One of the key technologies for the first power plant-sized fusion reactor to be tested at the Centre for Energy Research

Hungarian researchers and companies will develop a machine protection system for the international fusion project ITER. The Shattered Pellet Injector is designed to quickly quench the fusion reaction before it can damage the inner walls. The project was made possible through a 2.4 million euro tender won by the Fusion Plasma Physics Department of the Centre for Energy Research, Eötvös Loránd Research Network together with several Hungarian companies.

The terrestrial realization of the energy production of stars has been the desire of mankind for half a century.  The ITER experiment currently under construction in France is a major step in this direction.  In this device, heated to a temperature of 100 million °C – ten times hotter than the temperature in the middle of the sun – charged hydrogen gas (plasma) fuses into helium, producing ten times more energy than is used to heat the reaction. Igniting a star on Earth will take the most complex device mankind has built to date. This international ITER project presents a tremendous challenge and opportunity for companies to develop their know-how.

Rendered Image of the Shatter Pellet Test Laboratory at Centre for Energy ResearchWhile starting up ITER will be a milestone, it is also critical to be able to shut down the experiment safely. The hot plasma is shot with hundreds of small ice particles, by firing a projectile made out of minus 260 °C hydrogen ice, also known as a pellet, against a plate with high velocity. This, like a shotgun, scatters the pellet into small pieces of ice, in terms of its function as a kind of powder extinguisher.

As a result of the research in the last decade, a prototype of the Scattered Pellet Injector can now be built in Budapest.  Researchers at the Centre for Energy Research will make a significant contribution to the future safe operation of ITER by testing the production, acceleration and fracture of pellets, the engineering design of the launcher and the development of the necessary experimental and monitoring methods.

Shattered Pellet Injector being tested on ITER’s predecessor, the European JET tokamak

The gas system of the Shattered Pellet Injector is provided by H-Ion Ltd., while the cryogenic design is built with the help of VTMT Ltd. This project builds on the Hungarian contribution to ITER started by Wigner RCP, C3D Ltd., GEMS Ltd. and Fusion Instruments Ltd., showing the high value of Hungarian researchers and high-tech companies to this exciting international project.

Press contact:

Tamás Szabolics, Centre for Energy Research

+36 30 388 6770

szabolics.tamas@ek-cer.hu

The Institute for Musicology’s new database offers a glimpse into the deep layers of the origins of Bartók’s arrangements of folk songs

Around a third of Béla Bartók’s works are arrangements of folk songs that the composer overwhelmingly selected from his own collection consisting of some 10,000 melodies originating with various different nationalities. The Bartók Archive’s new database, based on the catalog compiled by Vera Lampert (Folk Music in Bartók’s Compositions: a Source Catalog, Budapest, 2005), makes public – wherever possible – the complete source material for these folk melodies and presents, along with phonograph recordings of inestimable value, notations of the variations on them for which written records exist. Presenting the database here is co-editor Viola Biró, a researcher at the ELKH BTK Institute for Musicology.

Bartók collecting folk songs in Zobordarázs (today’s Dražovce, Slovakia) in 1907 Source: Bartók Archive, Budapest

The “Folk Music in Bartók’s Compositions” database presents the folk music background that gripped Bartók’s creative imagination. The database offers answers to questions such as how Bartók cataloged the melodies as he collected them, what comments he added to the entries, and how he further refined his records – sometimes several decades later – in order to create the most precise possible “snapshot” of a given performance of a constantly changing folk song. The phonograph recordings of the folk songs and the various notations on them give a fairly close and nuanced picture of the melodies that serve as sources for the work. A thorough analysis of the folk music sources combined with a comparison with the composition itself provides a glimpse into how the composer worked: we can observe how Bartók related to the source folk music, when he adhered strictly to every detail of the notation and when and why he handled a melody more freely – in other words, how a composition was created out of a folk song.

The database makes public all the written and audio sources available to us that most likely served – according to the best of our current knowledge – as sources for the folk melodies used in Bartók’s works, thus making manuscript sources that were previously only available to a narrow group of researchers freely accessible to everyone.

Arrangements of folk songs are present across Bartók’s entire ouevre. Simultaneously with his Rhapsody (Op. 1), his first mature composition and one that openly declares his creative coming of age, he wrote his first reflection as a composer on his encounter with folk songs in the form of his arrangement of the Szekler folk song “Piros Alma” (“Red Apple”) he collected from Lidi Dósa in 1904. It was the experiences he gained on his historically important 1907 tour of Szeklerland that decisively influenced the development of the markedly individualistic avant garde composition style that followed it. Attesting to this is an entire succession of folk song arrangements – including the For Children series of treatments of Hungarian and Slovak folk songs he wrote for pedagogical purposes, as well as the three series of arrangements of Romanian folk music, the Romanian folk dances and Christmas carols and his Sonatina, which were all presumably intended as a continuation of the former.

The later development of his style was also followed by arrangements of folk music. Dating from the same period as his boldly modern compositions from 1918-20, The Miraculous Mandarin and Etudes, Improvisations reaches “the ultimate boundary in the interconnecting of simple folk music and quite daring experimentation.” A major milestone in his artistic career came with the arrangements of folk music, written after his compositions from 1926, that simultaneously reflected contemporary trends – especially the works of Kodály. These include the two violin rhapsodies (1928–29), Twenty Hungarian Folksongs for Voice and Piano (1929) and Hungarian Folksongs for Mixed Choir (1930), all masterpieces of his classically mature style.

As Bartók stated, “To be able to deal with folk melodies is one of the most difficult tasks […] It is as difficult, if not more difficult, than writing a large-scale original work.” Writing arrangements of folk songs proved to be a superb school for the young composer. Folk music, then still utterly foreign to urban culture – and which the composers themselves sometimes travelled to distant, romantic regions in order to study – was the best starting point for Bartók and Kodály, on the cusp of their careers, to create the “new Hungarian music” and a modern but uniquely Hungarian musical language that breaks with the already fully exploited harmonic system of late Romanticism and its extravagant, overly emotional style. The arrangement of folk songs into art music was the first step on this path. At the same time, Bartók emphasized that “it is very important for the musical garb in which we dress the melody to be deducible from the character of the melody, from the musical features appearing either openly or tacitly in the melody, and that the melody and all additions give the impression of an inseparable unity”.

It was the further aim of the folk song arrangements to acquaint the wider public with the unrivalled treasure of folk music melodies that he had collected. The melodies that Bartók selected for his arrangements were typically ones that he considered to be of particular value or which especially interested him from a composer’s point of view. It is therefore no surprise that present in a high proportion among the arranged melodies are ones of the greatly esteemed old style of Hungarian folk music. Bartók generally transplanted the selected melody into the milieu of art music in the most precise manner possible, faithfully to how it was originally performed by peasants. Sometimes, however, he would modify the original folk song for the sake of his own compositional ideas: communicating it with different text or adapting it here and there on the melodic line in order to create a stricter structure better suited to the arrangement, perhaps developing the melody’s ‘ideal’ shape from different verses of the melody or from different variants of the same melody – but even then his modifications still recall the techniques of variation and variant formation that are part of the nature of folk music.

Bartók notating music from a phonograph record, ca. 1918 Source: Bartók Archive, Budapest

Of particular value are the primary sources of the folk song collections, the field books he used when collecting, as well as the ‘historical’ sound recordings recorded on the phonograph cylinder, the ‘snapshot’ of each folk song that was recorded when he collected it. Generally speaking, he would then create amended notations of the mostly skeletal notes he had made on site, setting them down onto the master sheet while listening again to the phonograph recordings, and these served to later aid in the systematization and analysis of the folk songs. In many cases, Bartók also later revised the amended notations, or created entirely new notations for melodies he had already notated. These sets of notes from different times and with different details provide a genuine treasure trove of information on folk music. When Bartók set down a strikingly large number of notations for a particular folk song, this usually indicated that the melody greatly interested him from a scholarly point of view as well, and he often included these melodies as musical examples in his writings on folk music. A detailed registry of the source collections and publications included in the database is provided.

Master sheet from the Bartók System, AI 524c (Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs/sources of the first line of the third melody) Source: Bartók collection

The database, which is essentially based on Vera Lampert’s volume Folk Music in Bartók’s Compositions, is continuously being uploaded in parallel with the publication of the complete critical edition of Bartók’s music. On the website, the arrangement is represented by an excerpt from the score from the complete critical edition. Furthermore, recordings of a representative modern performance of the composition and – if available – Bartók’s own interpretation are also available for listening. The scope of the folk music sources used in the Lampert catalog was slightly expanded with the addition of a few other collections of sources as well. It also adopts the introductory study from Vera Lampert’s work and publishes a map showing the places of origin of all the folk melodies in an interactive format adjusted to the digital edition. Also originating with the publisher of the volume is the concept of the “most analytical” part of the database, a comparative score of the compositional form of the arranged melodies and one or more selected notations of the folk pieces, rethought in light of the new sources and published in a completely revised form.

The digital edition of “Folk Music in Bartók’s Compositions” is an initiative of Márton Kerékfy of the ELKH BTK Institute for Musicology, the editor of the complete critical edition of Bartók’s music, and the structure of the database also reflects his ideas. The implementation is the result of the collective work of programmer Natália Zagyyva and several employees of the Bartók Archive.

Six outstanding PhD students at the Biological Research Centre awarded this year’s Straub Young Scientist Prize

The Straub Young Scientist Prize was established in 2017 by the Director General of the Biological Research Centre (BRC) to reward outstanding young scientists working for their PhD degree under the mentorship of senior research fellows of BRC. The prize was awarded for the third time and provides a HUF 100,000 monthly supplement to the PhD fellowship for a period of one year.

This year, six PhD students were awarded the prize from a total of 32 applicants:

  • András Kincses, Institute of Biophysics, mentor: András Dér
  • Henry Surya, Institute of Genetics, mentor: Melinda Pirity
  • Anikó Szabó, Institute of Biochemistry, mentor: Imre Boros and László Henn
  • Petra Szili, Institute of Biochemistry, mentor: Csaba Pál
  • Ervin Tasnádi, Institute of Biochemistry, mentor: Péter Horváth
  • Nikolett Zsibrita, Institute of Biochemistry, mentor: Antal Kiss

The prize rewards young scientists performing documented excellent scientific work during their PhD program at BRC. Criteria for application is at least one completed year in a degree course, i.e. fellows in year 2-4 of their studies may apply. Students who have finished their 4th year (or the 3rd year in the ‘old system’) and initiated the official process to obtain the degree are also eligible.

The prize is distributed through an application system. The fellows can apply with their own research results obtained from their doctoral research studies. The selection procedure consists of two parts: a written application and oral presentation, both in English. The written applications should include the concept of the research, the obtained results and future objectives. Based on the evaluation of the written applications, the jury invites worthy applicants for an oral presentation and discussion with the aim of evaluating the applicant’s knowledge and presentation skills. The jury consists of scientists in equal number from the four institutes of BRC. The decision of the jury is independent of the field and is based solely on the criteria of scientific excellence.

Congratulations to the winners! We wish them every success in their scientific work and doctoral studies.

 

Photo: Yvette Frank

 

Over 100 black holes detected by Virgo and LIGO in the first run of 2019

The classification and definitive analysis of the 39 events detected by Virgo and LIGO in the third observation period (which ran from April to October 2019) was published today on the ArXiv online archive. Most of these are black hole mergers, the characteristics of which, however, question some established astrophysical models and open up new scenarios. A likely merger of neutron stars and two probable ‘mixed’ neutron star-black hole systems were also detected in the same period.

It took a year of work and complex analysis by the researchers of the Virgo and LIGO scientific collaborations to complete the study of all of the gravitational-wave signals that were recorded by the Virgo interferometer, installed at the European Gravitational Observatory, in Italy, and the two LIGO detectors, in the US, during the data-taking period – called ‘O3a’ – which ran from the 1st of April to the 1st of October, 2019. Events included: 36 mergers of black holes; a likely merger of a binary system of neutron stars; and two systems that were most likely composed of a black hole and a neutron star. Among these, four “exceptional events” have, during the last year, already been published, but the catalogue released today provides, for the first time, a complete picture of the extraordinarily large number of recorded gravitational-wave signals and their sources. It represents a wealth of observations and data on the physics of black holes, barely imaginable until only a few years ago.

“Since the end of the O2 observing run in August 2017, many efforts have been made to upgrade many of the technical components and different sectors of the detector, in order to boost the Virgo sensitivity across the whole frequency range”, said Ilaria Nardecchia, a researcher at the University of Roma Tor Vergata and member of the Virgo Collaboration. “We reaped the benefits of our work because we doubled the sensitivity of the detector!”

Indeed, between September 2017, and April 2019, the sensitivity of the three detectors has been significantly improved. This has led, for example, to Virgo becoming capable of observing a volume of the universe almost ten times larger than in the previous observational run (O2).

“Observations with Advanced Virgo and LIGO have exceeded expectations. As well as opening a new and exciting phase in the history of human observation of the cosmos, we are seeing events that either lacked observational evidence until now, or go beyond our current understanding of stellar evolution”, said Ed Porter, directeur de recherche CNRS at APC-Paris, and member of the Virgo Collaboration. “Just five years after the first detection of gravitational waves, we can say that gravitational astronomy is a concrete reality.”

The detection of gravitational signals allows us, in fact, for the first time, to closely observe the dynamics of extraordinary mergers of black holes and neutron stars, which release bursts of energy equivalent to several solar masses in gravitational waves. This allows us to study, as never before, the physics of black holes, the cosmic phenomena that generate them and even the characteristics of the largest populations of black holes. Actually, the results of the present catalogue raise serious questions about the validity of some of the astrophysical scenarios and models, which until now seemed the most plausible.

In particular, the masses of black holes, presented in the O3a catalogue, question various theoretical and observational limits on the mass ranges of black hole populations. Some observations, for example, indicate the presence of compact objects (which could be either black holes or neutron stars) exactly in the gap between the mass of the heaviest neutron stars and that of the lightest black holes observed by astronomers to date. This gap could therefore narrow or even disappear. Other observed black holes have a mass with a value between 65 and 120 solar masses; a range forbidden by stellar evolution models. According to these models, the very massive stars, beyond a certain threshold, are completely disrupted by the supernova explosion, due to a process called pair instability, and leave behind only gas and cosmic dust. The existence of black holes in the range prohibited by pair instability suggests other mechanisms of black hole formation, such as the merger of smaller black holes or the collision of massive stars, but may also indicate the need to revise our description of the final stages of the lives of stars.

The publication of the O3a catalogue is the conclusion of complex work involving many phases and covering detector calibration, data characterisation and data analysis. The catalogue for each observation run is only published once researchers have the final validated dataset, thus making it possible to estimate the physical parameters (such as distance, mass and spins) of the black-hole and neutron-star mergers, as well as a confident estimate of their margins of error. Of the 39 events presented in this latest catalogue, 26 were announced immediately after detection, while 13 are reported for the first time in the paper published today. These add to the 11 gravitational-wave events reported by LIGO and Virgo for the previous runs (O1 and O2). In addition to the LIGO-Virgo events catalogue, three other articles have also been released today on the arXiv server: the global analysis of the astrophysical properties of the gravitational-waves sources; new tests of the theory of general relativity; and the search for gravitational-wave signals coincident with gamma-ray bursts.”

“These papers are very important and represent a further step forward in a long and exciting journey”, said Giovanni Losurdo, INFN researcher and spokesperson for the Virgo Collaboration. “We are already looking forward to the results of the second part of the third observation period (O3b). The very high number of events still to analyse and understand promises that the next catalogue will be as exciting, if not more so, than this one. Meanwhile, we are striving to implement a substantial upgrade of the Virgo detector, aiming to pursue the next run, in 2022, again with a considerably improved sensitivity.”

The above-mentioned findings are of great importance also to the researchers of the ELHK Wigner Research Centre for Physics (Wigner FK). “Some observations indicate the presence of compact objects which fall right in the gap between the mass of the heaviest neutron stars and that of the lightest black holes observed to date. Additional observation may very well further refine the picture. In addition to gravitational-physics research, many researchers at Wigner FK deal with high-energy physics. Therefore, the potential existence of unusually heavy neutron stars may have a substantial impact on the study of extremely dense material phases, quark material and hadron material”, said Dániel Barta, researcher of Wigner FK and member of the Virgo Collaboration.

Citizen-science projects for gravitational-wave data-analysis

Two citizen-science projects, Gravity Spy for LIGO and the European project, REINFORCE for Virgo, allow everyone to contribute to the identification of spurious signals and therefore to the discovery of new gravitational-waves signals, by collaborating directly with researchers involved in the analysis of the data of the three interferometers.

In fact, although external as well as internal noise sources are minimised, the data taken by the interferometers are still plagued by some disturbances. In some cases, these are monitored by witness sensors and are then subtracted from the data in real-time. Nevertheless, the identification of other noises is more problematic and requires off-line dedicated analysis in order to flag them. This is the case with glitchy noises; those that are generated, for instance, by light scattered off the main laser beam and that then recombine with it. The careful studies required to claim a true gravitational-wave signal explain why the LIGO and Virgo Collaborations issue alerts of a candidate event to the scientific community soon after it has been measured. This can then either be confirmed by subsequent analysis and hence considered a true signal or not. Thanks to Gravity Spy and REINFORCE, citizen scientists can help researchers in this complex analysis work by directly accessing the data detected by the LIGO and Virgo interferometers.

The image shows sky localisations for the different LIGO-Virgo detections that are included in the O3a catalogue. Each localisation – represented by shaded areas on the map – is deduced on the basis of information provided by the three detectors in the network. The day and time of arrival on Earth, a scientific name and the time it took the signal to reach the Earth from wherever in the Universe it was generated, are all recorded. The smaller the shaded area in the sky map, the better the signal has been localised. Localisation is crucial in enabling follow-up searches with different messengers, such as light or neutrinos.

https://www.virgo-gw.eu/

 

EK researchers are studying the effects of low radiation doses on humans and the environment in an international project

In September 2020, an extensive EU-funded research project was launched to investigate the effects of chronic exposure to low doses of radon and other naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) on humans and the environment. The five-year term RadoNorm project has a funding total of EUR 22 million and involves 56 institutions from 22 European countries, including the ELKH Centre for Energy Research.

A map showing indoor radon levels in Europe (Image: European Geoscience Union)

The project received funding of EUR 18 million from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. It is being coordinated by Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation Protection. The consortium includes Belgium’s Nuclear Research Centre (SCK-CEN), Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, France’s Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, Sweden’s Radiation Safety Authority, and the UK’s Department of Health. The Environmental Physics Laboratory of the ELKH Centre for Energy Research is responsible for the coordination of the dosimetry work package, and also participates in the modeling of biological effects and the organization of training programs.

All minerals and raw materials contain radionuclides of natural origin. The most important for the purposes of radiation protection are the radionuclides in the U-238 and Th-232 decay series. For most human activities involving minerals and raw materials, the levels of exposure to these radionuclides are not significantly greater than normal background levels and are not of concern for radiation protection. However, certain work activities can give rise to significantly enhanced exposure that may need to be controlled by regulation.

NORM potentially includes all radioactive elements found in the environment. However, the term is used more specifically for all naturally occurring radioactive materials where human activities have increased the potential for exposure compared with an unaltered state. Long-lived radioactive elements such as uranium, thorium and potassium and any of their decay products, such as radium and radon, are examples of NORM.

There are many industries that process NORM including the mining of any ores (uranium is already controlled), rare earths, thorium and niobium/tantalum ore extraction, oil and gas production, titanium dioxide pigment production, thermal phosphorus, zircon and zirconium, phosphate fertilizers, cement, geothermal energy production, coal-fired power plants, phosphoric acid production, iron production, tin/lead/copper smelting and ground water filtration facilities.

The RadoNorm participants stated the project is designed to initiate and perform research and technical development in support of EU Member States, associated countries and the European Commission in their efforts to implement the European Basic Safety Standards for Radiation Protection. The research project will target all relevant steps of the radiation risk management cycle for radon and NORM exposure situations. RadoNorm aims to reduce scientific, technical and societal uncertainties by initiating and performing research and technical developments, and integrating education and training in all research and development activities. It will disseminate the project achievements through targeted actions to the public, stakeholders and regulators.

Source: https://www.world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/EU-research-project-focuses-on-radon-and-NORM

Major international LUNA experiment involving Atomki and CSFK publishes latest results in Nature article

In the first moments of our universe, the lightest chemical elements were created through a nuclear reaction in a process known as Big Bang nucleosynthesis (BBN). In one key reaction, the fusion of two different atomic nuclei of hydrogen, the proton and the deuterium, formed a stable helium isotope, helium-3. This reaction has been studied with greater precision than ever before by an international research team at the Laboratory for Underground Nuclear Astrophysics (LUNA) at the Gran Sasso National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Italy. A study of the latest breakthrough results in the LUNA experiment has recently been published in the journal Nature.

Nuclear reactions are responsible for the formation of the chemical elements that make up our world. The study of these reactions is one of the most promising areas of research today. By connecting astrophysics with nuclear physics, it forms the interdisciplinary field of nuclear astrophysics.

The LUNA Collaboration’s 400kV underground particle accelerator

The early phase of element formation is the nucleosynthesis of light elements generated immediately after the Big Bang. Understanding this phenomenon also brings us cosmological information about the Big Bang itself, and this has been studied with greater accuracy than ever before by researchers in the LUNA project. Previous experimental nuclear physics findings were not precise enough, as one of the nuclear reactions affecting the amount of deuterium atoms, the fusion of deuterium and proton, was not well known. Due to cosmic radiation reaching the earth’s surface, this kind of experimental study of nuclear reactions of significance to astrophysics is very difficult, and sometimes impossible

In the cosmic silence of LUNA, where 1,400 meters of rock protect the experimental laboratories from external radiation, researchers have been able to recreate the processes that took place during the Big Bang nucleosynthesis, and that still occur in the stars today. With the LUNA particle accelerator, researchers have figuratively gone back in time to a few moments after the birth of the universe. The latest findings of the LUNA Collaboration are that the proton capture in deuterium in the energy domain of post-explosion nucleosynthesis has now been determined with a precision that provides independent information on the initial mass density of the universe.

In an Italian, Hungarian, British and German collaboration, the researchers refined the calculations identified so far with regards to Big Bang nucleosynthesis and pinpointed the density of ordinary, or barionic matter, which is the creator of everything we know in the Universe, including living species. The same density also determines the quantity of deuterium formed during the Big Bang that can be observed by astronomical observations. Until now, these two figures had not been comparable because, despite observations, the experimental nuclear physics data were not sufficiently accurate.

The Nuclear Astrophysics Group of the ELKH Institute for Nuclear Research (Atomki) contributes to the LUNA experiment by participating in experiments at the Italian Institute and by carrying out various additional measurements at Atomki.

The nuclear astrophysicists of the Miklós Konkoly Thege Astronomical Institute (CSFK KTM CSI) of the ELKH Astronomical and Earth Sciences Research Centre participate in the LUNA collaboration with astrophysical model calculations using underground nuclear parameters.

In addition to participating in the LUNA project, researchers from the two Hungarian institutes conduct important research in several fields of astrophysics, such as understanding the chemical composition of meteorite star dust particles, the formation of heavier-than-iron elements, the development and destruction of massive stars and supernovae, and the evolution of the Universe. The researchers will continue their research activities throughout the next decade, including the LUNA-MV project, which will focus on studying reactions that are important for understanding the chemical composition of the Universe and the evolution of stars.

Details of the article:

The baryon density of the Universe from an improved rate of deuterium burning

  1. Mossa et al. (LUNA Collaboration)

NATURE, November 11, 2020

DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2878-4

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2878-4

Further infomation:

Dr. Maria Lugaro (maria.lugaro[at]csfk.mta.hu)

 

ÖK researchers use computer simulation to become the first to prove theory on the formation of chromosomes

With the help of a highly advanced computer simulation and under the academic leadership of Eörs Szathmáry, staff from the ELKH Centre for Ecological Research (ÖK) have for the first time demonstrated how chromosones could have formed at the dawn of terrestrial life. The discovery could fundamentally alter research into the origins of life. A study on this theory was recently published in PLOS Genetics.

There is perhaps no greater question in biology than how life began. To the best of our knowledge, life cannot be created without the transmission of information. From the very beginning, living organisms had to pass on information about the structure of their own bodies and the functioning of their life processes to members of the next generation. A broad scientific consensus has developed around the idea that the first hereditary material molecules were short and resembled today’s RNA. RNA functions as both a hereditary material and as an enzyme, which means that it can control the molecular processes necessary for life.

In the beginning, these short RNA molecules, which functioned as primitive genes, were not linked to each other in the same way that genes in chromosones in the cells of today’s living creatures are linked. The appearance of chromosones is a significant milestone in the evolution of life. But how did this leap occur?

“If genes move freely and replicate independently of each other, then some will inevitably be more successful than others, will multiply more quickly and will suppress the other genes. This would mean that the living creature as a whole cannot survive,” says Eörs Szathmáry, the general director of ÖK.

“33 years ago, some Hungarians provided what is still today the most widely accepted solution to this problem: genes must be packaged in cells. This means that the genes have the same interests, and the destruction of the cell causes no advantage for any individual gene. You could say that they are all in the same boat and none of them benefit if the boat rocks too much,” added the respected academic.

Though this idea may have provided an explanation for the origins of cellular organisms, how linked chromosones first came into being remained a mystery. A breakthrough was made when analysing the latter phenomenon in 1993 by English and Hungarian evolutionary biologists. By that point, the operation of ancient cells was being modeled with computers, which demonstrated that chromosones connected to genes were more successful as they reduced the competition of the genes inside the cells. Moreover, they also ensure that the genes sitting on the same chromosome are transferred together to the progeny cells that separate at division, so that the descendant is sure to contain all the genes necessary for survival.

Though the computer simulation may have been groundbreaking 27 years ago, there is no comparison between the computing capacity of these machines and those of the present day. As a result, the researchers recently further developed the experiment using a much more sophisticated algorithm, thus creating more realistic conditions, with the results further demonstrating the correctness of their theory.

“In the previous simulation, we did not take into account the effect of changes in the genetic stock, i.e. mutations, even though this phenomenon is one of the real drivers of evolution. The idea of the dose-effect relationship was also not part of the experiment. This dose-effect relationship simply means that the greater the amount of RNA enzymes contained in the cell, the faster it is able to make life processes work,” continues Eörs Szathmáry, before adding that “now we have taken all of this into account, we have been able to really faithfully model the struggle of early cells, and the creation of chromosones within them. We saw which of the cells containing divergent creative elements were successful in the continual fight for survival.”

Most of the mutations are harmful to the cells, meaning that they destroy their ability to survive. In fact, there may have been many parasitic genes in the genome of living creatures that multiplied to serve their own interests but which did not bring any benefit to the cells as a whole. It was therefore posited that those cells will be most successful that are most capable of defending themselves against harmful mutations. It was also clear from the experiment that cells containing chromosones are able to outperform their peers which do not contain chromosones.

The simulation allowed the genes to join, that is, to create chromosomes, but also to break them down, something which may often have occured frequently in the RNA world. It was found that, in line with the the dose-effect relationship, chromosomes in which several identical genes are linked spread throughout the population – that is, gene families emerged that actually exist today. What is more, the chromosones contained an identical, balanced quantity of genes that perform a variety of tasks. This meant that the scientists have shown that different genes are linked into chromosomes in an optimal number and proportion for the cell, and in a spontaneous manner.

“Our greatest finding was that we were able to show that cells are able to maintain more genes with the help of chromosones than without. This meant that more complex living beings could be created, and life could could appear in the form that we recognize today,” summarises Eörs Szathmáry.

Proper spatial structure of chromosomes may have provided useful functions (illustration)

The study is freely accessible on the PLOS Genetics website.

For further information: szathmary.eors[at]gmail.com

Ariel exoplanet atmosphere explorer program with Hungarian contribution gets green light

The European Space Agency (ESA) have formally adopted Ariel, the first mission dedicated to study the nature, formation and evolution of exoplanets. Hungarian researchers and engineers participate in the program, among them are experts of the ELKH Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences, Astronomical Institute (ELKH RCAES Astronomical Institute).

Ariel will be placed in orbit around the Lagrange Point 2 (L2), a gravitational balance point 1.5 million kilometers beyond the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Image Credit: ESA/STFC RAL Space/UCL/Europlanet-Science Office.

More than 50 institutes from 17 countries have been working over the past 5 years to develop the science goals and design the instrumentation which will enable Ariel to survey a diverse sample of around 1000 planets outside our own solar system.

The mission has passed a rigorous set of reviews in 2020 to prove the technical feasibility and science case and has now received approval from ESA’s member states, confirming that the team can work towards a launch in 2029.

Professor Giovanna Tinetti, Principal Investigator for Ariel from University College London said, “We are the first generation capable of studying planets around other stars. Ariel will seize this unique opportunity and reveal the nature and history of hundreds of diverse worlds in our galaxy. We can now embark on the next stage of our work to make this mission a reality.”

Ariel will be the first mission dedicated to measuring the chemical composition and atmospheric thermal properties of hundreds of transiting exoplanets. Ariel will give us a picture of a diverse range of exoplanets: from extremely hot to temperate, from gaseous to rocky planets orbiting close to their parent stars.

By looking specifically at hot planets, scientists are expecting to build an understanding of the formation of planets and their evolution. At hotter temperature, which in some cases it can be more than 2000’C, a greater number of exotic molecules will be visible to Ariel. The instruments will then be able to determine what the atmospheres are made up of and provide scientists a unique insight into the planet’s internal composition and the formation history of the planetary system

The Ariel team is taking a very open approach providing rapid access to data and even encouraging enthusiasts to help select targets and characterize stars. Much of the data will be available to both the science community and general public immediately.

Ariel will have a meter-class telescope primary mirror to collect visible and infrared light from distant star systems. An infrared spectrometer will spread the light into a ‘rainbow’ and extract the chemical fingerprints of gases in the planets’ atmospheres, which become embedded in starlight when a planet passes in front or behind the star. A photometer, a spectrometer and guidance system will capture information on the presence on clouds in the atmospheres of the exoplanets and will allow the spacecraft to point to the target star with high stability and precision.

Róbert Szabó, director of the ELKH RCAES Astronomical Institute, Hungarian Co-PI adds: „Ariel is an excellent example of cooperation between Hungarian space research and space industry in an international project. Hungarian contribution is necessary for our researchers to have access to world-class data and to be able to participate in internationally competitive research projects. The most mind-blowing aspect of this mission is that if we ever discover life outside our Solar System, this will happen with instruments like Ariel. Therefore, it is thrilling to see Hungary’s significant contribution to the Ariel project.”

Hungarian contribution to the Ariel program

In addition to the investigation of the exoplanets themselves, researchers of the ELKH RCAES Astronomical Institute (also known as Konkoly Observatory) have an important contribution to the mission by studying the host stars. Understanding stellar activity is a crucial task: first, this is an important source of noise, and events like solar flares may have a direct impact on the exoplanets’ atmospheres, and these changes can be detected with the instruments onboard Ariel. They have also proposed targets to utilize the idle times between scheduled exoplanet transit observations: in these gaps, Ariel could observe the mid-infrared spectra of young stars and brown dwarfs, allowing us to look at the complex chemical processes in the circumstellar disks around young stars. These observations can hardly be performed from the ground, and infrared space telescopes capable of these kinds of observations are still very rare.

Artist’s impression of Ariel. Image Credit: ESA/STFC RAL Space/UCL/UK Space Agency/ ATG Medialab

Studies based on the measurements from three visual range photometers and broad-band data derived from infrared observations are led by Gyula M. Szabó, director of Gothard Astrophysical Observatory, Eötvös University. Should the mission be successful, these will be the first measurements that will allow simultaneous photometric and spectroscopic investigations of the exoplanets. The accuracy of these measurements will allow the analysis of the planet’s rotation, its rings, specular reflection of the surface in grazing light, moons, evaporation of the atmosphere, or even the study of cometary dust around the planet.

ADMATIS Ltd from Miskolc – leading a team of other Hungarian vendor companies – will deliver flight hardware and ground segment components, as well, to help building Ariel and support logistics and transport on ground. One of the deliverables is a special radiator, which will be built into the payload with the task of controlling the temperature of the critical instruments with high precision inside the space telescope. They also manufacture three containers in which the space telescope will be transported throughout Europe, which will have to ensure the desired temperature and vibration-free environment in clean room conditions for the space probe worth of hundreds of millions of euros. Mounting frames, positioning systems, and stands helping the final assembly of the payload in the UK are also part of the Hungarian contribution.

Hungarian participation in the Ariel program is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade through the ESA PRODEX program.

Videos:

Ariel animations: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMLTUdXBPNS_pDJcGNZoLYw

Welcome to Ariel: https://youtu.be/28afJ_5TTGc

Key facts:

Ariel (Atmospheric Remote-Sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey) Facts and Figures

  • Elliptical primary mirror: 1.1 x 0.7 meters
  • Instrumentation: 3 photometric channels and 3 spectrometers covering continuously from 0.5 to 7.8 microns in wavelength
  • Mission lifetime: at least 4 years in orbit
  • Launch date: 2029
  • Payload mass: ~500 kg
  • Launch mass: ~1500kg
  • Destination: Sun – Earth Lagrange Point 2 (L2)
  • ESA Mission Cost: ~550 million Euros, plus nationally funded contribution of the payload
  • Launch vehicle: Ariane 6-2 from French Guiana shared with Comet Interceptor

 

The Demography of Disasters – a book written in partnership with the CSFK Geographical Institute published by Springer

As a result of a long-term cooperation between the Northern Institute of Charles Darwin University (Australia) and the Geographical Institute of the ELKH Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences, a book entitled The Demography of Disasters – Impacts for Population and Place has recently been published by Springer.

The book discusses the interplay between disasters and demography in 13 chapters written by 23 internationally recognized scholars from Australia, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine and the USA. The topics range from bushfires in California through depopulation caused by forest fires in Russia to the demographic effect of heatwaves in Australia and nuclear disaster-induced mass resettlement in Japan.

This OPEN ACCESS book is available for FREE download via Springer at the following link: https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-3-030-49920-4

An international conference planned in Budapest for the launch of the book has been postponed to a later date due to the coronavirus pandemic disaster.

Researchers at the Institute of Archaeology have published an archaeogenetic analysis of early medieval specimens from the Volga and Southern Ural regions in Nature Scientific Reports

The study just published in the  Nature publishing group’s periodical Scientific Reports was conducted by the ELKH BTK Institute of Archeology’s archaeogenetic research group and presents the first results of a project aimed at researching the history of the early Hungarian population and the analysis of the maternal and paternal lines of DNA samples within the framework of Hungarian-Russian scientific collaboration.  The genetic analyses performed under the direction of Veronika Csáky and Anna Szécsényi-Nagy included the analysis of samples collected during the Russian phase of prehistoric Hungarian archeological research in Eastern Europe led by Attila Türk (PPKE Institute of Archaeology, Department of Archaeology of Early Hungarian History and Archaeology of the Conquest Period, ELKH BTK Ancient Hungarian History Research Group). Russian archaeologist colleagues also participated in the preparation of the archeological chapters of the article.

Locations of the examined cemeteries; archaeological parallels between the individual cemeteries of the Carpathian Basin and the Urals

The genetically focused study first published in this periodical addressing complex research described a genetic examination of anthropological samples from the Trans-Uralian cemetery (Uyelgi, late Kusnarenkovo culture, 9th-11th centuries) displaying the closest parallels with the Hungarian archaeological finds from the period of the conquest of the Carpathian Basin, as well as of the four famous cemeteries (Brody, Szukhoy Log, Bartym, and Bayanovo, Nevolino and southern Lomovatovo cultures) located in the western foothills of the Urals. The samples originate from the Volga–southern Ural region, considered important from the point of view of the ethnogenesis of the Hungarians, from sites that archaeologists have so far directly or indirectly linked to the ethnogenesis and migration of the Hungarian ancestors based on the finds.

The staff at the Archaeogenetic Laboratory analyzed a total of 36 anthropological samples from the Ural region dating from the sixth through 11th centuries and nine from the Carpathian Basin dating from the conquest period, with the primary emphasis on uniparental (maternal – mitochondrial DNA; paternal – Y-chromosomal) markers. In addition, complete genomic analyses of five samples from the Uyelgi cemetery was also carried out.

(a) frequencies of the mitochondrial haplogroup originating from the foothills of the western (Cis) Ural and eastern (Trans, Uyelgi) Ural regions and (b) diagram of the PCA plot based on it.

The maternal lines of the studied samples indicate a mixed population in both phylogenetic and phylogeographic terms. One of the most important results of the study is the fact that a portion of the eastern elements found among the conquerors of the Carpathian Basin were also present in the groups taken from the examined region. This puts the Central Asian origins of a significant part of the early Hungarians in a new light. In addition, the paternal lines show a much more homogeneous picture, with most of them belonging to the special N1a (N-Tat) type characteristic of the Volga – southern Ural region, the environment of the studied site. This is also a characteristic of some of the men from the conquest period.

The genetic relationship of the studied burials in the Uyelgi cemetery based on mitochondrial and Y-chromosomal markers

The researchers found several direct or indirect individual phylogenetic relationships between the samples from Uyelgi and those from the conquest period. In aggregate, they reveal a clear population relationship, but at the same time, complex events in the population’s history. The genetic results indicate a basic continuity in the population between the three chronological phases of the Uyelgi cemetery. This had not been archaeologically demonstrable previously, due in part to the high degree of disturbance in the cemetery and the use of the kurgans for multiple burials. At the overall genomic level, the population fits neatly into today’s trans-Uralic genetic environment, showing the closest links with the Siberian Tatar and Mansi peoples.

The phylogenetic tree of the N1a1a1a1a mitochondrial haplogroup

Based on the data of only a few samples per site in the western foothills of the Urals, the Cis-Uralian population in some cases showed a phylogenetic relationship with the conquerors of the Carpathian Basin and at the population level was close to the pre-conquest population, although no clear population relationship could be demonstrated. The reason for this similarity may lie chiefly with the physical proximity between the areas populated by the early Hungarians and the neighboring peoples.

Finds from the Trans-Uralian Uyelgi cemetery

In summary, the Volga – southern Ural region has indeed played an important role in the ethnogenesis of the Hungarian people, and this has now been confirmed by archaeogenetic research. By showing the biological connections, it was also confirmed that the understanding and study of archaeological finds from Eastern Europe, as with those left by the conquerors of the Carpathian Basin, is highly relevant to the research of early Hungarian history.

As a result, the connections shown here can be further specified – or explored in more detail – in future studies by including an archaeogenetic analysis of other cemeteries linked to the Hungarians’ hypothesized route of migration and through a high-resolution analysis of entire genomes.

As a continuation of the project, in the next phase, the staff of the research group will publish the genetic results of other important, archaeologically significant Uralian cemeteries (Bol’shiye Tigani, Tankeyevka, Karanayevo) and “subbotsi”-type sites (Ukraine, Moldova) that are presumed to be legacies of the Etelköz homeland.

The study, titled “Early Medieval Genetic Data From the Ural Region Evaluated in the Light of Archaeological Evidence of Ancient Hungarians” can be accessed here.