vulnerable to the virus, especially health workers and elderly people across the world, instead of aiming at inoculating individual nations. “The world should be accessing these vaccines in an equal way,” the WHO’s David Nabarro said, adding that this was the only way to deal with a global pandemic. “I’m really hopeful that world leaders in the coming weeks will realise that to have a few countries vaccinating a lot of people, and then poorer countries having very limited vaccines, is not really the way to go ahead -- economically, socially, environmentally, and indeed morally.”

EU Research

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan: A new EU approach to prevention, treatment and care Vast, multi-pronged push to tackle the EU’s second biggest killer will be underpinned by moves to promote sharing of anonymised patient data and the creation of a network of 27 national cancer centres. The EU has set out a €4 billion Beating Cancer plan, including the most concerted push ever for research and its translation through to better treatments. The plan, an all-hands-ondeck effort across the commission with a focus on 10 top line priorities, will fund technology development, create new research networks, improve access to therapies, promote disease prevention and early detection and offer better support for people who survive cancer. Repurposing medicines to fight cancer and developing new artificial intelligence (AI) applications to detect tumours faster also make the list, as does a broader push to increase skills, among other recommendations. Underpinning the whole is a focus on greater data sharing and collaboration. One of the first actions, the European Cancer Imaging Initiative in 2022 will compile a tumour atlas of anonymised cancer scans that can be used by researchers and hospitals to train diagnostic AI tools, improving their accuracy and reliability. “Early detection saves lives. We need to screen more and screen better. This means adopting better technology,” EU health chief Stella Kyriakides said. Supporting this, a new Knowledge Centre on Cancer will be launched this year within the Joint Research Centre, the EU’s in-house science service, to help coordinate scientific and technical cancer-related initiatives. The centre brief is to act as a ‘knowledge broker’, issuing guidelines to inform the design and rollout of the plan. The Cancer Plan is structured around four key action areas with 10 flagship initiatives and multiple supporting actions. It will be implemented using the whole range of Commission funding instruments, with a total of €4 billion being earmarked for actions addressing cancer, including from the EU4Health programme, Horizon Europe and the Digital Europe programme.

to innovative cancer diagnosis and treatments and a European Initiative to Understand Cancer ( will help identify individuals at high risk from common cancers. Improve quality of life of cancer patients and survivors, including rehabilitation, potential tumour recurrence, metastatic disease, and measures to support social integration and re-integration in the workplace. A ‘Better Life for Cancer Patients Initiative’ will be launched, focusing on follow-up care. In addition, to support new technologies, research and innovation, a new Knowledge Centre on Cancer will be launched to help coordinate scientific and technical cancer-related initiatives at EU level. A European Cancer Imaging Initiative will be set up to support the development of new computer-aided tools to improve personalised medicine and innovative solutions. A particular focus will be paid to children, through the launch of the ‘Helping Children with Cancer Initiative’ to ensure that children have access to rapid and optimal detection, diagnosis, treatment and care. Finally, to identify trends, disparities and inequalities between Member States and regions, a Cancer Inequalities Registry will be established in 2021. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: “In 2020, while we were all fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us were fighting a silent battle. The battle against cancer. In 2020, we lost 1.3 million Europeans to this disease. And sadly, the number of cases is on the rise. This is why we present Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan today. The fight of those battling cancer is our fight as well, in Europe.”

Prevention through actions addressing key risk factors such as tobacco (with the aim to ensure that less than 5% of the population uses tobacco by 2040), harmful alcohol consumption, environmental pollution and hazardous substances. Additionally, a ‘HealthyLifestyle4All’ campaign will promote healthy diets and physical activity. To prevent cancers caused by infections, the Cancer Plan’s objective is to vaccinate at least 90% of the EU target population of girls and to significantly increase the vaccination of boys by 2030. Early detection of cancer by improving access, quality and diagnostics and support Member States ensuring that 90% of the EU population who qualify for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screenings are offered screening by 2025. To support achieving this, a new EU-supported Cancer Screening Scheme will be put forward. Diagnosis and treatment through actions to ensure better integrated and comprehensive cancer care and addressing unequal access to quality care and medicines. By 2030, 90% of eligible patients should have access to National Comprehensive Cancer Centres linked through a new EU Network. In addition, a new ‘Cancer Diagnostic and Treatment for All’ initiative will be launched by the end of 2021 to help improve access


Caring for the carers A spinal cord injury has a dramatic impact not only on the individual directly affected, but also on the people closest to them, who may need to provide long-term care. This can be a stressful role with potentially significant effects on the caregiver’s health, a topic at the heart of research in Dr Christine Fekete’s group. A spinal cord injury often has a dramatic impact on the individual affected, limiting their functional capacity and frequently leaving them dependent on support from others. Often, people with a spinal cord injury are in need of informal care, which is mostly provided by family members. Based at the Swiss Paraplegic Research Group, Dr Christine Fekete is the Principal Investigator of the proWELL project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. The project investigates the experiences of people providing informal care to their partner with a spinal cord injury, and the impact this informal care role has on their health and wellbeing. Pro-WELL is a longitudinal study, in which data was gathered via questionnaires and interviews in three waves over a twelve month period from couples in which one partner had sustained a spinal cord injury. “We are looking at couples and are interested in the dyadic processes going on when one person is affected by a physical disability and the other person is involved in caregiving,” outlines Dr Fekete.


Does caregiving hit caregivers’ health? Pro-WELL data showed that the subjective caregiver burden, defined as the emotional strain from the caregiver role, negatively affects caregivers’ health. “Among other interesting insights from the data, we observed that the caregivers who felt emotionally burdened by caregiving reported worse physical and mental health in comparison to those caregivers who rated their emotional strain from caregiving as low,” Dr. Fekete said. In contrast, research showed that those who rated caregiving as a meaningful and satisfying activity in their lives reported better mental health than the caregiving partners who did not see caregiving as meaningful and satisfying. It became thus evident that the emotional evaluation of the caregiving activity plays a central role for caregiver’s health in the long-term, and the pro-WELL team was interested in further investigating associations between

emotional caregiver burden and health. “We are interested in identifying caregivers that are at increased risk of suffering from their caregiving role, and to disentangle underlying mechanisms linking caregiver burden to health,” she says.

Who is at risk to suffer from caregiver burden? Given that data showed that being the main caregiver of a family member can be a stressful role with potentially harmful longterm effects on health, it is of high relevance to identify subgroups of caregivers at risk of being strained by providing care. “We found that those care-givers who have a high objective burden in terms of time devoted to caregiving and people who are in a low socio-economic position are at risk of having a high emotional burden from their caregiver role,” says Dr Fekete. More specifically, the researchers have collected data on various socio-economic indicators, including income, financial

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strain, education level and subjective social position, from which they have been able to draw some deeper insights. “People who score lower on these indicators of socio-economic position are at higher risk of experiencing caregiving as emotionally burdensome,” Dr Fekete explains. The association between low socioeconomic position and increased caregiver burden is partly explained by the fact that psycho-social resources are unevenly distributed and care-givers from lower socio-economic positions may have less resources available to help them cope with the situation and relieve their burden, for example through financial and emotional support. “We saw that the care-givers in lower socio-economic positions tended to feel more lonely and reported lower self-efficacy, which is maybe what hinders them from coping adequately with their role,” continues Dr Fekete. “We also saw that co-morbidities – occurring together with the spinal cord injury – are more prevalent among the care-receivers in the lower socio-economic positions, thus increasing the complexity of the caregiver’s situation.”

Relationship quality and social support as protective factors The pro-WELL data also clearly indicated what factors might protect against the experience of caregiver burden. “We see that people with a good relationship quality are less likely to consider caregiving as burdensome as we observed that caregivers who rate their partnership as deep, trustworthy and stable are less likely to indicate burden from their caregiver role, independently of how many hours they spend in caregiving,” Dr Fekete outlines. The researchers further observed that adequate social support and high partner relationship quality can buffer the negative effects of subjective caregiver burden on mental health. Dr Tough, working as a Postdoc-researcher in the proWELL team says: “The detrimental effects of the caregiver burden on health were substantially reduced in individuals with high quality, supportive relationships.” Further analysis of the associations between social relationships, caregiver burden and health revealed that a high emotional caregiver burden might negatively impact on social relationships. “People with

high emotional caregiver burden might have less time to maintain relationships and are at risk of losing supportive relationships,” Dr Tough comments.

Strengthening caregiver health: What can be done? In summary, results from the pro-WELL study showed that emotional burden from caregiving can negatively impact on health, that social relationships are powerful protective factors against strain from caregiving, and that socio-economically disadvantaged caregivers are at increased risk of suffering from caregiver burden, partly because they have fewer social resources to cope with the situation. Researchers are now working to build on these findings in the development of a policy brief, which could in future help in the provision of better care for strained caregivers. “We are trying to enter into a dialogue with relevant stakeholders. As our research institute is part of a larger rehabilitation clinic, we are very close to health professionals working with people with spinal cord injuries,” continues Dr Fekete.



Informal caregiving is highly prevalent and evidence suggests that long-term caregiving can be a chronically stressful experience that negatively affects caregivers health and well-being. The study’s objective was to explore the relationship of social and behavioral factors with the caregiver experience to better understand the causal pathway linking the caregiver experience with health and wellbeing of caregiving partners of persons with a physical disability.

Project Funding

This project was financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation and Swiss Paraplegic Research, Nottwil, Switzerland.

Contact Details

Project Coordinator, Dr Christine Fekete Swiss Paraplegic Research, Guido A Zäch Strasse 4, CH-6207 Nottwil; T: + 41 41 939 65 90 E: W:

Tough H, Brinkhof M, Siegrist J, Fekete C. Social inequalities in the burden of care: a dyadic analysis in the caregiving partners of persons with a physical disability. International Journal of Equity in Health2020; 19(1):3. Fekete C, Tough H, Siegrist J, Brinkhof M. Health impact of objective burden, subjective burden and positive aspects of caregiving: an observational study among caregivers in Switzerland. BMJ Open2017; 22;7(12):e017369. Fekete C, Brinkhof M, Tough H, Siegrist J. Cohort profile: Longitudinal study of social participation and well-being among persons with spinal cord injury and their partners (pro-WELL). BMJ Open2017; 7:e011597.

Dr Christine Fekete

The priority in many rehabilitation services is of course the individual who has suffered the injury, yet the people around them will also be affected, and may well be involved in caregiving in the long-term. If a caregiver subsequently falls ill, partnerships are disrupted, or the family member is unable to cope with the situation, then he or she has to be replaced by the health system, which Dr Fekete says has wider consequences. “The work of informal care-givers has an enormous economic value and saves the health system huge amounts of money. But it cannot be that the price is paid by the caregivers becoming ill through

to confront their partners with the fact that caring for them presents strain,” she says. Identifying burden from informal caregiving is thus a sensitive issue and families as a whole need to be involved in the rehabilitation process, not just the individual who has suffered the spinal cord injury, believes Dr Fekete. “If your partner suddenly becomes wheelchair-dependent, that affects your life profoundly,” she stresses. “This should be even more strongly included in rehabilitative interventions and we need to acknowledge that families as a whole system are part of the rehabilitation process.”

We aim to help identify the care-givers that are at risk of experiencing a high burden, and also to disentangle the pathways linking care-giver burden to health. their work,” she remarks. This underlines the wider benefits of providing effective support to those informal caregivers who need it. “A lot of people cope well with the situation – around a fifth of our sample is affected by high emotional burden,” says Dr Fekete. “They are the people who need the support to be able to stay healthy in their role.” This research is part of the wider goal of providing more effective support to caregivers and reducing the burden on national healthcare systems, which are already under significant strain. While there has often been a tendency in the past for caregivers to suffer in silence, Dr Fekete is now looking to place their needs in sharper focus. “We are interested in developing guidelines on how to monitor the strain on care-givers, so that people who are in need of support are identified,” she outlines and adds one point that might be critical to consider: “We also have the impression that caregivers who feel emotionally burdened are ashamed of seeking help as they do not want

The project’s research also holds wider relevance in the context of our aging society, with many people likely to need support and care in their old age. While the project’s research has centred primarily on people with spinal cord injuries, the impact of the findings from the pro-WELL study are not limited to this specific context. “We believe that our findings can serve as a model for other informal care-givers, as the risk factors for suffering from subjective burden due to the caregiver role are likely to be similar across different caregiver groups,” Dr Fekete says. There are differences between caring for someone with a spinal cord injury and an elderly individual who may be experiencing cognitive decline, yet there are also some common issues. “We are convinced that the main findings from our research, for example on socio-economic inequalities, are relevant to other care-giving situations,” says Dr Fekete.

Dr Christine Fekete is leader of the ‘Integration, Participation and Social Epidemiology’ Group at the Swiss Paraplegic Research group. She gained her PhD in Medical Sociology from the University of Basel, and has since held several research positions in Switzerland and Germany. She is a member of the Scientific Committee of the International Spinal Cord Injury Survey.


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A new approach to treating genetic disease Deficiency of the creatine transporter SLC6A8 is linked to intellectual disabilities, including a marked impairment of speech acquisition and several other neurological symptoms in infants. Researchers are developing a new approach to treat this genetic disease, as Professor Olivier Braissant and Dr Cristina Cudalbu explain. A type of

naturally occurring organic compound, creatine plays an important role in recycling adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and storing high-energy phosphates within cells in the human body. While it was previously thought that the brain’s creatine needs were met primarily from peripheral sources, recent research by Professor Olivier Braissant has shown otherwise. “A few years ago we discovered in my group that the brain probably needs its own creatine synthesis – it is not sufficient to take creatine from the periphery,” he says. The blood-brain barrier (BBB) – which protects the brain from the periphery – has a very low permeability for creatine, and so the brain itself expresses the two enzymes that enable the synthesis of creatine. “These two enzymes are called AGAT and GAMT, while the brain also expresses the creatine transporter SLC6A8,” explains Professor Braissant. “Creatine can enter the brain through the BBB with the means of the

creatine transporter – but it is very inefficient. The brain needs its own creatine synthesis to ensure it has enough creatine for its own needs, and the creatine transporter also appears essential to this.”

transporter deficiency in the brain. “We have designed an in vivo model of creatine transporter deficiency. This is a knock-in rat, which harbours a single nucleotide mutation that has been described in patients with

We hope to re-establish this activity of creatine uptake by brain cells. We have done preliminary experiments with a Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP), under the same promoter that we will use for the creatine transporter. Creatine transporter deficiency A deficiency in this transporter is known to cause intellectual disabilities, a topic of great interest to Professor Braissant, a specialist in inborn errors of metabolism (IEM) based at Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland. As the Principal Investigator of a new SNSFfunded research project, Professor Braissant is investigating the factors behind creatine

creatine transporter deficiency,” he outlines. This model is representative of the genome of patients with creatine transporter deficiency, now researchers are using it to investigate the disease in great depth. “The first part of the project involved characterising this rat model, to see whether it had a phenotype that we could relate to the disease,” says Professor Braissant. “In the second part of the project, we want to


Golgi-stained rat cortex, showing various neurons with their dendrites and axons with incorporation of AAV viral particles, illustrating the treatment trial of the disease. Original adapted image: Copyright: ©CHUV/Lara Duran-Trio.

design new ways to try to treat the disease. Creatine transporter deficiency has been known for around 20 years now, but an efficient treatment has not yet been developed.” The aim in the project is to design new gene therapy strategies to treat this disease. Researchers are exploring the possibility of using adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors to transduce the brain of the rat model, and so establish a kind of proof-of-concept for the treatment of creatine transporter deficiency. “We want to transduce the brain, in order to express a new, active creatine transporter, within the brain of our rat,” explains Professor Braissant. In this approach, researchers essentially package the protein sequence of the creatine transporter within the viral particle, with the appropriate promoter in front. “The AAV viral particle takes this genetic material and will transduce – or enter – the brain cells. Then the coding sequence for the normal, active creatine transporter will be expressed within the brain cells,” continues Professor Braissant “We hope by this method to re-establish this activity of creatine uptake by the brain cells. We have done preliminary experiments with a Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP), under the same promoter that we will use for the creatine transporter.” Researchers have found that they are able to transduce the brain quite efficiently with this virus, with a very high proportion of cells


expressing the transduced gene, so Professor Braissant is hopeful that this approach will prove effective on the in vivo model. Once it has been demonstrated that the creatine transporter is well expressed in the brain of the rat, the next step will be to assess whether this helps to reestablish a sufficient level of creatine. “We will look at the rat treated with the AAV vector to see whether the creatine concentration has been reestablished. It may be that we won’t reach the wild type level, but even if we can only achieve an intermediate re-establishment of the creatine concentration, this can have tremendous effects

Brain 1H-MRS spectra comparing wild type and creatine transporter-deficient rats, showing the strong deficiency of creatine in the brain under creatine transporter deficiency. Copyright: ©CIBM/Dunja Simicic .

on the rat’s brain and their behaviour,” says Professor Braissant. A number of behavioural experiments will also be performed, as Professor Braissant and his colleagues look to assess the impact of the treatment. “We will try to see whether there are any changes in behaviour in the knock-in rat treated with the AAV vector, in comparison to an untreated rat,” he outlines. The precise level of creatine within the brain parenchyma is difficult to establish, as most creatine is found within cells, so there are no clear reference concentration values. “However, we can approach this measure of brain creatine through magnetic resonance spectroscopy,” says Professor Braissant. “We use an MRI machine with a very high magnetic field, at 9.4 tesla, allowing the measure of numerous metabolites in vivo, including creatine,” explains Dr Cristina Cudalbu, a research staff scientist at the Center for Biomedical Imaging of EPFL in Lausanne, who is closely involved in the project. “We measure brain creatine concentrations in healthy animals using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H MRS), and then compare them with the creatine transporter-deficient ones who show a very strong decrease in brain creatine.” “We thus hope to observe the reestablishment of creatine within the brain of the AAV-transduced creatine transporterdeficient rats” Professor Braissant outlines. Other important aspects of the project’s agenda include investigating the behaviour of these rats, as well as their metabolism, which can be observed through magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

Human treatment This research is part of the long-term goal of developing more effective treatments for cerebral creatine deficiency syndromes. If researchers can demonstrate that this AAV approach leads to the re-establishment of creatine within the brain of the rat, then this could lead to the development of treatment protocols for human patients, while Professor Braissant and his colleagues are also exploring other research avenues. “We are collaborating with other people who are interested in our rat model, while we’re also looking into other strategies, like the use of chaperone molecules,” he outlines. It’s important to treat genetic diseases like cerebral creatine deficiency syndromes as early as possible. “The younger it is done, the better the outcome for the brain. If you can correct the disease quite early, then it’s much better for the brain development,” stresses Professor Braissant. “This has been observed for patients suffering from the two other creatine deficiencies, AGAT and GAMT deficiencies, who still have the normal creatine transporter

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A Purkinje neuron of the rat cerebellum, successfully transduced by an AAV vector driving the expression of the GFP fluorescent protein under the same promoter as the one to be used for the treatment trial of creatine transporter deficiency. Copyright: ©CHUV/Gabriella Fernandes-Pires.

Cerebral creatine deficiency syndromes: New in vivo AAV approaches to treat SLC6A8 deficiency

Project Objectives

To treat SLC6A8 deficiency through a new AAV vector approach in a newly characterized KI rat model of the disease.

Project Funding

SNSF grant: n° 31003A-175778, 533’618 CHF for 4 years.

Project Partners

• Dr Lara Duran-Trio, PhD, postdoc : SLC6A8-deficient rat characterization. • Gabriella Fernandes-Pires, PhD student : AAV-driven treatment of SLC6A8 deficiency. • Dunja Simicic, PhD student : Brain metabolism by high resolution MRS

Contact Details

Professor Olivier Braissant, PhD Associate professor at the Service of Clinical Chemistry Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) & University of Lausanne 1011 – Lausanne, Switzerland T: +41 79 556 72 07 E: W: Doctor Cristina Cudalbu, PhD, Research Staff Scientist & 9.4T MRI Operational Manager CIBM Center for Biomedical Imaging MRI EPFL Section, Animal Imaging and Technology EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne) 1015 – Lausanne, Switzerland T: +41 21 693 76 85 E: W: L.Duran-Trio, G.Fernandes-Pires, J.Grosse, C.Roux, P.-A.Binz, C.Sandi, C.Cudalbu, O.Braissant (2021). Scientific Reports, 11:1636. A new rat model of creatine transporter deficiency reveals behavioral disorder and altered brain metabolism.

Professor Olivier Braissant Dr Cristina Cudalbu

and could be treated pre-symptomatically by creatine supplementation.” There are also other genetic disorders that affect brain development, for example GLUT1 deficiency syndrome, which affects the transport of glucose to the brain. Professor Braissant says the project’s research also holds implications for the treatment of this and other genetic diseases. “GLUT1 deficiency syndrome is a condition that could be treated in the same way as creatine transporter deficiency syndrome – the transporter is the same size as the creatine transporter. There are also many other genetic diseases that affect enzymes within brain cells,” he continues. The primary focus of attention in the project is creatine transporter deficiency however, and Professor Braissant and his colleagues plan to continue investigating the

disease over the remainder of the project’s funding term and beyond. “We are preparing a few papers on the characterisation of these knock-in rats, and we should have some results on the effectiveness of the AAV transduction some time this year,” he outlines. The project could potentially be extended, which would enable researchers to perform further tests on the AAV treatment as well as the other treatment strategies, such as the chaperone molecules. The hope is that this will lead in future to improved treatment of not only cerebral creatine deficiency, but also other genetic diseases. “If we can develop an efficient protocol to transduce brain cells with our vectors, it will be available not only for the creatine deficiencies, but also for many other genetic diseases which affect brain development,” says Professor Braissant.

Professor Olivier Braissant is a group leader at the Service of Clinical Chemistry of the University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV). After a PhD (1994) and a postdoc at the University of Lausanne on nuclear receptors, he moved to the CHUV where he developed his research on inborn errors of metabolism affecting brain development. Dr Cristina Cudalbu is a research staff scientist at CIBM Centre for Biomedical Imaging, Switzerland. After a PhD (2006) at the University Lyon 1 and a postdoc at LIFMET/EPFL, she became a group leader developing her own research on new and fast acquisition and quantification techniques for proton and X-nuclei MRS, particularly in CNS.


Cells need sugar to communicate Large volumes of information have been generated on the novel coronavirus since it first emerged, and researchers continue to pore over the available data. Bioinformatics tools can help researchers draw links between different pieces of information and gain deeper insights into biological processes, a topic at the heart of Dr Frédérique Lisacek’s research. The power of bioinformatics tools lies in their ability to help users correlate separate pieces of information that may otherwise seem to be unrelated, helping researchers to gain a deeper understanding of biological processes. This work holds particular importance in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and over the last year or so large amounts of data have been generated on the virus, including some strikingly detailed images of its structure. “In images we’ve seen that the spike protein on the surface is covered by carbohydrates. This is called the glycan shield, or the sugar shield,” says Dr Frédérique Lisacek, Head of the Proteome Informatics Group (PIG) at the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB). A number of different terms are used to describe carbohydrates, including polysaccharides, glycans and sugars, which can cause a degree of confusion. Regardless of the precise naming convention, the sugar shield is a significant component of the surface of Covid-19 and other viruses, yet much remains unclear about the role of these molecules not only in viruses, but in the cells of all organisms, including bacteria, plants and fungi. “We don’t know the extent to which proteins are covered

glycans, and carbohydrate-binding proteins, yet overall it’s one and the same story,” says Dr Lisacek. This is an issue she and her colleagues in the PIG are working to address. “For many decades now, experimental data of the broken pieces have piled up in silos, which are isolated from each other,” she continues. “Glycoscientists recognise this themselves and try to reconnect. We are providing bioinformatics tools to accelerate change.”

Glycoproteomics Sars-Cov-2 spike protein (left), and the same protein with its glycan shield (right) [image created by Dr. Lorenzo Casalino in Professor Rommie Amaro lab (UCSD)].*

by carbohydrates, and little is known about the role of these molecules at the surface of proteins,” explains Dr Lisacek. As a bioinformatician, Dr Lisacek aims to help researchers work more collaboratively and share expertise, which can be challenging. The experimental means required to solve problems on the glycosylation of proteins are very different to those used in research on carbohydrate-binding proteins for example, which has consequences. “Glycoscientists are essentially working on the same topic but on different objects broken into glyco-proteins,

The focus for the PIG team is to develop databases and software tools that will help life scientists detect glycosylation, which could then lead to new insights into cellular communication. The technique most commonly used to resolve the structure of glycans is mass spectrometry; in comparison, DNA can be sequenced with relative ease. “There are a handful of experimental approaches to sequence DNA, while there are hundreds to identify proteins or glycans,” says Dr Lisacek. The main area of interest in her group is the field of glycoproteomics, which hinges on mass spectrometry. “Glycoproteomics is a means of breaking down the barriers described above, because it tackles the large-scale identification of both the glycoproteins and the glycans at the


Glycosphingolipid glycans

Cell-cell interface featuring glycans and glycan-binders.


Illustration inspired from

Mucin-type O-glycans

Glycan-binding protein

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same time,” she continues. “So, we are of course extremely interested in collecting the data that is generated. Glycoproteomics is a young field, only around a decade old.” The level of precision is such that it is not possible to accurately identify the glycans, they are only identified by their composition. “You can identify what type of mono-saccharide is used to build it for example, but you don’t have a really precise structure,” explains Dr Lisacek. A tool called Compozitor has been designed to uncover existing structural relationships between glycans. A Mass Spectrometry (MS) experiment simply generates a list of the molecules it identifies, and without bioinformatics processing, the items on the list would remain entirely independent of each other. “That is why bioinformatics tools are needed to parse the output of MS experiments in order to re-establish the relationships lost in the experimental process that starts with separating the molecules,” outlines Dr Lisacek. “The glycans are related because they are built with the same biosynthetic machinery.” The purpose of Compozitor is to generate a graph that captures these relations between glycans on the basis of the shared set of enzymes required for their synthesis. “This

For example, blood groups are one of the most well-known glycan molecules. They constitute the terminal parts of larger glycans and ‘stick out’ at the surface of red cells. “They are a signal and their recognition by lectins has partially known consequences,” outlines Dr Lisacek. “In all likelihood, there are also other parts of full glycan molecules that are as ‘meaningful’ as blood groups, but our understanding is still limited.” The ultimate goal would be to crack this code, yet this is an extremely challenging task, as there are huge numbers of proteins and glycans in the body. The extent of the glycome, the full set of glycans, is itself extremely difficult to define. “Some people say that there are tens of thousands of glycans in the glycome, while others argue that there are hundreds of thousands, or even more,” says Dr Lisacek. By developing new bioinformatics tools, Dr Lisacek hopes to help researchers navigate this extremely complex picture and study biological processes as well as the root causes of disease in greater detail. “In the case of the coronavirus, we have yet to understand if the glycan shield is more than camouflage, whether it drives specific protein-protein interactions that would be mediated by these sugars,” she says.

With glycoproteomics you try to identify the glycans and the proteins at the same time. However, the level of precision is such that you cannot really accurately identify the glycans, you only identify them by their composition. is to move away from uninformative lists. We believe this is the first tool to provide this interconnected view from a set of experimental results,” outlines Dr Lisacek. The situation she is tackling here is essentially a protein-protein interaction, mediated by glycans. “We have a glycoprotein, on which a glycan is attached, and then a whole different category of proteins is binding this particular glycan. This is another family of proteins called lectins, or carbohydrate-binding proteins,” she explains. As previously mentioned, the aim is to build a complete picture, connecting the glycoproteins with the glycosylated proteins and the carbohydrate-recognising proteins, which would then help researchers look at important questions around the role of these glycan molecules. “Where is a particular glycan actually located on the protein? What type of glycan is it? What kind of carbohydrate-binding protein can recognise it?” continues Dr Lisacek. “Some people describe this as the glyco-code. It is thought that there is information encoded in a glycan, a type of signal that triggers a response via the matching lectins.”

Glycan expression A further way of looking at disease would be to investigate whether there is a differential expression of glycans at the surface of a diseased cell that distinguishes it from a healthy cell. This approach can be used to monitor the progression of certain types of cancer. “There is evidence for glycans being biomarkers in cancer. Glycan biomarkers are more often a marker of the early onset of disease,” says Dr Lisacek. The PIG group works with collaborators in different parts of the world who contribute data. Dr Lisacek and her team are also part of the GlySpace Alliance, which was formed with other international bioinformatics teams to help researchers work more efficiently and effectively. “There’s a lot to do in the glycoinformatics field. We are trying to harmonise our respective developments, so that we can go forward faster,” she explains. “We don’t want to compete, because there are relatively few of us working in glycoinformatics. Gathering data on the glycome and putting it in the wider picture of the other ‘omes, such as the proteome and the genome, is a major priority in glycosciences research.”

Glycomics@Expasy Bioinformatics to support glycoscience Project Objectives

In cooperation with experimentalists our project focuses on the design and development of computer-based resources for scientists who investigate the role oligosaccharides/glycans in multiple applications, especially involving microbes and the immune response they trigger. We strive to provide user-friendly and interactive tools compliant with recognised bioinformatics standards in an attempt to bridge with multiple -omics.

Project Funding

This project has been supported by: - FP7 Innovative Training Network (# 316929) - Swiss Federal Government through the State Secretariat fo Education, Research & Innovation (SERI) and is currently supported by: - Swiss National Science Foundation (# 31003A_179249) - Glyco@Alps ANR PIA “Initiative of Excellence” (ANR-15-IDEX-02)

Project Partners

• Anne Imberty, CERMAV-CNRS, Grenoble, France the-teams/1788-2/ • Nicolle H Packer, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia nicki-packer

Contact Details

Project Coordinator, Frederique Lisacek SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics Proteome Informatics Group CUI - Battelle - bâtiment A 7, route de Drize 1227 Geneva T: +41 22 379 01 95 E: W: *Based on work published on ACS Central Science. (DOI:

Frédérique Lisacek

Frédérique Lisacek is Manager of the Proteome Informatics Group (PIG) at the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB). Her group collaborates with an international network of glycoscientists to deliver increasingly popular glycoinformatics resources. She previously held research positions in biology labs in France, Japan and Australia working on biological knowledge representation and predictive methods.


Egg chambers with nuage and germ plasm.

Molecular functions of germline proteins A protein called Oskar is essential to the assembly of the germ plasm, the material that induces the formation of germ cells in some animals, and its absence has a major impact on development. We spoke to Dr Mandy Jeske about how she is combining a range of different techniques to investigate this area, alongside research into other fundamental questions around germ cell development. LOTUS domains are found in a group of proteins known to play important roles in animal development. Based at the Biochemistry Centre at Heidelberg University, Dr Mandy Jeske leads a research group which is investigating the molecular mechanisms behind the function of these proteins. “In my group we focus on questions related to germ cell development,” she explains. One part of this research is centred on the function of these LOTUS domain proteins in animals. “In animals there are only four proteins that carry LOTUS domains. I previously studied a germline protein called Oskar that is known to carry a LOTUS domain,” says Dr Jeske. “It is wellknown that the absence of this protein leads to marked developmental defects in flies.”

Development in Drosophila There are essentially two phenotypes to consider here, with researchers looking at the early stages of development in flies lacking Oskar. Researchers have found that eggs laid by these flies develop into embryos showing severe developmental issues. “The germ cell precursors are not produced, they are missing. Without germ cell precursors there are no germ cells, and if a larva would then develop into an adult it would be infertile,” outlines Dr Jeske. The second phenotype is that the abdominal segments usually seen on larvae


Figure 1: Molecular functioin of germline proteins A) Drosophila egg chamber with maturing oocyte and nurse cells (NC). Nuage surrounds the NC nuclei. Germ plasm assembles at the posterior pole of the oocyte. B) Crystal structure of the Vasa-LOTUS protein complex.

are missing, resulting in developmental arrest and ultimately death. “Normally there are eight segments, and in this phenotype some or even all of them are missing,” continues Dr Jeske. “So, the function of this protein is associated with two developmental aspects, which in flies are genetically coupled – fertility and embryonic patterning.” A lot of attention in Dr Jeske’s group is devoted to investigating how LOTUS domain proteins function during the early stages of development. It is known that Oskar is very important in assembling the germ plasm, but

its molecular role is rather unclear, a topic of great interest to Dr Jeske. “We are still trying to understand the function of Oskar. We know that at the pole of the developing egg it’s required to assemble the germ plasm, and that if Oskar is missing, we see infertility and patterning defects. But beyond that, its function is not really clear,” she says. Researchers are using biochemistry techniques and X-ray crystallography to probe deeper in this area. “We need to do more biochemical studies and structural studies, using crystallography for example, to get a deeper

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molecular insight into this protein in complex with interaction partners,” explains Dr Jeske. During her post-doctoral work with Anne Ephrussi, Dr Jeske found that Oskar directly associates with a second protein. This interaction partner is an RNA helicase called Vasa, which forms a complex with Oskar, now Dr Jeske is looking to gain deeper insight. “We previously tested which part of Oskar binds to this helicase, and we found it is the LOTUS domain,” she says. Vasa itself has an unwinding activity, so it can unwind an RNA double strand to form single stranded RNA. “This process is ATP dependent – Vasa is an ATP-dependent RNA helicase,” continues Dr Jeske. “We can measure the activity of the helicase in biochemical assays – we can look at how much unwinding it does, or how much ATP it hydrolyses. When we added the LOTUS domain to the helicase, we saw a marked stimulation of this activity.” Unfortunately, the meaning of Vasa’s unwinding activity within germ cell processes is not very well understood and neither

fertility of an organism, a topic that Dr Jeske is investigating in the lab. “The piRNA pathway has been mainly explored using genetic tools,” she continues. “Many proteins are involved in this piRNA pathway, and very often a defect in just a single one results in infertility.” A number of the proteins involved here are tudor-domain containing proteins (TDRD), and in addition some have these LOTUS domains. However, it’s again not clear what their precise molecular function is. “We know that these LOTUS domains, from TDRD5 and TDRD7, similar to Oskar, bind to the Vasa helicase, and they stimulate its activity,” says Dr Jeske. A lot of attention in the wider research community is centred on the role of TDRDs and helicases in the piRNA pathway. “Most factors participating in the piRNA pathway are large, multi-domain proteins. We have developed a technique, which we are currently using to describe the physical protein-protein interaction network of the piRNA pathway,” continues Dr Jeske.

Transposons are like parasitic DNA sequences. Animals, plants and other organisms carry them in their genome. When transposons become active, they can effectively jump from one to another site within the genome eventually causing severe damage. is the function of stimulation, so Dr Jeske plans further studies in future to unravel the function of Vasa’s activity. “Many steps in development are not understood on the mechanistic or molecular level,” she stresses. A second major area of research in Dr Jeske’s group centres around a regulatory mechanism called the piRNA pathway. “piRNAs are short, non-coding RNAs. They recognise RNAs which code for transposons and mediate silencing of transposon gene expression,” explains Dr Jeske. “These transposons are like parasitic DNA sequences. Animals, plants and other organisms carry them in their genome. When transposons become active, they can effectively jump from one site to another within the genome.”

Transposons In the long term, this jumping can either serve to drive evolution. In the short term, it can cause damage to genes, which then needs to be prevented, and this piRNA-mediated defense process works slightly differently from organism to organism. Dr Jeske is again using flies to analyse the underlying mechanisms involved in the piRNA pathway. “Flies also have this piRNA pathway, and they mainly use this to repress transposons,” she says. If the piRNA pathway is not functional, then this affects the

This research has already yielded some interesting insights, and has helped Dr Jeske’s team to define specific protein complexes which might be particularly important and require further analysis. The focus here is on helicase interaction partners, which can lead on to a deeper understanding of the function of these enzymes. “When we identify specific interaction partners of the helicases, we can then start to investigate the helicase activity in context of their partners,” continues Dr Jeske. The wider aim in this research is to build a deeper understanding of developmental questions on the molecular and mechanistic level, which Dr Jeske says requires a combination of biochemical research, structural studies and in vivo analyses. “We are able to combine these methods in the lab,” she says. This means that Dr Jeske and her colleagues can explore developmental questions efficiently on the molecular level. For example, if biochemical or structural studies reveal any new insights, then Dr Jeske’s team can start to generate transgenic flies and pursue further investigation. “As soon as we observe an interesting fly phenotype, we can quickly go back to the biochemical analyses, and try to figure out a new aspect on the molecular level,” she explains.

LOTUS LOTUS domain proteins in transposon silencing and translation control Project Objectives

During their life cycle, sexually reproducing organisms generate germ cells, which are key for transmission of the genome to future generations and survival of the species. In some organisms, the formation of germ cells is genetically coupled to early embryonic patterning. Recently, a novel protein domain called LOTUS was identified by bioinformatics, which is highly conserved. In animals, LOTUS domain proteins are essential germline factors. It has also been established that the piRNA pathway contributes to genome stability of the species. However, the molecular properties of LOTUS domain proteins and their specific roles within the control of translation and the piRNA synthesis pathway remains poorly understood. The aim of Dr Jeske’s research is to structurally and functionally characterize this novel and essential protein family to provide mechanistic insight into important but poorly understood aspects of post-transcriptional control of gene expression in the germline.

Project Funding

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) Project number 377227242

Contact Details

Project Coordinator, Dr. Mandy Jeske Heidelberg University Biochemistry Center (BZH) Im Neuenheimer Feld 328 D-69120 Heidelberg T: +49-6221-544728 E: W: Kubíková, J., Reinig, R., Salgania, H.K., and Jeske, M. (2020). LOTUS-domain proteins - developmental effectors from a molecular perspective. Biol. Chem. 402: 7 - 23. Jeske M., Müller C.W., Ephrussi A. (2017). The LOTUS domain is a conserved DEAD-box RNA helicase regulator essential for the recruitment of Vasa to the germ plasm and nuage. Genes. Dev. 31(9): 939-952.

Dr Mandy Jeske

Dr Mandy Jeske is a Junior Research Group Leader at Heidelberg University Biochemistry Center in Germany. She gained her degree at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, then held a postdoc position at the EMBL Heidelberg before taking on her current role. She holds an Emmy Noether Fellowship funded by the DFG.


Assessing the costs and outcomes of healthcare

Healthcare costs are rising across the EU, and the burden is likely to intensify in future with the cost of caring for people with mental health diseases set to increase. Researchers in the PECUNIA project are developing new, more systematic, harmonised and comparable methods of assessing healthcare interventions, which could in future lead to more optimised, cost-effective care, as Professor Judit Simon explains. Many European countries

spend a significant proportion of national income on healthcare, and the financial burden is set to increase further in future, with the cost of mental healthcare likely to lead to significant strain on healthcare organisations. The outlook is set to further worsen, with the COVID-19 pandemic expected to have longterm consequences on mental health amongst the general public. With governments and healthcare organisations looking to control costs while at the same time providing highquality care, it’s important to rigorously assess the costs and effects of different interventions, a topic at the heart of the PECUNIA project. “This project is addressing the issue of increasing healthcare costs,” says Judit Simon, Professor of Health Economics at the Medical University of Vienna, the coordinator of the project. Healthcare costs currently account for about 10 percent of national income across EU countries, the second highest government spending category after social protection, which Professor Simon says is the result of an enormous increase in demand for care, along with the availability and cost of new technologies. “We need this cost-effectiveness information, derived from economic evaluations, in order to provide more efficient

care across healthcare systems and achieve the best value care possible,” she continues.

PECUNIA project This is an issue Professor Simon and her colleagues from six European countries in the project are working to address by establishing a standardised approach to assessing the impact of healthcare interventions in the EU. Currently, there are not really any tools available to compare the results of economic evaluations conducted in different countries, while Professor Simon is also considering the wider importance of health in the project. “The EU published a strategy document several years ago which states that health is not just a value in itself, but is also very important for economic growth and prosperity,” she explains. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic illustrates the importance of public health to the wider economy, but the so-called inter-sectoral consequences of healthcare interventions are often not considered in economic evaluations. “In these evaluations the health and social care costs of interventions and consequences are commonly measured, but very often healthcare interventions have a wider impact, for example on our opportunities to work and study,” points out Professor Simon.

The wider aim in the project is to develop methods and tools that enable such multisectoral, multi-national and multi-person economic evaluations, focusing in particular on mental healthcare. A mental healthcare intervention doesn’t affect just the individual concerned, but also their families and the people that care for them, while it also has an influence on the opportunities that may be open to them in future. “The treatment costs are the direct costs of healthcare, while these inter-sectoral costs fall outside the healthcare sector. For example, people may be unable to work, or to finish their studies, or there may be legal consequences,” explains Professor Simon. Researchers now aim to consider these types of costs in the project and build a deeper picture of the impact of different healthcare interventions, work which is by nature comparative. “Economic evaluations are comparative – for example you compare the cost of ‘no treatment’ to the cost of ‘treatment’, or you compare an existing medication which is already on the market and is commonly used to a newly developed medication, or you want to focus on comparing the consequences of prevention and early intervention options with different treatment options,” outlines Professor Simon.


Icons from Pickit Images,

Healthcare questionnaires and other new PECUNIA tools Researchers in the project are developing a questionnaire, the so called Resource Use Measurement (RUM) questionnaire, which would enable the collection of a wider variety of data. This covers not just the health and social care consequences of an intervention, but also the impact on other sectors, including education, employment, (criminal) justice and those for the patients and families. “An instrument is under development which could be used in different countries with different languages, opening up the opportunity to collect information and data from a variety of settings in a harmonised way with one tool. For example, we are collecting information on the care burden facing families; how many hours do they have to support a family member due to ill-health?” explains Professor Simon. By developing a comprehensive new RUM questionnaire, researchers hope to overcome issues around the fragmentation of data and the varying levels of routine data collection and data linkage opportunities across different European countries. This will then provide the foundations for more detailed and comprehensive analyses, believes Professor Simon. “We can really evaluate the broader inter-sectoral impacts of an intervention by directly collecting this information from patients,” she continues.


“Through the RUM questionnaire we collect information on, for example how many days someone was in hospital, how many times they visited their GP, or how many days they were unable to work. In order to estimate the costs, we need to know the average cost of each of these items, the so called unit costs, but this information is currently not widely available. Only a few countries have developed databases for such unit costs and it is often calculated in different ways,” says Professor Simon.

Graph © PECUNIA Consortium 2021.

calculate so called ‘Reference Unit Costs’ for the most important services. “We are developing tools which follow the basic PECUNIA Costing Concept, where we really go back to the basics of costing,” continues Professor Simon. “We have ten partners from six countries in the project. If the information that goes into calculating those costs is standardised, then in future economic evaluations you will be comparing apples with apples and not apples with oranges.”

Treatment costs are the direct costs of healthcare, while inter-sectoral costs fall outside the healthcare sector. For example people may be unable to work, or to finish their studies. This limits efforts to compare economic evaluations across different countries, even in cases where the same question was being addressed, simply because the unit costs that are used have been developed with completely different methods. This is another major area of interest in the project. “In parallel to our work on RUM, we are also considering the costs of all the services and resource use items that have been identified,” outlines Professor Simon. Researchers are now developing harmonised methods to

The countries represented within PECUNIA also organise their healthcare provision differently, with varying levels of state and private sector involvement and different funding structures, which is an important consideration in terms of the project’s wider agenda. Researchers reviewed the literature, then conducted surveys about services and resources used in the different sectors in the six countries, including healthcare, social care, education, (criminal) justice and those costs directly impacting patients and families, from which

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Professor Simon and her colleagues were able to gain some deeper insights. “We came up with so-called PECUNIA Service and Resource Item Lists for each country. We noticed that because the systems are so different, the items in these lists are also extremely different,” she says. The central idea behind harmonisation in the PECUNIA Costing Concept is to move away from the name of services - and linked system dependency of services - towards units of analysis which are comparable across countries. “A healthcare service may be understood differently in different countries. We have developed these units of analysis which can be coded according to internationally recognised classifications and reflect costs more accurately,” explains Professor Simon. “This information will be included in our PECUNIA Reference Unit Cost Compendium. So when someone is working with this information, they will also know whether it is for the public sector, the private sector, or if it is a mixed estimate,” outlines Professor Simon. This is a highly complex project, and coordinating it has proved very timeconsuming and demanding, yet Professor Simon says they have made significant progress in research. “One big achievement in the project has been to highlight why current cost estimates may not be comparable,” she says. “We’ve developed new concepts and methods for costing in economic evaluations that allow harmonised costing across sectors, countries, and people.” The project’s agenda also includes assessing the outcomes of healthcare interventions, which again may not be directly comparable, as different countries may use different tools or assess the value of quality of life in different ways. “To harmonise outcome assessment, we are developing an electronic compendium of

information,” explains Professor Simon. A type of measure called PROMs (Patient Reported Outcome Measures) is central to this work. “This is the cornerstone of patient-centred care – that patients are able to self-report on their quality of life and their wellbeing,” continues Professor Simon. “We are looking at the questionnaires that are currently used in healthcare to assess quality of life and well-being, often in a generic way or within the mental health context, and collect structured information so that future studies can select and use the best and most suitable methods for PROMs assessment. In addition, we developed harmonised methods for the assessment of health-related quality of life at pan-European and supra-national levels to promote the feasibility of assessment at the EU level, across multiple countries or even in a single country where national valuation is currently not available.” While the above methods have now been developed to conduct Europe-wide health economic evaluations, Professor Simon and the PECUNIA Consortium have some plans for further research beyond the end of the project. “We are very much hoping to continue together and develop these European-wide, harmonised unit costing tools further. We want to make European economic evaluations much more comparable and to improve patient access to high-quality and efficient services in all EU countries,” she says. The project’s work will provide an important resource to researchers and organisations looking to optimise healthcare provision. “It is very important that these tools are known to decision-makers, then they can be incorporated as a gold standard in future guidelines and analyses,” stresses Professor Simon. “We are moving towards piloting and testing our tools with users and bringing them to a broader audience.”

PECUNIA ProgrammE in Costing, resource use measurement and outcome valuation for Use in multi-sectoral National and International health economic evaluAtions

Project Objectives

PECUNIA aims to establish standardised costing and outcome assessment measures for optimised national healthcare provision in the European Union. The methods and tools to be developed within PECUNIA will be used to enhance efficient and evidence-based collaborative care models and intersectoral funding arrangements to improve chronic and mental health care in all EU health systems.

Project Funding

Funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 779292.

PECUNIA Final Workshop

2nd virtual satellite workshop on 1-2 June 2021 to present the developed PECUNIA tools. More information:

Project Partners

• Medical University of Vienna (AT) • Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, European Research and Project Office GmbH (Eurice) (D) • Corvinus University of Budapest (H) • Servicio Canariuo de la Salud, Asociación Científica Psicost (ES) • Maastricht University, Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam (NL) • London School of Economics, University of Bristol (UK)

Contact Details

Prof. Dr. Judit Simon Professor of Health Economics Head of Department & Deputy Head of Center Coordinator Doctoral Program Public Health Medical University of Vienna Center for Public Health Department of Health Economics Kinderspitalgasse 15, 1090 Vienna, Austria E: W: W: : Professor Judit Simon

Judit Simon is Professor and Head of the Department of Health Economics (DHE) and Deputy Head of the Center for Public Health at the Medical University of Vienna (MUV) in Austria. She also coordinates the Doctoral Programme Public Health and leads the Health Economics Programme Line at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute Applied Diagnostics. Previously she held positions at the LSE, UCL and University of Oxford where she remains Visiting Professor of Cognitive Health Economics at the Department of Psychiatry. © PECUNIA Consortium 2017.

© PECUNIA Consortium 2018.


Why innovations die............... With 100 billion precious euros invested in the Horizon Europe budget for research and innovation from 2021-2027, the awkward question is always lurking in the shadows, ‘how much of this investment comes to nothing?’ The so-called Valley of Death, the dreaded graveyard of projects where they cost too much to develop and effectively become filed, redundant and forgotten must reveal some clues about why innovation falters. Beyond this, even with prototypes, even with launched products or services – sometimes the obvious is missed when attempting to create for industry. By Richard Forsyth


hilst the business mantra of the era seems to be ‘it’s OK, or can even be good to fail’ that obviously only rings true if we learn from and use failure. Indeed, failure is intrinsically part of scientific discovery, testing new ideas and trialling new technologies. However, when projects are aiming to reimagine services and products to improve society, failure can be both awkward and embarrassing. What’s more, the truth is that amazing inventions that have failed to make an impact in society are littered throughout history, many caught in that perilous space between the laboratory and the market, the dramatically described Valley of Death. However, the Valley of Death is just one potential trap in an innovation cycle, which is a perilous and long journey, rife with potential to get things wrong. There are many immediate clues to why some innovations do not transcend the boundaries to industrial, commercial or any form of success. Commercialisation, the business world, can often be a leap too far for academia to bridge. So what needs are projects not taking into account, for them to fail to pervade into the world beyond the university bubbles? One statistic claims that only an estimated 1 in 5,000 to 10,000 innovations make it through the Valley of Death to market implementation, and even those that do make it, often fizzle soon after in obscurity, or because they are not marketed, or they are superseded. Innovation can die at many stages, from a realisation it’s not feasible, to failing to create a prototype, to failing to understand its cost, value or even if it will be wanted by industry. We need to take a hard look at those touchpoints where invention dies, because frankly, this is the most likely outcome.


Falling into the money-pit Innovation is risky financially, and there are rarely open taps of money that don’t at some point need to be turned off to prevent further losses. Commercialisation takes brave and sustained investment and the innovation process itself can often simply run out of cash as investors exhaust their patience and coffers with a project, however brilliant and promising. Development is often measured in years and even if a project makes it to the creation of a viable product or service it can still be tottering on the edge of the Valley of Death’s unforgiving canyon walls for a decade beyond that benchmark. An awareness of a company’s appetite and capability for the long game, coupled with a shrewd understanding of navigating public and government funding will be qualities that could literally pay dividends one day. With just a prototype, the first 3 to 5 years would require investment and there would be no return on that. It’s been toted that around 90 percent of start-ups fail within the first three years, because they lack venture capital backing, and if a business model is lacking, they will fail to reap any kind of return. Deep pockets are more commonly in short supply. It is critical to understand how finances are possible for at least five years and sustained pitching and hustling for investment is recommended whether to business angels, partners or public bodies and the government, as part of the on-going process. There can be ‘tucked away’ grants, but they won’t magically appear, they have to be rooted up and exploited. There is also a point where failure must be accepted if the progress and projections look starkly grim. Sometimes no amount of wishing can make a case for success.

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There are many immediate clues to why some innovations do not transcend the boundaries to industrial, commercial or any form of success. Commercialisation, the business world, can often be a leap too far for academia to bridge. Bad timing ruins the moment A common reason for stumbling innovation is simply because the market is not ready for it. Take electric cars. The technology is clearly here today and we insist at a government policy level, that they must succeed. However, despite making progress the hard fact is that they rely on the need for a comprehensive infrastructure of charging points – without which they can be limited in range compared to petrol driven vehicles. When the supporting infrastructure is mature, the electric vehicle market can appeal to everyone, not merely a segmented demographic of green-minded consumers or penny-counting fleet operators. In addition, unless there is a pressing need for your innovation to solve a genuine problem, it may be simply a novelty and not a revelation. People and businesses can often get by with familiar clumsier methods and products than your innovation looks to replace, because they already fulfil a basic need and are established. The market must be ready for your solution, for the change it presents. The

business successes and pivots seen during the pandemic show clearly that the environment for innovation can be key to its success or failure. For a commercial success, market research should not be marginalised. Rather than just looking at the advantages and unique selling points of your innovation, assess the disadvantages compared to existing technology and services. Have an objective view. What market conditions are needed for success, realistically? A difficult trend to accept is also that in the rush to be first with a technology, often the industry is not ready for the flawed first attempts, but the chances are they will be later on with following, matured, better designed and easier to integrate, similar technologies.

Off with the lab coat, on with the suit Finding a route to market involves the right partner or partners, the right plan and considerations for all the business aspects of commercial rollout, from legal and regulatory considerations to sales and marketing. Distribution partners should be in the mix and an understanding of


supply chain is also necessary. Innovations when scaled up can require manufacturing, importing, exporting and reselling so bridging from the lab to the market needs an acute understanding of business operations. For completed, functioning innovation to become a business, critical moments of launching the innovation, marketing it, selling it, supplying it, and scaling up must be calculated. For SMEs and Start-Ups, knowledge of how to access a market is as crucial as funding. A problem can sometimes be that a project begins in the Public Sector, moves to Public-Private Partnerships and finally has to transcend to the Private Sector, in what could be described as ‘a dance of differences’. As innovators, you may be clueless at the business-side, so it may be advisable to be conscious incompetents and find partners with the skills needed for Start-Up success. Being an innovator does not necessarily make you business savvy and that is worth knowing, to seek the right advice, in order to make wise early decisions before time and money is wasted, when pursuing commercial success. For ideas that are deemed potential failures by, for instance, a potential business partner, transparency of criteria for decision making would also be useful for sharing. Understanding why an idea falls short, yet has potential, may mean it simply needs to be redeveloped or reimagined.

Understanding ‘why?’ is everything There is power following a grander goal, aiming to change the world in some way. In this context, it’s worth understanding that so many innovations were born from necessity, almost accidently discovered or forced into existence whilst pursuing big aims. In 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the lunar surface with the help of the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC). It was such an advanced innovation it paved the way to the entire computer industry. This was perhaps the commercial success story of the lunar landing, the birth of a global industry. Intel Corp would probably have never been founded without the R&D

from those space missions. Scott Hubbard, who worked for NASA for 20 years said: “Power consumption. Mass. Volume. Data rate. All the things that were important to making space flight feasible led to major changes in technology”. If you have a sense of true purpose in an industry, innovation can become a necessity uncovered. Focusing clearly on ‘why’ the innovation is needed can keep a project on the rails to commercialisation.

For humans, consider human factors Great ideas are only great if people ‘get’ them and ‘use’ them. Take Virtual Reality. Here’s a good example of something that has been a product in many forms but seems ultimately to fail to meet its promise commercially. There have been so many attempts to make Virtual Reality an everyday household application but eventually all these VR concepts, some taken up by major companies and rolled out with fanfare and massive marketing, never really capture the mass market as hoped for, despite their brilliance. The boldest attempt is PlayStation’s rollout of a VR headset, but even here, a year after its 2016 launch, CEO John Kodera revealed the VR market remained “below market forecasts”. Similarly, Google stopped sales of their VR attempt, Daydream, declaring that ‘there hasn’t been the broad consumer or developer adoption we hoped for’. One good reason for this is human factors. Wearing a device the size and weight of a full lunchbox from your eyes is not something most of us are prepared to do for long periods of the day. “One of the main reasons why VR is not booming into the consumer segment is because of the uncomfortable, clunky headsets – even early VR adopters have complained of mental fatigue due to prolonged use of VR headsets.” An observation from tech commentator Prabhu Ram, Head - Industry Intelligence Group (IIG), CyberMedia Research (CMR).

A common reason for stumbling innovation is simply because the market is not ready for it.


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For commercial rollout especially; easy, fast and convenient is expected as standard. Since Apple’s revelation of using fingers to point our way through mobile phone options via touchscreens, we truly perceive the expectation to have intuitive tech. The basics for car design have not changed and that is because the design of steering wheel and pedals is universally accepted by everyone, is intuitive, and it works. It is now standard for designers to place heavy emphasis on human factors, on how intuitive, how easy the user interfacing is in innovation. The rule is ‘simplify’, not to be mistaken with making it simple, but instead simplifying its use, design, operability. Everything from ergonomics, aesthetic appeal, to usability should be taken seriously if innovation is to appeal to us humans. Elon Musk, now the richest innovator in the world, understands the significance of how something looks, feels and is operated – from Tesla cars to space suits, it’s the details, the appeal and how something looks and feels that makes an innovation elevate from useable to desirable. It’s the same for services, as it is for products – think ‘human’.

Culture clashes, stakeholder engagement and miscommunication If you are targeting a market sector, you need to take into account the cultures in those sectors to succeed. A massive IT project rollout in the UK for the NHS arguably failed because of a clash of cultures and authorities, namely the people who run hospitals vs IT technicians. The publicly funded rollout of a unified health records system for British citizens was supposed to serve 40,000 GPs across 300 hospitals in one of the biggest IT projects in history. The system was supposed to be a dramatic transformational approach to replace the varied existing systems, rather than an evolutionary approach involving the healthcare operations at ground level. There did not seem to be an appreciation of how healthcare had been functioning. The stakeholders, the healthcare workers themselves were not really involved in the process of change. Who had authority, accountability and responsibility – the IT crowd or the GPs? Two very different cultures, that arguably did not harmonise to make this a success. A takeaway from this catastrophic failure, is involve the end user before big decisions. Understand how they work and ask if there are reasons why your innovation will fail because it does not fit into the culture, flow and daily grind, because without adoption and acceptance, however good it is in terms of functionality, it’s ultimately pointless. It is the hope of all project co-ordinators, scientists and inventors that there will be a positive legacy, that the project marks the beginning of something rather than an end. Likewise, there is pressure on budget allocators to create return on investment. For innovation, which is science’s practical gift to the world and its citizens, it is clear that there is a vast and varied range of practical considerations needed for success, coupled with a broad understanding of markets, users and needs. The good news is that those research and development projects that do succeed can really change sectors for the better, and overall, make up for the failures. One report by Science/Business found that with a broad economic analysis of long-term return on one euro of public investment in research, projects had a 20% return. So, despite the proliferation of failures in RoI, the successes make it all worth it in the grand scheme. And of course, it’s not all about money. The science generated by projects can be priceless for our society and many a project that looks off to the accountants, is gold dust to engineers, visionaries, thinkers, developers and scientists who may need such steppingstones of knowledge for their own worthy endeavours.


New tools for fisheries management Fishing fleets from across the world converge on certain areas of the oceans, but it is not always clear what they catch and in what quantities. The FarFish project aims to develop new tools and methods to improve fisheries management, with the wider goal of supporting the long-term sustainability and profitability of the industry, as Jónas R. Viðarsson explains. Many European fishing

fleets travel far from their own shores to catch a variety of species, in some cases sailing as far as the Pacific Ocean or the Indian Ocean. For example, the international waters of the South-West Atlantic are extremely important fishing grounds for the Spanish fleet, while the region also attracts vessels from other parts of the world. “Fleets from basically all over the world fish there,” says Jónas Viðarsson, Director of the value creation division at Matis in Iceland. However, it is not clear how much fish is caught there, while some of the fleets operate according to different rules. “EU fleets have to comply with EU legislation regardless of where they are fishing. This creates a lack of level playing field with other fleets in the area that don’t have to comply to such strict regulations established with the aim of fishing in a sustainable manner” continues Viðarsson.

FarFish project However, a number of the other fleets operating in the SW-Atlantic high Seas area follow a different set of rules, and as things stand now, no organisation is taking overall responsibility for fisheries management there, a situation that is paralleled in many other parts of the oceans. As the coordinator of the FarFish project, an initiative which brings together 21 different partners from both within the EU and outside it, Viðarsson aims to develop new tools and methods


Growing seafood demand has created pressure on fish stocks around the world.

for fisheries management, while also supporting knowledge-sharing between scientists. “We are encouraging dialogue between different countries. For example, we are organising a conference focusing on high seas fisheries in the South Atlantic,” he outlines. “It is important to get the scientists involved in stock assessment and fisheries to talk together.”

something that we are always looking at,” stresses Viðarsson. Fisheries are an important part of the economy in many parts of the world, and there is a general awareness of the need to protect stocks, yet Viðarsson says it can be difficult to assess the abundance of different species. “We often do not have reliable information about what is being caught in certain regions and who is fishing there,” he says. “So stock assessment and fisheries management are quite complicated.” This is an issue high on the project’s agenda, with researchers working to develop new tools and assessment methods, based on data gathered in the oceans. The project is based around stakeholder involvement and outreach, with scientists gathering data on six case study areas, including both the South-West- and South-East Atlantic high

EU fleets must comply with EU legislation regardless of where they are fishing within or outside European waters. These strict regulations are established with the aim of ensuring that the EU fleet conducts its fisheries in a sustainable manner at all times. The majority of fishing fleets of course want to maximise their catch and overall profitability, but this must also be compatible with the long-term goal of maintaining stocks of many different species in the oceans. A lot of attention in research is therefore devoted to assessing fish stocks and identifying the Maximum Sustainable Yield. “This is

seas areas, as well as four areas subject to sustainable fisheries partnership agreements with the EU (Cape Verde, Senegal, Mauritania and Seychelles). “We have been collecting and analysing data on fish biology, ecology, and the surrounding ecosystems,” says Viðarsson. “We have been investigating the fisheries management tools that are available

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in these six different fisheries areas across the world, and at what data is available for doing these assessments. We have also been doing value-chain analysis, and developing decision-support tools.” The situation in each of these six case study areas is very different, with the project seeking to build a deeper picture of the specific challenges they face, as well as the social and economic factors that may affect fisheries management. One of the main species of interest in the project is tuna, which has been over-fished in some parts of the oceans to a point where some types are at risk of extinction, underlining the importance of effective management. “It is important to sustainably harvest these resources,” stresses Viðarsson. A large part of the project’s work is about knowledge sharing and competence building, both within the EU fleet and in partner countries. This takes place through programmes in schools and universities, as well as other outreach activities. “We are working with our partners in Senegal, Mauritania, Cape Verde and Seychelles, as well as in Brazil, and other countries with sustainable fisheries partnership agreements with the EU,” outlines Viðarsson. The overall fisheries picture is highly dynamic however, and fish populations may move to different areas as the temperature of the oceans change, another topic of interest to Viðarsson and his colleagues in the project. “We have been looking for example at how the environment is affecting small pelagics off the West coast of Africa. It seems likely that some species will move because of climate change,” he says.

Consumer demand This is clearly an important issue for fishing fleets, as they need to identify grounds where they can catch enough fish to meet consumer © LDAC/CFFA-CAPE

FarFish Responsive Results-Based Management and capacity building for EU Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement- and international waters Project Objectives


demand, while preserving the sustainability of the resource. Fish are a major part of the local diet in many parts of the world, providing a source of omega-3 and many important vitamins, yet growing demand is likely to be met primarily from aquaculture rather than wild fisheries, believes Viðarsson. “The total global wild catch of fisheries has stagnated at somewhere between 90-100 million tonnes a year, and it is unlikely that we will see any major changes in that. However, by improving the sustainability of global fisheries we can potentially slowly increase wild catches over the long term,” he says. The ideal scenario in terms of fisheries management would be to establish a global framework to share knowledge on stocks and ensure that all fishing fleets operate under the same rules. While this is not entirely realistic at this point, the project is working to encourage collaboration between different countries, which could lay the foundations for further dialogue and knowledge-sharing. “We have already secured participation in a dialogue between scientists from across the world that are fishing in the high seas fisheries in the South Atlantic. If we are able to get the scientists that are involved in stock assessment and management to talk together, then that is an important first step,” says Viðarsson. “We hope that when the project finishes, other researchers will take up the reins.”

FarFish has the overall objective to provide knowledge, tools and methods to support responsible, sustainable and profitable EU fisheries outside European waters. To achieve this, FarFish has provided a better knowledge base of selected SFPA and high-seas fisheries where the EU fleet operates and identified opportunities for improvement.

Project Funding

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

Project Partners

• Matís – Iceland • University of Sao Paulo – Brazil • IMAR – Cape Verde • Syntesa – Denmark • Long Distant Advisory Council – EU • UNESCO-GROFisheries Training Program – Iceland • IMROP – Mauritania • University Cadi Ayyad – Morocco • Marine Research Institute – Norway • University of Tromso – Norway • Nofima – Norway • CCMAR / University of Algarve – Portugal • COREWAM – Senegal • ISRA / CRODT – Senegal • Seychelles Fishing Authority – Seychelles • CSIC – Spain • ANFACO - Spain • CETMAR – Spain • OPROMAR – Spain • Shuttle Tread – UK • University of Portsmouth – UK • SJOKOVIN – Faroe Islands

Contact Details

Jónas R. Viðarsson, M.Sc. Director of Division of value creation Matís ohf. Icelandic Food and Biotech R&D Vínlandsleið 12, 113 Reykjavík T: +354 422 5107 E: W: W: Jónas R. Viðarsson, M.Sc.

Jónas R. Viðarsson is the coordinator of the FarFish project. He is a director of division at Matís in Iceland and has a long experience from participating in interdisciplinary international research and innovation projects. He has as well a long experience from working within the seafood industry, both in capture and processing.


Extracting the value from CO2 Carbon dioxide is not just a greenhouse gas, but also a potential source of valuable products, such as chemicals and fuels. Researchers in the HybridSolarFuels project are developing hybrid materials to photoelectrochemically convert CO2, which could lead to the development of novel technologies that provide a more sustainable source of fuels, as Dr Csaba Janáky explains. Many of us

think of carbon dioxide (CO 2) primarily as a greenhouse gas, yet it’s also a potential source of transport fuels and useful chemicals. Based at the University of Szeged in Hungary, Dr Csaba Janáky is the Principal Investigator of the HybridSolarFuels project, an ERC-backed initiative which is exploring the possibility of using solar energy to generate chemicals or fuels. “The idea in the project is to use semiconductor photoelectrodes to generate chemicals from CO 2,” he says. This research in the field of photoelectrochemistry can


be thought of as lying roughly halfway between photovoltaics and photochemistry (or photosynthesis). “With photovoltaics, semiconductors are used to generate electricity, while in photosynthesis sunlight is used to generate chemicals,” explains Dr Janáky. “With photoelectrochemistry we use an electrode like in photovoltaics. We have a semiconductor, we shine light and generate the electron-hole pairs – but instead of extracting them as current, we drive chemical reactions with these charge carriers, similarly to photosynthesis.”

Photoelectrochemistry A lot of techniques used in these two fields can be applied in photoelectrochemistry, as most of the optical phenomena are similar to those which occur in photovoltaics, while the chemical reactions are driven at a solidliquid interface, similarly to photochemistry. Meeting these dual requirements in an electrode is a significant scientific and technical challenge however, a topic which lies at the core of the project’s research. “The difficulty is that the same materials need to fulfil the requirements of both photovoltaics,

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Labwork with a custom-developed electrolyzer test station. Photo: SZTE INFO, Ilona Újszászi.

and also photochemistry,” says Dr Janáky. Researchers do not expect to find a single material which meets these requirements, so Dr Janáky is working to assemble hybrid electrode materials with multiple components, where each component has its own function. “The electrode material itself needs to have multiple components, because we need to absorb sunlight, to transport charge carriers inside the electrode, and to transfer these charge carriers to the chemical species on the surface,” he explains. “We can achieve the highest level of efficiency if these three phenomena are de-coupled, meaning that we have different materials for each function.” There are essentially three main considerations in terms of maximising conversion efficiency. One is optical conversion, so the proportion of photons which are converted to charge carriers, while Dr Janáky says transport efficiency and charge-carrier transfer are also important considerations. “We multiply these efficiencies by each other to calculate the overall efficiency of the conversion process. If any of these efficiencies are low, then the overall efficiency is very low,” he outlines. A lot of attention in research is focused on developing new design concepts to improve these efficiencies, particularly related to interfaces between materials in

the electrode. “Our project is not about the individual materials themselves, it’s more about the integration of these materials into one electrode. We want to understand how we can combine these materials and harvest all the benefits of the individual components in the system,” continues Dr Janáky. “If we simply combine the best optical absorber, conductor, and catalyst material, it would not be an effective electrode material. We need to design these electrodes in a rational manner.”

in practical applications,” explains Dr Janáky. A lot of progress has been made in these terms, while Dr Janáky has also made some exciting new discoveries outside the scope of the project’s initial plans, particularly around perovskite materials. “This is a very exciting family of materials. In principle they can be very cheap, because the active layer is extremely thin in comparison to silicon, and they are very easy to make,” he outlines. “There is a lot of interest in using perovskite materials in photovoltaics, but

In photoelectrochemistry we use an electrode like in photovoltaics. We have a semiconductor, we shine light and generate electron-hole pairs – but instead of extracting them as current, we drive chemical reactions with these charge carriers, similarly to photosynthesis. The primary aim here is to design the interfaces between the components in such a way that the flow of charge carriers is appropriate and that there is minimal recombination. The materials used in these electrodes must be active, robust and scalable if they are to be applied more widely, which is an important consideration in research. “We are analysing the key descriptors, or success factors, for a given photoelectrode material

very few people have looked into using them as electrode materials, or as photoelectrode materials.” This is a topic that Dr Janáky and his colleagues have been able to investigate further over recent years, demonstrating the benefits of having the freedom to explore interesting avenues of research rather than sticking rigidly to pre-determined plans. While the project’s research has centered on


HybridSolarFuels Efficient Photoelectrochemical Transformation of CO2 to Useful Fuels on Nanostructured Hybrid Electrodes

Project Objectives

The three main goals of the HybridSolarFuels project are to (i) gain fundamental understanding of morphological-, size-, and surface functional group effects on the photoelectrochemical (PEC) behavior at the nanoscale (ii) design new functional hybrid materials for PEC CO2 reduction, (iii) develop flow-reactors for PEC CO2 reduction.

Project Funding

HybridSolarFuels, H2020 - European Research Council (ERC) Grant agreement ID: 716539. Overall budget: €1 498 750

Collaborating Partners

• Prof. Krishnan Rajeshwar (UT Arlington) • Prof. Prashant Kamat (University of Notre Dame) • ThalesNanoEnergy Inc

Contact Details

Dr Csaba Janáky Principal Investigator Photoelectrochemistry Research Group Fellow of the Young Academy of Europe University of Szeged Department of Physical Chemistry and Materials Science Szeged, Aradi square 1. HUNGARY T: +36 62 546393 E: W: W: MTA_PERG/index.html : @JanakyLab

Dr Csaba Janáky

Dr Csaba Janáky is an Associate Professor at the University of Szeged, Hungary. He is an emerging expert of materials science oriented electrochemistry and photoelectrochemistry. He has developed new electrode materials and systems for energy applications, such as CO2 reduction, water oxidation, O2 - reduction, and H 2 evolution. He has published over 90 articles with an overall impact factor of over 600.


We use electrochemical methods, to assess (photo)corrosion at irradiatied perovskite/liquid interfaces.

photoelectrochemistry, Dr Janáky says their results also hold relevance to other fields. “We can also provide very useful feedback to the photovoltaics community on the stability of these perovskite materials, and the source of the instability of these materials, through the use of our electrochemical and photoelectrochemical tools,” he says. However, the main priority in the project is to develop a set of design concepts, which can then be used to produce efficiently performing photoelectrodes, which could then spur further research. “If many other people, other groups, also implement these design concepts, then it’s much more likely that somebody will eventually come up with an efficient electrode material,” continues Dr Janáky.

PEC_Flow project A method of efficiently converting CO 2 into chemicals and fuels holds clear importance in the context of ongoing concern about climate change and the impact of carbon emissions, so Dr Janáky is also looking to explore the wider potential of the project’s research. While the focus in HybridSolarFuels has been primarily on discovery and fundamental research, Dr Janáky is also considering how this can be translated into technological development. “If everything progresses well, then this research will be translated to CCU (carbon capture and utilisation) technologies, where CO 2 can be converted into economically useful products,” he outlines. With HybridSolarFuels entering the last year of its funding term, Dr Janáky has been awarded a proof-of-concept grant by the ERC for the PEC-Flow project, in which he will investigate the commercial possibilities of continuous flow photoelectrochemical cells. “We are doing different types of techno-economic analysis and lifecycle analysis,” he says.

The intention here is to assess how this novel photoelectrochemical technology compares to other approaches like photosynthetic and photovoltaic+electrochemical methods. Researchers have conducted a number of tests on these cells, looking to assess the performance of different device architectures. “We have continuous flow cells, where we continuously feed the CO 2 and also continuously convert it. We have generated some data regarding the performance,” says Dr Janáky. Researchers have observed enhanced photoelectrochemical performance in cuprous oxide/graphene nanohybrids, while other architectures are also under investigation. “We are looking to identify the most attractive approach, to identify those descriptors which describe the performance best, and we are looking at how sensitive the business case is for these parameters,” continues Dr Janáky. “This is the kind of techno-economic analysis work that we are doing. And if it works out and proves effective then it can be further developed towards CCU applications.” This research is still ongoing and will inform decisions on which materials will be studied further in long-term tests, which could eventually pave the way towards commercialisation. There are still many challenges to deal with before this point however, particularly around the design of a photoelectrochemical system. “The answer depends to a degree on the timescale,” says Dr Janáky. Alongside this work in introducing a novel technology, Dr Janáky also plans to pursue further fundamental research in future, and to work closely with colleagues in complementary fields. “We have collaborators who are very active in the photovoltaics field, and we continuously share our findings with them,” he stresses.

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A full scale model of the Swiss High-Level Waste (HLW) disposal concept with the waste inside a steel canister on top of blocks of bentonite and surrounded by bentonite pellets © Comet Photoshopping GmbH, Dieter Enz

Accurate barrier modelling for nuclear waste management Patrik Sellin of the BEACON project explains why modelling the performance of bentonite’s mechanical behaviour, will mean predictive models will benefit engineers and satisfy regulators by understanding how it can be used as an effective sealant, in nuclear waste repositories. Bentonite is an absorbent clay substance, possessing qualities which make it useful for very specific applications. Made up of natural materials, it is used in many sectors, for everything from cosmetics to cat litter. Crucial, for those tasked with disposing of nuclear waste safely, it will be used for creating a natural seal for engineered barriers in geological repository concepts, as it expands into voids when you add water to the mix. In this respect, the Beacon project has been studying bentonite’s mechanical properties in the context of being a barrier for repositories containing radioactive waste, where it is critical to ensure effective seals are in place indefinitely. Engineered Barrier Systems (EBS) are repositories designed to hold radioactive waste for hundreds of thousands of years. They vary in design around the world, all with the purpose of creating a leak-proof, sealed containment system within the ground. Implicitly understanding the sealing abilities to these systems is key to having confidence that they are meeting their requirements.

Water content of the bentonite buffer of the Febex experiment after 18 years of saturation. © McKie/Nagra

Barrier science for Radioactive Waste Management “Bentonite is used as a seal, and a buffer. Bentonites have been stable for millions of years in nature, so it’s something that we can rely on for long term stability,” begins Patrik Sellin, co-coordinator of the Beacon project, whose experience derives from working in an expert capacity for

SKB, Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Co. “It acts like a sponge and it keeps the water intact, in the system, which means that all water transport through this engineered barrier will be very, very limited. This is the basis of this project, how to show that we have put in something that is engineered into a rock cavity and then after water saturation it gets to have


the properties that we want it to have, low water permeability is the main factor here. You don’t want the ground water to go through the barrier and since this is a mixture of bentonite blocks and pellets and also voids, for Beacon, it is to see after the water uptake, what the final properties of this barrier will be. What we want to show is that it is sufficiently homogeneous.” For high level radioactive waste systems, all the relevant programmes are still in the planning stage. Beacon relied on a banquet of data available from previous practical experiments around repositories, using that data as a means to test and create accurate, predictive mathematical modelling. It proved cost efficient and highly effective to use abundant existing data rather than to produce new data. This was in fact the first time this data was used in mathematical modelling in this way.

Predicting performance “There are quite a few experiments available from the past, field experiments in underground laboratories, that looked at bentonite swelling but the experiments have not been evaluated in a way that people can predict them, and what we need, if we want to license a repository, is to have models that can predict the performance of an installed barrier, because you cannot test the barrier or material, or buffer after the repository has been backfilled or sealed. The Beacon project is about the more subtle performance of the bentonite barriers,” said Sellin. The work’s aim has been to intricately understand the soil mechanics involved and the design performance of these barriers, so engineered systems are futureproof for regulators wanting confidence in designs of EBS’s that remained sealed over time. Regulators may need provable assurances in

KBS3 koncept – three engineered barriers: the canister, the bentonite buffer (and backfill) and the rock. © SURAO

barrier effectiveness, so testable modelling is a way to truly understand the intricacies of how bentonite reacts, expands, and fills void dimensions. “Regulators will probably ask us at some point, ‘how homogenous will it actually be?’” predicts Sellin. “We have seen in certain instances the homogeneity has been not so good and in other tests it’s been very good, so this means that it’s not an issue you can

water uptake saturation process, which may take hundreds of thousands of years. It’s definitely not possible to change the state of the barrier after full saturation so that is why we need tools that are predictive for these types of questions.”

Filling in the gaps

The Beacon consortium involves over 30 collaborating organisations and partners, large and small, from across Europe, which

Bentonite is used as a seal, and a buffer. Bentonites have been stable for millions of years in nature, so it’s something that we can rely on for long term stability. drop, you have to understand your system to be able to design your barriers and to show and demonstrate that they fulfil their requirements. “Our work is to demonstrate that we understand the homogeneity of the barriers. What we need is to understand the properties of our barriers in the repository and that we are able to predict them. We need to do this as we will not be able to control it after the closure of the repositories. We need to understand this

initially had varying levels of understanding about the mechanics of bentonite. This group or organisations includes an effective mix of radioactive waste management programmes, national research centres, innovative SMEs and civil society non-governmental organisations. It became apparent from the very first test case, in work package five, that to replicate accurate mechanical modelling would be far more challenging than anyone initially anticipated, making the project’s relevance all the more apparent.

Bentonite quarry

Caption text in this area................................................


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BEACON Bentonite Mechanical Evolution

Project Objectives

Bentonite components need careful and humidity regulated conditions before and under installation. Cracked bentonite buffer block. © SKB Bentonite pellets (bottom) and bentonite compacted block (top) hydrated from the bottom: evolution of appearance. Photos by Rubén J. Iglesias © CIEMAT

In the test, different research teams were given the same task. Researchers attempted to detect a very simple swelling of bentonite in a cylinder 50mm high. The bentonite sample was 40mm high and they added water and it was supposed to expand into the remaining 10mm. Despite the basic nature of this small experiment, what occurred drove a deeper understanding of not what was known, but what was not known. “Incredibly, all the teams came up with totally different results!” exclaimed Sellin. “No one could predict it and we thought that this was very simple, but it wasn’t, and this stage of mechanical modelling and the deviation in this project wasn’t expected. The further we progressed into the project, however, the modelling cases people came up with had much better results because it’s a learning curve around conceptual ideas and mathematical solutions. So, this very first test case in work package five was extremely challenging – much more than we thought. Some overpredicted and some underpredicted but the results were not consistent as everyone was off in different ways.” The power of collaborating and coordination between researchers became a driver for significant improvement for everyone involved, levelling the comprehension between groups and improving the accuracy of predictions.

The sealing ability is essential for the engineered clay (bentonite) barriers in all geological repository concepts. The overall objective of the Beacon project is to develop and test the tools necessary for the assessment of the mechanical evolution of an installed bentonite barrier and the resulting sealing ability of the barrier.

Project Funding

This project receives funding from the Euratom research and training programme 2014-2018 under grant agreement No 745942

Project Partners

Experimental set up with a bentonite block and extruded bentonite pellets around it. © SKB

“We ensured people could talk to each other and help each other toward better solutions to these problems. If you do this all by yourself, you may hit a dead-end because your thinking is limited by one person or group, but if you have many groups talking to each other, they can help each other in different areas. One idea around this project is to help less developed programmes, in this respect. We have since seen that groups at their beginning of this, are now at the level of the more experienced programmes.” All participating waste management organisations agreed that developing accurate modelling tools, understanding material properties, the water saturation processes that lead to homogenisation and the scale effects, would prove very useful for design and engineering purposes in radioactive waste management. As Sellin concluded, “We need something that can be trusted both now and in the future.”

• SKB, Sweden • RAWRA/SURAO, Czech Republic • POSIVA, Finland • ANDRA, France • NAGRA, Switzerland • ENRESA, Spain • RWM/NDA, United Kingdom • MKG, Sweden • UPC, Spain • GRS, Germany • CTU, Czech Republic • CUNI, Czech Republic • CEA, France • VTT, Finland • ULG, Belgium • BGR, Germany • KIT, Germany • LEI, Lithuania • CIEMAT, Spain • CLAY, Sweden • EPFL, Switzerland • ICL, United Kingdom • QUINTESSA, United Kingdom • NERC/BGS, United Kingdom • JYU, Finland / Expert Advisory and Review Board: IRSN • FANC • TU Clausthal • PSI • SSM

Contact Details

Mary Westermark, Project Manager SVENSK KÄRNBRÄNSLEHANTERING AB Evenemangsgatan 13, Box 3091, SE-169 03 Solna, Sweden T: +46 8 459 84 20 E: W: Mary Westermark

Patrik Sellin

Mary Westermark is the Primary Coordinator Contact and administrative coordinator for the Beacon project. She is certified PMI PMP and has a long experience in managing and coordinating projects, and employed at the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Co (SKB). At the moment she is also managing e g a project in regarding development of bentonite clay backfill installation equipment at SKB, she was WP leader and Primary coordinator contact of BELBaR, is main participant contact for DOPAS and has been involved in the management of LUCOEx, all earlier EU-projects. Patrik Sellin is the scientific and technical coordinator of Beacon. He is a civil engineer, specialized on clay materials and has worked at Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Co (SKB) since 1988. He is manager of the R&D programme for buffer and backfill long-term performance. He has been scientific coordinator and WP leader of the 7th framework BELBaR and WP leader of e.g. PEBS and Forge, all earlier EU-projects on bentonite clay.


Nanomaterials for improved sensors Combining the functionalities of oxide materials with silicon will open up new opportunities in the development of novel, more efficient sensing devices. Researchers in the ERCfunded SENSiSOFT project aim to integrate oxide nanomaterials with silicon, and also develop new nanosized sensor devices, as Dr. Adrian Carretero-Genevrier explains. A type of

material with the ability to generate an internal electric charge, piezoelectric materials are being used increasingly widely across a variety of everyday applications, from cigarette lighters to sensing devices. With concern growing about the sustainability of current production methods, researchers in the SENSiSOFT project aim to combine the functionalities of oxide nanomaterials – which act effectively as piezoelectric materials – with silicon, which will open up new possibilities. “Combining the functionalities of oxide nanomaterials with silicon will allow the development of novel, more efficient devices and applications,” explains Dr. Adrian Carretero-Genevrier, the project’s leader. It is extremely difficult to integrate a crystalline metal oxide into a silicon structure, an issue Dr. CarreteroGenevrier and his colleagues in the project are working to address. “We are integrating this material on silicon using a technique called epitaxis, which refers to the deposition of a crystalline lower layer on a crystalline substrate,” he outlines.

Oxide nanomaterials The aim here is to develop a scaleable and cost-effective chemical solution deposition methodology to integrate oxide nanomaterials on silicon. In the project, researchers are investigating three kinds of materials. “One is quartz, which is a wellknown piezoelectric material. It’s strategically important for many countries,” says Dr. Carretero-Genevrier. A second material of interest is hollandite, while researchers are also looking at lead-free perovskite. “We are working with these different materials. Our main objective is to grow these materials as nanostructures, and to exploit their physical properties in certain devices, in what we call MEMS (micro electromechanical systems),” continues Dr. Carretero-Genevrier. “The fact that these materials can be grown directly on top of silicon allows us to produce them using microfabrication techniques. Previously, we demonstrated that our chemical solution deposition technology is compatible with silicon technology and microfabrication techniques.”


Graphics : nanostructured high-quality factor piezoelectric epitaxial quartz based micro- and nanoelectromechanical (MEMS / NEMS) developed at NanoChemLab within SENSiSOFT ERC project.

This methodology is effectively a bottomup approach which allows researchers to precisely control the porosity, thickness and size of the material, for example the quartz film. Silicon technology itself is very cheap, while quartz is made using solution chemistry, which Dr. Carretero-Genevrier says is also

by applying a voltage. Then the cantilever of the membrane will oscillate with the piezoelectric effect through the quartz layer, which is in contact with the silicon,” outlines Professor Carretero-Genevrier. “Quartz is one of the best materials for this, as it has a high quality factor.”

We are working with different materials. Our main objective is to grow these materials as nanostructures, and to exploit their physical properties in certain devices, in what we call

micro electromechanical systems (MEMS). relatively inexpensive in comparison to current methods. “You don’t need high vacuum chambers for example, which are commonly used at the moment to integrate these kinds of materials on silicon,” he explains. The project’s agenda also includes using these materials in the development of certain devices, such as resonators. “The functioning principle with these devices is that resonant frequencies of the structure are activated by the piezoelectric effect, just

The activating piezoelectric quartz material forms the top layer here, and does not interfere with the quality of the resonator as a whole. The device will be highly sensitive in terms of both mass and force. “We conducted some experiments and extracted the mass specificity. We found that we could comfortably work within the range of picogrammes (10-12 of a gram),” says Dr. Carretero-Genevrier. Alongside the resonators, Dr. Carretero-Genevrier and his colleagues are also developing acoustic wave

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SENSiSOFT New sensor devices based on soft chemistry assisted nanostructured functional oxides on Si integrated systems Project Objectives

SENSiSOFT is the research project supported by the stock market. It aims to develop high performance micro and nano sensors for the measurement of mechanical parameters (mass, forces, pressure, etc.) from the use of soft chemistry methods such as sol-gel. The main advantage of this approach is to use thin layers based on epitaxial oxides on silicon instead of thinned and polished crystals used in current resonators. Piezoelectrics are the active elements of many everyday applications, from ink-jet printers to ultrasound generators. They are also the key elements of motion sensors and resonators present in any wireless network sensor (WNS) node, yet it is difficult to meet demand in a sustainable way.


Project Funding

This project is funded by a European Research Council (ERC)-STG - Starting Grant, Grant agreement ID: 803004.

Contact Details

sensors, another kind of sensor device but with the same underlying principle. “In this case, we generate an acoustic wave, from the piezoelectric material,” he continues. “We will follow the resonant frequencies of these devices by putting different masses on top. Then we analyse the shift of these resonant frequencies, which depends on the mass that we are analysing. We aim to follow the shift of the resonant frequencies.” This depends to a significant degree on the quality of the structure itself. If the quality factor is low, then it is very difficult to identify small shifts in the resonant frequencies which represent a small mass change; this is an extremely important consideration in the SENSiSOFT project. “We’re not just looking at integration, nanostructuration and microfabrication. We also want to achieve the highest possible quality factor,” stresses Dr. CarreteroGenevrier. Improving the sensitivity of these devices is also very important in terms of applying them in other contexts, for example in connecting with the Internet of Things (IoT). “These sensors can communicate with other devices such as computers and transmit different kinds of information. That could be information about temperature, forces, acceleration, that could then be transmitted to a communications network,” explains Dr. Carretero-Genevrier. “These functional oxide materials can be used to diversify the applications of silicon technology.”

Multi-functional materials The development of multi-functional materials represents an important step towards improved efficiency and sustainability in the production of sensor devices, a topic that Dr. Carretero-

Genevrier intends to explore further in future. While at this stage researchers are focusing on one specific property then trying to enhance and exploit it, Dr. Carretero-Genevrier is very interested in producing materials with multifunctional properties. “For example we are interested in harvesting energy, while at the same time sensing mass changes and communicating,” he outlines. This is one of the long-term goals, with researchers aiming to build on the progress that has been achieved so far. “We have been able to demonstrate that we can use soft chemical methods to integrate epitaxial material, and also that we can microfabricate sensor devices,” continues Dr. Carretero-Genevrier. “We have developed a nanostructured epitaxial quartzbased microcantilever, which is a type of MEMs.” A number of different steps are involved in the microfabrication process, yet researchers were still able to maintain the piezoelectric properties of the quartz interface, pointing to wider potential in terms of developing devices. This means not just MEMs, but also other devices, for example energy harvesters. “We need to grow thin oxide nanowires to harvest energy,” says Dr. Carretero-Genevrier. While the ERC project is primarily focused on sensor devices, Dr. Carretero-Genevrier is also looking to develop energy harvesting devices using piezoelectric materials, which hold great potential in the context of ongoing sustainability concerns. “We are developing an energy harvesting device, which is also very interesting,” he outlines. “We need a sensor and we also need an energy source. Thin oxide nanowires are very advantageous in this context, because you can recover energy with very low resonant frequencies.”

Dr. Adrien Carretero Genevrier Chargé de recherche C.N.R.S IES, Institut d’Electronique et des Systèmes CNRS UMR 5214 / Université Montpellier 860 rue de Saint Priest, Bâtiment 5 34097 Montpellier, France T: +0467149700 ext.2909 E: W: W: 1. Claire Jolly, Andres Gomez, David Sanchez-Fuentes, Dilek Cakiroglu, Raissa Rathar, Nicolas Maurin, Ricardo GarciaBermejo, Benoit Charlot, Marti Gich, Michael Bahriz, Laura Picas, Adrian Carretero-Genevrier*. Soft chemistry assisted Onchip Integration of Nanostructured quartz-based Piezoelectric Microelectromechanical System. Advanced Materials Technologies (2021) 2. Claire Jolly, David Sanchez-Fuentes, Ricardo Garcia-Bermejo, Dilek Cakiroglu, Adrian Carretero-Genevrier*. Epitaxial Nanostructured α-Quartz Films on Silicon: From the Material to New Devices. J. Vis. Exp;(164), e61766, doi:10.3791/61766 (2020). 3. Q Zhang†, D Sánchez-Fuentes†, R Desgarceaux†, A Gomez, P Escofet-Majoral, J Oró-solé, J Gazquez, G Larrieu, B Charlot, M Gich, A Carretero-Genevrier*. Micro/Nanostructure Engineering of Epitaxial Piezoelectric α-Quartz Thin Films on Silicon. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 2020, 12, 4, 4732–4740.

Dr Adrien Carretero-Genevrier

Dr Adrien Carretero-Genevrier is a researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). His research aims at understanding the growth mechanisms of new functional oxides nanostructures synthesized by soft chemistry, work which is relevant to integrating sensing and harvesting energy functionalities in MEMS and other resonant systems.


Loading of a concrete slab, strengthened and prestressed with near-surface-mounted memory-steel bars.

Stressing the importance of new materials Shape memory alloys can regain their original shape after they have been deformed. They are applied in several different areas of industry, including in construction and civil engineering projects. We spoke to Dr. Christoph Czaderski about his and Prof. Dr. Moslem Shahverdi’s groups’ work at Empa in developing these materials, optimising their properties, and exploring their applications. A Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) regains its original shape after it has been deformed, which is an important attribute in civil engineering. However, these materials are today rarely applied in buildings, bridges, and other structures across the world. One of the most commonly used SMAs today is nickel-titanium (NiTi). Yet, researchers are also exploring the potential of other alloys, a topic at the heart of Dr. Christoph Czaderski’s and Dr. Moslem Shahverdi’s research at the Empa Institute in Switzerland. “NiTi is an excellent alloy, but it’s also very expensive, and so it’s not really feasible to use it widely in construction. Thus, a new iron-based shape memory alloy has been developed,” outlines Dr. Czaderski. This material has its roots in


research at Empa dating back around 20 years. Now scientists are looking to fashion effective, reliable and high-performing new products out of it for use in engineering projects, including strips, ribbed bars, and wires. “The alloy has been developed and improved over time, and there is a lot of interest in using it in different products,” says Dr. Czaderski. As a Senior Researcher at Empa, Dr. Czaderski’s primary interest is in investigating emerging topics around materials science and technology, yet this work also holds commercial interest to the construction sector. Together with his colleagues, Dr. Czaderski is working to develop and enhance new materials, and also to explore their possible commercial applications. “Many

engineering and construction companies are interested in the development of innovative, new products which give them a wider range of business opportunities,” he says. The specific iron-based (Fe) SMA that was developed at Empa has already been applied in a number of projects, for example in strengthening some buildings and bridges, yet research also continues into how it can be combined more effectively with concrete in construction applications. “An iron-based SMA has slightly different properties to other alloys; compared to NiTi, the shape recovery is not perfect,” says Dr. Czaderski. “However, we are using recovery stress – a type of mechanical stress – which is a novel approach. When we heat this material, we pre-stress it.”

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Recovery stress The concept of recovery stress relates to the recovery of a material following heat treatment. When the SMA is heated with electricity, it develops a pre-stress capacity, which researchers are now looking to explore and harness. “We are using this approach to pre-stress structures,” explains Dr. Czaderski. This represents a significant departure from the conventional approach to pre-stressing structures. “Across the world, bridges and other big structures are often pre-stressed internally, with conventional tendons. These tendons are typically in a duct inside the bridge, so that they can be effectively pulled. For example, if you pull a rope on both ends, then the whole rope is pre-stressed. Also, with pre-stressed steel, you need an anchorage on both sides,” says Dr. Czaderski. “We are following a different approach as the shape memory effect relates to a change of the crystal structure, which is recoverable. We deform the material at room temperature – the crystal structure is then heated so that it reverts back to the original crystal structure, which has the advantage that anchorages and ducts are not necessary anymore!” Experimental setup of large-scale structural elements examination.

The material is now the subject of a deep and rigorous investigation within a framework of a PhD project by Dr. Czaderski’s and Prof. Shahverdi’s student Bernhard Schranz, with a specific focus on how such material works together with concrete. In this specific case, the iron-based SMA (Fe-SMA) itself is formed into highly novel ribbed memorysteel reinforcement bars. The researchers are looking to assess the effectiveness of Fe-SMA reinforcements in terms of strengthening concrete structures. “We cut some grooves in

characteristics?” continues Dr. Czaderski. “We measured the characteristic of the bond behaviour, and presented respective analytical models. This research is a combination of experiments and models, and then we can draw comparisons between the models and the experiments and at the end present design proposals for practical engineers.” The evidence gathered so far suggests that this iron-based SMA can act as an effective pre-stressing material for strengthening purposes, while it also has

How is the bond

between Fe-SMA ribbed bars and the concrete? How does it transform under pre-stressing? What are its characteristics? the surface, then we put the bars inside and fill this groove with cement-based mortar,” explains Dr. Czaderski. The main focus of the research was then the nature of the bond between these ribbed bars and the concrete, with Schranz studying several different aspects. “How is the bond between these ribbed bars and the concrete? How does it transform under pre-stressing? What are its

some significant advantages over other materials. Beside the advantages explained before, there are also no frictional losses. “If you wrap a material around a column, which is the conventional approach, then you can imagine that there is a lot of friction. But with this new material we don’t have any friction, because there is no movement,” explains Dr. Czaderski. Crack monitoring with a digital image correlation system: Side surface.

Crack monitoring with a digital image correlation system: two different pull-out experiments to study the bond behavior of memory-steel.

Experimental setup of pull-out experiments.


MODELING OF RC MEMBERS Modeling of RC members strengthened and prestressed by a novel iron-based shape memory alloy reinforcement Project Objectives

A new material was developed for construction and civil engineering projects at Empa in Switzerland. The new material is a new iron-based shape memory alloy, which is produces in the shape of strips, ribbed bars and wires. Dr. Christoph Czaderski and Prof. Dr. Moslem Shahverdi’s groups work at Empa are developing these materials, optimising their properties, and their applications.

Project Funding

The project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, SNF grant 200021_175998: Modeling of RC members strengthened and prestressed by a novel ironbased shape memory alloy reinforcement.

Project Partners

• Company re-fer, Switzerland (

Contact Details

Project Coordinator, Dr. Christoph Czaderski Empa - Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology Structural Engineering Research Laboratory Überlandstrasse 129, CH-8600 Dübendorf E: Prof. Dr. Moslem Shahverd E: W:

Christoph Czaderski (left) Moslem Shahverdi (centre) Bernhard Schranz (right)

Dr. Christoph Czaderski, leader of the “Strengthening Concrete Structures” research topic at Empa, senior researcher and developer for the civil industry. Prof. Dr. Moslem Shahverdi, leader of the “Advanced Structural Material” group at Empa, researches on Shape Memory Alloys, RC Structures, and Digital Fabrications. Bernhard Schranz, PhD candidate at Empa and ETH Zürich, investigates novel strengthening methods for concrete structures using memory-steel bars.


Hollow box girder bridge strengthened with memory-steel.

Commercial interest This work holds wider interest to commercial construction companies, who may be interested in using this material in strengthening a bridge for example, or in other types of civil engineering projects. A spin-off company called re-fer was established in 2012 to build on the research advances that have been achieved at Empa; it has since grown to become a prominent supplier of Fe-SMAs, and Dr. Czaderski says there are still strong links between Empa and the company, from which both parties benefit. “As academics we are interested in conducting research, but we also benefit from collaborating with commercial companies involved in selling materials. The company is still involved in a number of ongoing research projects,” he outlines. The main focus in terms of Schranz’s research is in using this material in buildings and bridges, but Dr. Czaderski believes it could also be applied in other areas. “We see potential uses for this material in many more applications one could be in 3D printing for example,” he says. Investigations and feasibility studies on the application of Fe-SMA reinforcement for 3D printed concrete structural elements are a core topic in Prof. Shahverdi’s group. A number of other projects are ongoing within Empa’s Structural Engineering Laboratory to explore these wider possibilities. “We have several different strands of research and are investigating topics in several different fields,” outlines Dr. Czaderski. Prof. Shaverdi’s group continues to optimize the alloy through the use of

certain types of material technology, which could open up further possibilities in terms of applications. Furthermore, he studies the application of Fe-SMA reinforcements for self-centering concrete bridge columns if an earthquake is ongoing. “Another colleague in our group at Empa is a specialist in the strengthening of steel bridges, and he is conducting research on how to strengthen steel bridges with this material,” says Dr. Czaderski. The material could also be applied to help make structures more resistant to the effects of earthquakes through an approach called damping, which is used to reduce vibrations. Further treatment and research will be required before this iron-based SMA can be used in this way, one of the different areas that Dr. Czaderski and his colleagues plan to investigate further in the future. “Many buildings have been strengthened using this material, while it has also been applied on bridges in Switzerland, and we hope it will be used more widely in the future,” he says.

Measured strain in memory-steel. Onsite application of memory-steel in a building.

Onsite application of memory-steel in a tunnel.

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New processes to recover platinum group metals Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) are in high demand across the world for use in a variety of different products, including cars, jewellery and electronic devices, yet the supply of these metals is not keeping pace with demand. Researchers in the PLATIRUS project are developing innovative, costefficient recovery processes, which it is hoped will provide the basis for a new PGM supply chain. The six platinum

group metals (ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium and platinum - PGMs) are widely used in the commercial sector, for example in jewellery, electronics and automotive vehicles, and demand for these metals is forecast to grow further over the coming years. However, PGMs are among the least abundant of the earth’s elements and current production and supply is not sufficient to meet global demand, prompting researchers to investigate alternative sources, such as developing processes to make better use of secondary raw materials.

PLATIRUS project This is a topic at the heart of the PLATIRUS project, an ERC-backed initiative which brings together 11 partners from across Europe to develop an advanced process for recovering PGMs. The project consortium includes both academic and commercial partners, and by sharing their knowledge, skills and

technical expertise, they aim to both develop innovative recovery processes and also move them towards practical application, in the process providing a more sustainable supply of PGMs. The project’s agenda encompasses research into several different processes and technologies around these wider objectives of developing different potential sources of PGMs, including an approach designed to recover raw materials from spent automotive catalysts. The conventional approach to recovering PGMs from these catalysts involves pyrometallurgical processes, essentially using thermal treatment to transform the material and extract the PGMs. Current recycling processes are highly energy-intensive and require high capital investment, now researchers in the project have developed a two-step extraction process. Within the project, researchers are looking to assess the overall effectiveness of this approach and optimise the process.

Leaching efficiency The aim with this approach is to both improve the yield of extracted metal and reduce processing time, which will help bridge the existing supply gap and reduce Europe’s dependence on imports. Researchers have been investigating the potential of using microwave (MW) technologies to improve PGM extraction efficiencies from waste automotive catalysts, while also minimising the environmental impact. One such technology was sulfation roasting of the waste catalysts, where microwaves were used instead of traditional thermal heating. The advantages of this are similar to the advantages of heating up a frozen meal in a microwave oven instead of a traditional kitchen oven: the heating will be faster and less energy (heat) is lost. To do so, the waste catalysts were mixed with a sulfate source, such as potassium bisulfate (KHSO4) or sodium bisulfate


monohydrate (NaHSO4.H 2O), and heated in a microwave oven that can reach high temperatures. The sulfate source reacts with, amongst others, the PGMs in the waste catalyst and transforms them into more soluble species. Once the roasting process finished, the material was brought in an aqueous solution in which the PGMs can dissolve and then be extracted from the catalyst material. This is the leaching step. The relative costs of the two sulfate sources are of course a major consideration in terms of potential application, so it’s important to note that NaHSO4.H 2O is cheaper than KHSO4 . The ratio between the salt mixture and the catalyst is also an important factor in terms of the economics of the roasting process, as when less salt is used for roasting,


less leachate is created with respect to the catalyst, with a higher concentration of leached metals. The leachability of PGMs could be further improved by adding an oxidation agent, such as sodium chlorate (NaClO3), during sulfation roasting. A detailed mineralogical study of the sulfation roasted materials provided further insights into the ongoing reactions during the microwave assisted roasting step. Finally, the researchers improved the leaching step by introducing microwave heating and through the addition of a low concentration of acid (HCl). From this approach, researchers obtained leachabilites of 96 percent (+/- 1%) for palladium (Pd), 85 percent (+/- 5%) for platinum (Pt) and in excess of 96 percent for Rhodium (Rh).

Highly concentrated salt solutions The project’s work also included research into the use of concentrated acidic salt solutions to dissolve PGMs. A concentrated mixture of AlCl 3.6H 2O and Al (NO3)3.9H 2O was investigated for its potential use as a leaching agent, and tested on both metal wires and a real matrix comprised of spent automotive catalysts. Researchers investigated the influence of several different factors on leaching efficiency, such as the salt-to-catalyst ratio, water content and the contact time. In terms of the latter, researchers found that it was not easy to fully dissolve all of the different PGMs, but palladium could be selectively leached by limiting the contact time to 30

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minutes, while the highest level of platinum dissolution (around 64 percent) was achieved with a contact time of around four hours. A further dimension of the project’s research centers around investigating the recovery of palladium by the use of reductive precipitation with ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C, a highly potent reducing and antioxidant agent. It was found that the amount of precipitated palladium was around 25 percent, a relatively low level, so further investigation is required to optimise this process and improve the recovery rate of PGMs. The results of these tests so far are very encouraging, and bode well for the prospects of translating this research into practical benefits, as work continues into reducing the environmental impact of the automotive sector and improving the efficiency of resource use. While catalytic converters have had a significant impact in terms of reducing

The circular economy represents a potential route towards waste reduction, yet this must be built on effective engagement between procurers, service providers, consumers and recyclers, who all have important roles to play. It is extremely difficult to substitute PGMs with other materials, further reinforcing the importance of recycling and recovering them, which if achieved efficiently would close the gap between global supply and demand. It has been calculated that an additional 29 tonnes of PGMs would be available on the global market if 100% of the PGMs available in end-of-life autocatalysts were recovered, a quantity which comfortably exceeds the current gap between supply and demand. Much of the current supply of PGMs is imported from geopolitically unstable areas, which makes the supply high-risk, and large amounts of CO2 are emitted during the process of mining primary reserves.

With demand for PGMs particularly high in Europe, the European Commission has classified them as critical raw materials, underlining the importance of making better use of the secondary materials available in spent automotive catalysts. pollution levels, there is still scope to improve the efficiency of resource use through the recovery of PGMs from these devices, reducing the need to mine primary resources.

Circular economy This is very much in line with wider objectives around reducing the use of primary resources and establishing a circular economy, where raw materials are re-used and brought back into circulation. This represents a new economic model, moving away from the rapid disposal of products and materials towards a new emphasis on reducing or even eliminating waste, leading to both economic and environmental benefits.

An efficient and reliable method of recovering these materials holds great potential in these terms, helping to reduce Europe’s dependence on imports, now researchers are looking to bring the project’s findings to wider attention. A team of researchers presented the project’s findings at the 2020 Raw Materials summit, demonstrating the potential of the PLATIRUS technologies in terms of the development of the circular economy. The project’s research represents an important contribution to the wider goal of moving industry towards environmental sustainability, while also helping European companies maintain their position at the forefront of technical innovation.

PLATIRUS PLATInum group metals Recovery Using Secondary raw materials

Project Objectives

Key target of the PLATIRUS project is to realise a significant contribution to bridge the supply gap of PGMs in Europe, by fostering the development of novel or improved secondary materials to PGM recovery supply chains from autocatalysts, mining and electronic wastes. The PLATIRUS project tackles the challenge of boosting the availability and ensuring a stable supply of PGMs in Europe by: • The upscaling to industrially relevant levels of a novel cost-efficient and miniaturised PGMs recovery and raw material production process. • Selecting the best (combination of) recovery technologies and developing a PLATIRUS recovery process and Blueprint Process Design for the final upscaling step, before market introduction. • Preparing and stimulating market introduction.

Project Funding

PLATIRUS is a project funded by the European Commission. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation program under Grant Agreement n° 730224

Project Partners


Contact Details

Project Coordinator, Dr. Amal Siriwardana, Tecnalia - coordinator E: E: W:

Dr. Amal Siriwardana

Dr. Amal Siriwardana, The head of waste valorisation department in TECNALIA []. PhD (2005) in Chemistry at the Tohoku University, Japan. He is a coordinator of several H2020 projects (e.g. PLATIRUS, CROCODILE and TARANTULA). Dr. Siriwardana holds over 24 publications, 5 patents and 3 book chapters.


Promoting the development of natural surface agents Surface active agents are used across many areas of industry, from cosmetics, to food, to nanomaterials. We spoke to Dr Stephen Euston, Dr Tony Gutierrez, Dr Sophie Roelants, Dr Muyiwa Akintoye, Dr Konstantinos Gardikis and Dr Jose Maria Abad about the work of the Marisurf project in developing a natural method of producing bio-surfactants and bio-emulsifiers. The importance of

surface active agents is illustrated by the wide variety of industries in which they are used, including the cosmetics, pharmaceutical and food sectors, to name just three. Most surface active agents (SAs), primarily surfactants and emulsifiers, are currently produced using petrochemicals or supplied from non-sustainable biological sources, but now many companies are looking to move towards natural sources, a major motivating factor behind the work of the Marisurf project. “We’re aiming to develop a natural method to produce SAs,” says Dr Stephen Euston, one of the project’s Principal Investigators. This work involves using an extensive collection of bacterial strains gathered by Dr Tony Gutierrez – also a Principal Investigator in the project – which are known to utilise hydrocarbons and convert them into surfactants. “These strains come from various different marine environments, such as the deep ocean, the sea surface, and sediments. They come


from the Arctic and the Antarctic, from tropical regions, temperate regions, and also from specific biological environments in the oceans, such as living with microalgae,” he outlines.

they can reduce surface tension. We can characterise them in terms of properties that may be relevant to specific industries – for example, for the food industry, we test them for gelation properties, or their

This research could hold great commercial potential, with many companies exploring green alternatives to the petroleum-based surfactants and emulsifiers that they currently use in their products. Bacterial strains A lot of attention in the project has been focused on testing the ability of these bacterial strains to produce different SAs. The strains are grown within a specific growth medium that is used to entice the bacteria to produce these biosurfactants, after which they are then extracted and tested. “We assess their characteristics in terms of what types of oils they’re able to interact with, or emulsify, or whether

ability to emulsify certain oils,” explains Dr Gutierrez. The economics of the production process must also be taken into account, which is a prominent concern for Dr Euston and his colleagues. “We want the production to be high enough to make these novel biosurfactants a feasible option,” he says. “It’s generally accepted that biosurfactants will have a higher cost, which companies may be willing to pay to demonstrate their green credentials, but there are limits.”

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The major problem here has been in producing enough biosurfactants from the microbes to meet wider demand, an issue that researchers in the project are addressing from different angles. One angle involves process optimisation, research which is being conducted by Dr Sophie Roelants and her colleagues at Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP), one of the project partners. “Our role in the project is mainly (together with partner Leitat) in the development of scalable production processes for the compounds. We’ve scaled up the processes to produce the compounds to the 1500 L scale in this project,” she says. The process efficiency of the process to produce the molecules is a major factor in the eventual cost, so researchers are working to increase productivity. “We worked quite a lot on the medium in the project, while we’ve also seen that temperature has a big influence on production,” continues Dr Roelants. “In future we can look to further optimise the medium, the temperature, the feeding rates and the feedstock that is used. Other factors can also have an impact on process efficiency, for example stir speed, aeration and pH.” This research is still at a relatively early stage, with the focus at this point more on developing and optimising these surfactants and emulsifiers, rather than bringing these products to the commercial market. However, the long-term aim is to exploit the commercial potential of this research, so increasing productivity and improving cost-efficiency will remain an important objective. “There’s a lot of potential in the molecules that have been developed, and in future we can look to further increase productivity. That can be done through process level developments and optimisation combined with improvements of the bacterial strains,” says Dr Roelants. This research could hold great commercial potential, with many companies exploring green alternatives to the petroleum-based surfactants and emulsifiers that they currently use in their products. The project consortium itself brings together 12 partners from across Europe, from both the academic and commercial sectors, reflecting the wider interest in this research and the importance attached to the development of more eco-friendly products. We spoke to several Marisurf partners to get their perspective on the project’s research and how they hope the development of sustainable biosurfactants and bio-emulsifiers will help their companies grow and develop further in future.


• to develop innovative approaches in discovering, characterizing & producing novel marine-derived biosurfactants from a large bacterial collection originally isolated from various coastal & open ocean waters around the world • to develop novel, economic, & eco-friendly end-products with commercial applications to replace synthetic counterparts • to demonstrate the functionality of new product development for commercial exploitation.

Project Funding

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 635340. Total funding is 4,749,649 euros.

Project Partners

• Academic Institutions: Heriot Watt University (HWU) , Ulster University, Democritus University of Thrace (DUTH) , University of Patras (UPAT), Northumbria University (UNN) • Industrial companies: Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant VZW (BBEPP), EcoTechSystens Srl (ETS), nova-Institut fur politische und okologische innovation GmbH (NOVA), Acondicionamiento Tarrasense Association (LEITAT) • End-user companies: APIVITA SA, Marlow Foods Ltd (MF),Nanoimmunotech SL (NIT) • Macphie partner in initial stages

Contact Details

Project Coordinator, Professor Stephen Euston Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh, Scotland UK EH14 4AS T: +44 131 4513640 E: W: Dr Tony Gutierrez Prof Stephen Euston Dr Sophie Roelants

Professor Stephen Euston, MARISURF Project coordinator at HWU, has over 30 years of industrial and academic research experience on the application of surface and colloid chemistry to consumer products. Dr Tony Gutierrez is Associate Professor of Environmental Microbiology & Biotechnology at Heriot-Watt University. He has studied oil-degrading and biosurfactant-producing bacteria for over 20 years and maintains a vast collection of these organisms. Dr. ir. Sophie Roelants, Innovation Manager Biosurfactants. Sophie manages several European and national projects on the subject of Microbial Biosurfactants. She has been active on this subject for 12 years now of which 6 years at Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant, an independent scale-up and development facility for biobased products and processes.


Dr Muyiwa Akintoye is Head of Research and Development at Quorn Foods in the UK. EUR: Why did Quorn foods decide to get involved in the project?

Dr Akintoye: Many food companies are trying

to move away from synthetic sources of surface agents towards more natural sources. That’s partly about sustainability, but it’s also about perceived safety – there’s a better story to be told about naturally occurring ingredients than synthetic ones.

EUR: What role do surfactants play in Quorn products?

Dr Akintoye: As a company we use egg white and whey protein in the Quorn products. The manufacturers of egg-white powder can apply additional treatments that enhance gelation and will strengthen the binding. Every bit of additional functionality that we can get out of these binding agents will help. We believe that some surfactants can essentially interact with the lattice of the gel and increase the ability to bind water.

EUR: What properties are you looking for from surfactants?

Dr Akintoye: We’re looking for something that

gels as strongly as possible. If we get a stronger gel, it means we need to use less of it. So if we can add in a tiny quantity of surfactant with eggwhite into the matrix, it means we don’t need as much egg white, which is not cheap. Even as little as 5 percent extra gelation can save the amount of binder required. We hope that the surfactants developed in this project will help us reduce the amount of binders we need to use in our products and also save some money.

EUR: What role have Quorn played in the project? Have you provided feedback on the performance of the surfactants?

Dr Akintoye: Over the course of the project

we have looked at various samples, and provided information as to which samples are performing better than others. We’re not necessarily expecting these new surfactants to behave exactly the same as others that we have looked at in the past – they may have their own unique functionality.


Dr Konstantinos Gardikis is Director of Research and Development at Apivita, a natural cosmetics company founded in 1979. EUR: What are the main limitations of the biosurfactants currently available?

Dr Gardikis: The drawback of the

biosurfactants currently on the market is that they are not very potent, demonstrating poor surface activity. It is thus, tricky to substitute sulfated surface agents, that exhibit skin irritation issues. A lot of attention in the project has been focused on the replacement of synthetic coemulsifiers and thickeners by the outcomes of the current research. There is a lot of potential there in terms of using these as substitutes of some cross-polymers, which are very important for the texture of a formulation. EUR: What is Apivita’s role in the project?

Dr Gardikis: Our role is to test these novel

products. We know very well how existing formulations perform in terms of parameters like aspect, colour, viscosity and physicochemical properties. We can substitute the surface agents in these formulations with products developed in the project. We have also performed accelerated aging studies, where all parameters are assessed. From this we can then look to assess whether these assays could be produced on a largescale at a reasonable price.

Jose Maria Abad is Chief Technology Officer of the Bioconjugation and Nanomaterials section at Nanoimmunotech, a Spanish nanobiotechnology company. EUR: What is Nanoimmunotech’s interest in the project?

Dr Abad: We are looking for new biosurfactants for the synthesis of metal nanoparticles for biomedical applications, for example in diagnostic testing, or treating certain diseases. Bio-nanoparticles are increasingly widely used in biomedical applications, due to their attractive qualities. We are looking for new, ecological surfactants to replace the surfactants we are currently using which have a high level of toxicity, especially when these nanomaterials are employed for in vivo applications. The Marisurf project has provided us with the opportunity to obtain a conformal biosurfactant for the synthesis of metal nanoparticles – using green chemistry – which could be used in biomedical applications.

EUR: How important are biosurfactants to Nanoimmunotech’s products?


Abad: The surfactants form microemulsions acting as “nanoreactors” in the synthesis of metal nanoparticles, while we’ve also found that they have stabiliser and reductive properties, which we are looking to exploit.

The Marisurf project has provided us with the opportunity to obtain a conformal biosurfactant for the synthesis of nanoparticles – using green chemistry – which could be used in biomedical applications.


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Artist’s impression of the deep blue planet HD 189733b This illustration shows HD 189733b, a huge gas giant that orbits very close to its host star HD 189733. The planet’s atmosphere is scorching with a temperature of over 1000 degrees Celsius, and it possibly rains glass, sideways, in howling 7000 kilometre-per-hour winds. At a distance of 63 light-years from us, this turbulent alien world is one of the nearest exoplanets to Earth that can be seen crossing the face of its star. By observing this planet before, during, and after it disappeared behind its host star during orbit, astronomers were able to deduce that HD 189733b is a deep, azure blue — reminiscent of Earth’s colour as seen from space. © NASA, ESA, M. Kornmesser

Probing the atmosphere of exoplanets Exoplanets orbit a star other than our own sun, and over recent decades more than 4,000 have been detected across many different planetary systems. As Principal Investigator of the ExoplANETS A project, Dr Pierre-Olivier Lagage is working to characterise the atmosphere of these exoplanets that lie far beyond our own solar system. Over 4,000 exoplanets

have been detected over the last few decades, including some within a few parsecs (around 3.26 light years) of the Earth, while others are much further away. As the Principal Investigator of the ExoplANETS A project, Dr Pierre-Olivier Lagage is now looking to gain deeper insights into the atmosphere around exoplanets. “We are interested in characterising the atmosphere of exoplanets, which is a new avenue of research,” he says. An exoplanet can be initially detected using a variety of methods, one of which is called exoplanet transit. “When a planet passes between us and the star we are looking at, there is a faint decrease in the brightness that we can see from Earth. This is because the planet is preventing some of the light of the star from

coming to us; this is what we call transit,” explains Dr Lagage. “This is one way to detect an exoplanet, and if that exoplanet has an atmosphere, the molecules in the atmosphere can also absorb some of the light coming from the star in specific wavelength bands, especially in the infrared.”

Spectroscopic observations By performing spectroscopic observations in the infrared at this point, researchers can see some of the features of these molecules in the atmosphere, as they stop part of the light emanating from the star. This represents one way to observe the atmosphere of an exoplanet, while Dr Lagage says it’s also possible to gain further insights at the point when an exoplanet passes behind its

star. “When the exoplanet is behind the star, we only see the starlight, and we can draw comparisons between before and after to learn about the emission from the exoplanet,” he explains. Of the more than 4,000 exoplanets that have been detected, spectroscopic information is available on around 100, but with only a limited wavelength coverage. Characterising the atmosphere of an exoplanet is a major challenge. “It’s much more difficult to characterise the atmosphere of an exoplanet than it is to detect it in the first place,” stresses Dr Lagage. This is an issue at the core of the project’s research, in which the key objective is to develop novel methods to analyse and interpret the available data. Indeed, one major challenge


In addition to looking at distant stars and galaxies, the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope will probe the atmosphere of exoplanets. Credit: Northrup Grumman, © ESA/Hubble.

in characterising the atmosphere of an exoplanet is that systematic noises from the instruments and telescopes can be higher than the actual signal of interest. “We are developing methods to remove the systematics with a data driven method,” says Dr Lagage.

Cataloguing star properties The project’s agenda also includes research into the stars around which these exoplanets orbit, with Dr Lagage’s colleagues looking to catalogue their properties. The star itself exerts an important influence on the evolution of the exoplanet, a topic that the ExoplANETS A team is exploring. “There is irradiation, there is also the possibility of

star-planet interactions, through magnetic field, tidal forces, wind from the star, which it is important to study,” says Dr Lagage. Most of the spectroscopic data on exoplanets has been gathered by the long-serving Hubble Space Telescope (HST), but the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is set to be launched later this year as its successor, and Dr Lagage is busy preparing. “We have lab measurements about the systematics of the detector used for one of the instruments for the JWST, the MIRI instrument. We can then produce realistic simulations of JWST observations and test our new method of systematics removal, to be ready when we get the first observations from the JWST,” he outlines. “The JWST will be a game changer in the field.”

The holy grail in studying the atmosphere of exoplanets is to find evidence of life beyond our own solar system, through the detection of biomarkers. While it will not be possible to observe the atmosphere of an Earth-like planet orbiting a sun-like star in the near or mid future, the launch of the JWST will open up new possibilities. “Thanks to the large mirror of the JWST (6.5 m), we hope to be able to study the atmosphere of temperate Earth-size planets orbiting around a dwarf star,” says Dr Lagage. As the French co-PI of the MIRI instrument, Dr Lagage is also playing a major role in conducting observations during the time they have been allocated. “I am coordinating the observations of exoplanets to be done in the framework of the time that we have been allocated. One of my favourite targets is the TRAPPIST 1-b exoplanet, an Earthsize exoplanet which was discovered in 2016,” he outlines. The focus here is more on investigating the physical and chemical processes at work in an atmosphere than detecting biomarkers, and Dr Lagage says this research is breaking new ground; such an investigation is a pre-requisite in searching for biomarkers. “With the detection of expolanets, we can also study atmospheres which are very different from those that we are used to studying in our own solar system,” he explains. “We can test, model and see chemical and physical processes that we cannot study with a planet in our solar system.” A number of these exoplanets are in orbit very close to their own star, so they are heated by its radiation to a very high temperature. It is thought that the Earth also went through a phase of being very

Still from Hubblecast 102: Taking the fingerprints of exoplanets. © ESA/Hubble, NASA.


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hot earlier in its history, so Dr Lagage says studying exoplanets is a way of effectively looking into the past of our own planet. “Studying such exoplanets is a way to study how the Earth was in its early stages,” he says. There are also other very interesting exoplanets with features that we do not find in the Solar System. Indeed, a high degree of diversity has been seen in the exoplanets

The next step after JWST will be brought by the ESA Ariel mission, which is set to be launched in 2029, and is entirely devoted to characterising the atmosphere of exoplanets. The aim is to study 1,000 exoplanets and gather statistical information about their atmosphere, and Dr Lagage says this is an exciting time in exoplanet research. “While the study of exoplanet atmospheres is still in its infancy,

With the detection of exoplanets, we can study

atmospheres which are very different from those that we are used to studying in our own solar system. We can test, model and see chemical and physical processes that we cannot study with a planet in our solar system. that have been observed so far. “We have detected what we call inflated exoplanets, which have a radius much higher than Jupiter, but with the same mass,” continues Dr Lagage. “We have detected what we call super-earths – which have a mass between that of the Earth and Neptune. In fact, these are the most abundant exoplanets in the galaxy.” With observations from the JWST, Dr Lagage says it will also be possible to make more deductions about the atmosphere of an exoplanet. “The existing HST has only a very narrow spectral range, which is sufficient to detect certain features in the atmosphere, such as H 2 O. But if we want to know if there are other chemical species in the atmosphere, such as CO, CO 2, CH 4 , NH 3 , we need to have a wider wavelength coverage, which will be provided by the JWST,” he explains.

it will considerably expand in the next two decades and the exoplANETS A project has been a key step in preparing Europe for the emerging challenges that we will face in the domain,” he concludes.

ExoplANETS A Exoplanet Atmosphere New Emission Transmission Spectra Analysis

Project Objectives

To establish new knowledge on the atmosphere of exoplanets by exploiting archived space data. To establish new insight on the influence of the star on the planet atmosphere. To disseminate knowledge in terms of science products, public outreach and educational resources.

Project Funding

Exoplanets-A has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No GA 776403.

Project Partners

The whole chain from data to new knowledge dissemination is covered by the partners. MPIA Heidelberg is developing novel data reduction tools. SRON and UCL are developing the methods to retrieve the atmosphere parameters for the reduced data. Leicester University, Wien University and INTA are producing the catalog with the properties of the host star. UCL and CEA are developing the modelisation of exoplanet atmospheres and star-planet interactions. CEA and INTA are in charge of the knowledge server.

Contact Details

Principal Investigator, Pierre-Olivier Lagage CEA Paris-Saclay Department of Astrophysics Instrumentation, Modelisation (AIM) Bâtiment 709 91191 Gif-Sur-Yvette, France T: +33 67 673 8723 E: W: Pierre-Olivier Lagage Artist view of the ARIEL space mission. ESA/STFC RAL Space/UCL/UK Space Agency/ ATG Medialab © ESA/Hubble.

Pierre-Olivier Lagage is a senior researcher at CEA Paris-Saclay, France. He is deeply involved in two space missions which will be a game changer for exoplanets studies: the James Webb Space Telescope and Ariel. He is coordinating the ExoplANETS-A H2020 project which is an excellent preparation to the scientific exploitation of these missions.


Space mission flies close to the sun The Solar Orbiter satellite will provide images of the Sun from closer than ever before, just 42 million kilometres away at its closest point, which will help scientists learn more about the Sun and the surrounding heliosphere. We spoke to Professor Louise Harra about her research into how energy is released from magnetic fields on the Sun at different scales. The Solar Orbiter satellite was launched by the ESA and NASA in February 2020, and reaches its operational orbit around the Sun at the end of 2021. Over the course of the mission the satellite will send back images of the Sun and the surrounding heliosphere, from which Professor Louise Harra and her colleagues hope to gain new insights into how energy is released from magnetic fields on the Sun at different scales. “We’re looking at how the heliosphere is created and how does the solar wind accelerate into the rest of the solar system. What causes the different types of solar wind?” she outlines. The Sun is currently becoming more active as it comes out of its quiet phase, and some interesting data has already been gathered during the early stages of the mission. “With Solar Orbiter we have caught quite a number of flares at the far side of the Sun during this cruise phase,” says Professor Harra. Many more images will be taken over the next few years, with the satellite set to take images from closer to the Sun than ever before, just 42 million kilometres away at its closest point. This will allow researchers to analyse the solar wind – the charged particles flowing away from the Sun – in unprecedented detail. “The solar wind is split into two categories – fast and slow. The fast wind is fast and steady, whereas the slow wind is slower and fluctuates much more rapidly,” explains Professor Harra. Images from closer in to the Sun reveal that the solar wind is more complex than had previously been thought. “The closer you get, the more dynamic the solar wind becomes. We can see that the general perception of the solar wind as a sort of steady state wind is probably not correct, it’s a lot more dynamic” says Professor Harra. “We’re also working with data gathered from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission.”

Solar wind Researchers know that the fast solar wind comes from coronal holes in the plasma around the Sun, yet the origins of the slow wind are less clear, a major area of interest to Professor Harra. It is difficult to interpret evidence of slow wind gathered on earth,


The project team at the Solar Orbiter launch.

We’re looking at how

the heliosphere is created and how the solar wind accelerates into the rest of the solar system. What causes the different types of solar wind? How are they accelerated away from the Sun? as it interacts with other sources of wind, underlining the benefits of getting close in to the Sun. “We can look at this slow solar wind at an early stage, when it’s just been formed,” stresses Professor Harra. There are 10 different instruments on the Solar Orbiter, including telescopes and remote sensing instruments, while various measurements are also being taken. “There are also in situ measurements that are measuring the magnetic field and the solar wind, as it flows past the spacecraft,” outlines Professor Harra. “The in situ measurements can be on all the time throughout the mission, but the telescopes are on only during periods of key scientific interest such as when we’re close to the Sun – this is due to telemetry constraints..” One of the biggest technical challenges in the project was to develop a heat shield to protect the instruments so that they can withstand the extreme environment when close to the the Sun. The satellite is still

at an early stage of its journey, and when it does enter its scientific orbit, Professor Harra and her colleagues will be selective in how they use the instruments. “Each orbit lasts around 180 days, and within that orbit we’ve got three 10-day windows where we’ll observe using all the instruments,” she says. This will give researchers the opportunity to investigate the source of the solar wind. “Is the source from regions where you’ve got very extended, expanded open magnetic field lines?” asks Professor Harra. “Or is it from an interaction, high up in the corona, as its expanding away? Or does it actually come from lower down on the surface, where smaller-scale jets interact?” The spacecraft is currently in its cruise phase, so it’s only providing tiny snapshots of data for scientists to check that the instruments are operating properly, and to work on calibration. However, there is enough data to do some research, and Professor Harra

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says there have already been some interesting observations. “One of the new things that has been seen are very tiny features in the extreme ultra-violet images, where material is being thrown out on a really small scale, which could end up in the solar wind. The smaller the scale at which we can observe the Sun, the more we see that the Sun is active,” she says. The Sun’s activity cycle lasts around 11 years, and different stages will be observed over the course of the mission, while Professor Harra says they will also observe different regions. “We used gravitational energy from Earth and Venus to alter the orbit of the satellite so that we’ll be able to peer down at the poles of the Sun,” she explains.

Peering at the poles This is entirely new territory in research, as the poles of the Sun have never been observed before. Currently researchers are relatively limited in their understanding of the poles, which limits their ability to model the Sun’s activity. “The Sun’s activity cannot yet be modelled accurately, partly because we won’t know what the polar magnetic field looks like in detail,” outlines Professor Harra. The view of the poles will become clearer over time as the satellite’s orbit gradually shifts upwards, and the highest point will be reached around 2027 or 2028,

helping researchers get a fuller picture of what the magnetic field looks like at the poles. “It’s not simply all positive or negative magnetic field, we know that it’s much messier than that, so we’re really looking forward to getting our first glimpse of the poles,” continues Professor Harra. “As both Parker Solar probe and Solar Orbiter get closer to the Sun we will see more energetic particles, and see more of the underlying dynamics.” This is a very exciting time in solar research, with scientists set to break entirely new ground over the next few years as more images and data are provided from the two satellites, while the early images are also proving very interesting. The first images from the Solar Orbiter show miniature flares which have been called campfires close to the surface of the Sun. “These are tiny events that haven’t been seen before. We saw those in our first perihelion – the closest point to the Sun in the satellite’s current orbit – and as we get closer to the Sun we’ll see many more of those,” says Professor Harra. These images show a series of views of the Sun captured with the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) on ESA’s Solar Orbiter on 30 May 2020. © ESA They show the Sun’s appearance at a wavelength of 17 nanometers, which is in the extreme ultraviolet region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Images at this wavelength reveal the upper atmosphere of the Sun, the corona, with a temperature of around 1 million degrees.

EXPLORING ENERGY RELEASE Exploring energy release from magnetic fields from small to large scales Project Objectives

The main objective is to understand how solar activity at all scales creates the heliosphere.

Project Funding

SNSF funding for current research at PMOD/ WRC and ETH in solar physics: 347,394 CHF.

Project Partners

Solar Orbiter: ESA, NASA • EUI: PMOD/ WRC, ROB, IAS, MPS, CSL, UCL-MSSL • ISSI: This work is also part of the ISSI international team’Exploring The Solar Wind In Regions Closer Than Ever Observed Before’ • NASA Parker Solar Probe team

Contact Details

Principal Investigator, Professor Louise Harra Director Physikalisch-Meteorologische Observatorium Davos/World Radiation Center (PMOD/WRC) Dorfstrasse 33 CH-7260 Davos Dorf Switzerland T: +41 81 417 51 24 E: W: employees/louise-harra/ Affiliated Professor at ETH-Zürich ETH-office: Hönggerberg campus, HIT building, J22.4 T: +41 44 633 44 50 Professor Louise Harra

Professor Louise Harra is a solar physicist researching the activity on the Sun. I was PI of Hinode EIS from launch in 2006 until 2019. I am co-PI of EUI on the ESA Solar Orbiter mission which was launched in 2020. I am based at PMOD/WRC in Davos and ETH-Zürich in Switzerland.

EUI takes full disc images (first in the sequence upper left) using the Full Sun Imager (FSI) telescope, as well as high resolution images using the HRIEUV telescope (the following five frames in the sequence).


Mapping global urbanisation with satellite and social media in a revolutionary approach So2Sat is a pioneering European Research Council (ERC) project, led by Professor Xiaoxiang Zhu, using petabytes of data from Earth observational satellites and social media to create 3D/4D models of individual buildings on a global scale, in order to better understand the global urbanisation process. In the 20th Century alone, the global population has expanded from 1.65 billion to 6 billion and 50 years ago there were approximately half as many people in the world as there are today. A symptom of this exponential growth is worldwide urbanisation and spontaneously growing human settlements. Effectively tracking such amorphous developments globally was widely considered to be near impossible. City expansions, especially, are happening at pace, with migrations of people moving to urban areas. “Urbanisation is the second biggest important mega trend of global changes after climate change,” explains Professor


Zhu. “If you look at the evolution of rural and urban population over time, there is actually a secret change of human history in 2008, when there were more people in the cities than in rural areas and if you look at the prediction for 2050, there are much more people who will eventually live in cities.” In 2050 we can expect three fourths of the population to be living in metropolises.

The challenges of urban expansion The evolution of very large cities can be chaotic, and how populations are distributed is not always known. For example, mega cities invariably include substantial informal

settlements such as slum areas with unknown numbers of people residing in them. These kinds of gaps in knowledge mean that sustainable planning for city planners and urban developers can be highly problematic. “Urban growth is mostly occurring in the developing areas: Africa, South America and Asia. Urbanisation, if not well controlled, will lead to informal settlements and slums. Without proper management this could endanger the lives of people who are living there. An example is in Mumbai, where in the past ten years more than fifty thousand fires happened in this city and about sixty seven percent of these fires are actually caused by faulty wiring. We need Geo-information.”

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Unregulated, mismanaged and misunderstood city areas can cause significant problems like this, so good, realistic data is needed for competent and safe city development. However, the relevant data is just not available. In reality, there are many large urban areas on Earth that have little information on them, for example, the African city of Lagos, with 21 million people living there, has no open 3D model available of it. With an accurate census and an idea of the developing environment, urban conditions could be better managed and improved by authorities.

Data can change the map The aim of So2Sat is to reveal accurate details of human settlements, on a global scale, using 10 petabytes of Earth observation and social media data. We are said to be in the Golden Era of Big Earth Observational Data, with several satellite missions mapping the Earth’s surface, such as the Sentinel series and TerraSAR-X/ TanDEM-X, so it is now possible to think big for mapping projects. However, getting insights from such a huge amount of data is a challenge. Therefore, So2Sat also develops state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms and big data analytics solutions to tackle this big data challenge.

platforms like Flickr and Twitter, which mean there is access to ground-level measurements of buildings. In a nutshell, the So2Sat sophisticated mapmaking strategy is as follows: radar satellite imagery first deciphers the height of a building, high-resolution RGB images delineate the 2D building shapes, then hyperspectral satellite senses the roof material and finally, street level imagery and tweets are found from social media platforms and assigned to individual buildings. This already gives a rich 3D map of urban areas. But data associated with individual buildings will then be further used to understand the functionality of the building, such as residential or nonresidential. AI algorithm, to be specific, various types of deep neural networks, plays important roles in various steps in the pipeline, for example, using graph neural network to segment the building boundaries from satellite images, and using natural language deep learning models to predict the building type from tweets. The banner image shows the buildings in Cairo, Egypt predicted by the So2Sat graph neural network from a PlanetScope imagery of Planet Labs. The algorithm is not only able to classify the built up areas from the relative low cost satellite imagery, but also able to segment individual buildings which

The project demonstrates a significant step change in how we can perceive cities, with more accuracy, to make better planning decisions in urban areas and for the first time, we will possess a complete, accurate, 4D model of every urban environment on Earth. “Together with my team we are exploiting different types of satellite data, we combine them even with social media data and what we want to do on a global scale is to reconstruct the 3D shapes of buildings, the evolution over time, and we want to derive the functions of the buildings so you can find residential and non-residential areas, and if we combine the 3D information with the functions, we can also get a transparent calculation of the population density capacity. In slums, the population density in the census data is extremely underestimated,” said Professor Zhu.

Painting in the building’s details The innovation really comes to the fore when the project combines the satellite imagery and data with images and information mined from social media, on

are marked by different colours in the figure. Relying on the aforementioned series of big EO data and cutting-edge AI algorithms, the research team will attain the first global and consistent 3D/4D spatial data set on urban morphology of settlements up to the detail of individual buildings as well as their evolution over time (4D), whereby it will be possible to derive population density more accurately than ever. Those data will be made available to the community. This is powerful information that can aid decision making on urban development. The project demonstrates a significant step change in how we can perceive cities, with more accuracy, to make better planning decisions in urban areas and for the first time, we will possess a complete, accurate, 4D model of every urban environment on Earth.

So2Sat Big Data for 4D Global Urban Mapping – 1016 Bytes from Social Media to EO Satellites Project Objectives

By the fusion of petabytes of Earth observation data from satellite to social media, fermented with tailored and sophisticated machine learning algorithms and big data analytics solutions, So2Sat reveals for the first time, detailed 3D geometry, morphology and composition of global urban agglomeration on an individual building level, providing reliable dataset for monitoring the global urbanisation, especially in developing countries.

Project Funding

A total funding of about €1.5 million was granted for So2Sat in 2017. The success of So2Sat also attracted a follow-on ERC proof of concept grant AI4SmartCities, which has started in 2021.

Project Partners

The So2Sat project consortium consists of the Professorship of Data Science in Earth Observation, Technical University of Munich, and the Remote Sensing Technology Institute of German Aerospace Center. We also have the German Remote Sensing Data Center, and the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre in Garching, Germany, as partners.

Contact Details

Professor Xiaoxiang Zhu Principal Investigator Technical University of Munich (TUM) Data Science in Earth Observation, Arcisstr. 21, 80333 Munich, Germany German Aerospace Center (DLR), Remote Sensing Technology Institute 82234 Wessling, Germany T: +49 8153283531 E: W: W: W: Professor Xiaoxiang Zhu

Xiaoxiang Zhu is the Professor for Data Science in Earth Observation at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and heads the Earth Observation Data Science department at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). She serves as the Director of the international AI future Lab AI4EO, co-director of the Munich Data Science Institute of TUM, the co-spokeswoman of the Munich Data Science Research School, as well as the head of the Helmholtz AI – Research Field: Aeronautics, Space and Transport.


A smarter Internet of Things for industrial efficiencies Enrico Ferrera of the BRAIN-IoT project explains how a new approach for the Internet of Things around distributed artificial intelligence creates a powerful tool for industrial use, reducing resources, the strains on operators and increasing accuracy in autonomous systems, able to self-manage. The Internet of Things is getting widely adopted in different domains to monitor and control systems of heterogeneous devices and platforms, to ensure effective and efficient functioning. Project coordinator of BRAIN IoT, Enrico Ferrera is leading a consortium pioneering a new AI driven IoT management system, to realise the tremendous advantages when you scale IoT for critical industrial purposes.

Thinking big with IoT “IoT is a reality. Many different IoT platforms already exists, facing different challenges in several application domains, as whilst these are very similar to each other, they are not compliant to each other, so this remains a problem. For instance, IoT is already widely used for smart homes, and you can control many different things for home automation. What we are trying to do is to extend these concepts to cope with specific requirements in the industrial domains. The near real time reaction, the resiliency, making critical decisions. A business must have continuity and carry on operating effectively.” The project is developing a smart, flexible IoT based system which can drive critical decision making for businesses, collecting, managing and using real time IoT generated data. Applying this to large scale industrial operations would reap great benefits such as having greater accuracy for making good autonomous decisions in the moment and diminishing human resources mistakes and disconnected operations. BRAIN-IoT proposes a solution based on the architecture in Figure 1. The interoperability layer is implemented through the integration of the Eclipse sensiNact IoT platform as edge node for the semantic adaptation of the data coming from the Physical Layer. Edge nodes based on the W3C Web of Things standard have also been implemented to support the interoperability with ROS (Robot Operating System) based robotic platforms. The real beauty of the BRAIN IoT approach is in its use of learning AI. BRAIN-IoT is pushing to automate the management of IoT-based systems, implementing cognitive capabilities to learn and make decisions at the right time, as well as to support the autonomous healing in case


Figure 1: BRAIN-IoT Architecture.

of failures. “We would like to develop and apply these artificial intelligence strategies, in order to identify situations, and to react in the same system,” said Enrico. These functionalities are supported by the s0nar server, which implements AI algorithms for data analysis, critical events detection, and prediction. Along with the BRAINIoT Fabric, s0nar supports the dynamic

same. This project has two different main use cases,” divulges Enrico. “In order to cover the widest range of applications we wanted to identify two scenarios that are quite different from each other. One is a robotics scenario, the other one is the management of critical infrastructure, specifically the water distribution management infrastructure situated in A Coruña Spain.”

One of the main objectives of this platform, that we are analysing in the implementation, is to make the life of the operators easier, so we are simplifying people’s work. reconfigurability of the overall behaviour of the system, to react properly and promptly to critical situations that may happen (e.g. cyber attacks, network and device failures). “We want to show that this platform can be applied in different domains, that appear unrelated but in fact we’d like to illustrate that the challenges are the same, and the technologies that you can use in order to mitigate the issues in these domains are the

BRAIN-IoT project consortium

Robots that know what matters The factory scenario sought to make teams of ‘pick and place’ robots autonomous in solving their own problems and challenges, without human intervention. Usually, these IoT platforms have a structure of data management where they can integrate some local devices and this data is sent to one or more central points into the cloud, but in a more de-centralised system as proposed by the project, it was imperative to make the system more distributed and peer-to-peer. “In the service robotics use case, robots select items and bring them to the right place in the warehouse. They are communicating with the backend system because the backend system is the part of the warehouse system that knows where the specific box should be stored. In these fleets of robots, each have their own objective paths and they cooperate with each other to make the activity efficient.

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In this case, imagine the battery of the robot runs out. In this situation the system can redeploy the behaviour of one the robots to compensate for the non-functioning robot. For example, to fix a problem with one fleet operating the pick and place task, one other robot that was originally working another task can be re-allocated to compensate for the missing robot on the other fleet. This system can deploy the new behaviour to one robot of the fleet, in such a way that different fleet robots can work with other fleet robots, in order to accomplish the pick and place task. There is also criticality in the system, so it’s okay if one robot in fleet B can leave its task and join fleet A, because it is considered that its task for fleet B is less critical than A.”

Awareness of all the data The other case study focused on Critical Infrastructure Management, which is a suitable use case to show the advantages of an advanced IoT system to monitor and manage a water distribution system, made of valves, water levels, dams and flows to be properly coordinated. One requirement was to make the system adapt to the environmental changes, supporting the IT manager who can focus on different tasks rather than staying there to check that everything is still running. “A manager would usually check the components of these systems, one at a time, which is time consuming. We would like to go beyond that, adding AI that would allow the system to autonomously react, to recognise critical situations.” BRAIN IoT has a specific focus for the security domain and one of the objectives in terms of maintenance of the system, is to make the system more robust and resilient to critical situations. “The system can recognise a cyber-attack and set up counter measures. It can also identify anomalies on devices. For instance, one of the meters in the water management infrastructure could generate data that is not in line with the normal behaviour and so the system can identify that and instead of keeping the same control strategy for opening specific valves, to maintain the level

BRAIN-IoT model-Based fRamework for dependable sensing and Actuation in INtelligent decentralized IoT systems Project Objectives

BRAIN-IoT provides a secure platform which adopts AI-enabled self-managing functionalities to implement resilient autonomous distributed systems for Smart Cities and Industry 4.0. Along with its modelbased Software Development Toolkit, the BRAIN-IoT platform aims at reducing the effort for developing and maintaining systems composed by heterogeneous IoT and robotic resources as well as external legacy services, operating in dynamic critical environments. Service robotics use-case.

of the water, it can react in a different way, to implement a different strategy controlling other valves of the system. It would be relying on the meters that are more reliable and not on the measurements that are coming in from just one part of the system, which is not as reliable. “This means it can change the strategy of the control of the system, in order to implement the same objective, if in this example, the objective is to maintain an overall level of the water below a certain pressure.” A key advantage of the approach is that when there are failures in a system it can redeploy the new node on the network to substitute one in this critical infrastructure. This is a step beyond a backup system for coping, as the system can reconfigure itself to allocate resources. It means less potential for interruption and less reliance on human intervention for critical decisions. As Ferrera puts it: “One of the main objectives of this platform, that we are analysing in the implementation, is to make the life of the operators easier, so we are simplifying people’s work.” He continues: “For the operational phase, this will be an easier management platform. The developer can write the code and it is compiled, deployed and managed automatically.” BRAIN-IoT’s stack is being released as an open source toolset, to make the benefits it promotes widely available for various industrial sectors.

Project Funding

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 780089. Overall budget: € 4 992 581.

Project Partners

• Fondazione LINKS, Italy– Project Coordinator • CEA List, France • Universite grenoble alpes, France • Paremus, UK • Improving Metrics, Spain • ST Microelectronics, France • Siemens, Germany • Eclipse Foundation, Germany • IDATE, France • Airbus Cybersecurity, France • Robotnik Automation, Spain • Empresa Municipal de Aguas de La Coruna, Spain • Kentyou, France

Contact Details

Project Coordinator, Enrico Ferrera Fondazione LINKS Via Pier Carlo Boggio 61 10138 Torino Italy T: +39 011 227 6710 E: W: W: Enrico Ferrera

Enrico Ferrera leads the Distributed Intelligence and Secure Services research team of LINKS Foundation, Turin, Italy. He actively participates in national and international/H2020 EU research and large-scale pilot projects in IoT/ Robotics, distributed autonomous systems, process optimization domains. As coordinator of BRAIN-IoT, he is involved in the European Cluster of security and privacy projects.

Water Management Infrastructure Testbed


Logistics of the future via the physical internet The digital internet has revolutionised the way information is transmitted, now researchers in the ICONET project are investigating the novel concept of the physical internet. This research could help improve efficiency in the transport of physical goods and bring wider benefits along the supply chain, as Philippos Philippou explains. The concept of

the physical internet (PI) has been inspired to a large degree by the digital internet, with researchers exploring new approaches to improve efficiency in the transport of physical goods. Earlier work by Montreuil et al in 2012 [1] proposed the Open Logistics Interconnection model (OLI) based in turn on the Open Systems Interconnection model (OSI) which, as a reference model, standardizes the communication functions of the digital internet and the way data moves between devices and systems. This OLI model formed the basis of the infrastructure architecture. While in the digital internet information is transmitted through packets, in the PI goods are transported in standardised containers equipped with trackers and sensors, which promises to bring wider benefits. “The objective with the PI is to enable actors in the logistics industry to use multiple routes and engage multiple operators, to help minimise CO2 emissions, increase transport means’ fill rates, utilize resources more efficiently and reduce operational costs while improving service quality,” explains Philippos Philippou, Senior Project Manager at eBOS technologies in Cyprus. Several well-versed partners are participating in the project consortium, with the aim of developing an ICT infrastructure designed to help improve logistical efficiency. This infrastructure will then be deployed and tested via the use of simulation modelling. “In the project four living labs have been co-created - by business users and technical partners - to investigate and ultimately validate how the PI could benefit the logistics industry and the wider supply chain,” says Philippou.

ICONET project A key benefit of the PI is the ability to communicate information on the status of a container through IoT devices, such as its position and the condition of the products inside it, which can greatly ease operations at a logistical hub, such as a sea port. It is easier for fork-lift operators to work with standardised containers for example, and for truck drivers to then use the available capacity efficiently when the goods are transported onwards. “In ICONET we have investigated the scenarios of goods being able to be moved through different transport modes, ultimately seeking the most effective way,” says Philippou. The project’s research encompasses not only the distribution of physical goods, but also issues around stacking containers in warehouses and optimizing space utilization. “Warehouse managers pay a lot of attention to issues around the use of space, preparation and picking times, but they do so in an isolated way,” continues Philippou. “If they know exactly what is coming, then they can allocate resources in a better way.” The development of the PI will play an important role in this respect, with researchers aiming to achieve interoperability between operators, systems, and data, in a transparent, secure and standardised way. The infrastructure developed in the project has been deployed and tested at four living labs, one of which is based in the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, which is among the biggest container sea ports in Europe. “In the Port of Antwerp we have studied the optimisation of the wagon loading yard, where containers arriving by sea are initially kept,” outlines Philippou. Researchers are also looking at whether more

PI Services IoT Triggered Rerouting

environmentally-friendly modes of transport can then be used to bring physical goods closer to their ultimate destination. “Can we use the train? How can we then fill up the train with wagons carrying goods from China that are going to the same destination? How can we optimise this?” says Philippou. “For example, if I have storage space of 25m3, how do I pack it up with goods to fill it up to 95-100 percent?” A number of other concepts have also been developed and tested at the other three living labs within the project in the context of practical business scenarios. This has ultimately helped researchers develop an ICT infrastructure that is targeted at commercial needs. “The benefit of the living lab is that you test the principles you suggest in collaboration with business users,” stresses Philippou. While logistics companies are protective of their own interests, Philippou believes that a degree of collaboration will help businesses work more effectively and minimise their environmental impact. “Logistics companies have to collaborate and share routes where possible. If the right agreements are in place, then everyone benefits,” he says.

ICONET ICT Infrastructure & Reference Architecture to Support Operations in Future PI Logistics Networks Philippos Philippou, Senior Project Manager eBOS Technologies Ltd EBOS Tower, Arch. Makariou III and Mesaorias 1, office 101,2322 Lakatamia P.O.Box 28122, Nicosia 2090, Cyprus T: +357 22 877 677 E: W: W: This project is funded from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 769119.

Mr. Philippos Philippou holds a BEng degree in Civil Engineering from UMIST University (UK) and a Master’s degree in business administration from University of Bradford (UK). He has more than 25 years of experience in the fields of Operations and Supply Chain Management in a wide spectrum of business environments.


The Internet of Things: A new way of smart living?

Of all the emergent innovations, the Internet of Things (IoT) is arguably the most exciting and transformative of technologies. The concept of IoT is a highly connected network, harvesting data from sensors in an environment and linked to devices, where information is collected in the cloud and analysed to make smart decisions or solutions. It has the potential to save time, save effort and even save lives. By Richard Forsyth


t is projected there will be 16.4 billion IoT connected devices by 2025.This is a rapid escalation of this sector when you consider IoT was not so long ago just an idea, a sci-fi-like concept to connect things, processes and people wirelessly and seamlessly through the internet, to make good decisions. By 2025 it is estimated that the Consumer Sector will generate over 40% of IoT Revenues. This demonstrates a goal by industry for IoT, where your home devices, your car, your house, your clothes all monitor your movement, where you are in your environment, decipher your needs and make everything you come near intuitively helpful before you even make your next move. Today, the IoT has arrived – or more accurately, begun. You may not have noticed but it is seeping into the world around you. There are


many examples of IoT applications today. Here, we look at some of those examples which mark the beginnings of an IoT networked world, which will evolve in a relatively short amount of time.

Home comforts Anyone with a home-hub device such as an Amazon Echo has the possibility to connect it to the infrastructure of their home to automatically switch on lights via smart lightbulbs, or remotely warm the room when you sit down in a chair, or dim the lights to watch a film ‘without lifting a finger… or even raising your voice’, as the promotional blurb goes. But this is a just the start. Whilst we have the concept of a hub at home, the sheer range of devices that are now invented or can

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be, makes your house more like an extension of your mind and body, or rather, your routines. The home is a major target of IoT innovation. Already there is the i-kettle that can be remote boiled from a phone instruction, or more strangely, set to boil as you return home, or alight from your bed. More impressively, there is the smart fridge, which can monitor the contents inside itself to calculate expiry dates on food, recipe ingredients, shopping needs and shopping scheduling. Tired of going to the door in a pandemic or you wonder who is calling on you when you are out and about? There is the doorcam innovation which means you can remotely see who is at your door, and open the door even if you are miles away, from your smartphone. Sensors and switches can be put in almost anything these days and cameras can be button sized, so with connectivity, virtually any device can be triggered or scheduled to personal needs.

Wearable tech Even more personal than your home tech is wearable tech, in the form of watches, head gear, eyewear, clothes, shoes and even digestible sensors. Off the shelf health monitoring watches like ‘fit-bits’ are commercially successful. They track heartrate, sleep cycles, fitness levels, weight, hydration and diet, analysing your physical state potentially 24/7 all year round. With such a glut of data, a great deal of which is generated automatically in real time, creating a comprehensive template of your state of health is possible. The implications for this are quite far reaching, for instance, could this data be utilised to back up health insurance claims, or healthcare treatments? More advanced than these are sensor devices worn all day to monitor key health indicators including blood pressure, compliance to prescribed medical routines, physical movement and oxygen levels. These home monitors can reduce reliance on pressured healthcare services and hospital visits for chronically ill or disabled people. For more specific health concerns, you can acquire for instance, smart contact lens, such as the Sensimed Triggerfish lenses, that monitor fluctuations in an eye’s volume to detect glaucoma. They transmit data wirelessly from the sensor to an antenna worn around the eye. For internal monitoring, there are in existence ingestible electronic devices that are pill sized, have a power supply, and a micro-processor which monitors conditions in the gastrointestinal tract, to pick up bleeds and signs of absorption of administered drug treatments. From these examples, it is easy to imagine how your whole body can be monitored permanently for complete data on your movements, health, well-being and even perhaps, state of mind. It can act like a permanent care assistant who never sleeps. In this context, IoT has been used for a pilot study by a tech firm called IoT Solutions Group in Bournemouth in the UK, for social care for elderly and vulnerable people living alone in their homes. With a household set up with 200 hundred sensors, movements of a person can be monitored, which means when the movement levels stop for significant periods of time, an alert can be issued to carers to check on the person. They are just movement detectors so data is limited to physical activity, but it is an indicator of someone who may have had a fall, or is inactive for long periods.

A literally ‘life saving’ piece of technology in IoT can be seen in the smart helmet. Smart helmets vary depending on application, there are sports helmets for cycling and skiing, motorcycle helmets and mining helmets for example. In potentially dangerous sports, a cracked helmet can indicate a serious incident and the helmet will alert first responders to attend the location, whilst in mining scenarios, hazardous gas leaks can be detected by the smart helmets. The mining smart helmet can include multiple detecting devices, with GPS, sensors to measure humidity, temperature, a map navigation device and built-in proximity warning capabilities for detecting hazards nearby. A new motorcycle smart helmet proposed in India, even detects if the rider has had too much alcohol and will prevent the ignition of the vehicle.

Traffic control A promising area for IoT has to be seen where the roads (or devices next to the roads) communicate with our cars, and cars in turn communicate with other cars around them. IoT could become a major force in innovation with the advancements in autonomous, self-driving vehicles which allow data on journeys to be monitored in great detail, with an emphasis on controlling the vehicle effectively and efficiently. If we reach a time where the majority of cars are autonomous as standard, a system of intricate traffic management would be possible. At the artificial intelligence laboratory at the University of Texas, the

Telecoms and aviation industries are working to make beyond-visual-line-of-sight capabilities real for drones. There are huge commercial opportunities.


By 2025 it is estimated that the Consumer Sector will generate over 40% of IoT Revenues.

In potentially dangerous sports, a cracked helmet can indicate a serious incident and the helmet will alert first responders to attend the location.

concept of autonomous intersection management or AIM has been floated. In a development that would spell the end for traffic lights, the self-driving cars would adjust their speed and timing to cross an intersection, however busy, at just the right moment without crashing into other cars doing the same. The researchers declared it would reduce delay by as much as 100 times at intersections and will cut fuel emissions, although it might take some getting used to, seeing other cars coming toward you from all directions, and missing you by relatively small margins. Coming back to today, we are already at a point where we have real-time traffic congestion data available to us through Sat-Nav software, so we can plan trips accordingly, with advice relayed to us on alternative routes through the programmes. This is a form of IoT. These systems rely on the collected GPS data of many smartphones of people in cars or cars themselves, and together this data paints an accurate picture of a traffic situation, a queue forming or clearing, in near real-time – via a red line on the road. Another example can be seen when you are speeding past a traffic sign that flashes your speed up as a warning to slow down. The environment is effectively talking to you, is checking you and advising you. In the future, sensors and cameras in the street may even be able to tell your car to avoid a potential, impending accident – say a child runs into the road, which is picked up by smart tech in the street. As your autonomous car turns the corner and receives this data it can slam the breaks on or divert from collision course. Sensors along a street potentially including CCTV and motion detectors, along with people’s GPS enabled phones, could act as one to create a data portrait of changing environments in real time, becoming an omniscient set of virtual eyes and ears to make traffic safer for everyone on the road and near the road.


Flying high with IoT As the IoT can interact with devices, it is no surprise that drones, or unmanned aircraft systems, are tipped as a fast-growing subsector of IoT. Telecoms and aviation industries are working to make beyond-visual-line-of-sight capabilities real for drones. There are huge commercial opportunities. We have by now all heard of the Amazon delivery drones (largely a PR driven story at present) as a future scenario. Drones could be deployed for so many industries and reasons, such as security & surveillance, farming, traffic management, military, search & rescue, exploration, transportation & delivery, to name a few.

The bigger picture For now, IoT is still in its relative infancy, at least when compared to its potential and so there are some fairly substantial hurdles to overcome. This level of personal data harvesting may give rise to notions of Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ style scenarios, and that is a concern. We don’t want to be held to account by the very devices that are supposed to be making life easier or better managed and this tech will inevitably develop because it has so many opportunities for applications. Regulation, legal considerations and safeguarding will inevitably need to keep pace. One real, well understood problem with IoT is the security and privacy challenge. The openness and reach of connectivity in IoT can leave it wide open for hacks and cyberattacks. You certainly wouldn’t want your driverless car hacked. Security expert, Ken Munro, was tasked to expose the flaws in IoT devices and systems, and what he revealed was alarming holes in security and encryption that could be easily exploited. He uncovered smart fingerprint padlocks that could be unlocked via Bluetooth and worse, by hacking the cloud it was possible to find the addresses of all the locks in circulation. Similarly, it was possible to hack a brand of i-kettle and locate from one

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kettle the exact locations of others. These are not minor flaws because it became evident whole IoT networks can be exposed via one compromised device. Advanced encryption techniques are necessary for advanced systems that rely on interconnectivity but for home tech manufacturers this may be prohibitive for build-costs, and the emphasis for securing devices against hacks has been squarely on the individual tech companies rather than regulators. Beyond home technology, IoT can have profound impacts on a variety of industry sectors and processes, in everything from supply chain logistics to factory management. Curiously, farming has seen the introduction of IoT devices and sensors to automatically irrigate and control pests and diseases, and monitor crops and weather. Sensors can collect precipitation, temperature, leaf wetness and crop water demand. The data is sent to the cloud and crunched with machine learning models, in order to understand the best solutions for encouraging crop growth. Robotics in industrial use and critical infrastructure management can both benefit enormously from IoT, as the BRAIN IoT project demonstrates when networks are integrated with artificial intelligence, a project covered by EU Research. Intelligent networks of devices can compensate for bad links or faulty devices in the system without the need for an IT manager to intervene or a reboot or installation of a backup system. The enticing promise of round-the-clock autonomy and efficiency, means that industrial uses will prevail with IoT. It is clear, a time is just around the corner, where we will live in a world where devices around us will not be passive tools anymore but will be intelligent and pro-active at fulfilling the tasks we currently see as manual. From the moment you wake up, with every move you make through the day, the environment can be aware of you, your needs and will know how to be of assistance.


Backing new ideas for tomorrow’s economy Europe is home to talented scientists and has a sophisticated research infrastructure, yet many new ideas with commercial potential are still not translated into practical applications. We spoke to Professor Sergio Bertolucci about how the ATTRACT project is funding disruptive research that he hopes will help create jobs and boost the European economy.

There are sophisticated

research facilities dotted across Europe, at which scientists continue to explore new ideas and develop a wide variety of innovative technologies, from nanomaterials, to quantum sensors, to self-powering cameras. However, despite the overall strength of European science, many research advances are still not translated into practical applications, an issue at the heart of the ATTRACT project. “A few years ago I was part of a group which started reflecting on how we could put together an essentially bottom-up mechanism to connect research and innovation,” outlines Sergio Bertolucci, Professor of Physics at the University of Bologna, who chairs the Independent Scientific Advisory Committee (R&D&I) of ATTRACT. These discussions led to the formation of ATTRACT, a consortium that aims to facilitate the emergence of bottom-up breakthrough ideas co-developed by researchers and entrerpreneurs. “Essentially we established a consortium composed by major European research institutions (CERN, EMBL, ESRF, ESO, ILL, E-XFEL), EIRMA (the European Industrial Research Management Association), and two Universities particularly engaged in innovation, ESADE and AALTO,” explains Professor Bertolucci. “We than engaged in a fruitful discourse with the European Commission, which funded the project in the framework of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme ” The project is inspired to a degree by earlier analysis of how certain areas like Silicon Valley have established an environment that encourages scientific innovation and turns it into practical applications. While Europe has a strong scientific heritage and great cultural diversity, it is losing ground to global competitors, and Professor Bertolucci believes action is needed to regain it. “We need scale, funds, and more appetite for innovation and risk,” he says. The challenge


here is to make better use of Europe’s vast intellectual resources, and translate Open Science into Open Innovation, where the commercial potential of new knowledge is realised. “Open Science means an ecosystem where a researcher’s idea can freely circulate, with the right balance between collaboration and competition,” explains Professor Bertolucci. “They don’t patent their findings or keep them secret, but rather make them available to the scientific community.”

ATTRACT project This ideal of Open Science has largely been achieved within Europe, now the ATTRACT project is supporting innovative research projects, with the ultimate aim of helping bring new ideas closer to practical application and boosting the wider economy. Some 170 research projects have received funding of €100,000 within ATTRACT, all of which bring together industry and the academic sector. “These projects are collaborative,” stresses Professor Bertolucci. The priority is to fund disruptive

research and back the development of radical ideas and innovations, generally at a technology readiness level (TRL) of 1-3. “Many of these projects have a potential industrial application, such as developing new sensors based on nanotechnology for use in healthcare. There are also several projects in diagnostics, with research into imaging, for both CT scans and X-rays,” continues Professor Bertolucci. “ And there are also interesting projects in robotics and in smart applications based on Artificial Intelligence” The initial funding gave researchers the opportunity to explore and develop their ideas, after which they were asked to submit a report and conduct a presentation showing their findings. When all 170 projects have completed their deliverables, Professor Bertolucci and his colleagues will look to identify which should receive further support. “We will select a number of projects, those with the potential to proceed up to TRL 7 or even higher, or those that are particularly disruptive,” he

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ATTRACT breAkThrough innovaTion pRogrAmme for a pan-European Detection and Imaging eCosysTem Project Objectives

outlines. This funding will be significantly higher than in the first phase, into seven figures in some cases, and this could be augmented further by funding from other sources. “In phase 2 institutional investors from both the public and private sectors will be involved. This will include organisations like the European innovation fund and the European Bank, as well as representatives from private venture capital,” says Professor Bertolucci. “We will invite people from these and other organisations, as we did already in September 2020 enabling several promising follow-ups.”

The more immediate priority in the project is to direct funds to promising projects however, and to encourage the development of new detection and imaging technologies. A number of these projects have been hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic, so some have been given more time to continue their research. “For example there’s a project investigating a very interesting approach to improving the resolution of X-ray scanning, trying to make x-ray holography in a smart way. This was going to be tested in the UK, but it hasn’t been feasible – we hope it will be done in the near future,” says Professor

We wanted to establish

a consortium composed by major European research institutions (CERN, EMBL, ESRF, ESO, ILL, E-XFEL), EIRMA (the European Industrial Research Management Association), and two Universities particularly engaged in innovation, ESADE and AALTO. Research links A further important topic on the project’s agenda is to help build stronger links between research institutions, an important lesson that has been gleaned from analysis of Silicon Valley’s success. Researchers working in Silicon Valley, as well as in other areas associated with technological development, are typically interconnected, and so are able to build on each others’ work rather than duplicate it. “They don’t reinvent the wheel. If they know that the wheel has already been made then they take it, and they use it in their idea,” explains Professor Bertolucci. The idea is to establish a public repository, where researchers can share their ideas while still protecting their intellectual property; Professor Bertolucci says this is a difficult balance to strike. “We have to rethink how intellectual property will be dealt with in future, because it’s clear that patents, by themselves, are too rigid,” he continues.

Bertolucci. The pandemic has slowed down the projects to some extent but it hasn’t stopped them, and Professor Bertolucci says this ongoing effort holds real importance to the future of the European economy. “We believe that ultimately ATTRACT will lead to the creation of high-quality jobs, and become self-sustaining,” he says. A further round of initial funding is planned, and the hope is to establish a kind of eco-system that stimulates technical innovation and then harnesses its possibilities in the development of new products. From his position on the Scientific Advisory Commitee, Professor Bertolucci says the project has been challenging at times, but it has strengthened his faith in European science. “It has confirmed the enormous potential of Europe’s scientists and entrepreneurs. It’s amazing to see how much untapped potential there is in Europe,” he enthuses.

European researchers are responsible for some highly innovative technology and many scientific breakthroughs, yet current mechanisms for scaling up promising ventures and bringing them to global markets are not working effectively. A number of promising start-up European companies have shifted operations to Silicon Valley to become part of a wider research community and capitalise on the commercial potential of their ideas and technology. The Attract consortium now aims to capture the value of European research and help translate it into commercial success. The consortium will back researchers from both the commercial and academic sectors in the development of detection and imaging technologies. The aim in the project is to create a model of Open Innovation that will then lead to the creation of new jobs and help spread prosperity.

Project Funding

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 777222.

Project Partners

• Please see website for details.

Contact Details

Chair of the Independent Scientific Committee, Sergio Bertolucci Professor, University of Bologna & former scientific director at CERN T: +39 34 8818 4395 E: W:

Professor Sergio Bertolucci

Sergio Bertolucci is a former Pisa scholar and the former scientific director at CERN. Before joining CERN, he worked at DESY, Fermilab and Frascati. The co-author of over 370 papers, Bertolucci’s career includes roles in the KLOE and CDF experiments leading to the discovery of the top quark, and innovative instrumentation, development and leadership of the DAFNE accelerator. He was also vicepresident and a member of the Board of the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics.


Banks and creative destruction in the modern economy

By Kiefer. from Frankfurt, Germany - Europäische Zentralbank / European Central Bank, CC BY-SA 2.0, https:// index.php?curid=45885148

Banks play a crucial role in financing the European business sector, extending loans to profitable companies to fund productive activities, while also withdrawing credit from less well performing firms. We spoke to Professor Christian Keuschnigg and Dr Michael Kogler about their research into the issues around resource turnover and the re-allocation of finance. The commercial sector is marked by the regular emergence of innovative products and new businesses, as companies strive to establish themselves and build a stronger position in the market. As new firms and new products are introduced into the market old ones disappear, and in the background capital and labour needs to be re-allocated, a topic at the heart of Professor Christian Keuschnigg and Dr. Michael Kogler’s research. “We look at the challenge of resource turnover,” they explain. The focus here is on investment financing, in particular the re-allocation of investment funds, and the issues around moving finance to faster-growing firms. “There are profitable and less profitable investments,” says Professor Keuschnigg. “In the latter case, the entrepreneurial interest may be to continue with the investment, because a bank has a lot of sunk costs, even though in economic terms it may be better to remove the finance and allocate it to a fastergrowing firm.”

Re-allocating finance This is partly because of the frictions involved in re-allocating finance. In a case of bankruptcy for example, a bank may be able


to get back only around 60-70 percent of the value of the initial investment, which leaves them having to absorb significant losses that eat into their equity capital. “This is a very important mechanism. When banks have too little equity, they find that they can’t absorb losses any more. In that case, they may want to avoid liquidation losses,” says Dr. Kogler. This however has wider economic effects, as finance doesn’t flow to the more profitable companies, limiting potential productivity gains. “If the average rate of return on capital is 8 percent, but some firms earn only a 4 percent return, then they clearly don’t represent a good investment,” points out Professor Keuschnigg. “In that case the capital or credit should be moved to firms which generate a higher return – so they generate more income and value for society.” The danger to a bank in continuing to finance an unprofitable firm is that interest payments and the debt will eventually not be serviced, leading to an increased risk of bankruptcy. There is a clear incentive for a bank to shift capital from high-risk firms to more profitable companies which have better prospects of repaying a loan, which Professor Keuschnigg says can boost the wider economy.

“The quality of aggregate investment is much higher if it is channelled towards innovative, high-return, fast-growing sectors, than if it is channelled to less technologically advanced sectors,” he outlines. This is part of what the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter described as the ‘creative destruction’ of the market, as investment is targeted towards more productive activities. “Creative destruction is always going on. The nature of innovation means that new products and firms expand very fast,” continues Professor Keuschnigg. Many of the more innovative areas of industry are characterised by rapid product turnover, as advances in research are translated into technical improvements. A country with institutions that can effectively support this process of re-allocating capital and labour to productive activities will be well-positioned for growth in these innovative sectors of the economy, believes Professor Keuschnigg. “They will have a better environment for the innovative sector to expand, and for the overall economy to specialise in these sectors,” he says. Many European governments are aiming to encourage technical innovation in the private

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sector, an area of great interest to Professor Keuschnigg. “Our message would be that innovation policies are more effective if the re-allocation in the background functions better. You can have the best innovation policy, but if old products don’t disappear, then the workers and capital are locked into old products,” he outlines. This leaves little room for innovative firms to expand and develop new products which can lead to productivity gains, boosting the wider economy. If banks do not have the capacity to write off less well-performing loans, which are not generating value for society, then this limits their ability to direct finance to more profitable activities. “The ability to write off nonperforming loans enables the flow of savings and investment funds to expanding firms. If they are not released from old uses, then these funds cannot flow to expanding firms,” explains Professor Keuschnigg. One part of the project involves developing an endogenous growth model to describe this process of reallocating finance to fuel innovation, looking at the role of banks. “Banks have deeper expertise in risk assessment and risk analysis. They can assess a project’s likelihood of success and closely monitor the borrowers after granting loans such that they quickly learn once a firm’s prospects deteriorate,” outlines Dr Kogler, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of St Gallen. “However, banks need to have the capacity to deal with the losses and write-offs when terminating loans to poorly performing businesses.”

prove profitable however, and commercial fortunes can change relatively rapidly. “A firm may lose its competitive advantage. At that point, it doesn’t make sense any more to fund these firms, so a bank may decide to withdraw a loan when the credit is not safe,” says Professor Keuschnigg. There is a difficult balance to strike here between supporting businesses in the short-run and avoiding mass unemployment, while also preventing resources from being locked into unproductive uses. If banks don’t remove finance from unprofitable companies this can have wider economic effects, as illustrated by the example of Japan. Following a period of strong growth, it suffered a decade of stagnation during the ‘90s due to debt overhang and unresolved bad loans. “Researchers calculated that the Japanese economy suffered from reduced investment over 10 years, amounting to the magnitude of one year’s total investment in the economy,” outlines Professor Keuschnigg. Policy-makers today of course want to avoid these kinds of problems, but they face some hard choices. “If you allocate labour and capital to the most productive uses, the other side of the coin is that you have to cut them from unproductive uses, and this is very painful for policy-makers,” points out Professor Keuschnigg. Putting a firm into bankruptcy is often met with political resistance, since it is commonly assumed that all the capital is lost and all workers are unemployed as a result. However, in fact about 30 percent of the capital is actually

If the average rate of return on capital is 8 percent, but some firms earn only 4 percent, then they don’t represent a good investment. In that case the capital or credit should be moved to firms which generate a higher return – so they

generate more income and value for society. Role of banks The role of banks here is to identify those firms that have the best prospects of generating profits, and then extend finance towards them, while withdrawing capital from those firms that are at higher risk of not being able to repay a loan. Analysis of a firm’s finances is a major factor in the initial decision on whether to extend credit to a company, and Professor Keuschnigg says a bank will not loan money to an over-indebted company, or one with a bad business model. “The credit is not safe there, it is clear that it will lead to losses. That’s why a bank has to scrutinize a company closely before they extend credit,” he outlines. A bank cannot guarantee that every loan it extends will

lost following a bankruptcy, and Professor Keuschnigg says that some of the workforce may be able to find a new job fairly quickly. “The bankrupt firm’s rivals can make good use of this labour, and they may come in and make offers,” he explains. An effective legal system that facilitates a smooth bankruptcy process can help ensure that less resources are wasted. “It’s important to have clear rules about the bankruptcy process, so that more resources can flow to more productive uses,” stresses Professor Keuschnigg. “Similarly with labour. If you don’t want to allow unemployment to happen when a firm is unprofitable, then you end up locking them into bad jobs, and that’s not in the interests of workers.”

BANKS, REALLOCATION, AND ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE Banks, Reallocation, and Economic Performance Project Objectives

Providing credit at low interest cost is a key function of banks. By carefully selecting and monitoring projects, banks direct credit to the most promising investments and deny financing of unviable projects. By liquidating non-performing loans, they extract substantial liquidation values and use these funds to lend to more promising firms. In reallocating credit from low return to high return projects, banks help to boost capital productivity and long-term growth.

Project Funding

Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, project no. 100018_189118.

Contact Details

Project Coordinator, Professor Christian Keuschnigg FGN-HSG, Varnbüelstrasse 19 CH-9000 St. Gallen T: +41 (0)71 224 3085 E: W: W: Keuschnigg, C., and M. Kogler (2018) “Trade and Credit Reallocation: How Banks Help Shape Comparative Advantage,” CEPR Discussion Paper No. 13375. Keuschnigg, C., and M. Kogler (2019) “The Schumpeterian Role of Banks,” VoxEU, available online Keuschnigg, C., and M. Kogler (2020) “The Schumpeterian Role of Banks: Credit Reallocation and Capital Structure,” European Economic Review 121, 103349.

Michael Kogler Prof. Christian Keuschnigg

Christian Keuschnigg is a full professor of economics at the University of St. Gallen and a research fellow of CEPR, CESifo and the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation. His research focusses on the economics of taxation; corporate finance, banking and capital markets; intertemporal macroeconomics and European integration. He is also active in policy advice. Michael Kogler is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of St. Gallen, Institute of Economics. He received his PhD in Economics and Finance from the University of St. Gallen. His research interests include banking, financial regulation, taxation, and finance and growth.


Taking on a taxing challenge Tax crimes cost governments large sums of money every year and undermine public faith in the system, so countering them is a major priority across Europe. Researchers in the PROTAX project have worked together with stakeholders to develop effective toolkits for the investigation and prosecution of tax crimes, as Professor Umut Turksen explains. The American writer Benjamin Franklin once said that death and taxes were the only two certainties in life, and while we can’t avoid the former at some point, many individuals and companies put a lot of effort into avoiding the latter. While there are legal routes to reducing tax bills, tax evasion and related avoidance conduct are illegal and continue to cost governments across Europe large sums of money every year, a topic at the heart of the EU-backed PROTAX project. “Nobody wants to pay more tax than they have to, but when the law prohibits an activity, how can we then enforce that more effectively? How can we change behaviour?” says Professor Umut Turksen, the project’s Principal Investigator. An additional focus in the project’s research is on the operational aspects of how law enforcement agencies work, the powers they hold, and how they can share information and cooperate at EU level effectively. “We work with financial intelligence units, the judicial authorities and tax authorities, as well as economic crime units within police forces. They are effectively our stakeholders,” continues Professor Turksen.

PROTAX project Researchers have worked together with these stakeholders to build a deeper picture of tax crimes in different countries, looking at several case studies, holding workshops and assessing the different approaches that are taken to investigating them and enforcing the law. Tax crimes are often highly complex, so Professor Turksen says it’s important to consider the context in which they occur. “PROTAX has found that enablers – tax professionals such as bankers, tax advisors, asset managers and accountants – often have competing legal and ethical obligations placed upon them in the course of their work,” he explains. “On the one hand, enablers have obligations to maximise their client’s financial interests. On the other hand, however, they are duty-bound to inform financial authorities of wrongdoing and participate in strategic policymaking to reduce tax crime. This contributes to the complexity of tax crime and demonstrates the need to address


• Situation calling for action. Risks relating to terrorists and criminals seeking to pursue destructive and malicious ends against the pillars of the single market and the opportunities for prosperity.

PROTAX - a research platform seeking to rise to the call of countering the risks associated with tax crimes.

• The research and innovation intervention.

• Horizon 2020 featuring investment in research and innovation as essential for Europe’s Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable future.

and inclusive growth and jobs - presenting tools to counter the risks.

Tax crimes and other financial crimes presenting critical threats to EU’s economies.

• Need for targeted intervention.

PROTAX in support of societal security in the EU.

the environment in which tax crime occurs, not only to consider whether the correct laws are in place.” The project’s agenda also includes research into sometimes neglected issues, such as what Professor Turksen calls operational learning. “If a particular officer is involved in a tax evasion case, how did they then use that experience and the knowledge that they gained? If they were unsuccessful, did they record it? Why were they unsuccessful, can they learn from it? If they were successful, what contributed to that success, what were the important factors?” he outlines. Tax crimes are not always easy to detect in the first place; one way of assessing the extent of the problem is by looking at what is called the tax gap. “You look at how much tax should be collected in a financial year, and then you look at how much the revenue has actually collected,” explains Professor Turksen. A discrepancy may not be entirely attributable to tax crime however, as other factors may also be involved. It could be that the tax authority is simply not that efficient

in collecting tax for example, or an otherwise viable business has made a deal to defer taxes because they are in temporary financial difficulties, so it’s difficult to get a clear picture. “Simply looking at the tax gap is not going to tell you how serious the problem is, and tax crime is very difficult to measure. So this is one of the major challenges we face,” outlines Professor Turksen. As part of the project, Professor Turksen and his colleagues have analysed publicly available data from several countries across Europe, looking at not only the definitions of tax crimes but also statistics on prosecution and conviction of tax crimes in several jurisdictions. However, Professor Turksen says there is currently no firm basis to then compare data that have been gathered in different countries. “Each country collects and collates information differently. Something may not be recorded as a tax crime in one country while it is in another,” he explains. This points to a need to improve how tax crimes are recorded, while researchers are also considering the enforcement

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of tax policy, where there is still often a perception that large companies are treated more leniently than smaller businesses and employees when they do break the rules. “In some cases, the authorities might agree not to prosecute a company if they pay a large fine. The authorities might then agree to inspect them again in future to ensure that they are in compliance,” outlines Professor Turksen. The process of prosecuting tax crimes is also often very slow, and it can be delayed and frustrated, another area of interest in the project. Researchers have looked at the point at which a tax crime becomes a criminal offence as opposed to a civil and/or administrative offence, which changes the nature of a prosecution. “Different types of

Toolkits This research is part of the wider objective of dealing with tax crime more effectively and a number of toolkits have been developed in the project, which identify best practice and international standards. One example is a policy toolkit for EU Member States on how to improve policy and law on countering tax crimes, while Professor Turksen and his colleagues have also developed further toolkits. A second, very practical toolkit is designed for tax enforcement agencies. “We’ve created something called a tax fraud investigation framework. The first part of that toolkit is about the EU legal framework, and then the second part is tailored more to the national legal system,” he outlines. Another important outcome of the project centres on

PROTAX New Methods to PRevent, Investigate and Mitigate COrruption and TAX Crimes in the EU Project Objectives

PROTAX seeks to unravel the nature and legal frameworks of tax crimes and money laundering, and investigation and prosecution tools - focusing on producing toolkits and additional guidance to improve and harmonise EU-wide action against tax crimes and cooperation and information sharing between all actors involved in different European jurisdictions.

Project Funding

The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 787098.

Project Partners

Nobody wants to pay more tax than they have to, but when the law prohibits an activity, how can we then enforce that more effectively? How can we change behaviour? evidence are required to convict someone under criminal law, so it is by nature more intense than a civil case. In some countries there may be a threshold of say 40,000 Euros before they criminalise it,” says Professor Turksen. An individual or company engaging in tax crimes may then choose to locate themselves in a country where they are less likely to face prosecution, or where the threshold is much higher, which they can do with relative ease within the EU. “The freedoms available to EU citizens enable ease of financial transactions, as well as the free movement of people,” continues Professor Turksen. “This is also a strength as there are many commonalities and established frameworks for information-sharing.”

risk assessment, and identifying vulnerabilities in terms of a country’s approach to dealing with tax crimes. “Each country is different. A country might have a gap in its legal system, or in training personnel, or in protecting whistle-blowers and journalists,” says Professor Turksen. The feedback on these toolkits so far has been extremely positive, and Professor Turksen believes they will bring tangible benefits to tax authorities. This research has already encouraged some countries to adopt a more rigorous approach to dealing with tax crimes, while Professor Turksen hopes the project’s findings will help to improve practice over the longer term. “I’m very hopeful that our research will have a significant impact beyond the project’s funding term,” he says.

There are a total of 9 project partners. For full details please see below link: •

Contact Details

Project Coordinator, Professor Umut Turksen Professor of Law, Centre for Financial and Corporate Integrity, Coventry University, United Kingdom T: +44 7530 832350 E: W: • European Commission, Horizon 2020 in brief: The EU Framework Programme for Research & Innovation (European Union, 2014), p.7. Available at: programmes/horizon2020/sites/horizon2020/files/H2020_ inBrief_EN_FinalBAT.pdf (Accessed 19 October 2020). • PROTAX, ‘Law in Action: unpicking the contradictions that facilitate tax crime’ (18 March). Available at: (Accessed 19 October 2020).

Professor Umut Turksen

Umut Turksen is a Professor in the Faculty Research Centre for Financial and Corporate Integrity at Coventry University in the UK. He is interested in the practical application of the law in innovation, societal security and development. He has published several articles and books on energy, financial crime and international trade and economic law.


What role should victims play in transitional justice? Mass atrocities and abuses leave significant scars on society, and transitional justice processes have been applied in countries where such events have occurred to identify the perpetrators and encourage reconciliation. What role should victims play in transitional justice? This question is at the heart of Professor Tine Destrooper’s work in the Justice Visions project. The transition from

an authoritarian regime to a democratic state has often been driven by people on the ground who mobilised, formed groups and demonstrated on the streets. Public protests, for example, sparked the downfall of dictatorships in several Latin America, South-East Asian and Central European countries in the 1980s and 1990s. “The reason why there was a transition in the first place is often that people mobilised,” says Tine Destrooper, Professor of Transitional Justice at the University of Ghent’s Human Rights Centre. In these countries emerging from violent dictatorships, transitional justice processes have often been applied to deal with the abuses and atrocities committed under earlier regimes. Yet, today, transitional justice is no longer the prerogative of post-authoritarian or postconflict countries or countries experiencing ongoing conflict. “We’ve observed a shift whereby mechanisms of transitional justice are now increasingly also being used in countries we tend to call consolidated democracies, to deal with their violent histories of – settler – colonialism,” outlines Professor Destrooper. A good example is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was set up in Canada in 2008 to examine the impact of the country’s residential schools system on indigenous peoples. Similar bodies have also been established in Australia and New Zealand, and most recently, Belgium. These bodies were set up to document and record evidence of past injustices, which

Photograph by Tessa Boeykens.

still affect contemporary society. “That’s particularly relevant if you look at the issue of racial injustice in some consolidated democracies,” says Professor Destrooper, who argues that transitional justice processes also have a wider communicative and expressive function. “They are not there just to identify and punish the perpetrators of abuses. They also send a message about what crimes society decides are deserving of punishment and which injustices we, as a society, deem unacceptable.”

Victim participation in transitional justice As the Principal Investigator of the Justice Visions project, Professor Destrooper is now looking at the effects of victim participation in transitional justice, with case studies on Guatemala, Cambodia, the DRC and Tunisia, all dealing with past crimes and injusticess. Over the last 10 years or so victim participation has become increasingly important in transitional justice, partly because victims know about the context, experienced the crimes that took place and can be agents of change, and partly

because they can help to foster grassroots support for justice processes. “If you want processes to be sustainable, then you have to make sure you have the support and buyin of local communities,” outlines Professor Destrooper. These people are not just victims. “They are active people, who in some cases were victimized precisely because of their political activism.” In addition to playing a role in international justice processes, they are often active in their own forums, networks and support groups. “We want to look at how these various kinds of involvement can be complementary in supporting transitional justice,” continues Professor Destrooper. To better understand victims’ priorities and strategies, deeper insights into the experiences of victims are required. This is a pre-requisite for arriving at better forms of victim participation in transitional justice. While the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted some of the plans to conduct interviews with remote victim communities, Professor Destrooper and her team have already started to analyse how victims are represented in reports, and have been actively

Photograph by Sameer Al Doumy.


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JUSTICE VISIONS Righting Victim Participation in Transitional Justice Project Objectives

How should societies come to terms with large-scale abuses or atrocities perpetrated under previous regimes? And what role should victims play in this process? The victims of abuses and atrocities understand the context in which they occurred and their participation can enhance local trust in transitional justice processes, yet this must be based on a deep understanding of their experiences and priorities. The Justice Visions project aims to examine how the participation of victims in transitional justice processes should be organised, and to look at the long-term effects of this participation.

Photograph by Sangeetha Yogendran.

rethinking the way in which they normally conduct fieldwork. Previously this may have meant one researcher moving into a remote setting for a limited period of time and then coming back with research findings. “Instead we are looking for virtual and other ways to establish more permanent relations and networks with victim communities and their representatives,” underlines Destrooper, who will also be training local research assistants who are already on the ground, as part of the capacity-building objective of the project.

Sharing insights A practitioner from Guatemala may have a lot to learn from a practitioner from Cambodia, and Professor Destrooper is keen to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and sharing of best practice. To this end, her team established the Justice Visions podcast. “We really wanted to provide an effective platform, particularly to practitioners from the global South, to share their insights. And we wanted to facilitate a conversation between victims, practitioners, scholars and policy-makers, to ensure that we

Transitional justice processes are not there just to identify and punish the perpetrators of abuses. They also send a message about what crimes society decides are deserving of punishment. While Professor Destrooper is a big believer in the existing international human rights architecture and the protections it offers, she also says care should be taken to ensure that international dynamics do not come to overshadow local efforts at justice-seeking. “Victims may have a very different understanding of justice. They may, for example, prioritize social and economic justice over criminal accountability for individual perpetrators,” she points out. “We need to prevent victims voices and priorities from being erased or rendered invisibile from internationally-driven processes, while not throwing over board the actual accountability mechanisms available at that level. Sometimes this may require us to think creatively about what is and is not possible within the existing international architecture, like using universal jurisdiction when there is an international deadlock, as is the case in Syria today for example,” illustrates Destrooper. These creative ways of using international and domestic justice mechanisms may also be relevant to justice actors in other contexts.

don’t fall into the trap of only talking about victims and activists, and not to them, or not giving them a platform.” The current season of the podcast therefore zooms in on some remarkable justice seeking efforts of victims across the world and interprets those in light of what is happening at the international level. A recent episode featured an interview with the Chilean anthropologist Loreto López, who was involved in recent protests that were ostensibly over transport costs but in reality were about problems yet to be resolved since the fall of the dictatorship. While Chile now has a democratically elected government, the same problems that were there before the fall of the dictatorship still beset the country. There’s still structural violence against indigenous groups, there’s still social inequality. “This shows that structural problems should also be addressed during transitional justice processes to ensure their sustainability,” argues Destrooper. It has been suggested that transitional justice mechanisms could be applied to push for social justice, which is also why, she argues, it is becoming increasingly popular in consolidated democracies dealing with vast injustices.

Project Funding

The project is funded by an European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant 804154.

Contact Details

Project Coordinator, Professor Tine Destrooper Justice Visions Universiteitstraat 4 9000 Gent, Belgium T: +32 9 264 68 98 E: W: W: W:

Professor Tine Destrooper

Tine Destrooper is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law and Criminology of Ghent University and a member of the Human Rights Centre there. Her research interests are transitional justice, socio-economic rights and gender. She has conducted research on the consequences of violent conflict and the role of the international community in dealing with its aftermath.


Spirit project shines a light on the dark Web The dark web provides a high degree of anonymity to users, and it is difficult to identify the people behind criminal activities conducted there. We spoke to Felice Ferrara and Costas Davarakis about the work of the Spirit project in developing tools to acquire and analyse data from different parts of the World Wide Web, which will help the police identify the perpetrators of crimes. The surface Web is the part of the WWW most commonly used by the general public, to shop online, to communicate over social networks, and to publish information as well as to access it. The dark Web offers similar services with a higher degree of anonymity. This protects user privacy which is very beneficial, for example, to politically persecuted people. On the other hand, anonymity makes it challenging to identify the perpetrators of criminal activity conducted on the Web, an issue central to the work of the Spirit project. “The overall goal of the project is to address the issue of criminal activity in cyberspace. We are tackling it by developing tools to resolve the identities of potential perpetrators that are using the Web – be it the surface Web or the dark Web,” says Costas Davarakis, the project’s technical coordinator. The project consortium includes a number of police organisations, who have seen over the last few years that an increasing amount of criminal activity is conducted via the dark Web. “This is why we initially committed a large part of our resources in the project to developing and evaluating solutions for the dark Web,” explains Davarakis.

Spirit project This does not mean that the surface Web is neglected however, and researchers in the project are working to develop solutions which are applicable to both parts of the Web, as a cyber-criminal may leave some traces of their real identity there as well. The ultimate aim here is to develop tools that will support law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in resolving identities, which first requires the gathering of information. “We have to collect information about possible identities, then extract relevant information from the collected resources and analyse it. The basic idea is to collect all the possible information, from all possible


SPIRIT Identity Resolution jobs generating perpetrator clusters and matching hypotheses.

data sources, to identify where two or more seemingly distinct subjects are in fact the same individual,” outlines Felice Ferrara, a Senior Software Engineer at Lutech, one of the project partners. This is no easy task however, as many of the criminals that use the dark Web try to hide their identities when moving around social networks. “We collect information and try to identify where someone is trying to conceal their identity,” says Ferrara. From a technical point of view, gathering content from the dark Web is fairly similar to gathering it from the surface Web, as it’s primarily a matter of using the right protocols. A large part of the project’s work is focused on developing tools capable of gathering content from the surface Web as well as other networks, such as the TOR networks. “The tool is able to recognise the specific characteristics of each of these networks, in order to get the

required information,” continues Ferrara. This is an area in which Ferrara and his colleagues at Lutech hold deep expertise. “In our work at Lutech we develop tools to crawl information from distinct data sources, in order to provide sufficient information to data recognition tools,” he explains. “The key is to provide enough information to use intelligent tools, which can then be used to identify people in pictures, for example by comparing images published on social networks with information from a police database.” A tool capable of crawling significant amount of information available on the Web is the entry point for an investigation system where many intelligent services are combined to analyse heterogeneous data sources such as text, video and images. All the content collected by the Spirit crawler is examined by natural language processing services or video analyses

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Scalable privacy preserving intelligence analysis for resolving identities Project Objectives

SPIRIT delivers a set of tools to empower LEAs to create semantically rich pictures over all available evidence to be presented at court. SPIRITtools is a platform delivering social graphs of heterogeneous named-entity relationships that performs social and criminal network analyses. It addresses surface and dark Web data acquisition, analysis, modelling and visualisation.

Project Funding Spirit Project Partners

mechanisms in order to link entities and ultimately discover identities. “We also have some other models which work on images,” says Ferrara. There are several intelligent services within Spirit, since different approaches are required to gather information from different sources. “Social networks are very different from dark Web content for example. So we need different services to properly collect data from different data sources,” stresses Ferrara. “Then the huge mass of downloaded data needs to be analysed by a family of intelligent services in order to properly extract entities and identities by taking into account the specific characteristics of each collected resource.”

to help the police and LEAs identify people of interest. This promises to bring significant benefits to the police, providing another investigative tool to help identify perpetrators of crimes, yet this must not come at the cost of breaking data security laws and infringing civil liberties, an issue of which Davarakis is well aware. “Privacy preservation is a major consideration in all aspects of our activities. In the project we have an independent ethics board, which is comprised of experts coming from legal backgrounds and with ethical expertise,” he stresses. The next step could be to apply these tools in policing and law enforcement, and Davarakis says the project

The overall goal of the project is to address the issue of criminal activity in cyberspace. We are tackling it by developing tools to resolve the identities of potential perpetrators that are using the web – be it the surface Web or the dark Web. Evaluating the tools This is an important issue for the police and LEAs that are the intended end-users of these tools. There are six police organisations within the project consortium, and Davarakis says their priorities in terms of the functions of these tools are clear. “The key aim for the police is to identify a person of interest, for example on the basis of a name or a specific physical attribute,” he explains. These police organisations are playing an important role in providing data, evaluating the system and offering feedback. “Our partners in the project have provided us with a set of anonymised cases. We can then use this to draw inferences regarding identity matching,” continues Davarakis. “Our endusers also have the experience to guide us in terms of the reasoning in these tools, and the use of the machine-learning algorithms that we are employing, in order to ensure that solutions do not infringe data protection laws. We want to make sure that the system does not generate either false positives or false negatives.” The system itself is essentially an opensource intelligence tool, which is designed

partners are looking to exploit the research results. “There are several industrial partners in Spirit, and there is interest in promoting and exploiting these tools beyond the project life, together with conventional actors in the market,” he continues. This reflects the rapidly-evolving nature of the field and the technical sophistication of cyber-criminals. Many cyber-criminals are very advanced and continuously develop new methods to evade detection, so it’s important for LEAs to keep pace. “This is why we are keeping the environment open,” stresses Davarakis. Close collaboration between academia, industry and LEAs is also very beneficial in terms of developing new tools to deal with emerging challenges, says Ferrara. “This project has given us the opportunity to work with LEAs and to understand their needs,” he outlines. “My team is working on cyber-security, and we’re developing anti-crime, anti-fraud, anti-terrorism solutions. We want to use our experience and knowledge gained through the project to extend our offering to our customers and provide stronger analytics tools.”

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 786993.

Project Partners

• LUTECH • NST - Nydor System Technologies AE • A E Solutions (BI) Ltd • SyNTHEMA Artificial Intelligence • SingularLogic SA • London Metropolitan University • West Midlands Police Authority • STAD Antwerp • POLICE AND CRIME COMMISSIONER FOR THAMES VALLEY • Innova Integra Limited • Ministarstvo Unutrasnjih Poslova Republike Srbije • Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona • Hellenic Police • Linköping University • European Center of Psychology Investigation Criminology • FraunhoferGesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung e.V. • Wyzsza Szkola Policji W Szczytnie

Contact Details

Dr. Costas Davarakis Senior Consultant - Research Coordinator SPIRIT Technical Coordinator E: E: W: Felice Ferrara E: Paolo Fabbri, SPIRIT Coordinator E: Dr. Costas Davarakis Dr. Felice Ferrara

Dr. Felice Ferrara received his PhD in Computer Science in 2012. His research interests are mainly focused on User Modeling and Artificial Intelligence. He is currently working in Lutech as Security Consultant and Project Manager on Log Management and Anti-Fraud & Crime projects. Dr. Costas Davarakis contracted by Singularlogic, is the Managing Director of NST-AE. In the past he has worked as an R&D coordinator in European both public and private sectors. Being active during all eight EU research frameworks, he has coordinated many European consortia. Costas is the Technical Coordinator of H2020-SPIRIT.


How did Śaivism spread across South Asia? Hinduism is a very broad religion containing several different devotional movements, including Śaivism, and evidence dating from the last centuries BCE shows it spread rapidly across South Asia from the 6th century onwards. The Śivadharma project aims to examine how Śaivism spread and to investigate its influence on religious identities in different regions, through studying the composition and spread of the ‘Śivadharma texts’, as Dr Florinda De Simini explains. The Śaiva religion developed around the cult of the God Śiva, and is one of the main branches of modern Hinduism. This devotion to Śiva distinguishes the Śaiva religion – or Śaivism – from other branches of Hinduism, such as Viṣṇuism, which are devoted to other Gods. “Hinduism is very broad, and contains several different devotional movements,” says Dr Florinda De Simini, Associate Professor in the Ancient and Medieval History of India at the University of Naples. While Śaivism is primarily a movement devoted to the God Śiva, this does not tell the whole story, and Dr De Simini says there are also other dimensions to the religion. “A whole philosophical system developed around it. This is about theology, but it’s also about culture and art,” she explains. “This religion has a huge level of cultural and political influence.”

Śivadharma project As the Principal Investigator of the Śivadharma project, Dr De Simini is now exploring this very complex cultural phenomenon and how it spread across parts of South Asia to areas with different linguistic traditions, covering a period from the early Middle Ages right up to the 18th century. Together with her colleagues, Dr De Simini is studying the Śivadharma texts, which were written in Sanskrit around the 6th/7th centuries, a period when Śaivism started to become a public religion. “Scholars have seen that Śaivism becomes more prominent at this time – meaning that it is increasingly

associated with political power. So it attracts more patronage at a certain point – and these texts really give an overview exactly of that period in which Śaivism started to become very prominent,” she says. “The main part of our research is about investigating how it spread very quickly throughout South Asia.” Researchers are investigating this phenomenon through the lens of the regions to which it spread, including Nepal, NorthEast India, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The Śivadharma texts became popular and influential in these regions, while they are also the very important regions in the history of Śaivism, two factors which Dr De Simini believes are connected. “These texts were popular in places where Śaivism was strong. We are trying to understand how these texts influenced the growth of Śaivism in those places,” she outlines. Researchers are also investigating the people and communities responsible for the spread of these texts, as well as how Śaivism was adapted to the specific local context. “For example, the Śivadharma texts were brought to Nepal before the 9th century, and a whole collection of texts was then built around them,” continues Dr De Simini. This collection reflects the local community, which included adherents of several different religions. These texts were integrated within a collection that also incorporated elements of Vaiṣṇava and Buddhist culture for example. “There was a process of hybridisation in Nepal,” explains Dr De Simini. This also occurred elsewhere

in India, as in some areas certain practices and rituals were adopted that had previously been associated with other traditions. “When we look at medieval texts, we see that there is a common syntax in the rituals for the followers of different Gods,” continues Dr De Simini. “This common syntax meant that it was relatively easy to adapt the teachings of a successful school to another that was maybe still growing. Rituals and practice could be translated into new environments.” The picture was however different in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where the Śivadharma texts were not hybridised with other religions. Instead, they were used to create a ‘stronger’ form of Śaivism, in the sense of providing strong scriptural support. “This stronger form of Śaivism came to be identified by some adherents with the nature of Tamil culture in a way,” explains Dr De Simini. The Śivadharma texts and a number of other Sanskrit scriptures were translated by local intellectuals, which Dr De Simini says was a way of grounding the community. “Along with Śaiva scriptures written in the Tamil language, they were using these texts to provide roots, and to provide them with the additional authority of Sanskrit scripture,” she says. “These were public texts promoting public rituals. So when they translated the texts they also translated the rituals.” There is no single text in the Indian religious tradition, but rather a continuous production of scriptures that claim to be authoritative and to come directly from a certain God. This made it difficult to identify authoritative

Researchers of the Śivadharma Project examine the manuscripts of the Tamil Civatarumōttaram in the library of the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam (February 2020).


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SHIVADHARMA The Śivadharma and the Making of Regional Religious Traditions in Premodern South Asia Project Objectives

Śivadharma Project Kickoff Workshop at the University of Naples “L’Orientale” (October 2019).

In the framework of the Śivadharma Project, Dr de Simini will work on the Sanskrit text of the Śivadharmottara and investigate its spread and impact on various forms of Śaivism throughout South Asia, as well as focus on Śaiva inscriptions from the Deccan. Other members of the team are investigating the impact of the Śivadharma texts in Nepal, East India and Tamil Nadu through texts, inscriptions, and iconography. She is also scientific coordinator for the University “L’Orientale” within the ERC Synergy Project DHARMA, “The Domestication of Hindu Asceticism and the Religious Making of South and South-East Asia.”

Project Funding Śivadharma reading workshop at the EFEO, Pondycherry (January 2020)

scriptures, both for scholars and the wider population. “One of the main criteria was whether scripture was orthodox – meaning whether it was coherent and consistent with the Vedas, a set of primary Hindu scriptures,” outlines Dr De Simini. The Śivadharma texts were seen as orthodox, meaning they were consistent with the Vedas, while they were also aimed at the wider population rather than a specific caste, both factors which Dr De Simini believes contributed to their success. “These texts were quite general and adaptable as well as open, to both common people and powerful people,” she says.

While the initial plan was to focus on the period between roughly the 6th and 14th centuries, further materials have since been discovered from more recent times, especially from Tamil Nadu. “We have actually extended our work now to the 18th century,” says Dr De Simini. Researchers are working to publish these texts and make them available in Sanskrit and English, with accompanying notes. “We are also studying them of course in Tamil, in Bengali, as well as in Kannada, which is the language of Karnataka. There is a lot of work still to do,” acknowledges Dr De Simini. “Besides studying the main sources,

The Śivadharma texts were popular in places where Śaivism was strong. We are trying to understand how these texts influenced the growth of Śaivism in those places. Converting the King The texts also show that there was a clear strategy to try and convert the King to Śaivism, on the basis that the wider population would then follow, and it might be argued that this strategy proved successful. Many Kings professed their allegiance to Śaivism in their inscriptions, a topic of great interest to Dr De Simini and her colleagues in the project. “We are studying inscriptions and epigraphical materials, to document this phenomenon,” she explains. Some of these inscriptions relate to public readings of the Śivadharma texts. “We are looking at situations where these texts were recited by public command, for instance in monasteries and public areas, or in which they are quoted and expressly referred to,” says Dr De Simini. There are a huge number of further texts to consider in terms of the project’s overall agenda, and many have not yet been studied.

we are also trying to better understand these local languages.” This work has been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, yet Dr De Simini hopes to travel to India in the next year or so. For the moment, the focus is on the textual sources, with the goal of publishing these texts and bringing them to wider attention. “One of our main aims is to make this tradition known to other historians,” says Dr De Simini. One part of the project involves developing a database in which the texts and translations will be presented, which Dr De Simini believes will prove valuable to other researchers. “We would like historians from other traditions to have the opportunity to learn about the history of Śaivism, we think that there is room for comparisons and learning,” she says. “We also see very strong possibilities in research on the Dravidian languages, which are spoken in South India.”

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement n° 803624)

Project Partners

• Università di Napoli “L’Orientale” (Host Institution) • École Française d’Extrême-Orient. Pondycherry (Partner Institution) • Università di Bologna (Partner Institution)

Contact Details

Florinda De Simini, Associate Professor History of Ancient and Medieval India Principal Investigator of the ERC-2018Starting Grant Project “Śivadharma” Università degli Studi di Napoli L’Orientale Dipartimento Asia, Africa e Mediterraneo Largo San Giovanni Maggiore 30 - 80134, Napoli secondo piano T: +39 373 712 8883 E: W:

Florinda De Simini

Florinda De Simini is associate professor in Ancient and Medieval History of India at the Dipartimento Asia, Africa Mediterraneo of the University of Naples “L’Orientale”. Her scholarly interests encompass the history of Śaivism through written sources, South Asian epigraphy in Sanskrit and Kannada, as well as the cultural aspects of the production and transmission of handwritten documents in South Asia.


A path towards strategic participatory research The InSPIRES project has developed a new conceptual framework that will make Science Shops more responsive to the concerns of the communities around them, and will help further open up the research process to different stakeholders, as well as integrating requirements from the Open Science concept and an impact evaluation strategy throughout the process. We spoke to the ISGlobal team, which is in charge of coordinating InSPIRES, about the project’s work. A Science Shop provides a link between scientists and civil society, with regular meetings helping researchers to identify issues of concern to the local community and also develop plans to address them. This also represents a route to widening participation in science and engaging the general public in research. “It’s a bottomup, demand-driven type of structure,” explains Anne-Sophie Gresle. As the Project Manager of InSPIRES, she and the consortium partners are working to develop innovative models for Science Shops, which will help open up the research process. “Our philosophy in the project is that the research agenda shouldn’t be determined solely by researchers. We should seek collaborations, and listen more to the concerns of communities,” says Dr. María Jesús Pinazo, the principal investigator of InSPIRES.

Extreme citizen science This means involving citizens in identifying research priorities, with a particular emphasis on working with marginalised groups, such as the elderly, migrants and refugees. The project brings together partners from several different countries,


Ingenious Science shops to promote Participatory Innovation, Research and Equity in Science Anne-Sophie Gresle Rosselló 132, 08036 Barcelona, Spain T: +34 93 227 2182 E: W: W:

Professor Pinazo (left) is doctor and graduate in Medicine and Surgery, specialized in Internal Medicine at the International Health Service of the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona. Mrs. Gresle (right) specialized in Patient in Public Involvement in Health Research and Project Management of international participatory health research project.


and while not all have an established tradition of engaging the public in health research, Dr Pinazo believes widening participation brings significant benefits. “In order for these types of project to really function, you need the participation of all the different stakeholders, including people from civil society,” she stresses. On the research side: “How can you re-formulate a civil society concern into a research question? says Mrs Gresle. A Science Shop will help you do that. Besides, Masters or PhD students are often involved in Science Shops, helping to bridge the gap between academia and civil society. The students

have sprung up across Europe over recent years, with researchers in InSPIRES now developing new models designed to make them more responsive to societal needs. An Open Platform, working both as an open repository and impact evaluation tool, has been developed in the project to enable the different stakeholders in the project to share knowledge and insights. “It’s free for units to register. This includes not only academic units, but also civil society organisations,” says Mrs. Gresle. A self-reflection and impact evaluation methodology has also been developed in the project, which again is free and open. “The

Our philosophy in the InSPIRES project is that the research agenda shouldn’t be determined solely by researchers. We, as researchers, should seek collaborations, and listen more to the concerns of our communities. themselves also benefit from this process, which gives them the opportunity to acquire different types of skills and competencies. Involvement in a Science Shop project brings students into contact with a wider variety of people, which Mrs. Gresle believes exposes them to new ideas, real life problems, and different perspectives. “Researchers become more aware of challenges and issues in the community, and this can open up new lines of research,” she explains. The research institution itself also benefits from participating in Science Shops or citizen science, as outreach activities lead to stronger relationships with the organisations, businesses and people around them. “Institutions also become more open to their communities,” highlights Dr Pinazo. These benefits are now more widely recognised, and a number of new Science Shops

idea is to have a harmonised impact evaluation approach for all the projects, so that they can learn from each other,” explains Mrs. Gresle. The evaluation methodology captures indicators in five different dimensions and provides a snapshot of a project’s impact, from which other Science Shops can then learn and adapt their approach. The aim here is to provide resources that meet the needs of those involved in the Science Shop movement, and help them work more effectively. “We wanted to develop a model of Science Shop that was more aligned with the Responsible Research and Innovation approach, while also systematically introducing an impact evaluation,” says Dr Pinazo. “We hope that people will find the platform and the evaluation methodology easy to use, while we are also developing the help section and the guidelines materials.”

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Promoting science outside school

A wide variety of settings across Europe promote curiosity, inquiry and exploration through various combinations of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the arts. Partners in the SySTEM 2020 project aim to build a deeper picture of science learning initiatives outside the classroom, and their importance in boosting scientific literacy, as Mairéad Hurley explains. Many of the

jobs in tomorrow’s world are likely to require specialised technical knowledge, as scientific research progresses and innovation continues apace. While schools, colleges and universities all have important roles to play in helping students acquire and develop scientific skills, education also takes place outside formal settings, a point central to the work of the SySTEM 2020 project. “In the project we aim to highlight the extensive science education that happens outside the formal system, and to highlight the value that it can have in developing scientific literacy,” says Dr Mairéad Hurley, Head of Research & Learning at Science Gallery Dublin, the project coordinator. There are many opportunities to learn about science outside the classroom, be that attending a family festival and encountering a science show, regularly taking part in a coding club, or occasionally joining a workshop at a science centre or an art museum, all of which can help people to think about the presence of science in their lives. “You’re exposed to, or you’re practising, the kinds of critical skills that are needed for everyday science,” outlines Hurley.

SySTEM 2020 project This doesn’t mean just technical, scientific skills but also core competencies like critical thinking, communication and collaboration. “Some young people are more comfortable developing and exercising these competencies

in an out-of-school setting than they are in formal education, where they may feel greater pressures,” says Hurley. These are important not just in terms of employment prospects, but also in evaluating data and identifying misinformation, skills which are becoming increasingly crucial for all citizens as we face a climate crisis, widespread vaccine denial, and the prevalence of digital data misuse. “Science education has to be about educating the scientists of the future – but equally it also has to get people excited about science and able to engage with it. This will then put them in a position to use it in their everyday lives to benefit them and make evidence-based decisions,” continues Hurley. The wider aim in the project is to generate a broad picture of the different STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) learning opportunities available across Europe, and to study in greater depth the learning happening in a subset of these. The project consortium brings together 22 different organisations involved in science education outside the classroom, including researchers and practitioners. The consortium has developed a map covering 19 countries across Europe & Israel which shows over 1,400 organisations active in informal science learning and describes the activities they provide. “We want educators, funders and scientists to know about the kinds of activities going on in their locality,” outlines

Figure 1: SySTEM 2020 map.

Hurley. With an effective means of sharing information about learning activities, SySTEM 2020 hopes to support these organisations and help them work together more effectively. “There’s a valuable network to be tapped into, and the map has gathered a wealth of openlyaccessible data. It’s a snapshot of the vibrancy of the informal science education sector in Europe & Israel,” says Hurley (Figure 1). There are thousands of organisations across Europe which provide these kinds of learning opportunities for young people, now researchers hope to strengthen the relationships between them and encourage greater participation. SySTEM 2020 is coordinated by Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin, a space which aims to make science and the arts accessible to all. “We want to create a much more neutral space, where the sciences and the arts are on an equal footing and where people learn by exploring their interests,” says Hurley. The other organisations in the consortium also have similar interests. “Ars Electronica in


Learner perspectives

Figure 2: Ars Electronia’s Create your World Festival: A yearly programme for young people up to the age of 19 to give them the opportunity to produce and present their concepts and ideas of the world of tomorrow.

Austria is a world-leading organisation dedicated to art, technology and society – they run a huge international festival every year and have a large centre in Linz,” (Figure 2) continues Hurley. “We have a partner, Kersnikova Institute in Ljubljana, Slovenia who run amazing exhibitions and learning programmes connecting art, science and technology” A major priority in the project has been to link the underlying research in this field with the expertise and knowledge of consortium members who are practitioners working directly with young people, to design and deliver their learning programmes. This partnership has led to the development of a set of tools and guidelines for informal science educators to engage learners more effectively, and more equitably. “Not everybody has the same access to science learning outside school. If the opportunities are limited to a physical location there are geographical barriers. If the activities are online, there may be a digital divide between those with access to internet infrastructure, and those without. If the learning activities and interactions are designed by those who are representative of the dominant social groups in science, and we don’t listen to the voices of a diverse audience when designing such activities, we risk reproducing existing inequities, and instead of making science more diverse, more equitable and more inclusive, we do the opposite, and increase the gaps,” says Hurley. “As well as taking these factors into consideration we are strongly interested in transdisciplinary spaces which try to break down the boundaries between science and other disciplines, and highlight the creativity


and curiosity inherent to science. We are trying to prove that having the freedom and opportunity to learn through creative exploration in an informal setting can stimulate an interest in science that may not take hold in the classroom.” Such an experience may lead to improved formal outcomes, but that is only one part of a bigger picture for the consortium. “Ultimately we want science at all levels to be representative of our diverse society, and by being more diverse, lead to better outcomes for everyone,” emphasises Hurley. To address this lofty vision, one of the outputs of the project is a set of design principles to support the development of activities related to science learning outside the classroom, available on the project website. These design principles are aimed at practitioners within the informal science learning sphere, for example staff of science centres or science museums, as well as those who work to engage the public with cutting edge scientific research. Alongside the design principles, there are use-case examples from the project partners highlighting some of the work they are doing to extend educational opportunities to marginalised groups and reduce inequity. “For example LATRA, our partner on the island of Lesvos – Greece – works with a number of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum as well as children and young people living in refugee camps (Figure 3). They have gathered evidence that the positive impact that informal science learning has on these young people includes building up their confidence in their abilities, increasing their trust towards educators as well as self-appreciation of their thoughts and opinions.’’

The perspective of the learners themselves and their attitude towards scientific subjects is also an important consideration in terms of improving overall scientific literacy, with evidence showing that many of the learners are highly self-motivated. In one part of the project, researchers surveyed students over a period of two years, aiming to build a deeper picture of their science learning and how it connects into their wider world. “We were looking at attitudes towards science both in and out of school, and we also gathered socio-demographic information about the learners to try to understand the role science plays in their lives,” outlines Hurley. “Unsurprisingly, we found evidence of persistent inequality - male learners from highly educated families are the most likely to connect with science. The analysis points to a need for inequities to be addressed at a systemic level, tackled together by educators, families, and policy makers.” Learners may pick up a lot of knowledge and skills outside the classroom, but it’s also important that they are able to reflect on what they have learned. “The development of core competencies is really important, to point learners towards self-reflection, which then leads towards self-directed or autonomous learning. Within SySTEM 2020, we have been developing a tool which can be used in informal science learning settings to allow students to monitor their own progress in areas such as collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication.” These competencies are highly valued by employers, yet progress or achievement in them is quite difficult to capture and accredit. Young people across the different locations in the project have worked with the tool, from which the team hope to gain fresh insights. “We’re working on the data analysis at the moment, in terms of what we can gather from the young people who have tried it,” says Hurley. “Initial results show that Figure 3: Exhibition curated by the Center for Refugee Art Technology & Environment, established by LATRA in 2018 as a refugee-led contemporary arts centre to assist the social and cultural integration of diverse young refugees. This initiative empowers the refugee participants with access to resources, funding and expertise.

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SySTEM 2020 SySTEM 2020: Connecting Science Learning Outside The Classroom

Project Objectives

SySTEM 2020 is examining science learning outside the classroom in more than 19 countries across Europe and Israel to highlight the value that it can have in developing scientific literacy. The project brings together 22 different organisations involved in this field, from research to practitioners, to produce new tools and approaches in supporting the development of flexible and rich learning ecosystems for students.

Project Funding Figure 4: A sample of zines created by SySTEM 2020 workshop participants in Science Gallery Dublin and Ars Electronica, allowing ideas to emerge which may be difficult to communicate through text alone.

creativity, collaboration, and communication are activated during participation in the STEAM activities of the SySTEM 2020 partners, and awareness is raised concerning critical thinking. The activation seems to be connected to the task in question: a creative learner in, say, electronics, may not be so in 3D printing. This implies that the good pedagogical design of activities may boost attainment in these areas.” Researchers also gathered learners’ opinions on whether they wanted accreditation for the learning activities they had participated in, and gained mixed

the content of what they had learned, and how the topic affected them (Figure 4). This helps us to evaluate our programme, while simultaneously allowing them to be creative, and to reflect on what they have learned, and how it fits into the wider context of their life, and society as a whole” This research is part of the wider goal of improving scientific literacy and helping all learners to develop the competencies they will need to deal with the complex challenges of the future. As well as resources and articles aimed at practitioners and others interested in informal science learning,

In SySTEM 2020 we aim to highlight the extensive science learning that happens outside the formal education system, and to highlight the value that it can have in

developing scientific literacy for all.

results. “Learners were not uninterested in paper or digital credentials for their activities, on the condition that these would bear some future utility,” Hurley states. “In general, they can see that it could be useful, but right now, many cannot think of a practical setting in which they would use such a certification.” A more creative reflective tool has also been developed in the project, which involved getting participants in STEAM learning settings to develop learning portfolios based on their experiences. “For example, in Science Gallery Dublin we run programmes where 15-16 year-olds come in for five consecutive days and participate in art-science workshops,” outlines Hurley. “We trialled a learning portfolio method called zines, which are little hand-folded booklets. Through drawing, collage, or even poetry, learners responded to daily prompts that were crafted to help them reflect on

SySTEM 2020 also has a forthcoming policy recommendation. “We’ve got a white paper on equity-focused science learning outside the classroom, which will be available on the project website in March 2021,” says Hurley. The project itself is nearing its conclusion, but in advance of that, the consortium is planning the publication of a final report which will highlight the scale of the project, and act as an advocacy tool for the informal science learning sector, outlining the vision of the project partners for a more equitable future. “The SySTEM 2020 project has shown the value of the work that happens in the out-of-school science and STEAM learning space, and overall, that there is a need for structured and systematic partnerships between all the relevant stakeholders if we are to address the persistent inequities in science learning” says Hurley. “As a community, we’re going to carry on working together on these topics.”

SySTEM 2020 has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement no. 788317

Project Partners

• Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland • WAAG, Netherlands • Aalto University, Finland • Ecsite – the European Network of Science Centres and Museums, Belgium • Ars Electronica, Austria • Bloomfield Science Museum, Israel • Kersnikova, Slovenia • Centre for the Promotion of Science, Serbia • Museo Nazionale Della Scienza E Della Tecnologia Leonardo Da Vinci, Italy • Noesis – Thessaloniki Science Centre, Greece • Parque de las Ciencias, Spain • Technopolis, Belgium • Science Gallery London, United Kingdom • Traces, France • Raumschiff, Switzerland • EMBL – European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Germany • Tom Tits Experiment, Sweden • Museiko, Bulgaria • Fundação Da Juventude, Portugal • ZSI, Austria • Latra, Greece • Utesla, Czech Republic

Contact Details

SySTEM 2020 T: +353 86 379 7272 E: W: : @system2020eu : @system2020eu : @SySTEM2020 Mairéad Hurley

Mairéad Hurley is Head of Research & Learning at Science Gallery Dublin. She holds a PhD in astronomy and is a qualified science teacher. At Science Gallery Dublin, she oversees the development of art-science learning programmes, and is Principal Investigator of the SySTEM 2020 project, through which a team of researchers and practitioners are investigating science learning in informal contexts.


A new perspective on longevity risk perception Statistical models based on actuarial data are used to project longevity, yet as individuals we often use heuristics when asked to consider our own longevity. We spoke to Professor Enrico De Giorgi and Dr Giovanna Apicella about how they’re combining behavioural and actuarial insights to bring a fresh perspective to how we perceive longevity risk. An annuity appears

to be an attractive option for individuals planning their retirement, providing people with a guaranteed income for the rest of their lives rather than the uncertainty associated with managing their own money. However, despite the benefits widely associated with annuities, the market for individual life annuities is fairly small in the US, UK and many other developed countries, part of what has been termed the annuity puzzle. “Very few individuals buy private annuities, the market is not that big,” says Enrico De Giorgi, Professor of Mathematics at the University of St.Gallen. Together with his colleague Dr Giovanna Apicella, Professor De Giorgi has looked into data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and SHARE to gain some fresh insights on why people might choose not to buy annuities. “When we looked at the data we discovered that there was a marked disparity between people’s subjective beliefs about their own survival prospects, relative to their actuarial probability of surviving,” he continues.


This could be an important factor in why many people decide not buy an annuity. The data shows that young people significantly under-estimate their own longevity, and then when people get to the age of 75 or even older, they may find that annuities are too expensive. “It may prove hard to buy an

more important in financing retirement,” he outlines. “The cost of conventional pension systems is becoming very, very high, precisely because people are living for longer. Giovanna has a very good knowledge of these issues from an actuarial point of view, while I come more from a behavioural perspective.”

It’s important that people save their money into private pension plans, so that they can have the same quality of life when they retire as they did when they were younger. We want to understand why many people are not currently willing to do this. annuity at that stage, despite the fact that rates are higher” explains Professor De Giorgi. As the Principal Investigator of a new research project, Professor De Giorgi aims to shed new light on the subjective beliefs which influence our decisions in this area, work which holds important implications in the context of our aging society and the need to fund care for high numbers of elderly people. “The private insurance market will become more and

Behavioural insights The aim in the project is to bring a fresh perspective to the available data by combining these two viewpoints. This involves looking into the underlying reasons why younger people initially under-estimate their own longevity, while generally older people have a tendency to over-estimate it, often using heuristics. “Heuristics are a mental tool we use to estimate probabilities,”

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says Professor De Giorgi. While heuristics work well in many contexts, in terms of judging individual longevity they can lead to assessments that are quite different to those derived from probability theory, which is where behavioural economics enters the picture. “Our conjecture is that people tend to react to health shocks. So when people get a shock – even something simple, like the flu – they tend to over-react. This overreaction leads to an update of beliefs, which is much stronger than what the data tells us about the actuarial probabilities,” explains Professor De Giorgi. This conjecture suggests that people tend to over-react to health shocks, which leads to this pattern of survival beliefs that has been observed in younger and older people. Researchers in the project are now looking to assess the evolution of subjective beliefs about longevity empirically against the objective pattern, as shown by the data. “A more objective pattern for survival probabilities is generated by actuarial models. We use mathematical and statistical methods to generate future patterns of longevity for the people included in our sample,” says Dr Apicella. The data being used in the project relates to a section of the US population over the period between 1996 and 2016. “It is a very comprehensive, well-known database,”

continues Dr Apicella. “It includes a lot of modules that concern several domains of life, for instance people’s expectations about their longevity, their physical health, and their cognitive abilities.” The comprehensive nature of the database is an important attribute in terms of investigating the many different factors that may affect individual longevity. By analysing this data on the US population, together with data about the past mortality experience of this population which has been recovered from the Human Mortality Database, Dr Apicella aims to build a deeper picture of the factors behind longevity. “We fit our stochastic mortality (CBD or M5) model to this database, and we obtain the survival probabilities forecasts, representing the actuarial benchmark against which we study subjective expectations, in both their level and dynamics,” she explains. Indeed, researchers have also delved further into the data to investigate how certain groups of people react to health shocks. “In particular, we consider people who are not affected by any of the five main diseases in our study – cancer, diabetes, heart conditions, high blood pressure and emotional disorders,” says Dr Apicella. “We also consider the people who are affected by one of these diseases, or by two or more simultaneously.”

Researchers know how the actuarial probability associated to a person with a specific health condition declines over time, yet it has also been found that the subjective probability about their own longevity that these people express evolves differently for some categories of individuals. This suggests that people could be driven by some mis-perceptions, by heuristics, when they express their beliefs about their survival prospects. “They do not correctly weigh statistical information about a health-related event when they formulate their beliefs. If they did, then their subjective survival probabilities would decline by a larger degree when they are diagnosed with a serious disease than a less severe one, as reflected by actuarial models,” outlines Dr Apicella. “Since this does not happen, there must be something different that drives people’s perceptions.” An individual’s emotional perspective is a major factor here, as a generally optimistic person may adopt the same outlook when considering their own health, which can vary according to age. Evidence shows that people in different age groups are characterised by different levels of life satisfaction. “Life satisfaction can be represented graphically as a U-shaped curve, with a nadir reached in middle age, around the age of 50,” explains


Combining Actuarial and Behavioural Perspectives to the Understanding of Longevity Risk

Project Objectives

The project’s objectives are: (i) document if and how subjective and actuarial probabilities differ, (iii) understand how individuals form their beliefs on survival and whether these beliefs are biased or also reveal private information useful for the pricing of insurance products; (iv) understand how the demand for insurance products depend on subjective beliefs on survival probabilities; (v) improve the design of life insurance products accounting for subjective beliefs.

Project Funding

The project is financially supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation with 237’370.00 CHF

Contact Details

Professor Enrico De Giorgi University of St.Gallen, MS - Faculty of Mathematics and Statistics, SEPS - School of Economics and Political Science Bodanstrasse 6 9000 St.Gallen, Switzerland T: +41 71 224 24 30 E: W: Giovanna Apicella

Enrico De Giorgi

Dr Apicella. Older people tend to have higher levels of life satisfaction, which Dr Apicella says is an important consideration in the project’s research. “This state of mind, this attitude, could have implications for how individuals perceive the likelihood of uncertain events, which are by nature random,” she continues. “We use ideas from the behavioural sciences, that are widely used in the financial field, to understand longevity, which is uncertain.”

Individual longevity The wider backdrop to this research is the evolving demographic picture in European societies, with people living for longer and longer, which raises new questions around healthcare funding. Those of us who want a healthy, happy and prosperous retirement need to plan for it, believes Dr Apicella. “It’s important that people save their money into private pension plans, so that they can have the same quality of life when they retire as they did when they were younger. Studying subjective beliefs paves the way to an understanding of why many people are not currently willing to do this,” she says. This research also holds wider relevance to actuarial practice, something that Dr Apicella is keen to explore further. “We are looking

to make use of the information that can be drawn from these subjective probabilities, in order to enrich probability forecasts from an actuarial point of view,” she explains. “Individuals use a lot of information when they express subjective probabilities about their own longevity.” Some of this information may be derived from heuristics and based on individual perceptions, so not statistically verified from an actuarial point of view. However, there may also be some other information within these subjective expectations that is relevant in terms of actuarial calculations. “Some of this information may give us an insight into the genetic background of an individual,” outlines Dr Apicella. By combining actuarial and behavioural insights, Professor De Giorgi and Dr Apicella hope to lay the foundations for improved predictions of longevity. “If you are able to detect biases in information derived from subjective expectations, and to build a relationship between subjective expectations and actuarial probabilities, then you will eventually be able to build a model that takes into account several factors that are currently neglected,” explains Dr Apicella. “That then leads to an improved prediction of longevity from an actuarial point of view.”

Enrico De Giorgi is Full Professor of Mathematics at the University of St. Gallen. He holds an MS in Mathematics from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and a PhD in Economics from the University of Zurich. His research interests are decision theory and behavioural finance, with applications to Portfolio Selection, Asset Pricing, Insurance, etc. Currently, he is Associate Editor of Decisions in Economics and Finance. He also holds Advisory Positions in the FinTech industry and is Founding Partner of BhFS Behavioural Finance Solutions. Giovanna Apicella is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of St. Gallen. She obtained her PhD in Statistical SciencesCurriculum Actuarial Sciences from Sapienza University of Rome. Her research, addressing the longevity risk assessment, currently integrates behavioural perspectives into a solid background on statistical and mathematical methods for mortality modelling and forecasting.


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Combining Actuarial and Behavioural Perspectives to the Understanding of Longevity Risk

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The Internet of Things

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