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

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.

EK involved in large-scale project using Lab-on-a-Chip technology to aid conception

Researchers from the Microsystems Laboratory of the Centre for Energy Research were involved in the recently completed large-scale project led by the University of Pécs aimed at increasing the number of artificial inseminations (in vitro fertilization) by developing a new diagnostic test method based on chip technology.

Since the birth of the first ‘test-tube baby’, obstetricians have been using microscopic examinations to select which embryo might be most successful after implantation. For decades, medical science has been working to improve upon this visual inspection method and increase the 30% embryo adhesion success rate. Culture-based nutrient fluid diagnostic testing has been carried out at the University of Pécs for five years, with custom laboratory equipment and conditions and under special conditions.

As reported by Prof. Dr. Gábor L. Kovács, President of the János Szentágothai Research Center of the University of Pécs and the technical director of the project, the aim was to identify biomarkers that characterize a healthy embryo and can predict a successful and healthy pregnancy. Based on the results of the study, there is potential to classify embryos according to the presence and quantity of certain biomarkers. The long-term goal is to further develop the lab-on-a-chip method in order to be able to predict embryo adhesion and viability.

The János Szentágothai Research Centre of the University of Pécs and eight clinics and institutes from three faculties of the University of Pécs took part in the professional implementation. The other cooperating partners were 77 Elektronika Kft., the MFA Microsystems Laboratory (EK MFA) of the ELKH Centre for Energy Research, the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME SZAKT) and Semmelweis University (SE OVI). Approximately 100 people were involved in the project’s implementation.

Professor Kovács said the project involved first-class professionals with expertise in the manufacture of nano-devices and microchips. By miniaturizing the device and simplifying the procedure, their goal was for the chip-based device to be able to immediately indicate from a single drop of fluid which embryo is more likely to develop into a baby, based on the composition of the nutrient fluid.

Accurate and rapid on-site – bedside, PoC – detection of specific marker molecules from body fluids or cell culture media is of paramount importance to effective diagnostic solutions. Advanced micro-technological procedures have made the production of complex, miniaturized – lab-on-a-chip and microfluidic – analytical systems cost-effective. The ELKH EC Microsystems Laboratory, led by Dr. Péter Fürjes, designed and manufactured an autonomous microfluidic chip for the project which is able to move the applied IVF medium at a controlled speed. The material structure and (micro) geometry of the implemented pre-industrial/laboratory-level microfluidic cassette were also optimized for the specific application.

An autonomous microfluidic cassette used in a diagnostic procedure related to human in vitro fertilization

Scanning electron micrograph of the microscopic structure of a microfluidic cassette

Over the course of the project, the partners helped to develop a chip diagnostic device that facilitates more effective assessment of embryonic viability. These joint pieces of research have laid the groundwork for further progress. In recent weeks, PTE has won a grant from the government to support the National Laboratory for Human Reproduction program, something which can help ensure product-oriented further development of the research and innovation results.

Project title: Application of chip technology to improve the efficiency of human in vitro fertilization

Tender: GINOP-2.3.2-15 Excellence of Strategic R&D Workshops (GINOP-2.3.2-15-2016-00021)

Network method reveals long-term sequence learning in birdsong

The sequential organization of birdsong has been studied on collared flycatchers by the researchers of the Evolutionary Ecology Group (ELKH Centre for Ecological Research, Hungary) and the Behavioral Ecology Group (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary). The results were published in Behavioral Ecology. The results indicate that the syntax of birdsong is not fixed, but changes in the lifetime of the bird. Older males produce songs with longer repeated sequences of syllables, probably thanks to long-term learning processes. The study of the ontogeny and evolution of animal communication can help us to better understand the adaptation of animals to the changing environment and the mechanism of sexual selection. Sándor Zsebők, the primary author of the publication, summarized their research.

Singing collared flycatcher male.

Not only humans, but also animals communicate with acoustic signals containing sequences of discrete elements where the order of the elements is not random. However, contrary to human language, we know little about the variety and function of sequential organization in animal signals. To understand this phenomenon, one must reveal the changes of the sequential patterns within individuals through their lives and the differences among individuals. Furthermore, it is also necessary to reveal the function of sequences in terms of the relationship between the sequential organization and the quality and pairing success of individuals.

Birdsong is an ideal model for studying animal communication as it is easy to record and process, and we have a great deal of knowledge about it. Birds signal their territory and advertise themselves in courtship season. Their song can contain such information about the signaler as its physical condition, health and experience, which are all important in territorial conflicts and choosing a mate.

Sonogram of the collared flycatcher song. The different syllable types are indicated by different letters. The researchers studied the order of different syllable types with network methods.

One of the well-known model species used in this study is the collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis). In this European passerine bird species, the males sing and defend their territory and attract the females with their song in the courtship season. The researchers recorded the same birds repeatedly on the same a day, on different days and in different years. The order of song elements (known as syllables) was characterized by modern network analysis methods, and the variety of sequences was quantified by the network variables. The authors also quantified the relationship between the network measures and such male qualities as condition, age and arrival to the breeding area, pairing success and survival. Data from about 200 individuals were analyzed.

It was found that the order of syllables was not random. Instead, longer sequences were repeated in the songs. The birds produced syllables in a way that the frequency differences of the consecutive syllables were higher than could have been expected in a random case. This indicates that the males try to show off to advertise their capabilities, as producing sequences in this way is more difficult and requires more effort than singing in the same pitch. The researchers also showed that the differences in the usage of syllable sequences were higher between individuals than within individuals, which further supports the idea that males may express their individual qualities in the ordering of the syllables. It was also shown that older males sing with longer repeated sequences and more unique syllables within their songs than younger individuals. The authors have posited that there are long-term learning processes behind this intriguing phenomenon.

The figures show the network of syllable types. The nodes (circles) represent the syllable types, where the colors indicate the number of connections with other syllable types. The connections (arrows) show which syllable types follow each other in the songs.

Although the researchers could not obtain direct proof of the relationship between the ordering of syllables and the choice of mate, it may be advantageous to listen the ordering in both territorial and mate choice contexts. Older males may have more experience not only in singing but also in territorial fighting, and may also be more experienced in finding good quality nest holes and avoiding predators, something that can also be important when selecting a mate.

These results can support such research directions that aim to reveal the determinants of the evolution of complex communication, including human language. Also, in general, using the birdsong as a model of complex learnt behavior, the research can help us to understand how animals can adapt to the changing environment, something which is essential for predicting anthropogenic effects on wildlife.

Cite:

Sándor Zsebők, Gábor Herczeg, Miklós Laczi, Gergely Nagy, Éva Vaskuti, Rita Hargitai, Gergely Hegyi, Márton Herényi, Gábor Markó, Balázs Rosivall, Eszter Szász, Eszter Szöllősi, János Török, László Zsolt Garamszegi, Sequential organization of birdsong: relationships with individual quality and fitness, Behavioral Ecology, araa104

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/beheco/araa104

 

 

Wigner FK wins 2020 Grand Prize as a consortium partner at the Industry Days exhibition for the industrial machining center development project

ELKH Wigner FK’s Institute for Solid State Physics and Optics was involved as a consortium member in a project to develop a laser 3D metal printing machine called Automated Additive Manufacturing Laser Cell (RAM), which was awarded the Grand Prize in 2020 for its unique features and outstanding technical parameters at the 2020 Industry Days trade fair in Budapest.

Within the framework of a project implemented under the leadership of LASRAM Engineering Kft. and the cooperation of Csepeli Szerszámgépgyár Ltd, the Laser Applications and Optical Measurement Techniques Research Group of the Applied and Nonlinear Optics Department of Wigner FK SZFI carried out research related to the integration of a laser 3D metal printer. During this, the researchers examined the effects of various technological parameters on the component construction process, analyzed the quality of the created surfaces and the correlations between the laser parameters and mechanical properties, established the optimal parameters for different metal powders to meet the required quality criteria, as well as worked on determining the physical and chemical properties and effects on health of aerosols released during the interaction between high-intensity laser beams and metal.

Laser technologies are becoming more prevalent in materials processing, mechanical engineering and fine mechanics. One new field is the use of modern lasers in additive technologies, where during metalworking, the final component is not formed by a practical reduction in the size of the material, as is the case with turning, milling or grinding, but is instead produced layer by layer from a metal powder that is applied by laser melting to a given surface using a special 3D metal printer. The advantage of this method is that it is possible to create – in an automated, material-saving manner and using digital technologies – particularly complex, three-dimensional curvatures, hollow structures with high tensile strength, and hardened wear-resistant surfaces and complex structures that are also lightweight, such as turbine blades for injectors and certain machine tool parts.

The development was implemented in project No. 2017-1.3.1-VKE-2017-00039, established within the framework of the NKFIH-funded Competitiveness and Excellence Cooperation invitation to tender.

Atlantic Ocean currents and the European precipitation distribution as speleothems show

In a recently published study (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2020.10.061), Attila Demény, a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA), and his colleagues compared 17 geochemical data sets (records) measured from speleothems (mainly carbonate deposits in caves) across Europe, from which previous studies have shown that they reflect the hydrological conditions prevailing at the time of their formation. The work was conducted within the framework of a project carried out with a partnership between the Institute of Geology and Geochemistry (FGI) of the ELKH Research Center for Astronomy and Earth Sciences and the researchers of Eötvös Loránd University. The project was funded by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences under the Excellence Cooperation Program. In addition, Professor Silvia Frisia from the University of Newcastle, Australia, co-authored the interpretation of the data as a guest-researcher invited by MTA.

The paleohydrological condition parameters inferred from the speleothems ranged from the amount of precipitation to seasonal distribution and changes in moisture source region, but with the common feature of reflecting hydrological conditions. In addition to stable carbon and oxygen isotope ratios (13C/12C and 18O/16O) in the speleothem carbonate, lamina (fine layers deposited in the stalagmites) data thickness and concentrations of precipitation sensitive elements (Mg, Sr) were also included.

Fig. 1. The investigated speleothem locations and the Nagy Tufa deposit of the Béke Cave (NE Hungary).

Fig. 2. Stable carbon isotope composition of the Nagy Tufa deposit. Upper panel: the cross section of the BNT-2 core.

Comparing the stalagmite data from the European and Mediterranean region with the core data from the Nagy Tufa formation in Béke Cave (NE Hungary), a systematic spatial pattern emerges that is very similar to the precipitation distribution patterns inferred from the European pollen database and climate models. These results provide multiple pieces of evidence that the stalagmite records, which are precisely dated and analyzed with at least a decade-long resolution, together indicate a change in the spatial and temporal distribution of precipitation across a centennial time scale.

Fig. 3. Spatial distribution of correlations between the Nagy Tufa carbon isotope record and the selected speleothem records. Red: positive correlation. Blue: negative correlation. The size of circles is proportional to the correlation coefficient. The yellow circle with an arrow depicts the Béke Cave location.

The researchers conducted multivariate statistical analysis to identify the factors determining the change in stalagmite records. Principal component analysis (PCA) was used to determine principal component (PC) time series describing common changes in all records examined. Of these, the two PC time series that best explained the common variance of the records were correlated with Atlantic sea surface temperature (SST) databases as a potential independent explanatory factor, resulting in systematic patterns. While the SST data series from the area of warm currents showed positive correlations with the PC datasets, negative correlations appear in the area of ​​cold north-south ocean currents. The components of different significance (PC1 and PC2) indicated a temporally varying degree of correlation, suggesting that the effect of North Atlantic currents changed significantly approximately  4,200 years ago. Research shows not only catastrophic ocean changes (such as the meltwater flux that occurred 8,200 years ago, which greatly reduced the strength of the warm current from the south), but also also long-term fluctuations that affected hydroclimatic conditions in the European and Mediterranean regions on a millennial scale. The presented correlations can help to understand the background of current climate change and precipitation distribution conditions that have a significant impact on society.

Fig. 4. North Atlantic ocean currents and the correlations between the speleothem-derived PC1 dataset and the sea surface temperature records.

Source: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2020.10.061