Page 1

EU Research Spring 2017


Donald Trump, Climate Change and Scientific Fact Sustainable Development and ICT: The Technology behind Energy Efficiency

Exclusive Interview with Vytenis Andriukaitis European Commissioner for Health & Food Safety

Disseminating the latest research under FP7 and Horizon 2020 Follow EU Research on

Editor’s No I

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.

n rural areas across the globe there have been changes in the landscapes. People will be noticing the presence of white, monolithic wind turbines on the horizon and solar panel farms across fields. Less visible but equally as important, there are buildings being made with materials and designs that waste less energy and of course there are now vehicles that no longer rely on fossil fuel. This is all evidence that renewable energy is not a fringe industry but mainstream, as it should be. However, the balance between what we should be doing and what we are doing, is still wavering on a precarious edge that divides hope and disaster. A fundamental problem is that growth is the marker of success in all industries but growth on a limited resource, like a planet, is not ultimately sustainable – there is logically, a tipping point. Pollution, reckless consumerism, deforestation – it’s well reported that human activity is triggering damaging climate change. Our traditional models of business, of food consumption, of energy usage and the way we travel has brought us as a species to a point where we can witness the impact of effects on our global environment. Those effects are happening right now. Here’s the reality: • 2 016 was the hottest year since reporting began in 1880 and set a new record for the third consecutive year – so this is a trend. It means desertification will increase and some areas will be harder to live in and be infertile. This is the warmest Earth has been in 115, 000 years. • S ea level is rising and polar ice is melting. This will impact the coastlines and lowlands of countries. • W  e are in an accelerated mass extinction event. Consider a previous mass extinction event known as the Great Dying led to the extinction of 90% of all marine species and 70% of all land animals. The whole ecosystem – inclusive of our food sources – is going to change. To compound this bleak outlook, we must endure ignorance from those who don’t believe in manmade climate change, including one of the most powerful world leaders. Obviously, I am referring to President Donald Trump, who openly turns his back on the very notion of climate change, in favour of ramping up industrialisation. What’s particularly frustrating about this kind of approach is that it cannot carry on indefinitely and we know, in contrast, that an economy can thrive from innovation and investment in green technology – a goal that many scientific projects around the world are focused on. Scientists are pioneering real solutions in renewable energy, in aviation, motoring and construction, in fact across most sectors, that save money by driving efficiencies whilst reducing the impact on nature. Despite the short sighted anti-climate change rhetoric of Donald Trump, the Paris climate conference (COP 21) held in December 2015, together with other climate deals, means that nearly 200 countries around the world have pledged to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming below a 2°C change. We just need to keep trying to work through the problems that we have created for ourselves. Our scientists have the ingenuity, the intelligence and the courage to provide solutions. It now takes a combined commitment from captains of industry and politicians to act on them, to make our future more secure on this finite resource of a world that we live upon. Hope you enjoy the issue.

Richard Forsyth Editor



4 Research News

EU Research takes a look at the latest news and developments from across the research community

10 CAPI A protein called CycloPhilin A is thought to promote angiogenesis in ischemic tissues, and may provide a novel strategy to treat critical limb ischemia, as Dr Patrizia Nigro explains

12 RESPMICROFLOWS Mapping and quantifying the nature of respiration in children could help clinicians treat respiratory conditions more effectively, as Associate Professor Josué Sznitman of the RespMicroFlows project explains

15 MhAtriCell By developing a 3-dimensional microenvironment, researchers in the MHAtriCell project aim to provide a more realistic representation of what cells will experience in vivo, as Dr Helena Azevedo explains

16 ActiveCortex

We spoke to Professor Matthew Larkum of the ActiveCortex project about their work in testing a hypothesis for explaining the perceptual process

18 MileStone

We spoke to Professor Swaran Singh about the MILESTONE project’s research into the transition between child and adult mental health services


19 FoxP2 Neural Network

Dr Sonja Vernes tells us about her research into the genetic networks underlying speech and language disorders

20 NaturiMunn The NATURIMMUN project combines both fundamental and applied research into Natural Killer cells, work which could lead to effective new anticancer therapies, as Professor Erhard Hofer, the initiator of the project, explains


We spoke to Mariangela Bonizzoni, Associate Professor of Zoology at the University of Pavia in Italy, about her research into the biological interactions between the Aedes albopictus mosquito and the viruses it vectors


At a time when diabetes has become the trademark chronic illness of a generation, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis is looking at a holistic approach to tackling Europe’s largely lifestylerelated pandemic.


We spoke to Professor Hildegard Schneider about the Transmic project’s research into trans-national migration


We spoke to Professor Avishai Henik about his research into the building blocks of numerical cognition, including the ability to perceive the size of objects

Researchers in the EUROREFUGIA project aim to shed new light on the causes of the rapid replacement of neanderthals with anatomically modern humans, as Dr Ana B. Marín-Arroyo explains


Uwe Fortkamp and Klara Westling tell us about the R3 Water project’s work in developing innovative technologies to support the development of waste water treatment plants

38 MADE-IN-EARTH The Made-In-Earth project aims to develop new quantification approaches, helping build a deeper understanding of phase transitions in the lithosphere, as Professor Lucie Tajcmanová explains


Donald Trump has made some major waves since entering the White House. Climate change and environmental regulation is one area where he intends to chart a significantly different course to the previous administration

44 POLICHROM The PoLiChroM project aims to create a new ultra-cold mixture of two fermionic species of different atoms, enabling researchers to investigate many-body physics and elusive quantum phases, as Dr. Matteo Zaccanti explains


We spoke to Dr Robert Hahn about the Matflexend project’s work in investigating new materials and developing flexible, rechargeable batteries well suited to emerging applications

EU Research

EU Research Spring 2017


50 I-SURF Most surfactants are pure organic compounds, now researchers in the I-SURF project aim to develop a new class of inorganic surfactants with inorganic constituents, which could pave the way towards new technological applications, as Professor Sebastien Polarz explains

52 QUANTUMMETALINK The QUANTUMMETALINK project combines theoretical and computational research to lay the foundations for ongoing developments in metamaterials, as Professor Nicolae Panoiu explains

54 EUFAR2 The EUFAR2 project helps widen access to airborne research facilities and supports the growth of the environmental science research community, as Philip Brown explains

56 FOREST INDEPENDENT When it comes to the secret lives of trees, there could be nothing more astounding than the discoveries of recent years. Researchers from all around the world are now agreeing that forest trees are like a society and are communicating to each other about their environment through an internet-like fungus.

62 EUROPRACTICE 2013 The Europractice programme plays a crucial role in supporting both European research and industry, in particular small and medium enterprises, as project manager Romano Hoofman explains


We spoke to Dr Dale Miller about the ProofCert project’s work in developing the foundations of a more accessible standard for formal proof, which could have significant implications in terms of software security

Donald Trump, Climate Change and Scientific Fact. Sustainable Development and ICT: The Technology behind Energy Efficiency.

Exclusive Interview with Vytenis Andriukaitis European Commissioner for Health & Food Safety

Disseminating the latest research under FP7 and Horizon 2020 Follow EU Research on

68 TRADE-IT A large proportion of European food companies are defined as small-medium enterprises. The TRADEIT project aims to help strengthen regional economies and protect Europe’s food heritage, as Dr. Helena McMahon explains


We spoke to Stefano Maran about the INSPIRE-Grid project’s work in developing a methodology for effective participation in grid infrastructure projects, which could help strengthen trust between stakeholders and system operators


PRODUCTION The work of the BIOGO project in transforming the petro-chemical production process could lead to radical improvements in terms of sustainability and environmental impact, as Professor Gunther Kolb and Dr Hannah Newton explain

74 ANYPLACE We spoke to Dr David Rua and Professor João Abel Peças Lopes about the AnyPLACE project’s work in developing a modular energy management system that will give end-users a new level of control over their energy usage

76 NATCONSUMERS We spoke to Thomas Mikkelsen about the NatConsumers project’s work in developing a methodology to communicate more effectively with energy consumers and reduce consumption

EDITORIAL Managing Editor Richard Forsyth Deputy Editor Patrick Truss Deputy Editor Richard Davey 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 Cover image copyright:<a href=’ profile_eyeidea’>eyeidea / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

EU Research Blazon Publishing and Media Ltd 131 Lydney Road, Bristol, BS10 5JR, United Kingdom T: +44 (0)207 193 9820 F: +44 (0)117 9244 022 E: © Blazon Publishing June 2010

Cert o n.TT-COC-2200




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

New light on energy efficiency A recent study by the Economist throws new light onto the wider potential of energy efficiency measures in terms of meeting the climate change goals set out at the UN Climate Conference in Paris in December 2015. While high-tech solutions undoubtedly have an important role to play in terms of reducing emissions and limiting the increase in the global average temperature to 2º C above pre-industrial levels, behavioural changes and governmental initiatives can also have a significant impact. The study compared energy efficiency initiatives in five mature economies, namely the US, Canada, France, Germany and the UK, with a specific focus on the residential and commercial sectors. While these countries have paid a lot of attention to the development of renewable energy sources, they should not neglect other measures, believes Brian Motherway, head of energy efficiency at the IEA (International Energy Agency). “People think about renewables and the supply side but the more mundane business of saving energy actually makes a bigger contribution,” he says.

as new devices, apps and technologies continue to emerge, driven in part by government incentives and tax-breaks. However, policy-makers should be aware of the so-called ‘rebound effect’, in which users simply use new, advanced devices more intensively than they would have otherwise, thereby cancelling out any gains that would been achieved by the improved efficiency. There are signs of change in the wider market though, as renewable energies begin to approach grid parity, where it costs the same as energy bought from the mains supply, encouraging the continued development of the sector. Some investors are turning away from fossil fuels, and moving towards renewables, attracted by the prospect of long-term profits. “It’s not a case of doing it to save the planet anymore. People are seeing this as a business opportunity. It’s as simple as that,” says Martin Wright, Chairman of the Renewable Energy Association.

This could include everything from relatively simple measures like turning out the lights, through to governmental initiatives and technological development, with a number of smartphone apps and tools now available to help consumers monitor their energy usage and the resulting cost. This can provide a powerful incentive to home-owners to reduce their energy consumption, as the cost implications are more visible, so encouraging them to identify ways in which it could be reduced and adapt their behaviour accordingly. It’s a slightly different picture in the rental sector, as the interests of the property owner and the tenant are not perfectly aligned, so the study described the different approaches taken by the five economies to encourage change. It was found that energy efficiency initiatives need to take the perspectives of their likely audience into account if they are to be effective. “Energy efficiency initiatives require careful planning based on an understanding of the messages that will motivate different audiences,” states the report. This is not to downplay the importance of technological development to the wider goal of improving energy efficiency and reducing consumption,


Thousands of mirrors, called heliostats, direct the sun’s energy onto a receiver, which was built using expertise gained from constructing the space shuttle main engine. The NASA spinoff receiver sits on top of a 550-foot tower. © SolarReserve


EU Research

Stronger than steel The properties of graphene have generated a great deal of interest since it was first theoretically described. A material formed of an atom-thick layer of graphite, graphene has many interesting properties, including exceptional strength and conductivity, yet for many years it proved difficult to actually produce the material. Researchers at the University of Manchester succeeded in isolating and characterising graphene in 2004, and now scientists are seeking to both enhance its properties still further and capitalise on its wider potential. A team at Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT) has now used graphene to design one of the world’s strongest lightweight materials. Part of the goal in this work was to translate the potential of graphene into improved 3-D materials. Graphene has many interesting properties and is exceptionally strong in its 2-D form, yet it is extremely thin, so is currently relatively limited in terms of applications in 3-D materials. “They are not very useful for making 3-D materials that could be used in vehicles, buildings or devices,” said Markus Buehler, head of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE). The team at MIT addressed this by compressing and fusing flakes of graphene, using a combination of heat and pressure to produce a new material that is ten times stronger than steel, strength derived largely from its geometrical form. This new material could be useful in a range of applications where high levels of strength are required. “You could either use the real graphene material, or use the geometry we discovered with other materials, like polymers or metals,” says Buehler.

Net neutrality rules under the microscope Since being appointed as the new head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by President Trump, Ajit Pai has wasted no time in changing direction from the previous administration. Under previous head Tom Wheeler, the FCC had created a number of regulations designed to protect consumers and widen access to content on the internet, and Wheeler passed a number of actions before leaving the FCC, just prior to President Trump’s inauguration. Many of these actions will be early targets for Mr Pai in his new role, as he argued that they did not have wide support following the General election in November 2016. “These last-minute actions, which did not enjoy the support of the majority of commissioners at the time they were taken, should not bind us going forward,” he wrote in a statement released in early February. “Accordingly, they are being revoked.”

benefits of an Open Internet today and into the future,” it stated. The order attracted immediate criticism from the Republicans however, who saw it as a prime example of unnecessary regulation that held back investment and innovation. The FCC has now made its first moves towards pulling back those rules, and while some observers have argued that it’s not easy to overturn established norms, there are likely to be major changes at the commission over the years ahead.

A major priority for Mr Pai and the new administration is likely to be reforming ‘net neutrality’ rules, the idea that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally, and that service providers should not be able to discriminate against certain providers to their own commercial advantage. These principles underpin the Open Internet Order, which was issued in March 2015, aiming to protect American consumers. The “Order will enact strong, sustainable rules grounded in multiple sources of legal authority to protect the Open Internet and ensure that Americans reap the economic, social and civic


Uber – more than a ride? We all remember about the banks and other financial institutions being too big to fail, but what about Uber? The transportation network company has grown rapidly since it was established in 2009, and it is now a prominent player in the taxi market in major cities across Europe. The company reached the milestone of a billion rides in 2015, and its continued presence promises further disruption to the transport sector. This means not only traditional taxi companies, but urban transport more generally, including cars, buses and trains. Many of us waste hours in congestion on cars and buses in the rush hour. Uber offers a potential solution, with shared rides and optimised pickup points helping commuters both save money and get to work more efficiently. A similar principle is behind the decision of Nora Radest, the Mayor of Summit, a small town in New Jersey, to give commuters a free Uber trip instead of building more car parking space at the town’s already overcrowded train station.

Dyson to open second research and development centre in the UK The engineering company ramps up its push to become a leader in future technologies Preparations will begin soon on the 517-acre site at Hullavington in Wiltshire, a former RAF training ground. Founder and chief engineer Sir James Dyson did not say how many jobs would be created, but said the move “will enable us to continue creating world class products and jobs right here in the Cotswolds”. Theresa May, UK prime minister, welcomed the move. “This investment is a vote of confidence in our modern industrial strategy and our determination to cement the UK’s position as a world leader in high-tech engineering,” she said.The company has more than tripled its UK headcount in the past five years to employ 3,500 people, half of whom are engineers and scientists. It recently said it wants to increase its global workforce of 8,000 by more than a third.

This could be significantly less expensive than the projected $10 million cost of building more car parking spaces. “Our innovation has the potential to shape how municipalities think about and implement parking options in the future,” said Mayor Radest. The rise of Uber holds similarly significant implications for buses. The cost of running buses to remote communities can be high, so replacing them with an Uber service could be a more efficient way of matching supply to demand. Some local authorities have already looked into replacing certain bus lines altogether with Uber rides, and its rival Lyft plans to launch a partnership with a local government in Colorado to subsidise car journeys, which could affect the economics of public transport. So what does this mean for the future of public transport? Some observers have raised concerns that Uber is becoming too powerful, despite running estimated annual losses of $3 billion; “Uber is wildly unprofitable,” tweeted economist Julian Wolfers “[which] suggests that prices wil rise when they’ve monopolised the industry.”

Researchers home in on zika virus The zika virus was first identified in 1947, yet it is only over the past few years that it has come to wider attention, with the first large outbreaks of disease caused by the infection. With concern rising, the WHO is supporting efforts to control the virus, while research continues into possible preventative measures. A team at the University of Pennsylvania in the US have been working to develop a vaccine, and their early findings are positive. The team used RNA molecules to get into cells and develop immunity, an approach which could prove more efficient and effective than alternatives. “We observed rapid and durable protective immunity without adverse events, and so we think this candidate vaccine represents a promising strategy for the global fight against Zika virus,” said senior author Drew Weissman, a Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Pennsylvania. There are still many hurdles to negotiate before the vaccine is widely used, yet the findings so far are hopeful, now Professor Weissman and his colleagues are working towards proving its efficacy. “We hope to start clinical trials in 12 to 18 months,” he said.


EU Research

Cricket study paints bleak picture

Possible pay rise prevents professors packing up EU Research &Development programme to raise researcher salaries in low-income countries The European Commission is increasing the salaries of EUfunded researchers in low-income countries to match national pay rates, and will offer additional bonuses of up to €8,000 a year. The new rule, designed to stop a brain drain from east to west, will apply retroactively, covering projects funded since 2014, the year the €77 billion Horizon 2020 R&D programme started. Any top-ups that researchers previously received as additional remuneration will now be treated as part of their basic salary It is not clear where the extra money to pay higher salaries will come from. Given budget pressures in Brussels, it appears unlikely that the Commission would allocate any additional money to Horizon 2020 to cover the costs. But how much impact this would have on Horizon 2020, or on what parts of the programme, was not disclosed. When asked, Commission staff said the overall cost is, “complicated to calculate.

A recent study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) paints a bleak picture of the future for a number of insect species found across Europe. Wildfires, intensive agriculture and the development of the tourism industry are driving several species to the brink of extinction, including crickets and grasshoppers, the report found. This is likely to have knock-on effects throughout the food chain, with crickets, bush crickets and grasshoppers an important food source for both birds and reptiles. The loss of these insects would therefore have a major impact on ecosystems in certain parts of Europe, affecting the balance of species and undermining biodiversity. “Europe’s rapidly changing landscape is affecting many species, including insects we are so familiar with, such as crickets and grasshoppers,” says Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director of the IUCNs Global Species Programme. “To bring these species back from the brink of extinction, more needs to be done to protect and restore their habitats,” The ICU advocates sustainable grassland management practices to help reverse the decline in the insect population. Vié says strong action is required. “If we do not act now, the sound of crickets in European grasslands could become a thing of the past,” he warns.

Getting to the roots of tiredness Many of us experience feelings of unusual tiredness and put it down to our own lifestyle choices, yet the underlying causes might be more complex than we imagine. While drinking five pints and sleeping for only six hours may well leave you feeling less than fully alert, some people have impeccable personal habits yet still experience extreme tiredness and gain weight easily.

This all adds up to a confusing picture for patients. Most patients who are diagnosed with hyper-thyroidism are prescribed a synthetic version of T4, yet some cannot convert sufficient amounts of it into T3 to relieve the symptoms, so there have been calls to combine T3 and T4 in treatment, with a supplement already available on the market.

This may be because of an under-active thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, a condition where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones. The main hormones involved are the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is produced by the pituitary gland – when too much of that hormone is produced, this may affect levels of the thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothynorine (T3). Within the body T4 is converted into the active hormone T3, which then revs up your cells. The condition is difficult to diagnose however, as the symptoms are similar to those associated with many other conditions. While it is possible to have a blood test to assess thyroid function, there are no standard internationally-accepted ranges for what levels of TSH would indicate an underactive thyroid.


March for Science goes global Empiricists around the world will march for science amid fears of funding cuts and political shunning of scientific principles The grassroots team coordinating the March for Science in Washington, D.C., have now set a date: 22 April. And they are inviting organizers in cities around the world to lead parallel demonstrations. Organizers have said they want to appeal to anyone who, as its mission statement puts it, “champions publicly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity.” Organizers have emphasized that the march is not just for practicing scientists, but for “anyone who believes in empirical science.” The event, at first just an idea bouncing around social media, gained real life last month after a website, Twitter account, and public Facebook page—now with more than 300,000 likes—sprang up over the course of a few days. An affiliated “secret” Facebook group attracted almost 800,000 members in less than a week, and more than 70 Twitter handles have popped up to promote sister marches across the country. U.S. cities won’t be the only places where lab coats and science-inspired signs will fill the streets on 22 April. Groups in eight European countries have announced “solidarity marches” in support of the U.S. March for Science, to be held on Earth Day. Some of the rallies will take place on the same day, whereas others don’t yet have a firm date. Marches are in the planning stages in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Bigger countries may see several; in the United Kingdom, for instance, there are already plans to march in London, Edinburgh, and Manchester. In Norway, researchers plan to take to the streets in Oslo and Trondheim. (There will be marches in New Zealand and Australia as well.) “We are thrilled,” a spokesperson for the U.S. March for Science says in an email to ScienceInsider. “The Women’s March really changed the game


here. The second this march was announced we began getting emails from cities all over the world with people planning on satellite marches. At this point, the Washington march and rally is a small part of a larger movement, which is exactly as it should be.” In France, 22 April is hardly ideal, because it’s the eve of the first round of voting for the French presidential election. “But we plan to do it that day anyway,” says astrophysicist Olivier Berné of the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology in Toulouse, a member of the organizing group. The idea for a march coalesced on Twitter, just as it did in the United States, Berné says. French scientists routinely demonstrate against declining budgets and a lack of job opportunities, and some of the organizers of the April protest are experienced, Berné says. Frances’s main march will be in Paris, but there are also plans for marches in Lyon, Toulouse, and Montpellier; Berné says the group is seeking support from scientific organizations and societies. The proliferation of marches is happening as non-U.S. scientists are increasingly debating how to respond to the Trump administration—and, in some cases, taking action. More than 5000 people have already signed a pledge to boycott academic conferences in the United States in response to Trump’s executive order halting the flow of refugees and suspending immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries. An Australian anesthesiologist announced on Twitter that he would stop reviewing papers for U.S. journals. Many others, however, think boycotts would harm U.S. science and would be counterproductive. Meanwhile, the European Molecular Biology Organization in Heidelberg, Germany, has set up the Science Solidarity List, where scientists can offer bench or desk space to colleagues stranded as a result of the measures. More than 480 researchers in dozens of countries have made offers; it’s not clear whether there have been any takers.

EU Research

Bringing blood back to the body’s extremities Critical limb ischemia is a major health problem across the Western World and with no adequate treatment available, researchers are developing new therapies. A protein called CycloPhilin A is thought to promote angiogenesis in ischemic tissues, and may provide a novel strategy to treat critical limb ischemia, as Dr Patrizia Nigro explains A condition which reduces blood flow to the body’s lower extremities, critical limb ischemia (CLI) is a major public health problem, affecting around 3 million people in Western Europe. Treatment options remain relatively limited however, underlining the importance of continued research into new therapeutic approaches. “It’s very important to find a therapeutic approach to treat critical limb ischemia, as revascularization is not always feasible,” outlines Dr Patrizia Nigro, the Principal Investigator of the CAPI project. The project aims to explore a new approach to therapy, building on Dr Nigro’s earlier research into the role of a particular protein called CycloPhilin A (CyPA) in cardiovascular disease. “I realised that CyPA could potentially be a proangiogenic molecule, and I am trying to understand the role of this protein in cardiovascular disease,” she continues. “So I asked: could CyPA be used in a therapeutic approach to orchestrate the mobilisation of progenitor cells, and therefore to increase angiogenesis in ischemic tissue?”

Critical limb ischemia This could form the basis for a novel approach to treat critical limb ischemia, promoting the re-vascularization of affected tissue in patients. This could be a more effective method of treating people with critical limb ischemia than current methods, particularly given that many patients with CLI are elderly and have other co-morbidities, in which case surgery can be risky. “People with diabetes are more likely to get critical limb ischemia, yet the main cause is atherosclerosis. In atherosclerosis, plaques develop which occlude arteries, including arteries in the lower limbs,” says Dr Nigro. The major problem for


patients with critical limb ischemia is that they don’t have adequate blood perfusion in the affected limb, so it’s essential to increase angiogenesis – the formation of new blood vessels – in tissue; cell therapy holds clear potential in these terms. “A particular cell population, called the vascular progenitor cells, are involved in critical limb ischemia and can be recruited from the bone marrow to the ischemic limb,” continues Dr Nigro.

involves using an established mouse model to study limb ischemia. In this model the femoral artery is removed and subsequently CyPA is injected. “We found that CyPA, by increasing the recruitment of vascular progenitor cells, induces angiogenesis in these mice,” outlines Dr Nigro. Researchers have also been investigating the underlying processes behind the mobilisation of the vascular progenitor cells. “A receptor

I realised that CyPA could potentially be a pro-angiogenic molecule, and I’ve been trying to understand the role of this protein in cardiovascular disease. So I asked the question; could CyPA be used to increase angiogenesis in ischemic tissue? By mobilising vascular progenitor cells from the patients’ bone marrow, CyPA could help promote the development of new blood vessels and restore blood flow to the affected limb. “I have demonstrated that CyPA mobilises these progenitor cells, and also increases their proliferation,” explains Dr Nigro. The project has used two main experimental approaches. The first centres around injecting CyPA directly into the ischemic limb, while the second

called CXCR4 is expressed in progenitor cells, while a factor that binds CXCR4, called stromal derived factor 1 (SDF-1), is released from vascular cells,” continues Dr Nigro. “We’ve found that CyPA enhances the secretion of SDF-1 and via this mechanism attracts CXCR4expressing progenitor cells to the ischemic tissue. However, it is important to point out that angiogenesis involves many cells in our body, not just progenitor cells.”

Left Fig. CyPA increases limb perfusion and angiogenesis. Right Fig. CyPA enhances BM-derived vascular progenitor cell (CFSE) recruitment in ischemic mice.

EU Research

This research also holds important implications for a number of other conditions. Alongside the project’s research into critical limb ischemia, Dr Nigro also plans to investigate the role of CyPA in other cardiovascular diseases. “I’m trying to understand the role of CyPA in genetic cardiovascular diseases, in particular in arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy. We’ve found that CyPA is an important factor in adipose substitution, which we see in patients with arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy. CyPA is thought to be critical in determining adipose substitution in people with this type of genetic cardiomyopathy,” she outlines. Improving blood flow could also be an effective treatment method beyond cardiovascular conditions. “Increasing new angiogenesis could be relevant in other contexts, not only in CLI,” acknowledges Dr Nigro.

Marfan syndrome Researchers are also investigating the role of CyPA in Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that can lead to complications in many organs, in particular the aorta. Patients with Marfan syndrome are at an increased risk of suffering from an aortic aneurysm; Dr Nigro investigated this area during a period she spent

working in the US. “We found that CyPA was really important for the development of abdominal aortic aneurysms. So we used a mice knock-out for CyPA, and we found that these mice did not develop abdominal aortic aneurysms,” she outlines. Building on this earlier research, Dr Nigro now aims to gain further details about the role of CyPA. “I am currently based in a cardiovascular research hospital, so I have the opportunity to take biopsy materials from human aortic tissue,” she continues. “From these biopsies of patients, I am able to directly examine the tissue or look at cells – in particular vascular smooth muscle cells and fibroblasts from the aorta. I am trying to understand – both in vivo and in vitro – the importance of CyPA in the development of an aneurysm.” This research is largely fundamental in nature at the moment, with scientists looking to gain further knowledge on the importance of CyPA with respect to critical limb ischemia and several other conditions. However, Dr Nigro is keen to eventually translate the project’s findings into improved treatment of critical limb ischemia. “After using injections of CyPA in the context of critical limb ischemia in a new, improved mouse model, I plan to pursue further research into treating human patients,” she says.

Centro Cardiologico Monzino

At a glance Full Project Title Role of Cyclophilin A in Bone Marrow Vascular Progenitor Cell Mobilization and Recruitment in the Angiogenic Response to Ischemia (CAPI) Project Objectives 1) Characterize CyPA’s effect on isolated PC behavior in vitro. 2) Determine the role of CyPA on PC mobilization from the BM. 3) Evaluate the role of CyPA in circulating PC recruitment into the mouse ischemic hind-limb. 4) Characterize the role of CyPA in new blood vessel development in the mouse ischemic hind-limb. Translational relevance and impact The execution of the proposed project has the potential to uncover an aspect that is extremely relevant for the human health: the treatment and cure of patients with CLI, a disease with tremendous impact in the world. Project Funding The CAPI project is funded by the European Research Council. Contact Details Dr Patrizia Nigro, PhD Unità di Biologia Vascolare e Medicina Rigenerativa Centro Cardiologico Monzino-IRCCS Via Parea 4 20138 Milano, Italia T: +39-02-58002028 E: W:

Dr Patrizia Nigro, PhD

Dr Patrizia Nigro, PhD is the Deputy Head of the Unit of Vascular Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Centro Cardiologico Monzino, Milan, Italy. She has performed ground-breaking research on the role of Cyclophilin A (CyPA) in cardiovascular biology and disease. She contributed unravelling the role of CyPA in vascular remodeling (Circulation, 2008), abdominal aortic aneurysm (Nature Medicine, 2009), atherosclerosis (Journal of Experimental Medicine, 2011) and cardiac hypertrophy (Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, 2011). Currently, Dr Nigro is studying the role of CyPA in critical limb ischemia as well as its involvement in cardiovascular aging and genetic cardiomyopathies.


The majority of research into respiratory transport phenomena has commonly centred on adults, yet these findings are not always transferable, as children have distinct lung structures. Mapping and quantifying the nature of respiration in children could help clinicians treat respiratory conditions more effectively, as Associate Professor Josué Sznitman of the RespMicroFlows project explains

A deeper picture of respiratory transport The lungs are

a highly complex structure that closely resemble an upsidedown tree, with branches bifurcating from the main trunk into very small airspaces which are populated with alveoli, tiny sacs in which carbon dioxide and oxygen are exchanged. This is an area of great interest to Dr Josué Sznitman, the Principal Investigator of the RespMicroFlows project. “The essence of our research is that we work on mapping and quantifying the nature of respiration.

physics of flows and particle transport. “RespMicroFlows is taking these kinds of concepts and developing strategies on medication delivery through the lungs, with a focus on children,” says Dr Sznitman. The majority of research on respiratory transport phenomena has historically focused on adults, but now Dr Sznitman and his colleagues are looking to redress the balance. “In RespMicroFlows, we’re looking to see if we can make children-tailored models, to resolve the

The essence of our research is that we work on mapping and quantifying the nature of respiration. We’re very interested in delivering aerosols, in the context of inhalation therapy, to target specific regions of the respiratory tract and even more so for the young populations We’re very interested in delivering aerosols, in the context of inhalation therapy, to treat various types of diseases through inhaled medication,” he outlines. One important issue in treating certain respiratory conditions, including emphysema, is delivering drugs deeper into the lungs, past the main branches and into these very small airspaces where alveoli are located. “One of the approaches that has been advocated is to use inhalation therapy to deliver drugs directly to the deep lungs either for topical or systemic treatment,” explains Dr Sznitman.

RespMicroFlows project The primary focus in the RespMicroFlows project is investigating how aerosols can be delivered much deeper into the lung, which could greatly improve the effectiveness of treatment. This involves looking at a number of physical questions, including around fluid dynamics, the


specificity of delivering aerosols in children,” he continues. “We’re developing numerical simulations and physical models of how air travels through the lung, how it travels through the trachea and makes its way down to the distal ends, or deep lungs.” This is a world that is characterised by very small scales, in the range of around 100 microns or so, with cavities barely the thickness of a hair. Delivering medication deep into this dense and populous environment is a complex challenge; researchers are using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and physical models to build a clearer picture of how it can be achieved. “This includes using microfluidics very intensively in order to make airway models that capture the right scales of the alveolar environment, under a few hundred microns,” outlines Dr Sznitman. The project is also using sophisticated techniques to model airflows

in the lungs of an infant. “If you think about a new-born baby, or even a 2 year old, you can imagine their lungs are substantially smaller than an adult’s,” points out Dr Sznitman. “The largest airway is just a few millimetres, so you can imagine that everything downstream of that is going to be extremely small. There, we are using 3D printing techniques to reconcile the microfluidic world with these small yet millimetre-sized dimensions in upper airways.” The lung of an infant of course differs in size from that of an adult, but there is also still debate over exactly how the lung develops as we grow. It is thought that the main conductive structure of the lung is in place in a new-born, but the number of

EU Research

Fabricating airway models begins with Computer-Aided Design (CAD) to 3D printing and casting a negative (Y. Ostrovski, PhD candidate). 1) Aerosol Inhalation

Systemic Delivery

2) Transport in air-phase

Air Blood

Air 3) Deposition Macrophage

Schematic of pulmonary acini and alveolar capillary networks.

Dendretic cell

6) Systemic circulation

4) Translocation


Alveolar epithelium

5) Transport in blood phase

From airborne aerosols to systemic delivery (adapted from Dr. J. Tenenbaum-Katan). alveoli grows dramatically in the early years of life, helping to remove CO2 and supply oxygen more efficiently. “Very complex mechanisms allow tissue to expand and create more and more surface area. A large surface area is required for efficient gas ventilation,” says Dr Sznitman. Infants also have different ventilatory patterns, in terms of the quantity of air they take in and breathing rates for example, another issue which Dr Sznitman and his colleagues need to consider. “There are structural differences, anatomical differences and physiological differences, in terms of breathing patterns,” he continues. “However, while you can ask an adult to modify and control their breathing patterns, you can’t ask the same from a two-year-old.”

This further underlines the importance of developing reliable simulations of airflow in the infant lung, with researchers investigating the underlying transport problems affecting the delivery of aerosols, right down to the particle level. Aerosols are often comprised of a wide variety of different particles, but Sznitman says the project’s research is blind to the nature of what’s being carried. “I’m trying to understand underlying transport problems in delivery, to build a deeper physical understanding. This helps us understand the fate of particles,” he explains. This includes the pollutants that we all inhale on a daily basis, many of which are extremely small – from nanometers to a

few microns in size – and atmospheric particles more generally. “A man-made particle could be designed for therapeutic purposes, or it could originate from natural or anthropogenic activities in the environment. If they have the same shape and size, they will experience the same dynamics and ultimately the same deposition properties inside the lungs,” continues Dr Sznitman. The fate of pollutants is of course an area of interest, yet it is targeted drug delivery that is the more central part of the project’s agenda, with researchers developing both advanced in silico numerical simulations and microfluidic in vitro platforms. There are a number of factors to consider in simulating the


Microfluidic Acinus Chip (Dr. R. Fishler).

At a glance Full Project Title Unravelling respiratory microflows in silico and in vitro: novel paths for targeted pulmonary delivery in infants and young children (RespMicroFlows) Project Objectives In RespMicroFlows, researchers aim to unravel the complex microflows characterizing alveolar airflows in the developing pulmonary acini. New discoveries will foster ground-breaking transport strategies to tackle two urgent clinical needs that burden infants and young children. The first challenge relates to radically enhancing the delivery and deposition of therapeutics using inhalation aerosols; the second involves targeting liquid bolus installations in deep airways for surfactant replacement therapy. Project Funding Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1. EXCELLENT SCIENCE - European Research Council (ERC) Contact Details Josué Sznitman, Dr. Sc. Associate Professor Julius Silver Bldg., Office 246 Department of Biomedical Engineering Technion - Israel Institute of Technology Haifa 32000, Israel T: +972 77 887 5678 E: W:

Associate Professor Josué Sznitman

Josué Sznitman holds degrees from MIT (BSc) and ETH Zurich (Dipl.-Ing. and Dr. Sc.). Prior to joining the Technion, he was a a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and a Fellow of the Princeton Council for Science & Technology. Sznitman currently serves as an Academic Editor for the journal PLoS One and sits on the Editorial Board of Biomicrofluidics (AIP). He serves on the Management Committee of COST Action MP1404 “SimInhale” and CA16125 on Children and Adult Interstitial Lung Disease. Sznitman has published over 50 peer-reviewed articles and was awarded the 2015 Young Investigator Award from the International Society for Aerosols in Medicine (ISAM) for a researcher under the age of 40. He is a member of the MIT Educational Council and a co-founder of GradTrain, an online education and media business.


Main Bronchus Terminal Bronchioles

Respiratory Bronchioles


Bronchioles Alveolar Sacs

transport and deposition of particles in the lung, including their size and weight. “Particles that are a micron or larger start experiencing their own weight to an increasing degree as a result of gravity,” continues Dr Sznitman. “On the other hand, if a particle is under a few hundred nanometers or so, then it will experience so-called Brownian motion as it diffuses” explains Dr Sznitman. If a particle is neither small enough to diffuse, nor big enough to fall under its own weight due to sedimentation, then its fate is strongly determined by the nature of the respiratory airflows carrying the aerosol.” These are important considerations in terms of the wider goal of delivering aerosols deeper into the lung. While aerosols bigger than around 10 microns are simply too large to be delivered deep into the lung, Dr Sznitman says it is feasible with smaller aerosols. “They don’t feel any diffusion – they feel a mixture of the flow, and then when that slows down, they feel their own weight,” he outlines. Deeper knowledge of these respiratory transport phenomena could enable clinicians to tailor inhalation therapy more precisely to suit the needs of individual patients, including paediatric populations, taking into account their age, physiology and other factors. “From this

research, hopefully new strategies will be developed to deliver aerosols to targeted cells. For example, a clinician may want to deliver drugs into a specific area of the lung,” says Dr Sznitman. “Within the project, we’re supporting the development of strategies to deliver aerosols, we’re looking at how to deliver drugs more effectively.” This can vary according to the individual. While some underlying physical properties of the lung stay the same across the wider population, deeper analysis reveals significant variations, so available therapies aren’t always tailored to individual needs. “With a first order approximation, the lungs of two people of around the same age may look exactly the same, but when we go down to the specifics they certainly don’t,” says Dr Sznitman.

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) of aerosol transport in model acini (Dr. P. Hofemeier).


EU Research

An added dimension in cell culture models Most tissues in a disease environment exist in a 3-dimensional structure, yet conventional cell culture methods do not always reflect this. By developing a 3-dimensional microenvironment, researchers in the MHAtriCell project aim to provide a more realistic representation of what cells will experience in vivo, as Dr Helena Azevedo explains The

conventional approach to studying the progress of a disease is to culture cells on a 2-dimensional plastic surface, yet there are some limitations to this approach, particularly with respect to a tumour environment. Most tumours exist in a 3-dimensional environment, so current methods are not representative of the conditions that cells experience in vivo, which is an important aspect in terms of testing drugs. “Sometimes drugs shown to be active in a 2-dimensional environment then fail in vivo. This is believed to be because the way they are being tested is not really realistic,” explains Dr Helena Azevedo. Based at Queen Mary University of London, Dr Azevedo is the Principal Investigator of the MHAtriCell project, which aims to create more realistic cell culture models. “We propose creating a hydrogel, a polymer matrix that contains a lot of water. Typically, these types of environments are very good for culturing cells, because most of our tissues also contain a high volume of water,” she continues. “We want to recreate, in this 3-D environment, what cells would experience in vivo.”

because certain cancer cells over-express this polymer,” explains Dr Azevedo. Another important element in these matrices are peptides, which cross-link the hyaluronic acid to form a hydrogel. “We have the ability to synthesise peptides, which are like short versions of proteins. So they contain amino-acids, like proteins, but they are short versions,” continues Dr Azevedo. “We are creating what we call collagen-like peptides, with the aim of mimicking the structure of proteins. There are several proteins in the tumour environment – one of the most abundant proteins is collagen, which is a very important structural protein.” The actual matrix is formed by selfassembly, after hyaluronic acid and peptides have been mixed together in a relatively simple process. Researchers can include different types of functionality on the peptides, such as sequences that can be recognised by cells or enzymes, which means that the matrix is dynamic in nature rather than static. “It allows interaction with cells and can be degraded by cells, as cells express different enzymes. This is important because it offers an opportunity

We propose creating a hydrogel, a polymer matrix that contains a lot of water. Typically, these types of environments are very good for culturing cells, because most of our tissues also contain a high volume of water Tumour environments There are many variables to consider in this research, as tumour environments are typically highly complex, and cancer cells can adapt their morphology in line with wider changes. Researchers are creating novel matrices to recreate this type of tumour environment; one important component is hyaluronic acid, which is found in human tissues. “Hyaluronic acid has been used as a diagnostic marker of different cancers,

to study the migration of cells for example,” explains Dr Azevedo. This could also allow researchers to study how a tumour progresses and develops. “We can look at metastasis and how cells respond to different stimuli, or to different drugs. So we think this is a more realistic platform to both study disease progression and test drugs,” says Dr Azevedo. “Ultimately, we want this matrix to be available to cancer researchers. We want this to be a platform on which they can perform their studies.”

The prime consideration in this regard is creating a realistic model, but practicality is also an important issue, so that researchers can use it easily. The matrix itself is relatively easy to make, while Dr Azevedo says it can also be customised to different types of cancer. “For example, we can include different sequences that are recognized by matrix metalloproteinases, enzymes which are over-expressed in cancer cells that are responsible for degrading the matrix,” she outlines. The hydrogel could provide an effective platform to investigate the effect of different matrix metalloproteinases, understand their role in cancer, and eventually develop targeted therapies. “If we find that these enzymes are really implicated in cell migration, then one potential therapy would be to inhibit these enzymes, to block the migration of cells,” says Dr Azevedo. “If we block their migration then it could be easier to treat the tumour, because then cells would be localised.” Hyaluronan-rich matrices crosslinked with collagen-like peptides for the 3D culture of ovarian cancer cells (MHAtriCell) School of Engineering and Materials Science, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS T: +44 (0) 207 882 5502 E: W: /research/projects/?rid=1223 Dr Helena Azevedo is a Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Engineering & Biomaterials at the School of Engineering and Materials Science, Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL) in the UK. Her research work focuses on the molecular design of self-assembling biomaterials for applications in cell culture, drug delivery and tissue regeneration. MHAtriCell team Dr Jayati Banerjee is a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow at QMUL. Her research centres on developing higher order self-supporting supramolecular hydrogels through self-assembly of simple building blocks, such as polysaccharides and peptides, for applications in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.


New insights into the perceptual process Evidence suggests that the interaction of feed-forward and feedback information plays a key role in cognitive processing, helping to shape the way we experience the world. We spoke to Professor Matthew Larkum of the ActiveCortex project about his group’s work in testing a hypothesis for explaining the perceptual process The first results

Feed-forward information Approximately 80 percent of the cortex is made up of these pyramidal cells, which stretch vertically across the layers of the cortex, and play an important role in processing information. Interestingly, the cortex conserves this architectural aspect everywhere, which Larkum interprets as meaning that understanding the role of pyramidal neurons is the key to unlocking the secrets of the cerebral cortex and therefore the basis of mammalian intelligence. The cortex is wired such that information from the outside world and internal information predominantly arrive at opposite ends of the pyramidal neurons. “For example, when seeing a tiger, your retina delivers the visual information that hits the bottom of your pyramidal neurons near the cell body, and causes them to fire in a steady, low-frequency way,” continues Professor Larkum. On the other hand, if you just think about a tiger but don’t see it, then information from your internal representation of the tiger causes signals to be transmitted predominantly to the top of your pyramidal neurons. “If you had very strong thoughts about the tiger, you might even get a sporadic highfrequency response from these cells,” continues Professor Larkum.


Chris Schwarz/Shutterstock However, what’s really special about these neurons is that they act like coincidence detectors and completely change their output when information arrives at both ends of the neurons

India, you might suspect there’s a tiger, whereas the same orange color in the local park would not necessarily bring tigers to mind. This ‘bringing to mind’, Larkum argues, is nothing other than putting the right contextual information to the end of the orange neurons and seeing if there’s a match. “In our latest study, we basically looked for calcium in the dendrites – the trigger for coincidence detection – and saw that it does in fact correlate with the moment of perception,” he says. “The clincher was that when we suppressed the coincidence detection mechanism in the dendrites, the animal no longer perceived anything at the same stimulus strength.” This is very exciting because it suggests that higher brain function can be investigated and even manipulated by

We looked for calcium in the dendrites and saw that it does correlate with the threshold for perception. At the point where we know the rodent has recognised the object, we see calcium in the dendrites simultaneously. In this way, Larkum proposes, the pyramidal neuron is crucial for cognition because it acts as an associative device that draws together new information that relates to previously learned information. In other words, if you see an orange object move behind the green grass while in the wild, say, in

focusing on this cellular switch. In another paper published in 2016, his team were able to show that transcranial magnetic stimulation suppresses this cellular switch, suggesting that it could be used as a non-invasive tool for investigating this mechanism in humans during cognitive tasks.


New info

Hot spot

from this ERC project suggest they have identified a powerful model for understanding the cerebral cortex. The crucial feature, says Professor Matthew Larkum, is an explosive ‘hot spot’ strategically located in the thin dendrites of the main neurons of the cerebral cortex. As unlikely as it may have seemed at first, their most recent data published in the journal Science show that they can alter perception by targeting this hot spot. “The cerebral cortex processes things like orientation, colour, shape and movement in different regions, which all have pyramidal neurons,” he explains.


New info

How to see a tiger. New information from the retina or previous knowledge about tigers alone have only a subtle influence on neuronal firing, whereas the combination is dramatically different due to activation of a dendritic “hot spot”.

EU Research

Larkum Laboratory Research

At a glance Full Project Title Active dendrites and cortical associations (ActiveCortex)

A basic feature of intelligent systems like the cerebral cortex is the ability to freely

associate aspects of perceived experience with an internal representation of the world and make predictions about the future. We are interested in the computational power of single neurons and their contribution to cortical function. Our main hypothesis is that the extraordinary performance of the cortex derives from an associative mechanism built in at the cellular level to the basic neuronal unit of the cortex - the pyramidal cell (Larkum, Trends in Neurosciences, 2013). The mechanism is robustly triggered by coincident input to opposite poles of the neuron, is exquisitely matched to the large and fine scale architecture of the cortex and is tightly controlled by local microcircuits of inhibitory neurons targeting subcellular compartments. We are currently testing this hypothesis (“BAC firing”) on many levels using a variety of research techniques including multiple dendritic patch-clamp recordings in vitro, extracellular electrophysiological techniques, calcium imaging, somatic and dendritic patch-clamp recordings in vivo, two photon imaging (in vitro and in vivo), rodent behavioural experiments and optogenetic approaches.

“Our goal is to understand the cellular mechanisms that underlie the ability of the cortex to link sensory information with previous experience.”

Project Objectives The ActiveCortex research programme is dedicated to investigating the hypothesis that the extraordinary performance of the cortex derives from an associative mechanism built into the basic neuronal unit, the pyramidal cell. This hypothesis is being investigated within the programme at every level. Electrophysiological and optical techniques will be used to record and influence the intrinsic properties of cells in rodents, with both in vivo and in vitro experiments. Project Funding ERC-ADG-2014 - ERC Advanced Grant Total cost: EUR 2 386 303.75 EU contribution: EUR 2 386 303.75 Contact Details Professor Matthew Larkum, Ph.D Humboldt University, Berlin Neurocure Cluster of Excellence Laboratory address: Neuroscience Research Center – Campus Mitte Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin Charitéplatz 1 10117, Berlin, Germany T: +49 30 450 539 117 E: W:

Professor Matthew Larkum, Ph.D

Trends in Neurosciences Magazine. Cover design: Thomas Splettstoesser. An artist’s impression of a dendritic spike is shown in one of the pyramidal cells.

Matthew Larkum, Ph.D is a Professor of Biology at Humboldt University of Berlin. His research group focuses on the processing of feedforward and feedback information in the cortex, and particularly on the contribution of active dendritic properties to the computational power of neocortical pyramidal neurons.


Closing the mental healthcare gap Many young people with mental health problems will require continued healthcare as they enter adulthood, yet a significant proportion fall through the ‘care gap’ between child and adult services. We spoke to Professor Swaran Singh about the MILESTONE project’s research into this transition The challenges of

late adolescence are heightened even further for those suffering from mental health problems. Alongside dealing with developmental and situational changes, young people with mental health problems may have to make the transition between Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Adult Mental Health Services (AMHS), an area of great interest to the MILESTONE project, an initiative bringing together researchers from eight European countries working across nine workpackages. Based at the University of Warwick, Professor Swaran Singh is the overall coordinator of the project and is also closely involved in a study into the transition between CAMHS and AMHS. “The study has two main arms. One is to follow up a large cohort of young people who reached the transition boundary between child and adult mental health services in their own country and moved to adult care, or went elsewhere,” he outlines.

Care gap This transition typically occurs between the ages of 16 and 19, yet many young people who need continued healthcare fall through the care gap between CAMHS and AMHS, Managing the link and strengthening transition from child to adult mental healthcare (MILESTONE) Professor Swaran Singh Mental Health and Wellbeing Warwick Medical School University of Warwick T: + 44 (0) 2476 574530 E: W: Initially trained as a surgeon, Professor Singh became interested in mental health following involvement with human rights groups working with children traumatised in ethnic violence in New Delhi. He trained as a psychiatrist at the Post-graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGI), Chandigarh, and moved to the UK in 1991. He was a Lecturer and Consultant in Nottingham and in 2001 was appointed Senior Lecturer at St George’s University, London. There he developed the ETHOS early intervention service, which gained an international reputation for its success in improving outcomes for young people with psychosis and for its cost-effective use of resources. He was appointed Professor of Social and Community Psychiatry at the University of Warwick in March 2006.


while those who do make the transition often experience poor care. This can have serious long-term consequences, underlining the importance of the second key part of the study. “We have devised a model of care called ‘managed transition’. About 250 young people out of a cohort of 1,000 will receive an intervention,” explains Professor Singh. “Clinicians will be given detailed information about these young people, and they can make a decision on whether they need to go to AMHS. We hope those young people who need to receive adult care will do so, and those who don’t will be discharged.” The wider aim in this research is to ensure that young people approaching the transition between CAMHS and AMHS receive appropriate care. While child and adult mental health disorders were long thought to be entirely separate, Professor Singh says that thinking has since changed. “We now know that what we call adult disorders actually begin during adolescence. So 50 percent of adult mental health problems begin before the age of 16, and 75 percent begin before the age of 25,” he says. “That means our current care pathway, with the gap between child and adult psychiatry between the ages of 16 and 19, has a weakness in the system at the point where it should be most robust. That’s one of the main drivers behind this study.” The ‘managed transition’ model is designed to address these issues and ensure continuity of care. Child and adult psychiatry are two different fields however, with different conceptual frameworks, assessment methods and therapeutic interventions, so Professor Singh and his colleagues have been working to establish some common ground. “We felt that we needed to have an assessment framework, where both child and adult psychiatrists could agree on the appropriate care for each young person,” he outlines. This assessment framework is called TRAM

(Transition Readiness and Appropriateness Measure). “TRAM has two components; is the young person ready for transition? And is the young person appropriate for transition to adult care?” explains Professor Singh.

TRAM framework This framework is built on completed assessments of young people undergoing transition, as well as input from their parents and child psychiatrists, aiming to identify the information which can help inform clinical decision-making. The TRAM framework will form the basis of a specific intervention in the project, aiming to help clinicians decide which young people need to move on to adult care. “We’ve identified young people approaching the transition boundary for the relevant mental health service. We meet them, and we complete the TRAM - the young person’s version, the clinician’s version and the parents’ version,” says Professor Singh. “We put this information together, and come up with a simple, visual, summary of what the young person needs.” The TRAM report will then be sent to the clinician, helping inform their decision on whether the individual needs to make the transition to AMHS. This approach has already been used in a few cases, and the evidence so far suggests it is a helpful tool for clinicians. “Our very first few anecdotal cases suggest that clinicians have found the TRAM report very useful, and some of them have said that they changed their decision on the basis of it,” says Professor Singh. This can help ensure that young people receive appropriate care, and Professor Singh hopes that the project’s research can play a part in these terms. “We hope that young people will have a better journey to adult care and that adult services will meet their needs better,” he says. The MILESTONE team

EU Research

New insights into the genetics of speech Genetic inheritance is known to be an important factor in the development of speech and language disorders, yet much remains to be learned about the underlying mechanisms. Dr Sonja Vernes tells us about her research into genetic networks underlying speech and language disorders and how she is using a new animal model – bats – to gain insights into the molecular basis of speech and language The discovery that a specific mutation in the FOXP2 gene can cause developmental verbal dyspraxia represented an important breakthrough in research into speech and language genetics. Heading an independent research group at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Dr Sonja Vernes now aims to build on these earlier findings and gain new insights into the genetic and molecular basis of speech, language, and vocal communication.

variation contributes to language impairment,” she says. “We recently started a project where we are taking patient genome sequences, and looking specifically for regulatory variants in what’s called the three-prime untranslated region (3’UTR) - a part of the genome important for controlling how much protein is produced in a cell.” A number of other strands of research are also being pursued by Dr Vernes including developing a new animal model

Some bats interact socially using learned vocalisations, which is similar to what we are doing when we speak. I think this is a really exciting model to start looking at the neurogenetics that contribute to this ability

Bats are revealing new molecular networks.

Genome sequencing and new animal models With today’s highly efficient genome and exome sequencing technologies there are now many large cohorts in which researchers can investigate these questions in human populations. While many scientists are focused on the protein-coding region of the genome, Dr Vernes believes it’s also important to look at the non-coding region. “About 98 percent of the genome does not code for proteins. I’m interested in looking in these non-coding regions to try and understand to what extent non-coding

for studying language-relevant traits. Most animals don’t learn their vocalisations, which is a core feature of how humans learn to speak. “For example, a dog barking or a mouse squeaking is innate, these vocalisations don’t involve learning” explains Dr Vernes. When a human baby cries it is an innate vocalisation, but they soon learn to modify the sounds that they produce - a process that has only a few parallels among animals. “Learning new vocalisations is a really difficult thing to do. We take it for granted, but actually very few other animals can do it,” points out Dr Vernes. One species that can learn their vocalisations are bats – highly social animals that use a specific type of vocalisation to echolocate. In addition to these echolocation calls, some bats have been shown to learn vocalisations that they use in social interactions. Dr Vernes is now using bats as a model system in her research. “Some bats interact socially using learned vocalisations, which is similar to what we are doing when we

speak. I think this is a really exciting model to start looking at the neurogenetics that contribute to this ability.” she outlines. These questions underlie a new project being pursued in the lab that brings together international researchers from across a number of disciplines with the shared goal of modelling the vocal learning ability of bats. Researchers aim to investigate how bats’ vocal learning skills are encoded at the behavioural, neurobiological and genetic levels. “Central to the strength and innovation of this project is that we are investigating this complex trait in a truly interdisciplinary fashion. Importantly this will be the first time this has been done in a mammalian model system and we think this will launch bats as a key model for speech and language research,” says Dr Vernes.


Dr Sonja Vernes is the head of the Neurogenetics of Vocal Communication (NVC) Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. She is also a Research Fellow of the Donders Institute at Radboud University, and a Director of the BAT1K genome sequencing project ( Dr Sonja Vernes Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics PO Box 310 6500 AH Nijmegen The Netherlands T: +31-24-3521911 E: W: departments/neurogen


Natural killer cells for fighting cancer Natural killer (NK) cells are an important part of the innate immune system, helping to defend the body against tumours and infections. The NATURIMMUN project combines both fundamental and applied research into NK cells, work which could lead to effective new anticancer therapies, as Professor Erhard Hofer, the initiator of the project, explains A type of

lymphocyte, natural killer (NK) cells play a central role in the body’s defence against disease, helping to identify and destroy alien and infected cells. While NK cells are not homogenous, they share common features. “NK cells can do two main things. One is a kind of immune regulatory function, where they use certain cytokines to help activate other immune cells,” says Professor Hofer. “The second major function, which is especially important in terms of therapy, is that they can kill cells that they recognise as virally infected or abnormal, such as tumour cells.” These attributes make them powerful effectors to eradicate cancer, a prime motivation behind the work of the NATURIMMUN project, an EU-backed initiative which combines basic and applied research into NK cells. “We have assembled a combination of labs with different competencies from several countries that have contributed to NK cell research. This includes basic research, such as delineating the function of certain receptors on the surface of NK cells, and more clinicallyoriented research,” says Professor Hofer. “Indeed, we and others could demonstrate

safety and feasibility when infusing donor NK cells to leukemia patients after stem cell transplantation. However, limitations due to low cell numbers and tumor immune escape mechanisms still exist,” adds Professor Ulrike Köhl, the current coordinator of the project. The combination of basic and applied research is designed to help bridge the gap between academia and the commercial sector, and in turn to help translate research advances into improved treatment in the clinic. The foundation of the NATURIMMUN

which kills the tumour cells and the normal immune cells – after which patients receive a stem cell transplant from a donor. “These cells re-constitute a new immune system for the patient, that can then target leukemia cells,” explains Professor Hofer. “It has been shown that NK cells are an important component of the new immune system formed by the donor transplant, and are active in rejecting the leukemia cells.” Further, a number of clinical trials have been performed where donor NK cells,

NK cells are effective against cancer and NK cells prepared for infusions have been classified as ‘Advanced Therapy Medicinal products’ work is a deep understanding of both the immune system and the function of NK cells. “It is intriguing that viruses and tumor cells have developed mechanisms to subvert the immune system in order to avoid the NK cell response and we can learn counter-strategies from these,” says Professor Hofer.

Activating NK cells Standard leukemia therapy is to use chemotherapy or radiation treatment,

expanded and activated ex vivo, have been directly infused into patients, with promising anti-leukemia effects. The sideeffects have been found to be far less severe than with conventional treatment methods. Using an infusion of NK cells after a transplant also reduces the risk of graft versus host disease, a complication where the transplant itself reacts against the normal cells, which in severe cases can even lead to the death of the patient. “With NK cells adverse effects are very much less

Patients receiving infusion therapies..


EU Research

At a glance

Full Project Title NATURAL KILLER CELL-BASED ANTI-CANCER IMMUNOTHERAPIES: (NATURIMMUN) Project Objectives The main objective of this project was to study within an European research network novel molecular mechanisms of innate immune responses mediated by natural killer cells towards hematopoietic cancers and herpes viruses. Based on obtained insights NK cell-based technologies and products for the therapy of cancer are now being developed.

pronounced, and therapies undertaken by infusion of activated NK cells have so far been shown to be safe,” explains Professor Köhl. “However, we still need to learn more about how we can activate NK cells and use them effectively against tumour cells.” While NK cells can be activated through exposure to cytokines, a type of signalling molecule, partners in the NATURIMMUN project are developing novel antibody reagents. “One arm of these reagents would bind to a specific surface structure, a socalled antigen, on the tumour cell, and the other arm to a specific surface receptor on the NK cell. By cross-linking the NK cells directly to the tumour cell, that enhances the reactivity of the NK cells to the tumour target,” Professor Hofer explains.

Chimeric Antigen Receptors A major research priority now is to investigate how NK cells can be activated against specific tumour cells through the use of additional reagents in order to overcome a tumour’s immune escape capacity. One area of interest to Professor Köhl is the use of Chimeric Antigen Receptors (CARs), a type of engineered receptor that has already clinically been used on T-lymphocytes, another class of lymphocyte distinct from NK cells. “We are very interested in using CARs with NK cells, because NK cells have specific advantages in comparison to T lymphocytes,” she outlines. “T lymphocytes from donors are really reactive and can destroy healthy tissue. To avoid this, patients’ own T lymphocytes are used for CAR therapy. Unfortunately, due to the previous heavy treatment of the patients with chemotherapy, in some cases these T lymphocytes are of low quality. Therefore we are focused on using healthy NK cells from donors, a procedure which has been shown to be safe in our clinical studies, and in combination with CARs we might really get promising new treatments.”

Large therapeutic cell numbers Researchers are also looking to bring these technologies to the commercial sector, especially to achieve the large cell numbers required. A small biotechnology company called Glycostem has been established in the Netherlands, with proprietary technology to generate large quantities of NK cells from blood stem cell samples. “These NK cells have been tested in a phase 1 trial, in elderly acute myeloid leukemia patients. The results so far have shown the safety of the procedure,” continues Professor Hofer. The number of patients in this particular trial was too small and the time period since then too short to get reliable clinical data on survival rates. Another partner in the project is Miltenyi, a major supplier of equipment and reagents for the generation of cellular therapeutic products, which has developed technology to generate large numbers of NK cells from peripheral blood. “In future, we will look together towards clinical research and company-supported clinical trials,” Professor Köhl adds. There are plans to establish a follow-up project to NATURIMMUN, in which the therapeutic procedure will be more fully developed, paving the way for an eventual clinical trial. One major priority will be to further develop the CAR technology in NK cells, which Professor Hofer and Professor Köhl believe is a highly promising procedure. “We want to collaborate with companies that already have clinical trials ongoing with certain aspects of this procedure,” Professor Köhl says. This combination of fundamental and applied research is central to translating research into improved treatment. “In NATURIMMUN we had a combination of basic and translational research labs, and together we have developed a couple of interesting findings and technologies that will support the follow-up project,” says Professor Hofer.

Additional Project Partners Prof. James P. Di Santo, Institut Pasteur, Paris, FR; Prof. Ofer Mandelboim, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, IL; Prof. Miguel López Botet, University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, ES; Prof. John Trowsdale, University of Cambridge, UK; Prof. Arndt von Haeseler, Medical University of Vienna, AT; Prof. Amit Nathwani, UCL London, UK; Volker Huppert, Miltenyi Biotec GmbH, Bergisch Gladbach, DE; Dr. Jan Spanholtz; Glycostem Therapeutics BV, ‘s Hertogenbosch, NL; Dr. Martin Treder, Affimed Therapeutics AG, Heidelberg, DE. Project Funding Research training in molecular medicine and biotechnology business / Project acronym: NATURIMMUN / Call identifier: FP7-PEOPLE2012-ITN / Grant agreement for: Initial Training Networks / Implementation mode: Multi-ITN / Grant agreement no.: 317013 Contact Details Professor Erhard Hofer Medizinische Universität Wien Schwarzspanierstrasse 17 A-1090 Wien, Austria E: W: W:

Prof. Erhard Hofer

Prof. Ulrike Köhl

Professor Erhard Hofer has a focus of research in molecular immunology and vascular biology. He has been a professor at the Medical University of Vienna (MUW) since 1997. In 2014 he retired and is since then involved in the management of the NATURIMMUN project and the planning of follow-up projects in NK cell-based cancer immunotherapies. Ulrike Köhl, is a full professor for Stem Cell Transplantation and director of the Institute of Cellular Therapeutics at Medical School Hannover since 2012. She studied both, biology and medicine, worked at MD-Anderson-Cancer-Centre (Houston/ USA) and at the University Hospital Frankfurt. Her goals are focused on both, development and manufacturing of cell-based therapies.



The Aedes albopictus mosquito is known to transmit several arboviruses, and its growing presence in Europe represents a significant threat to public health. We spoke to Dr Mariangela Bonizzoni, Associate Professor of Zoology at the University of Pavia in Italy, about her research into the biological interactions between the mosquito and the viruses it vectors

Getting to the heart of disease transmission The Asian tiger mosquito

Aedes albopictus has spread rapidly across Europe since it emerged in Albania in 1979, putting the population at greater risk of contracting arboviral diseases. Aedes albopictus is known to be responsible for transmitting several arthropod-borne viruses (arboviruses), including dengue fever and chikungunya fever, all of which are nonretroviral RNA viruses, now researchers in the EU funded NIRVS_HOST_INT project aim to shed new light on the topic. “We are looking at the co-evolution between the mosquito vector and the viruses it transmits. We are looking at what factors make a vector a good vector for arboviruses,” outlines Mariangela Bonizzoni, the project’s Principal

investigate the biological interactions between this mosquito and Dengue viruses, in particular looking at how viral sequences are integrated into the host genome. Professor Bonizzoni says this work holds wider importance. “Nonretroviral RNA viruses like Dengue viruses are not supposed to be capable of integrating into the genome of their host, but research shows that in some cases they do. Viral integrations from nonretroviral RNA viruses (NIRVS) have been identified in mosquitoes, and also in other organisms. We don’t know how they do it, and what the consequences are of their integration,” she outlines. Professor Bonizzoni and her colleagues plan to combine data from the lab with data from the field to

We have examples of both vectors adapting to viruses and viruses adapting to a vector. In the case of the recent chikungunya epidemic, which started in the Indian ocean, a mutation appeared in the virus which made it particularly well-adapted for transmission by Ae. albopictus mosquitoes Investigator. Not all mosquitoes are welladapted for transmitting arboviruses, yet both vectors and viruses evolve and adapt, leading to changes in transmission patterns. “We have examples of both vectors adapting to viruses and viruses adapting to a vector. For example, in the case of the recent chikungunya epidemic, which started in the Indian ocean, a mutation appeared in the virus which made it particularly welladapted for transmission by Ae. albopictus,” says Professor Bonizzoni.

NIRVS Aedes albopopictus mosquitoes were not previously the prevalent vector for transmitting the chikungunya virus, but the situation changed because of this specific mutation. Moreover, due to the rapid recent spread of Ae. albopcitus across the world, it is becoming an increasingly important vector for Dengue viruses. Now researchers aim to

look at whether these integrations have an effect on subsequent infections. “We want to know whether these integrations occur only in the soma or also in the germ-line. If they occur in the germ-line then they could be passed on across generations,” she explains. This has significant implications in terms of long-term exposure to arboviral infections, underlining the wider importance of Professor Bonizzoni’s research. “We hope to identify what factors make some populations of mosquitoes more susceptible or more refractory to arboviral infection. We also aim to identify which species of nonretroviral RNA viruses have the tendency to integrate, and which don’t,” she says. The project’s research will also help scientists learn more about the therapeutic potential of nonretroviral RNA viruses. “It is assumed that nonretroviral RNA viruses cannot integrate with the genome of the hosts. Consequently, based on their transient

Nucleus Host Genome DNA NIRV

NIRV-piRNAs Viral RNA silencing

VIRUS RNA presence in a cell, these type of viruses are being exploited in gene therapy applications, as drugs or vaccine delivery tools,” explains Professor Bonizzoni. “This is based on the assumption that these viruses do not integrate into the genome, but first of all we need to make sure that this is indeed the case. We will look at under which circumstances viral integrations occur, how frequently they occur, and which types of viruses/hosts are involved.” (NIRV-HOST-INT) Population genomics of co-evolution between non-retroviral RNA viruses and their hosts Dr Mariangela Bonizzoni Università degli Studi di Pavia Dipartimento di Biologia e Biotecnologie “Lazzaro Spallanzani” Via Ferrata 9 - 27100 Pavia, Italia T: +39 0382 986324 E: Dr Mariangela Bonizzoni is Associate Professor of Zoology at the Department of Biology and Biotechnology of the University of Pavia, Italy. She received her PhD degree in 2004 from the University of Pavia and the Universite’ de Paris XI, with a combined Italian-French program sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Education, Research and University. Dr Bonizzoni’s research focuses on arthropod-borne infectious diseases, with particular emphasis on interactions between the pathogens and their arthropod hosts. She also is interested in the adaptation of vectors to currently available strategies of control. She is author of 41 peer-review publications.


Vytenis Andriukaitis: A Commissioner’s fight against the rise of diabetes in Europe As a heart surgeon, you could wager that Lithuanian EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, is well qualified to understand the effects of lifestyle and food choices on anatomy, especially the effects of a poor diet. At a time when diabetes has become the trademark chronic illness of a generation, the Commissioner is looking at a holistic approach to tackling Europe’s largely lifestyle-related pandemic. Interview by Richard Forsyth


lthough he enjoyed a post as the former Health Minister of Lithuania, Andriukaitis has been a surgeon for most of his career. He was in fact the first surgeon to be put in charge of a EU health policy and of course, it makes perfect sense for someone who has had the highest level of training in the medical profession to comprehend the direct correlation between what we eat and drink and our health. Andriukaitis is looking into strategies to address an issue that has become one of Europe’s most disturbing food linked healthcare problems, namely, the escalating pandemic that is diabetes. In this interview, EU Research asks the Commissioner just how bad the problem has become and what can be done to stem its impact on future generations.

EU Research: Diabetes seems to have become THE lifestyle disease of this era through bad eating and lifestyle choices. Just how serious a challenge is the spread of this chronic illness?

Vytenis Andriukaitis: The rise in diabetes in the EU and globally is nothing less than alarming. The number of the world’s adults living with diabetes has risen from 153 million to 415 million in the past 35 years, and within the EU, 32 million people or 7% of the adult population are currently living with diabetes. With demographic ageing and growing rates of obesity, this figure is likely to increase.

Aggressive marketing by food companies makes our efforts to encourage healthy eating an uphill struggle 24

EU Research

This is harmful not only to individuals’ health and wellbeing, but also to the economy. In 2013 alone, preventing and treating diabetes and its complications cost EU countries around €100 billion. The gravity of this situation calls for action at all levels, with the support of all stakeholders. We need to work together across policies – health, education, food safety, agriculture, research, and more – to reverse this alarming trend.

EU Research: What kinds of solutions are you supporting and how is it possible to curb diabetes realistically?

Vytenis Andriukaitis: Type 2 diabetes shares many of the same risk factors as other chronic diseases – an unhealthy diet, being overweight, lack of physical activity. In many cases, it is preventable. Experience has shown that simple changes in

lifestyle can be effective in preventing or delaying type 2 diabetes. These include maintaining a normal weight, regular exercise and a healthy diet. There is no magic bullet to reverse the diabetes epidemic – it calls for a multifaceted approach. The European Action Plan on Childhood Obesity, jointly developed by EU countries, takes such an approach, with a range of initiatives to support a healthy start in life, such as promoting healthier environments – especially in schools and preschools – restricting marketing and advertising for children, encouraging physical activity and increasing research. In addition, many Member States are currently working together on diabetes within a Joint Action funded by the EU Health Programme. The ‘CHRODIS’ partners are developing best practices for the prevention and management of diabetes and proposing policy recommendations to establish or improve

© European Commission


New eHealth solutions can enable diabetic patients to monitor their own blood glucose, transmitting regularly the information electronically to their healthcare specialist © European Commission national diabetes plans. A new Joint Action on chronic diseases is already being prepared to concretely support the implementation of these best practices. Reformulating food products also constitutes part of this multifaceted approach. By removing excess sugars, salt and fat from products that are bought every day in European supermarkets, we are providing real value to citizens. In fact, significant progress has been recently achieved in November 2016, when the basic methodology for monitoring national reformulation initiatives was endorsed by Member State representatives. As actions have to be measurable, this is an essential step towards the implementation of the agreed reformulation targets on added sugars, and also on salt and saturated fats.

EU Research: Food and drink options in supermarkets for children seem to play on a mix of salt, sugar and slick marketing to get kids to want certain unhealthy products and to keep them addicted to them. What kind of regulations or new ideas could help both children and parents understand the problems with unhealthy food and drink products?

Vytenis Andriukaitis: Aggressive marketing by food companies makes our efforts to encourage healthy eating an uphill struggle. However, I think we can take a number of steps to counteract it. For example, the current discussion in Parliament on the Audio Visual Media Services Directive is an excellent opportunity to make sure that we effectively reduce the exposure of children to marketing of nutritionally unbalanced products. Sugary drinks are certainly a concern. We can also inform people about what constitutes a healthy diet, ensure clear information about the ingredients and nutritional value of the food we eat, and make sure the


healthy choice is the easy choice. This can be done by reducing advertising and adjusting pricing but also, for instance, by adapting supermarket shelves and ‘nudging’ efforts in canteens. Health is, of course, a national competence, and I welcome initiatives taken by some countries who have introduced a ‘sugar tax’. This, alongside other measures, could lead to healthier lifestyles. I also welcome industry initiatives such as reformulation of products to contain less sugar, and re-organising supermarkets in a way that encourages families to buy more fresh fruit and vegetables. Everyone is responsible in ensuring the health of future generations.

EU Research: With the next generations coming through, you clearly want to change how children approach diet and have even mentioned fruit vending machines. These have been invented but are not widespread – is it because they are not popular and is healthy eating suffering generally from an image problem?

Vytenis Andriukaitis: Only one in seven people over the age of 15 in the EU eats the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, and one in three of us does not eat any fruit or vegetables every day according to 2016 figures. Little wonder, then, that the rate of overweight and obesity amongst adults exceeds 50% in no less than 17 EU countries. And yet, I am convinced that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is within our grasp. Promoting this, especially amongst the young, is a policy objective of the EU. The Commission chairs various fora and platforms for EU countries to exchange best practices to promote good nutrition, and EU-financed projects such as the school milk, fruit and vegetable scheme help shape healthier eating habits in our children.

EU Research

EU Research: With an overburdened healthcare sector, how can eHealth initiatives play a part in the self-monitoring of people with diabetes?

Vytenis Andriukaitis: I am convinced that the right eHealth tools offer safe and efficient care and can help adapt our healthcare systems, for example, to the rising rates of diabetes and other chronic diseases. New eHealth solutions can enable diabetic patients to monitor their own blood glucose, transmitting regularly the information electronically to their healthcare specialist. I believe that eHealth has the potential to make European health systems more accessible and sustainable and to empower patients to manage their own health. As eHealth is one of the 10 areas identified by the Commission as a key priority of standardisation, I will make it my personal priority to continue this work with my colleagues in the Commission, Member States and our stakeholders, to maximise the potential of eHealth solutions.

EU Research: What challenges does Europe face when trying to tackle diabetes?

Vytenis Andriukaitis: Tackling diabetes and all chronic diseases requires, first and foremost, a radical shift from treatment of diseases to promotion of good health. We have solid evidence that this works, and we need to put the evidence into practice. This is a shared responsibility. If we are to avoid raising a generation of children that are ‘fat for life’ and on the path to getting type 2 diabetes, we need to instil healthy eating habits from the earliest age. Simple acts are in the hands of all of us – parents, teachers, food producers, as well as policy makers at Member State and EU levels.

What What is diabetes?

There are two classifications of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Symptoms include urinating more, extreme tiredness, blurry vision and feeling very thirsty. This is because the body cannot produce the hormone insulin effectively, which leads to the abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and higher levels of glucose in the blood. In worse case scenarios, diabetes can cause blindness, kidney failure, strokes, heart attacks and may lead to amputation of limbs. If you feel you may be suffering from the symptoms mentioned here please contact your doctor for a simple test to determine if you have the condition.

With special thanks to Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety & Nicolas Pradalié, Policy Officer – Communication & relations with the European Parliament, for their time with this interview.


Deeper insights into trans-national migration The European population today is highly mobile, with many countries welcoming migrants from both within the European Union and from further afield, raising important questions around their rights and obligations. We spoke to Professor Hildegard Schneider about the Transmic project’s research into trans-national migration The European population

today is highly mobile, with citizens often moving between Member States to live and work, while many countries continue to welcome migrants from outside the continent. This high level of mobility brings questions around the fundamental rights and obligations of trans-national migrants into sharper focus, an issue which lies at the core of the Transmic project’s research agenda. “The idea behind the project was to bring together several PhD students with our partners and post-docs to investigate issues around trans-national migration and citizenship. What happens when people move between states? What are their rights and responsibilities?” says Professor Hildegard Schneider, the project’s coordinator. The concept of circular migration, where citizens migrate to a host state before eventually returning to their country of origin, is a central topic in this research. “One of the questions which inspired the European Commission was whether circular migration is a good idea or creates new problems,” outlines Professor Schneider. There are some lessons to be learned from history here, not least the guest


worker programmes which were established in some European states during the ‘50s and ‘60s to fill gaps in the labour market. Europe faces similar challenges again today, as we face up to the reality of an aging population. “In the light of demographic changes in the EU and other Western states, how do we fill our labour market shortages, especially in highly-skilled areas like

in our industries and in our economy, because we will just not have the right labour to fill the gaps,” she warns. Another question central to Transmic is how to cooperate with third countries on migration and borders. As we saw throughout the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015, cooperation with Turkey and African countries has been high on the agenda. Several Transmic researchers are

The idea behind the project was to bring together several PhD students with our partners and post-docs to investigate issues around trans-national migration and citizenship.

What happens when people move between states? What are their rights and responsibilities? healthcare?” asks Professor Schneider. While the guest worker programmes were widely viewed as a failure, as in many cases migrants settled permanently rather than returning to their country of origin, Professor Schneider believes Europe again needs migrants to build a prosperous future. “Without migration we will have serious problems in terms of welfare provision,

looking at these external relations of migration policy. When policy makers seek to respond quickly to migratory events, such as migrant deaths in the Mediterranean or an increase in the numbers asylum seekers, the task of the Transmic research project is to take a step back and ask how we can understand these events and address them in line with international law.

EU Research

Trans-national migration The question in these terms is how to make Europe an attractive destination for migrants within the wider global market. A highly skilled engineer from India for example may have several job offers, in which case they’re faced with a choice. “That engineer might be able to work in the US, gain citizenship relatively quickly and also maintain their Indian citizenship. That might be more attractive than going to Germany and waiting for a longer time. So the issue is how to make Europe more attractive,” says Professor Schneider. The opportunity to move jobs and change location once they have arrived is another important issue. “When you gain a work permit in the US, you can move all over the country, you are not limited to one state, like California or New York. Whereas if a highly skilled engineer gets a permit to work in France, they are not allowed to move to Berlin just like that,” continues Professor Schneider. A European Blue Card does not automatically open up the wider European job market. Based herself in the Dutch city of Maastricht, close to the German and Belgian borders, Professor Schneider is keenly aware of this issue, which she believes makes Europe a less attractive destination for a skilled job-seeker than the US for example. “If an engineer comes and gets a work permit for the Netherlands, then goes shopping in Germany and discovers a better place to work, then it’s not evident he would be able to accept the offer,” she points out. Highly-skilled professionals often also travel regularly, maintaining houses in different countries,

yet Professor Schneider believes that existing governmental frameworks often do not take account of trans-national migration in this sense. “A migrant may have business interests in both their country of origin and their new state. That raises questions around how they maintain their rights concerning issues like pensions and social security,” she says. How to address the disconnect between the complexity of migration and the policy and legal framework governing it is one of the core questions being investigated within Transmic overall, which brings together 13 different projects at both PhD and post-doc level to look at different issues around trans-national migration. While Professor Schneider herself is a highly experienced lawyer, she says the project is very much multi-disciplinary in scope. “We work together with young researchers across various disciplines. Some are economists, some are anthropologists and some have a legal background, while others have a background in the social or political sciences,” she explains. Each of these different disciplines have different methodologies, and Professor Schneider believes the young researchers benefit from exposure to new ideas and methods. “They have to learn from each other and to be open with these new methodologies. Some are trained in collecting data, statistics, and other forms of empirical evidence, while others are trained in analysing legislation,” she outlines. The data being gathered and analysed varies across the 13 different projects within Transmic, which

combine theory-based analysis and empirical research. Some migrationrelated data has been collected at the national level and Eurostat is a valuable resource, while researchers are also conducting interviews directly with migrants. “We are discussing migrants’ experiences directly with them,” says Professor Schneider. One of the Transmic projects at Maastricht University, where Professor Schneider is based, centres around the rights of migrant workers in Bulgaria and Poland, while researchers are also investigating migration to the EU from further afield. “We have a project looking at the external dimension of EU social security coordination, with case studies on India, Turkey and the US,” outlines Professor Schneider. “We also have a project on tertiary-level student mobility between Asia and the EU, which is an emerging trans-national educational space.” Many European universities have a long history of welcoming students from across the world, either for the duration of a full programme or a shorter period of study, helping strengthen research links and encourage cultural exchange. This can lay the roots of long-term research collaborations, with new perspectives leading to new ideas. “If you bring together bright, open-minded people from different cultures in research institutions, they might come up with solutions, new findings and research ideas,” says Professor Schneider. Beyond the academic sphere, Professor Schneider believes student exchanges can also help strengthen diplomatic and commercial

Members of the TRANSMIC project research team at the Mid-Term Review Meeting held on 25th May 2016 in Brussels.


At a glance Full Project Title Transnational Migration, Citizenship and the Circulation of Rights and Responsibilities (TRANSMIC) Project Objectives The aim of the project is to contribute to the understanding of transnational migration, in particular by looking at the conditions for and effects of transnational migration, possibilities for the mobility of migrants’ rights to be enhanced, and the links between migration, citizenship, and migration and development. TRANSMIC will run from 1 September 2014 to 31 August 2018. Project Funding Transnational Migration, Citizenship and the Circulation of Rights and Responsibilities (TRANSMIC) is a project funded under the FP7-PEOPLE-2013-ITN call and is part of the Marie Curie Actions — Initial Training Networks funding scheme (Project number – 608417). Project Partners • Maastricht University (Netherlands) • University of Liège (Belgium) • University of Minho (Portugal) • University of Oxford (UK) • University of Aix-Marseille (France) • University of Tampere (Finland) • University of Warsaw (Poland) • Centre for European Policy Studies- CEPS (Brussels/Belgium) Contact Details Professor Hildegard Schneider Maastricht University, Faculty of Law, METRO P.O. Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands T: +31 (43) 388 3256 E: W:

Professor Hildegard Schneider

Hildegard Schneider is Professor of European Union Law at the Law Faculty of Maastricht University. She studied Law, Political Science and Art History in Freiburg (Breisgau), London, Paris and Münster. She completed her legal education in Germany with the ‘1.Staatsexamen’ in 1980 and the ‘2. Staatsexamen’ in 1986 with distinction. She obtained her Ph.D. defending a thesis entitled ‘Die Anerkennung von Diplomen in der Europäischen Gemeinschaft’ at Maastricht University. Since 1986, she has worked at Maastricht University, teaching mainly various courses in the area of European Union law as well as Art and Cultural Property law. Her research covers the same areas. . She has been a Jean Monnet chair holder in European Migration Law. Since September 2011 she serves as Dean of the Law Faculty and is a member of the Management Team of Maastricht University.


ties.“From a long-term economic perspective, it’s important to have an open educational policy. Many European countries are keen to build and maintain good relations with fast-growing Asian countries, so from that point of view it’s positive if students have studied in the EU and were happy there,” she says. There are also well-established migrant communities in and around many European cities, who have integrated in the local area and make a valued contribution to cultural and economic life. Despite Europe’s long history of accepting migrants, debate continues on what ‘good’ integration actually means; Professor Schneider and her colleagues plan to investigate this in a new project outside the scope of Transmic. “We’ll look at how to map and gather evidence about what good integration is,” she says. This could mean economic independence or cultural integration, such as participation in a highly visible activity, like the sporting life of the city. “For example, there are some communities who do very well economically, but don’t speak the local language,” continues Professor Schneider. “You can also have a look at what happens with successive generations. Are they going to secondary schools? Are they integrated into the academic life of the country?”

Evidence base Part of the wider agenda in this research is to build an evidence base to inform the continued development of public policy on migration, an emotive issue which arouses intense debate. The Transmic project will make an important contribution in terms of providing clear data. “We hold workshops to share our findings with policy-makers and other interested parties. The projects in Transmic are still ongoing, but we have already held these types of meetings,” says Professor Schneider. For example, a PhD and postdoc

from Transmic recently held a meeting in Brussels with policy-makers, civil society and international organisations to share and discuss their findings. This is how the project aims to make a direct contribution to evidence based policy-making. The recent referendum on the UKs membership of the European Union demonstrates the depth of feeling on the issue, and in many cases it was difficult for the electorate to establish the facts around the issue, particularly the numbers of migrants and the wider economic and cultural impact; continued research is essential to objective debate, believes Professor Schneider. “I think our work is very important, because we can analyse the data and make the facts available,” she says. This is further enhanced by wider international collaboration, reflecting the fact that migration is a global issue, and certainly not one that only affects Europe. While Transmic is funded under the Initial Training Networks scheme, Professor Schneider and her colleagues are looking to establish links with other research networks. “For example, there is a very big one in Switzerland, and there are also some in the US. Connecting research networks is one of the follow-ups of this type of research,” she outlines. This will enable researchers to compare their findings, refine methodologies, and build a bigger picture on the impact of transnational migration. “We can be challenged about research that contradicts ours. It might be an interesting challenge to look at the reason why certain research findings might possibly contradict each other for example, and that could be important also in terms of building a clearer picture,” continues Professor Schneider.

Images to right: Ten Ph.D. and three post-doctoral researchers are carrying out research projects within the framework of the TRANSMIC project. Image Below: The TRANSMIC project team.

EU Research

Examining the building blocks of mathematical ability While numerical ability has long been thought to be innate, recent findings suggest that other factors also play a role in the development of numerical sense. We spoke to Professor Avishai Henik about his research into the building blocks of numerical cognition, including the ability to perceive the size of objects A good grasp of numbers is essential to many aspects of everyday life, yet it has been estimated that between 3 and 6 percent of the global population suffers from dyscalculia, a deficiency in numerical cognition. This is an issue which lies at the core of the SMiNC project’s research agenda. “We aim to examine the building blocks of numerical cognition,” says Professor Avishai Henik, the project’s Principal Investigator. There are parallels here with previous research on reading. “Previously researchers looked at the building blocks of reading, and this helped build an understanding of the underlying processes involved. It also helped researchers understand what happens in dyslexia cases or other types of reading disability,” explains Professor Henik. “The hope with numerical cognition was similar – that if we invested time and effort in understanding the building blocks of numerical cognition, then we would be able to know what is going on and what’s the underlying basis of these deficits. From there, we may eventually be able to suggest ways to work with people who have difficulties with numerical cognition.” The most prominent current line of thinking on the development of numerical cognition is that we are born with an innate sense of numbers that

forms the basis of our arithmetical ability. However, Professor Henik and his colleagues take a different view. “We suggest that actually number sense is not innate but rather that it develops, and that we learn to recognise numbers by paying attention to amounts, sizes and so on, and to visual or auditory stimuli. There are examples of connections between recognising the sizes of objects and numerical cognition,” he explains.



Size Matters Researchers now aim to investigate the underlying processes involved in number cognition. One method Professor Henik has used in research is to present numbers to subjects in an experiment, and ask them to identify which is larger. “When you look at 3 and 5, you of course know which number is larger, and if the two numbers are further apart – like 3 and 8 – then people are faster to say that 8 is larger than 3 than to say 5 is larger than 3.

Congruent condition A violin is larger than a banana both physically and conceptually.

Incongruent condition The conceptually larger violin is physically smaller than the banana.


The fact that the distance is 5 in one case and 2 in another is unimportant – you are not asked to pay attention to it but you cannot ignore it,” he says. Besides their numerical value, numbers also have a physical appearance, which is a factor in numerical cognition. “The 3 can be small or large, in a physical sense,” points out Professor Henik. “When you’re asked to pay attention to the numerical value then you might think that the physical appearance shouldn’t do anything. But if you change the physical appearance in an experiment, you can see that it does in fact affect performance. The influence of physical sizes on judgment of numerical values suggests that there is an intimate relationship between physical appearance and numerical values, which is described by the numerical Stroop effect.” (https:// e n .w i k i p e d i a . o r g / w i k i / N u m e r i c a l _ Stroop_effect) The project has since built further on these findings, with researchers mixing congruent and incongruent trials to gain deeper insights into the relationship between size perception and numerical cognition. In a congruent trial, the numerically smaller number is also physically smaller, while in an incongruent trial, the numerically smaller number is physically larger. “Now, we’ve mixed these two types of trials, and changed the digits and the sizes. If people are asked to pay


attention to the numerical value and ignore the physical size, then they can do it but you get a congruency effect. That is, the response to the incongruent trial is slower than the response to the congruent trial,” outlines Professor Henik. This on the surface may not seem very surprising, as we almost always notice physical appearance; however, Professor Henik says the reverse has also been observed.

whereas the numerical value is discrete, the physical dimension – the size – is continuous and not countable. While researchers have historically paid a great deal of attention to discrete variables like numbers and arrays of dots, or other mathematical symbols, Professor Henik says there has been less interest in the physical appearance of this stimuli and in non-countable dimensions. “What the

The hope is that if we invest time and effort in understanding the building blocks of numerical cognition, then we will be able to know what is going on and what the underlying basis of deficits in numerical cognition is “If I ask you to look at the two digits, and tell me which is physically larger – ignore the numerical values, they are not important – then we again see the congruency effect. So people cannot ignore numerical values, even when they are told they are not relevant,” he says. Researchers have found that we are typically slower to respond to numerical values than to physical size. While it might be inferred from this that numerical cognition processes would not interfere with the perception of physical size, this is not in fact the case and there is a close relationship between the two. Another feature of the task described above is that

SMiNC project suggests is that in order to build a complete understanding of numerical cognition, we need to take a look at the non-countable dimensions as well,” he says.

Archer fish The behaviour of the archer fish, a fish which preys on insects and other small animals on trees above water level by spitting water at them, is of great interest in this regard. The archer fish is relatively easy to study, with researchers training it to shoot in response to a specific stimulus. “We can measure the time from the appearance of the stimulus to when the

EU Research

archer fish starts spitting,” explains Professor Henik. One of the questions Professor Henik and his colleagues have been investigating is how archer fish respond to both discrete variables – such as an array of dots – and continuous variables, like the size of a square. “For example, we can put two differentlysized squares in front of the fish, and train the fish to shoot at the larger square,” he explains. Researchers have found that the larger the difference between the two squares, the faster the fish responds. “So, again you have a distance effect, but now with physical, non-countable dimensions,” continues Professor Henik. “Now why is that important? We usually think that cortical areas are the main areas of the brain involved in numerical cognition. However, fish do not have a cortex, they have a mid-brain. This suggests that recognising the size of objects may appear very early in development.” Professor Henik suggests that recognising the size of objects is an important factor in the development of numerical cognition. While areas of the brain that play a role in numerical cognition have been identified, Professor Henik believes that other factors also need to be considered to build a fuller picture. “Other factors are involved in the development of numerical cognition, like these continuous variables. Size perception in general, assessing the size of objects and so on, is important to the development of numerical cognition,” he stresses. “There is also an object congruity effect think of a small violin and large banana vs. a large violin and a small banana. These stimuli create a size congruity

The figure depicts a small 8 climbing the ladder to the top of a large 3. It represents the fact that numbers have both physical features (e.g., physical size) and numerical value. These two aspects may affect one another.

effect. When participants are asked to describe which is larger conceptually and ignore the objects’ physical size, they cannot ignore the objects’ irrelevant physical sizes. When they are asked to pay attention to the physical sizes and ignore the conceptual sizes, a similar effect appears.” If size perception is central to the development of numerical cognition, then it could enable clinicians to diagnose individuals susceptible to dyscalculia at an earlier stage. “This could even be before a child starts learning arithmetic,” says Professor Henik. “Currently, in order to find out if a person has dyscalculia, you have to wait until they start learning arithmetic. Only then, when they start falling behind their peers, can they be diagnosed. But if size really matters in numerical cognition, then we might be able to diagnose dyscalculia at an earlier stage and target interventions at an earlier stage.” This could have a significant impact, given that arithmetic abilities at an early age are known to be a good predictor of later academic achievement. This is not an immediate prospect however, and for now researchers are looking more to publicise their findings, in both research papers and a book published earlier this year in the academic press called Continuous Issues in Numerical Cognition – How Many or How Much? “There are chapters in the book written by different experts,” outlines Professor Henik. “One of my students has also written a review paper on number sense versus our understanding of the magnitude sense, which will be published in Behaviour and Brain Sciences.”

At a glance Full Project Title Size Matters in Numerical Cognition (SMiNC) Project Objectives Numerical cognition is essential to many aspects of life and arithmetic abilities predict academic achievements better than reading. Acquiring a solid sense of numbers and being able to mentally manipulate numbers are at the heart of this ability. In recent years research has been marked by looking for the underlying mental operations, an effort to unravel the neural tissue that supports these operations, and identifying low-level deficits that underlie deficiencies in numerical cognition such as developmental dyscalculia. Project Funding Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC. ERC Advanced Grant - The Human Mind and its complexity (Project ID: 295644). Contact Details Professor Avishai Henik Department of Psychology Building 95, Room 003 Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Beer-Sheva, Israel T: + 972 8 6477209 E: W: staff/AvishaiHenik.aspx

Professor Avishai Henik

Professor Avishai Henik was born in Tel Aviv in 1945. He received his undergraduate degree in psychology and education from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in 1971. He then moved to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to study for his MA and PhD degrees under the supervision of Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman. He received his PhD in 1979. In 1980, Henik received a Rothschild post-doctoral fellowship and spent two years in Eugene, Oregon, in the laboratory of Michael I. Posner, considered a leading pioneer in building the field of cognitive neuroscience, and the neuropsychology laboratory led by Michael I. Posner and Oscar S.M. Marin in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.

The Cognitive Neuropsychology Laboratory


Getting to know our closer relatives Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans are two distinct human species which confronted each other in Europe around 45,000 years ago, after which Neanderthals probably withdrew to refuge areas and eventually became extinct. Researchers in the EUROREFUGIA project aim to shed new light on the causes of this rapid replacement, as Dr Ana B. Marín-Arroyo explains The Neanderthal population is thought to have been replaced in Europe by our own species (Homo sapiens) between 40,00045,000 years ago, who forced them to withdraw to certain refugia areas including the Iberian and Balkan Peninsulas. The causes of this rapid replacement, during the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic transition, are the subject of continued debate, to which the EUROREFUGIA project aims to contribute. “We’re reconstructing the diet and subsistence strategies of both late Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans in central Serbia and the Cantabrian Region in northern Spain, where the archaeological record is incredibly rich and well preserved,” explains Dr Ana B. Marin-Arroyo, the project’s Principal Investigator. The project is focused on studying this key period of human evolution, following a multi-disciplinary approach that includes a palaeoenvironmental reconstruction based on stable isotopic analyses conducted on animal bone remains and also a zooarchaeological and taphonomic study of the faunal assemblage as the best evidence of the diet carried out by both human species. Researchers are looking at archaeological evidence gathered from residential sites located in both the central Balkans and the northern Iberian Peninsula such as in El Mirón and La Viña caves. “There is enough data to confirm that some late Neanderthal groups lived in Iberia before the arrival of modern humans, while we are also studying remains from Šalitrena Pećina, a Serbian cave site, to the south of the Danube, where a rich and diverse evidence of both human species occupation have been found for the first time.”

laboratory and to recruit staff with the necessary expertise. “I’m particularly proud of having been able to open a novel research line on Bioarchaeology at this University, and to create a team despite the economic uncertainties in recent years,” she outlines. The project team brings together researchers from Spain, Germany, the UK, Serbia and Canada, combining different areas of knowledge. A core discipline within the project is the analysis of the remains of animals that were hunted and consumed by both human species, from which important insights can be drawn. “The study of the animal bones accumulated by human groups allows us to not only reconstruct their diet, but also to establish their adaptive skills and resilience to environmental changes. We can understand how they contributed carcasses to the caves, why they targeted different prey, how long they travelled to hunt or if they suffered nutritional stress, among other aspects of their subsistence strategies,” says Dr Marín-Arroyo. “We can also identify the cut marks on the bone surface (taphonomy) and reconstruct how Neanderthals and modern humans killed and cooked the animals they brought to the caves.” Researchers are also analysing the chemical composition of these bones, extracting information on two main stable isotopes, Carbon and Nitrogen. From this work, more can be learned about the environments in which both human species lived. “Carbon and Nitrogen values can tell us about past vegetation cover, rainfall and

temperatures during this period.” The earth’s climate changed significantly at this time, with very acute and rapid oscillations in no more than a few decennials. This has been put forward as one possible factor in the extinction of the Neanderthals, although a more quantitative relationship is still missing. In this sense, the project brings together new data on climate with detailed information on the humans’ diet. “We evaluate the diet and relate it to climate. Our aim is to estimate whether, given the recorded climatic and environmental changes, the subsistence strategy adopted by both human species was effective or not,” says Dr Marín-Arroyo. “In this way we can assess how well late Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans coped with climate imbalances.” Evidence from ice and marine-cores shows that the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic transition was a time of dramatic climatic shifts globally. Recently, this has been related to the extinction of megafauna and it is likely it had a significant impact on the subsistence strategies adopted by both Neanderthals and modern humans, as well as on their very survival. However, there is a relative scarcity of climatic terrestrial information on this period in Europe in general, and in both the Balkans and northern Iberia in particular. Dr MarínArroyo highlights the project’s work on a Serbian cave called Šalitrena Pecina, which will make an important contribution in these terms. “This is the first time that a View of the Laboratory of Bioarchaeology.

Bioarchaeology research This represents a relatively new area of investigation at the University of Cantabria, where Dr Marín-Arroyo is based, and where she is keen to lay the foundations for sustained research in the long term. With funding from a Marie Curie Career Integration Grant since 2012, Dr MarínArroyo has worked to both establish a new


EU Research

At a glance

Upper Image: Dr Marín-Arroyo studying animal bones left after being consumed by Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans. Lower Image: Dr Jones extracting animal bone collagen to analyse stable isotopes.

Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic site in the central Balkans is being studied in an interdisciplinary way. We obtained radiocarbon dates from this site, proving that the last Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans were in this region. We have also analysed thousands of animal bone remains directly coming from their diet, including some bone tools” she outlines. This information will help researchers to build a more complete picture of their culinary preferences. “It looks like both Neanderthals and modern humans were capable hunters. This is important, because Neanderthals have long been considered to be less sophisticated than modern humans, yet more and more empirical evidence has emerged to suggest otherwise,” says Dr Marín-Arroyo.

We’re reconstructing how late

Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans adapted their diet and subsistence strategies in the central Balkans and the north of the Iberian Peninsula to an unstable climatic environment Evidence suggests that Neanderthals and modern humans also made different transport decisions with respect to the hunted prey, another important aspect of the project’s work. Dr Marín-Arroyo says Neanderthals tended to move on from residential cave locations fairly quickly. “We have found that Neanderthals did not live for a long time in a single cave, but were in fact quite mobile, whereas modern humans were relatively more stable and settled, and had the ability to travel longer to procure food,” she outlines.

Palaeoclimatic records The wider goal in this research is to assess the hunting skills and subsistence strategies of both species and their ability to cope with a changing climate, which will inform the ongoing debate around why modern humans

replaced Neanderthals. While the sites in Serbia and northern Iberia are thought to have acted as refugia for Neanderthals, they aren’t the only areas of bioarchaeological interest in Europe, and Dr Marín-Arroyo is keen to further widen the scope of her research. “We need more funding to build more precise palaeoclimatic records,” she says. The next step will be to pursue further research in Italy and to complement the ongoing study in Iberia and the Balkans. The information gattered will be of great relevance for Palaeolithic studies worldwide and therefore, it will be shared with the scientific community. “We plan to disseminate our findings extensively, so that everybody who is interested in this area can use the chronological, climatic and subsistence data and make comparisons with findings from other regions of Europe.”

Full Project Title Human subsistence and climate change in European refugia: late Neanderthals and early modern humans (EUROREFUGIA) Project Objectives EUROREFUGIA is focused on the study of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition in Europe and aims to contribute to the ongoing debate about the causes of the rapid replacement of Neanderthals by modern human populations, and the survival of Neanderthals in certain refugia areas until their final extinction. To do so, the project is based, on the one hand, in an archaeozoological analysis of the final Mousterian and early Upper Palaeolithic levels from several key archaeological sites located on the Cantabrian Region such as La Viña and El Mirón Cave and Šalitrena Pećina, located in Central Serbia. On the other hand, the role of climate on the strategy of subsistence is being evaluated by analyzing the stable isotopes (C and N) on macromammals consumed by both human species and found in those Spanish and Serbian sites with Middle to Upper Paleolithic transitions levels. Therefore, the climatic variations will be correlated with subsistence strategies in each region. Project Funding Marie Curie Career Integration Grants (CIG) Ref.N 322112. 100,000 euros Project Partners • Michael Richards • Jennifer Jones • Jeanne Marie Geiling • Lucía Agudo • Bojana Mihailović • Manuel González Morales Contact Details Instituto Internacional de Investigaciones Prehistóricas de Cantabria (IIIPC), Universidad de Cantabria Edificio Interfacultativo Avda. de los Castros, s/n 39005 Santander – Cantabria – SPAIN T: +34 942 202 095 E: W: FB: uclaboratoriobioarqueologia/

Dr Ana B. Marín-Arroyo

Dr Ana B. Marin-Arroyo is a senior Research Fellow at the International Institute for Prehistoric Research at the University of Cantabria. Her research is focused on Bioarchaeology, with a particular interest in the the analysis of animal bones to reconstruct human-environment interactions in the past.


Getting all the value from waste water Removing pollutants is of course a priority at waste water treatment plants, yet there is a growing awareness that they could also act as production units, providing energy, nutrients and other valuable resources. Uwe Fortkamp and Klara Westling tell us about the R3 Water project’s work in developing innovative technologies to support the development of waste water treatment plants The core function

of a waste water treatment plant is to remove emissions and pollutants from waste water, yet they could potentially play a broader role, including in nutrient recovery, energy production and water re-use. Based at the Swedish Environmental Research Institute, Uwe Fortkamp is the Principal Investigator of the R3 Water project, an EC-backed initiative developing innovative solutions to support the development of waste water treatment plants. “We want to support the transition from being purely a treatment plant towards a production facility,” he explains. The aim is for plants not to focus solely on treating water and meeting quality thresholds, but also to develop usable products, covering three main areas. “One is re-using water. We are treating water, so why not re-use it?” points out Fortkamp. “The second is to recover valuables, we have looked at sludge treatment and phosphorous recovery. The third is resource efficiency – there is a strong focus on energy issues in the project, on using the incoming energy with the water in a positive way as well as being resource efficient and saving energy in each treatment step.” WWTP Antwerp-Zuid

Re-using water This research centres around modifying and upgrading existing waste water treatment plants with new solutions rather than creating an entirely new process. One aspect of this work is developing technologies to disinfect and monitor water for reclamation; while some treatment plants already do this, Klara Westling, project manager at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute says there is still scope for improvement. “With the technologies that we are

“This sludge is a cost factor for the plant. What we’re asking is – can we do something more with it? Can we produce value out of it?” continues Fortkamp. “Phosphorus is one target, and we are also looking at using a process called Hydrothermal Carbonization (HTC), which allows us to produce a biochar. This biochar could then be used for other purposes as well – for example, depending on how you operate the process and how the parameters are set, you might get a type of activated carbon.”

Increasing the ratio of water reuse is one of the key priorities for the EC in the upcoming years. In this context, the online monitoring of microorganisms can provide important benefits, including efficient production of

reclaimed water

developing, we aim to ensure that the water system is much safer than it is today. At the moment, the drinking water supply can still get contaminated,” she stresses. Researchers are developing several different technologies, including an advanced online monitor for levels of micro-biological infectious pollutants in water. “These technologies are designed to monitor water quality, which is particularly important if you want to re-use it – a typical way of re-using water is in agriculture, for irrigation,” continues Klara.

A number of countries prohibit the re-use of sludge in agriculture however, in which case it is often incinerated. Nutrients can again be recovered following this process. “When sludge is incinerated, ashes are produced, and it is possible to recover valuable nutrients from these ashes. The first target is to look for phosphorous, which would otherwise be lost if the ashes were put into landfill,” explains Fortkamp. Depuradora d’Empuriabrava.

Nutrient recovery A second major area of the project’s research relates to nutrient recovery. Sludge is a byproduct in the waste water treatment process, originating from both incoming particles as well as from microbiological sludge generated in the process; handling this sludge efficiently is an important issue for many waste water treatment plants.


EU Research

At a glance Full Project Title Reuse of water, Recovery of valuables and Resource efficiency in urban wastewater treatment (R3Water) Project Objectives The main objective of R3 Water is to support the transition from an urban wastewater treatment plant to a production unit of different valuables by demonstrating new solutions to address main challenges. Objectives are to: Demonstrate technologies and solutions for increased efficiency in Urban wastewater treatment. / Demonstration of innovative wastewater technologies that enable reuse of water and recovery of valuables such as nutrients Facilitate market uptake in the European Union and on a global market.

Location of R3water technologies at the WWTP.

Resource efficiency Researchers are also developing techniques for resource efficiency, one aspect of which is looking at the operation of a waste water treatment plant as a whole. “One of our project partners has set up a model of a treatment plant to see how it performs. From there they can make recommendations on improving the operation through changes in the control system,” says Klara. “Another part of the project is the development of a model predictive control technology. This model learns from results gathered from sensors, which can then influence the overall settings in the control system.” This means that the operation of the control system could potentially be modified and adapted in line with local circumstances. Data on key parameters like the flow-rate and quality of incoming water can be incorporated within the model, allowing staff to identify ways in which operational efficiency could be improved. “The model will help you to identify whether you need to increase pumping for instance, or the oxygen supply, or other variables,” explains Klara Westling, a scientist at the Swedish Environmental Research Institute who is coordinating the project alongside Fortkamp. One area in a treatment plant where efficiency could be improved is in the aeration step, in which air is circulated to allow aerobic bio-degradation of pollutants, another topic that the project is addressing. “Up to 50 percent of the total energy demand in a treatment plant comes from the aeration step,” says Fortkamp. “The project is developing a technology

which improves aeration efficiency by using fluidic oscillation to create microbubbles of air, to get a better transfer rate from the air into the water phase.” This means that less energy would be required to pump air into the water, leading to cost and energy savings, which is always an important issue for waste water treatment plants. The technologies developed within the project are demonstrated at sites in Spain, Belgium and Sweden, chosen specifically to assess their effectiveness in different climates and with different levels of water availability. “In Southern Europe the climate is quite warm and water scarcity is an increasingly prominent issue. In central Europe, the climate is quite temperate, then it’s colder in northern Europe,” says Fortkamp. The current focus is on demonstrating the technologies developed in the project, but if they prove effective then Fortkamp says there are wider commercial opportunities, beyond the existing sites. “We are starting with Europe, and at waste water treatment in a number of countries, but we have also looked into operational requirements in Asia, in particular China,” he outlines. While the project’s research is exploratory in nature, and not all of these technologies and solutions being developed will reach the market, Fortkamp is confident that their research will have a wider impact. “It varies really across the different technologies, but certainly the aim is to get some of them to the market. Hopefully several more will be commercially available at a later stage, after additional development work,” he says.

Project Funding This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement No 619093.

Contact Details IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute Vallhallavaegen 81 11427 Stockhom, Sweden M.Sc. Uwe Fortkamp, T: +46 (0) 8598 56304 E: M.Sc. Klara Westling T: +46 (0) 8598 56431 E: W:

M.Sc. Klara Westling

M.Sc. Uwe Fortkamp

M.Sc. Klara Westling, has a degree in Environmental and Aquatic Engineering and is project manager at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, has more than 10 years of experience of working with process operation, optimisation and evaluation of innovative wastewater treatment technologies for both municipal and industrial wastewaters. M.Sc. Uwe Fortkamp, has a degree in Process Engineering, and is assistant Unit director at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute. He has more than 20 years’ experience of innovations for resource efficient processes including recovery and valorisation of water and resources, and is project leader including EU projects.


Researchers get beneath the surface of the earth Analysis of rock microstructures can lead to important insights into key processes in the lithosphere, the outer part of the earth’s crust. The Made-In-Earth project aims to develop new quantification approaches, helping build a deeper understanding of phase transitions in the lithosphere, as Professor Lucie Tajčmanová explains The analysis of

rock samples and the chemical composition of microstructures found on the earth’s surface can help scientists build a deeper understanding of processes in the earth’s interior. By analysing rock samples, researchers can identify certain minerals and investigate the way they are arranged, from which new insights can be drawn. “These minerals, their composition and the way they are arranged can indicate the peak pressure and temperature conditions under which the rock microstructure developed,” explains Professor Lucie Tajcmanová, the Principal Investigator of the Made-In-Earth project, an ERC-backed initiative based at ETH in Zurich. Researchers in the project are developing new quantification approaches to quantitatively understand the data from metamorphic rocks. “We focus on so-called metamorphic rocks, rocks that have somehow metamorphosed, or otherwise been modified, from their original state,” explains Professor Tajcmanová.

Rock metamorphosis This process of rock metamorphosis has an enormous impact on the earth’s surface. It is known that mineral reactions and phase transformations in the lithosphere help form mountain ranges, lead to volcanic eruptions,


and trigger earthquakes, underlining the wider importance of improving our understanding of geodynamic processes. “We are collaborating with people who are developing a new generation of geodynamic models, while we also work with researchers in other areas,” outlines Professor Tajcmanová. However, while fully aware of the project’s wider implications, Professor Tajcmanová says their research is largely fundamental in nature. “We are currently focusing more on developing theoretical methods and we analyse rock samples from all over the world. We have some samples from the Bohemian massif in the Czech Republic, as well as from the Alps, the Himalayas, India, Norway, and other regions,” she continues. Kaoko Belt (NW Namibia)

The project is focussing in particular on rocks that belong to the lithosphere, the outer part of the earth’s crust. Previously researchers compared the pressures and temperatures under which a rock developed to localise the area in which it was formed, but Professor Tajcmanová and her colleagues question the effectiveness of this approach. “With this approach it is assumed that rocks are like fluids, which is not true, as in fact they behave like solid phases with different mechanical properties. We are trying to develop new quantification approaches, a new way of thinking about how to look at certain observations in rocks,” she says. Researchers are developing theoretical approaches, coupling chemical and mechanical processes; a key first step in this work is in building new thermodynamic formulations. “This work is partly theoretical. With this ERC funding, we can really get into the fundamental equations and question whether they are appropriate or not,” continues Professor Tajcmanová. Researchers are looking at chemical distribution processes in rock microstructures, together with the squeezing effects of deformation, to build a more detailed picture of processes in the lithosphere. The rocks that researchers are analysing are very small, ranging from

EU Research

At a glance Full Project Title Interplay between metamorphism and deformation in the Earth’s lithosphere“ (2013-2018) (MADE-IN-EARTH)

the millimetre down to the nanometre scale. “We mostly focus on the grain scale processes, because there we believe we can achieve a greater level of control over the key processes,” says Professor Tajcmanová. Even though these samples are very small, researchers are still able to identify mineral and pressure variations. “For instance, if we find even a tiny amount of a mineral inside a rock – which corresponds to high pressures – while the rest of the rock doesn’t look like that, then that raises interesting questions,” explains Professor Tajcmanová. “In these types of cases we should be careful – because the inclusion of high pressure regions might be a result of local stress perturbations and local pressure variations.”

A greater level of control over key processes and more detail about the variables which affect rock structures could have a significant impact in these terms. Alongside the project’s collaborations with researchers developing new geodynamic models, Professor Tajcmanová and her colleagues are also working with scientists looking at certain environmental problems. “These chemical and mechanical processes don’t occur only in the deep crust, they can also occur on the surface. We believe that our data can help to support CO2 sequestration, and also nuclear waste disposal problems. Our numerical models, with this coupling of the diffusion and deformation, can also help us to better understand the processes

Our data serves as the input data for geodynamic models, as we have direct observations of rock microstructures. If our input data is false, then it leads on to questions about the quality of the overall geodynamic models and

our understanding of the earth’s interior Pressure variations This introduces a different dimension in research. If it is assumed that the pressure throughout a rock is homogenous, then it’s relatively easy to correlate it to a specific depth and localise it, but if it is found that pressure varies throughout a rock, then that raises questions about the reliability of the conventional approach. The project aims to take account of pressure variations within quantified systems, which can then be validated by numerical models, informing the ongoing development of geodynamic models. “Our data serves as the input data for geodynamic models, as we have direct observations of rock microstructures,” outlines Professor Tajcmanová. “If our input data is false, then of course it leads on to questions also about the quality of the overall geodynamic models and our understanding of the earth’s interior or the processes in the lithosphere.”

in those applications,” she says. The project’s research could also hold implications for the oil industry, particularly in terms of two-phase (solidliquid) flow. “We could also initiate some collaboration in that direction,” says Professor Tajcmanová. There are plans to both pursue potential collaborations and continue fundamental research into the earth’s lithosphere over the remainder of the project’s funding term. This is a complex area of research, and Professor Tajcmanová says it’s important to be rigorous and thorough. “We are really going into the fundamental derivations, and we want to be sure that we have done everything carefully. So, we will continue improving these coupled derivations, coupled quantifications, and we will look towards collaboration with researchers doing more of these direct observations, so that we can apply the tools which we are developing,” she outlines.

Project Objectives The development of the new quantification approach opens new horizons in understanding the phase transformations in the Earth’s lithosphere. Furthermore, the new data generated serve as a food for the next generation of geodynamic models as well as for societal aspects. In fact, explicit formulation of mass transport for natural, complex chemical system on a small scale will provide insights relevant to problems in material science such as rechargeable batteries as well as to radioactive waste disposal and CO2 storage programs. Project Funding Funded by the European Research Council. Project Partners • Please see website for full partner information. Contact Details Professor Lucie Tajcmanová ETH Zürich Department of Earth Sciences Inst. für Geochemie und Petrologie Sonneggstrasse 5 8092 Zürich Switzerland T: +41 44 632 29 77 E: W:

Professor Lucie Tajčmanová

Professor Lucie Tajčmanová has been an Assistant Professor of Metamorphic Petrology since September 2013. She was born in the Czech Republic in 1978. She obtained a PhD at the Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic, in 2007. Afterwards she worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Padova, Italy, until 2009. Before joining ETH Zurich as a Marie Curie Research Associate in 2011, she spent two years as a Humboldt postdoctoral fellow at the Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany.


New course on climate change Donald Trump has made some major waves since entering the White House, promising to radically change the direction of both domestic and foreign policy. Climate change and environmental regulation is one area where he intends to chart a significantly different course to the previous administration...



he National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) in the US is world renowned for its space exploration programme, but alongside its work in aerospace research, it is also deeply involved in climate change research. Like much else, that’s all set to change with the incoming US Republican administration, which has signalled a significant change in Nasa’s core purpose. “We see Nasa in an exploration role, in deep space research,” Trump campaign adviser Bob Walker told the Guardian in November, during the transition period. “Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission. My guess is that it would be difficult to stop all ongoing Nasa programs, but future programs should definitely be placed with other agencies.” This would represent a significant shift from the Obama administration, which placed great emphasis on climate change, playing a major role on the international stage and providing support for research. The US signed the Paris Agreement on dealing with greenhouse gas emissions, mitigation, adaptation and finance, which entered into force on 4 November. The new President has taken a significantly more sceptical point of view on climate change however, and now that he’s taken office, he’s set to radically change the direction of US policy. The new President could potentially sack staff at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and limit funding, while there’s still a level of uncertainty over the future of several research programs.

that climate change was a ‘Chinese hoax’, he and his cabinet have still expressed doubt about the extent of human influence over climate change. This extends to advocating major reforms at the EPA, which was established in 1970 under President Nixon in response to growing concern about the impact of human activity on the environment. Its website states its purpose as being to ensure that; ‘all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work.’ The EPA enforces environmental regulations, based on the available scientific information, with the agency itself deeply engaged in research and development. Existing regulations are informed by continued research into the environment, with EPA offices, laboratories and research centres located across the country. The agency has since come under attack however, with Myron Ebell, a former adviser to President Trump’s EPA transition team, calling for the regulator to be significantly overhauled. “They’ve really gotten away with murder in misusing science and justifying regulations on the basis of junk science,” he argued. Currently working as director of Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Ebell believes the original goals of the EPA have been achieved, and that the workforce should be reduced, from the current 15,000 down to around 5,000. “If the Trump administration is serious about keeping Trump’s promises, they will have to reform the use of science,” he said.

Climate change

EPA research

A great deal of research attention has centred on climate change over the last three decades, since Nasa scientist James Hansen’s dramatic evidence to a congressional committee in 1988. “The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now,” he told the committee at the time, evidence which greatly heightened public awareness of climate change. The man himself has published further research over the intervening years, and his 2016 paper in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics made more precise predictions about the evolution of the global climate. The paper warned that without a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, sea levels were likely to rise significantly over the next 50-150 years. This forecast is the result of detailed study, combining numerical simulations, paleoclimate data and modern observations to build a more detailed picture of the effects of ice melt from Antarctica and Greenland. Continued high emissions are predicted to have dramatic consequences, including warming of the ice shelves and increasingly powerful storms. The current incumbent in the White House seems likely to prioritise the domestic economy over taking long-term action on climate change however. While he’s softened his tone somewhat over the last few years, rowing back from his earlier assertion

The EPA is involved in research across a range of topics, including bed bugs, the regulation of chemicals and toxins, and the use of landfill sites, yet it is its role with respect to climate change that has attracted particular attention. Researchers collect data and aim to promote a clean energy economy, in line with wider goals around mitigating the impact of climate change. The site currently states that climate change is happening and the earth is warming. It states that the average global temperature rose by 1.5º F over the past century, and is projected to rise by between another 0.5º F-8.6º F over the next hundred years, with potentially serious consequences for human health and natural ecosystems. This is not believed to be purely a function of natural historical fluctuations in the earth’s climate either, with researchers attributing a large degree of the responsibility for climate change to human activity. According to the EPA website, human activities have released large amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing it to warm up. This process may have pre-dated even the industrial revolution, with agricultural activities contributing to increased levels of methane in the atmosphere, although it is thought to have accelerated significantly since the latter part of the eighteenth

EU Research

Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission. My guess is that it would be difficult to stop all ongoing Nasa programs, but future programs should definitely be placed with other agencies


A new iceberg poised to break away soon from Antarctica’s Changing Larsen Ice Shelf. © NASA

West Antarctica, over the Getz Ice Shelf. © NASA/Jeremy Harbeck

century. Industrial activities are thought to have increased the greenhouse effect and caused the earth’s surface to warm. The major economies around the world still emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases, despite efforts to reduce emissions. The US as a whole released 6,870 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalents in 2014, with over half of emissions from electricity and transportation, representing a 7 percent increase over the 1990 figure. This doesn’t give the whole picture however, as emissions have actually decreased by 7 percent since 2005. There are a number of factors to consider here, not least the financial crash of 2008 which led to a marked economic slow-down, yet the national economy has since recovered, and the US remains a major emitter of greenhouse gases. The effects of these wider trends are already being felt in the US, according to the EPA website, which includes detailed breakdowns of the impact of climate change on specific regions. It states that temperatures have increased by 2º F over the last century, while also pointing to the increased strain on water resources as a result of climate change. These viewpoints are widely accepted among the scientific research community, yet many key members of the Trump administration have expressed scepticism about the prevailing views on climate change, and question the basis on which the EPA enforces environmental regulation. Ebell suggested that the science behind many environmental regulations needs to be looked at again. “The way to clear the air about what the EPA is doing – and what the state of our environment is – is to reform the use of science so they have to use publicly available studies that can be replicated, that can be criticised,” said Ebell. “Then we’ll find out if the condition of the environment is a whole lot better than we’ve been told.” The EPAs regulations have been blamed in some quarters for a decline in American manufacturing and the loss of jobs overseas. The wider picture in this is Trump’s oft-repeated promise to revitalise American industry and manufacturing, bringing jobs back to the ‘rust belt’ states in particular, which backed him in November’s General election.


Glacial ‘Aftershock’ Spawns Antarctic Iceberg, illustrating the ice shelf’s fragility. © NASA

The ‘rust belt’ states, including Pennsylvannia, Ohio and Indiana, were once the industrial heartland of America, yet they have experienced a marked economic decline over the last half century or so, due to a variety of factors. Trump’s electoral success in the region was attributed in large part to his support among blue-collar workers, attracted by his goal of reinvigorating the US economy.

Can Trump dig coal? This includes stimulating traditional industries in areas that had long felt neglected by government. “I’m thinking about the miners all over this country,” he said during a campaign stop in West Virginia. “We’re gonna put the miners back to work. We’re gonna put the miners back to work. We’re gonna get those mines open.” Is this possible? While ‘Trump digs coal’ may have been a popular refrain on the campaign trail, others have their doubts; “It’s very, very, very unlikely that he could do something to get coal back to where it was seven years ago,” said John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research. A large part of the reason behind this is economic - coal production in West Virginia peaked in 2008 at 158 million short tonnes, yet it’s been declining since, to a point where production in 2016 was expected to be as low as between 80-90 million tonnes. Alternative sources of energy have emerged, in particular hydraulic fracturing, which has helped bring down the overall cost of energy. The difficulty of extracting coal in West Virginia is another major consideration, along with the impact of foreign competition. The cost of extracting coal in the Eastern part of the US is rising, as its veins are thinner than those in Western states like Wyoming, where the coal is closer to the surface and hence easier to extract. The combined impact of these trends has had a detrimental impact on the traditional coal mining industry in the rust belt states, a decline which President Trump now aims to reverse. The new President plans to rearrange domestic energy and power priorities, opening up federal land to coal mining and eliminating what he views as unnecessary regulations.

EU Research

Operation IceBridge (Nasa’s airborne study of changes in polar ice) Northernmost Antarctic Peninsula 2016. © NASA

This might include scrapping proposed regulations for tighter methane controls on domestic drillers for example, while also reining in President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a policy aimed at combatting global warming. “The Clean Power Plan will die a slow death,” predicted Stephen Brown, vie-president of Government Relations for the oil refiner Tesnoro. The prospect has been enthusiastically welcomed by oil industry executives, who are expected to form a significant part of the Trump administration, and are likely to exert a major influence on policy. New Secretary of State Rex Tillerson worked at ExxonMobil for over 40 years, while other cabinet picks also have close ties to the oil industry. The reaction among the environmental community to the plans of the incoming administration are rather less positive. “We’re feeling angry and sad and contemplative,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, a major US grassroots environmental organisation with more than two million members and supporters. This could quickly be translated into action however, building on previous experience of scrutinising the actions of a President perceived to be prioritising economic considerations over longterm action on the climate. In 2000 George Bush was elected as President, and the environmental community swung into action. “Sixteen years ago when faced with the election of President Bush, the environmental community utilized the courts, the Senate filibuster, watch-dogged political appointees and galvanized the public to take action,” wrote Erich Pica, President of Friends of the Earth, in an e-mail. He went on to advocate similar action today. “We will have to take these same actions against a President Trump to protect the gains that the American people want for clean air and clean water. After the fights to kill the Keystone XL pipeline, the fights to ban fracking and the successful efforts to shut down power plants, the environmental movement is stronger than we have ever been,” he wrote.


A new platform to uncover fundamental physics Ultracold gases provide an effective framework for investigating a number of physical phenomena, including superfluidity and ferro-magnetism. The PoLiChroM project aims to create a new ultra-cold mixture of two fermionic species of different atoms, enabling researchers to investigate many-body physics and elusive quantum phases, as Dr Matteo Zaccanti explains A great deal of research in contemporary physics has focused on the phenomena of superfluidity and magnetism. These are ubiquitous in Nature, and they show up in a wealth of fermionic environments, including quark and nuclear matter and solid state materials. Ultracold Fermi gases represent a unique platform to experimentally tackle these phenomena, as they allow researchers to probe the validity of theoretical predictions and investigate elusive many-body regimes in a clean and controlled environment. Experimentalists have been able to make degenerate quantum gases of fermionic atoms: firstly lithium 6 (6Li) and potassium 40 (40K), more recently also other fermionic species such as Ytterbium, Dysprosium, Erbium and Chromium. In some cases, researchers have even been able to combine two different species, realizing Fermi-Fermi mixtures. Now Dr. M. Zaccanti aims to take a step further by developing a new model system in the PoLiChroM project: “I want to combine lithium (6Li) and chromium (53Cr) fermionic atoms together in a new Fermi mixture, with which we can look at many-body physics. By investigating such a system, we hope to uncover elusive superfluid and magnetic phases, whose existence has been debated for decades, but which have not yet been observed in physical systems.”

New model system These phenomena have so far been investigated mainly in homonuclear mixtures, mixtures of the same atomic species. Developing a new model system combining ultracold 6Li and 53Cr atoms is a technically challenging task. “While 6Li atoms have been produced and explored in many labs, 53Cr is a little known species, and almost nothing is known about the collisional properties between chromium


and lithium atoms,” says Dr Zaccanti. Researchers will use sophisticated techniques to cool the mixture and bring it to quantum degeneracy; Dr Zaccanti plans to investigate three main topics. “The first step would be to investigate the few-body properties of this mixture,” he explains. “I would like to investigate the physics and collisional properties of a three-body system realised by two identical chromium atoms, each of which interacts via a shortrange interaction with a third 6Li atom.” The goal of this few-body physics study is to uncover for the first time the existence of a weakly-bound, three-body bound state, the existence of which was theoretically predicted by the Russian physicists Kartavstev and Malykh, but which has not yet been observed experimentally. This is an unusual, universal bound state in three-body physics, which Dr Zaccanti says holds

details of the specific system would be inessential for describing the properties of such a bound state.” In particular, realising these objects would open up the possibility to tune the three-body interaction, a potentially revolutionary tool for ultracold atoms. “With ultra-cold gases, the fact that the system is very dilute makes three-body collisions rare, and the system is usually dominated by two-body collisions,” explains Dr Zaccanti. Researchers have long been able to tune two-body collisions, the strength of interaction between two atoms, building on a feature called a Feshbach resonance. “A Feshbach resonance is realised in experiments by changing – via an external magnetic field – the energy detuning between two colliding atoms (the scattering threshold) and the binding energy of a molecular state, thanks to the Zeeman effect,” continues Dr Zaccanti.

What I want to do is to combine lithium 6 and chromium 53 together, from which we can then look at many-body physics, and the elusive quantum phases arising in Fermi-Fermi mixtures, with a certain

mass and population imbalance several points of interest. “We want to investigate whether this new trimer state features universal properties – in the sense that no matter what fermionic particles you choose to bind together, the binding energy and the shape of the trimer wave-function will be determined solely by the mass ratio between the two species and by the strength of the two-body interaction, encoded into the value of the scattering length,” he outlines. “This would be universal behaviour in the sense that the features of this three-body state would be characterised by only a few parameters, and microscopic

The scattering length associated with an ultracold collision between two atoms is resonantly enhanced as the energy of the two-body bound state approaches the scattering threshold, and it eventually diverges once the molecular and scattering states become degenerate. In this way, experimentalists have been able to control the strength of the interaction between two atoms, now Dr Zaccanti aims to achieve something similar with three-body interactions. “Similarly to what is done for two-body collisions, we will use an external magnetic field to tune the energy

EU Research

3D render of the completed design of the dual-species vacuum setup of the experiment and its construction will begin very soon.

Investigating the ferromagnetic instability of a repulsive Fermi Gas with an artificially created ferromagnet of ultracold 6LI atoms. In arXiv:1605.07850 Valtolina et al expored the ferromagnetic properties of a repulsive Fermi mixture of ultracold 6Li atoms initialized in a fully ferromagnetic configuration (panel a) by investigating collective spin dynamics and spin diffusion as a function of temperature and interaction strength. The softening of the spin dipole collective mode followed by a sudden jump of the spin dipole mode frequency for critical values of repulsion (panel b) points to the occurrence of the ferromagnetic instability of the Fermi liquid towards a ferromagnetic state. detuning between the energy of three colliding atoms and that of the trimer bound state,” he explains. It will therefore be possible to not only tune the scattering length between lithium and chromium atoms, but also to tune the effective interaction between two chromium atoms and one lithium atom, which represents a qualitatively new knob in ultra-cold gas experiments. “The novelty of this new chromium-chromium-lithium trimer is that the presence of such a state close to the free atom scattering threshold will not dramatically enhance inelastic losses of atoms from the trap,” says Dr Zaccanti.

Trimer state This chromium-chromium-lithium trimer state predicted by Kartavstev and Malykh has the potential to allow resonant tuning of three-body interactions, but only in elastic channels. This could open up new perspectives in ultracold gas research, believes Dr Zaccanti. “I think this really has the potential to lead to an evolutionary step forward in the few-body physics that

one can explore with ultra-cold gases,” he says. Certain conditions have to be met however; this trimer state requires a specific mass ratio between the heavy and light components. “Below 8.2, there are no trimer states present. Above 13.6, there will be an infinite number of trimer states, but these will be Efimov states, which are completely different trimers,” explains Dr Zaccanti. “They will cause completely different behaviour in the system. You will eventually be able to observe threebody resonances, but they will be characterised by strong inelastic decay.” The trimer state that Dr Zaccanti is looking for is a very weakly bound trimer state, which occurs only in fermionic gases with a mass ratio in the required range. This state has a completely different three-body wave function which will not cause any loss of atoms, while still allowing the resonant tuning of threebody interactions. “The really interesting thing with such trimer states, and this three-body resonance, is that it’s mainly an elastic process. So the lifetime of the

ultra-cold mixture isn’t limited – this allows us to think that this phenomenon could be extended to a many-body environment,” says Dr Zaccanti. This could allow researchers to explore new many-body systems, in the presence of resonant three-body interactions, another area that the project is investigating. “We plan to investigate how the presence of such an additional few-body property will affect the many-body ground state of a 6Li-53Cr mixture,” continues Dr Zaccanti.

Exotic superfluidity and normal many-body quantum phases Researchers are pursuing theoretical research into how the situation will change when moving from homonuclear mixtures to a heteronuclear one, such as a 6Li-53Cr mixture. The mass asymmetry between two atomic species in this type of system, on top of a population imbalance, can encourage the emergence and enhance the observability of exotic superfluid phases; Dr Zaccanti says the existence of certain superfluid regimes in imbalanced


At a glance Full Project Title Superfluidity and ferromagnetism of unequal mass fermions with 2- and 3-body resonant interactions (PoLiChroM) Project Objectives • Produce the first mixture of ultracold fermionic Chromium and Lithium atoms worldwide • Unveil yet unexplored or not yet observed few-body phenomena in such systems • Explore the superfluid and normal phases of mass-imbalanced Fermi mixtures • Study ferromagnetic behavior of itinerant fermion systems • Quantum simulation of strongly correlated fermions • Benchmark theoretical models Project Funding Project budget 1.495.000 euros ERC Starting Grant. Project Partners Giacomo Roati, INO-CNR at LENS, University of Florence (experimentalist) • Dmitry Petrov, CNRS, Laboratoire de Physique Théorique et Modèles Statistiques, Orsay (theorist) Contact Details Project Coordinator, Doctor Matteo Zaccanti INO-CNR, LENS and University of Florence, Via Nello Carrara 1, 50019 Sesto Fiorentino (Florence), Italy T: +39 055 457 2474 E: W: arXiv:1605.07850 - Evidence for ferromagnetic instability in a repulsive Fermi gas of ultracold atoms - G. Valtolina, F. Scazza, A. Amico, A. Burchianti, A. Recati, T. Enss, M. Inguscio, M. Zaccanti, G. Roati

Dr Matteo Zaccanti

Matteo Zaccanti obtained his PhD in 2008 at LENS, University of Florence (Italy). After about three years as a senior post-doc and Lise-Meitner fellow in the group of Prof. R. Grimm at IQOQI, Innsbruck (Austria), in 2012 he became an INO-CNR researcher in Florence. He currently works on ultracold Fermi gases in the INO-CNR labs in LENS and University of Florence, within the group of Prof. M. Inguscio. Dr Zaccanti is the Principal Investigator of the PoLiChroM project and the co-PI of the Lithium team, led by Dr. G. Roati. His research interests range from few-body systems, atom interferometry and disordered Bose gases, to strongly interacting Fermi gases.


systems was theoretically predicted in the ‘60s. “One is the Fulde-Ferrell-LarkinOvchinnikov (FFLO) phase, where a superfluid, or a superconductor in some sense, can still exist in populationimbalanced systems if the order parameter characterising the superfluid phase is no longer homogenous over the entire system, but presents oscillations in density,” he says. Experimental observations of this FFLO phase have proved elusive however, an area of great interest to Dr Zaccanti. “The large mass-ratio of a lithiumchromium mixture, together with the unique control of three-body interactions, could be very favourable for the investigation of this elusive superfluid phase,” he says. This would represent an important breakthrough in superfluid research. Dr Zaccanti aims to investigate the low temperature properties of the phase diagram of such a lithium-chromium Fermi mixture by scanning both the interaction strength and the relative population of 6Li-53Cr atoms. “With the beneficial effects of an increased mass ratio, plus the resonant tuning of threebody interactions, we hope to enhance the probability of getting this superfluid phase in experiments,” he outlines. Exploring the phase diagram of such a mixture could reveal other novel phases. “For instance, if a three-body bound state is the ground state of the threebody system, for some magnetic field values, then one could expect that at the many-body level a populationimbalanced lithium-chromium mixture could prefer – even at extremely low temperatures – to form a very exotic phase, comprised of a Fermi gas of CrCrLi trimers, instead of forming a superfluid phase,” says Dr Zaccanti.

Ferro-magnetism Another key feature of lithium-chromium mixtures is the extraordinary suppression of three-body inelastic collisions that currently limit the lifetime of homonuclear systems in the regime of strong atom-atom repulsive interaction. This few-body property can allow for other kinds of investigation. “It will allow us to study the many-body physics of a repulsive Fermi gas, free from inelastic decay and undesired spurious effects. This is very much related to the phenomenon of ferromagnetism,” outlines Dr Zaccanti. There has been growing interest in the search for ferromagnetic behaviour in Fermi gases over recent years, building on the Stoner model of ferromagnetism. “The Stoner model was developed in 1938 by Edmund Stoner, it tried to provide a description of the ferromagnetic behaviour of transition metals in the simplest possible terms. Namely, you take the metal as being a free electron gas, a free Fermi gas with particles that interact via a short range repulsive interaction. This models a screening of Coulomb interactions between electrons in the metal,” continues Dr Zaccanti. “Ultracold Fermi gases, on the repulsive side of a Feshbach resonance, allow you in principle to have the cleanest possible environment to test the validity of the predictions of the Stoner model. However, in homonuclear systems the dynamics of the gas are complicated by the instability of the repulsive gas against three-body decay, which renders the observation of the magnetic properties of the mixture extremely challenging. We have recently made some important steps forward in the investigation of the Stoner model with an ultracold Fermi gas of 6Li atoms. Our ultimate goal is to perform a thorough investigation of the ferromagnetic phases of a repulsive lithium-chromium mixture.” Image of a recently developed home-made and inexpensive high power laser source @425nm: up to 800mW of blue light for laser cooling of Chromium.

EU Research

Laying the foundations to model physical problems The rapid development of numerical methods over the last ten years holds important implications for modelling systems in engineering and applied sciences. Professor Gianluigi Rozza tells us about the AROMA-CFD project’s work in developing reduced order modelling techniques, which could help overcome current limitations The idea of using reduced order modelling techniques in numerical simulations to reduce complexity and computational times is not entirely new, dating back around thirty years, but they are still not widely applied in engineering and applied sciences problems. Part of the reason in the past was a lack of devices with sufficient computational resources, and more difficult problems had not been addressed yet by numerical analysts and computational scientists, while Professor Gianluigi Rozza of the AROMA-CFD project says the application of model order reduction techniques to practical industrial problems is also still relatively limited. “The research community has historically been more devoted to numerical analysis research than to exporting the methodology and exploiting it in computational science and engineering,” he explains.

Reynolds number This is an issue the AROMA-CFD project aims to address by further developing reduced order modelling techniques, with a particular focus on computational fluid dynamics. A large part of this work relates to the application of model order reduction to a specific class of physical problems involving fluids, such as gases, liquids, as well as cardiovascular flows. “There is a strong limitation in this related to the fact that we are not able to simulate what we call a high Reynolds number, which is a non-dimensional quantity in fluid dynamics. It relates to the ratio between inertial forces and viscous forces,” continues Professor Rozza. “A high Reynolds number roughly means that there is a higher velocity, whereas a low

Reynolds number means that more of a viscous effect is involved.” A high Reynolds number would be used to simulate the fluid dynamics around an aircraft in flight for example, while a lower Reynolds number would be used for a problem like modelling blood flow in the human body. These are very different problems, with very different shapes and dimensions, but Professor Rozza says they can be unified within a single paradigm, improving efficiency. “At the moment, when someone

and the same kind of parameterisation,” stresses Professor Rozza. This approach could potentially be applied in other contexts as well, with researchers testing its potential in automotive design and construction. In future, researchers plan to move towards a proof-of-concept and to demonstrate the versatility of this methodology. “We would like to develop a more unified framework,” says Professor Rozza. The next step will be to further develop a multi-physics approach,

We are integrating computer-aided design with research and development, optimization and control, and exporting supercomputing to industry and to hospitals does a numerical simulation, they don’t have a parametric design. So every time that you change the shape or the configuration of your problem or your system, you have to re-do almost everything,” he explains. “We are now preparing a reference configuration, a reference shape that is properly parametrized.” This configuration can be changed for specific industrial problems, providing the foundation for model development. The same paradigm can be used for medical problems, including modelling blood flow in certain parts of the cardiovascular system. “We know about specific shapes in the cardiovascular system, like the aortic arch and the carotid bifurcation,” says Professor Rozza. Everybody’s cardiovascular system is different, yet with good parameterisation a reference configuration can be developed, again providing the basis for accurate models. “We can build all possible configurations, using the same paradigm

which Professor Rozza says will be central to applying this research more widely. “This research could be an integral part of the new industrial design paradigm. We are integrating computer-aided design with research and development, optimization and control, and exporting supercomputing to industry and to hospitals thanks to reduced order methods and modern devices, like smartphones and tablets.” he says. Advanced Reduced Order Methods with Applications in Computational Fluid Dynamics (AROMA-CFD) Professor Gianluigi Rozza SISSA, Mathematics Area, mathLab International School for Advanced Studies Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati Office A-435, Via Bonomea 265, 34136 Trieste, Italy T: + 39 040 3787 451 E: W: W: Professor Gianluigi Rozza is a Tenured Associate Professor in Numerical Analysis and Scientific Computing at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy. He is SISSA Director’s delegate for technology transfer and industrial cooperation, and is the author of 100 scientific publications.


Flexible batteries for tomorrow’s applications The growth of wearable technology and the increased use of medical electronics devices is intensifying demand for ever smaller and thinner batteries and energy harvesting devices. We spoke to Dr Robert Hahn about the Matflexend project’s work in investigating new materials and developing flexible, rechargeable batteries well suited to emerging applications The

development of wearable electronic devices has generated a great deal of interest, with companies and research institutions exploring potential applications in navigation, healthcare monitoring, communication and many other areas. A reliable supply of energy is of course essential to the effective operation of these devices, an area that forms the primary research focus for the Matflexend project, an EC-backed initiative developing thin, flexible and rechargeable batteries. “We’re developing low-cost production technologies, to make relatively small batteries and energy harvesters,” says Dr Robert Hahn, the project’s Principal Investigator. These batteries are designed to be applied in wearable technology. “We have developed a concept of very small, segmented batteries, as we now have the technology to make a lot of small batteries in parallel,” explains Dr Hahn. “We have made them to be relatively stiff, but in several segments interconnected on a flexible substrate, and then there is a degree of flexibility between the segments of the battery.” Project consortium The project overall combined both fundamental and applied research, from material development to the eventual fabrication of prototype batteries and energy converters. Czech company Pardam nanotechnology, one of the ten partners in the project, used forcespinning to fabricate nano fibers for both batteries and capacitive harvesters; besides being a very innovative and low-cost method, Dr Hahn says this approach also leads to several other benefits. “With fibres, you get better interconnectivity of the material and mechanical flexibility. Another important point is that this can also be used to produce fibres for the separator,” he explains. While polymer foils can be used as separators in


larger batteries, a new approach is required for small batteries. “You cannot put a small foil inside each battery when making very small batteries, so you have to apply printing processes. It’s also important that the material can be fabricated and printed. The silicon oxide fibres from Pardam are well-suited to this,” continues Dr Hahn. As a team leader at the Fraunhofer Institute in Berlin, Dr Hahn is involved

applications do not typically need large amounts of energy, so efficiency is less important than in larger applications, yet Dr Hahn says it remains a consideration. “For small applications, the most important point is that you have this certain amount of energy that is required for the application, regardless of the efficiency. On the other hand, the higher the efficiency the better, as you can make the device smaller and

We have developed a concept of very small, segmented batteries. We have made them to be relatively stiff, but in several segments interconnected on a flexible substrate, and then there is a degree of flexibility between the segments of the battery more in the applied side of the project’s work, and developing functional prototypes of micro-batteries and energy harvesters. The aim in terms of the latter is to utilise energy harvested from the environment to charge small electrical devices. “We’re looking at energy harvesting and storage on a very small scale, for applications like micro systems, sensors and portable devices,” outlines Dr Hahn. These

increase the power density,” he points out. “The efficiency can be increased if the mechanical deformation energy of the harvester electrodes and package is as small as possible.” This needs to be balanced with the need to maintain a high level of flexibility in the batteries, in line with the demands likely to be placed upon them when used in applications like wearable technology and

Argon box prototyping line for substrate integrated lithium micro batteries.

EU Research

At a glance Full Project Title MATerials for FLEXible ENergy harvesting Devices (MATFLEXEND)

Dispense-print of battery electrodes.

Apparatus for simulataneus electrolyte filling in segmented batteries.

medical devices. Another important consideration is the need to package these batteries very tightly to prevent the leakage of electrolytes. “It’s not easy to make flexible batteries, because they need to be packaged very tightly. Otherwise there’s a risk of what can be extremely harmful effects, even fire,” warns Dr Hahn. The batteries are packed inside an argon container, preventing oxygen and water permeation; this helps ensure the batteries’ suitability for use in medical electronics, where safety is paramount. Fraunhofer IZM invested more than 1 Million Euro in 2016 for a battery prototyping line dedicated to the electrolyte filling and hermetic sealing of the micro batteries. This is a field in which Dr Hahn says there is a high level of demand for micro batteries. “Today, very small medical sensors are being used in medicine, and they need ever smaller and thinner batteries,” he outlines. “If the battery has to be very thin, then it may be necessary to use printing technology or other means like electrophoretic deposition that was also developed in the project,. In addition a microfluidic device was developed that allows simultaneous electrolyte filling into hundreds of micro batteries which are fabricated in parallel on the same substrate.”

Medical electronics There are a wide range of potential applications for these batteries, particularly in the medical electronics field, which researchers intend to explore in future. With the Matflexend project having officially concluded in September, Dr Hahn plans to pursue further, more application-oriented research in future; one major area of interest is miniaturized hearing aids. “We have another German-funded project, for a very small hearing aid called EarLens, which is directly mounted on the eardrum inside the ear. The device has a diameter of only 6 mms and a height of only 2 mms,” he outlines. Researchers aim to develop a 700 μAh battery, giving 12 hours of autonomous operation, providing the kind of longterm stability that is highly important in terms of the eventual use of the EarLens. “Our very small, rechargeable battery will be used in the EarLens, and it can be recharged using a photo-diode and an infrared LED,” says Dr Hahn. We are also working in a new project with a major mobile phone producer; here segmented rechargeable batteries are integrated into the wristband for smart watches and sensor bracelets.

Below: Micro batteries with interdigitated electrodes.

Above: PolyHipe porous polymer for battery separator and harester electrodes.

Project Objectives MATFLEXEND investigates new materials for energy harvesting that are flexible, durable as well as solution-processable into printable inks, and which therefore enable massproducible energy harvesters which integrate mechanical-to-electrical energy conversion and storage in a single device. Basic research in developing new materials and formulations will thus be complemented by testing them for printability, so as to enable mass fabrication of such harvesters in a printing process. Applications include smart textiles such as garments or insoles, as well as other essentially planar devices, such as e.g. a smart card, or an autonomous electrochemical sensor applied to a surface. Project Funding MATFLEXEND is co-funded by the European Commission. Project Partners Fraunhofer IZM • Imperial College • Univ. Vienna • eurecat • SMARTEX • LAAS – CNRS • VARTA • Anitra UG • Pardam • Comcard Contact Details Dr Robert Hahn Fraunhofer IZM Gustav-Meyer-Allee 25 D-13355 Berlin T: +4930 314 72833 E: W: W: http://www.euronews. com/2017/01/23/energy-generatingjackets-could-be-ready-to-wearbefore-2023

Dr Robert Hahn

Dr Robert Hahn received his Ph.D degree in electrical engineering in 1990. Since 1995 he has been with the Fraunhofer-Institute for Reliability and Microintegration (Fraunhofer-IZM) where he is head of the portable power supply group. He has taken over the coordination of several national and European research projects for the development of new micro-batteries, micro-fuel cells and integrated power supplies for micro systems and portable electronics. Dr Hahn has authored and co-authored numerous papers in the fields of microelectronics packaging and micro energy systems as well as 30 patents in the area of micro energy systems. He received the f-cell award for the Fraunhofer micro fuel cell development in 2005.


New possibilities with new surfactants Surfactants are not only widely used in everyday life, they’re also an important part of nanoscience research. Most existing surfactants are pure organic compounds, now researchers in the I-SURF project aim to develop a new class of surfactants containing inorganic constituents, which could pave the way towards new technological applications, as Professor Sebastian Polarz explains A type of

compound widely used in detergents and emulsifiers, surfactants are also an important tool in nanoscience research, allowing researchers to prepare and develop new nanoparticles. A surfactant molecule is made of two contrasting parts, as Professor Sebastian Polarz explains. “One part is the oilloving, or hydrophobic part – and this is typically an alkyl chain. The second part, which is called the head group of the surfactant, is the group which is compatible with water, it’s hydrophilic, and it gives you water solubility,” he says. Based at the University of Konstantz in Germany, Professor Polarz is the Principal Investigator of the I-Surf project, an ECbacked initiative which aims to synthesise a new class of inorganic surfactants. “Our idea was to ask; can we produce an entirely new class of surfactants?” he outlines. The vast majority of the surfactants are pure organic compounds, with an alkyl chain and a head group which are both purely organic. These surfactants are very interesting from a research point of view, because they show some fascinating self-organisation behaviour, now Professor Polarz and his colleagues aim to add additional functionality. “These surfactants should still have the interesting self-organisation properties we see in organic surfactants, but at the same time we want to add some additional functionality, which will be due to the inorganic constituents,” he explains. This research centres around modifying the head group of the surfactant, while leaving the alkyl chain unchanged. There are several different strategies for changing the head group. “One strategy is to have a head group


ISURF Project Team (from left to right): Professor Sebastian Polarz, Alexander Klaiber, Dr James A. Odendal, Sebastian Sutter, Adrian Donner, Marius Kunkel, Stefanie Hermann.

which is purely inorganic. We do this with metal oxide entities,” outlines Professor Polarz. Another approach is to have a head-group which is able to bind metals, a so-called ligand. “This ligand coordinates to a metal, but then typically the head group will only contain one metal centre, rather than many,” continues Professor Polarz. “In our research we are investigating molecules with many metal centres and purely inorganic head-groups. But also, we are looking at surfactants where we have a ligand at the head group, which then coordinates the metal.”

you will eventually have a surfactant with a catalytically active head group,” he explains. These compounds would not normally show any self-organisation behaviour, but circumstances change when they are part of a surfactant. “We now see some self-organisation,” says Professor Polarz. “For example, one structure that is well-known from studies of surfactants are micelles, spherical objects which form in solution.”

Surfactant functionalities A core aim of the project is to develop molecules with specific redox, catalytic or magnetic functionalities. Professor Polarz and his colleagues have a wide variety of inorganic compounds which can be used as head groups in this research. “If you have an inorganic compound which is known for its catalytic properties, then

EU Research

These micelles are formed by several surfactant molecules coalescing, now researchers are looking to modify the properties of the surfactants. The head group of the surfactant can be precisely positioned on the surface of the micellar aggregates, which could hold important implications in terms of catalysis. “For catalysis, it’s very important that you have a high surface area of the catalytically active species,” explains Professor Polarz. Researchers aim to precisely position the catalytically active centre of these micellar aggregates, which are just a few nanometres in length; Professor Polarz says this will increase the surface area of these catalytically active species. “This is one of the ideas that we are working on, and we have already published some interesting results,” he outlines. The project is also investigating redox and magnetic functionalities. A major challenge in terms of the latter area is developing surfactant systems that can be controlled by an external stimulus, namely a magnetic field. “We have created a molecule which can form self-organised structures, like micelles and liquid crystals, but these structures need to

have different self-organisation properties, and then you can change the state as often as you like,” explains Professor Polarz. Research in this area is largely fundamental in nature, but Professor Polarz and his colleagues are looking towards the potential applications of the surfactants with magnetic functionalities. “After we have studied the fundamental properties of these systems, our goal is to use them for certain applications,” he outlines.

Applications A number of potential applications have been identified, including optics and drug delivery. Surfactants with magnetic functionalities could be used to deliver drugs to the precise location in the body affected by disease, helping improve treatment effectiveness. “There could be some active compounds inside the emulsion droplets for example. Then when you apply a magnetic field, the emulsion droplet will change and it will release the substance,” says Professor Polarz. With respect to catalytic surfactants, the goal is to develop what Professor Polarz calls catalytic relay systems.

These surfactants should still have the interesting selforganisation properties we see in organic surfactants, but at the same time we want to add some additional functionality, which will be due to the inorganic constituents sense the magnetic field. We have developed surfactants with magnetic head-groups, which can be manipulated and controlled by an external magnetic field. Unlike when an electrical field is used as a trigger, the advantage is that this works in water,” says Professor Polarz. Hybrid surfactants may also have a much higher charge than ordinary surfactants and so will behave very differently, which is an important issue with respect to their redox functions.“We know that metalcontaining compounds can change their redox state,” outlines Professor Polarz. This means that electrons can be transferred into the compound, increasing or reducing the charge. This holds clear potential in terms of the development of smart materials, which are capable of adapting to the specific circumstances in which they are being used. “A smart material has different properties if you change its state. In this case, you change a charge and

“You have not one catalytic step but several, following after each other, like a chain of catalytic steps,” he explains. “This can be organised, because we can precisely position the catalytic centre.” The wider goal in this research is to explore cooperative effects in materials chemistry. Cooperative effects are often seen in biological systems, for example in enzymes. “There is a catalytically active species, which is surrounded by groups which help the catalytic sensor to do its job. The idea is – can we do something similar in materials chemistry?” outlines Professor Polarz. Researchers are investigating the potential to develop fundamental surfactant systems with these cooperative effects. “Now we can combine functionality with selforganisation properties,” says Professor Polarz. “So we introduce some extra properties and some extra features to the system, and we are looking at how this can be optimised.”

At a glance Full Project Title Inorganic surfactants with multifunctinal heads (ISURF) Project Objectives The current project aims at the synthesis of unique inorganic surfactants (I-SURFs), which contain multinuclear, charged metal-oxo entities as heads, and their exploration with regard to additional redox, catalytic or magnetic functionalities. A particular challenge is the creation of smart surfactant systems that can be controlled via external stimuli. While thermotropic liquid crystals and their adjustment in electric fields (enabling LCDs) have been studied in depth, very limited research concerns the control of self-assembled amphiphilic structures by use of magnetic fields. Project Funding Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC (ERC-CG ERC Consolidator Grants). Project Partners • Please see website for full partner details. Contact Details Sebastian Polarz, Professor for Functional Inorganic Materials at University of Konstanz, Department of Chemistry Universitaetsstrasse 10 78457 Konstanz, GERMANY T: + 49 (0)7531 884415 E: W:

Professor Sebastian Polarz

Professor Sebastian Polarz has headed the ‘Functional Inorganic Materials’ department at University of Konstanz since 2007. Before that, he worked with A. Mueller (Bielefeld; 1999), M. Antonietti (Max-Planck-Institute for Colloids; 2001), G. Ozin (Toronto; 2002) and M. Driess (Emmy-Noether-group, Berlin; 2006). Current research interests involve ’selfassembly’, ’mesoporous materials’ and ‘semiconductors nanoparticles’.


An emerging paradigm in metamaterials research Metamaterials is an active area of investigation, with researchers looking to develop materials with properties beyond those available in nature. The QUANTUMMETALINK project combines theoretical and computational research to lay the foundations for ongoing developments in this discipline, as Professor Nicolae Panoiu explains A new class

of materials built from artificially engineered meta-atoms and meta-molecules, metamaterials have attracted a great deal of attention over recent years, with researchers looking to combine different elements to develop materials with properties tailored to specific applications. Based at University College London, Professor Nicolae Panoiu is the Principal Investigator of the QUANTUMMETALINK project, which centres on an emerging area of metamaterials research. “We are investigating quantum metamaterials, in which the interaction and properties of these metamaterials and their constituent parts are not only determined by classical laws of physics, like Maxwell equations, but also by quantum physics,” he says. The project combines theoretical and computational research to build strong foundations for the development of quantum metamaterials. “One third of the project is about theory, about describing the properties of quantum metamaterials. With solid-state physics, we can derive the properties of solids from the properties of atoms and molecules. We are trying to do the same thing for quantum metamaterials,” explains Professor Panoiu. “So, from the basic properties of the constituent parts, we try to derive the properties of whole metamaterials.” A second area of research in the project relates to combining quantum mechanical and classical numerical methods to develop a new set of numerical methods and software tools. While the properties of some materials can be determined by using either classical or quantum numerical methods, there are currently no mature methods available to describe mixed structures. “For example, you can have a quantum dot or molecule coupled to a metallic nanoparticle, where the metallic particle is described by classical physics, by Maxwell equations, and the quantum dot and molecule are described by quantum


Electron density of quantum plasmons of a graphene nano-flake. physics. So we aim to come up with theoretical models and computational methods that describe such mixed structures,” explains Professor Panoiu. The third part of the project’s work involves exploring possible applications of quantum metamaterials; while there is rich potential in these terms, the main focus in research is about laying the foundations for future development. “This is a theoretical computational project, it’s not experimental,” stresses Professor Panoiu. “We look at different materials and we model them theoretically. We are collaborating with quite a few groups of experimentalists, and the hope is that our research will fire up their interest.”

Quantum metamaterials This research is built on a thorough understanding of the fundamental building blocks or unit cells of quantum metamaterials, including quantum dots and quantum nanowires, the behaviour of which is described by the laws of quantum mechanics, more specifically the Schrodinger equation. Researchers are taking elements of the numerical methods that solve Maxwell equations and elements of the numerical methods that solve Schrodinger equation to develop new tools. “We know that these paradigms are coupled at some level. So we include, in these overall numerical methods, elements that describe this inter-mixing between classical dynamics

Molecular bridges linking two graphene nano-flakes (top) and schematics of nano-antennae made of such quantum basic components (bottom).

EU Research

and the quantum dynamics,” explains Professor Panoiu. There are two main numerical methods that Professor Panoiu and his colleagues deal with in the development of these new software tools. “For example, we use finite difference methods for the classical part. For the quantum part, we use time-dependent density-functional theory, which gives us the energy spectra of the quantum system,” he continues. “These are the main methods used in electromagnetism on one side, and in quantum physics and quantum chemistry on the other.” The project’s work in developing a theoretical framework and software tools provides the foundations for the third area of research, in exploring new science and novel applications. One major area of interest is investigating the optical properties of devices based on quantum metamaterials. “We want to determine some of the main constants

Physical properties This research could eventually help lay the foundations for the bottom-up development of metamaterials with specific physical properties. With deeper knowledge of the physical properties of basic components of a material, it may be possible to custom-design unit cells to achieve specific desired properties, whether it is an artificial magnetic response, giant optical activity or a negative refractive index. “ For example, when you know the properties of the material that you want to design – like the index of refraction in a certain frequency domain – how do you come up with a set of design rules and tools to develop it?” says Professor Panoiu. The project is still in its relatively early stages, but by the end of the five-year funding term Professor Panoiu and his colleagues aim to have developed a complete theory to describe quantum metamaterials, while they also have clear goals around the development of the software tools. “We want

We are investigating quantum metamaterials, in which the interaction and properties of these metamaterials and their constituent parts are not determined by classical laws of physics, like Maxwell equations, but by quantum physics that would describe the optical properties of a material, the way they describe its interaction with light. For instance, the main optical coefficient characterizing optical properties of glass is its index of refraction” says Professor Panoiu. Likewise, optical coefficients like dielectric constant, magnetic permeability, or non-linear optical susceptibilities describe the optical properties of a quantum metamaterial. “We want to calculate these quantities, starting from the basic structure of the material,” continues Professor Panoiu. “So how do you go from the properties of quantum meta-atoms, meta-molecules, and the lattice in which they are arranged, to calculate the optical constants characterizing a quantum metamaterial?”

to be able to derive these macroscopic constants, like dielectric constant and both linear and non-linear susceptibilities from first principles,” he explains. “We also plan to distribute the software and make it freely available to academia.” This is a very active field of research, with both the commercial and academic sectors keen to explore the wider potential of metamaterials. With a more fully developed theoretical and computational framework, it could be possible to develop quantum metamaterials with properties beyond those currently available in natural materials. “The big promise of these metamaterials is that you can modify them and adapt their properties by designing their metaconstituents. There is a very large degree of flexibility in engineering such quantum metamaterials,” says Professor Panoiu.

At a glance Full Project Title Quantum Metamaterials: A Theoretical and Computational Approach Towards Seamlessly Integrated Hybrid Classical/ Quantum Nano-structures (QUANTUMMETALINK) Project Objectives The project aims to develop a foundational theory of linear and nonlinear quantum metamaterials. Researchers will develop a theoretical framework that enables scientists to derive the effective, macroscopic properties of quantum metamaterials from the physical properties and spatial configuration of their quantum unit elements. Researchers will also develop numerical algorithms and software tools for quantum metamaterials, along with exploring new science and novel applications of quantum metamaterials. Project Funding Total cost: EUR 1 779 240 EU contribution: EUR 1 779 240 Coordinated in the United Kingdom Contact Details Project Coordinator, Professor Nicolae Panoiu Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering University College London Torrington Place, London WC1E 7JE T: +44 (0)20 7679 2819 E: W: W:

Professor Nicolae Panoiu

Professor Nicolae Panoiu is currently a Professor of Nanophotonics within the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at University College London. His research interests include optical properties of photonic nanostructures and metamaterials, silicon photonics, and computational modelling of electromagnetic structures.

Generic quantum meta-molecules: from left to right, graphene disk coupled to a QD molecule, plasmonic ring coupled to a QD molecule, and a QD in an (1D) optical cavity.


Supporting the future of airborne research Instrumented aircraft are an important scientific tool, allowing researchers to gather data on the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, yet such facilities are not always available in some countries. The EUFAR2 project helps widen access to airborne research facilities and supports the growth of the environmental science research community, as Philip Brown explains Research

aircraft offer rich opportunities for scientists to gather data and gain new insights, yet such aircraft are not always available in all European countries and are typically quite expensive to operate. Established in 2000, the EUFAR programme was designed to widen access to airborne research infrastructure among European scientists, and its scope has since widened further in EUFAR2. “Initially, EUFAR was simply a networking activity, amongst a number of different operators of research aircraft across Europe,” outlines Philip Brown, the scientific coordinator of EUFAR2. Alongside linking aircraft operators with key scientific users, the new contract under which EUFAR2 was funded includes provision for further activities. “The contract also provided us with money to run some joint research activities focussed on improving data quality,” explains Brown. “We can also support transnational access to research aircraft. We can offer flight time for users and user groups, where they don’t normally have access to such facilities in their own country. The overall objective is to broaden access to – and optimize the use of – these expensive facilities.” Trans-national access There are 43 research aircraft advertised on the EUFAR website, of which 17 are open to transnational access for researchers. Remote sensing aircraft like the CASA 212-RS typically carry airborne imaging sensors, operating at both visible


Group photo in front of DRL’s HALO research aircraft during the 2nd EUFAR2 General Assembly meeting, at DLR, Oberpfaffenhofen (March 2015). Copyright EUFAR. and infrared wavelengths. “These instruments get used a lot for characterising soil and vegetation properties for example, as well as investigating forestry and surface water properties. They can be used for a wide

thing you typically want to do for meteorological purposes is to measure the wind speed and direction – with an aircraft that might be moving at 100 metres per second, you can imagine that is not a trivial process.”

On the FAAM

BAe-146 aircraft we have a range of instruments which are carried under the wing, for sampling atmospheric aerosol particles, and cloud precipitation particles, across a whole range of sizes range of different types of environmental science studies,” says Brown. Other aircraft are more suited to gathering atmospheric data. “They usually measure a broad range of different types of data,” continues Brown. “The UK aircraft for example, which are generally representative, have sensors to measure basic properties like temperature, humidity and static pressure. Another

This process involves combining data from several different sensors on the aircraft, including GPS, an inertial navigation system, and air speed and flow angle sensors. From these measurements researchers can build the full 3-d wind vector, while Brown says further instruments are also available on some aircraft. “For example, on the FAAM BAe-146 aircraft we have a range of instruments which are carried under the

EU Research

The ECO-Dimona aircraft operated by University of Edinburgh with underwing pods carrying a range of atmospheric measurement instruments. Copyright: University of Edinburgh. wing, for sampling atmospheric aerosol particles, cloud precipitation particles, across a whole range of sizes. That spans the range from about 0.1 microns up to several millimetres in diameter,” he outlines. These aircraft are available for researchers to use, with flight time awarded after a project proposal has been reviewed and assessed in terms of both its viability and its scientific content. “We can typically support about ten flight hours per approved proposal, and we expect to support somewhere in the region of 35 such projects during our present contract, which runs to the end of January 2018,” says Brown. The process of arranging aircraft access is a significant logistical challenge. It is not efficient to fly an aircraft to a distant location purely for a single research project, so Brown says the project aims to cluster trans-national access activities together with pre-existing research, pointing to the SAVEX-D project as an example. “This was a trans-national access project proposed by a group of scientists from Spain making use of a UK aircraft – FAAM BAe-146 – which was on campaign in the Cape Verde islands around August 2015. They were able to propose a campaign of their own at the same time, to take advantage of the fact that we were going to be there,” he outlines. The SAVEX-D team derived further benefits from sharing access to the aircraft. “We planned to be on the Cape Verde islands for around three weeks. They were able to stay there for essentially that whole period, and therefore use the aircraft in the atmospheric conditions which best suited their scientific objectives, which might not have been possible in a normal campaign,” explains Brown. “A similar clustering of EUFAR flights happened in association with a large international observing campaign called DACCIWA in West Africa using the ATR-42 aircraft from France and the Falcon-20 from DLR in Germany.” The trans-national access users may also have the opportunity to take responsibility

Illustration of phenomena on the jet stream related to downstream propagation of wave activity and high impact weather (Image credit: John Methven). for a particular area of scientific interest within an overall problem during combined field campaigns. A study by several UK groups a few years ago into dust aerosols in the Sahara region provides a case in point. “The trans-national access user group were able to take responsibility for a particular part of that study, looking specifically at the source regions where dust is lofted into the atmosphere across the whole Sahara region,” says Brown. This helps spread knowledge and also widens the environmental science research base, which is an important part of the project’s overall agenda. “Several countries in Europe don’t have these airborne research facilities independently. So, without programmes like EUFAR2, it would be very difficult for scientists from those countries to get involved in research,” points out Brown. “When they are able to take part through trans-national access, they get full use of the aircraft and essentially training on how to make full use of the facility.” This commitment to widening the research base extends to training the next generation of scientists. Summer schools have been established under EUFAR2 covering particular areas of airborne measurement activity; the SWAMP course in July 2015 focused on airborne remote sensing techniques for example. “Students were introduced to a whole range of techniques, including measurement and calibration techniques. There were also tutorials on processing the data and

Met Office operational global model dust forecast for 16 August 2015, showing a large plume of dust arriving at Cape Verde archipelago (black star in the map). SAVEX-D flight campaign with FAAM’s BAe146 © Crown Copyright, Met Office, UK linking it to ground-based supporting measurements,” outlines Brown. Three further summer schools will be supported under the current EUFAR contract, covering remote sensing and atmospheric in-situ measurement techniques. “There will be a course on trace gas measurements and another on air-sea exchange and turbulence measurements,” continues Brown. “The course on trace gas measurements will be supported by the FAAM BAe-146 and will hopefully be hosted at its home base of Cranfield, so we can maximise flight time. The air-sea interaction school will be hosted in Ireland using the ATR-42 aircraft from France. Using these two large aircraft enables the maximum number of students to experience a real research flight.”

External configuration of ALIDS, an innovative new airborne cloud drop measurement probe developed through a EUFAR Joint Research Activity.

Dr Emmanuel Porcheron (far right) and Dr Elisabeth Gérard (2nd right) present the ALIDS probe on behalf of EUFAR.


At a glance Full Project Title The EUropean Facility for Airborne Research (EUFAR) Project Objectives • Facilitate and promote transnational access to national research aircraft and instruments. • Reduce redundancy, fill the gaps, and optimise the use and development of airborne facilities to conduct research. • Improve the quality of the service by strengthening expertise through knowledge exchange, development of standards and protocols, constitution of databases, and joint instrumental research activities. • Promote the use of research facilities, especially for young scientists from countries where such facilities are lacking, by providing education and training opportunities on airborne research. • Support both market pull and technology push driven innovation in airborne research, and develop a culture of cooperation between EUFAR experts and SMEs to transfer airborne research instruments, methodologies and software into new products. Project Funding Following three previous contracts under FP5, FP6 and FP7, EUFAR2 will receive €6M over the 4-year span of the project (2014-2018) under EC grant agreement no. 312609. Contact Details Philip R.A. Brown, Cloud Physics Research Manager, EUFAR Scientific and Transnational Access Coordinator Met Office, Fitzroy Road, EXETER EX1 3PB, United Kingdom T: +44 (0)1392 886740 E: W:

Phil Brown

Elisabeth Gérard

Philip Brown is the Scientific and Transnational Access Coordinator of EUFAR. He has worked with airborne atmospheric measurements since joining the Met Office in 1979; his main research interests are cloud microphysical and dynamical processes. He has taken part in several UK and international field campaigns with the FAAM aircraft, studying a range of different cloud types. Elisabeth Gérard is the Project Coordinator of EUFAR, a position she has held since 2014 at Météo-France. Previously her main fields of interest were the retrieval of cloud liquid water path and total column water vapour from ground-based, airborne and satellite microwave measurements, and assimilation of satellite radiance data.

Above Left: Car-based DOAS system operated in synergy with the aircraft developed by the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA), used during the EUFAR-funded AROMAPEX flight campaign, April 2016 (Copyright: Alexis Merlaud, Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, Belgium). Above Right: Car-based DOAS system operated in synergy with the aircraft developed by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry (MPIC), used during the EUFAR-funded AROMAPEX flight campaign, April 2016 (Copyright: Alexis Merlaud, Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, Belgium).

Research base A number of students from earlier summer schools have continued their studies in the field, illustrating their long-term importance, now researchers are looking to the future of the programme. EUFAR has gained funding across three different framework programmes, but now Brown and his colleagues plan to explore the possibility of establishing it as an independent legal entity. “The hope is to maintain EUFAR, to promote networking activities amongst aircraft operators and scientific users. We hope to maintain those long-term objectives of sharing expertise on developing best practice across a whole range of activities, including developing the instruments, using them, and calibrating and processing the data,” he outlines. One of the major long-term objectives will be to provide European researchers with access to the aircraft best suited to their scientific needs. “At the moment, scientific communities in each country are geared towards using the facilities that they have access to within their own national funding structures,” says Brown. The UK scientific community for example makes extensive use of the FAAM BAe-146 aircraft. While this aircraft has a fairly comprehensive instrument payload, it does have some limitations in terms of both the altitude it can reach and the overall range that it can achieve; Brown says other aircraft may be better suited to some research projects. “In Germany for example, researchers have had access for the last few years to the G550 HALO

DLR aircraft. While it doesn’t carry quite such a comprehensive instrument payload, it can fly at higher altitudes for much longer durations. It may well be that that would be a better facility for the UK atmospheric science community,” he says. The G550 HALO DLR can be used to gather atmospheric data from the upper troposphere/lower stratosphere, yet it is not currently open to trans-national access. “Almost all the available flight time is taken by the German scientific community that supports it,” explains Brown. A long-term objective is to establish a framework where these kinds of facilities can be shared on a wider basis, beyond that currently offered under EUFAR2. “We’ll need the member organisations to reach an agreement about how they swap flight time amongst the facilities and how they calculate their charges in order to ensure access is being shared fairly and equitably,” outlines Brown. Research in EUFAR could also hold interest outside the environmental science sphere, and Brown says researchers are keen to share findings. “We are trying to reach out across as wide a cross-section of the EUFAR community as possible to identify where groups are developing particular innovative measurement techniques, and to look for examples where those techniques or capabilities can be applied beyond the environmental science research sphere,” he continues. “There could hopefully be opportunities for small businesses across Europe to build on EUFAR research and develop marketable products.”

The FUB Cessna aircraft (D-EAFU) used during the EUFAR-funded AROMAPEX flight campaign, April 2016 (Copyright: Alexis Merlaud, Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, Belgium).


EU Research

EU Research

For more information, please visit:


See the wood for the trees It’s hard to fathom that sometimes the most familiar of things you look at everyday are not what you think they are at all. When it comes to the secret lives of trees, there could be nothing more astounding than the discoveries of recent years. Researchers from all around the world are now agreeing that forest trees are like a society and are communicating to each other about their environment through an internet-like fungus. By Richard Forsyth


hen you see the domes of mushrooms sprouting in clusters on the forest floor, what you can’t see is the thin, wiry, tangled lattice of silver threads (mycelium) where the fungus spreads underground. These sprawling fungal networks connect, infect and wrap around plant and tree roots in what’s known as a mycorrhizal network, a symbiotic bond of roots and fungus. There could be hundreds of kilometres of the threads under your very feet, with every step you take in a forest. The fungus, which of course cannot photosynthesise, will identify, locate and collect the nutrients and water in the soil and gift it to the roots of trees in an exchange for photosynthate (sugar) from the tree. This is a ‘win-win’ woodland relationship. As the fungus links up trees directly, even ones far away, it has facilitated another useful purpose – becoming the hardwiring for a kind of organic information superhighway, a natural living internet, passing information from tree to tree. This mycorrhizal network delivers a mixture of chemical and electrical activity to make ‘news flashes’ for trees. The comparison to the internet is so obvious, that it’s been coined the ‘wood wide web’ by scientists involved in this research. And there are several scientists that are excited by this, in different parts of the world.


Woodland community Suzanne Simard, of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, has become the reference point of this research when she was published in the Nature journal with her startling discoveries, back in 1997. It was one of those landmark research piece’s, that really shook up the way people perceived forests. In her own words, many thought she was ‘crazy’ for pursuing her study but she saw the research through, with truly astounding results. Her studies showed that douglas fir and paper birch trees can transfer carbon between them via this fungal network. Carbon transfer translates to food distribution. It became apparent that the ‘wood wide net’ also has an online free delivery option attached to it. Although this theory had been, to some extent, already demonstrated in a lab, she conducted experiments in the forest to find out more about the phenomena within the natural environment, to put a context on this method of exchange. She used two isotopes, including Carbon-13 and a radioactive isotope, Carbon-14 (radiocarbon), to trace the biological reactions in the organic material – also armed with a Geiger counter, microscopes and a toolbox of scientific equipment, borrowed from her University. Her extensive experiments proved that trees could feed each

EU Research

other – more than that – selectively feed each other, as well as work out what was going on around them in the forest. If one tree was not receiving enough nutrients, maybe because of its compromised position, then through the network, another tree spares some of its own food to pass on to the tree in need. Specifically, she found that douglas firs would give birch trees extra carbon if they lost their leaves whilst birch trees gave douglas firs carbon when they were in the shade. It was a complex and caring two-way flow that respected each tree’s needs when times were tough, based on a well-conceived means of highly accurate communication. “It turns out they were conversing not only in the language of carbon but nitrogen, and phosphorous, and water, and defensive signals and chemicals and hormones – information,” stated Simard in her filmed TED lecture in 2016. Like an internet – some of the trees acted a bit like servers – and came to be known as ‘hub trees’ or ‘mother trees’ connected to hundreds of other trees in the forest. These trees would be connected to a vast network of others, as a distribution point. These remarkable hub trees would take responsibility for nurturing the young trees by gifting them their excess carbon – increasing their survival rates by four times. What’s more, it turned out that mother trees will even recognise and have a bias

for their own seedlings – just like any good mum. The mother trees ensured their own kin had more of the mycorrhizal network to feed them, gave them more carbon and cut back their competition for roots. They also had the ability to give them insight into diseases to strengthen the next generations. Unsurprisingly, if too many of these vital hub trees are cut down, whole tree community networks can collapse around them and put a forest into disarray.

Protecting friends and family Trees generally, seemed to have preferences, about which other trees they helped and sometimes they would help trees of a different species. This is supported by research by Professor Massimo Maffei at the University of Turin, who revealed that trees distinguish roots from their own species or other species and can tell which trees are direct relations of theirs. It’s clear that there’s a system to an old woodland. A forest is not a random collection of trees that stand in isolation. Saying this, there are caveats to who can join the tree club. The system of this ‘social interaction’ can be quite discerning with species. For example, the western red cedar trees that also

The more you look at tree society, the more you see reflections of societies like ant nests, beehives and human communities, a template of interaction we see throughout the animal kingdoms of advanced social creatures


featured in Simard’s research, appeared to be not included in the underground network, she discovered. “They were in another world”, as she put it. There is a bias for species in these complex subterranean entanglements of fungus and root. For those that are in the club, it’s a very active social scene. The trees are able to communicate needs and supply or deny them at will. If a tree that is favoured becomes diseased, it can be helped so it recovers, or trees close-by to each other can entwine their roots tightly together to rely on each other to the point where if one dies the other does too – perhaps an act of love? Whilst a favourite example is for a tree to effectively say ‘I’m hungry and thirsty’, trees can also ‘shout out’ warnings of attack. If, for example, an attacking species of insect started eating a tree – stress warnings could go out to other trees, triggering defensive responses (say, becoming indigestible or releasing off-putting scents) in readiness against the attack, before it arrives. Trees can also tell other unwelcome rooting plants or invasive species ‘where to go’ in as much as delivering toxins via the network, to their roots. Strangest of all – forests seem to be able to learn and adapt, to a degree. The timeframe for this type of communication between trees, in comparison to the internet, is fairly slow – well – we are talking about trees, after all. The tree ‘comms system’ sends out signals at a speed of about a third of an inch per second – which can mean in some responses to situations, when there is a long distance to cover, it can take a few hours. So, we are not talking superfast broadband. This is hardly surprising when we consider plant-life lives in a different speed of time altogether, as any stop-motion film of flora will show us. Never-the-less, this system of interconnected communication is remarkable and there is a genuine question mark over the concept of ‘intention’ of trees, that was not there previously. The debate on this question is difficult. Trees obviously don’t have brains, yet forests seem to have a brain-like quality and demonstrate what appears on the surface, as intelligent


behaviour. These complex responses may well be automatically triggered, yet these findings of interaction confound our definitions, blurring our very concept of the tree. The more you look at tree society, the more you see reflections of societies like ant nests, beehives and human communities, a template of interaction we see throughout the animal kingdoms of advanced social creatures. The volume of information that routes back and forth in this natural exchange tells us that the forests are alive with communication, and what appears like a startling level of awareness about the environment. It has even been argued that you could consider an ancient forest is more like a single organism – acting very much as an entity. Whatever the truth of a the ‘forest society’, this understanding of forests has captured the imagination of many. For example, if this sounds remarkably familiar to a key part of the plot of the Hollywood science fiction film, Avatar (2009), that’s not just a coincidence – but be assured, this is a case of art imitating life.

A sense of purpose In September 2016, Peter Wohllbean published a book called The Hidden Life of Trees, exploring the notion of these forest tree communities. Wohllbean became fascinated with the secrets of trees when he found a very old, gnarled tree stump that should have been longdead but was strangely alive. He realised that, against all odds, other nearby trees were acting as a life support and feeding it nutrients to its remaining roots. Wohllbean pondered on that bigger question of: ‘why’ do trees need to be social beings? He concluded: ‘The reasons are the same for human communities: there are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a local climate… But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of hot and cold, stores a great deal of

EU Research

water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment trees can live to be very old. To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age.â&#x20AC;&#x2122; For a long time, science focused on the competitive nature of trees: competing for light, competing for water, competing for the right spot of land. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a refreshing turn around that the latest research on forests shows us that in reality, forest eco-systems survive more because trees seem to work together and not apart, in order to stay alive and live well. Perhaps a lesson from nature that we would do well to try to remember.

When you see the domes of mushrooms sprouting in clusters on the forest floor, what you canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t see is the thin, wiry, tangled lattice of silver threads (mycelium) where the fungus spreads underground


Europractice keeps universities at the cutting edge of research and training The Europractice programme has offered universities and research institutes affordable access to cutting-edge computer aided design (CAD) tools and microelectronics technologies since 1995. The programme continues to play a crucial role in in innovation and training for both European research and industry, in particular small and medium enterprises, as project manager Dr Romano Hoofman explains The

Europractice project has supported the European technology ecosystem since October 1995, widening access to cutting-edge system and design tools to help companies and universities maintain their place at the forefront of research and development. The Europractice 2016 initiative continues to play an important role in these terms today, says project manager Dr Romano Hoofman. “One central goal for the project is to provide affordable access to computer-aided design (CAD) and

electronic design automation (EDA) tools. Many of these tools are quite expensive, and through Europractice we provide easy and affordable access to these tools for European universities and research institutes,” he outlines. The project has also established links with major foundries, including for instance TSMC and Globalfoundries, so that researchers can consider the practical aspects of

The wider goal in this work is to help support the European microelectronic industry, a high growth area that is central to the continent’s long-term economic prospects. Sophisticated facilities are essential to preparing tomorrow’s circuit designers and equipping them with the relevant technical skills. “We aim to help train and prepare the designers of the future, who

One central goal for the project is to provide affordable

access to computer-aided design (CAD) tools.

Many of these tools are quite expensive, and difficult to support particularly in a multi-vendor design flow environment manufacturing an integrated circuit once it has been designed. “We provide access to various technology nodes in the different foundries, ranging from 0.35 micron to 22nm,” he continues. “A third objective is to provide training, both in terms of the design and the technology. The fourth is that through stimulation actions, we also make sure that some universities can participate, or get silicon at reduced cost.”

will then hopefully get high-end work in European semi-conductor companies, fabless companies or design houses, and be the advanced designers who will make new circuits and enable the applications of the future,” says Dr Hoofman.

Affordable access Improving access to technology and offering support to both academia and the commercial sector is a major part of this wider agenda. Currently more than 600 academic institutions in Europe enjoy access to CAD tools under the terms of the Europractice agreement, giving students and academic staff the opportunity to use cutting-edge technologies. “The model is that the university or research institute pays a membership fee, and that can vary, offering different levels of access to tools,” he

© imec


EU Research

Two typical examples of multi-project wafer (MPW) designs. explains. “With the lowest fee, universities get access to only a limited amount of the available software. With the middle price category they can use the full toolset – and then with the top price category, they can also use foundry services.” Europractice has established agreements with the most popular design tool companies and therefore access to a large number of CAD tools can be provided at a reduced cost. The project also provides a Multi-Project Wafer (MPW) prototyping and packaging services (although the latter at full cost), which Hoofman says offers significant cost benefits to universities and research institutions. “Designing an integrated circuit always involves mask data preparation. The mask cost typically drives the cost of the eventual integrated circuit,” he explains. If a university wants to try out a design but are only interested in certain prototypes, then it’s much more efficient to use a multi-project wafer. “With this approach there are really multiple designs from different customers on one wafer, and then the mask cost is divided between these customers. That’s why it is cheaper to do an MPW than a full mask,” continues Dr Hoofman. “We can also include industrial partners, or partners from outside Europe, but they pay a higher price. We don’t want to exclude them, as the more partners you have, the lower the cost for each of the partners involved.” This design can then be manufactured and sent back to the university, at which point researchers can test the actual

integrated circuit and evaluate its effectiveness. With more than 10 different foundries involved in Europractice, providing a range of technologies, research institutions have several options in terms of fabricating a design. “A university or professor can choose to do their design using a specific technology,” he says. “Then they would look at the Europractice calendar, and if the design is received by the deadline, then it will be put on a mask.” Along with the standard CMOS ASICs technologies (‘more Moore’*), the project also offers access to prototyping in ‘More than Moore’* technologies. The development of ‘more Moore’ technologies is associated with a trend towards ever smaller technology nodes, yet ‘More than Moore’ technologies are different. “‘More than Moore’ technologies are things such as MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) or silicon photonics,” he says. The most important challenge here is not to make the technology smaller, but rather to add functionality; Europractice offers access to a number of relevant technologies in this area, with Dr Hoofman pointing to Europractice partner MEMSCAP as an example. “MEMSCAP is an American processes foundry, and they offer a lot of MEMS tools technology options related to pressure sensors and accelerometers,” he explains. “They offer three unique standalone, multi-mask MEMS processes in MUMPS (R) MPW; namely PolyMUMPS, SOIMUMPS, and PiezoMUMPS.” However,

the most widely used ‘More than Moore’ offering in Europractice is silicon photonics. Silicon photonics is gaining more and more popularity in the industry as well as in the academic world. The latter aspect of demand is not only driven by telecommunications and computing research, but also more and more by sensors and life sciences.

Training Effective training is of course essential if researchers, academic staff and postgraduate students are to use the offered tools and processes to their full potential. Europractice offers training courses on design flows and methods in advanced technologies, giving students a solid grounding in the use of specific tools. “The students who take such training already have a background in integrated circuit design from their university studies, then with the training we take them more into the specific details of a certain design tool or design method,” he explains. The training programme is being extended and developed on an ongoing basis, helping to equip students with the skills they need to further explore the microelectronics field, both for their own intellectual curiosity and to develop new technologies that meet commercial needs. A further incentive to develop new circuits was provided by Europractice’s stimulation action, which aimed to encourage further development. The stimulation action covered two categories.


At a glance Full Project Title EUROPRACTICE Training, CAD and prototyping services for European universities and research institutes (EUROPRACTICE2016) Project Objectives The main goal of this project is to continue the current successful EUROPRACTICE service and to further extend the service by enhancing Training, CAD tools and technologies for more advanced and niche technologies such as Integrated MEMS (above CMOS MEMS) and photonics, the so-called More-than-Moore technologies. In case niche technologies are developed as part of other EC-funded RTD projects, those EC projects will be invited to discuss making available their advanced niche technology services to academic institutions via EUROPRACTICE when they have reached some level maturity. Project Funding Total funding: EUR 3 850 398,75 Project EP2016: 1 July 2016 - 30 June 2018 Project Partners • (Coordinator) Interuniversitair microelectronica centrum (imec) - Belgium • Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) - United Kingdom • Fraunhofer IIS (Germany) Contact Details imec Kapeldreef 75, B-3001 Leuven Belgium T: + 32 16 28 38 65 E: W: W: W:

Dr Romano Hoofman

“There was a category for universities who had never previously prototyped an application specific integrated circuit (ASIC). They had the opportunity to gain a free prototype fabrication of a design run in 0.18µ CMOS,” he continues. “We received 23 designs, and we selected 10 to realise in silicon.” The second category was for more experienced designers, who had already prototyped an ASIC through Europractice, but not in a technology of 90 nanometres or beyond. Again, 23 designs were received, which were then evaluated by independent reviewers. “Of the designs that have been submitted, in total fifteen have been realised in silicon.” This helps lay the seeds for the continued development of the European microelectronics industry, which Dr Hoofman says has been a major factor in encouraging the EC to maintain funding for Europractice. “Europractice has been running for more than 20 years now, and every time the project has been re-evaluated it’s been approved and extended. It’s one of the longest-running programmes in the EC,” he says. The programme has evolved significantly over that time, keeping pace with wider developments in industry and supporting research by providing access to cuttingedge tools. New tools will of course emerge in future; with more than 20 CAD vendors in the programme, Dr Hoofman says Europractice is well placed to continue providing universities with affordable access to leading edge design tools. “There are already a good number of CAD vendors in the Europractice portfolio, and we continuously monitor new developments

Artistic impression of a multi-project wafer fabrication flow within Europractice. in relation to the needs of our customers.” The project also offers industry worldwide access to microelectronic and microsystem design services, yet the priority in future will remain providing academia with access to tools. “We have an advisory committee in Europractice, with a good representation from industry. But our primary purpose is to help universities,” he says. Access to high-end facilities will remain a core element of Europractice 2016, under which the initiative will gain further funding from the EC for the next two years, while some new elements will also be added in future. “We will add some innovative elements on the photonics part, and we will also extend the stimulation action, which was started in Europractice 2013. We also aim to stimulate activity in universities who have never been involved with integrated circuit design, or never done a tape-out, and in addition design activities in MEMS and silicon photonics will be promoted as well,” outlines Dr Hoofman.

Dr Romano Hoofman received his M.Sc. in molecular sciences (1995) at the Wageningen University (NL) and his Ph.D in radiation chemistry (2000) from the Univ. of Delft (NL). He joined Philips Research as senior scientist in 2000. When NXP Semiconductors was spun out of Philips, he concentrated his research on technology blocks needed for sensor nodes. The last years in NXP Semiconductors, as R&D Program Manager at the External Relations department he was responsible for the management of cooperative (subsidy) projects within the entire NXP R&D environment. In 2016, he joined the imec.IC-link department as Strategic Development Director. In his current role he manages the Europractice funded project(s) and drives partnerships leading to new innovations within imec.IC-link.

© imec 64

EU Research

Developing the infrastructure for formal proofs With computer systems playing an ever greater role in modern society, there is a growing need to establish their ‘correctness’ and their formal properties. We spoke to Dr Dale Miller about the ProofCert project’s work in developing the foundations of a more accessible standard for formal proof, which could have significant implications in terms of software security A vulnerability in

a software system can be rapidly exploited, compromising the security of the computer systems we all rely on in everyday life, so it’s increasingly important to establish their ‘correctness’. However, the methods currently used to verify the formal properties of computer systems are splintered, says Dr Dale Miller. “Currently the world of formal methods is very fragmented. We use proof assistants to develop formal proofs – there are seven or eight major proof assistants,” he explains. Based at the Inria Research Centre near Paris, Dr Miller is the Principal Investigator of the ProofCert project, an EC-backed initiative which aims to strengthen the foundations on which scientists can both prove mathematical theorems and establish the formal properties of computer systems. “The way it works today is that if you want to do a big proof you have to commit to using one of these proof assistants,” he continues. “It may be very hard – if not impossible – to make use of results or tools from another community, another group of researchers.”

established methods are still relevant in some situations, mathematics and computing has of course developed significantly over the last century or so. “Today we want to do formal proofs of very complex mathematical concepts and very complicated software systems, so it’s really now a matter of scale. What worked long ago on much smaller systems doesn’t always work so well today,” explains Dr Miller. The project aims to develop standardised methods of defining a formal proof in the form of proof certificates; this holds interest in terms of both software development and more abstract mathematical research. “Some researchers have done a formal proof in a theorem prover called Coq of the famous mathematical theorem called the four-

colour theorem. This is a theorem about how many colours are required to colour a geographic map,” says Dr Miller. “The formal proof of that theorem was hard to achieve – a computer assisted proof was first achieved 40 years ago, but some mathematicians weren’t convinced they could trust it. The more recent Coq proof is far more convincing.” There is a long history of research into these kinds of abstract questions, with mathematicians, logicians and philosophers all contributing to the development of the proof theory field, the study of the structure of mathematical proofs. While mathematicians like Gentzen, Church and Turing could not have anticipated the pace of future technological development, their papers

Formal proofs This fragmentation has consequences in terms of the way mathematicians prove theorems and establish the specific properties of computer systems. While


and ideas remain relevant in research; now Dr Miller and his colleagues are looking at them again. “We’ve been taking this old literature, dating back 70-80 years, and improving it. In a way, we’ve been trying to make it more computer science friendly,” he explains. Researchers aim to build on this earlier work by using the core elements of existing inferences to develop bigger inferences, which could help put in place the building blocks of enhanced software and hardware security. “It would be very interesting to eventually develop tools that could help us tackle security problems and assess whether a programme is correct. This could help prevent the emergence of bugs and problems in programmes that people could then exploit later,” continues Dr Miller. This is not an immediate objective for the project however, and the current focus is more on laying the foundations for the next stage of development in formal methods. Within the project, researchers are concentrating on the fact that nowadays it is machines that build proofs, then communicate it to another machine

that will check it. “ProofCert is a completely machine-to-machine project. These proofs are usually very complicated, and it’s inconceivable that a single person would be able to fully check it or that we would trust a human checker. But we still want to be able to check a proof now, and if doubts are raised at some point in the future, then they’d like to be able to recheck it again,” says Dr Miller. Many mathematical ideas are subject to reexamination; while abstract questions remain an important part of the wider agenda, Dr Miller says he often draws inspiration in research from issues around the ‘correctness’ of computer programmes. “To prove the correctness of a programme, you need to have a statement that says; ‘this programme should do the following...’ Then you state that as a proposed theorem, and look to prove that this programme does what it’s supposed to,” he outlines. This programme might be the computer’s operating system for example, or a search engine. Establishing whether a programme is correct depends to a large degree on understanding and describing its purpose,

yet Dr Miller says it can be difficult to state this formally. “Take the google search bar for example. It’s very difficult to state its purpose formally – it’s supposed to be useful of course, but defining that in a mathematical sense is a complex challenge,” he points out. A wellconsidered, systematic way of thinking about what a specific programme should be doing and its formal purpose is essential to verifying whether it’s correct; this starts right from the early stages of development. “When a programmer is asked to perform a task they’re typically given a specification. Usually, that’s in a natural language, not all of the details are fully filled in, and also it usually relies on other programmes that aren’t fully mathematically defined either,” explains Dr Miller. “Today it is a major challenge to formally show that a program satisfies all or even some of the properties expected of it.”

Formal proof The wider goal in this research is to make proof universal, to standardise proof systems through proof certificates, an

It would be interesting to see if

establishing a new standard for defining proof languages can allow thousands of new theorem provers to emerge, each tackling specialized domains or employing specialized search strategies. To be accepted, they only need to output checkable certificates of their

own design


EU Research

objective which has historical parallels in the way text files evolved in the early years of the internet. Around 30 years ago, computers were distributed in small networks and it was relatively difficult for people to share text files, until Tim Berners-Lee and colleagues developed the HTML standard for creating webpages. “Now that those text files had a bit of extra structure, it was possible to build the worldwide web and things took off. So what was needed was standards,” outlines Dr Miller. Researchers in the ProofCert project aim to develop an accessible standard for formal proof of the different documents that exist on different machines, work which could have significant implications in terms of hardware and software security. “Cybercriminals trying to break into computers have a very sophisticated network. They work together and sell each other malicious exploits,” explains Dr Miller. “On the other side, in the formal methods community, we have different silos and we don’t have an easy method of sharing our results.”

A more systematic method of checking programmes, with dynamic and responsive formal methods, could help improve both the quality and security of software. Many aspects of software insecurity arise from programmes being incorrect, a context in which improved formal methods take on real importance, believes Dr Miller. “If we can improve the world of formal methods, developing proof certificates, then more people would use them, as more important programmes would be correct. By re-examining programmes with these sophisticated tools, the quality of software should improve,” he says. The primary focus in research was developing a standard for interoperability between theorem provers, but with the project nearing the end of its funding term, Dr Miller is already looking towards new questions. “The next question I’d like to address is – how would we design a worldwide web of proof and how can we share, trust and learn from proofs?” he continues. “The general focus in my research community is on the generation of proofs. I’d like to add the additional focus of trying to make them permanent and useful once they have been found.”

At a glance Full Project Title Broad Spectrum Proof Certificates (ProofCert) Project Objectives ProofCert has designed a universal framework for defining the semantics of the proofs exported by many of the world’s theorem provers. Building on the mathematical theory of proofs, this framework provides a simple and declarative method for sharing and trusting proof evidence from a range of theorem provers. As a result, simple and trustable proof checkers can be built to check the correctness of the evidence within synthetized proof systems. Removing the need to formally trust theorem provers means that provers are free to evolve: they only need to output their proofs in formats that proof checkers can validate. Project Funding Funded by the European Research Council. Project Partners • Please see website for full details of collaborators and partners. Contact Details Project Coordinator, Dr Dale Miller 1 rue Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves Bâtiment Alan Turing Campus de l’École Polytechnique 91120 Palaiseau T: +33 (0)1 77 57 80 53 E: W: Focused labeled proof systems for modal logic by Dale Miller and Marco Volpe. The Proceedings of LPAR-20. November 2015. Springer LNCS 9450. A framework for proof certificates in finite state exploration by Quentin Heath and Dale Miller. In the proceedings of PxTP 2015.

Dr Dale Miller

Dr Dale Miller is currently a researcher at Inria-Saclay and LIX/École Polytechnique after having been a professor in the USA and France. He has been the Editor-in-Chief of the ACM Transactions on Computational Logic and received the 2011 and 2014 Testof-Time awards from the IEEE Symposium on Logic in Computer Science.


A large proportion of European food companies are defined as small-medium enterprises (SMEs), producing a wide variety of regional specialities and traditional foods, yet they are not immune to commercial pressures. The TRADEIT project aims to help strengthen regional economies and protect Europe’s food heritage, as Dr Helena McMahon explains

Protecting Europe’s food heritage The European food market is extremely diverse, with small-medium enterprises (SMEs) across the continent producing a wide variety of regional specialities and traditional foods. While these SMEs are an integral part of the local economy in many areas of Europe, they still need to adapt and evolve in line with wider commercial and technological advancements, which is a key part of the TRADEIT project’s agenda. “The TRADEIT project was developed specifically to support small-scale food producers, particularly those in the dairy, meat and bakery sectors that produce traditional or artisan food products,” explains Dr Helena McMahon, the project’s coordinator. These foods are often closely associated with a specific region; “for example, cured meats are an important part of food heritage in Italy, Spain and many parts of Poland. We also work with a lot of traditional cheese producers and bread makers in Germany and Ireland,” says Dr McMahon.

Cultural heritage These foods in many cases are an important part of an area’s cultural heritage, yet this does not make the smaller companies that produce them immune to commercial pressures. The TRADEIT project provides support through a number of different

activities, aiming to help protect Europe’s food heritage. “Firstly through the creation of an EU-wide network of stakeholders in the traditional agri-food sectors, and secondly through the promotion and support of innovation. The third is through technology transfer, and then the fourth is through enabling collaboration between food experts and researchers,” outlines Dr McMahon. The project is set up around nine hubs across Europe, each of which has a sub-network of food producers, which enables localised support for companies. “In addition to technological inputs around process optimisation, packaging, food safety and new product development. However as we know there are technological and organisational aspects of running a business and taking this into account TRADEIT provides advice on operational issues such as pricing strategies, new business models, marketing, smart technologies and digitisation.” Many of these smaller companies tend to be family-run, typically (98% ) with less than 10 employee, using long-established production processes. As a result there can be generational issues in play in relation to the perception of the role of innovation within a company that produces traditional foods, typically produced in a specific way within a region for more than 50 years.

Whilst a company may be highly resistant to changing the production process, Dr McMahon says that adopting new technologies in other areas can lead to commercial benefits. “For example, while you don’t want to tamper with the ingredients or the production methodology, maybe you can improve the packaging to extend its shelf-life. That will then enable the food producer to make savings and keep their product on the market for longer,” she explains. The TRADEIT online ‘Marketplace’ enables companies and researchers to share information on this kind of technology. “The Marketplace is an online open innovation platform that enables researchers and companies to post technology needs and offers. It enables them to network online, and to match technology experts and solutions to the operational and technological challenges they face,” outlines Dr McMahon. This can help smaller companies adapt to the changing commercial landscape and build for the future. While smaller companies may hold some advantages over their larger counterparts in terms of commercial flexibility, they may not be able to invest in technology to the same extent, says Dr McMahon; “financial limitations can prevent small companies from investing in new technology, while some businesses don’t

Jackie Kennedy of Marsh Pig UK, sharing her expertise with attendees at Gubbeen Farm, West Cork.


EU Research

Elena Martínez of Martínez Somalo working with researchers to develop new ideas at the Entrepreneurial Summer Academy in Potsdam, Germany

At a glance Full Project Title Traditional Food: Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology Transfer (TRADEIT) Project Objectives The overarching objectives of the TRADEIT project: 1. Create an EU wide network of stakeholders in the Traditional Agrifood Sector. 2. Facilitate the transfer of knowledge to SMEs. 3. Address the innovation skills gap in food research community. 4. Develop a strategic research and innovation agenda for the sector.

know where to look for it,” she points out. These technologies can help small companies in terms of adapting to emerging trends and complying with standards. “This can be a major issue for some companies. So they need to adopt new technologies and look at new practices in order to stay in line with standards in areas like labelling and packaging,” Dr McMahon points out. “Even if a product is very static in terms of its production methodologies and characteristics, a company needs to continually evolve and adapt to stay competitive and current.”

companies, which fits in with the goal of helping to protect Europe’s food heritage. This is very much a long-term objective, and while the TRADEIT project has now concluded, Dr McMahon says that several other activities are ongoing. “We have a big focus on communication of knowledge and best practice and have developed an online magazine called Taste of Science. This is basically an online magazine, and each of the articles is a representation of peer-reviewed literature, to enable SMEs to access research in a more accessible way,” she outlines. Food

The TRADEIT project was developed specifically to support small-scale food producers, particularly those in the dairy, meat and bakery sectors that produce traditional or artisan food products A good relationship with the research sector is an important part of this, and the project is working with universities to support the commercialisation of new products. While researchers developing innovative new products tend to look towards bigger companies first, Dr McMahon says SMEs represent a large share of the market. “We worked with universities and organisations developing technologies as part of research projects. We aimed to support the commercialisation of those technologies and help bring them to the market through SMEs” she explains. “The project builds on a programme called Design for SMEs, it’s a collaborative approach where companies and researchers come together to explore the operational realities of the food producing company. Researchers can hear about market opportunities that companies are seeking to capitalise on.”

Product commercialisation Researchers can then develop solutions specifically targeted at the needs of

companies have also learned from each other through the network, an aspect of the project’s work that Dr McMahon says was particularly interesting. “This level of peerto-peer learning, and this notion of social capital and enabling companies to come together to discuss each other’s operations, has enabled a lot of companies to solve a lot of the challenges that they face,” she says. This encompasses everything from discussing the products and foods that they sell through to exchanging information on business models and commercial strategies, all with a view to building a stronger food sector. While the food sector is commonly thought of as being quite traditional and resistant to change, Dr McMahon believes that research and innovation has an important part to play in helping it build for the future. “There are multiple types of innovations that a company can engage in and they need to be aware of the different technologies available. So whether it’s product, process, or organisation, innovations in all of those areas can add value in different ways,” she stresses.

Project Funding This project was funded under the Food, Agriculture, Fisheries and Biotechnology Call ‘KBBE.2013.2.3-02: Network for the transfer of knowledge on traditional foods to SMEs. FP7-KBBE-2013-7 – single stage. Coordinator: Institute of Technology Tralee, Co. Kerry, Ireland. Grant No.: 613776. Project Partners • Institute of Technology Tralee, Ireland • Trinity College Dublin, Ireland • ITENE, Spain • University of East London, UK • Coventry University, UK • APRE, Italy • Institut für Lebensmittel- und Umweltforschung e.V. (ILU), Germany • Maitomaa, Finland • Béal Organic Cheese, Ireland • Polytechnic Institute of Bragança, Portugal • Newsweaver, Ireland • European Federation of Food Science & Technology, The Netherlands • Halbert Research, Ireland • Martínez Somalo, Spain • SAVONIA, Finland • Bäckerei Stolzenberger, Germany • Pão de Gimonde, Portugal • Cluster Food+i, Spain • Food Concept, Poland Contact Details Project Coordinator, Dr Helena McMahon Shannon ABC, South Campus, Institute of Technology Tralee, Co. Kerry T: +35 3 66 7144160 E: W:

Dr Helena McMahon

Dr Helena McMahon (BSc, MSc, PhD) has an extensive project portfolio, at a national and EU level in product innovation, commercialisation and Industry (SME) collaboration. Activities are focused in the Agri-food sector with a particular focus on the bioecomony, functional ingredients, facilitation of SME collaborative actions, technology transfer, innovation and multi-actor networks. Dr. McMahon has authored several papers, books, chapters and supervised MSc candidates in Agri-food & Innovation areas.


The INSPIRE-Grid 2015 Workshop.

Plotting a path to efficient Grid development We all rely on the electrical power system in our daily lives, but work to develop and enhance the underlying infrastructure often arouses strong opposition in the communities affected. We spoke to Stefano Maran about the INSPIRE-Grid project’s work in developing a methodology for effective participation, which could help strengthen trust between stakeholders and system operators The electrical grid system plays a central role in our everyday lives, providing power to homes and businesses, yet development projects often arouse intense opposition among the public. Deeper engagement with the public could help both smooth relations between citizens and electricity companies and accelerate development, a topic that lies at the core of the INSPIRE-Grid project. “The goal of the project is to make specific recommendations for the use of participation tools and processes in grid development projects,” says project coordinator Stefano Maran. The development of the grid has historically been centrally planned, yet this has often led to conflict with local citizens, concerned about issues such as the impact of a project on the landscape, or the possible health effects of a stronger electro-magnetic field. “One way of managing this type of conflict is to engage stakeholders as early as possible in the decision-making process,” outlines Maran.

Methodology A clear methodology which takes the interests of all stakeholders into account is essential to this process. The first step in the project is to assess the needs, wants and expectations of local stakeholders,


providing the foundation for the development of a methodology to manage a project consultation. “We will make some instruments available by which the interests of these different stakeholders can be expressed and taken into consideration,” explains Maran. Another key step in the project was to identify the processes available to engage stakeholders.

 “We reviewed existing best practice, and we also made a decision tool available, in order to identify the most appropriate process, depending on the phase of the project, and the category of stakeholder,” continues Maran. “Then there is a need for assessment procedures, where we compare the benefits of projects to the local impacts. We aim to develop an assessment approach which allows decision-makers to take into account different points of view.”

The goal of improving energy infrastructure may be in the wider national interest, but decision-makers must also take the impact of a development project on local communities into account. While the majority of local stakeholders are unlikely to be experts on the technical aspects of grid infrastructure, their views can guide development. “We cannot ask the general public to decide the technical characteristics of the grid of course, but we can directly use the results of consultations for some project phases. We have differentiated these phases, and we have made some tools available that promote active participation,” says Maran. This could mean local stakeholders giving their views on the route of grid development for example, helping to protect the landscape and local heritage. “We have developed some tools that can enable this kind of function in an automatic way. But of course our tools do not in themselves resolve differences of opinion,” says Maran. There may be situations in which the outcome of a consultation does not directly influence the course and general direction of a development project. While the project’s tools may not in themselves help resolve these differences of opinion,

EU Research

Maran says a clear methodology can at least make the process more transparent. “It can help to make differences explicit, which is important in managing these types of conflicts. The advantage of using a structured decision-making process is that the process is, in itself, traceable, and responsibilities are clearly identified,” he points out. This also helps build trust between stakeholders and electricity companies, which is an important issue in terms of public acceptance of infrastructure projects. “A thorough consultation boosts trust between the electricity company and the public and leads to a more effective decision-making process, which is very beneficial over the longer term,” stresses Maran.

are developing processes to make grid infrastructure development projects more effective and more efficient.” This approach could also potentially be applied to other large-scale infrastructure projects, beyond the electricity grid, which share similar characteristics in terms of public opposition. In many cases where public utility infrastructure is being developed, conflicts arise between perceptions of the public interest and the communities directly affected, a context in which Maran believes the project’s research could have a wider impact. “The tools we have developed in our project could – if customised appropriately – also be used for other kinds of public utility infrastructure projects,” he says. One tool developed

The goal of the project is to make specific recommendations for the use of participation tools and processes in grid development projects Development projects The wider goal in this research is to help smooth the progress of electrical grid development projects. While electricity infrastructure is essential to modern lifestyles, Maran says that many development projects encounter delays. “More than half of grid projects, some of which are identified as essential for reaching the EU’s energy policy objectives (Project of Common Interest), experience delays, and some are even cancelled. This shows how opposition can slow down the development of the grid,” he points out. Effective, rigorous consultation is central to engaging local people, identifying their concerns and addressing them where possible, which in the long run could help smooth the development process. “When grid infrastructure is likely to affect a group of people, we consider it right to engage these people in the decision,” stresses Maran. “We

within the project is a prototype web GIS system, with added functionalities to promote stakeholder participation in grid development projects. “For instance, we have inserted in our prototype a function that allows the user to send their opinion about the landscape that should be preserved in an area that could be developed,” outlines Maran. This research has been built on strong collaboration between the social and technical sciences, bringing together different areas of expertise to develop effective tools. Maran says this collaboration has been crucial to bridging gaps in understanding between disciplines, and developing effective recommendations for decision-makers. “This collaboration between social sciences and technical sciences has been very useful and it must be pursued further in order to improve our recommendations,” he says.

At a glance Full Project Title Improved and eNhanced Stakeholders Participation In Reinforcement of Electricity Grid (INSPIRE-Grid) Project Objectives By way of an interdisciplinary approach, INSPIRE-Grid will develop stakeholder-led processes and design an expert-led European good practice guide. Methods to facilitate decision-making will be newly combined with engagement tools and tested with stakeholders from existing or concluded grid development project case studies. Project Partners research institutes (Ricerca sul Sistema Energetico - RSE SpA (coordinator), Association pour la recherché et le developpement des methods et processus industriels – ARMINES, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich – ETHZ, Institut für ZukunftsEnergieSysteme – IZES, Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung – PIK, Poliedra Centri di Conoscenza e Formazione del Politecnico di Milano – Poliedra), transmission system operators (National Grid, RTE, Statnett), and the stakeholder platform Renewables-Grid-Initiative – RGI. Contact Details Stefano Maran, Project Coordinator FP7 INSPIRE-Grid, Energy Sources Dept. Ricerca sul Sistema Energetico - RSE Spa T: +39-02-3992.5918 E: W: W:

Stefano Maran

Stefano Maran has a university degree in physics, since 1988 he has been involved in research activities on environmental impacts of the electric sector. He contributed to Italian and EU projects aimed to study the integration of energy infrastructures into the environment, to develop Decision Support Systems and Web GIS, and to implement these methodologies to the integrated management of natural resources. He currently leads the Research Team “Integration of Electric Power Systems into the Environment”

The INSPIRE-Grid 2015 Workshop.


The Pilot Plant at partner TCL

A step towards sustainable biofuels The petro-chemical industry is under intense pressure to reduce its impact on the environment and develop more sustainable methods of fuel production. The work of the BIOGO project in transforming the production process could lead to radical improvements in these terms, as Professor Gunther Kolb and Dr Hannah Newton explain The development of

biofuels is widely recognised as a research priority, in line with the wider goal of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. The BIOGO project, an initiative bringing together 15 partners from across Europe, will make an important contribution in these terms. “The idea of BIOGO is to utilise non-food waste, like wood residue, which is widely available across Europe. We aim to use this waste to create synthetic gasoline-grade fuels,” says dissemination manager Dr Hannah Newton. A number of steps are involved in creating synthetic fuels out of biomass sources like wood residue. “First we make pyrolysis oil, which is a product of high-temperature

Electron microscope image of one of the nanocatalysts being developed within the project (BIOGO nanocatalyst).


treatment of this biomass. We also use biogas in the project,” explains Project Coordinator Professor Gunther Kolb. “From the biogas and the pyrolysis oil, we get a socalled synthesis gas (or syngas), which is mostly a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. From this, we can then synthesise methanol, from which the synthetic gasoline is then produced.”

Gas-to-gasoline A number of companies already make synthetic fuel out of synthesis gas, but there are some drawbacks to existing methods, mostly related to the formation of large-scale hydrocarbons. These drawbacks can be avoided with the use of methanol, as

demonstrated by a former natural-gas-togasoline project in New Zealand; however, Professor Kolb says the project is taking a different approach. “In New Zealand they used natural gas, but we want to utilise wood residue, which is widely available across Europe. We are aiming for a sustainable process that is independent of fossil fuels,” he outlines. There are two key pillars to the project’s research, the first of which centres around designing, developing and preparing nanoscale catalysts for converting bio resources into liquid fuels, covering each step of the production process. “For each of the individual steps, we want to improve the available catalysts. There have been no commercial catalysts developed for some of the steps, while there are formulations existing for other steps,” says Professor Kolb. Along with others, researchers are using a novel approach to develop nanocatalysts, applying a technique called cluster beam sputtering, where extremely small particles are ejected on to the surface of a carrier material with a high surface area. Sputtering techniques are usually used to cover the whole surface of a material, but in the project researchers are instead making small clusters of atoms on the surface of the material to improve performance. Catalysts are being developed for each of the four key steps of the production process; those that lead to improvements will then be incorporated into what Professor Kolb describes as a mini-plant, which is the second main pillar of the project. “This

EU Research

At a glance Full Project Title Catalytic partial oxidation of bio gas and reforming of pyrolysis oil (Bio Oil) for an autothermal synthesis gas production and conversion into fuels (BIOGO-for-Production)

BIOGO Schematic is effectively a demonstration of the whole process chain, using multiple catalyst formulations to demonstrate the feasibility of the whole process chain, from the reforming of the pyrolysis oil to the production of synthetic gasoline,” he outlines. The mini-plant itself will be highly mobile, situated within a specially designed container for the production of chemicals The idea is to move the future production plant to the specific waste source. By creating these decentralised container plants, researchers

process. “We’ll look at the components and the projected composition of the output,” explains Professor Kolb. The economic background is an important factor in terms of potentially applying this approach more widely in fuel production; while the fuel price is currently quite low, it is likely to rise again in future, at which point Professor Kolb says we will need to look more closely at biofuels. “We are developing this approach for the future. It will take a long time to really prove the feasibility of this

The idea of BIOGO is to utilise non-food waste, like wood residue, which is available across Europe. We aim to use this to create synthetic fuels of gasoline-grade quality hope to achieve some significant improvements over conventional methods. “We aim to minimise both transportation costs and energy consumption,” explains Dr Newton. The mini-plant is very small and is designed to produce only a very small amount of fuel, but Professor Kolb says the target is to scale it up in future. “At this stage, the project is really about proving the feasibility of the concept. All the required process steps have been incorporated, so we get a fuel of relevant quality, but in a very small quantity. The next step, which would be investigated in a followup project beyond BIOGO, would be to upscale the process chain,” he says. “It would be effectively a linear scale-up of the process. Maybe some purification steps would need to be done differently on a larger scale, but basically it would be about making what works already on a larger scale.”

Production run A pilot-scale catalyst production run is planned for early 2017, where researchers will look to test the miniplant and demonstrate its manufacturing potential. This will involve analysing fuel samples and assessing the efficacy of the production

kind of approach, to install it and remove all the obstacles,” he says. “This process should be further developed until we are sure what we can achieve with it. Then, when the economic circumstances change, we will have a competitive process available.” This is central to the long-term agenda of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and research continues into creating a comprehensive production process. The development of the catalysts for the different process steps is quite far advanced, in particular for the first step, the re-forming of biogas and pyrolysis oils. “We are now implementing these catalysts into the microreactors, ready for the mini-plant run,” says Professor Kolb. This research could have a significant impact on the petrochemical industry, and the project is keen to explore its wider potential. “Project partners regularly attend major trade events, and close links have been established with industry,” says Dr Newton. “We’re looking ahead to the results of the mini-plant run, and we intend to hold some further events with potential end-users of this process, from the petro-chemicals and the fuel industry, as well as with suppliers of bio resources.”

Project Objectives BIOGO is a 4-year collaborative project supported through the European Commission’s Nanoscience, nanotechnologies, materials and new production technologies (NMP) theme. The project’s key objectives are to design, develop and prepare highly advanced nanoscale catalysts at an industrially relevant scale for the conversion of bio resources to liquid fuels; to develop and demonstrate a process that converts renewable bio-oils and bio-gas to synthesis gas for subsequent catalytic transformation into biofuels and chemical platform products; Reduce the dependence on rare earth oxides and precious metals for the catalyst formulations applied throughout the BIOGO project. Project Funding European Union FP7 – Grant Agreement number 604296 Project Partners • Please see website for full partner details. Contact Details Professor Gunther Kolb, Project Coordinator Fraunhofer ICT-IMM, Bereichsleiter Energieund Chemietechnik, Head of Division Energy and Chemical Technology, Carl-Zeiss-Straße 18-20, 55129 Mainz, Germany T: +49 6131 990-341 E: W:

Professor Gunther Kolb

Professor Gunther Kolb studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Erlangen Nürnberg and finished his PhD in Reaction Engineering at the chair of Professor Hanns Hofmann in 1993 on zeolite catalysis and deactivation by coke formation. He was 5 years employee at the GRACE Davison FCC catalyst Division in Worms, Germany and switched then to the Institute of Microtechnology Mainz (IMM, now Fraunhofer ICT-IMM). He held there different positions such as Group Leader, Head of the Decentralised and Mobile Energy Technology Department and is currently Head of the Division Energy and Chemical Technology. Since 2012 he is Part Time Full Professor Micro Flow Energy Technology at the Technical University of Eindhoven, Netherlands. Since 2013 he is coordinator of the European large project BIOGO. He is author and co-author of 80 peer reviewed publications in the field of catalysis, chemical engineering and fuel processing.


Control is key to our energy future Providing end-users with more information about their energy usage patterns could help them identify ways to improve efficiency. We spoke to Dr David Rua and Professor João Abel Peças Lopes about the AnyPLACE project’s work in developing a modular energy management system that will give end-users a new level of control over their energy usage A type of monitoring technology that gives consumers detailed information on their energy usage patterns, smart meters are an increasingly common feature of efforts to improve energy efficiency in both residential buildings and commercial premises. Now researchers in the AnyPLACE project aim to take a step further by developing a modular monitoring and control platform capable of interacting with appliances and smart meters. “The main aim of the project is to develop an energy management system which integrates intelligence regarding energy management and the use of automated systems inside households and buildings,” says Dr David Rua, the project’s coordinator. This management system - or platform - will be designed to be interoperable, costefficient, and capable of being integrated with both state-of-the-art appliances and legacy devices. “One of the key issues in these terms is the use of interoperable hardware and software, that allows the owner of the solution to identify and analyse usage patterns and select the best tariff schemes accordingly,” explains Dr Rua. The goal of enabling cost-effective usage will have a wider impact on the energy market by helping to raise awareness of energy efficiency and thereby change behaviour. This work is very much in line with wider environmental goals, and Dr Rua believes that as the ultimate end-users of electricity, we all have to adapt to a new reality. “In the past, what happened in operating the electric power system is that the supply was adapted to the needs of consumers. Nowadays, we have to understand that we need a different system and a different framework,” he stresses. This means that consumption patterns today have to be adapted in line with the availability of primary resources. “Energy suppliers have different prices and different incentives, to encourage energy consumption at specific times of the day,” continues Dr Rua. “The platform we are developing in the project will gather data from local users, helping them become more efficient.”


AnyPLACE architecture

Hardware and software Researchers in the project are developing both hardware and software components, as well as integrating existing resources. Residential buildings and offices tend to vary widely in age, and energy management technology has developed significantly over time, to a point where Dr Rua believes it can now be applied more widely. “Nowadays we have the platform and the tools to make energy management more accessible for end-users,” he says. The AnyPLACE platform is designed to encourage people to think about the way they consume energy and identify ways in which it could possibly be reduced, with the platform providing a means of interaction between consumers,

market representatives, network operators and ICT providers. “This platform can be thought of as an interface with the operation distribution system,” explains Professor João Abel Peças Lopes, the project’s coordinator, working alongside Dr Rua. This will help engage end-users more closely in the electricity market, and point them towards more cost-efficient usage patterns. Active control of the electricity network will also help end-users make more effective use of renewable sources of energy like wind and solar photovoltaics (PV); the irregular nature of supply from these sources is widely viewed as one of their major drawbacks, so Professor Peças Lopes believes it’s important to use them

EU Research

when they are available. “If we try to store this energy then we typically lose a certain proportion of it. So the right approach is to use it when it is available,” he outlines. “This is what the AnyPLACE platform enables – it provides an interface between the end-user and the network, just telling them that there is scope for flexible loads to be connected at those periods and it allows the usage of the appliances at the right moment. This means energy from renewable sources can be used efficiently.” From the point of view of the end-user, this could be on less time-sensitive loads, such as washing. To the end-user, it’s not particularly important what time a washing cycle starts, yet benefits could arise from shifting the load; this method of changing energy usage patterns is called flexible peak shaving. “These loads can be postponed and have a fixed duration,” says Dr Rua. Researchers are undertaking a cost-benefit analysis of different configurations of the platform, aiming to ensure the overall solution is costeffective, while different prototype versions of the platform will also be produced. “One version is relatively basic and inexpensive, where there is limited interaction with the end-user. The other is more advanced, and is made from different end-modules,” outlines Dr Rua. “We can think of this second version as almost a library solution, in the sense that more pieces can be added in line with local circumstances.”

Prototype testing The two prototypes will be tested at households in Dörentrup, Germany, with researchers looking to exploit different algorithms and different software models.

The main aim of the project is to develop

an energy management system which integrates intelligence regarding energy management and the use of automated

systems inside households and buildings

Assessing the performance of the platform will be a complex task, as it is difficult to precisely define the costs and benefits associated with it. “It’s not very easy to define the benefits of the platform up-front, by saying: ‘this is the amount of cash you will save’. Therefore it needs to be analysed in the previous state, which is why we are developing some monitoring devices. After that we can assess the benefits of the platform on a more realistic basis,” outlines Dr Rua. The prototypes will be tested in different application scenarios, and researchers are looking to improve the platform still further. “We have developed the hardware and software modules and are investigating different paradigms. At the beginning of 2017 we should have the first prototype in laboratory conditions,” continues Dr Rua. Researchers are also keen to explore the wider commercial potential of the platform beyond the initial scope of the project. This means both looking at market opportunities and also considering the wider regulatory environment. “We’re looking at how to ensure that everybody benefits from this sort of solution,” says Dr Rua. The platform itself is highly adaptable, so further elements could potentially be added to it in future to reflect market changes. “Of course we intend to look at what we can add. We are looking at different communication interfaces, so that different communication technologies can be integrated, up to a certain limit,” says Dr Rua. “The same rationale applies to the software modules, as they can be added to the platform to implement new functionalities or enhance existing ones making it a highly adaptable and customizable solution.”

AnyPLACE prototype

At a glance Full Project Title Adaptable Platform for Active Services Exchange (AnyPLACE) Project Objectives The H2020 AnyPLACE project intend to develop an advanced, modular and cost-effective home energy management system that is able to fully engage end-users to better use their energy and improve its efficiency. It will be designed to operate in different physical environments and be compatible with different EU regulatory frameworks so that consumers can become active players in the exchange of energy services with other stakeholders. Project Funding EU funding: €2,534,389.25 Total funding: €2,974,263.75 Project Partners • INESC TEC • EFACEC Energia S.A. • BOSCH Termotecnologia S.A. • Kreis Lippe • Joint Research Centre • HOCHSCHULE OSTWESTFALEN-LIPPE • Power Plus Communications AG • TU Wien Contact Details INESC TEC Campus da FEUP Rua Dr. Roberto Frias $200-465 Porto Portugal T: +22 209 4230 E: W: W: w rcn/194460_en.html

Luís Seca

João Lopes

David Rua

Luís Seca is a Senior Researcher and Coordinator at the Center for Power and Energy of INESC TEC, a private R&D institution in Portugal. His current research interests focus on the integration of distributed energy resources (renewable, EV, Storage, etc.) in distribution systems, dynamic stability in isolated systems and smart grids. João A. Peças Lopes is a Full Professor at Porto University (FEUP), where he teaches both undergraduates and post-graduates. His main domains of research are related to large scale integration of renewable power sources, power system dynamics, microgeneration and microgrids, smartmetering and electric vehicle grid integration. David Rua is a Senior Researcher at the Center for Power and Energy Systems of INESC TEC. His research activities include the design and implementation of communications systems to support hierarchical and distributed management and control schemes for smart grids, as well as the design of solutions for building energy management.


Personalised communications to connect with energy consumers Reducing residential energy consumption is an important part of the wider goal of improving energy efficiency, but it’s not always easy to change long-established habits. We spoke to Thomas Mikkelsen about the NatConsumers project’s work in developing a methodology to communicate more effectively with consumers and reduce consumption A number of

different methods have been tried over recent years to interact and engage with energy consumers, with the wider goal of improving energy efficiency and sustainability. Previous efforts have been very much focused on price, as the key motivator to encourage people to change their energy consumption patterns, but now researchers in the NatConsumers project are taking a new approach. “We thought we needed to start a conversation with the end customer. It’s not about dictating to them and ordering people to do things, it’s about creating a conversation,” says Thomas Mikkelsen, a project partner. This will be a more effective way of engaging with consumers, believes Mikkelsen. “It’s about being relevant and understanding the situations where you can talk about energy, which are not always related just to money and potential cost savings,” he says. This could be something as simple as talking to end customers about how weather patterns affect their energy consumption. For example, if a consumer lives in an area which has been experienced a lot of rainfall, or a prolonged cold snap, then that NATCONSUMERS NATCONSUMERS aims at raising consumer awareness on energy as part of everyday life and provoking direct actions by making consumption visible and by summarizing it into tailored daily tips. Grant Agreement 657672

Thomas Mikkelsen T: +45 23 21 01 19 E: W:

Thomas Mikkelsen is a partner and director at VaasaETT, a leading international specialist research and advisory company. He is responsible for working with customers across a range of tasks, including providing strategic advice, customer profiling and segmentation models.


Visualisation by Strategic Design Scenarios

will affect consumption patterns, and can provide a starting point for more effective, emotionally intelligent and relevant communication. “Do you know what that means for your energy consumption? Did you know you can do x to change y? Or a consumer may be getting married or having a child. Many things could trigger a

of the framework. “We’ve been trying to categorise communication in terms both of what is more static and what is more dynamic. But this is only a starting point – as the machine starts learning, we find that people respond more as we become better at understanding their specific priorities and circumstances,” he continues.

We thought we needed to start a conversation with the end customer. It’s not about dictating to them and ordering people to do things, it’s about creating a conversation. It’s about being relevant and understanding the situations where you can talk about energy discussion about their energy consumption,” outlines Mikkelsen. The starting point in terms of identifying these triggers is a usercentred framework, which the project is developing to segment consumers. “We develop communication by asking questions and getting feedback,” says Mikkelsen.

User-centred framework The goal is to build a kind of self-learning tool, that will constantly develop and evolve to reflect consumer priorities. Researchers gathered data from across Europe, and while energy consumption patterns of course vary significantly across different regions, Mikkelsen says there are similarities in terms of behaviour and communication preferences, which will inform the ongoing development

From these foundations, researchers can then look to communicate with consumers in a way that’s relevant to them, and also develop personalised actions aimed at reducing energy consumption. This information on consumer priorities could also be highly relevant for utility and energy companies, something which the project could explore in future. “What came out of this project is basically a process and by going through that process, you can identify the priorities of the customers that you are talking to,” says Mikkelsen. “We aim to take this research and the knowledge that we’ve gained in terms of understanding the kinds of messages that people respond to, and try to apply that to help reduce household energy consumption.”

EU Research

Eur12 digital magazine spring 2017  
Eur12 digital magazine spring 2017