The staff of the GGI Kövesligethy Radó Seismological Observatory prepares maps of surface changes caused by earthquakes in Zagreb based on images from space

In 2020, three large earthquakes occurred in the area around Zagreb. An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.6 on the Richter scale occurred on 22 March, another with a magnitude of 5.2 on 28 December and an even stronger one on 29 December, with a magnitude of 6.3. At the end of March, the staff of the ELKH CSFK GGI Kövesligethy Radó Seismological Observatory completed maps of the surface change caused by the spring earthquake and published them on the website of the NKP SZET project, the details and significance of which are summarized in this article. The researchers are to publish the findings of the satellite comparison of the December earthquakes.

Although the seismic activity of the Pannonian Basin is moderate, historical data has also shown seismic events that have caused serious destruction.  For example, based on the historical data, seismologists have estimated that an earthquake that occurred close to the city of Komárom in 1763 reached 6.1 on the Richter scale. Seismic events of similar magnitude can have unpredictable, severe consequences in today’s urbanized environment due to the vulnerability of critical infrastructure.  This means that it is essential to better understand the geological processes and structures to which seismic events known from the past and expected in the future are linked. In addition to the large amount of structural research using geophysical measurement and drilling data, it is now possible to use satellites to observe the deformations caused by earthquakes. The goal of the seismotectonics project implemented within the framework of the Hungarian National Excellence Program (NKP SZET) is to create a seismotectonic model of Hungary that will help seismic risk analyses of various scales and thus mitigate the potential consequences of earthquakes. The March series of earthquakes in Croatia served as a kind of pilot project, a natural laboratory for researchers studying the Carpathian-Pannonian region to see how the analysis of seismological station data, the reconstruction of the deep stress field and the satellite observation of permanent surface deformations can provide an insight into the nature of earthquakes.

In addition to many other applications, state-of-the-art satellite Earth observation programs (e.g. the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Copernicus Program) use special data processing techniques called satellite radar interferometry (InSAR) to enable surface impressions of the planet’s internal processes with high accuracy, observed in high spatial and temporal resolution. The essence of this is that between the recordings of the ESA Sentinel-1 satellite pair for remote sensing made at different times, changes in the phase information (interference principle) are determined. With this method, surface deformations of less than half a wavelength can be mapped with an accuracy of a few millimeters based on images from a satellite passing at an altitude of approximately 700 km (Figure 1). Based on the phase changes of the Sentinel-1 recordings before and after the March 22 earthquake, permanent surface movements related to stress release can be observed. By ‘summing up’ the interference bands, the total deformation can be produced, and by analyzing the images with different satellite geometries, nearly three-dimensional information about the surface displacements can be obtained (Figures 2 and 3). Together with the nesting mechanism calculations obtained from the analysis of the seismic wave, these results serve to refine and validate the existing geological and tectonic models, and they can also inspire the creation of new ones.

Figure 1 An interferogram for the Zagreb earthquake series based on Sentinel-1 ascending satellite orbits (17 and 23 March). The large spatial scale signal on the interferogram reflects the changes in the state of the atmosphere between the times of the recordings, as the microwave signal does not propagate in a vacuum but in the constantly changing state of the atmosphere of the Earth. In the middle of the figure, the almost concentric deformation pattern north of Zagreb caused by the main earthquake is still clearly visible. The phase change is approximately six radians compared to the points south of the city that can be considered immobile. The epicenters of the March 22 and subsequent earthquakes are indicated by yellow circles, and the color code on the right shows the depth of the earthquakes (source: USGS)

Figure 2 Vertical deformations caused by the March 22 earthquake near Zagreb based on data from the Sentinel-1 satellite

Figure 3 Horizontal (east-west, positive displacement: east) deformations during the March earthquake near Zagreb

Novel method developed at KOKI further improves efficiency and reliability of cognitive experiments on rodents

The Lendület Laboratory of Systems Neuroscience of the ELKH Institute of Experimental Medicine (KOKI), led by Balázs Hangya, has developed a novel device capable of fully automated training of laboratory rodents that help researchers study cognitive functions including learning, memory, attention, planning and decision making, with increased efficiency and reliability. This methodological innovation has recently been published in the Scientific Reports journal of the Springer Nature family.

It is increasingly clear to most policy makers that the prevention and treatment of neurological disorders carries huge potential benefits to the society. However, to realize these benefits, we need to understand the mechanisms of human thinking, for which it is inevitable to perform rodent experiments. In such experiments, experimental mice or rats are trained on learning, attentional and other cognitive tasks while constantly monitoring neuronal functions.

This task is time consuming, difficult to standardize, and direct contact with people is a significant stressor for the animals that may affect the efficiency and outcome of the experiments. This situation has been improved by Balázs Hangya and his group at the ELKH Institute of Experimental Medicine. The team has developed an automated training system in which mice can move from their home compartment to an adjacent “training chamber” where training takes place with automated software control. Mice learn the task much faster than during traditional “manual training”, while their stress hormone levels are the same as those of control mice. The new method can also save many working hours, as mice learn even when the experimenter is absent, for instance attending a conference, or be quarantined due to the epidemic. Since subconscious biases by the experimenter can be ruled out, the behavior of any two mice can readily be compared.

Compared to the few automated training systems available to date, the new device is freely programmable for a full range of cognitive rodent tests and can be combined with automated wireless optogenetics experiments. It is affordable and open source, that is, anyone can freely develop and customize it for their own experimental purposes. Thus, the new equipment significantly supports experiments in understanding cognitive functioning, including learning, memory, attention, planning and decision making.

Balázs Hangya and his research team have been working for many years to develop tools and methods to better understand the normal and abnormal functioning of the brain, which can bring us closer to a more effective treatment of serious diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. We have also reported on their recent study about the development of a new procedure that allows the localization of measurement devices implanted in the mouse brain with high accuracy by using CT and MRI measurements that was published in Nature Communications earlier this year.

Authors and source of the article:

Eszter Birtalan, Anita Bánhidi, Joshua I. Sanders, Diána Balázsfi, Balázs Hangya

Efficient training of mice on the 5‐choice serial reaction time task in an automated rodent training system

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-79290-2

Novel method developed at KOKI further improves efficiency and reliability of cognitive experiments on rodents

The Lendület Laboratory of Systems Neuroscience of the ELKH Institute of Experimental Medicine (KOKI), led by Balázs Hangya, has developed a novel device capable of fully automated training of laboratory rodents that help researchers study cognitive functions including learning, memory, attention, planning and decision making, with increased efficiency and reliability. This methodological innovation has recently been published in the Scientific Reports journal of the Springer Nature family.

It is increasingly clear to most policy makers that the prevention and treatment of neurological disorders carries huge potential benefits to the society. However, to realize these benefits, we need to understand the mechanisms of human thinking, for which it is inevitable to perform rodent experiments. In such experiments, experimental mice or rats are trained on learning, attentional and other cognitive tasks while constantly monitoring neuronal functions.

This task is time consuming, difficult to standardize, and direct contact with people is a significant stressor for the animals that may affect the efficiency and outcome of the experiments. This situation has been improved by Balázs Hangya and his group at the ELKH Institute of Experimental Medicine. The team has developed an automated training system in which mice can move from their home compartment to an adjacent “training chamber” where training takes place with automated software control. Mice learn the task much faster than during traditional “manual training”, while their stress hormone levels are the same as those of control mice. The new method can also save many working hours, as mice learn even when the experimenter is absent, for instance attending a conference, or be quarantined due to the epidemic. Since subconscious biases by the experimenter can be ruled out, the behavior of any two mice can readily be compared.

Compared to the few automated training systems available to date, the new device is freely programmable for a full range of cognitive rodent tests and can be combined with automated wireless optogenetics experiments. It is affordable and open source, that is, anyone can freely develop and customize it for their own experimental purposes. Thus, the new equipment significantly supports experiments in understanding cognitive functioning, including learning, memory, attention, planning and decision making.

Balázs Hangya and his research team have been working for many years to develop tools and methods to better understand the normal and abnormal functioning of the brain, which can bring us closer to a more effective treatment of serious diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. We have also reported on their recent study about the development of a new procedure that allows the localization of measurement devices implanted in the mouse brain with high accuracy by using CT and MRI measurements that was published in Nature Communications earlier this year.

Authors and source of the article:

Eszter Birtalan, Anita Bánhidi, Joshua I. Sanders, Diána Balázsfi, Balázs Hangya

Efficient training of mice on the 5‐choice serial reaction time task in an automated rodent training system

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-79290-2

New research projects launched within the framework of a university partnership receive a total of HUF 540 million in support from the Eötvös Loránd Research Network Secretariat

In 2020, the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH) Secretariat initiated a total of five university partnership agreements, with Széchenyi István University (SZE), Szent István University (SZIE), the University of Szeged (SZTE), the University of Pécs (PTE) and Óbuda University (ÓE). As part of the five university partnerships, several research projects began on 1 December, with the ELKH Secretariat allocating a total of HUF 540 million in support funding for the period up to 30 November 2021.

The partnership between SZE and ÓE is led by the Institute for Computer Science & Control (SZTAKI), the SZTE partnership by the Szeged Biological Research Centre (BRC), the SZIE partnership by the Centre for Agricultural Research (ATK), and the University of Pécs’s Szentágothai Research Centre (SZKK) partnership by the Research Centre for Natural Sciences (TTK).

The key mission of the program is to build on the professional evaluation and experiences of the hitherto highly successful Excellence Cooperation Program (KEP) and provide more effective frameworks in terms of scientific and research organization for the researchers of the institutions to help them study the recommended fields. In addition, plans are in place to extend the program to the innovation ecosystem around Hungarian research universities in order to support the integration of research teams close to ELKH universities that are smaller but achieve significant results in certain areas.

The main goal of the pilot program is to increase the number of research projects that are important to the national economy, but at the same time fit well into the priority scientific topics of ELKH, where the utilization of findings is a priority. This has potential to increase competition and also increase the quality of RDI cooperation.

Within the framework of the ELKH – SZTAKI – SZE partnership, a project with a grant of HUF 150 million was launched entitled The application of information processing protocols implemented through computer network communication in the distributed management of mobile agents. The research program aims to increase the social acceptance of high-speed, low-latency communication technologies (5G and 6G) and to expand their technological application in industry. Road safety can be significantly improved by making vehicle management systems more reliable and by sharing and using traffic information intelligently. Supporting transport systems with the technologies researched in the project has further potential for optimization, as it also contributes to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and thus environmental impact, which is among the primary objectives in the European Union, by reducing the energy used for transport.

Within the framework of the ELKH–SZTAKI–ÓE partnership, a project entitled Development of cybermedical systems based on artificial intelligence and hybrid cloud methods was launched in cooperation with a grant of HUF 100 million. The pilot application development is taking place in five different fields of physiological and biological applications, all of which have significant exploitation potential in different areas of public health, the food industry and the national economy. The five key areas of the project are: decision support for diabetics, automation of edible fungal production, tremor detection, microhemodynamic imaging, and monitoring of orthodontic use. The results greatly strengthen the portfolio of the newly established Technology Center at Óbuda University. In addition, further possible co-operation is being discussed with Siemens’s Hungarian representative for the widespread use of the findings of the five research areas outlined in the project.

As part of the ELKH–SZBK–SZTE partnership, two projects were launched with a total grant of HUF 120 million, with a budget of HUF 60 million each. The first is The modulation of the operation of ultrafast natural and artificial photochemical reaction complexes with high-strength static and transient electric fields. The second is Phenotyping of neurons and investigation of their communication using artificial intelligence and an automated patch clamp system.

The basic research program on photochemistry aims to elucidate the role of very strong and rapidly changing local electric fields in photochemical systems and their associated dielectric relaxation processes, and to help understand the effect of dielectric environments on the photochemical activity of artificial and biohybrid molecular systems.

In the neuronal project, the researchers aimed to develop a methodology for exploring cell types in human in vivo cortical tissues and understanding the communication between them. To achieve this, a hardware and software system for neuroscience research is being developed that uses artificial intelligence to reconstruct brain cells in tissue and then provides an indication (prediction) of their appearance (phenotype). In addition to a more accurate understanding of the functioning of the human brain, the method thus created will make it possible to answer important medical questions, including optimal, personalized therapy for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

As part of the ELKH–SZBK–SZTE partnership, four research projects have been selected that will build on the areas of cooperation previously initiated between TTK and the Szentágothai Research Centre.

The first project is the NGS[1] splice reference project, which aims to set up splice reference databases used to evaluate next-generation sequencing (NGS) data, focusing on two fields. In the NGS fitting reference project, a novel data analysis will be performed in which both participating research teams (from TTK and PTE, respectively) will process all available data independently. The results of the research will also be directly linked to the standards developed by the European Union-funded ELIXIR CONVERGE project with a total of 22 countries, supported by EUR 5 million in funding.

The second project was launched under the title New analgesic, antidepressant, neuroprotective/retinoprotective and memory enhancing target molecules, drug candidates (neuropharmacology), and represents a very promising new direction for drug development. Uniquely wide-ranging methodological possibilities are available for all phases of translational neuropharmacological research, for which the strong clinical background of the participants and the modern instrument park of the Szentágothai Research Centre (SZKK) are essential. The project covers the full spectrum of drug target identification studies, as well as the competencies required for pharmacological, toxicological, pharmacokinetic, pharmaceutical technology, pharmaceutical chemistry, biotechnology, and translational clinical research. The partners also work closely with several SMEs and Richter Gedeon Plc. Linked to this project is a project called the National Laboratory for Translational Clinical Neuroscience, which will focus on neuropeptide mediators and their receptors and small molecule brain transmitters, as well as the National Laboratory for Drug Research and Development.

The third project is Bioimpedance-based tumor diagnosis, which aims to establish a reliable, early diagnosis of cancer. The new method developed could be promising in tumor screening as well as in monitoring the effectiveness of treatment. Within the framework of the interdisciplinary R&D&I project, the validation, characterization and optimization of tumors (mainly breast cancer, melanoma, possibly prostate carcinoma, osteosarcoma) in complex animal models are planned, with the possible involvement of industrial partners at a later stage. Related to this research is the project of The Center for Cyber ​​Medicine Competence (NKFIH, 2020−) of the University of Óbuda entitled Establishment of an innovation service base for the development of cyber medicine systems for diagnostic, therapeutic and research purposes, with the aim of establishing The Center for Cyber Medicine Competence of the University of Óbuda.

The fourth project will take place under the name Cellular and molecular biological characterization of adipose tissue in the context of obesity and aging. This is related to the major global health problem of obesity, which has significantly increased the importance of studying adipose tissue and its associated overall metabolism at the molecular biological level. Both major directions of adipose tissue differentiation (white and beige/brown adipocytes) will be investigated in different model systems, such as the study of thymus (thyroid) adiposity using gene-deficient mouse models. A further aim of the project is to map the processes underlying adipogenesis associated with aging and to find protein targets that may be able to delay aging.

Within the framework of the ELKH–ATK–SZIE partnership, the Precision breeding for safe food raw materials research program was launched with a grant of HUF 70 million, the aim of which is to apply various technologies based on genetic engineering. Three plants are being studied – potatoes, wheat, plums – in order to find a practical solution to the harmful effects of the three main pathogen groups – virus, bacteria and fungi. The successful implementation of the project may also lay the foundation for the establishment of a new National Laboratory. Continuing the research now underway could lay the foundations for a so-called translational agriculture in the longer term, which, following the example of translational medicine, will serve and accelerate the transfer of scientific results into production and innovation.

[1] Next Generation Sequencing – DNA

The Zirconium cladding of new Paks Nuclear Power Plant fuel elements will be examined at the Centre for Energy Research

At the end of 2020, the operation with new lead test fuel assemblies optimized for the water-uranium ratio will be started at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant. The new fuel elements have a thinner cladding than the current one and the traditional hollow uranium dioxide pellets used so far will be replaced by solid pellets.

In parallel with the delivery of the new lead test assemblies, a shipment of new cladding tubes arrived from the Russian fuel factory.

Zirconium cladding tubes for the new fuel of Paks NPVarious measurements will be carried out at the ELKH Centre for Energy Research with the tubes made of Zirconium alloy containing 1% Niobium. On the one hand, these measurements will allow independent verification of the data provided by the fuel factory, and on the other hand, the new experimental database will provide an opportunity to further develop and validate the numerical models used in nuclear power plant safety analyses.

The experimental program planned at the Fuel and Reactor Materials Department of the ELKH Centre for Energy Research will provide important information on the behavior of new fuel under normal operational and accident conditions in the reactor and during interim storage in dry storage facilities.

The Centre for Energy Research experts will investigate the high temperature oxidation of the cladding, the uptake of hydrogen and the effect of thermal treatment in inert (non-chemically reactive) atmosphere. Based on the mechanical tests, the tensile strength of the cladding will be determined, and the mechanical interaction between the cladding and the pellet will be simulated. Long-term measurements will be conducted to monitor the deformation due to high pressure and the conditions for cladding burst will be examined. Special experiment will be performed with an electrically heated bundle to simulate fuel behavior phenomena during a postulated loss-of-coolant accident at the power plant with representative parameters.

Preparation of cladding tubes for bundle experiment

First report on a brand new wide band gap semiconductor, 2D indium nitride reported by researchers from EK MFA in Advanced Materials journal

Wide band gap semiconductors with a direct band gap are capable of emitting light. This is something that many people learned when the Nobel Prize was awarded for LEDs in 2014. The researchers had already worked for about two decades on materials such as GaN, AlN and InN. The last of these materials (indium nitride) was slightly unusual, given its forbidden band gap of 0.7 eV, which is not very wide. However, the above three materials can easily be grown in a ternary form and InN played a crucial role in the preparation of light emitting diodes (LED) and lasers in the form of InxGa1-xN. The band gap and the wavelength of the emitted light can be tuned with indium content. The exploration of 2D materials together with valuable theoretical papers predicted that the nitrides will also possess novel properties. Researchers supposed that the band gap of the bilayer InN will widen and can be used as a light emitting layer in the visible range.

The work which resulted in a bilayer of indium nitride formed in the closed space of hydrogenated epitaxial graphene on SiC was carried out in a FLAG ERA project called GRIFONE, with cooperation between Sweden, Italy and Hungary. The coordinator of the project with overall conceptualization and course of research is Anelia Kakanakova (Linköping University, Sweden), while the partners are Filippo Giannazzo (CNR Catania, Italy) and Béla Pécz (ELKH EK MFA). The project aimed the development of a general platform that provides the possibility to develop 2D semiconductors by (Metalorganic Vapour Deposition). Successful examples are 2D AlN (published earlier in Nanoscale) and the subject of this news, indium nitride. The successful outcome of the research on 2D InN was led by Béla Pécz.

The buffer layer of epitaxial graphene on SiC turns to an additional graphene layer, with a weekly bond to the substrate, which means we can let metal atoms into the space of graphene-SiC by intercalation. This was used in the present experiments as well to provide indium atoms and nitrogen from ammonia by MOCVD (by AK, Linköping University, Sweden). The results clearly show that the formed layer was successfully stabilized.

The whole surface of the sample was investigated by conductive AFM (by F.G, CNR Catania, Italy), which showed that more than 90% of the sample surface is covered by InN (below the graphene). Occasionally thicker inclusion of InN (5-7 layer thick) was also traced still under the graphene.

The image a) in the next figure shows the bilayer InN in the aberration corrected THEMIS 200 microscope of MFA (HAADF image in STEM mode). The intensity is proportional with the square of the atomic number and one can see clearly the two rows of the indium atoms. Image b) shows the rear-observed 3D InN, which actually shows a cubic layer sequence. Figure c) shows an (annular bright field) image which provides the possibility to observe the light elements as well. Indeed, on the right side one can observe the nitrogen bond to indium as well as the carbon in SiC.

The final proof for the chemical composition of the bilayer was provided by EELS (Electron Energy Loss Spectroscopy) carried out by Giuseppe Nicotra CNR-IMM Beyond Nano laboratory. The results clearly showed the fine structure of Nitrogen K edge and that the layer is oxygen free.

The importance of the new findings was enhanced by the work of Antal Koós (ELKH EK MFA) when he took I-V characteristics place by place on the sample by STS (Scanning Tunnelling Spectroscopy). The results showed a band gap of 2±0.1 eV instead of the 0.7 eV for the bulk case. With this synthesis, the 2D InN took its place among the real wide band gap semiconductors.

The full paper is available here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/adma.202006660

Marmots: the “ecosystem engineers” of the steppes

The Journal of Arid Environments has published an article by researchers from the ELKH Centre for Ecological Research on the curious habits and impact on vegetation of the steppe marmot (Marmota bobak).

The unusual rodent, also known as the bobak marmot, is the largest animal of the marmota genus. This subspecies of the Eurasian variety inhabits the steppe zones of the Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan. These steppe rodents live in colonies and build mounded burrows much like many of their relatives near and far. Underneath the mound is a complex tunnel system which can be several meters deep and offers protection from cold, heat and predators. These mounded burrows are usually 0.5-0.8 meters high, and several square meters in diameter. These characteristic mounds of the steppe landscape have long fascinated explorers and artists alike.

In this study, the researchers from the Lendület Seed Ecology Research Group were curious to discover whether there was a difference between vegetation found on mounded burrows versus the surrounding steppes. The study took place in the Naurzum Reserve in Northern Kazakhstan, on steppes dominated by the Stipa lessingiana species of feathergrass. The study found that the vegetation of mounded burrows was significantly different from steppe vegetation. Soil moisture content on mounded burrows is less than on intact steppe and flat burrows, so these mounded burrows were the driest habitats in the region. Aridity, regular trampling and fertilizing with feces contributed to the characteristic increased cover of drought-tolerant steppe grasses, including crested wheat grass (Agropyron cristatum), which is also native to Hungary, as well as several ruderal species. It is interesting to note that, based on a study of marmot feeding habits (Ronkin et al., 2009), the plants growing on these burrows also happen to be among their favorites.

The marmots spend a majority of their time on or in the burrow, and mostly forage nearby to make hiding from eagles quicker and easier. The published results indicate that the rodents’ trampling, grazing and fertilizing with feces are the very habits that provide favorable conditions for their preferred vegetation, and this, as an interesting analogy, is in fact ‘gardening’ – pruning, fertilizing and preparing the soil. Because of the constant trampling, fertilizing and grazing, marmot gardens sprout earlier and start drying out later than the surrounding steppe vegetation. This is very important during the summer dry season, when they need to start fattening up for hibernation. Marmot gardens help maintain their preferred foraging plant populations on a spatial and temporal scale because mounded burrows create stepping stones that can sustain the meta-population structure of these plants, which is beneficial for the whole marmot colony.

Steppe marmots are important ecosystem engineers on the Eurasian steppe. Their mounded burrows are separate little habitat islands, the characteristic vegetation of which they themselves cultivate and sustain. Based on the most recent studies (Koshkina et al. 2019) there are currently only around 1.2 million actively used marmot burrows in Kazakhstan. (These are partially found near arable land and not on the steppe as changes to land use in recent decades has also significantly affected marmot populations. However, there are still several hundred thousand steppe burrows). The range of the species in the past was larger, and therefore the number of active and abandoned burrows was, presumably, substantially larger. It’s conceivable that these habitat islands acted as stepping stones for the dispersal of plant species in the past. But of course, proving this would require further research.

Article reference:

Valkó, O.; Tölgyesi, C.; Kelemen, A.; Bátori, Z.; Gallé, R.; Rádai, Z.; Bragina, T. M.; Bragin, Y.; Deák, B. (2020): Steppe Marmot (Marmota bobak) as ecosystem engineer in arid steppes. Journal of Arid Environments doi: 10.1016/j.jaridenv.2020.104244

The full article can be accessed on the journal’s website by clicking here.

Changing weather patterns pose a challenge for weather forecasts during climate change

The so-called Arctic Oscillation (AO), an important contributor to long-term winter weather forecasts, may undergo unprecedented changes in the coming decades due to anthropogenic activities, posing a challenge for winter weather forecasters – claim Hungarian scientists. 

Researchers from the Eötvös Loránd Research Network’s MTA-ELTE Theoretical Physics Research Group (Tímea Haszpra and Mátyás Herein) and the Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences (Dániel Topál) brought evidence for the first time in climate science that the structure of the Arctic Oscillation – the dominant mode of natural atmospheric circulation variability of the Northern Hemisphere winter – may be altered in a warming climate. This change is especially important to be quantified in light of its importance to winter weather forecasters, who use the AO to predict European weather for up to three weeks.

In general, natural climate variability co‐exists with changes brought about by anthropogenic activities. This natural variability involves exogenous components such as volcanic eruptions and changes in the solar cycle in addition to the intrinsic (or internal) variability of the climate system arising from chaotic dynamics. This latter uncertainty is an inherent feature of systems driven by chaotic dynamics and can only be predicted in terms of probability. This means that to properly address the effects of future climate change, it is necessary to consider possible changes in internal variability (as manifested in atmospheric circulation changes) and study ensembles of climate simulations with slightly different initial conditions that account for this internal climate variability in a single climate model.

Haszpra et al 2020 discovered the opportunity to rephrase a previously common method in atmospheric science, the Empirical Orthogonal Function (EOF) analysis to large ensembles of climate simulations. This will allow for a more thorough interpretation of possible changes in future winter atmospheric circulation. The new method is called snapshot-EOF, where the word ‘snapshot’ refers to the fact that the EOFs are computed instantaneously across the ensemble dimension of the simulations rather than using time as the independent variable. This has enabled scientists to conclude that the structure of present climatic teleconnections, i.e., physical connections between distant regions of the Earth bridged by atmospheric waves, are not constant and can change depending on the amount of greenhouse gases.

A practical consequence of their findings involves the possibility of increasingly variable European winters to come. In other words, future changes in the AO and the polar vortex may favor winters with either north-south outbreaks of cold Arctic air or dominantly mild south-west air masses unevenly following each other with increased variability.

The original article can be accessed online:

https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/JCLI-D-19-0004.1

 

High-energy astronomical observations made possible by latest small satellite, built through an international collaboration under the leadership of CSFK researchers

In late November, the first satellite made by a Hungarian-led team expressly for astrophysical research was completed at the Konkoly Thege Miklos Astronomical Institute (also known as the Konkoly Observatory) of the ELKH Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences (CSFK), as part of a collaboration between Hungarian, Japanese and Slovak researchers. Since the discovery of gravitational waves in 2015, the scientific world has shown increasing interest in the Universe’s most high-energy explosions. However, locating and identifying the source of gravitational waves remains a challenge, as gravitational wave detectors are unable to accurately identify the direction of the sources, although the dimensions of the objects behind the phenomenon – e.g. merged black holes or neutron star pairs – can be accurately measured. One simple way to determine their direction may be to observe visible or other electromagnetic waves generated when neutron stars fuse: the detection of gamma rays is perhaps the best tool for determining their position.

CSFK satellite

The moments of the installation of the Hungarian satellite when the detector’s reading module was affixed to the data acquisition unit.

Although gamma-ray bursts have themselves been observed since the 1960s – including independently of gravitational waves – the phenomena associated with them have left us with many open questions. To facilitate research into this area, a Hungarian project was initiated with the aim of laying the foundations of future projects for the development of satellite fleets. Under the leadership of the staff of the Konkoly Observatory, staff from Hiroshima University and the ELTE TTK Institute of Physics were involved in designing and building a detector capable of measuring gamma radiation and which can also be fitted into a small system that complies with CubeSat standards. “The heart of the detector is a crystal of cesium iodide that emits visible light when exposed to gamma radiation. This is detected by sensitive sensors called photon counters. After amplifying and digitizing the signal, signals that are ‘suspicious’ in astronomical terms are stored locally or transmitted directly to a radio module,” said András Pál, who led the development of the system on behalf of the Konkoly Observatory.

CSFK satellite

Group picture with the nearly completed satellite, from left to right: László Mészáros − ELKH CSFK Astronomical Institute; Masanoni Ohno – Hiroshima University, ELTE Physics Institute; András Pál – CSFK Astronomical Institute

“The project is a remarkable example of international collaboration, with Japanese and Hungarian researchers together developing an astronomical instrument for a satellite that would previously have only been able to fly on a larger satellite,” stated Masanori Ohno, who moved from Hiroshima in Japan to Budapest for the project. “It was a huge challenge to design the entire detector to fit into such a small space,” explained László Mészáros, who was responsible for the mechanical aspects of the detector. “The packaging and assembling inside the crystal foils often required incredibly delicate manual work,” added the astrophysicist Jakub Řípa.

This small (or miniaturized) satellite has the same dimensions as the first satellite built entirely by Hungary, known as MaSat-1. In addition to the detector itself, the approximately 10x10x11-centimeter cube contains a power supply, radio transceiver module, an on-board computer and a GPS receiver for accurate timing. Though the detector itself only takes up approximately one-third of the satellite’s space, it accounts for nearly half the weight, as the crystals used in gamma detectors are highly dense, while the light-detecting sensors must also be protected with a little extra lead coating. The onboard systems of the small satellite were developed by the Slovak companies Spacemanic and Needronix in cooperation with the staff of the Faculty of Aviation Engineering of the Technical University of Košice and the Hungarian group – as a further development of the successful 10C10x11-centimeter SkyCube project.

The completed GRBAlpha small satellite, with the gamma detector on the top.

The Hungarian satellite is the first step towards later creating a fleet of satellites. If the detector concept proves to be succesful, then larger – with dimensions of approximately 10x10x34 centimeters, though still in line with CubeSat standards – satellites can enable not only more accurate measurements, but also extremely accurate measurements of the direction of the sources by assessing the difference in the time of detection of radiation received by each member of the fleet.

“This will open up a new path in astrophysics, and ours may be the first CubeSat detector that detects gamma flashes,” said Norbert Werner, a staff member at ELTE and Masaryk University in Brno, who coordinated the insertion of the detector into the satellite frame. “This is why the satellite’s name is GRBAlpha,” added László Kiss, general director of CSFK.

In this way, nano-satellites may soon compete with classical large-scale satellite projects that are nearing the end of their planned lifespan. Zsolt Frei, director of ELTE’s newly formed ELTE Space Science Center, and leading researcher in an ELTE LIGO team, stated that “The Hungarian satellite fleet will enable LIGO to determine the location of neutron star pairs as sources of gravitational waves in the coming years, i.e. to take the next key step in multichannel astronomy.”

The introductory scientific article for the project is available here: https://arxiv.org/abs/2012.01298