EU Research Summer 2021

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EU Research Summer 2021

Research in the time of Corona

The pandemic effect: How research has benefitted from the new normal

The Weather Makers: Can Environmental Engineering save the planet?

The next steps on the Moon: ESA and NASA collaboration latest

Mental health crisis, the impact of lockdown

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

Editor’s N T

his is an important issue for me because I found out about Europe’s close involvement in the next Moon and Mars missions, and I found it more than exciting, it was staggering. Like most people who are interested in science, going to the Moon and Mars and further still, those dreams are enormous and feel strangely impossible, despite the fact we have conquered the Moon at least, before. As I mentioned to Didier Schmitt from ESA, in an interview for this issue, when I was younger, my father said, ‘one day they will never believe we went to the Moon’ and he was right. So many do not, and it does seem unfathomable. You look at the Moon on any given clear skied evening and you realise we really are small and delicate creatures, and putting human footsteps on any other celestial body is not just a fantastic endeavour, it’s a species defining achievement. What is truly incredible is our commitment to sending people to Mars. If you think the Moon is a difficult feat, Mars is something else altogether.

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.

It is perhaps not surprising that in another feature in this issue, Van der Hoeven, one of the founders of a group of eco-engineers called The Weather Makers, realised the idea to regreen arid land, to arrest climate change, was a challenge requiring the same level of imagination and ambition we witnessed with the first Moon shot. We are facing an enormous scientific problem with climate change, but regreening dry infertile land is a viable and brilliant answer we should throw ourselves collectively into. I felt something in my chats with people and in the research in this issue, something perhaps a little surprising in a pandemic, in a climate crisis – it was hope, it was dreaming big, and knowing that we will overcome, and we will succeed.

Hope you enjoy the issue.

Richard Forsyth Editor


Contents 28 ASSEMBLE Plus 4

Research News


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


We spoke to Dr. Bahtiyar Yilmaz and Dr. Marta Marialva about their work in both researching the different microbiota in the gut and also in communicating its importance to the wider public.


El & Us Advances in gene- and cellbased therapies could improve the diagnosis and treatment of disease, but are we comfortable with the idea of effectively engineering life? Dr Ralf Stutzki aims to stimulate debate.


Renewable turbulent flow chromatography for exposomics Now that it is possible to sequence the human genome, scientists are looking to analyse our exposome in greater detail, a topic at the heart of Dr David J. CocoviSolberg’s research.


IMforFUTURE Dr Jeanine HouwingDuistermaat of the ImforFUTURE project is training and guiding the next generation of ‘omics researchers to establish the most effective methods to measure, integrate, and analyse datasets.

Mind your gut heroes


The ASSEMBLE Plus project provides scientists with free access to marine biological stations, with the aim of stimulating excellent research for the benefit of society, as Dr Nicolas Pade and Georgia Bayliss-Brown explain.

PREDICT We spoke to Dr Anke Wind, Professor Michael Brady and Mathieu Hatt about the work of the Predict project in training the next generation of radiomics researchers.

22 PANBioRA The PANBioRA project aims to develop a new method for assessing biomaterials, which could inform their ongoing development, as Dr Engin Vrana explains.

24 The Weather Makers A group of eco engineers are set on plans to regreen the Sinai and with that, to proactively influence the weather, in an effort to counter climate desolation and create new landscapes, ecosystems and industries along the way. Richard Forsyth reports.


INTERACT The Interact consortium coordinates efforts to send scientists to conduct research in the Arctic, which will lead to a deeper understanding of the extent of environmental change in the region, as Professor Margareta Johansson explains.

34 Global horse cultures

in change: new gender relations emerging from Western riding

We spoke to Dr Andrea Petitt about her research into how gendered human-animal relations of the American West are influencing the growing interest in Western horse and cattle practices in Sweden.

36 LaGaTYb Researchers are building a quantum simulator that directly implements the properties of specific models of interest, and allows them to study their properties with table-top experiments, as Professor Monika Aidelsburger explains.

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38 MAKING DARK TRIPLETS An effective singlet fission photon multiplication film would allow solar cells to harvest energy from a greater proportion of the solar spectrum and so improve efficiency, as Dr Victor Gray explains.

40 Gateway to the

Moon and Beyond ESA is working with NASA to put a space station in lunar orbit and astronauts back on the Moon. Richard Forsyth talks to Didier Schmitt, Strategy and Coordination Group Leader for Robotic and Human Exploration at European Space Agency., about breakthroughs in human space exploration we will witness in the coming years.


52 DECENTER We spoke to Dr Domenico Siracusa about the work of the DECENTER project in developing a new edge computing platform designed to support AI application developers and ensure computational resources are managed effectively.

55 HHDFWC Dr Elena Rapetti and Professor Anders-Christian Jacobsen tell us about their work in shedding new light on the non-secular origins of ideas about human freedom and dignity.

46 STEM Researchers in the STEM project have developed a new method of making nano-structured materials which could help improve energy storage capacity, as Dr Juan-Jose Vilatela explains.

48 EnDurCrete We spoke to Dr Arnaud Muller about the work of the EnDurCrete project in developing new, more durable and more sustainable types of concrete, which include a number of novel technologies.

50 Fundamental studies of

nanoscale physicochemical phenomena in functional materials by in situ electron microscopy methodologies We spoke to Dr Vasiliki Tileli about her work in using Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) techniques to investigate physico-chemical phenomena in nanomaterials.


We spoke to Professor Peter Rieker, Silke Jakob and Giovanna Hartmann Schaelli about their research into the importance of peer-specific socialisation processes, especially outside of school settings.

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

60 Luxus und Moderne Luxury was historically associated with sin, but over time the desire for new products came to be acknowledged as a driving force behind economic development, as Professor Christine Weder explains.

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

Horizon Europe calls experiencing technical difficulties European Innovation Council Pathfinder call extended by a week due to technical issues – and it’s not the first case of IT glitches blocking submission of research proposals this year. The European Commission’s proposals submission system is experiencing technical issues as the first Horizon Europe calls launch. The EU’s brand new innovation scale-up funder, the European Innovation Council, announced a six day extension to its Pathfinder call for breakthrough research projects, on the day before the call was due to close. The reason was an - unspecified - technical issue affecting the Commission’s Funding and Tenders Portal. The Commission encourages researchers to submit applications a few days ahead of the deadline. But this time around, they were welcomed by error messages while trying to upload them. The Commission has not said what the problem is, but complaints from applicants online allege that for over a week it was not possible to edit their proposals or add partners to their projects. The same submissions portal was used for Horizon 2020 calls, and it is unclear whether these problems are new. The Commission has refused to comment further but confirmed the IT department is working on fixing the EIC Pathfinder problem as soon as possible. There were similar problems in April 2021 around the European Research Council’s first 2021 call. The Starting Grants call for bottom-up fundamental research projects was open to 8 April. But in the lead up to the deadline, while some were celebrating submitting their proposals after months of preparation, others were unable to access the platform.

It is unclear whether the issues with the EIC and the ERC are related, and if similar problems could affect future Horizon Europe calls and applicants. One Twitter user reported that scientists applying for ERC Consolidator grants had experienced problems, but the call deadline was not extended. The technical troubles are the latest twist on the long road to launching the EU‘s new sevenyear research programme. Researchers are still waiting for Horizon Europe work programmes laying out timelines and budgets for funding calls, which were meant to come out in March 2021. In an unrelated incident last week, the EIC unexpectedly froze new submissions for the June round of its €1 billion Accelerator call for start-up funding. At first, many suspected technical issues were the cause, but the EIC later clarified it was inundated, saying there were too many initial proposals to evaluate for those who were successful at this stage to submit full proposals before the cut-off date, and as a result no more outline proposals could be accepted. Despite its ongoing problems with the applications portal, EIC today launched a €100 million call for projects translating research to market, of which €40.5 million is for medical devices and energy harvesting and storage technologies. The deadline is 22 September.


“No hope to be able to submit an #ERC #starting #grant today. What is going on with the server? I am the only one experiencing problems today?” tweeted a researcher at the University of Bern, a day ahead of the 8 April deadline.

The ERC acknowledged the problem on 6 April, promising to fix it as soon as possible. But with the issues persisting, the 8 April deadline was extended by 24 hours. A little later, the deadline was once more extended by three days, to 14 April. But the problems persisted for some users. “Again ... after a smooth morning, the issues with the administrative form are back. No access again,” tweeted one researcher. The issue was eventually resolved on 9 April. Some reported more problems popping up over the next few days, but most seemed to be solved by simply clearing browser cookies.


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More time, support and funding required for European universities matchmaking scheme

Institutions involved in the EU’s European universities matchmaking scheme say more time and funding is needed for the 41 alliances they have formed to be fully established and to flourish. European Education ministers on Monday threw fresh support behind the scheme, which sees institutions pool their expertise and resources to deliver new, joint curricula to students. But alliance members say that EU officials should consider a number of course corrections for the programme. “We’re reaching a crucial point, which is the midterm evaluation of the first 17 alliances. In addition, important decisions will be taken this year regarding the further rollout of the programme,” said Anna-Lena Claeys-Kulik, policy coordinator at the European University Association, which represents more than 800 universities. The first 17 EU-funded alliances launched in 2019 and still have one and a half years to run. A second round of 24 alliances started last year. A total of 284 institutions are involved. People involved in these multi-university tie-ups say Brussels officials and governments need to think hard about the future of the alliances and should get active in slashing red tape to allow them to mature. “If member states truly want to contribute to the success of the European Universities [scheme], they will need to step up their game, putting their money and their actions where their mouths are,” a statement by the League of European Research Universities (LERU) says. Universities are enthusiastic about the scheme, “even though they knew from the onset that their engagement would cost them much more than any funding would cover,” LERU, which represents 23 universities, said. To help these cross-border alliances thrive, EU governments should remove regulatory barriers that hamper collaboration, the creation of joint degrees and the setup of legal entities, LERU says. EU officials should also consider downsizing their expectations for the alliances, which are “far too ambitious and far reaching”.

The EU scheme follows a proposal in 2017 by French president Emmanuel Macron to create 20 cross border university networks, of about four partners each. Macron argued that Europe is a place where all students should speak at least two European languages by 2024. His involvement has given the initiative additional credibility and cachet in higher education circles, and not least in France. While some alliances cover all disciplines, others are focused on specific areas such as urban coastal sustainability, social sciences or global health. The European University of the Seas, for example, is a network of six universities in coastal locations that want to develop joint curricula around ocean governance. The scheme also aims to boost smaller universities that do not see the same demand from students as some of the continent’s most selective schools, like Oxford University or the Technical University of Munich. The European Commission says the programme should eventually lead to joint degrees and allow students and researchers to travel between European institutes more easily. Members of the university alliances say that both the Commission and the 27 member state governments need to be realistic in their demands and expectations for alliances. There’s a risk that Commission officials will “drown the alliances with too many demands and a push towards enlargement,” LERU says. This group expects to receive some €17 million over three years, from Commission and member state sources. That is a good start, but not enough to ensure long-term sustainability and scaling up, Chambaz said recently. Further, alliances say evaluators should recognise, rather than penalise, experimentation. The alliances were set up before the onset of the pandemic that has seen travel by staff and students grind to a halt.


Study finds research findings that are probably wrong cited far more than robust ones Academics suspect papers with interest-grabbing conclusions are waved through more easily by reviewers. Scientific research findings that are probably wrong gain far more attention than robust results, according to academics who suspect that the bar for publication may be lower for papers with grabbier conclusions. Studies in top science, psychology and economics journals that fail to hold up when others repeat them are cited, on average, more than 100 times as often in follow-up papers than work that stands the test of time.

Serra-Garcia analysed how often studies in the three major replication projects were cited in later research papers. Studies that failed replication accrued, on average, 153 more citations in the period examined than those whose results held up. For the social science studies published in Science and Nature, those that failed replication typically gained 300 more citations than those that held up. Only 12% of the citations acknowledged that replication projects had failed to confirm the relevant findings.

The finding – which is itself not exempt from the need for scrutiny – has led the authors to suspect that more interesting papers are waved through more easily by reviewers and journal editors and, once published, attract more attention. “It could be wasting time and resources,” said Dr Marta Serra-Garcia, who studies behavioural and experimental economics at the University of California in San Diego. “But we can’t conclude that something is true or not based on one study and one replication.” What is needed, she said, is a simple way to check how often studies have been repeated, and whether or not the original findings are confirmed.

The academic system incentivises journals and researchers to publish exciting findings, and citations are taken into account for promotion and tenure. But history suggests that the more dramatic the results, the more likely they are to be wrong. Dr Serra-Garcia said publishing the name of the overseeing editor on journal papers might help to improve the situation.

The study in Science Advances is the latest to highlight the “replication crisis” where results, mostly in social science and medicine, fail to hold up when other researchers try to repeat experiments. Following an influential paper in 2005 titled Why most published research findings are false, three major projects have found replication rates as low as 39% in psychology journals, 61% in economics journals, and 62% in social science studies published in the Nature and Science, two of the most prestigious journals in the world. Working with Uri Gneezy, a professor of behavioural economics at UCSD,

Prof Brian Nosek at the University of Virginia, who runs the Open Science Collaboration to assess reproducibility in psychology research, urged caution. “We presume that science is self-correcting. By that we mean that errors will happen regularly, but science roots out and removes those errors in the ongoing dialogue among scientists conducting, reporting, and citing each others research. If more replicable findings are less likely to be cited, it could suggest that science isn’t just failing to self-correct; it might be going in the wrong direction.’ “The evidence is not sufficient to draw such a conclusion, but it should get our attention and inspire us to look more closely at how the social systems of science foster self-correction and how they can be improved,” he added.

Germany resists EU move to limit non member states role in R&D EU officials expected to revise proposal to bar Israel, Switzerland, UK from quantum and space R&D. Germany this week successfully rallied member states to get behind its push for the full participation of Switzerland, Israel and the UK in EU-organised quantum and space research projects. The place of the three countries in multi-billion euro projects under the bloc’s Horizon Europe science scheme has been in doubt for weeks, with key European Commission officials pushing the case for closing off access to research considered of strategic interest. However, in a declaration circulated to EU states Monday, which sources say gained wide backing from member state representatives during a meeting the following day, the German government calls the three affected countries “important partners [that] should be allowed to continue to participate.” In response to the member state fightback, Commission officials are now promising to come back with a proposal that removes the vast majority of exclusions, sources said. A new work programme, setting out terms of access for quantum and space projects, is expected to circulate next week. The German statement follows a period of building unease on the subject of exclusions, culminating


Friday in a statement from German, French and UK university groups urging the Commission to lift its threat to bar the EU neighbours. The Commission’s proposal, which first appeared last month, was to exclude Israel and the UK from almost all EU quantum research projects, while excluding Switzerland, Israel and the UK from almost all space research calls. The German declaration called for “less drastic ways” to prevent the unlawful transfer of knowledge from to non-EU countries – a key concern in Brussels. “In particular, we see substantial potential to better protect our strategic interests at the level of association agreements and/or grant agreements,” the document reads. Crucially, the declaration says, excluding these countries “would not only impact negatively on ourselves in the most unaffordable manner, it could redirect their much desired resources that we ought to benefit from, towards cooperation with other countries outside the European Union. The current provisions would result in mistrust among the scientific community and minimise the added value of Horizon Europe for the EU significantly,” the document adds.

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Cancer clinical trials – learning lessons from the pandemic The ingenuity shown through out the pandemic by researchers leads to improvements in research methodology. Resilience, adaptability and innovation – those at the forefront of delivering cancer clinical research have displayed it all during the COVID-19 pandemic. So, what lessons can we learn for the future of cancer trial delivery? We hear from some of our research nurses and clinical trial experts on harnessing the positives from a year like no other… Over the last year, the Coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on non-COVID clinical research trials. As Europe went into the first lock down, difficult decisions had to be made regarding patients who were taking part in cancer clinical trials. Obviously, patient safety was a priority, and where it was safe and appropriate to do so, every effort was made to ensure that those patients currently taking part in trials were able to continue to receive their treatment. Whether it was setting up virtual clinics, establishing telephone follow up services or finding ways to deliver medications to patients’ homes, research nurses and clinical trial teams rose to the enormous challenges facing them and their patients.

One cancer researcher stated “Monitoring of trial data has changed. Traditionally this has involved ploughing through volumes of patient notes, but with the move to electronic patient records, searching for information is easier and allows the team to focus on the essential, clean data. We are getting to the stage where onsite visits can be decreased and remote visits performed, so that when on site these will be more targeted and useful for site staff. Without COVID-19 we may have had to wait for many more years before this became acceptable practice, so I hope it continues and becomes more accessible at every site.” A operations director of a major European clinical trials unit concluded “It is so important that we harness the positives from this incredibly challenging time. Many practice changes were made in response to the global pandemic, and we should take time to reflect on what these innovations could mean for clinical research delivery. This time of crisis has provided us with a real opportunity to take these developments and use them to shape the delivery of cancer clinical trials in the future, and ultimately get new cancer treatments to patients quicker.”

Mental health concerns doubled during lockdown Researchers set out overarching goals to speed up implementation of mental health research. A group of UK academics are calling for targets for mental health in order to meet the healthcare challenges of the next decade. Published in May in the Journal of Mental Health, researchers set out four overarching goals that will speed up implementation of mental health research and give a clear direction for researchers and funders to focus their efforts when it comes to better understanding the treatment of mental health. The treatment of mental illness currently brings substantial costs to not only the NHS, but also to the individual and wider society, and the need for innovation to promote good mental health has never been greater. In an effort to catalyze this innovation, the researchers have set out four ambitious targets: 1.Halve the number of children and young people experiencing persistent mental health problems 2.Improve our understanding of the links between physical and mental health, and eliminate the mortality gap 3.Increase the number of new and improved treatments, interventions and supports for mental health problems 4.Improve the availability of choices and access to mental health care, treatment and support in hospital and community settings The number of goals was limited to four in an effort to easily promote cross-sector partnerships, and to track their impacts. The research comes at a particularly pertinent time. At least 1 in 6 adults in Europe are likely to experience mental health difficulties in any given week, and the British Medical Association has recently warned

that the mental health consequences of covid will be “considerable”. The research has been welcomed by several sector voices, including funders, researchers, and National Health Institutes. Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer and co-lead of the National Institute for Health Research UK, said: “Few could disagree that mental health research is crucial in driving innovation in current mental health care and in bringing hope for the future. Dr Nev Jones of One Mind, as US-based non-profit organization, said “the paper sets the stage for organizations to “all pull in the same direction”. Collaboration has been a cornerstone of One Mind’s strategy to accelerate research, and this framework will be helpful moving forward.” Professor Dame Til Wykes said, “The pandemic has and will produce a double whammy - the effects of lockdown and the effects of economic slowdown that exacerbate existing socio-economic inequalities. “With so many people facing an increased risk, it’s vital that we act now to proactively meet the challenges of the next 10 to 20 years head on.” “The spread of COVID-19 has demonstrated that widespread changes can be implemented rapidly when everyone is working to the same goal. If we can emulate our response to the pandemic in the care of mental illness, we would see positive impacts very quickly.” The four goals were produced following a consultation process that was organized by the Department of Health and Social Care and convened by the Chief Medical Officer. The views of service users and service user organizations supported this activity, as well as research support from the National Institute for Health Research’s Clinical Research Network.


Climate Change: G7 Ministers agree on major reduction of fossil fuels Decision considered very positive after calls by researchers for ministers to listen to the science. Environment ministers from the UK, the US, Canada, Japan, France, Italy and Germany took part in the virtual G7 meeting, which is one of a series leading to the leaders’ gathering in Cornwall in June. The online meeting was led by the UK, and a government source told EU Research: “We’re pretty encouraged by the outcomes.” G7 environment ministers have agreed that they will deliver climate targets in line with limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C. That’s far more ambitious than the previous 2C maximum. Ministers also agreed to stop direct funding of coal-fired power stations in poorer nations by the end of 2021. There’s wriggle room in the statement, but the decision will send a clear message to development banks that still fund coal power in poor countries. There’s also an important commitment to safeguarding 30% of land for nature by 2030 to boost wildlife and help soak up carbon emissions.


The decisions that have been taken are an important steppingstone on the road towards the vital global climate summit in Glasgow in November called COP26. The move to keep their policies in line with 1.5C implies much faster action to cut emissions by 2030, rather than by mid-century. Nick Mabey from the climate think tank E3G told EU Research: “This is looking good. It puts the burden on any fossil fuel development now to prove that it’s 1.5C compatible.” The ministers are said to have been heavily influenced by a recent report from the rich nations’ energy think tank, the IEA. The study said that if the world wanted to reach net-zero emissions by the middle of the century, then there could be no new coal, oil or gas development from now on.


The G7 ministers agreed much more cash was needed to help fast-growing economies such as India and Indonesia to get clean technology. This decision will be pushed forward

at the G7 Finance ministers’ meeting on 4 June. The final touches are being put to the communique, and some key details may change - but the latest draft said: “We will phase out new direct government support for carbon-intensive international fossil fuel energy.” This is expected to mean coal and oil. But there’s no date for enactment of the policy, with Japan arguing against strong strictures against coal. The UK hopes Japan will bend further on this by the Glasgow conference in November. Another statement in the draft said: “We commit to take concrete steps towards an absolute end to new direct government support for unabated international thermal coal power generation by end of 2021.” The ministers agreed that the world should move towards zero emission vehicles. The G7 were joined by India, Australia, South Africa and South Korea who have guest status at the meeting. Obviously the big name missing here is China, who weren’t represented at the meeting. It seems the G7 strategy is rather than blame China (the world’s largest carbon emitter) is to instead lay down a challenge. One source said: “It’s a question of us saying ‘this is what we are doing to protect the planet - what are you going to do to protect yourselves and the planet?’”. They were also keen to emphasise that with President Biden as US leader, western democracies had now re-taken charge of the international agenda. The G7 nations now need to prove they have policies to back their intentions. The UK government told EU Research it supported the IEA report, but wouldn’t be revoking recent North Sea drilling licences. Ministers have also declined to halt the proposed Cumbria coal mine, and they’re pushing ahead with a £27bn roads programme and the HS2 rail project - both of which will increase emissions.

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How AI Can Be Used For Spotting High Impact Research An AI framework designed by MIT researchers named DELPHI can provide early-warning signals for high impact research. Millions of scientific articles are published throughout the year from different parts of the globe. It is difficult for a group of reviewers to keep track of all the papers for their impact. The immediate thought would be to automate the process but how can you teach an algorithm what impact is? Identifying the need for a change in the scientific ecosystem that judges a research paper’s merit based on citation-metrics James W. Weis, an MIT Media Lab research affiliate and Joseph Jacobson, a professor of media arts and sciences and head of the Media Lab’s Molecular Machines research group, built DELPHI. The AI framework is a solution for researchers to overcome the bias and hurdles related to citation based metrics which can often be imprecise, inconsistent, and easily manipulated. DELPHI, which stands for Dynamic Early-warning by Learning to Predict High Impact, is a framework that provides an early-warning signal for high impact research by drawing from patterns discovered in previous scientific publications. According to the paper published by James W. Weis and Joseph Jacobson in Nature Biotechnology, various citation-based metrics are currently employed for scientific research papers, such as citation count, h-index, and journal impact. However, these metrics are far from adequate to measure the quality of a paper, which leads to mediocre academic hiring, training, and, more importantly, delayed impact; thus, the use of results can impede decisions on academic advancement and financial support.

DELPHI determines which research is of high impact to make predictions in the early years of publication. It significantly outperforms models which are solely trained with latest publications. Concentrically, interesting is that a considerable number of high-impact publications have small citation counts when they are launched in the early years, these ‘hidden gems’ cannot be discovered using simple metrics and this is where DELPHI comes to the rescue. To date, there has been no framework that has combined this approach of learning from the past for identifying and funding the future potential of technology. On the other hand, DELPHI uses a machine learning framework to analyse a range of features that are calculated over time and are highly influential for work in science. The DELPHI model is trained using metrics and a biotechnology-focused database over a five-year period beginning with the year of publication. It can be utilized to create diversified, impact-optimized portfolios to assist in funding. As implied by the researchers, the finding in the paper is only a stepping stone towards the use of machine-enhanced scientific studies. As such, DELPHI should be seen as a part of a scientific research toolkit, to be employed in conjunction with ordinary or perceptual research and analysis—rather than taking the place of it.


Mind your microbiota, the heroes of the gut A lot of progress has been made over recent years in identifying the different microbiota in the gut, and how relative proportions are an important indicator of individual health. We spoke to Dr. Bahtiyar Yilmaz and Dr. Marta Marialva about their work in both researching the different microbiota in the gut and also in communicating its importance to the wider public. The balance between

the different microbiota found inside the gastro-intestinal tract exerts a significant influence on human health. In particular, the relative proportions of two main phyla called Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes are an important indicator of an individual’s health. “If the level of Firmicutes is high there may be a high risk of obesity for example, while if Bacteroidetes is low there may be a susceptibility to developing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD),” explains Dr. Bahtiyar Yilmaz, a senior researcher at the University of Bern. This is a topic Dr. Yilmaz is exploring in the group of Prof. Dr. Andrew Macpherson who is the clinical director of Gastroenterology at the University Hospital of Bern (Inselspital). “In the study we aimed to identify specific bacteria profiles associated with clinical features and treatment responsiveness of these very heterogeneous diseases over time (up to 11 years) in a large patient cohort,” he outlines. “The first question we aimed to answer was the difference between the microbiota found in healthy people and the microbiota in patients with IBD.”

Grant of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF). Alongside looking at how the relative abundance of these bacteria change over time, Dr. Yilmaz also plans to study the evolution of their genomes. “Do these bacteria accumulate specific mutations over time that make them more resilient? Or does this make them more vulnerable, reducing their abundance in the gut?” he outlines. This represents a new area of study. “We are looking to the genomes of specific bacteria and asking how they change. These changes occur primarily because of their interactions with other microbes, and an individual’s diet is an important factor,” continues Dr. Yilmaz. “Some parts of the diet are utilised more effectively by some bacteria than others, so they then start to be more dominant. This leads to a reduction in the other bacteria as there is competition in the gut for what we call the ecological niche.” This is an important factor in terms of maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria. There are thought to be more than 1,500 different species of bacteria in our gut, and Dr. Yilmaz’s study shows that a healthy gut is characterised by a high level of bacterial diversity. “There should be a lot of different bacteria in the gut, it’s not healthy if one or two particular types dominate,” he says. The importance of gut microbes to health is not widely recognised however, so Dr. Yilmaz holds another SNF grant with a large educational component. “We are working with kids in Switzerland to teach them about microbiota and their intestinal system. We aim to educate the public about the gut microbiota, and to teach students about how they can keep themselves healthy,” explains Dr. Yilmaz.

Mind Your Gut Heroes: The Research This study centred on research using two different cohorts of patients, from which Dr. Yilmaz hoped to gain deeper insights into the impact of gut microbes on individual health. The patients themselves were mainly Swiss residents from different parts of the country, and while the cohorts were quite diverse, it was still possible to identify certain patterns. “We see the same kind of profile within the healthy people or those with diseases and that the same types of bacteria are reduced in people with a specific disease status, or who have undergone similar treatment,” says Dr. Yilmaz. A variety of different drugs are used to treat IBD, and if a patient doesn’t respond then they have to undergo surgery to remove the active disease segment. Dr. Yilmaz tried to understand the influence of gut microbiota on such clinical outcomes. “How much do the microbiota change upon certain treatment and why do some patients relapse after surgery?” he asks. “We now know that patients with a severe course of disease and who fail to heal with medication have particular bacteria, and that this microbiota signature is also characteristic


of patients in remission following surgery who have an almost inevitable probability of relapse.” Dr. Yilmaz believes that they are in the right path and is hopeful that one day they can achieve sustainable deep remission of the disease by manipulating the intestinal bacteria via personalized therapy. Following this study, Dr. Yilmaz’s research has involved investigating questions around the evolution of the gut microbiota in IBD patients, a study funded by the Ambizione

Mind Your Gut Heroes: Science Education The idea here is to transform the role of the students in their own learning. While previously students may have been expected to sit quietly and listen to their teacher, Dr. Marta Marialva is taking a different approach to teaching in her role with Ginkgo-Educa, an educational NGO that she co-founded. “We believe that if children have an active role in their learning, then their learning experience will be richer. So,

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it goes beyond the acquisition of knowledge – they actually acquire many skills,” she explains. Ginkgo-Educa is involved in several different projects aiming to improve scientific literacy among both adults and children, which will help counter concern about misinformation and fake news. “With issues like social media manipulation, it’s more important than ever to get kids to think critically,” stresses Dr. Marialva. “We are preparing the students of today for an uncertain future.” Many of the jobs in the economy of the future don’t exist yet, so technical skills and problem-solving capabilities will be highly valued. A practice-oriented science classroom can encourage the development of these skills, while it can also promote equity and encourage participation in under-represented groups, which is an important issue for Dr. Marialva. “We aim at using science and experimentation as a tool to increase students’ motivation, while at the same time also elevating their expectations and ambitions for their futures,” she says. In one project Dr. Marialva works with the Lusodescendant community in Switzerland, which has historically performed relatively poorly at school in comparison to their peers, while another initiative focuses specifically on girls. “Typically, girls have less interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic (STEM) subjects at school, which then affects their subsequent career options,” she says. The ‘Mind your gut heroes: Microbiota in health and disease’ project funded under the SNF Agora Rolling Call provides a way

We observe the bacteria in our mouth through a microscope.

Microbiota in health and disease Project Objectives

The intention in the project is to heighten awareness of the importance of microbial communities to health, and to communicate the message that entire communities should be treated rather than individual bacterial strains. The project aims to bring all parties involved in this study – researchers, medical doctors and patients – to show the importance of collaborative work to a successful scientific output.

We grow bacteria that live on our skin.

Project Funding

This project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation SNF Agora Rolling Grant (CRARP3_186512) to Dr. Bahtiyar Yilmaz.

Project Partners

• Dr. Christiane Sokollik (University Children’s Hospital, Inselspital, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland)

Contact Details

We find out what happens in our body when we ingest food.

Around 90 percent of the cells in our body are made from microbiota, and Dr. Marialva has come up with a number of novel ways to illustrate this and other scientific concepts to students. In one task students distribute coloured beans into a glass representing the human body, which shows that bacteria

We want to make sure that by the end of the conversation children understand that bacteria are everywhere – some may be good for us, some may be bad. to illustrate the value of science to these groups and its importance to our everyday lives. Through her work with children, mainly between the ages of 6-12, Dr. Marialva hopes to instil a spirit of curiosity and confidence. “I think it’s particularly important to know the core skills, the scientific method and how questions are answered,” she stresses. The main focus of this project is to provide science education for young people in hospital, which will not only provide a distraction from their treatment but also help them develop their skills. “The idea is to assess what they know about a subject, and to use this knowledge as a way to discuss and deconstruct some of the incorrect ideas that they may have,” explains Dr. Marialva. “We want to make sure that by the end of the conversation children understand that bacteria are everywhere – some may be good for us, some may be bad.”


vastly outnumber cells, while Dr. Marialva also covers topics like digestion. “We observe our mouth bacteria under the microscope, grow skin bacteria in plates, and do a simulation of digestion, which the kids love. We use bananas and milk, and we show what happens in the mouth, the stomach and the intestines,” she says. “Later we use a custom-made game to explore how specific aspects of our life influence bacteria abundance in the intestines, such as lifestyle or food and antibiotic intake.” Parents can also participate and the ultimate aim here is to build a greater degree of scientific engagement among the wider public. “We want to make the point that science directly affects our lives,” outlines Dr. Marialva. “This doesn’t mean just applied research, but also basic science driven simply by our curiosity. We need to have basic science, and we need to communicate the importance of it.”

Dr. Marta Marialva Principle Investigator Ginkgo-Educa Laupenstrasse 47 3008 Bern E: W:

Dr. Bahtiyar Yilmaz

Dr. Marta Marialva

Dr. Bahtiyar Yilmaz works with Professor Andrew Macpherson on understanding the role of intestinal microbial communities in patients diagnosed with chronic inflammation in the intestines. He holds a Ph.D. in Immunology and recently started his own research study supported by a SNF Ambizione Grant and Novartis Grant for biomedical research. Dr. Marta Marialva holds a Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology and is the cofounder of Ginkgo-Educa, a non-profit organization that uses hands-on science activities as a tool promote critical thinking in young minds.


Should we engineer life? Advances in gene- and cell-based therapies could help improve the diagnosis and treatment of disease, but is the public comfortable with the idea of molecular factories that could effectively engineer life? We spoke to Dr Ralf Stutzki about his work in helping to stimulate debate about molecular factories through art. The development of

molecular and cellular systems for clinical applications promises to help improve public health, yet the rapid pace of progress also raises important ethical questions. While techniques such as gene- and cell-based therapies are the subject of a lot of interest in research, and in some cases are approaching the point where they could be applied clinically, this is not just a matter of technical development but also public acceptance. “Do we want that kind of medicine in the future? What kind of effect will it have on concepts such as the human personality?” asks Dr Ralf Stutzki, Head Ethics of the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering at the University of Basel/ETH Zurich. This is a complex subject, and it can be difficult to convey biomedical research findings to the wider public. “This is where ethics comes in. We need to leave our scientific ivory towers and start to bridge the ever growing communication gaps,” continues Dr Stutzki.

EL & Us This issue is at the heart of the Engineering Life (EL) & Us project, which is part of the wider Art of Molecule ethical initiative at the National Centre of Competence in Research Molecular Systems Engineering (NCCR MSE). Not everybody has the technical expertise to interpret scientific research, so a common language is required to bring new findings to a wider audience. “We try to find essentially a new language, which allows us all to go out and talk about what we are doing and get the interested public involved,” says Dr Stutzki. The intention with the EL & Us project is to help inform the public about the nature and scope of molecular systems engineering through art, and spark a wider debate. “We need to discuss whether what we are doing is good, in the moral sense, whether society wants it,” outlines Dr Stutzki. The aim in the EL & Us project is to explore these questions through art, with Dr Stutzki and his colleagues collaborating with the internationally acclaimed Swiss artist Michel Comte. Dr Stutzki says researchers have opened their doors to Comte in a spirit of


Like a Universe. © Michel Comte

We try to find essentially a new language, which allows us all to go out and talk about what we are doing in molecular and cellular systems research and get the interested public involved. adventure and curiosity. “If he wants to raise questions, he can do that, if he wants to criticise, he can do that too. He is a most welcome intruder, who by his mere presence mirrors our work and challenges our moral alignment,” he says. The concept of engineering life is pretty general, covering many different areas of medicine. “It could be about diabetes for example, it could be about curing certain forms of blindness,” continues Dr Stutzki. “The prospect of precisely engineering molecular factories and cellular systems is moving closer, and that is the big issue for us from an ethical point of view. How far can we go? Should there be a limit?” A high degree of artistic freedom will help Comte get to the heart of the issues that really matter to the general public and stimulate debate, which is one of Dr Stutzki’s major

hopes for the project. Comte is currently developing an art installation, drawing inspiration from his time spent in different research laboratories. “He’s producing a multi-media art-science project,” outlines Dr Stutzki. This includes a 3-D mapping projection derived from research data, in which Comte will interpret new technologies through art, which is a challenging task. “A research laboratory is a completely different world for an artist,” acknowledges Dr Stutzki. “In a broad sense we are trying to expose artists to scientific concepts, but we’re not looking to train them in science. We rather want the artist to bring the spirit of his art into the lab.” The main focus of Comte’s work is visual representations, but the art installation will also include audio excerpts from interviews and scientific talks. The initial plan is to exhibit

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EL & US An Art of Molecule project by Michel Comte and NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering the work in fairly conventional locations like major art galleries, but eventually Dr Stutzki hopes to take it on the road and bring the art to as broad an audience as possible. “Once the projection is finished we hope to hold a premiere in Rome, during our ethics conference in the Vatican in November 2022,” he says. Beyond that, the plan is to take the art to the general public. “We plan to take this projection to places like schools and hospitals. We will show this piece and invite Michel whenever we can, along with some scientists, especially young scientists,” continues Dr Stutzki. “We can use this to provoke debate and discussion among the general public.” This represents an effort to bring together scientists and artists, who are often thought of as inhabiting two different worlds. Dr Stutzki has long experience of these types of cross-disciplinary projects, including work at the Locarno Film Festival, and he says it can have a positive impact on both parties. “We see that both groups profit. For young scientists, it’s outside their everyday lab experience, and they start to think about the importance of science communication,” he outlines. Life science research can be quite narrowly focused, and collaborating with someone from a different discipline can encourage researchers to take a step back. “We use the concept of the so-called dialogical philosophy, which emphasises the importance of dialogue to self-understanding and self-becoming,” says Dr Stutzki. Art and science, how everything comes together. © Michel Comte

Stimulating debate The principle here is that tax-payers should be kept informed about the research they are ultimately funding, and also have the opportunity to criticise and challenge it. One of the major priorities in the project is to spark debate, and Dr Stutzki says this will not be limited to specialists. “We will invite all groups representing society at large to participate in discussions about our research goals. It is an overriding task of the scientific community to encourage people to enter into ethical discourse,” he says. Molecular systems engineering research is being conducted against the backdrop of ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and with many of us still living under significant restrictions, the desire to regain personal freedoms may lead to a change in our ethical outlook. “It may well lead to a less critical approach towards what sciences are doing,” acknowledges Dr Stutzki. An individual’s perspective on these types of issues may of course be affected by their own personal experience and circumstances. In the course of his research, Dr Stutzki has worked with people suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and has had some difficult discussions. “We talk about end-oflife issues and assisted suicide. When your own family is involved, this can lead to a change in perspective,” he says. The aim for Dr Stutzki and his colleagues is not necessarily to reach a settled viewpoint, but rather to open up the debate and make sure different voices are heard. “As long as we can reach the point that the discussion starts, that’s what we want,” he stresses.

Project Objectives

Can Engineering Life (EL) lead us into a better future? This question takes centre stage in EL & Us, Michel Comte’s upcoming art installation and public art-science project in collaboration with the National Centre of Competence in Research Molecular Systems Engineering (NCCR MSE) in Basel. In EL & Us Michel Comte re-interprets EL technologies into a captivating new form of artistic expression. The installation includes 3D mappings derived from extensive data sets as well as imagery from molecular and cellular systems.

Project Funding

The project received funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation (Agora).

Contact Details

Dr. Ralf Stutzki Head of Ethics University of Basel NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering Mattenstrasse 24 A, Building 1095 4052 Basel, Switzerland T: +41 61 207 19 88 E: W: W: W: Dr Ralf Stutzki

Dr Ralf Stutzki is Head of Ethics at the National Centre of Competence in Research Molecular Systems Engineering (NCCRMSE), part of the University of Basel. His responsibilities include work with the ethics think tank on engineering life, which involves collaborating with the Pontifical Academy for Life at the Vatican.


New platform for exposome analysis While it has long been known that our genetic background determines our susceptibility to a particular disease, the importance of the environment to individual health is increasingly widely recognised. Now that it is possible to sequence the human genome, scientists are looking to analyse our exposome in greater detail, a topic at the heart of Dr David J. Cocovi-Solberg’s research.

Our individual health

is influenced by both our genetic background and the environment around us, which may leave us more susceptible to developing certain diseases. It is today possible to sequence the human genome, now researchers are developing methods to analyse the exposome, which can be broadly thought of as the environmental equivalent, our accumulated environmental exposures over the course of our lives. “The importance of the environment to our health is increasingly recognised. As scientists, we need a way to quantify the environment, and this is what exposomics is about,” explains Dr David J. Cocovi-Solberg, Senior Scientist at the Institute of Analytical Chemistry at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU). As the Principal Investigator of a project backed by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), Dr CocoviSolberg is developing new stand-alone platforms for exposome analysis, placing a particular emphasis on miniaturisation. “This would help in terms of the portability of these platforms, which will be necessary to enable in situ analysis of environmental and clinical samples,” he says.


Exposome The exposome is not just about water and soil but also other environmental samples as well, while the internal exposome, including an individual’s oxidative stress and metabolic factors, is also an important consideration. As an environmental chemist, Dr CocoviSolberg’s expertise lies in analysing water, soil and air samples, which is typically done using a technique called liquid chromatography

chromatography columns at very high flow rates to take advantage of extraordinary effects, and so the sample preparation is very fast. As the systems are small and portable, if we want to increase the analysis frequency, we can simply parallelise the system.” As part of his work Dr Cocovi-Solberg is collaborating closely with the VICI group, a fluidic component manufacturer. This work has its roots in Dr Cocovi-Solberg’s experience of

The importance of the environment to our health is increasingly recognised. As scientists, we need a way to quantify the environment, and this is what exposomics is about. mass spectrometry (LC-MS). “Currently LC-MS is applied to both environmental samples and to samples from the internal exposome,” he says. In some cases it can take quite a long time to prepare the different samples for analysis, which is an important issue in the project. “We are looking at miniaturising the sample preparation, using turbulent flow chromatography,” continues Dr Cocovi-Solberg. “We use our miniaturised

using relatively old equipment while studying for his PhD. “There were cables and tubes everywhere, and we saw that we could simplify it,” he explains. Subsequently Dr CocoviSolberg and his colleagues published a paper on a specific valve prototype that could work more effectively, now he is looking to build further on this research. “I’ve been looking at how we can design a new small and portable valve or pump, that will centralise many

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functions in a very small space. Commercial systems usually have 3 or 4 valves – if we can design a single valve that can perform the functions of 4, and put everything together in a single platform, then that will bring significant benefits,” he says. “I send these designs to VICI and they evaluate them. They are providing technical support with the designs, and are also making the prototypes.” The design of this technology is not simply about making an existing device smaller, as certain non-linear effects may emerge at smaller scales. If the valves are smaller then the tubes also have to be smaller, which has knock-on effects. “If the tubing is narrower then we need higher pressure and so have to re-design the pump. So there are many things to consider,” outlines Dr Cocovi-Solberg. So far two prototype systems have been developed; a paper has been submitted on the first, while Dr Cocovi-Solberg and his colleagues are currently assessing the second. “We are collecting the data that we need, looking at whether the valve functions properly and how complicated our system can be without external components. We intend to publish a paper within the next few months” he continues. “We are also still designing some other new prototypes. It takes a while to actually produce them.”

Prototypes These different prototypes do not all have the same attributes, with researchers working to optimise different fields. The prototype that Dr Cocovi-Solberg is currently working on is designed to be integrated in a commercial HPLC (High Performance Liquid Chromatography) technology, but the next one beyond that will be different. “It will not resort to the HPLC pump, so it will work differently from the prototype that we have now,” he explains. At this stage different technologies are required for certain areas, like gas chromatography or taking samples from a bioreactor for example, but Dr Cocovi-Solberg Comprehensive testing of pump and valve prototypes prior to field analysis.

is working to develop a universal platform. “My hope is to propose a cheap platform, for portable analysis,” he stresses. “There are some portable LC systems available, but some are very heavy and so are difficult to take into remote areas, while others don’t enable you to conduct detailed analysis; none of them can currently perform the sample preparation.” The intention is to develop a unified platform that could then be made more widely available in future. This means not just in hospitals and clinics, but also public buildings and other locations, which could bring significant benefits. “If we have improved analysis capabilities, then for sure we will have better information and we can deal with emerging problems more effectively. We can take better decisions if we have more detailed information,” says Dr Cocovi-Solberg. A platform for a miniaturised and portable analysis system is in development, while there is also significant scope to improve detectors. “Currently the liquid chromatography is portable, but mass spectrometry technologies are still based in the lab. The portable detectors that we have are not well-suited for use with biological samples,” explains Dr Cocovi-Solberg. “We can measure some contaminants in the field, but we don’t have the resolution that we have with MS. So we are now working on a project application for miniaturising the detector.” This is a very active area of research, and Dr Cocovi-Solberg and his colleagues are very much open to new ideas that can be applied in development. Over the next few months researchers hope to publish several papers on miniaturisation and the possibilities of turbulent flow chromatography in terms of enabling faster sample preparation, while Dr Cocovi-Solberg also hopes to extend the collaboration with VICI. “My research is about microfluidics and miniaturisation, and my focus is likely to remain on these topics for the next few years,” he stresses.


It has long been known that our genes dictate our individual predisposition to a given disease, but the activation of those genes is strongly influenced by the environment. While it is now possible to sequence the human genome, it remains difficult to assess what environmental exposures an individual has experienced. In this project Dr Cocovi-Solberg and his colleagues are developing a system for exposome analysis. This system is designed to perform standalone chromatography, including sample reparation in a split of a second, while it is also simple and small enough to be portable (field analysis) and easily parallelizable.

Project Funding

Funded by the FWF Austrian Science Fund (FWF) Grant number: M 2579

Contact Details

Project Coordinator, Dr David J. Cocovi-Solberg Institute of Analytical Chemistry Muthgasse 18, 1190 Wien T: +43 1 47654 77109 E: david.cocovi-solberg(at) W: grant.7914109 W: person_uebersicht?sprache_in=en&menue_ id_in=101&id_in=146811grant.7914109

Dr David J. Cocovi-Solberg

Dr David J. Cocovi-Solberg is a Senior Scientist at the Institute of Analytical Chemistry, part of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna. He previously studied at the University of the Balearic Islands in Palma, before moving to Vienna.


Training the next generation of omics researchers Dr Jeanine Houwing-Duistermaat of the IMforFUTURE (Innovative Training in Methods for Future Data) project is training and guiding the next generation of omics researchers to establish the most effective methods to measure, integrate, and analyse datasets. IMforFUTURE is focused

on omics research, which involves several disciplines. Omics research is seen as having enormous potential for healthcare. The different omics disciplines, when combined, can paint a holistic portrait of an individual’s precise health and healthcare needs. Omics datasets enable the gathering of novel insights into stages in biological processes. Studies include genome-wide DNA markers reflecting the genetic code, transcriptomics that quantifies expression of genes, proteomics measuring the abundance of proteins, and glycomics that studies sugar molecules surrounding and modifying proteins in your body. IMforFUTURE is directing a lot of attention to scrutinising glycomics. Glycoscience is expected to be a key to realising personalised medicine goals. In the future, it may be the case we have highly personalised healthcare, that is predictive, not reactive, which is bespoke to an individual’s genetic makeup, metabolism and the myriad of processes that occur within their body at the most fundamental levels of their biology. It will be understanding the complete nature of a person’s biological and chemical


processes and how they will react to medicines and interventions. In turn this will lead to the most effective treatments and show us how we could reverse ageing processes. In medicine, we currently often have a one size fits all mentality, but always knowing how the body will react could lead to more customised and personalised treatments.

often too time-consuming. The omics markers are often analysed one by one, ignoring the joint involvement of several markers and the complexity of measurement techniques. Omics data, while representing the same processes in the body, are very different in biological and chemical properties. Models that integrate the omics data and also

Dr Hae Won Uh and I became aware of the necessity of an interdisciplinary training network, because of several missteps analysing omics data due to a lack of understanding of each other’s disciplines. Cross-disciplinary skills should prevent this type of mistake. We set up the IMforFUTURE training programme in chemistry, epidemiology and statistics. Integration of data and knowledge Before this healthcare vision becomes a reality, it is a research prerogative to find high throughput methods to measure the omics markers accurately and statistical methods for identifying the relevant molecular profiles from these data. Experimental methods are

address these differences, perform better than methods ignoring these differences. Measuring, analysing and interpreting data are linked with each other in one workflow. For a data scientist it is crucial to know: What type of data is in the database? How were the samples organised by the chemist when they perform the measurements? How

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was the quality of a single measurement determined? On the other hand, the chemist needs to know that their handling of samples may affect down-stream analysis of the data. For example, if a lab technician decides to measure a few samples twice, this information is relevant for the data scientist in choosing the right model. Ignoring this information may lead to false findings. “Dr Hae Won Uh and I became aware of the necessity of an interdisciplinary training network, because of several missteps analysing omics data due to a lack of understanding of each other’s disciplines. Cross-disciplinary skills should prevent this type of mistake. We set up the IMforFUTURE training programme in chemistry, epidemiology and statistics.”

Multidisciplinary training of IMforFUTURE The programme comprises three components for fellows to develop themselves as multidisciplinary researchers: course modules, secondments and research at their host institutes. The course modules were organised in four sessions, and each time there were issues arising from multiple disciplines, they were addressed. In practice, this meant that the fellows followed lectures which dealt with materials they had already covered in their bachelor programmes, while other lectures contained completely new materials for them. The training was followed by an assignment that tested knowledge and skills from all the involved disciplines. Fellows were allowed to

OmicsPLS workflow

help each other but had to formulate their own answers. This format worked well. By working together, fellows formed a group and at a later stage, when performing their own research, they were able to get input from other disciplines by contacting the other fellows. The fellows had to do at least one secondment in a complementary institute. The data-scientists spent one month in a laboratory to learn how the data are measured, which they analysed later. The chemists went with their data to datascience institutes to learn about the ins and outs of analysis methods. By doing so, the data scientists got acquainted with all kind of experimental errors, and the chemists learned how experimental error could be accounted for in the analysis. Finally, fellows were expected to perform

research in an interdisciplinary environment. A success story is Zhujie Gu, a statistician, who visited Genos in Zagreb and the University of Bologna, to study glycomics and to learn about healthy ageing. He has now ongoing collaborations with five different omic groups, resulting in two publications, a software package OmicsPLS and another three manuscripts in progress.

Age is not just a number “I am a statistician, and the methods which I develop are useful for many domains. In IMforFUTURE we are interested in ageing. One of our partners developed GlycanAge. You can estimate how old someone is in biological age, rather than chronological age. This can be useful if you are elderly, and a decision needs to be made about whether surgery is a good idea or not. You don’t want

Cartoon artist: Pollie Hogenboom. The cartoon was financed by the FP7 project MIMOmics no 305280.


IMforFUTURE Innovative training in methods for future data

Project Objectives

IMforFUTURE (Innovative Training in Methods for Future Data) is an innovative multidisciplinary and intersectoral research training programme which addresses current shortcomings in omics research. We aim to open the new research horizon in integration of genetics, glycomics, and epigenomics datasets into systems biology by developing innovative methods for high throughput omics and for integrative analysis of omics data. We focus on ageing, which is the biggest single risk factor for many diseases. By application of our novel methods to emerging datasets representing inflammation and immunology, IMforFUTURE will contribute to understanding of the underlying biological processes involved in diseases and ageing.

Project Funding

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, under H2020MSCA-ITN grant agreement number 721815.

Project Partners


Contact Details

Project coordinator, Professor Jeanine Houwing-Duistermaat School of Mathematics University of Leeds Leeds LS2 9JT T: +Xxxxxxxxxxxxxx E: W: Bouhaddani, S., Uh, HW., Jongbloed, G. et al. Integrating omics datasets with the OmicsPLS package. BMC Bioinformatics 19, 371 (2018). Krištić J, Vučković F, Menni C, et al. Glycans are a novel biomarker of chronological and biological ages. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2014;69(7):779789. doi:10.1093/gerona/glt190

Professor Jeanine Houwing-Duistermaat

Jeanine Houwing-Duistermaat is professor of data analytics and statistics at the University of Leeds. She is passionate about data. Her research interests include statistical bioinformatics, in particular modelling of multiple omics datasets simultaneously. She works with chemists, biologists, epidemiologists and clinicians.


to operate on them if there is a chance of them dying or if quality of life is at risk, as that would make no sense. “The concept is that if you give a drop of blood, your biological age can be determined and if it’s much higher than your chronological age then it can indicate you would benefit to change your lifestyle. At the moment, this is based on what is available in the GP records, but predicting biological age involves mixed datasets.”

The multi-dimensional human body Combining the measuring of data and analytics of that data in omics research is showing possibilities and potentials but there is plenty of work to do.

silo when the body is so complex makes it easy to understand how limited understanding leads to inefficient methodologies. Enabling researchers to swap insights, knowledge and understanding, as Jeanine puts it, “leads to them generating new questions.” She explains: “That is what you want at the end of the project, it’s good to come to a place when new questions are generated. For example, how do we include existing related data and information in our models? Can we develop a model to support decision making in the laboratory with regards to the most promising experiments? Can we reveal information on the structure and dynamics of the molecules from current datasets?” IMforFUTURE is in essence, a multidisciplinary training programme

I think the fact that they are multi-disciplinary and that they know how to analyse and interpret the data and they know what they don’t know but how to ask the right questions about data to the right expert, that will make them attractive for employers. “There is a lot of information coming out of these machines, more than the chemists often realise. I think the people from the different disciplines should learn and know much more from each other to extract all the information. The fellows have seen that we can be more efficient by having some knowledge of the other fields. You need to spend time to understand each other, of course. This goes much further than statistical consulting where we help each other with a goal to have novel results in one discipline, instead of in all the involved disciplines, to really make a difference. One of the problems with precision medicine is, we need more ideas to understand and address the complexity of what we measure and how we analyse that. We should realise that we make something one-dimensional while it is four-dimensional. We often lack information on structure and dynamics. How to get the whole picture?” Bringing fellows from different omics disciplines together was a key aim for IMforFUTURE. Combining knowledge, a better, fuller picture emerges. Operating in a

for omics researchers to ensure they are competent in measurement techniques of underlying mechanisms, can design studies and are able to analyse data. By networking the new generation of scientists in these fields, for developing cross sector and cross discipline understanding, it will make them highly employable. “I think the fact that they are multidisciplinary and that they know how to analyse and interpret the data and they know what they don’t know but how to ask the right questions about data to the right expert, that will make them attractive for employers.”

Typical profile of glycans of the IgG glycome.

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Techniques that point the way towards personalised treatment Radiomics technologies can provide deeper insights into a patient’s condition, which then opens up new possibilities in terms of personalised treatment. We spoke to Dr Anke Wind, Professor Michael Brady and Dr Mathieu Hatt about the work of the Predict project in training the next generation of radiomics researchers. A number of different kinds of image are taken for a patient suspected of having cancer, each of which provides complementary pieces of information, which together gives clinicians an insight into their condition. The full nature of an individual’s condition may not be apparent to the naked eye however. “It can be difficult for radiologists to grasp the whole picture from an image. It’s difficult to delineate and segment a tumour for example,” explains Dr Anke Wind, a researcher in the Precision Medicine department at Maastricht University. This is where the emerging field of radiomics, which involves using technology to analyse radiographic images and enhance the quality of information they provide, comes in. “Radiomics could help save time. It would be much faster if we could analyse images in an automatic way rather than going through them by hand,” outlines Dr Wind. “We could also do it in a more precise way. A computer may be better at finding different lesions on an image.”

that brings together academic and industrial partners from across Europe, including several SMEs, to provide training to 14 early stage researchers (ESRs). The objective here is to both develop new radiomics methods and also to equip ESRs with a broad range of skills. “On the one hand we want to train the ESRs as radiomics researchers. For that they need to know about things like machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data processing, that’s the technical part,” says Dr Wind.

The ESRs also receive training in areas like project management, patient engagement and cost analysis, with the aim of giving them a rounded perspective, rather than focusing solely on the technical work. “Not only will the ESRs know a lot about radiomics, they’ll also know about project management, patient involvement and how to write grants,” says Dr Wind. “If they want to then pursue a career in industry, they will have a broader range of skills to draw on.”

Predict project This issue is central to the work of the Predict project, an Innovative Training Network (ITN)


The aim in the technical side of the project is to develop underpinning technologies that apply to a range of cancers and which detect true positives as early as possible, while at the same time also minimising the numbers of false positives. With radiomics technologies, large numbers of features are extracted from medical images, including MRI, PET and CT images. “The features that we extract are those that can be identified by image analysis methods – both classical methods of estimating textures, and also more novel methods fuelled for example by machine learning,” says Professor Michael Brady, Chairman of Perspectum Diagnostics in the UK, one of the project partners. These features may give information about the tumour microenvironment; but that information is determined by the spatial and temporal - resolution of the imaging technique. “MRI and CT generally image a tumour at mm scale, whereas various forms of microscopy can image at micron scale, and sometimes more finely than that,” continues Professor Brady. Many tumours are highly heterogenous, and this can affect how a patient will respond to treatment. The aim with radiomics techniques is to characterize numerous features of a given tumour in a single analysis from routine clinical images, in order to more completely characterize its phenotype, which can then inform clinical decisions. “The features usually considered include volume, size and shape. Intensity features are also considered as well as textures, which are aimed at quantifying the heterogeneity of intensities and their spatial relationships. The challenge is to identify and select the most relevant features amongst the dozens - or even hundreds that are typically extracted,” explains Dr Mathieu Hatt, a researcher in the Laboratory of Medical Information Processing at Inserm, another project partner. In a typical radiomics workflow, these features are extracted from each available image, then a selection process is applied to identify which are useful for a specific task. “This task might be predicting a patient’s response to therapy for example,” says Dr Hatt. A model capable of accurately predicting a patient’s response to therapy would attract a great deal of interest, as it could help clinicians tailor treatment management strategies to the specific needs of the individual patient. With radiomics, machine learning techniques are typically applied on data relating to certain cohorts of patients to identify the important features in terms of their response to treatment, as Dr Hatt explains. “Algorithms


Inter/multi-disciplinary and intersectoral interactions of PREDICT.

mine the available data and try to identify which features are the most important in order to combine them into a meaningful model. Such models are sometimes called a ‘radiomic signature’,” he outlines. While the project is primarily focused on detecting tumour heterogeneity, Dr Hatt says this research holds wider relevance. “Any clinical task where imaging is relevant could potentially benefit from radiomics. This includes screening, diagnosis, staging, treatment assessment and follow up,” he says. There is interest in using radiomics methods to monitor a patient’s response to treatment

for example. This could involve combining baseline information with data from a few within-treatment datapoints, in order to identify which patients are responding well to treatment, which are responding partially, and which are not responding. “Once that is in hand we can begin to make predictions on ‘what if’ scenarios, such as dose boosting. Such modifications to therapy are familiar from radiation oncology,” outlines Professor Brady. Effective and reliable radiomics techniques could also give clinicians the ability to identify which patients will require a follow-up, and which are at lower risk of experiencing a

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PREDICT A new era in personalised medicine: Radiomics as decision support tool for diagnostics and theragnostics in oncology

Project Objectives

PREDICT is a MarieCurie innovative training network that aims at training a new generation of early stage researchers to become leaders in the field of Radiomics and personalised medicine, ultimately aimed at improving the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

The concept of Radiomics.

recurrence of a condition. “Ultimately we could go more towards personalised followups, not every patient needs to be followed that intensely for that period of time. But that’s more of a goal for the future,” says Dr Wind.

Personalised medicine The wider context here is the goal of developing more personalised treatments tailored to the needs of individual patients. Alongside more tailored treatment options, many patients today are also involved in identifying what course of treatment is

“With radiotherapy, a patient may have to go into hospital 4-5 days a week, whereas with surgery there’s the operation then a subsequent recovery period.” There are also a number of other projects within Predict, with researchers developing their technical skills, while also gaining experience in industrial settings. “A big part of this project is about giving students the chance to do part of their research at another company or university, so that all of them have the experience of conducting research at both a company and also a

Algorithms mine the available data and try to identify which features are the most important in order to combine them into a meaningful model. Such models are sometimes called a ‘radiomic signature’. right for them, another topic which is being addressed in the Predict project. “One of the students in our project is working on a patient decision aid. She is using the available information and looking into the side-effects associated with different treatments. With that information, she’s then trying to make an individualised patient decision aid,” says Dr Wind. This aid would help a patient assess different treatment options, for example surgery or radiotherapy to treat lung cancer, which may have similar outcomes but different side-effects. “What would the patient actually prefer?” continues Dr Wind.

university environment,” stresses Dr Wind. This has been unavoidably disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, yet Dr Wind is hopeful that the students will have the opportunity to experience a different setting. “We give our students the chance to do their PhD at a university, and they will all get their doctorates at a university. However, some of them are doing a lot of their research within a company, which is a different environment,” she says. “All of the students will have the chance to experience working at a company as well as a big university. And I think that’s very valuable.”

Project Funding

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 766276.

Project Consortium

• Maastricht University • Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori • University Liege • Deutsches Krebsforchungszentrum • Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale • Oncoradiomics • Mirada Medical • Perspectum Diagnostics • Health Innovation Ventures

Contact Details

Principal investigator: Prof. Philippe Lambin Senior Scientist: Dr. Henry Woodruff Faculty of Health Medicine and Life Science Department Precision Medicine - The D-Lab Universiteitssingel 40, 6229 ER Maastricht, The Netherlands Dr Anke Wind Maastricht University Department of Precision Medicine E: W: W: W: Dr Anke Wind

Dr Anke Wind is a project manager at Maastricht University, while she is also involved in teaching and student supervision. She previously worked as a post-doctoral researcher at Rijnstate Hospital, while she has also conducted research into benchmarking comprehensive cancer care.


Building a fuller picture of biomaterials Biomaterials are an important part of modern healthcare, used in both implants and for regenerative purposes, yet it remains difficult to understand how an individual patient will react when they are introduced. The PANBioRA project aims to develop a new method for assessing biomaterials, which could inform their ongoing development, as Dr Engin Vrana explains. The PANBioRA project team.


The healthcare sector makes intensive

PANBioRA project

use of biomaterials, both in replacing a physical part of the body with an implant, and also in stimulating regeneration, for example in wound healing. While biomaterials are characterised very thoroughly and have to meet rigorous standards before they can be applied, it remains very difficult to predict how an individual will react to the introduction of a biomaterial. “Each of us has a unique immune system, depending on our genetics, where we have lived, and the kinds of pathogens and materials that we have been exposed to. So it is very hard to have a clear idea of how an individual person will react to a given biomaterial,” explains Dr Engin Vrana, CEO of SPARTHA Medical. As the Principal Investigator of the PANBioRA project, Dr Vrana is working to develop a new risk assessment method for biomaterials. “The concept in the project is to develop a comprehensive system, that can be used not only for existing biomaterials, but also new materials. We want to provide a normalised test for the evaluation of biomaterials,” he outlines.

This research is built on a recognition of the limitations of existing methods, which are typically based on animal tests or are very simple in vitro, cell-based tests. These kinds of approaches do not reflect the unique genetic background and physiology of each individual patient, a major motivating factor behind the project’s work. “That is what we are trying to bring to the field,” stresses Dr Vrana. A new automated, modular testing system is being developed in the project which is designed to provide deeper insights into how an individual patient will respond to a specific material. “We take blood from the patient and check whether they have antibodies reacting to a given biomaterial, this is one part,” says Dr Vrana. “Then, from the same blood sample, we obtain the immune cells of the patient, and we interact these cells with the biomaterial and see how they react at different levels. We can then look at things like what they secrete, how they stay alive or not and whether they are pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory.

This is how the personalised part is handled.” The system itself integrates several different technologies and methods, so it can also be used to assess new biomaterials. Both new and existing biomaterials can be rapidly and cost-effectively assessed using organs-on-a-chip, which are advanced in vitro models. “In this system we have three organs, which are basically the respiratory system, the gut and the liver, and they are connected to each other. We can not only look at the effect of the biomaterial in the places where it generally enters the body, but we can also see its subsequent interactions and assess its impact in a more comprehensive way,” continues Dr Vrana. Some tests take a long time to provide results, another topic of interest in the project, while Dr Vrana and his colleagues are also working to provide a firmer basis to compare different biomaterials. “At the moment biomaterials are just tested with respect to certain thresholds, without having an overview of how they stand with respect to other materials,” he says.

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A material like collagen is fairly well known for example, now researchers are working to develop a ratings system which will help clinicians assess the relative effectiveness of different materials. This will provide a kind of benchmark, and help clinicians make better informed decisions. “Let’s say we are going to give collagen a rating of 96. Then imagine that you’ve synthesised a completely new material, and conducted all the tests, then you can compare how it stands against collagen. Maybe it will stand at 94, maybe it will come in at 60,” outlines Dr Vrana. This can then

the ongoing development of biomaterials. “With reduced complications we will have more reliable data, which will also help in terms of improving the materials in future,” he outlines. A working prototype of the system has been developed, and there is a lot of interest from companies in testing it once it has been validated. “The next step for us would be to test it in hospitals, or with new implant materials,” continues Dr Vrana. “The vision is to have an instrument that can be sold to industry, and to research and development institutes, so that they can do normalised tests. We hope to establish

The concept in the project is to develop a comprehensive system, that can be used not only for existing biomaterials, but also new materials. We want to provide a normalised test for the evaluation of biomaterials. inform decisions on which material to use, comparable in a way to the role of building standards in the construction industry. “In civil engineering you have standards which guides you in choosing the right option, like the right foundations or type of steel for a given area,” explains Dr Vrana. It’s not like that in the biomedical field, because it’s a fairly new kind of engineering, particularly the parts about regeneration and organ replacement. This is one of the major motivations of the project.”

Reducing complications This research could have a wider impact on the healthcare sector by giving clinicians greater confidence in using biomaterials, while also opening up the possibility of applying them in a more precise way. This will reduce the risk of complications in patients, which Dr Vrana says is also an important consideration in terms of guiding

a spin-off company that will continue to develop modules in this system.” The testing system has been designed in such a way that new tests can be added as required, which will be a central activity for a future spin-off company. The modular nature of the system and its technical sophistication makes it particularly attractive to research institutes, believes Dr Vrana. “It is like a platform. They can establish their own system, but they will then benefit from all the connections, automation and data analysis,” he says. If this system is used more widely then it will generate a lot of comparable data, which could be highly valuable as a resource for researchers, another topic researchers are exploring. “We have already started to put in the foundations for using this data. For example, two partners in the project are working on simulations, so that we can extrapolate to longer experiments,” says Dr Vrana. The current PANBioRA prototype.


Personalised and generalised integrated biomaterial risk assessment Project Objectives

The main objective of PANBioRA is to develop a method that allows the cost- and time effective assessment of; • a new biomaterial under healthy or disease state conditions (generalised testing) or • a given biomaterial for a specific patient (personalised testing) To achieve this goal, the PANBioRA consortium aims to develop a modular system using crossdisciplinary techniques that will predict the patientspecific response to a given biomaterial. The testing system will integrate different technologies (refined, miniaturised versions of existing methods and new evaluation technologies) into a single instrument that will be able to perform multiple analyses on cell and micro-tissue levels. With its multidisciplinary protocols and procedures, the PANBioRA testing system will set a new standard for the evaluation of biomaterials.

Project Funding

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation under grant agreement No 760921.

Project Partners

Contact Details

Scientific coordinator Spartha Medical Dr. Engin Vrana E: Administrative coordinator Steinbeis S2i GmbH Timo Doll E: W: W: Dr. Engin Vrana

Dr. Nihal Engin Vrana is CEO of SPARTHA Medical. He obtained his PhD in 2009 at Dublin City University. His major research interests are implants, nanoscale antimicrobial coatings, tissue engineering, cell encapsulation, immunomodulation, controlled delivery, biomaterial assessment and cell biomaterials interactions.


Engineering land, weather and a greener future A group of eco engineers are set on plans to regreen the Sinai and with that, to proactively influence the weather, in an effort to counter climate desolation and create new landscapes, ecosystems and industries along the way. The implications, if successful, are far reaching. By Richard Forsyth


e have come to expect a rhythmic cycle of well used prophecies of doom and gloom from climate scientists. It is refreshing therefore, to hear a signal of hope from an ambitious Dutch company of eco-engineers called The Weather Makers, who are gaining attention for their pioneering work in countering desertification and degraded areas of nature, with the promise of rebalancing ecosystems and further to this, restoring industries and prosperity in the regions that have been impacted. Indeed, there is a link between environment and prosperity, security and peace, this is not just an exercise in climate change but also an exercise in creating sustainable economic revival. The Weather Makers comprises a group of international engineers and scientists. They are working with data from physics, social economics, geology, microbiology, botany, morphology, hydrology, meteorology and human history and they are open to experts who wish to join their ranks. Their goal, put simply, is to regenerate and restore watersheds. Could they be key to putting the brakes on runaway climate change? And not through industry-centric ideas like switching energy sources and changing and reducing industrial processes, but from kickstarting nature back into a balanced cycle, restarting it where it has been dying and heating up the planet as a result.


Regreening the Sinai Regreening is widely seen as an attractive strategy for combating climate change. In areas where desertification is spreading, where high temperatures and lack of rain are making infertile land expand in already desolate regions, innovative and radical thinking looks to transform drylands back into lush and green nature reserves. Regreening is being championed in a number of largescale initiatives around the world. For example, Regreening Africa looks to restore eight countries across Saharan Africa to reverse land degradation across one million hectares. China is regreening on a massive scale, accounting for 25% of the global net increase in leaf area, replanting forests and croplands. India is set to restore 25 million hectares of degraded land by 2030. Regenerating nature and relying on restoration and conservation, for using land to increase carbon storage, is arguably the best and most attractive of solutions to our current climate crisis. Governments recognise more and more that land assumed dead, can be revived, and beyond the implications for saving our environment, opportunities for economies to benefit and flourish can be an attractive consequence. On a surface level it sounds easy but there is more to regreening than planting trees. For nature to grow you need to make the land fertile again and kickstarting that fertility is the battle. What The

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Weather Makers are doing is looking at a region as a whole and how its component parts can be connected together to become sustainable, to change the dynamics of its natural processes, to an extent that changes will influence new local weather patterns. It’s a very holistic approach, developing land along with ecosystems and climate. As they say: ‘A healthy climate is all about balanced ecosystems.’ Van der Hoeven, one of the founders of The Weather Makers, is moving forward with a project to regreen the Sinai peninsula, a triangle of land which connects Egypt to Asia, and the Egyptian government is onside. Working for a company called Deme, he was contacted in 2016 by the Egyptian representative from the company, who in turn had been approached by the Egyptian Government to see if it was possible to restore Lake Bardawil. A year later, Van der Hoeven and his colleagues created The Weather Makers, as the catalyst in the form of a company, to make it happen. Van der Hoeven’s ardent belief in the project was matched by his enthusiasm. He told a group of influential people in the Egyptian government, military and academia: “If anybody doubts that the Sinai can be regreened, then you have to understand that landing on the moon was once thought unrealistic. They didn’t lay out a full, detailed

roadmap when they started, but they had the vision. And step by step they made it happen.” However, today The Weather Makers are indeed laying out defined steps in a plan to make their vision happen. In around twenty years, Van der Hoeven believes, with the work set out by The Weather Makers, they could transform the Sinai desert into a green landscape with rivers, fertile land for farming, and wilderness, which in turn would bring about new weather patterns, including increased precipitation. If the group can regenerate life in the arid wastelands of the Sinai, they can arguably create a template to transform and regreen similar challenged environments. Van der Hoeven, like his colleagues, has sound credentials, he is a morphological engineer and has worked on some large projects like the artificial islands of Dubai. He developed relatively eco-friendly and cost-effective methods of dredging, using sensors to model maritime conditions in real time. He is reimagining how dredging, often perceived as a brutal industry for nature, could become used for opening up clogged arteries and basins in water systems, to stimulate life. The team of thinkers have now set out a clear five step roadmap to regenerate nature in the Sinai.

“If anybody doubts that the Sinai can be regreened, then you have to understand that landing on the moon was once thought unrealistic. They didn’t lay out a full, detailed roadmap when they started, but they had the vision. And step by step they made it happen.”


5 steps to transformation The Sinai project comprises of restoring interconnected areas. The specified steps to accomplish this include:

1 Dredging the lake inlets The lagoon, Lake Bardawil on the northern coast of the Sinai, connects to the Mediterranean Sea by two inlets that have a minimal amount of seawater exchange due to sedimentation. It is only 1.5 metres deep (it was once between 20-40 metres deep). Salt levels are extremely high as there is little freshwater and there is high evaporation associated with its shallowness. The fish population has been severely impacted, as has the fishing industry for the region. Restoration of a marine ecosystem and fish population is planned by deepening the inlets and increasing the water exchange with the sea. The dredging could help restore the lake to its former glory, with more tidal activity. In combination with sustainable fishing practices the lake could, over time not only rebuild the marine habitat for many species but also the fishing industry in the area.

3 Recycling sediment from dredging 2 Developing the wetlands With improvements in the lake and the marine ecosystem, the next step is restoring the surrounding wetlands, making it a more attractive stopover for migrating birds. The increased capacity of the lake will have a knock-on effect of rehydrating the lowlands, and make planting of salt-tolerant vegetation possible.


Dredging the inlets as described in the initial step, will mean marine sediments will be available in quantities including sand, silts, clay, peat and sabkhas which can be put to good use. They can be used for fertile soils when regreening, and for structural components such as dams and terraces and coastal reinforcement. One area of research is looking into the growth potential of Lake Bardawil sediments and the potential to desalinate the soils.

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5 Restoring the watershed There is a proposed focus on the water cycle of the northern watershed between Lake Bardawil and Gebel Katharina. Water harvesting and growing vegetation will lower temperatures and improve the local climate. There will be regreening in strategically selected locations. The regreening will owe a lot to enhancing evaporation, which although sounds like losing water, it is expected to lead to more water availability, lower temperatures, increased condensation, and improved moisture transport. There is some evidence that thousands of years ago the Sinai was a green environment – ancient cave paintings depict trees and plants for example, which fuels the ambition that the landscape can, with the right science, once again sustain greenery. The end game on a local level is to increase food, fresh water, jobs, peace and sustainability for the local population but the implications for all of us, are that such large-scale 4 greening projects hold the power to become the solution to the biggest challenge Mankind has Regreening the desert Step faced to date, regaining stability of our climate. Access to water is key for regreening. Fog nets will be used at high elevation to harvest fresh water from the air. Hills to the south of Bardawil Lake are 700 metres above sea level and suited for the fog nets. Storing water will mean the construction of dykes and dams with use of the clay-like material from the lake. This will help mitigate flash floods which impact the city of El Arish. Growing vegetation will stimulate industry, help alleviate poverty and increase much needed resources for the local population. A solar driven, natural technology that can be implemented is something called eco machines. An eco machine, in essence, is water flowing from one barrel to another where each barrel has its own ecosystem of algae, plants fungi, worms, insects, fish etc. As the water flows through each of these ponds it becomes cleaner and cleaner. They can clean waste or grow food, depending on the design. For the Sinai project, eco machines would be used to grow plants and produce fresh water. Developed in what amounts to a greenhouse, salt water would feed the machine and fresh water would condense within, that can irrigate plants. Eventually the plants and soil in the greenhouse mature and become self-sustaining. The green house can then be taken away. The premise would be nurturing hundreds of these miniature ecologies. Sediment from Lake Bardawil can be pumped 50km inland and used to feed the network of eco machines. The salt in the sediment initially preserves the nutrients, which is a bonus.

“In around twenty years, Van der Hoeven believes, with the work set out by The Weather Makers, they could transform the Sinai desert into a green landscape with rivers, fertile land for farming, and wilderness, which in turn would bring about new weather patterns, including increased precipitation.”


Oceans of opportunity in marine research Marine biologists study marine organisms and interactions with their environment, and their work can yield knowledge, products and services relevant to many areas of science and industry. The ASSEMBLE Plus project provides scientists with free access to marine biological stations, with the aim of stimulating excellent research for the benefit of society, as Dr Nicolas Pade and Georgia Bayliss-Brown explain. The world’s oceans hold great scientific interest, and marine biological stations have been established across the globe to support researchers and help them to explore the secrets of our oceans. Alongside its inherent interest, marine-based research can also yield products and services relevant to many different areas of science and industry, a point central to the work of the EU-funded ASSEMBLE Plus project (October 2017 to September 2022). “ASSEMBLE Plus is about enabling research with marine organisms, for example making accessible biological organisms from marine environments to a wide community of scientists in Europe and around the world,” says Dr Nicolas Pade, the scientific coordinator of the project.

Transnational Access Programme ASSEMBLE Plus offers scientists fully-funded access to 39 marine biological research stations, mainly in coastal areas around Europe. Scientists can apply to use the facilities either remotely or in person through the transnational access (TA) programme, which gives researchers the opportunity to work at marine biological stations outside the country where they are located. “With the TA projects we effectively serve as seed funding, allowing researchers to explore new ideas, test new theories, and push the limits of our knowledge and understanding,” outlines Dr Pade. “Very often these TA projects allow people to investigate areas that maybe haven’t yet been picked up as a mainstream research topic.” The opportunity to conduct this kind of exploratory research is highly valued, while


Developing monitoring equipment (Photo: Flanders Marine Institute, Belgium).

Researchers can come out on the boat and take the samples that they need,” says Dr Pade. “This is something that is very much in demand.” One of the benefits of Assemble Plus is the possibility of interdisciplinary cooperation. Scientists from outside the marine biology field can apply, and this has led to novel and exciting findings. One example that Dr Pade cites is a project that involved looking at cartilage in rays. “The researchers involved in this project were interested in cartilage from a medical perspective. From working on these unfamiliar

ASSEMBLE Plus is about strengthening Europe’s capabilities in marine biological research by bringing researchers together to share skills, knowledge and equipment. there is also a lot of interest from industry in using resources from marine environments, for example in the development of new drugs. Regardless of whether a proposal is focused on applied or fundamental research, Dr Pade says the main criteria in assessing it are scientific quality and feasibility. “How good is the proposal? We also assess whether the project is feasible. A project may be scientifically sound and exciting, but can it be done at a particular location? Most of our facilities are really quite modular, so we can accommodate most proposals, provided we know in advance that we need the facilities to be set-up in a specific way,” he outlines. Some of the stations have small coastal vessels, which researchers can use to collect samples. “We have professional scientific divers to collect samples and deploy equipment.

marine organisms, they found that rays were extremely good models in cartilage research, and they learned a lot about cartilage that they didn’t know before,” he outlines. As indicated, a wide variety of projects have been supported under ASSEMBLE Plus, including many that contribute to the wider Blue Growth agenda, the long-term strategy led by the European Commission to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors. One major part of this is bio-prospecting, the search for certain types of molecules that could lead to the development of new products, while Dr Pade says the project has also supported aquaculture research. “There are possibilities to culture plankton for photobioreactors or dyes and pigments from marine bacteria for example. Aquaculture is about more than just salmon

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Oceanographic Observatory of Banyuls-sur-Mer, France.

Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research, Portugal.

farming and we can support research in several species of fish and molluscs,” he stresses.

Joint Research Activities There are also five Joint Research Activities (JRAs) within the project. The five JRAs (see Box 1) are an important part of the ASSEMBLE Plus project, each addressing different challenges in modern marine biology: genomic observatories, cryobanking, functional genomics, scientific diving and the development of instrumentation. “The aim here is to create new tools and methods that allow people to conduct research. For example, in the JRA focused on functional genomics, we’re developing methodologies to modify various organisms,” says Dr Pade. “In many cases this involves taking the gene editing technology and looking at how it can be applied in a different organism.” A further JRA is centred on genomics observatories, using samples collected on Ocean Deploying equipment at-sea (Photo: Flanders Marine Institute, Belgium).

Sampling Day which has taken place almost every year on 21st June since 2014, now Dr Pade plans to extend this work further. “We want to grow that into a permanent observatory, with bi-monthly sampling across 15 sites. We’re starting a pilot project now to essentially make this a long-term observatory, as a European contribution to global genomics-based biodiversity observation efforts,” he says. “This continuation of the genomics observatories is a legacy of the JRAs. We’ve found that this is something that’s really lacking – there are a lot of initiatives around that are doing excellent work, but we have an opportunity here to start providing long-term, baseline data. This is very important for supporting areas like biodiversity monitoring and microbiome research.”

Participating in Ocean Sampling Day (Photo: Bigelow Laboratory of Ocean Sciences, USA).

The Five Joint Research Activities (JRAs) Genomic observatories

A genomic observatory can be thought of as an eco-system or site subject to sustained genomics, genetics or DNA research, allowing scientists to monitor long-term changes. The ambition in this JRA is to pilot coordinated sampling events in certain marine eco-systems and gather large amounts of data, that can then be subjected to further analysis.

Cryobanking marine organisms

There is only limited capacity to conserve marine genetic and biological resources ex situ, while it is also difficult to preserve them in an unchanged state over the longer term, which in turn constrains efforts to exploit them. In this JRA, the aim is to develop robust, reproducible cryopreservation methodologies for various life-stages of a range of marine macro-organisms and microorganisms which are currently difficult to cryopreserve.

Functional genomics

Both systemic and smallscale approaches have an important role to play in the goal of establishing firmer links between the genomic information of marine organisms and their phenotype. The aim here is to implement functional genomics approaches such as CRISPR-Cas 9 for a panel of emerging marine model organisms, and where necessary to adapt those approaches.

Development of instrumentation

Experimental systems and novel systems, such as tidal simulation systems, standardized systems, and sustainable systems are often developed for a specific research proposal, after which they are abandoned, representing a waste of time and resources. The goal in this JRA is to encourage the development of standardised experimental systems.

Scientific Diving

Images from scientific diving can lead to new insights into marine organisms and habitats, yet currently there is a lack of standardised methodologies and common datasets. In this JRA, the key aims are to standardise the underwater application of photogrammetry “a photograph based survey technique” and develop an underwater observation network.


ASSEMBLE Plus Association of European Marine Biological Laboratories Expanded

Project Objectives

The ASSEMBLE Plus partners kick-off meeting at Sorbonne Université, Paris, France.

Building on the success of its predecessor ASSEMBLE (2009-2014), the EU-funded ASSEMBLE Plus brings together key marine biological research institutes across Europe and overseas to ensure their optimal use and joint development. In particular, ASSEMBLE Plus provides expenses-paid Transnational Access to the ecosystems, marine organisms, and facilities available at its partner institutes.


Project Funding

Funded under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 730984.

Project Partners

There are a total of 24 partners from 16 different countries. •

Contact Details

Project Coordinator, Nicolas Pade EMBRC-ERIC 4 Place Jussieu - BC 93 75252 Paris Cedex 05 (FR) T: +33 1 44 27 63 37 E: W: W: policy/blue_growth_en

Dr Nicolas Pade © Annie Gozard

Dr Nicolas Pade is the Project Coordinator of ASSEMBLE Plus and works as Executive Director of the European Marine Biological Resource Centre (EMBRC-ERIC). Dr Pade holds a PhD in Molecular and Spatial Ecology from the University of Aberdeen and has held positions at Sorbonne Université and The Marine Biological Association.

While ASSEMBLE Plus is nearing the end of its funding term, Dr Pade says the European Marine Biological Resource Centre (EMBRC), a research infrastructure, will continue to provide European researchers with access to marine biological organisms and certain habitats through the marine stations. EMBRC is the long-term panEuropean organisation that coordinates the Horizon 2020 funded ASSEMBLE Plus. “EMBRC has longevity in sustained funding, so we have a really good opportunity to enhance the legacy of the many projects that we’re involved in” explains Dr Pade. The aim in the future will be to develop new tools and offer new services and platforms to users of the EMBRC facilities, whilst also looking for opportunities for TA programmes. At the moment, scientists can apply to do virtually any type of research, but Dr Pade believes it is likely that future calls will be more targeted. “It could be that there will be calls for research on anti-microbial resistance, or bio-prospecting for medicines,” he says. However, EMBRC does not have a particularly large research and development budget, so Dr Pade says it will be important to establish strong links with other initiatives. “This is where we can work with other research infrastructures, to develop common services or pipelines of services, where people will use one research infrastructure to do one thing and then go on to use the output in another,” he outlines. “For example, people might come and isolate some strains from a marine environment, then take them on to one of the big microscopy platforms in Europe to do some more thorough analysis.” In addition, EMBRC can offer coordination and can continue the work of the JRAs. “We can help with coordination in terms of visibility, organisation, joint protocols, joint standards,

shared data standards, meta-data protocols,” he outlines. The EMBRC is also keen to engage with organisations in other parts of the world. “We are speaking to partners in Africa, Latin America, and Asia for example, while we’re also looking at the legacy of other JRAs, such as that on cryo-banking. We’ve done a lot of research, and developed methodologies and procedures – this knowledge will be spread within the EMBRC consortium,” continues Dr Pade. “The expertise that we’ve gained around cryo-preservation and cryo-banking will apply within EMBRC and we will continue to work on that. The same applied for all of the expected outputs from all of the JRAs.”

Networking Activities The research that is taking place within the ASSEMBLE Plus project holds wider interest to industry and academia, so a lot of emphasis is placed in the project on sharing knowledge and widening access to data. “We established some networking activities within the project’s design and are trying to connect scientists with the end-users, including some from industry. We want to heighten awareness of the results coming out of the project,” says Georgia Bayliss-Brown, the project’s Communications Officer. “This year, we held an online conference sharing the results of the project and engaging with the wider community. It was a great success, and we shall be hosting a further conference in 2022. In addition, we often host training and workshops within our many partner organisations that are free to attend. We announce these as they occur on our website and via our mailing list”. If you would like to find out more about the project, please visit or subscribe to the newsletter at HYPERLINK “http://”http:// Surveying the marine floors (Photos: Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Italy; The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel; University of Vigo, Spain).

Performing research across the globe (Photo: British Antarctic Survey).

Salt marsh area of Guadiana estuary, Photo: Carmen Santos, CCMAR.


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A one-stop-shop for research in the Arctic The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of our planet, which is causing more sea ice to melt and accelerating permafrost thawing. The Interact consortium coordinates efforts to send scientists to conduct research in the Arctic, which will lead to a deeper understanding of the extent and impact of environmental change in the region, as Professor Margareta Johansson explains. The Arctic is highly sensitive to the effects of climate change and so is the focus of a great deal of attention in research, while scientists are also investigating a wide variety of other topics in the region. The Interact project, an international consortium bringing together partners from countries around the Arctic, plays an important role in helping scientists conduct research in the region. “Interact is an infrastructure project, with 89 research stations across the Arctic and beyond,” says Margareta Johansson, an Associate Professor at Lund University and the coordinator of the project. Interact started around 20 years ago, providing access to research stations around the North Atlantic, but its scope has since widened. “We started with research stations in Scotland, the Faroe Islands and several of the Scandinavian countries, but then Interact grew bigger and more research stations wanted to join,” outlines Professor Johansson. “We now have a much more Arctic focus than we had at the start, while we also have research stations located in high-Alpine areas.”

Photograph by William Callaghan.

Photograph by Jennifer Kissinger.

Interact project There are a wide range of research stations within Interact, with varying environmental conditions and geographical features that may be of interest to scientists from different disciplines. Some stations are located close to glaciers for example, while

Photograph by Sˆlvi R˙nar Vignisson.

others give researchers the opportunity to investigate the condition of permafrost or track biodiversity; the common theme is that they are all involved in monitoring the climate. “All the research stations monitor the climate, and have been doing so for many years,” says Professor Johansson. These stations all have facilities to host external users, although Professor Johansson says it’s not always possible to provide year-round access. “Some stations in places like Greenland and northern Canada can be quite difficult to access, and it’s only possible to get to them during Summer,” she explains. “Funding from the EU is used to send people out into the field. At the moment, 53 of these 89 research stations offer trans-national access to researchers, so scientists can go there and do their research for free.” Research proposals are evaluated by a trans-national access board in Interact, which brings together station managers and external scientists with expertise in a variety of different topics, from medicine, to ecology, to permafrost conditions. The board meets on an annual basis to evaluate proposals and decide which will be funded under the project, and Professor Johansson says the key criteria is the quality of the science. “We aim to support innovative and excellent science, but of course we also consider feasibility and value for money,”

Finse research station , Photograph by Erika Leslie.


Photograph by Marek Szymocha.

Photograph by Katrine Raundrup.

she stresses. Some of the field stations may be in particularly high demand at certain times, often due to their proximity to scientifically interesting areas, but this tends to vary. “We have been running this project since 2011, and we’ve found that it’s not always the same stations that are popular,” says Professor Johansson. “We usually manage to get people to all of the stations within Interact. If some stations are being under-utilised, then we can run campaigns to generate more interest.” The research stations themselves benefit from inclusion within Interact, as it heightens their visibility and awareness of the facilities they offer amongst scientists, which in turn helps to attract further visitors. While a scientist may initially be funded under Interact to visit a research station, they may want to travel independently again at a later point to conduct further research. “If you come to an area as a scientist and set up an experiment, then the likelihood of you coming back next year and paying yourself is quite high, as many researchers need a lot of data. Often researchers need more than just a snapshot, they may need a couple of years worth of data,” points out Professor Johansson. The Interact project acts as a kind of one-stop-shop in this respect, raising awareness of research stations in

the Arctic and providing a base for scientists to conduct their research. “We have sent more than 1,000 scientists out into the field to the different stations so far, and a lot of interesting research has resulted from that,” says Professor Johansson.

can you reduce the carbon footprint around your research station?” continues Professor Johansson. “If the station managers can learn from each other and minimise their costs and the environmental impact of their operations, then that is beneficial.”

“We have sent more than 1,000 scientists out into the field to the different stations so far, and a lot of interesting research has resulted from that, including a new bumble bee species in Alaska.” Many of these research stations are located in very remote areas prone to extreme weather, for example the mean annual temperature at the CEN Ward Island Research Station in Northern Canada is -17.3ºC, so managing them can be a major challenge. A forum within the Interact project gives station managers the opportunity to share knowledge and expertise, and to learn from each others’ experiences. “Many problems can arise when you are located in a very remote area,” stresses Professor Johansson. The managers meet together either once or twice a year and produce best practice guidelines on the management of these research stations. “This includes guidance on what to think about in terms of safety, as well as things like energy management. How

Climate data A number of these research stations have been active for more than a century, and in some cases climate data has been gathered there over the entire period. This data is invaluable in terms of putting more recent trends in perspective and understanding how the climate has evolved over time, says Professor Johansson. “It’s over the last 3040 years that we have seen an acceleration in the rate of change in the Arctic,” she explains. This data may be recorded in notebooks or photographs however, not modern IT systems; rather than laboriously sifting through all this material researchers are looking to use the power of artificial intelligence. “We are working with a

Petuniabukta landscape, photograph by Jan Kavan.

Photograph by Martin Nielsen.


Photograph by Martin Proksch.

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Photograph by Stephan Bernberg.

International Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic

Project Objectives

INTERACT is a circumarctic network of 89 terrestrial research stations with a main objective to build capacity for identifying, understanding, predicting and responding to diverse environmental changes throughout the Arctic. INTERACT is offering access to more than 50 research stations through the Transnational Access Program.

Project Funding Photograph by Kevin Hammonds.

Photograph by Marco Graziano.

company and trying to figure out how we can use artificial intelligence to retrieve all the data. Some ideas are being tested at the moment, and we hope they will be applicable to many research stations,” says Professor Johansson. “A further part of the project is the Joint Research Activities, where we are developing new monitoring methods.” This represents an important contribution to the wider goal of protecting the Arctic and the people who live around the region from the effects of environmental change. Researchers in the project have been working with indigenous peoples around the Arctic and station managers, looking to harness their combined knowledge to strengthen protection. “We want to see how we can use the knowledge of indigenous people and the knowledge of people at these research stations to help local society in terms of adapting to environmental changes,” outlines Professor Johansson. These changes could be dramatic; for example, the coastal town of Barrow in Alaska is essentially slipping into the Sea due to permafrost coastal erosion, a topic on which Professor Johansson holds deep expertise. “There is a lot of debate about the impact of permafrost thawing. We know that there is twice as much carbon in the ground as there is in the atmosphere,” she says.

The thawing of permafrost leads to the decomposition of this carbon and to increased emissions of greenhouse gases. Many of the research stations within Interact have facilities to measure both carbon and methane fluxes, which Professor Johansson says will help scientists establish a more detailed picture of environmental change across the Arctic. “The research stations have got monitoring capabilities and are gathering data, which is then collected into a shared database, so that it is then more widely available,” she says.

INTERACT 2: EU Horizon 2020 (GA 730938) Project period: 2016-2021 Total funding 10 million EUR INTERACT 3: EU Horizon 2020 (GA 871120) Project period: 2020-2023 Total funding 10 million EUR

Project Partners


Contact Details

Katharina Beckmann INTERACT Secretariat Dept. of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science Lund University Sölvegatan 12 223 62 Lund Sweden T: +46 46 222 0662 E: W: INTERACT 2020. INTERACT Stories of Arctic Science II. / Eds.: Callaghan, T.V., Savela, H., and Johansson, M. / DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy, Aarhus University, Denmark, p134. Printed in Denmark 2020 by Rosendahl-Schultz Grafisk. INTERACT 2020. INTERACT Station Catalogue – 2020. / Eds.: Arndal, M.F. and Topp-Jørgensen, E. / DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy, Aarhus University, Denmark. p190. Printed in Denmark 2020 by Rosendahls-Schultz Grafisk. INTERACT Fieldwork Planning Handbook. / Eds.: Rasch, M. et al. / DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy, Aarhus University, Denmark. p148. Printed in Denmark 2019 by Rosendahls-Schultz Grafisk. INTERACT 2019. INTERACT Practical Field Guide. Eds.: Rasch, M. et al. DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy, Denmark, p68.

Associate Professor Margareta Johansson

Photograph by Jennifer Kissinger.

Associate Professor Margareta Johansson is based at Lund University in Sweden. Margareta’s main research interest is the impacts of climate change in the Arctic focusing on permafrost. She has been involved in many Arctic impact assessments. Margareta is the Coordinator of INTERACT (eu-interact. org). She has a great interest in outreach.

Photograph by Martin Proksch.

Photograph by Ida Manfredsson.


New insights into gender dynamics Horses have long been used to help herd cattle, and still today there are many places where a horse is essential to moving cattle across rough or steep terrain. We spoke to Dr Andrea Petitt about her research into how gendered human-animal relations of the American West are influencing the growing interest in Western horse and cattle practices in Sweden. With growing interest

in Western horse sports world wide, and with horses engaged in herding livestock on all continents, there is a clear need to understand the local implications of contemporary gender relations in this globalized equine culture, believes Dr Andrea Petitt, post-doc at the Centre for Gender Research at Uppsala University. Her project, funded by the Swedish Research Council, explores how gender relations are renegotiated through human-horse relations in Western style equestrian sport, tourism and agriculture at their origin in the USA and how they inspire the human-horse relations of the Western riding boom in Sweden. “The ideals and practices of communication between species are shaped by local multispecies cultures, including how horses are taught to communicate with cattle,” she explains. “So gendered ideas about communication also shape the lives of horses and cattle.”

Equestrian cultures There is a difference in perception and culture here, with horse activities in Sweden often Global horse cultures in change: new gender relations emerging from Western riding Funded by the Swedish Research Council and the Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography. Andrea Petitt Centre for Gender Research, Uppsala University, Engelska Parken, Box 527, 751 20, Uppsala E: W: global-equestrian-cultures-in-change/ Andrea Petitt

thought of as a feminine pursuit, at least outside the professional or elite arena. By contrast, horse-riding in rural North America is commonly associated with the macho cowboy, and the two cultures are now mixing to a greater extent, not least in Sweden. “What happens when this sub-culture with a macho icon gains traction – what happens to gender and species relations?” asks Dr Petitt. The project involves multispecies ethnography, with observations of Western style equine sport, tourism and agriculture that focus on cattle. Dr. Petitt spent a full year living and working on an all-female working

One of her major aims is to develop a multispecies triad approach, as opposed to a dyadic approach. “If we look at human-animal relations in the literature, it often focuses a species dyad – human-horse, or human-cow for instance. In the emerging field of equestrian social science, the focus is very much on the human-horse dyad,” explains Dr Petitt. “A triadic approach will help us learn new things, for example by looking at what happens to human-horse relations when a cow enters the scene. This will take us beyond a binary approach to understanding species relationships, and that is something that I want to contribute to. I also aim to produce

A triadic approach will take us beyond a binary approach to understanding species relationships, and that is something that I want to contribute to. cattle ranch in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, as well as seven months at different places all around Sweden. “In Sweden lots of horses are used in sport, while in the States there’s a long tradition of equine facilitated cattle-ranching,” continues Dr Petitt. “There is also cattle-ranching in Sweden, but pastures and herds are much smaller. Here in Sweden, you might be able to move the cows in a few hours, there might be a herd of maybe 50 pairs of mothers and calves, whereas we could move hundreds in Colorado, where we had to cover much bigger distances in tough terrain.” A further aspect of Dr Petitt’s research involves looking at how people involved in equestrian activities relate to each other and how this helps to shape local practices.

more knowledge about the working cowhorse, as there is relatively little literature on the horse as a working animal in agriculture.” The analysis of triadic human-animal relations can also lead to new insights into gender dynamics, which is a core theme in Dr Petitt’s research. A particular species may be associated with either feminine or masculine characteristics, and Dr Petitt is keen to apply a multi-species triad approach in research that takes into account the embodied and situated experiences and knowledges of different individuals of a particular species. “I’m developing a multispecies intersectionality that I think will be useful in multispecies ethnography and gender studies, not least in looking at agriculture in a variety of countries on different continents.” she says. Bringing pairs back to home ranch.

Andrea Petitt is a post-doc at the Centre for Gender Research (CfGR) at Uppsala University. Her main research interests are gender and multispecies relations in agriculture. She has an M. Sc. in Anthropology from Université de Montréal and a Ph. D. in Rural development from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.


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Quantum simulators to bridge between fields of physics Gauge theories are relevant to many different areas of physics ranging from condensed matter to highenergy physics, yet it remains difficult to study them. Researchers at LMU in Munich are building a quantum simulator that directly implements the properties of specific models of interest, and allows them to study their properties with table-top experiments, as Professor Monika Aidelsburger explains. Array of tightly focused laser beams to manipulate atoms in the lattice

A simplified description that captures the main features of an underlying system can help researchers to understand the complex properties of materials. This can be understood by thinking of it as a crystal. “The ions in the material form a periodic array, and electrons can move around in this potential energy landscape,” explains Monika Aidelsburger, Professor for Synthetic Quantum Matter at LMU in Munich. One of the most important models is the Fermi-Hubbard Model, which boils down the complexity of a material by describing it according to just two parameters in the Hamiltonian. “One parameter is about characterising the tunneling of an electron – how fast can an electron move around? The second one is, how strongly do they interact with each other?” continues Professor Aidelsburger. “Remarkably, even though this model looks extremely simple because there are only two parameters, it is still beyond our abilities to solve it analytically or study its rich properties numerically. These are the two options we typically have.”

Quantum mechanical systems These approaches are not effective, however, in terms of accurately reflecting the overall complexity of quantum mechanical systems. While in a grid-like periodic structure electrons may be configured as spin-up and spin-down particles, there are many more possible


Square lattice created by interfering laser beams

configurations in a quantum mechanical system. “In quantum mechanics there are also superpositions, so a particle can be both up and down at the same time or anything in between, which considerably increases the complexity of the problem. Simply writing down the state of the quantum system requires a number of variables that scales exponentially with the number of spins. Because of this exponential scaling we typically cannot handle systems with more than 100 spins,” explains Professor Aidelsburger. Together with her colleagues, Professor Aidelsburger is working on the idea

Laser standing-wave = a periodic potential

of quantum simulation, originally proposed by the American physicist Richard Feynman to gain deeper insights into quantum-mechanical models from different fields of physics. “We aim to build a quantum mechanical system that directly implements the properties of the model that we are interested in,” she outlines.

Aosense Source chamber


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This is a bottom-up approach, where researchers take ultracold atoms and arrange them in a periodic potential, then they behave in a way analogous to electrons in a material. Lasercooling techniques are used to cool atoms down to very low temperatures, in order to trap them in potentials generated by laser beams. “We have two laser beams that we interfere, and that leads to a standing wave, with nodes and maxima,” says Professor Aidelsburger. The intensity of the laser affects the way that the atoms arrange themselves along the wave relative to the node - the lowest amplitude point on the wave - or the maxima the highest. “This depends on the detuning of the frequency, that’s how we create the crystal potential, which is really just a light interference pattern,” explains Professor Aidelsburger. “Then how the atoms move between neighbouring sites is controlled by a potential barrier in between. By changing the laser intensities, we can increase or decrease that barrier, which affects how easy it is for the atoms to move around.” The laser field in this scenario can be thought of as generating a crystal, while the atoms effectively mimic the electrons, and move around in this potential landscape. Over the last decade or so it has been shown that these

ytterbium atoms, which are used as atomic clocks. The clock transition essentially allows us to generate more complicated potential energy landscapes, using different wavelengths for the laser beams,” says Professor Aidelsburger. A second important ingredient is local control. “We know how to control the system parameters by changing the intensity of the laser beams, but we don’t have very good control of local tunnelling events, or local state control. This is crucial for implementing gauge theories, because they require local symmetries, and therefore local control,” explains Professor Aidelsburger. “The idea there is to combine these interfering laser beams that generate a potential landscape with, for example, an array of tightly focused laser beams.” This array can then be projected onto the atoms, which allows researchers to locally manipulate how atoms move in this potential landscape. This opens up a wide range of possibilities in terms of studying different models. “This optical clock transition can also be used for high-precision spectroscopy an important tool for studying the properties of quantum systems,” says Professor Aidelsburger. One of the main challenges here is to engineer the local interactions; one specific example

We aim to develop a new experimental platform to study more abstract models, called gauge theories. These gauge theories are very general, and appear in many fields of physics. types of systems can be used to study problems in condensed matter physics, now Professor Aidelsburger is looking to extend this further in the EU-funded LaGaTYb project. “We aim to develop a new experimental platform to study more abstract models, called gauge theories. These are more general, and appear in many other fields of physics as well,” she outlines. The basic idea is to use this new platform to not only directly simulate these condensed matter types of Hamiltonians, but to also make connections to other fields which are loosely connected by gauge theory formulations. “It would be very exciting to provide a link between different fields, and to help establish a general framework,” continues Professor Aidelsburger. “Experts from different fields, like condensed matter physics or from high energy physics, all have their specific language and we would like to bring them together.”

Fermionic ytterbium atoms A common language to describe different phenomena would help researchers build a deeper understanding of quantum systems. Researchers in the project are developing a new platform, which differs from the more established experimental frameworks described earlier in two main aspects. “We are working with fermionic

Professor Aidelsburger points to is the possibility of studying quantum electrodynamics problems. “For example if you have two fermions in a lattice, usually they can move around individually, depending on the potential barrier between sites. Now we can engineer the lattice in such a way that two fermions can only hop together, in what we call a correlated hopping process,” she outlines. “Each individual fermion needs a partner to move around. If we do this in the correct way, then this basic building block can be used to study phenomena known from quantum electrodynamics, such as particleantiparticle pair creation processes.” A number of workshops and conferences have been held over the past few years to bring researchers together and identify the main challenges while also exploring the wider potential of quantum simulations. For the moment however, Professor Aidelsburger’s priority is to develop the experimental platform. “We are starting to assemble our vacuum system and the laser system in the lab. At some point next year, we hope to have fermions in the lattice, which we can arrange individually and look at individually. We also hope to show that we are able to locally control the motion of the fermions in the lattice,” she says.

LaGaTYb Exploring lattice gauge theories with fermionic Ytterbium atoms Project Objectives

The goal of this ambitious research project is to develop a new experimental platform based on ultracold atoms in optical lattices, that will allow for local controllability of tunnel events and thereby pave the way towards quantum simulation of lattice gauge theories with fermionic Yb atoms to study phenomena related to condensed matter and highenergy physics.

Project Funding

This project receives funding from the Cluster of Excellence (MCQST), and also the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).

Contact Details

Project Coordinator, Professor Monika Aidelsburger Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München Fakultät für Physik Schellingstr. 4 80799 München T: +49 89 2180 6143 E: W: personen/professoren/aidelsburger/index.html

Professor Monika Aidelsburger

Monika Aidelsburger received her PhD at LMU Munich in 2015. After a PostDoc period at Collège de France in Paris, she returned to LMU as a group leader, where she is a professor since 2019. Her group is working on quantum simulations of topological models and out-of-equilibrium phenomena using ultracold atoms. In 2018 she received an ERC Starting Grant for studying gauge theories.


High Energy Proton

Infrared Emission



New materials to boost solar cells Conventional solar cells do not effectively utilise all of the sunlight which reaches them, which limits their efficiency. An effective singlet fission photon multiplication film would allow solar cells to harvest energy from a greater proportion of the solar spectrum and so improve efficiency, as Dr Victor Gray explains. The earth receives an enormous amount of energy from the sun every day, yet only a relatively small proportion of it is converted into electricity. Currently based at the University of Cambridge in the UK, Dr Victor Gray is conducting fundamental research into a process called singlet fission, which could be utilised to enhance the efficiency of solar cells. “I aim to understand singlet fission in certain organic molecules, so we can then develop materials that can eventually be used in solar cells,” he outlines. In singlet fission, a high-energy singlet exciton is converted into two triplet excitons (electrons are unpaired), each with around half the energy of the singlet exciton. “A singlet is a molecule with all electrons paired, typically pictured as two antiparallel arrows, whereas a triplet is a molecules with unpaired electrons, typically pictured as two parallel arrows,” says Dr Gray. The energy of these triplets with unpaired electrons is then closer to the band gap of the semiconductor material, potentially offering a route to harvesting energy from more of the solar


spectrum and improving efficiency. However, challenges still remain in terms of applying these materials in solar cells. “There is a lot of interest in using singlet fission materials in solar cells, but they’re difficult to use because the triplets that are formed are non-emissive and hard to extract,” explains Dr Gray.

Photon multiplication film This is an issue Dr Gray aims to overcome by using emissive quantum dots in the singlet fission photon multiplication film that he and his colleagues are developing, an optical layer which can be added to a solar module. The absorbing singlet fission material itself is a tetracene molecule, which is formed of four fused benzene rings. “This is a relatively wellknown singlet fission material, which is then combined with quantum dots in the film,” outlines Dr Gray. Lead sulfide (PbS) quantum dots are being used to collect the triplet excitons, which Dr Gray says are engineered to a high level of precision. “The size of the

quantum dots determines the energy of the triplets they can accept and the energy of the photons they can emit, so they have to be of a size that they can accept the triplets that are formed through singlet fission,” he explains. “That puts a limit on how small they can be, but they can’t be too big either, or they won’t be compatible with silicon solar cells for example. So, there’s only a narrow window where quantum dots are of a suitable size.” The challenge then is to combine these inorganic quantum dots effectively with organic singlet fission molecules in a photon multiplication film, which is a complex, technically demanding task. Quantum dots are typically coated with long, carbon aliphatic chains, so that they can be suspended in solution. “They have this thick shell of oily chains, that effectively insulates them from other materials. It’s challenging to electronically couple these with the singlet fission material, in order to allow the triplets to be harvested,” says Dr Gray. These long-

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chain aliphatic molecules have been removed and replaced with a molecule that’s very similar to the singlet fission material, except that it has a group that can bind to the surface of the quantum dot. “This makes the surface of the quantum dot more compatible with the singlet fission material, while it also acts as a kind of stepping stone for the triplets to migrate into the quantum dot,” says Dr Gray. This is an important topic in Dr Gray’s research, with his focus primarily on building a deeper fundamental understanding of how the excited states move in the film and in solution. Dr Gray is using optical spectroscopy techniques to study both how the generated triplets are transferred into the quantum dot, and how efficiently they are transferred. “We have done a lot of initial studies in solution,” he says. The wider aim here is to develop a photon multiplication film as part of efforts to further improve the efficiency of solar cells, in terms of how many photons are absorbed relative to how many are emitted. “For now I have used well known singlet fission molecules like tetracene which we know can absorb a high energy photon and generate two triplets

Solar energy harvesting As a physical chemist, Dr Gray’s primary focus over the course of the project has been on fundamental research into singlet fission, yet this research also holds wider interest in solar energy harvesting. In the project, Dr Gray has collaborated closely with colleagues from both the university and a local start-up company, who are considering the potential practical applications of this research. “We always have the prospect of practical applications in mind when we discuss the next steps. This wouldn’t particularly disrupt existing manufacturing processes, as the photon multiplication film would be added on top of the solar module after it’s been produced,” he stresses. A lot of progress has been made in the project, but there is still more work to do before this research can be translated into practical applications. “We have been able to show a kind of proof-of-principle of this photon multiplication film, but the tetracene molecule and the quantum dots are slightly too low in energy to be matched with the silicon solar cells,” outlines Dr Gray.

I’m investigating the first part of singlet fission, which is about the absorption of the initial high-energy photon, which then generates two triplets with about half the energy. I’m specifically looking at the collection of these triplets in quantum dots, which ideally then emit this energy as low-energy photons. with about half the energy,” continues Dr Gray. “Then I’m specifically looking at the collection of these triplets in quantum dots, which ideally then emit this energy as low-energy photons.” The quantum dots have a slightly lower excitation energy than the triplets that are formed, which is an important consideration in terms of collecting them. When the triplets move around in the material, they get trapped in the quantum dots. “That’s why we need the quantum dots to be evenly dispersed throughout the film, so that there’s always a quantum dot close to where a triplet could be formed,” says Dr Gray. However, the quantum dots have a very large absorption spectrum, so Dr Gray says it’s also important to ensure there are not too many, so that the overall efficiency of the solar cell is not adversely affected. “Ideally the quantum dots should be completely transparent, so that the solar cell can absorb efficiently,” he explains. “We also want to achieve the right morphology, which means that the singlet fission material is not disturbed and it can efficiently undergo the singlet fission process to generate two triplets.”

The next step would be to move this over to another system where a singlet fission material can generate slightly higher energy triplet states. A lot of energy and attention is devoted to searching for molecules that would match effectively with silicon solar cells, with researchers both looking again at existing molecules and making quantum-chemical calculations to identify the optimal properties. “A lot of materials have been proposed,” says Dr Gray. With the project nearing the end of its funding term, Dr Gray hopes his research will prove to be an important contribution to the ongoing development of the field. “I hope to show that this new approach to incorporating singlet fission material with solar cells is viable. Traditionally, people have tried to incorporate these singlet fission materials directly with the solar cell material, and that’s turned out to be challenging,” he says. “Even though using quantum dots as an emissive material is a detour, I hope that this will be interesting to other groups and that it will lead to some useful materials in future.”

MAKING DARK TRIPLETS Making Dark Triplets From Singlet Fission Bright - Improving Solar Cell Efficiencies Project Objectives

The objectives of the project is to enhance solar cell efficiencies by developing materials that can absorb one high energy photon and re-emit two photons of half the energy. The project is fundamental in nature and aims to develop and understanding of the design of these materials comprising organic molecules anchored to emissive semiconductor nanocrystals (Quantum dots).

Project Funding

The project is funded by the Swedish Research council

Project Partners

The project is funded through an International Postdoc fellowship which allows me to visit the Cavendish Laboratory, Department of Physics at Cambridge University, UK to perform the research in close collaboration with other experts on the topic. Dr. Akshay Rao is the Principle Investigator hosting me.

Contact Details

Project Coordinator, Dr Victor Gray Cavendish Laboratory University of Cambridge JJ Thomson Avenue CB3 0HE, United Kingdom E: W: Rao, A., Friend, R., Harnessing singlet exciton fission to break the Shockley–Queisser limit , 2017, Nature Reviews Materials, 17063. DOI: 10.1038/natrevmats.2017.63 Gray, V., et al. Direct vs Delayed Triplet Energy Transfer from Organic Semiconductors to Quantum Dots and Implications for Luminescent Harvesting of Triplet Excitons, 2020, ACS Nano, 4224-4234. DOI:10.1021/acsnano.9b09339 Gray, V., et al. Thiol-Anchored TIPS-Tetracene Ligands with Quantitative Triplet Energy Transfer to PbS Quantum Dots and Improved Thermal Stability, 2020, J. Phys. Chem. Lett., 7239-7244. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpclett.0c0203 Allardice, J., et al. Ligand Directed Self-Assembly of Bulk Organic-Semiconductor/Quantum-Dot Blend Films Enables Near Quantitative Harvesting of Triplet Excitons, 2020, arXiv:2009.05764;

Dr Victor Gray

Dr Victor Gray is a post-doctoral researcher at Uppsala University, who has been working at Cambridge University since mid-2018 on an international post-doc fellowship. His main research interests lie in the photophysics of molecules and materials and their application in solar energy harvesting.


Initial concept art for the space station. © ESA/NASA/ATG Medialab

Gateway to the Moon and Beyond ESA is working with NASA to put a space station in lunar orbit and astronauts back on the Moon. Richard Forsyth talks to Didier Schmitt, Strategy and Coordination Group Leader for Robotic and Human Exploration at European Space Agency, about breakthroughs in human space exploration we will witness in the coming years.


he last man to walk on the Moon was the late Gene Cernan, a US astronaut who flew the Apollo 17 mission back in 1972, nearly 50 years ago. Considering the scale of the achievement and the time that has since passed, it is understandable that there are some people today, who even question we went there at all. It is therefore gratifying for scientists to see that the appetite for human space exploration has returned. The time has finally arrived, where we are ready and preparing to go back to the Moon and this time, Europe will play a major part. Two endeavours are underway, Gateway and Artemis. ESA is working closely with NASA and several other space agencies and private companies to make the new goals for human exploration a reality. Gateway will be a manned outpost orbiting the Moon whilst the Artemis programme (twin sister to Apollo) will see a man and a woman step foot on the lunar surface, with a longer-term objective of establishing a sustainable presence. These ambitious lunar missions will also provide the equivalent of base camps, when the time comes to scale the Everest of space exploration, a human mission to Mars.


Same issues, new era Whilst a lot has changed since the 60s and 70s, the fundamentals of moon exploration, Schmitt emphasises, remain the same. “Obviously, the physics in the sixties compared to now has not changed. We still need the equivalent of Saturn V rocket, so rebuilding such a big beast is one of the big tasks – named the SLS Space Launch System – having the maiden flight at end of this year. What has changed though, with the Apollo missions there was roughly a fifty percent chance of not succeeding and they took immense risks. Nowadays, risk is massively reduced and that has a cost and time delay consequence. In the first race to the Moon, it peaked to four to five percent GDP in the sixties to do it and now at NASA there is a relatively flat budget of twenty three billion but only half of that budget is for human exploration. So that is the situation.” Budget has always been a hotly debated topic in the context of space exploration. Should it be spent elsewhere, is it enough, which projects should have the lion’s share and why? “To put it bluntly, our exploration programme is about 700 million

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The contracts have been signed at the end of last year, for the two modules. The ESPRIT module can also do the refuelling and has a 360 degree viewing observatory for astronauts to see the moon and control dockings. That will be ready by 2026/2027 and iHAB will be ready by 2025/2026, for launch. Prototyping has started and cutting metal will begin at the end of the year.

euros a year, which is a little more than a euro per European citizen per year, which is half of a coffee cup in cost, approximately. It’s not a lot, and also, it’s not sufficient to be an equal partner. Landing on the Moon is not the same as flying to the ISS, frankly, going to the Moon is another ball game. It does cost more and going to Mars will cost even more still. We will have to increase the budget constantly for space exploration to keep up with the US and China, so let us face that very clearly. I can tell you though, that one euro a year, per citizen, to do what we do, that is not a lot of money and we are very efficient.” The technologies have come a long way since the 60’s, for instance, a basic smart phone today has 100,000 times more computational power in comparison to the Apollo missions’ technology. Innovation will make the new Moon missions much safer and technologically more advanced compared to the Apollo missions, meaning we will be able to stay longer and achieve much more per flight.

The making of a space station The Gateway is a space station designed to support robots and astronauts exploring the lunar surface, with a long elliptical orbit around the Moon allowing maximum direct visibility, thus communication with the Earth. NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which is integrated with ESA’s European Service Module will be able to dock with the space station. Gateway will be composed of interlocking modules, each with a critical role and ESA is accountable for many of the key components.

“The launch of the Power and Propulsion Element or PPE, which is the programme’s propulsion system on the NASA side and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost known as HALO, these elements are in construction and they could be launched as early as 2023. That is feasible. On our side we will provide the international habitat module or iHAB, and the ESPRIT module, which provides telecommunication, and we have some advanced telecommunication on the HALO also. The contracts have been signed at the end of last year, for the two modules. The ESPRIT module can also do the refuelling and has a 360 degree viewing observatory for astronauts to see the Moon and control dockings. That will be ready by 2026/7 and iHAB will be ready by 2025/6, for launch. Prototyping has started and cutting metal will begin at the end of the year.” The contract, worth 286.5 million euros, sits primarily with European company, Thales Alenia Space, who are currently responsible for over half of the volume of the ISS structure. They will be working on the ESPRIT module and iHAB module, and they also provide the pressurised structure of the NASA’s HALO. The ESPRIT module will handle voice, data and video and has a second role as a refuelling module for the Gateway, also able to support future reusable landers and deep space transport. The iHAB module provides an environment for sustaining human life during missions. There will be docking ports, resources for accommodating scientific experiments on the interior and exterior of the module, external attachment points for


Setting up a future lunar base could be made much simpler by using a 3D printer to build it from local materials. Industrial partners including renowned architects Foster+Partners joined ESA to test the feasibility of 3D printing using lunar soil. The base is first unfolded from a tubular module that can be easily transported by rocket. An inflatable dome then extends from one end of this cylinder to provide a support structure for construction. Layers of regolith are then built up over the dome by a robot-operated 3D printer (right) to create a protective shell. © ESA/Foster + Partners

the Gateway robotic arm provided by Canada and internal points for Gateway internal robots, which can perform tasks when the module is not crewed. Life support systems will be provided by Japan. These modules are critical for the success of the future human lunar landings and as a learning curve for Mars missions preparation. In addition to constructing ESPRIT and iHAB, ESA is responsible for the European Service Module, or ESM. This will provide propulsion, electrical power, water and thermal control, and an oxygen and nitrogen atmosphere for the crew as part of the Orion spacecraft. “In the past years for the ISS, NASA could have done without us but we are now completely co-dependent. For the ESM Orion, it is clear that it is one spacecraft, where we built the propulsion system, the life support system and everything that has to do with power because we provide also the solar panels and so on. All this is moulded onto the Orion capsule which has the four crew members. Which means, for NASA, that for every flight to the Moon, around the Moon, to the Gateway and thus to reach the surface, Europe will have to deliver an ESM, a service module. There is no mission to the Moon without European involvement.”

Buying space Another important change in perception at least, in how we approach space exploration today is around the involvement of the private sector, with companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Boeing and Blue Origin, often heavy on the PR around pioneering space ready technology faster.

Didier sees the reliance on these bold new space companies currently more in the bracket of a different way of procurement by NASA than purely commercial from the onset, a subtle but important difference in definition. “Rather than doing an internal precisely defined NASA procurement where they rely on industry to execute, and are on top of it, they just say, ‘we will buy seats on a mission’, for example for the launchers and the Dragon crew. NASA states a light specification needed and it is up to industry to come up with a service. SpaceX and Boeing are doing this, it’s another way of procurement. For the Moon programme, for the PPE and the HALO modules it is NASA that gave precise specifications, and it is agreed they will be a Falcon Heavy launch. NASA will pay SpaceX to launch these two elements but I would not say it’s commercial, it’s a company that simply provides a flight, so, they are just paying a cheque to someone to do it, as it is not a NASA launcher like SLS. If ESA would launch its own modules, we would also purchase a launch, and we would not call it commercial. ‘Commercial’ in the US wording, means that there is a shared risk as NASA has largely financed the development of Dragon Crew and even Falcon 9.” However, it’s hard to deny that purely commercial space flight is coming soon. The reality is that the seeds are already sewn, and the nature of space exploration is going to face transformations. Space tourism, as one sector, is inevitable.

© Thales Alenia Space/Briot

Gateway with solar array glint © ESA


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“When our next astronauts fly, we are not procuring a flight from Space X, we make a deal with NASA and it’s NASA who pays SpaceX for the launch. So, from our side, it hasn’t changed from Soyuz launches to SpaceX launches because we still deal directly with NASA, which was the case for Soyuz as well, as NASA paid Roscosmos. However, there is one thing for NASA that has changed. They buy a seat for their astronauts and the arrangement is that SpaceX is free to sell additional seats, for additional flights if they have customers, so they can go to the ISS eventually, which is what they will be doing. They will also have these fully commercial flights for a few days, but without docking to ISS. But with these commercial flights, NASA is hardly involved, it is just the case that they allow the situation to happen because it was an incentive to convince the private initiatives to do the development, because they have seen that they could make money. So, NASA is an anchor customer, with the ISS crew, and beyond that the company can sell seats, which is complicated because of course if these people are going to the ISS and the ISS is not made for tourists, it’s made for science. Thus, there is an initiative to add special modules for the private flights.”

Europeans on the Moon Despite ESA recruiting this year, for four to six new astronauts (with up to 20 reserve astronauts), the length of the selection and then training period for the recruits will mean their first flight should be around

This 1.5 tonne building block was produced as a demonstration of 3D printing techniques using lunar soil. The design is based on a hollow closed-cell structure – reminiscent of bird bones – to give a good combination of strength and weight. © ESA

2027. It is clear ESA would not send ‘rookies’ to the Gateway or any Moon mission on their first flight, which means that any Europeans in the running for the new Moon missions will be from the current seven active ESA astronauts: Alexander Gerst, Andreas Mogensen, Luca Parmitano, Timothy Peake, Thomas Pesquet, Matthias Maurer and

For NASA, that for every flight to the moon, around the moon, to the Gateway and thus to reach the surface, Europe will have to deliver an ESM, a service module. There is no mission to the moon without European involvement. European Service Module for Artemis. © ESA


From ESA’s side we have one female in our seven astronauts, so there is a chance a European woman will walk on the moon. Installation of Orion adapter for first Artemis lunar flight. © NASA

ESA astronauts © ESA

Apollo photos © NASA

Samantha Cristoforetti. However, NASA has selected six men and six women for the first flight, so it will be a 100% US Moon landing on the first return to the surface, which will involve a man and a woman. “NASA has decided that the first two next astronauts on the Moon will be one female and one male. That is agreed now. From ESA’s side Apollo photos © NASA


we have one female in our seven astronauts, so there is a chance a European woman will walk on the moon. The reason there is only one female ESA astronaut is very simple, in the 2008/09 selection process we had only fifteen percent of female candidates. The selection is not bias in favour or not in favour of women, which means that if we have for example, fifty percent female applicants this time, fifty percent of the selected crew will likely be female. Our position is that we are committed to do whatever it takes to have one European astronaut on the surface of the Moon, hopefully by the end of this decade, so we are asking our member states for the green light to negotiate this. We know we can provide interesting contributions to NASA in exchange like a European large lunar lander, to be launched on Ariane 6.” The dates and deadlines for putting astronauts back on the Moon are still in flux and being decided – at the time of writing. What is clear however, is that the date of the next Moon landings, set by the previous US administration, of 2024, is not feasible, nor therefore is Elon Musk’s date of 2024 for putting astronauts on Mars but all the stakeholders involved are clear on one thing, we are going back to the Moon and then we are going to Mars. The reasons we have taken so much time to come to this point are understandable, yet the complexities are seldom understood by many. “The ISS orbits around Earth at 400km, the Moon is at 400,000 km – so 1,000 times further, and when Mars is furthest away from the Earth, opposite the sun, it’s about 400 million km away so about 1,000 times further than the moon. Not only this, from the ISS you can come back in a few hours if there is an emergency. From the Moon it could take about three days to come back if there is a big problem, when you start out to Mars it could be up to three years because there is no U turn. To go to Mars and come back with a crew, it will take about six super-heavy launches (SLS type), and landing on Mars will take between nine and twelve such launches to assemble different convoys to go there. So that is the complexity of this undertaking… But it will happen. One of the reasons is because a new space race between China and the US has just started. There is now an agreement memorandum of understanding between Russia and China for a Moon base for example, and China are on a fast track, you just have to see what they have done by landing a rover on the far side of the Moon, and they have brought back samples. They also have the Tiawen-1 around Mars, with a rover to deploy, and will start assembling their own space station this year!”

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Exploring is what we do The reasons to go back to the Moon and to go further and put people on Mars, they depend on who you ask but there are several justifications. A politician will do it because it is a benchmark for humanity and for a nation’s standing, a scientist will do it because it will drive breakthroughs, industry may do it to create jobs and wealth, a person on the street may see it as inspiration and aspiration. “Of course, for Mars in particular, we should look at everything which can be beneficial to what we are doing, the benefits part is very interesting. Let’s put it like this, if you put four or five people in a box for three years it takes a lot of technology breakthroughs such as recycling, telepresence, and so on which has a lot of applications in daily life. Going three days to the Moon and coming back – that’s not a big issue for the sustainability but having a group of people live in a box for three years, that has massive returns, which means we will be working a lot with the non-space industries on recycling and tele-robotics and these kinds of things. We expect a lot of progress to be done between us and the non-space sector in these fields, including for health issues and greening”. “We are really intending to recycle everything, human waste for example, and asking, how do you preserve food for such a long time? How do you invent new foods, because you will not be raising chicken and cattle in space, so we are looking at solutions like unicellular algae, or new bioprinted foods to be better assimilated. We need a complete understanding of metabolism, to get to grips with a lot of things like this in the health sector concerning food. Also preserving and packaging, so there is a lot to be done. We will need to handle dust, as a lot of problems are linked to dust including health problems, which can impact us even in our cars and offices here on Earth, so we have to find solutions for that as well. Such examples are numerous and the innovation will have impact on our daily life before we even go there.” Having people on the Moon and Mars also allows for faster science. Rovers need to be designed and programmed for specific foreseen tasks and are slow, for example the Chinese lunar rover travels less than a

metre per day. Astronauts can react quickly in real-time to what the environment presents, conducting experiments and gathering insights and data at far greater speeds, a reason why there was a geologist on the last Apollo mission. Another key aspect of innovation to develop for the Moon and later, for Mars, is what is termed in-situ resource utilisation, technologies that will use lunar or Martian natural resources, so negating the need to carry them to the location. For instance, to extract water or oxygen that can produce fuel or provide sustenance. The renewed exploration of the Moon is quite different to fifty years ago. It is planned that we are going to the Moon to stay longer and that drives the choice of technologies there. The idea is that there is going to be a permanent presence on the Moon, and it is important to understand that the exploration of the Moon today is not an isolated target. It is viewed as key to the future exploration of Mars. The choice of technologies on the Moon are being designed with suitable technology for Mars in mind. Beyond all the technologies, the need for RoI, the benefits and practical reasons, it is undeniable that there is something more basic in the desire to achieve reaching these new horizons, to explore and see these locations beyond Earth with human eyes. As Didier puts it: “In 1962 when Kennedy did his inspirational speech ‘we choose to go to the Moon’, he didn’t talk about spin-off and return on investment, we are not doing this for return on investment.” The need to go further is what we are about. It is who we are. The Moon is next, then Mars and then we will go further still, it is what we are made to do. Special thanks to Didier Schmitt, Jose Martinez, Beatriz Arias and Tanja van der Putten at ESA for your support for this feature. /gateway /esearch?q=Moon

From the moon it could take about three days to come back if there is a big problem, when you start out to Mars it could be up to three years because there is no U turn. To go to Mars and come back with a crew, it will take about six super-heavy launches (SLS type), and landing on Mars will take between nine and twelve such launches to assemble different convoys to go there. So that is the complexity of this undertaking… But it will happen. © ESA/Silicon Worlds/Daniele Gasparri


New methods for tomorrow’s nano-structured materials The next generation of lithium-ion batteries are set to be based on silicon, so it’s essential that the material is produced in a cost-effective and sustainable way. Researchers in the STEM project have developed a new method of making nano-structured materials which could help improve energy storage capacity, as Dr Juan-Jose Vilatela explains. The

established process of manufacturing battery electrodes involves the use of solvents or polymers, but with sustainability a prominent concern, researchers are looking for alternatives. Based at the IMDEA Materials Institute in Madrid, Dr JuanJosé Vilatela and his colleagues in the STEM project have developed a new process to make nano-structured materials. “We have developed a process to assemble silicon into electrodes, without the use of any solvents or polymers,” he explains. The STEM project was originally focused on developing structural composite materials for energy harvesting, before researchers branched out in a slightly new direction. “We had experience of assembling one type of nano-material in a gas phase. We then thought that this could be a universal method, so we started exploring this for silicon,” says Dr Vilatela. A lot of progress has been made in this respect over the course of the project, with researchers developing a method to effectively synthesise silicon floating in gas. This represents a significant breakthrough which opens up further possibilities, believes Dr Vilatela. “Typically nanomaterials are produced on a substrate, and from there they are processed into a macroscopic object. We are now able to synthesise inorganic nano-materials floating in the gas phase, without any substrate. We can then directly assemble them into a macroscopic object,” he outlines. This fabrication process has been demonstrated for silicon, which holds potential for use as an electrode, while researchers have also gained some very promising results on silicon carbide. 46

Production of nanostructured materials by direct assembly of nanowires floating the gas phase.

We are now able to synthesise inorganic nanomaterials floating in the gas phase, without any substrate. We can then directly assemble them into a macroscopic object. “This could be interesting as an insulator, while it also has some good optoelectronic properties,” says Dr Vilatela.

Fabricating nano-materials The approach developed in the project is not limited to silicon and could potentially be applicable to any 1-dimensional nanomaterial, so essentially all nanowires. These could be metal oxides, semi-conductors, or insulators for example, with researchers aiming to demonstrate that this process can be used to fabricate different types of nano-materials. “Our interest is in demonstrating that this

is a universal process to assemble nanomaterials,” says Dr Vilatela. Researchers have so far shown that this process can be used to assemble silicon into electrodes, without the use of any solvents or polymers, work which holds important implications for energy storage. “Silicon is envisaged as an electrode for energy storage in transport, as well as in stationary applications. It is recognised as the best replacement for graphite in almost all lithium-ion batteries,” continues Dr Vilatela. The key advantage of silicon over the materials currently used is that it can store 10 times more energy, while it is also relatively

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STEM Structural energy harvesting composite materials Project Objectives

The STEM project set out to develop new multifunctional structural composite materials combining high performance mechanical properties and applications in energy. In a major breakthrough, researchers showed that inorganic nanowires can be synthesised floating in the gas phase, which enables their direct assembly into continuous, macroscopic materials. This unlocks the possibility of assembling virtually any one-dimensional nanomaterial into freestanding solids without the use of solvents or polymers. The group is currently working on applying this synthetic route to new nanomaterials and particularly on exploring the potential of this method for more sustainable production of high-performance lithium ion battery electrodes. Tesla Panasonic battery cells.

easy to source in comparison to graphite. The aim now for Dr Vilatela and his colleagues is to prove the viability and cost-effectiveness of this new method. “We are trying to demonstrate the performance of this material as electrodes in large batteries, and also to increase production capacity. The main challenge we face is in scaling up production to larger amounts,” he outlines. A further significant challenge involves demonstrating the performance of these materials as electrodes, particularly their cyclability. “This means that the electrochemical properties of these materials, such as their ability to storage energy during repeated charge and discharge cycles, need to be preserved. We need to

the point of fabrication, for a regular electric vehicle. The process that we have developed can eliminate the use of all solvents,” he stresses. “This could greatly reduce the carbon footprint of our batteries. We have now applied for further grants to extend our work and to study this process in more detail.”

Exploiting the technology The objective then will be to start validating these nano-structured electrodes in 2021, and to have enough production capacity to move towards certification at a pilot plant in a couple of years. Then beyond that point, Dr Vilatela hopes to bring these electrodes to the market by 2025, which

Silicon is envisaged as an electrode for energy storage in transport, as well as in stationary applications. Silicon is widely recognised as the best replacement for graphite in almost all lithium-ion batteries. demonstrate their long-term performance as a battery electrode,” says Dr Vilatela. This work is very much in line with wider objectives around reducing carbon emissions and addressing concerns about climate change. While a lot of attention is focused on introducing materials that store more energy, it’s also important to develop sustainable methods to produce batteries, and Dr Vilatela believes his group’s research could have a significant impact in this respect.“ Studies show that current battery cell manufacturing methods using processing solvents and polymers lead to several tonnes of CO2 being emitted at

meets the ambitious objectives set down by the European Union. “The goal of the EU is to have silicon anodes by 2025,” he says. This is motivated in large part by the need to reduce dependence on imports of the critical raw materials currently used in batteries, specifically graphite. “Most of the natural graphite suitable for batteries is found in Asia. So, in Europe there is a general recognition that it is critical to find a replacement,” explains Dr Vilatela. “We are now looking to accelerate the exploitation of this technology and its industrialisation.”

Project Funding

Funded by the Horizon 2020 Programme: ERC Starting Grant (Grant Agreement 678565) and ERC Proof of Concept (Grant Agreement 963912).

Contact Details

Project Coordinator, Dr. Juan Jose Vilatela IMDEA Materials Institute C/ Eric Kandel, 2 Tecnogetafe 28906, Getafe, Madrid (Spain) T: +34 915 49 34 22 E: W: groups/mng/ ArticleLanding/2020/MH/D0MH00777C#!divCitation

Dr. Juan J. Vilatela

Dr. Juan J. Vilatela leads a research group focused on developing macroscopic materials made up of nanobuilding blocks in such a way that the unique properties at the nanoscale are preserved through the assembly process. This leads to the production of a new generation of highperformance engineering materials.


Protecting concrete with new technologies Durability of concrete structures is one of the main concerns of project owners, and researchers continue to develop new ways to protect concrete from damage. We spoke to Dr Arnaud Muller about the work of the EnDurCrete project in developing new, more durable and more sustainable types of concrete, which include a number of novel technologies. A number of different types of degradation can affect concrete and limit its load-carrying capacity. One type of degradation is caused by exposure to seawater, when chloride ions penetrate into the concrete matrix. “This is called chloride ingress, while there is also sulfate ingress from certain soils or carbonation by the CO2 present in the ambient air. The end result of CO2, chloride, and sulfate ingress is the same: damage of the reinforced concrete structure that loses its load-carrying capacity,” says Dr Arnaud Muller. “Concrete is formed of a mixture of aggregates, sand, cement and water” outlines Dr Muller. As the coordinator of the EnDurCrete project, Dr Muller is leading a consortium working to develop more durable and more sustainable types of concrete, including novel additive technologies.

multi-functional coatings, which Dr Muller says are designed to offer surface protection to the concrete, reducing its exposure to aggressive substances coming from the environment. “These coatings contain micro-capsules with a sealing agent,” he says. “If a crack occurs, then these micro-capsules open and the sealing agent is released. This fills the crack and closes it as it forms.” The primary purpose of the coating is to stop aggressive substances from penetrating the concrete, but if this does happen then the micro-capsules provide another layer of protection.

A second self-sensing technology is also being developed in the project, namely microsized carbon fibres and carbon filler materials, that increase the electrical conductivity of a block of concrete. Multiple sensing electrodes are embedded in the concrete, providing continuous monitoring capability. “This improves our ability to sense the modification of concrete electrical behaviour due to the penetration of aggressive substances,” says Dr Muller. Research in this area is still ongoing, with scientists looking to classify the different contaminants based on electrical impedance variability, yet, Dr Muller says. “This means we can use low-cost monitoring devices, allowing us to detect changes in the exposure conditions much earlier.” he stresses.

EnDurCrete project The EnDurCrete project aims to develop a new cost-effective sustainable concrete ensuring enhanced durability with self-healing and self-monitoring capacities. The EnDurCrete project involves 16 European partners, including industry leaders in the fields of cement and concrete production, construction companies, chemical admixture producers, universities and technological research institutes. The EnDurCrete project started with the development of multi-component Portland cements with high substitution of Portland cement clinker by industrial by-products. By adjusting the fineness of each of the cement constituents independently, in order to maximize their reactivity and their synergies, researchers were able to improve performance. The new novel cements contained only 47-53% clinker, for which concrete recipes were specifically engineered to deliver the required performance. Researchers in the EnDurCrete project are exploring the possibility of adding new technologies to concrete, with the wider aim of enhancing durability of the construction, while also reducing the environmental impact. One part of this work involves the addition of modified clays to the concrete. “Nano-clay is an additive, which has the ability to immobilise chloride coming from the seawater and hence prevent concrete damage,” explains Dr Muller. Researchers in the project are also developing


Production of the EnDurCrete panels with textile reinforcement, optical fibers and electric impedance sensors.

A further topic of interest in EnDurCrete is self-sensing technologies, with one of the project partners developing a textile equipped with fibre-optic sensors. “This is basically a mesh which is placed into the concrete element as it is cast,” outlines Dr Muller. This mesh is embedded into the concrete, which provides a way to monitor damage over time, besides replacing the steel net as concrete reinforcement. “We can see how the element deforms by the signal we get from these fibreoptic sensors. As the element bends or deforms, the signal we get changes,” explains Dr Muller. “This is why we call it self-sensing. We can essentially monitor the deformation of the elements, for example as a truck pass over it.”

Measurement systems to remotely monitor the health status of the EnDurCrete samples in the port of Gijon, Spain.

EnDurCrete samples exposed to the sea water at the coast of Norway.

High durability is always a priority in the application of concrete as a building material. The technologies developed within the EnDurCrete project are being tested at four sites across Europe, where they are exposed to different environmental conditions. The proportions of different components in the concrete mixes have been engineered for each specific demo site, and the associated local regulations. “If you are going to expose the concrete to seawater, the local authorities will give you a prescription. If it is going to be exposed to frost, they will give you another specific prescription,” explains Dr Muller. These prescriptions state the minimum cement content and the maximum water content required for the concrete to function effectively in a given environment. “For example, it might say that if you are going to place the concrete in the sea, you need a certain minimum amount of cement per cubic meter of concrete and no more than a certain amount of water,” outlines Dr Muller.

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Sustainability The sustainability of concrete production is also taken into account in the project, with researchers developing efficient low clinkers cements, which have lower CO2 emissions. However, the major advantage of these new EnDurCrete concretes and solutions in terms of sustainability is the improved durability. “A bridge or offshore platform constructed with these new concretes will last longer before it needs to be reconstructed than if made with conventional concretes,” says Dr Muller. This

initiation of ingress. This is what we are going to monitor,” he outlines. Alongside this work at different demonstration sites, researchers are also using accelerated test methods in the lab to assess their technologies. “We have exposed the concretes in the lab to very harsh chloride and harsh sulfate conditions, and accelerated the real conditions,” continues Dr Muller. “This is called accelerated durability testing, it is how we validate the improved durability. Data collected during the testing will be further used as input

We can basically see how the element deforms by the signal you get from this fibre-optic sensor. As the element bends or deforms, the signal you get changes. leads to lower maintenance and repair costs, while also helping operators to rapidly identify and address any issues in a concrete structure before repair becomes prohibitively costly. “If you have a self-healing capability, you have a more durable concrete and then you are going to reduce the costs of repair. Or you might not even have to repair it at all if you sense the initiation of damage and act rapidly,” continues Dr Muller. A lot of energy has been devoted to developing the cements and the concretes embedding the different technologies; now the EnDurCrete consortium is applying them in four different settings across Europe. These environments are quite harsh, for example at the harbour in Norway and also in a tunnel in Northern Spain, yet Dr Muller says they will not observe dramatic changes over the first year. “We will see maybe the beginning of the

for modelling of concrete performance and to develop service life prediction models.” The target here is to develop highly durable concrete, while at the same time keeping costs low and limiting CO2 emissions. The EnDurCrete consortium is looking to develop mass concrete for everyday applications. “In EnDurCrete we are looking at regular concrete, with a strength of between 30-60 MPa at 28 days,” he says. The EnDurCrete consortium took the opportunity to share ideas and collaborate with other projects in the cluster, especially the ReSHEALIENCE project, which is developing very highperformance concretes. “While these projects are developing different products, they have the same purpose of producing more durable concretes. We both work with concrete, and we can hold joint activities and workshops, as well as conduct webinars together,” says Dr Muller.

EnDurCrete New Environmental friendly and Durable conCrete,integrating industrial by-products and hybrid systems, for civil, industrial and offshore applications Project Objectives

The main goal of the EnDurCrete project is to develop a NEW cost-effective sustainable reinforced concrete for long lasting and high impact applications. The concept is based on the integration of novel low-clinker cement including high-value industrial by-products, new nano and micro technologies and hybrid systems ensuring enhanced durability of sustainable concrete structures with high mechanical properties, self-healing and self-monitoring capacities. The functionalities of the developed concrete structures are being proved under severe operating conditions supported by experimental and numerical tools to better understand, theoretically and in real application conditions, the factors affecting durability, and to capture the multiscale evolution of damage.

Project Funding

Funded under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 760639.

Contact Details

Dr Arnaud Muller, EnDurCrete project coordinator Senior Scientist, Global R&D HeidelbergCement AG Oberklamweg 2-4 69181 Leimen Germany T: +49 6221 481 13676 E: W: Dr Arnaud Muller

Dr Arnaud Muller is working as a Senior Scientist at the Global R&D department of HeidelbergCement AG since 2015. He specializes in the development, characterization and performance evaluation of cements and binders. Since January 2018, Arnaud has also been the project coordinator of the EnDurCrete project, whose goal is to develop sustainable concretes using novel low-clinker cements.

Installation of the EnDurCrete technologies at the Krk Bridge in Croatia.


A peek behind the behaviour of nanomaterials A deeper understanding of the fundamental behaviour of materials can help scientists identify ways in which their performance and functionality can be enhanced. We spoke to Dr Vasiliki Tileli about her work in using Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) techniques to investigate physico-chemical phenomena in nanomaterials. Convergent beam of electrons

A technique with its roots in research conducted during the 1930s, transmission electron microscopy (TEM) allows researchers to image and analyse the properties of materials in great depth, right down to the sub-nanometre scale. Based at the Institute of Materials at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), Dr Vasiliki Tileli is using electron microscopy techniques to probe the physico-chemical behaviour of certain nanomaterials and gain deeper insights into the factors that may lead them to degrade. “In my research group we’re looking at functionality at different scales, but we’re focusing particularly on the nanoscale,” she says. The nanoscale is between 1-100 nanometres (10-9 of a metre), and Dr Tileli says imaging materials on this scale can lead to important insights. “It is important to understand how the properties of a material change at the nanoscale – because this is where certain effects originate, which then affect behaviour at higher scales,” she explains. “If you can understand interactions at the nanoscale, you could control the overall performance of the material.”

Functional materials The primary focus of Dr Tileli’s research is the issue of how nanomaterials interact with different media. For example, the catalyst in a fuel cell typically works with either gases or liquids while an electrical process is taking place. “These are the kinds of interactions that we’re trying to image,” outlines Dr Tileli. By using site-specific in situ TEM techniques, Dr Tileli and her colleagues hope to gain a fuller picture of the functionality of nanomaterials, specifically ABO3-type perovskite nanostructures. “In the TEM, our materials are held within specialized microdevices and irradiated with an electron beam, which is then transmitted through the sample. This electron beam can interact with our material in many ways. TEM techniques allow us to measure and analyse these beamspecimen interactions to learn about different aspects of that material. One signal can allow us to form images that show crystallographic and orientational information, where another


Biasing Chip Dynamic domain wall movement of ferroelectric materials.

Convergent beam of electrons relates to composition – what elements do we have and where are they located,” she continues. “We can also run a dynamic process by applying different stimuli and then seeing what happens. Typically we just see the changes in morphology when we are in a transmission imaging mode, but we can also use electron diffraction and chemical analysis for structural and elemental identification.”

By using specialized techniques, one can also probe the chemical state of different elements. “For example, if you have a metal that is connected to four oxygen atoms, then it has a different chemical state than a metal that is connected to five. That suggests that the material has reconstructed,” says Dr Tileli. “This proposal is about two different categories of functionalities; catalysts and

Using real-life operating conditions while performing

transmission electron microscopy experiments of functional materials provides valuable insights on their properties. This enables researchers to gain a fuller picture of the modifications that specific materials undergo while in operation. “By performing both chemical analysis and structural analysis, we can understand what is happening to the material. What is changing?” outlines Dr Tileli. A lot of information can be gathered using these in situ techniques, such as elemental or atomic rearrangement.

ferroelectrics. We’ve made a lot of progress in understanding their dynamic behaviour under relevant operating conditions.” The operating conditions here relate primarily to the application of an external potential which is very important to the functionality of catalysts and, in general, energy-based materials. Traditionally, electron microscopy experiments are conducted in a

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Fundamental studies of nanoscale physicochemical phenomena in functional materials by in situ electron microscopy methodologies

Parallel beam of electrons

Project Objectives

Structural and chemical phase transformation of catalytic surfaces.

Liquid cell configuration (TEM)

By developing and applying in situ nanoanalytical transmission electron microscopy techniques (TEM), this project aims to address fundamental questions governing the functionality of ABO3-type perovskite nanostructures. More specifically, the project is centered in linking their exceptional properties with respect to site specific reaction mechanisms for catalytic applications and local phase-induced structural transformations for computing devices.

Project Funding

The project received funding from the Swiss National Research Foundation under award no. 200021_175711.

Contact Details

Parallel beam of electrons vacuum environment and in a static state, with no real connection to the environment of the material in a device, but now Dr Tileli and her colleagues are taking a different approach. “We are trying to image the materials in their native environment,” she explains. This will enable researchers to build a deeper understanding of nanoscale physicochemical phenomena in these materials, which opens up the possibility of controlling them more precisely in future. “When you understand what is happening in a material, you can then identify what you need to change in order to enhance their performance,” says Dr Tileli. “For example, you can understand what separates a good catalyst from a bad catalyst, and from that what needs to be improved in the design of the next generation of functional materials.”

Next generation materials This research holds important implications for industry, with companies across the commercial sector seeking improved materials, while also addressing wider concerns around sustainability. The results of these in situ experiments are not expected to lead immediately to the production of new materials, but Dr Tileli says they are still of interest to industry. “Our results will help describe the changes that materials undergo during operation that leads to their failure. With this knowledge we can then point the way towards methodologies to enhance their properties,” she outlines. One important aspect of the next generation of energy materials is the ability to self-heal; this is an issue that Dr Tileli plans to explore further in future, alongside research into improving the TEM techniques

used for in situ experiments. “We plan to probe self-healing mechanisms in different kinds of functional energy-based materials,” she says. A further dimension of Dr Tileli’s research centres around investigating how the nanoscale properties of a system affect its overall behaviour. It is not clear at this stage how phenomena observed on the nanoscale translate to the micro or macro-scales. “Using TEM, we can image the degradation mechanisms of materials in a very localized area, but will the full device degrade in the same way? At the same time or at the same rate? That’s something we want to look at,” continues Dr Tileli. “The way the experiment is performed in a TEM is different to that in the actual device, for example inside a fuel cell or a battery. We can see many interesting, fundamental phenomena, but there’s still a question mark over how these relate to the processes taking place in a device. We are trying to further develop in situ techniques so that the experiments match real-life device operation conditions. We also complement the knowledge gained on the nanoscale with similar experiments on the mesoscale using other methods.” This is something Dr Tileli plans to probe further over the coming years, alongside her many other research interests. Advanced in situ studies will continue to play an important role in research, as Dr Tileli says they bring several important advantages over other methods. “With in situ TEM techniques you are site-specific, you know where things are happening, and you know exactly when things are changing,” she stresses. “The visual aspect is not matched by any other technique.”

Project Coordinator, Dr Tileli Vasiliki EPFL STI IMX INE Station 12 1015 Lausanne Switzerland T: +41 21 693 67 39 E: W: R. Ignatans, D. Damjanovic and V. Tileli, “Local hard and soft pinning of 180º domain walls in BaTiO3 probed by in situ transmission electron microscopy” Physical Review Materials (2020) 4, 104403 T. -H. Shen, L. Spillane, J. Vavra, T. H. M. Pham, J. Peng, Y. Shao-Horn, and V. Tileli, “Oxygen evolution reaction in Ba0.5Sr0.5Co0.8Fe0.2O3-δ aided by intrinsic Co/Fe spinel-like surface”, Journal of the American Chemical Society (2020) 142, 15876

Dr Vasiliki Tileli

Vasiliki Tileli is currently Assistant Professor at the Institute of Materials at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL). Her research uses in situ electron microscopy techniques to probe how the nanomaterials properties are affected by changes in temperature, electric field, and gaseous and/or liquid environment. Her group develops the techniques in order to dynamically observe the changes as they happen during real-time operation of their bulk counterparts.


Artificial Intelligence at the Edge

With edge computing, computation takes place closer to where data originated, avoiding some of the drawbacks of sending that data to the cloud. We spoke to Dr Domenico Siracusa about the work of the DECENTER project in developing a new edge computing platform designed to support AI application developers and ensure computational resources are managed effectively.


The field of artificial intelligence (AI) is

DECENTER project

developing rapidly, with new applications emerging that are filtering down into many areas of everyday life, yet many of these applications are quite resource-intensive. The edge computing concept promises to bring significant benefits in these terms, reducing latency and saving network bandwidth, so potentially extending the reach of AI. “With edge computing, computation takes place closer to where the data originated,” says Dr Domenico Siracusa, head of the RiSING research unit at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler in the Northern Italian city of Trento. This avoids some of the drawbacks associated with sending data to the cloud for computation. “First of all, sending everything to the cloud takes time,” says Dr Siracusa. “The data gets to the cloud, then more time is taken to compute the data, for example to decide whether an individual should be allowed to enter a branch office. Sending the data to the cloud may lead to unacceptable delays.”

A second important issue is that edge computing helps to save network bandwidth, while it also addresses issues around safety and data privacy. As part of the DECENTER project, Dr Siracusa is now working to develop an edge – or fog – computing platform, which is designed to support application developers. “We want to help application developers to create applications in a way that they can then be distributed into what we call a continuum between the cloud and the edge,” he outlines. There are two key groups of stakeholders here, application developers and infrastructure operators. “The developer has to think about how powerful their AI method is. Does it recognise n people out of 20, or 20 out of 20? How accurate is it? Does it complete its job quickly?” continues Dr Siracusa. “On the other hand, someone also has to manage the infrastructure, meaning that they have to understand how the applications are running. If you think for instance about the concept of a smart city, you may have nodes, or

computational capacity, at every crossing and bus stop.” “The first tools we have proposed in DECENTER are designed to help AI developers to divide applications into sets of small modules, containing both optimised AI models and all the other components that are necessary for the application to run, like, for instance, a database or a graphical interface.” Thanks to DECENTER it is possible to re-use these components and to share in a smart way - among different AI applications - the results of the predictions or decisions that other applications have made. “By doing so, we are basically offering the possibility to break a toy down into small bricks that can be easily assembled and interconnected later on, and finally put into play by infrastructure operators,” explains Dr Siracusa. Once such applications are ready, the project helps infrastructure operators to deploy them while ensuring that computational resources are used efficiently. Dr Siracusa and his colleagues are essentially

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applying cloud computing concepts, but outside an actual cloud environment. “We aim to send less data to the cloud. But our technologies are closely related to cloud technologies,” he explains. One important aim in the project is to enable the automatic movement of pieces of software in a dynamic, efficient and scaleable way. “You can move different pieces of software from the cloud to the edge, from the edge to the cloud, or you can decide to store them only on the edge. But when you want to update it, this can be dynamically managed,” continues Dr Siracusa. “We are providing technologies to support AI solutions in four different use cases. One is about detecting dangers to pedestrians and alerting them.” This specific use case is located in Trento, where the local municipality is looking into commissioning an AI application to alert pedestrians to danger at road crossings. This is increasingly necessary today, with many people distracted by digital devices when they’re out and about. “This application recognises when cars are coming, and whether they are approaching too fast. It also recognises at the same time when someone is crossing the street,” says Dr Siracusa. The crossing is equipped with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, which gather the relevant data before it is computed, and then the pedestrian is notified if there is any danger; Dr Siracusa

says latency is the main consideration here. “If you send those videos to the cloud, it may take a few seconds to compute,” he stresses. “We have found that when we put microservices in the cloud, it still takes more than 150 milliseconds to alert a pedestrian to danger, when that is our limit.” The latency requirement is met however when the micro-service is moved to the edge,

beneficial for these robots. It could help them to recognise if an object or obstacle on their path is a human being. If it’s a human then they can sound an alarm, while if it’s another robot one of them will have to move. If it’s a static object, then the robot will have to replan its route.” An AI application would enable the robot to identify what is in front of them, but they do

With our orchestration, we can remove all the pieces of software dynamically when the robots are idle. When they are required again, so when the robot moves from idle to active, we can then restore them. which is crucially important in the pedestrian crossing use case. A further use case in the project centres around robotic logistics. “This is a very interesting industrial case. These are battery-powered robots which can move around a shop floor,” explains Dr Siracusa. These robots are effectively small computers, which can navigate their way around a shop floor, yet Dr Siracusa says they are not very powerful in terms of computational capacity. “The processing capacity of these robots is almost immediately exhausted. Firstly because they consume a lot of battery, and secondly because it’s difficult to add anything,” he says. “Using AI could be

not have enough capacity to run everything on a continuous basis. Dr Siracusa and his colleagues in the project are developing an orchestration system which will help address this issue. “With our orchestration system, we can put this AI application on the robot. Or we can put it into a small server, installed on the customers’ premises. This effectively provides another level of computation,” he explains. The orchestration system will also help to ensure that services are deployed as efficiently as possible. “The robots consume a lot more battery than they actually need, as all the applications always run. They can be active, idle, or charging,” continues Dr


DECENTER Decentralised technologies for orchestrated Cloud-to-Edge intelligence

Project Objectives

DECENTER aims at developing novel platforms and services combining cloud computing and IoT technologies to create and operate AI-based cloud-native applications anywhere at any time in a seamless, efficient and secure way. DECENTER paves the way for the creation of a computing continuum between the cloud and the edge, to ensure fast application response time, limited resource usage and data privacy.

Project Funding

• Funded by European Commission (EC) and Korean Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) • European budget: € 2,197,700.00 • Korean budget: KRW 3,161,100,000

Project Partners

• EU Partners: Fondazione Bruno Kessler • ATOS • Kentyou • Robotnik • Comune di Trento • University of Ljubljana • KR partners: Korean Electronics Technology Institute (KETI) • Daliworks • Gluesys • LG U+ • Seoul National University

Contact Details

Domenico Siracusa, PhD Head of Research Unit RiSING - Robust and Secure Distributed Computing ICT Research Center Fondazione Bruno Kessler (FBK) Via Sommarive 18 38123 Povo, Trento (Italy) E: W: www: W: Domenico Siracusa (PhD)

Domenico Siracusa (PhD) is the head of the RiSING research unit at Fondazione Bruno Kessler. He is project manager and technical leader of the H2020 EUKorea DECENTER Project. In the past, he coordinated the H2020 ACINO and EIT Digital DigiFlow projects. He authored more than 100 peer-reviewed publications on cloud computing, networking, security and robustness.


Siracusa. “With our orchestration, we can remove all the pieces of software dynamically when the robots are idle, all the unnecessary applications. When they are required again, so when the robot moves from idle to active, we can then restore them.”

Economic benefits This means that battery is saved and so each robot can perform more operations. This provides significant cost benefits to customers, as less robots are required to do the same amount of work, which is an important consideration in the project. “We don’t focus just on performance, but also on all the wider economic benefits that could stem from it,” says Dr Siracusa. In the case of the pedestrian

The technologies developed within DECENTER have a wide range of potential applications, beyond the specific use cases in the project, and researchers are continuing to explore further possibilities. One area of interest to Dr Siracusa is energy management, for example a company that is looking to improve efficiency at a production site. “Maybe a particular machine is using a lot of energy, and can be put into a semioperational state at certain points. They need to deploy some AI at the customers’ premises, in order to understand the energy consumption pattern,” he says. The DECENTER solutions can play a major role in enabling the deployment of AI in this type of scenario, while Dr Siracusa says they also hold

An AI model is the essence of the AI reasoning, it is basically the algorithm that is trained to make predictions or decisions. crossing, Dr Siracusa says the project’s technology could help improve safety more widely, which would reduce the possibility of litigation against the local authorities. “There are several quite dangerous road crossings in Trento, even though it’s quite a small city, so the municipality may be interested in deploying this technology at all the crossings. With cloud technologies, we can manage information very efficiently,” he outlines.”If you want to deploy it on more crossings then you simply click. Without these technologies, you would have to connect to each of these crossings and update the application.”

wider potential. “Where you have local data and local computing processing capacity, you can apply the DECENTER solutions to support you in installing and using AI,” he continues. Researchers at this stage are still working to improve and enhance the technologies, with security, robustness and data privacy all major priorities. Data privacy in particular is a prominent issue as the project moves towards the end of its funding term. “How can we maintain data privacy when all this data is being moved between different computing nodes? How can we defend edge nodes from intrusions?” says Dr Siracusa.

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Religious roots to the history of freedom Ideas around human freedom and dignity are commonly thought of as fruits of the enlightenment, but in fact these values have been shaped by philosophical and religious debate throughout history. We spoke to Dr Elena Rapetti and Professor Anders-Christian Jacobsen about their work in shedding new light on the non-secular origins of ideas about human freedom and dignity. The 2nd century scholar and theologian Origen of Alexandria reflected deeply on questions around the nature of human freedom and our conception of ourselves as dignified beings, producing a large volume of writings over the course of his life. While of course the world has changed significantly since Origen’s time, his work remains relevant today, believes Anders-Christian Jacobsen, Professor of Systematic Theology at Aarhus University in Denmark. “There are both differences and also similarities between today and Origen’s time. One similarity is that the freedom and dignity of human beings still comes under pressure today,” he points out. As the Principal Investigator of a research project bringing together partners across Europe, Professor Jacobsen is looking again at Origen’s ideas, and assessing their influence on modern conceptions of freedom and dignity. “We are using Origen as an inspiration to continue this theological and philosophical debate about what it means to be a human being, and what it means to be free and dignified,” he explains.

Origen of Alexandria, also known as Origen Adamantius.

Freedom and dignity This research aims to uncover the religious roots of modern ideas around freedom and dignity, dating all the way back to Origen’s time. While values such as freedom, dignity and equality are commonly thought of as fruits of the enlightenment, and the process of secularisation, the project aims to show that they also have a religious origin. “These values have been shaped by philosophical and religious debate throughout history,” says Dr Elena Rapetti, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. There are many historical examples of human freedom and dignity being suppressed on religious grounds, yet researchers want to point to a more positive tradition in European history. “We aim to bring more clarity to the long history of human freedom, which will help us to better understand contemporary attacks on it,” says Professor Jacobsen. “Human freedom is under pressure from several directions, one of which is different forms of religious extremism.” An easy conclusion to draw in this respect would be that religious belief and human

freedom are fundamentally incompatible, yet this viewpoint overlooks a very large part of religious history, including the work of Origen. While researchers are looking at Origen’s work in the project, Professor Jacobsen and his colleagues are looking more to investigate his influence on scholars, writers and theologians in later periods. “This project is more about seeing how he inspired people who came after him, mainly those in the Western European tradition,” he outlines. The project itself is an international training network (ITN) in which early stage researchers (ESRs) are studying for their PhDs and looking at how Origen influenced many different historical figures, including Augustine of Hippo, who opposed many of his views. “Augustine and Origen had different ways of thinking about human freedom. Augustine was strongly influenced by religious thinking, which limited freedom of choice, while Origen had a more open vision of freedom,” explains Dr Rapetti. Researchers are investigating the extent to which Origen influenced Augustine’s thinking, while a number of other important figures are

Portrait of Origen in the Codex Monacensis Clm 17092 (12th century)

De Principiis III 1, on the topic of free will (as indicated by the introductory paragraph in red, Περὶ αὐτεξουσίου), in the Codex Marcianus 48 (14th-15th century)

Origen as a preacher and as a teacher, illustrations by Jan Luyken, 1700 (courtesy of wikimedia commons).


being investigated through several different PhD projects. Some ESRs are looking at the writings of the Swiss theologian Jean LeClerc for example, others are looking at philosophical debates in 18th century Germany, while there are also projects with a more modern slant. “There is a project looking at how Origen’s ideas have influenced modern Catholic theology, which involves looking at the works of scholars like Hans Urs von Balthasar,” says Dr Rapetti. There are also a number of other projects on more contemporary topics. “One project looked at freedom and dignity in modern organisations, at how concepts of freedom were perceived in management settings,” outlines Professor Jacobsen. “We also have a project studying the concept of freedom in contemporary Islam, so we are also considering these questions in other theological and philosophical settings.”

Adapting ideas The ideas that Origen put forward in the 3nd century were not simply re-used in these cases, rather they were adapted to the philosophical and theological circumstances of the time, which is a major point of interest in the project. Researchers are looking at how later theologians and philosophers understood Origen’s work. “In the history of ideas, in theology, inspiration is often drawn from earlier ideas, which are then re-used in other settings,” says Professor


Jacobsen. Origen was a very important figure in this respect. “He was one of the first theologians to connect Christianity with the Greek philosophical tradition at the highest theoretical level,” explains Professor Jacobsen. “That was important not only in terms of freedom and dignity, but also in many other situations, where Christianity and the classical philosophical tradition came together. In that sense Origen was foundational, in creating the intellectual basis for some of Europe’s historical, theological and philosophical traditions.” This connection between philosophy and Christianity is also important because of the emphasis that Origen placed on the notion of freedom of choice and freedom to develop according to the true nature of human beings, and many groups in later periods of history have invoked his ideas and his memory when arguing for greater freedoms. Freedom will always be defined to an extent by the social, economic and political circumstances of the time, but Professor Jacobsen says certain basic ideas remain constant. “Whatever the circumstances you are living in, as a dignified human being you have the right to claim your freedom. Whatever situation you are in, you have the right to try and fulfil your goals as a human being,” he says. This is not about unadulterated individualism however, as there is always a recognition that an individual’s right to exercise their freedoms should not limit

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HHDFWC The History of Human Freedom and Dignity in Western Civilization

Project Objectives

The HHDFWC Project objectives are: • to investigate the philosophical and theological traditions behind the modern Western conception of humans as free, valuable, and dignified beings, and how these traditions developed chronologically and geographically. • to study the reception and assimilation of the theological and philosophical ideas about human freedom expounded by the church father Origen from the 3rd century Alexandria. • to train Early Stage Researchers in theology, philosophy, history, and classics.

Project Funding

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie SkłodowskaCurie grant agreement No. 676258.

Project Partners

Beneficiaries: University of Reading • Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster Martin Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore • Aarhus University • Charles University / Partner Organizations: Etikos APS • Franckesche Stiftungen zu Halle Evangelische Kirche in Mitteldeutschland Dean and Chapter of Canterbury • Mohr Siebeck Verlag • Aschendorff Verlag • Dar alKalima University College • Diocese of Pécs • Walter de Gruyter Verlag / Scientific Advisory Board: Prof. Dr. Theo Kobusch, Bonn University • Dr. Peter W. Martens, Saint Louis University.

those of another. “The freedom that you claim for yourself, you should also allow others. Your freedom should never limit other people’s freedoms,” says Professor Jacobsen. A number of theologians have argued that men lose their full liberty following the original sin, which limits their freedom. Their freedom is tainted by the original sin, and men in a way become slaves of flesh and desire; they then need the grace of God to act in a good and proper way. “There are some visions of Grace which are quite pessimistic, while other movements saw Grace differently,” outlines Dr Rapetti. “The Jesuits for example had a more optimistic vision of Grace than the Jansenists.”

modern societies. And we need to be aware of them,” says Professor Jacobsen. The wider aim in the project is to re-think the prevailing narratives around freedom, for example that we are free because of business and economic activities, and to make the case that we are all equal, free and dignified by nature. “Freedom is not something that we decide we want, because we are in a certain political or economic situation,” continues Professor Jacobsen. “Freedom is an ontological concept. If a majority decides that people should not be free then you can suppress freedom, but you cannot change the basic understanding of human beings as ontologically free.”

We are using Origen as an inspiration to continue this theological and philosophical debate about what it means to be a human being, and what it means to be free and dignified. Modern threats to freedom The wider backdrop to this research is ongoing threats to human freedom and dignity, such as political violence and religious intolerance. While many of us believe that humans are free and dignified, in reality there are a lot of threats to human dignity and freedom, including in Western societies. “Our point of departure is that there are many examples of threats against human freedom and dignity in

This represents a much more radical understanding of human freedom and dignity than one built on market economics for example, or another concept. A more fundamental understanding of what freedom is could also then help protect it and reaffirm it as central to human existence, believes Professor Jacobsen. “These ideas would then not be so open to attacks, or so vulnerable,” he says.

Contact Details

Dr Elena Rapetti History of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan T: +39 0 27 234 2538 E: W: Prof. Anders-Christian Jacobsen Dept. of Theology, School of Culture and Society University of Aarhus T: +45 20776770 E: Prof. Anders-Christian Jacobsen Dr Elena Rapetti

Dr Elena Rapetti is Assistant Professor in History of Philosophy at the Catholic University in Milan. She specializes in Early Modern Philosophy, with wide-ranging interests in the philosophical and theological debates of the Seventeenth Century. Anders-Christian Jacobsen is a Professor in Systematic Theology at the University of Aarhus. He has led several research projects and has also held a number of international positions of trust, including a role at the Cambridge Centre for the study of platonism.


Behind the positive aspects of peer groups Adolescents learn not just from their teachers in the classroom, but also from their own peers and wider social groups, who often provide social, emotional and academic support to each other. We spoke to Professor Peter Rieker, Silke Jakob and Giovanna Hartmann Schaelli about their research into the importance of peer-specific socialisation processes, especially outside of school settings. The early teenage

years are an important time in personal development, as many adolescents start to spend more time with their peers than their family and explore their own interests independently of their parents. Based at the University of Zurich, Professor Peter Rieker and his colleagues are investigating the importance of peerspecific socialisation processes in an SNFfunded research project. “We are particularly interested in the socialisation of adolescents in peer groups. For us, the question is; how do peers influence each other?” Rieker outlines. They are studying different groups of peers, mainly of children around the age of 14-16, to gain deeper insights into this question. “It’s a longitudinal qualitative mixed-methods study, so we have different ways to gain knowledge about groups of adolescents. First, we make ethnographic observations, while we also hold interviews with adolescents,” says Silke Jakob, a project assistant at the University. “We also do personal network analysis, so we can see which other groups they are involved in, and which other people are important to them.”


Peer groups These groups are largely organised by the adolescents themselves, in some cases around a shared interest like music. Researchers have also observed less organised groups, for example groups that may have formed serendipitously at a youth centre, as well as groups in which adults are involved to some degree. “We are looking at different groups in terms of their conditions,” says Giovanna Hartmann Schaelli, also a project assistant at the University.

example in a group of girls, we could see that within the peer group some practices in terms of segregation/positioning, intimacy/closeness and communication could be identified as linked to exclusive dyadic relationships.” Hartmann Schaelli says some peers relate to each other in different ways, for example in terms of how they communicate, how they position themselves relative to the group and how they physically interact with each other. “Those dyadic relationships are used to organize support, to share common interest as

We are trying to reach more concrete answers. We want to be able to say in what ways peers are important, and in what ways they help each other to deal with

the challenges of growing up. “It’s a complex interplay between structural conditions, individual and collective actions,” continues Hartmann Schaelli. “What we have seen is that relationships within the peer group are continuously negotiated in situ – and they vary in terms of quality and exclusiveness. For

well as secrets. By doing so, they create a space to withdraw from collective demands of the group,” she outlines. “Furthermore, the results show that especially in situations of conflict, questions about friendships and peer-group normativity arise.”

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In a group of boys on the other hand, researchers observed that specific competencies such as skill in playing a specific instrument can be an entry requirement to participate in a group and, vice versa, can also be a condition for having to leave the group again if competencies are insufficient. The break-up of peer relations in particular proved to be an important source of knowledge in research: it also showed that these groups are used pragmatically and according to time availability. With regard to the adult generation, the project’s research shows that parents and pedagogical staff - such as a music coach, for example - can be an important social and professional support, which even promotes the group’s existence. This assistance can be material, for example procuring equipment for the band and providing technical support, like creating a website. The current generation of adolescents have grown up with technology in their everyday lives, and many young people use mobile phones and digital platforms quite intensively. However, Jakob says, evidence from a second survey phase in the project shows that adolescents still value the opportunity to talk to their friends and peers in person. “This generation are so-called digital natives, but this does not mean that conventional forms of communication just stop. They are important too,” she stresses. “When it comes to serious discussions about rules and regulations the boys organized a meeting in person to sit together and talk. But also just being together, sharing snacks or observing each other and listening to the music is a sort of belonging and emphasizes non-verbal communication for which meeting in-person is necessary.”

As a social practice, the current Covid-19 pandemic could not be identified as a constraint, since young people in Switzerland were still able to meet under certain conditions, albeit less so. Through the interviews with the young people, however, it then became apparent that the current pandemic is also an important topic. “Our study shows that young people do experience limitations. Especially in the second wave of the pandemic, the lack of ‘real’ contacts was a major limitation that burdened young people to the point of psychological problems and depressive moods,” says Hartmann Schaelli.

Positive peers One of the positive effects of being part of a peer group is that it provides adolescents with support and a sense of belonging at what is quite a challenging time of life. While individuals in peer groups may sometimes feel pressured to emulate the behaviour of others in the group, for example to drink excessive amounts of alcohol, researchers are keen to stress the more positive aspects of peer groups. “We want to look at how peers gain from each other in terms of support, not only academically, but also socially and emotionally,” outlines Hartmann Schaelli. The hope in the project is to gain more detailed insights into the importance of peer group relationships in socialisation among adolescents. “We are trying to make it more specific and to reach more concrete answers. We want to be able to say in what ways peers are important, and in what ways they help each other to deal with the challenges of growing up,” says Professor Rieker. “We want to get a better understanding of how friendships and peer contexts develop over time.”

PEER-SPECIFIC PROCESSES Peer-specific Processes of Socialisation during Adolescence Project Objectives

The project “Peer-specific Processes of Socialisation during Adolescence” runs for four years and is a long-term ethnographic study. Different youth groups are accompanied, interviewed and network maps are collected during two field phases. The study allows to gain deeper knowledge about the influence of peer relationships on the socialisation of adolescents.

Project Funding

Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation under award no. 173034.

Contact Details

Giovanna Hartmann Schaelli, MA Institute of Education University of Zurich Faculty Extracurricular Education Freiestrasse 36, CH-8032 Zurich T: +41 44 634 45 77 E: W: abe/Research/Peer-Specific-SocialisationProcesses-during-Adolescence.html

GISo Journal

The journal “Society – the Individual – Socialisation: Journal for Research on Socialisation” (GISo) An independent and interdisciplinary forum of scientific debate regarding courses, conditions, and results of socialisation processes. Peter Rieker Giovanna Hartmann Schaelli Silke Jakob

Peter Rieker is Professor of “Extracurricular Education” at the Institute for Educational Science at the University of Zurich, UZH since 2009. His main research interests include e.g. youth research. Giovanna Hartmann Schaelli is affiliated with UZH and collaborates with the University of California, San Diego since 2015. Her research interests lie in the field of adolescents’ social relationship. Silke Jakob did her doctorate on the subject of children’s rights before she joined the project team in 2017.


Luxury; the driver of progress? Luxury was historically associated with sin, but over time the desire for new products came to be acknowledged as a driving force behind economic development and material progress. We spoke to Professor Christine Weder about her group’s research into the relationship between luxury and modernity, and the importance of luxury as a driver of innovation. The line between

what we consider to be the necessities of life and what is superfluous can always be drawn differently, and the concept of luxury has changed and evolved over time. Historically, luxury was often thought of in theological terms and closely associated with sin, but around the beginning of the 18th century it was re-evaluated. “Luxury was acknowledged as the driving force

Luxus und Moderne Luxury and modernity: the ambivalence of the superfluous in cultural conceptions of literature and aesthetics since the 18th century Funding: Project Leaders: Prof. Dr. Christine Weder,

University of Geneva / Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg von Arburg, University of Lausanne Project Collaborators: Dr. des. Ruth Signer, University of Geneva / Peter Wittemann, University of Geneva / Maria Magnin, University of Lausanne / Raphael J. Müller, University of Lausanne Professor Christine Weder Departement für Deutsche Sprache und Literatur Faculté des lettres / UNI-Bastions Rue de Candolle 5 CH-1211 Genève E: W: recherche/laufende-projekte/ W: enseignants/moderne/cweder/

A reclining lady with a fan by Eleuterio Pagliano (1826-1903)

behind the circulation of goods and money, fostering technical progress and increased employment,” explains Christine Weder, Professor of Modern German Literature at the University of Geneva. The main effect of this re-evaluation was a vastly increased ambivalence about the meaning of luxury, a tension between the positive and negative associations attached to it. “It’s

By the 18th century, luxury was acknowledged as the driving force behind the circulation of goods and money, fostering technical progress and increased employment. more complicated than simply saying that the negative meaning of luxuria as a sin turned into something more positive. We think that the meaning of luxury became more ambivalent on various levels,” says Professor Weder.

Luxury and modernity Christine Weder is full professor of Modern German Literature at the University of Geneva. She studied German Literature, Philosophy, and Religious Studies in Zurich, Tuebingen and Cambridge (UK). She received her PhD from the University of Zurich with a dissertation on the magic of things in literature and theories around 1800, and did her habilitation thesis on the intimate relations between aesthetics and theories of sexuality around 1968. Christine Weder was visiting scholar at the Berlin LeibnizZentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung and at the University of California, Berkeley.


1850, as greater levels of trade brought new products to more and more people. “There was a kind of democratisation and these goods became more common, so there was a less clear association with exclusivity,” continues Professor Weder. Although exclusivity is not an indispensable component of luxury, the demonstration of it is often crucial to luxury in the sense of conspicuous consumption, the ostentatious display of wealth through purchasing expensive products. The concept of conspicuous consumption was developed by the American economist Thorstein Veblen, a harsh critic of what he saw as wasteful consumption, while he also considered the temporal dimension. “Veblen also used the term conspicuous leisure. People could use their leisure time

Within the framework of an SNSF-funded research project, she and her group are examining the relationship between luxury and modernity, in which luxury is deliberately defined fairly loosely as those things and practices which are unnecessary, excessive or superfluous with respect to a measure, which is itself relative. One sub-project is focused on the Sattelzeit or transition period around 1800, which marked a significant shift in the conception of luxury. “There was a lot of debate about luxury around that time, with the fields of art and literature developing and becoming more autonomous. The consumer revolution also began around the start of the 19th century,” she outlines. A second sub-project centres on what is described as the internationalisation phase from around

to demonstrate that they could afford to do nothing, for example just sit around and read,” says Professor Weder. This is echoed to a degree by modern critics of the humanities, who argue that research in areas like history or literature is somehow wasteful in comparison to medicine, technology or other ‘useful’ disciplines. “The domain of the humanities is commonly seen as a luxury, often in a negative way,” acknowledges Professor Weder. A number of artists have tried to counter by arguing that art is not a luxury but a necessity. However, rather than trying to fend off the luxury label, Professor Weder suggests an alternative strategy to justify artistic and literary endeavours. “Let’s admit that art is a luxury - and always has been. But it should be added that luxury can prove to be a driver of innovation not only in art, but also in fields such as science,” she says. “Innovation arises not only from the need to solve urgent problems, but also from effectively overshooting the target, for example by gathering more data than is required for an experiment, which then leads to new insights.”

EU Research

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