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“Science is the thing that keeps me up all night,” said Georg Winter, reflecting on what inspired him to pursue a post-doc at Dana Farber Cancer Institute/ Harvard Medical School, and led to his present position at CeMM – the Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Science. Winter clearly loves his chosen field: “It has always been great fun,” he says,” to spend long hours in the lab.” 

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Posted by on in OpEds & Commentaries

 

We probably agree that relevant, effectively usable “data” are one key ingredient to approaching the grand challenges of the 21st century. Their central role is demonstrated daily in areas ranging from economics to climate science, from the digital humanities to malaria research. Liveable cities can be built only if we learn from data over longer time frames and, increasingly, these data are collected by citizens. Tackling climate change fundamentally relies on scientists’ ability to analyze reliable time-series data from diverse sources.

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It’s a curious pattern, that when new technologies arise and enable access to new forms of data, it is often not the domain experts who drive innovation, but those with deep technical expertise who pick up the required domain knowledge along the way. In other words, it can be a costly mistake to ignore new methods. Let me illustrate this pattern with three examples, before making the connection to "big data."

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As an organization scientist, I am interested in how knowledge workers create, use, and maintain their social networks to get their jobs done. I was trained as an ethnographer, and I observe people at work for a living. What, one might ask, does this small-data girl have to say about Big Data?

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"Will we live in a beautiful Utopia or a dystopian Big Brother society?" Journalists, politicians, and even random acquaintances ask this question when they learn about my work with Big Data and cities. In fact, most researchers and practitioners working in the Big Data space have shared this experience.

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Barely two weeks ago – in mid-April – STEMCELL Technologies of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, announced its new partnership with the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) in Vienna, Austria. Their collaboration will develop products for researchers who use “cerebral organoid cultures.” From a business standpoint, the international agreement sounds promising for both organizations. But what is an “organoid culture” anyway? And why are these little blobs of brain tissue so fascinating to researchers in science and medicine?

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Funded by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy, the team wants to enable computers to orientate themselves in a non-standard environment.

If you want to orientate yourself spatially, you have to perceive your environment and interpret what you perceive. This applies equally to robots as well as all other animate beings. Machines can see thanks to the latest camera technology and computer-controlled image-recognition methods which describe the environment in a standardised way by means of two-dimensional images. The right interpretation of what is seen on a two-dimensional level, however, leaves a lot to be desired...

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Concussions have been hot news recently. Jeanne Marie Laskas’ 2015 book on traumatic brain damage in U.S. football players was soon followed by a film of the same name, “Concussion,” starring Will Smith. Needless to say, while the medical community – and many parents – show signs of taking the problem seriously, the National Football League hasn’t exactly embraced the new findings. Let’s face it: Anything that challenges the machismo and big money of U.S. football has its work cut out for it.

But sports-related concussions aren’t unique to American football players – or even to boxers, whose brain trauma from repeated blows to the head was first described in 1929. Shift north 30 miles, just across the U.S.-Canadian border to Vancouver, BC. Here, at the University of British Columbia’s MRI Research Centre, neuroscientists are studying brain trauma. This being Canada, it’s no surprise that their focus is ice hockey players. Somewhat more surprising, one of their leading MRI researchers is an Austrian physicist, Dr. Alexander Rauscher.

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Algorithm does not work intuitive – just as quantum physics

Quantum physics is counterintuitive. Many of the phenomena in the quantum world do not have a classical analog: In the quantum world, a coin is not either heads or tails – but can have both properties at the same time. For a better understanding of such phenomena, laboratory experiments are indispensable. Quantum physicist Mario Krenn and his colleagues in the group of Anton Zeilinger from the Faculty of Physics at the University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences have developed an algorithm which designs new useful quantum experiments. As the computer does not rely on human intuition, it finds novel unfamiliar solutions. The research has just been published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

The idea was developed when the physicists wanted to create new quantum states in the laboratory, but were unable to conceive of methods to do so. “After many unsuccessful attempts to come up with an experimental implementation, we came to the conclusion that our intuition about these phenomena seems to be wrong. We realized that in the end we were just trying random arrangements of quantum building blocks. And that is what a computer can do as well – but thousands of times faster”, explains Mario Krenn, PhD student in Anton Zeilinger’s group and first author research.

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Engineering teams use them, kids use them, and we all have all made the unpleasant mistake of stepping on to them at least once in our life: Legos.

Long touted as a staple toy for the kids around of the world, the colorful bricks have garnered more and more attention in recent years for their varied applications and benefits over the past years.

Research conducted by the American Marketing Association has shown that Legos foster our creativity. And a separate study in the peer-reviewed journal, Early Child Development and Care, shows that they enable success in mathematics as well.

Richard Moser, an Austrian soft matter physicist at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria, has now enhanced our understanding and application of Legos with his latest research.

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Where would you look for a high-energy Austrian scientist with a passion for genetics and microbiology – more specifically, a passion for botanical stem-cell mutants, rainforest fieldwork, and Cretan orchids?

Perhaps the University of Vienna? Sure. Rainforest of the Austrians in Costa Rica? Natürlich! Cold Spring Harbor Lab’s DNA Learning Center West in Long Island, NY? Ideal place for her. Inner-city New York City schools? Hmmm … can you run that one by me again?

Yes, you heard correctly. Christine Marizzi, PhD, has undertaken professional projects in all of the above. But her work with middle school, high school, and college students throughout the NYC area has become one of the most fulfilling aspects of her scientific career.

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On the verge of the historic COP21 agreement, climate scientists and policy makers have set their sights on the future. Recently, that future has come to include the pollution-reduction pledges of the Paris agreement, which would permit the atmospheric temperature to increase only 2.7o Celsius by 2100.

To arrive at these precise calculations and conclusions, the climate community relies on accurate climate models such as those provided by Austrian scientists at the University of Innsbruck, who are currently scavenging through the subsurface of Nevada to shine new light on historical climate developments.

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Posted by on in Noteworthy Information

The Molecule-car Race International is not your conventional car race. Hosted later this year in Toulouse, France, the Molecule-car Race International will be the world’s first car race in which each vehicle is a molecule!

Austrian scientists will be among the participants in this first-ever edition of the Molecule-car Race International. A joint team consisting of scientists from Graz University of Technology & Rice University has created the world’s first single-molecule car!

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Posted by on in Startup Corner

In the past hardware startups have struggled when compared to app-based startups, however, the tide is turning as tech portals such as C-Net are pointing out. Venture capital investment in internet-connected hardware devices rising to $1.48 billion last year, a 76 percent increase from 2013.

Austria is no stranger to these developments as the local Austrian tech portal der Brutkasten has showcased. Discover below some of the Austrian hardware startups that left their mark in 2015!

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Posted by on in Noteworthy Information

When was the last time you ate millet?

If you answered never, Austrian scientist Dr. Patricia Bubner wants to change that. Her bold goal looks to "diversify agriculture and our diet by the cultivation and consumption of lesser-known grains such as millets."

The reasoning behind Bubner's activities is a compelling one, as she notes in the "The Millet Project", which is supported by the University of California at Berkeley:

 

Cereal grains go back a long way in human civilization. And what a variety we cultivated! Yet today, corn, wheat and rice comprise at least 89% of worldwide cereal production, in spite of the large variety of cereals traditionally available in different parts of the world. This, in turn, has caused losses in the variety of food and consequently nutrients in our diet, which together have adverse environmental and nutritional impacts.

 

Read more about Patricia's efforts in Salzburger Nachrichten , Kleine Zeitung, Tiroler Tageszeitung, as well as local US press

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Source: harvard.edu

Most cancers in humans are large, complex composition of billion of cells measuring centimeters in diameter. This has left scientists with a dilemma. One the one hand, some models today allow capturing of the spatial aspects of tumors, however they do not capture their genetic changes. Non-spatial models on the other hand, are able to portray a tumors' evolution, but not its three-dimensional structure, and characteristics.

Martin Nowak, Austrian scientist, and Director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics and Professor of Mathematics and of Biology at Harvard University, has together with scientists from the University of Edinburgh, and Johns Hopkins University now succeeded in developing the first 3-D model of solid tumors.

This new model reflects both, the three-dimensional shape, and the genetic evolution of cancer tumors. Moreover, the new model explains, why cancer cells have a surprising number of genetic mutations in common, how driver mutations spread through the whole tumor, and how drug resistance evolves. Nowak's model currently only suggests, however, it might soon be able to show how targeting short-range cellular migratory activity could have marked effects on tumor growth rates.

Nowak notes to the Medical Press that "Previously, we and others have mostly used non-spatial models to study cancer evolution. But those models do not describe the spatial characteristics of solid tumors. Now, for the first time, we have a computational model that can do that."

The research findings of Nowak and his colleagues from the University of Edinburgh and Johns Hopkins University have been published in the renowned Nature magazine.

 

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There has been a shift in the fundamentals of how light waves interact. Scientists at the Technical University of Vienna have succeeded in manipulating the scattering of light waves, and have created a new novel design for undistorted light waves.

Until recently, the paradigm within science has been that when a light wave penetrates a material that it is usually changed drastically. In effect, as soon as a light wave hits an obstacle, its constant intensity is immediately destroyed due to scattering.

This fundamental restriction has now been lifted with the most recent research developments from Vienna. Konstantinos Makris and Stefan Rotter from the Technical University of Vienna working together with Ziad Musslimani from Florida State University, as well Demetrios Christodoulides from the University of Central Florida, have been able to calculate and show materials which allow new kind of light waves to not scatter on its surface. Essentially, these specially designed non-hermitian materials remain completely unperturbed (see Fig. 2).

                      

Fig. 1 - A wave penetrates a material: usually this leads to wave interference, to darker and brighter areas. Source: TU Wien

Fig. 2 - Specially designed non-hermitian materials remain completely unperturbed. Source: TU Wien

 

Makris and Rotters research developments are reminiscent of so-called ‘meta materials’, which have a special structure that allows them to diffract light in unusual ways. In effect, these meta materials allow for the light to bend around the object, so that the object becomes invisible.

Makris notes that the “…the material is completely invisible to the wave, even though the light passes through the material and interacts with it.”

Routine fabrication of meta materials is still not in sight, however, the research conducted at TU Vienna, has enabled the advance of invisible meta materials, which will certainly find applications in many industry fields.

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Posted by on in Moves & Milestones

Cruising along America’s shores, and lakes in a boat might be the quintessential American summer experience, however, 17 million recreational boats have taken their ecological toll on the US in the past decades.

In order to counteract these negative externalities, the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory has teamed with marine industry partners such as Bombardier Recreational Products to investigate alternative fuels for recreational marine applications.

Past recommendations would have been to increase ethanol levels in fuel mixes. This advise, however, is ill suited for the recreational marine industry, due to the nature of motor boats, ethanol attracting water, potentially allow surrounding water to enter fuel tanks and affect the engines performance.

Thomas Wallner, Austrian scientist, research engineer, and Principal Investigator at Argonne’s Center for Transportation Research has therefore researched, identified, and advocated for the use of butanol, which unlike ethanol does not attract water, and does not harm the engine.

Wallner stresses that “Butanol at 16 percent blend level works as well as ethanol at 10 percent under tested conditions.” In effect, after years of testing the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) has approved this new butanol fuel, which seeks to substitute the ecologically more harmful 10-15% ethanol fuel blends.

Your guilt free boat cruise can start now!

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Our brain is a high-speed myriad of synapsis, which requires constant stimulated communication in order to overcome obstacles, and challenges.

Austrian scientists alongside their American counterparts have recently highlighted how communications between the control, and fear centers of our brain can help us overcome fear.

Dr. Nicolas Singewald, Head of Neuropharmacology at the University of Innsbruck, and his research highlight how fear can be mitigated, and even extinct. Singewald’s research builds on the notions of Ivan Pavlov, the renowned Russian physiologist who coined the term ‘extinction’, which describes gradual weakening of a conditioned response that results in the behavior decreasing or disappearing.

The research team including University of Innsbruck scientists Christina Brehm, Nicolas Singewald, and Nigel Whittle looked at the communication between the prefrontal cortex (controls the fear in our brains) and amygdala (generates fear in our brain). The activity, and intensity between these two parts determines the rate of fear extinction in them.

With this in mind, the researchers conducted manipulation experiments on mice that measured the extinction rate while the prefrontal cortex-amygdala neural circuit was stimulated. Singewald et al. noticed that a targeted “…stimulation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC)–amygdala pathway facilitated extinction memory formation” as their findings notes.

This stimulation is done via optogenics i.e. a laser that is able to surgically target the exact prefrontal cortex-amygdala neural circuit. The University of Innsbruck scientists hope that with these new findings they will be able to research which neuro receptors along the prefrontal cortex-amygdala neural circuit would be susceptive to pharmological influence.

In effect, it is not utopian to suggest that fear might be treatable in the near future with targeted medication or therapy, thanks to the research findings of the University of Innsbruck scientists, and their partners.

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Chlamydia is the pathogen that causes one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. Annually, over 100 million people contract the bacterial infection, which in severe cases can lead to blindness and infertility.

 

Human Pap smear showing chlamydial infection. Source: Harvard

 

These symptoms, however, could now become a thing of the past. An international research team led by Dr. Georg Stary from the University Clinic of Dermatology at the Medical University of Vienna have discovered how to stimulate the immune response to Chlamydiae, both efficiently and preventively. In effect, providing a pathway for chlamydia vaccinations.

 

 

The research findings of the team were recently published in Science magazine, the world's leading journal of original scientific research, global news, and commentary. In their research study, Dr. Stary and his team were able to mimic a Chlamydia infection in a mouse, using nanotechnology. They then developed a protective vaccine, which activates two waves of immune cells. Stary points out the importance of their discovery, stating if “the infection is not picked up in the early stages, it can progress into a chronic form and then antibiotics are mostly ineffective."

Vaccinations against chlamydia have been direly requested by the medical world, especially, as “…previous attempts to immunize humans against Chlamydia infections not only failed but, in some cases, even made them more susceptible to infection with Chlamydiae,” Stary notes.

According to MedUni Vienna-Dermatology, the new findings could also lead to the successful development of an effective strategy for vaccinating against other types of mucosal infection.

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