The ELKH Secretariat consults with the staff of libraries on the development of specialized institutional libraries

The ELKH Secretariat is committed to supporting the professional work of libraries. In this spirit, on April 6, 2022 the Secretariat held a workshop on the current situation of the specialized libraries of the various institutes and their development possibilities.

The almost one million printed library documents and the databases of scientific literature representing the entire world’s scientific publications and available through the libraries constitute the main basis of institutional research. The inspiring professional debate attended by staff of the Secretariat and the institutional libraries covered topics such as the preservation, processing and digitization of museum collections, external and internal professional relations and the financial support provided to libraries by ELKH. At the event participants expressed their intention to establish a librarian workshop with the aim of developing the professional library work and partnerships among libraries, which will provide scope for professional training and workshops in addition to fostering communications between librarians.

BLKI researchers investigate the role of invasive mussel species in the metal circulation of Lake Balaton

Researchers of the ELKH Balaton Limnological Research Institute (BLKI), in cooperation with the Sustainability Solutions Research Lab of the University of Pannonia, the Institute of Genetics of the ELKH Biological Research Centre, Szeged (BRC), and the Copernicus University of Turku (Poland), investigated the turnover of transition metals and semi-metals in Lake Balaton. They found that the invasive Dreissena mussel species – the quagga mussel and the zebra mussel – which occur in large numbers in the lake, play a dominant role in the movement and storage of both natural geochemical background and anthropogenic elements, according to their seasonal activity. The results of the study were published in the journal Biogeochemistry.

The functioning of a pond as an ecosystem is characterized by the exchange of material between living and non-living phases such as water, sediment and organisms. Within the framework of the project, the researchers analyzed 17 elements in the water, surface sediments, soft tissue and shells of mussels at different times of the year in the Keszthely, Szigliget and Siófok basins of the lake, which have different trophic levels. Research has explored the relationship between elements with similar behavior and element movements between phases.

The results show that changes in the metal content of mussels may also be related to events such as late summer sediment or water surface oxygen deficits and algal blooms in the western basins of Lake Balaton. Increased urbanization around the Siófok basin and the use of sprays containing copper to control fungal infections in vineyards around the lake may also have an impact on this process.

In addition to element content measurements, the researchers also examined – for the first time in the case of mussels in Balaton – the gene expression of proteins indicative of the metal load of the mussels. In addition to their key role in the food chain of the shoreline, invasive mussels have been found to be important in the lake’s elemental cycling and are therefore considered indicators of environmental events and their impact on organisms. The researchers emphasized that, as in previous decades, human-induced metal pollution continues to pose no environmental risk to the lake as a whole and has even decreased slightly.

Research aimed at protecting Lake Balaton and preserving its environmental status is a priority of BLKI. The researchers also plan to launch a ‘vitality-monitoring program’ to monitor the condition and the genes responsible for the defense and repair mechanisms of Dreissena mussels in Lake Balaton. This is modelled on the “Mussel Watch” program, which has already been introduced in several locations.

The research was funded by projects MAHOP-2.1.1-2016-2017-00005, GINOP-2.2.1-15-2017-00070 and NKFIH-471-3/2021.

 

In an international study, CER researchers recommend a regenerative agricultural model to help preserve ecosystem services

Orsolya Valkó, scientific advisor at the ELKH Centre for Ecological Research (CER), has played a leading role in preparing the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council’s (EASAC) latest comprehensive study, which presents a regenerative, renewable agricultural model. Szabolcs Lengyel, another scientific advisor at CER was also involved in the work of the international group of experts. The research findings suggest that transitioning to the new model could help reduce the negative impacts of agricultural activity and preserve biodiversity and ecosystem services in a number of ways. The official presentation of the study Regenerative Agriculture in Europe – A Critical Analysis of Contributions to the European Union Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies was held on April 6, 2022, at the headquarters of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Though agricultural activity lays the foundations for human life, in many cases it exercises significant adverse effects on natural habitats, plant and animal species, and ecosystem services. Agriculture is one of the main drivers of deforestation and other habitat conversion activities worldwide, and about a third of greenhouse gas emissions are also linked to agriculture.

In their recent study, members of an international working group convened by EASAC sought to answer the question of whether agriculture can contribute to biodiversity conservation and climate protection. The aim of the working group was to prepare a comprehensive analysis of the agri-environmental policy of the European Union, during which the researchers also examined whether the current regulations allow for the implementation of a regenerative agricultural model.

The European Green Agreement, which aims to make Europe a carbon-neutral continent by 2050, makes the work particularly current. The biodiversity strategy and the ‘farm to fork’ strategy are two key pillars of the Green Agreement. Their common goal is to reduce the adverse effects of agriculture on biodiversity and climate and to restore the biodiversity of Europe’s agricultural landscape.

The working group examined the interactions and mutual effects between agriculture, biodiversity and climate. They systematically analyzed the rich international literature published on this topic, with a particular focus on review studies and meta-analysis. They identified positive agricultural practices that ensure this activity can actively contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

The researchers also made recommendations for the further development of certain elements of the European Union’s common agricultural policy, emphasizing the importance of spatial and temporal diversification of agricultural production. Their proposals include promoting crop rotation, row crops and cover crops through support for gentle tillage and year-round crop cover. The researchers point out that the implementation of environmentally friendly agricultural practices in a coordinated way at the landscape level could significantly increase the positive effects of the regenerative farming elements used on individual farms. For this reason, it is considered extremely important that support schemes be made available that can be used jointly by farmers in a given landscape.

The study also highlights the importance of restoring natural habitats, which, in addition to conserving biodiversity, can also contribute to the sustainability of agricultural production, including the conservation of key organisms such as pollinators or the natural enemies of agricultural pests.

Asteroid discovered by CSFK researcher Krisztián Sárneczky is the fifth to have its impact predicted in advance

On March 11, 2022, astronomer Krisztián Sárneczky, a scientist at the Piszkéstető Observatory of the ELKH Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences (CSFK), discovered a small asteroid which – in line with predictions – entered the Earth’s atmosphere and burned up above the North Atlantic. The discovery is particularly significant, as there have only been four other occasions where the impact of an asteroid entering the atmosphere was predicted in advance.

At 8:24 pm March 11, 2022, using the wide-field CCD camera of the Schmidt telescope situated in the Mátra mountains, Krisztián Sárneczky detected a new, fast-moving and small-sized celestial body in images taken of the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Maior). Because there was no visible coma or plume that are characteristic of comets, it was entered into the annals of astronomy as an asteroid under the name 2022 EB5.

The recording square that led to the discovery of the asteroid. At first glance, the celestial body in the center moving northwards was no different from any other.

After identifying the celestial body, Krisztián Sárneczky began monitoring it. Half an hour after its discovery he had completed a quick calculation of its trajectory. “An hour and a half. That’s how long was left until its impact. I had often dreamed of making such a discovery, but I never really believed it would happen, it seemed so unlikely,” he said.

“Based on the estimates I submitted to the NEO Confirmation Page website, the official alert chain was initiated. Based on its brightness, it was a 2-3 meter celestial body, and the expected location of its impact was in the Norwegian Sea area, 140 kilometers south of the uninhabited island of Jan Mayen. This meant there was no need to worry about any significant damage,” he added.

The astronomer also pointed out that although there was a very short time available to issue the alert – in the previous four similar cases, from 8 to 21 hours elapsed between discovery and the impact – the system worked relatively well. Though in the case of a celestial body impacting a larger and more hazardous location this would not have been enough time to notify the public, but a larger celestial body would in all likelihood be discovered earlier, which would enable time to issue a broader warning.

In addition to the observation in Piszkető, Enrico Pettarin at the Farra d˙Isonzo Observatory in Italy and Marian Urbanik at the KYSUCE Observatory in Slovakia also spotted the new asteroid on 11 March.

The 60/90/180 cm Schmidt telescope of the Piszkéstető Observatory: looking for tiny celestial bodies in the Solar System (Photo: Zoltán Kuli)

According to NASA’s JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) orbit, the 2022 EB5 was close to Earth’s orbit when close to the sun and beyond the outermost edge of the main belt of asteroids, but still well within the distance of Jupiter, when distant from the sun. The orbital plane of the small celestial body is at an angle of 10.42 degrees to the plane of the earth’s (ecliptic) orbit. The asteroid took approximately 4,769 years to orbit the Sun,and was an Apollo-type near-Earth asteroid.

Among the atmospheric effects of the asteroid, infrasounds caused by entry and interaction with the atmosphere were also recorded by experts with infrasound detectors operating in Greenland and Norway.

Time course of infrasound waves detected by an infrared sound station in Greenland (Peter Brown, University of Western Ontario, Canada)

Based on ground-based telescope observations and analysis of infrasound effects during the atmospheric pathway of the small celestial body, the 2022 EB5 is thought to have been a small asteroid with a diameter of about 2-3 meters. Its orbit reached the atmosphere of our planet at a speed of about 18 km/s, where it shattered or evaporated (turned into a plasma cloud). Even if there were pieces that remained intact, they probably fell into the Atlantic Ocean. Peter Brown, a researcher at the University of Western Ontario (Canada), said the energy of the collision could have been equivalent to about 2 kilotons of TNT, based on the observed infrasound. By comparison, the US atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was about 15 kilotons, and the energy of the meteoroid (superbolida) that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, on February 15, 2013 is thought to have been 500-600 kilotons.

Prior to 2022 EB5, only four small asteroids were known to have been predicted to enter the Earth’s atmosphere hours before the event occurred. These were 2008 TC3 (Sudan), 2014 AA (Atlantic), 2018 LA (Botswana) and 2019 MO (Puerto Rico). In the case of the asteroid just discovered, it was also established in advance that its impact did not pose a serious threat as the body would disintegrate and partially evaporate when it entered the atmosphere.

On March 25, the astronomer spotted another 2-4 meter diameter object, which was named 2022 FD1. The celestial body originally seemed to be heading for our planet, but it eventually traveled past Earth at a distance of 8,500 kilometers on March 26, a few hours after its discovery.

The search for small celestial bodies that are traveling close to Earth and pose a potential collision danger to our planet, as well as the tracking of their orbits, are important areas of research in all respects, as this recent Hungarian discovery illustrates. The Piszkéstető Observatory is the largest and best-equipped observatory in Hungary and has been carrying out observations of asteroids and near-Earth asteroids for almost two decades. Krisztián Sárneczky has discovered many asteroids and several supernovae and also helped detect the first meteor of 2022.

Krisztián Sárneczky’s Hungarian report on the discovery of the 2022 EB5 asteroid can be read here.

An artist’s impression of the asteroid entering the Earth’s atmosphere and beginning to fragment (Getty Images, ScienceFocus.com, 2020. 10. 11.)

CER researchers investigated the courtship behaviour of a small migratory passerine

A study conducted by researchers from the ELKH Centre for Ecological Research shows that bird courtship intensity is an intrinsic property of individuals.They found that the courtship intensity is an intrinsic characteristic of individuals and that males adjust their courtship to the prevailing situation, courting more intensively to attractive females and when the risk of not mating increases.

Choosing a mate is as tricky as crucial for anyone, even in the animal world. The better the choice, the better the chances of having more offspring and perpetuating genetics. Many animals, such as birds, have colourful ornaments or behaviours that indicate their level of attractiveness but are costly to produce and maintain as, for example, they make them more visible to predators. In general, the most attractive individuals are also those with the best physical and genetic conditions, so they enjoy great reproductive success.

Traditionally, females have been considered the choosy sex, while males are thought to try to mate indiscriminately with all females. This assumption is based on the fact that males of most species invest less time and resources than females in the development and rearing of offspring, from the production of female gametes (relatively more expensive compared to sperm) to gestation. However, several reasons might challenge this belief as, for example, males may also make a high investment in territory acquisition or parental care, females also vary in quality and opportunities for mating are limited. Under this scenario, might males show a greater preference for high-quality females, and may their courtship intensity depend on the situation? In such a case, if courtship intensity varies greatly according to the given situation, is it really a reliable behaviour by which females can assess the quality of males? These are the questions that a group from CER has been trying to answer.

To answer these questions, the authors focused on a small migratory bird, the collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis), common in the forests of Hungary. After arriving from migration (mid-April), male collared flycatchers establish around a nest hole and try to attract a female through conspicuous courtship displays, involving calls and lively flights. In the species, several characteristics indicate the quality of individuals, such as body size, age, the striking black plumage that males wear during the breeding season, and the white wing patches that both sexes have. These aspects make the collared flycatcher a perfect species to investigate males’ intrinsic and extrinsic determinants of courtship variation.

Researchers captured females, presented them to males – simulating female visits to the male’s territory during the pairing period – and observed the male courtship behaviour. Each male was exposed to different females, and the same female was presented to different males. After conducting more than 630 behavioural tests during 11 breeding seasons, the researchers achieved three exciting results. First, males displayed similar levels of courtship to different females; that is, some males consistently courted females quickly and enthusiastically, while others were repeatedly less responsive to females, indicating that courtship intensity is an intrinsic characteristic of individuals in this bird species. “As several females often visit male collared flycatchers during the pairing period, it is possible that high-quality males display consistently low levels of courtship if they perceive that their attraction ability is superior and courtship activity constrains other functions. By contrast, low-quality males, whose probability of mating is lower, might consistently express a more determined courtship strategy,” explains David Canal, lead author of the study. Second, some females systematically elicited higher interest among males than other females, indicating male mate choice. However, the female traits that determine variation in male response have not been identified. “It is possible that non-measured signals used during mate choice, such as song-related characteristics, aggressiveness, parasite load or ultraviolet components of the plumage, but which have not been measured in this study, could explain such variations”, explain David Canal. Third, males increased their responsiveness, regardless of the female being courted, as the season progressed and the risk of not mating increased. Thus, males are less choosy when the likelihood of not breeding increases. “Again, this result reinforces the idea that males are not ‘simply impassive reproductive machines’, but can adjust their behaviour to the prevailing circumstances such as the availability of unpaired females or competing males,” explain David Canal.

Overall, this work highlights the importance of courtship intensity as a reliable signal indicating male quality during mate choice. It is noticeable that males can adjust their courtship according to the quality of the potential mate, indicating that they can be choosy until the going gets tough when mating with a poor-quality female is better than returning home alone.

The question “But, what if this is not always true?” was an alternative to the explanation given in the previous sentence (i.e. males also spend energy). If that explanation is given (I prefer it), this questions make no sense here. Thus, I have change it

Wigner RCP researchers reveal new manifestation of tunnel effect

An important new discovery about what is known as tunnelling has been announced by the Ultrafast, high-intensity light–matter interactions Research Group of the ELKH Wigner Research Centre for Physics (Wigner RCP), led by Péter Dombi. In the course of their experiments the researchers were able to increase the electric field of the laser light used by orders of magnitude, thus detecting a new manifestation of the tunnel effect. The results could contribute, among other things, to the creation of new nano-optical devices or the design of innovative electron sources, as discussed in a paper published in the leading international nanoscience journal Nano Letters.

Tunnelling is an important feature of the quantum mechanical phenomena that revolutionized physics in the twentieth century. The basic idea is that an electron can pass through a barrier – called a potential barrier – even if it does not have enough energy to do so, according to the rules of classical physics. First mentioned in the 1920s, the phenomenon has been studied by many scientists. Over the past 78 years, a total of five Nobel Prizes have been awarded to researchers who have achieved results or developed practical applications in the field of tunnelling. For example, the creation of the scanning tunnelling microscope, which can examine different surfaces with nanometer precision.

Wigner RCP researchers working on the setup of the laser used in the experiments

Tunnelling can also be achieved with advanced lasers. For their experiments, the Wigner RCP team used a laser beam with a diameter of one-twentieth of that of the average hair. The researchers further increased the spatial concentration of the laser light energy by using a nano-optical phenomenon caused by gold nanoparticles present on the sample. In this process the electric field of the laser light was increased by orders of magnitude, allowing a new manifestation of the tunnel effect to be detected. In the range studied by the researchers, electrons behave partly according to the rules of quantum mechanics, i.e. they can tunnel through a wall (potential barrier) in front of them, but they also show properties that suggest they behave in a conventional way.

Electron ejection from the surface of gold nanoparticles by ultra-short laser flashes

This latest data and further basic research work carried out by Wigner RCP physicists will help the international research community better understand the phenomena related to the tunnel effect. This will facilitate practical applications, such as the creation of nano-optical devices or even electron sources where the duration of the emitted electron packet is a billionth of a millionth of a second. These applications have the potential to revolutionize physics and chemistry research and lead to the creation of a new generation of electron microscopes.

CER researchers take part in international SPRING Pollination Monitoring Program

The ELKH Centre for Ecological Research (CER) is participating in the SPRING (Strengthening Pollinator Recovery through Indicators and Monitoring) monitoring program with the goal of being able to identify European pollinators more efficiently and systematically. The project, which involves the collaboration of 19 research institutes and seeks to fill gaps in our knowledge, is led by two preeminent researchers: Prof. Dr. Josef Settele from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), and Dr. David Roy from the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH). CER will coordinate tasks in Hungary and Romania.

The role of insects is significant in terms of both ecosystems and the economy. In nearly 90 percent of wild flowering plants, the pollination process depends at least in part on animals. More than 75 percent of these plants also need pollinators to produce the high-quality seeds and high yields necessary for their survival. This is why it is vital to ensure that appropriate, well-organized information is available on European pollinating populations and the threats they face. This is the aim of the SPRING project initiated by the European Commission. As part of the project, the participants will set up an EU-wide pollination monitoring system.

Until now, despite the important role of a wide range of species in pollination, few insects other than honey bees and some species of butterflies have come to the attention of the public. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that ecosystems and the economy are threatened with serious harm in the absence of pollinators, and this fact has led to growing interest both socially and politically.

“Most parties agree that we need better indicators for the state of biodiversity in Europe”, says UFZ biodiversity researcher Prof. Dr. Josef Settele, Head of the UFZ Department of Conservation Biology & Social-Ecological Systems. Further, what about the biodiversity trends in different regions? Are there already ongoing losses that could lead to serious problems for food production and biodiversity conservation? So far, this can be seen in only a few, well-studied groups of plants and animals such as birds or butterflies. But this previously incomplete picture will come into focus, as SPRING helps establish an EU-wide census of pollinators.

The concept for the EU Pollinator Monitoring Scheme was developed in 2020 by an international team of experts, and the recently launched EUR 5 million SPRING project is scheduled to complete the first stage of the testing of the proposed methodologies by 2023.

“We will use the butterfly monitoring that already exists in many European countries as a blueprint for surveying pollinators”, explains Professor Settele. In Germany, a citizen science project was launched in 2005 where volunteers walk specific routes during the summer months and map observed butterflies. The same principle is applied every year in many other European countries, including Hungary, to assess the presence of butterflies.

Though a similar program is not yet in place in Denmark, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania or Slovakia, with the launch of SPRING, we can expect ‘butterfly hunting’ to start this spring. In cooperation with local nature conservation organizations and associations, the project team will first look for volunteers and coordinators in each country, before developing or translating species-specific materials to identify the species that are present in the area.

However, Europe’s flowers are by no means pollinated only by butterflies; other groups of insects, such as bees and hoverflies, actually play a much greater role in this respect. So which insects must be recorded as a minimum in order to obtain meaningful data on the situation of pollinators? Which methods are suitable for this? What is the minimum area that needs to be examined? And what will the entire project cost? “In order to better assess all this, we will develop and test a foundation program for meaningful monitoring as part of the project”, says Dr. David Roy, Head of the UKCEH Biological Record Center.

In up to 24 test areas per country, project staff will use a variety of standard methods to assess the diversity and abundance of pollinators. Similar to butterfly monitoring, volunteers will also count wild bees and hoverflies on defined routes. In tandem, the diversity of pollinators will be assessed using various insect traps. “Based on our experiences, we will develop recommendations on how the individual countries can best continue their monitoring”, explains Dr. David Roy. However, for all this to work effectively – especially the mapping of pollinators – well-trained supporters and local partnerships are required.

Based on the experience of observing butterflies, the experts of the project are confident that – with a little practice – amateurs will be able to distinguish many species of pollinators. In certain cases the task is far from simple, however. In Hungary alone, for example, we can distinguish nearly 700 species of wild bees, including bumblebees. This means that not many people can confidently identify most species. To change this, the project team plans to publish online materials and trainings to help identify bees, at least at a specified group level. They also aim to develop a mobile application that can use image recognition to identify at least some insects by their species.

After completing the two-year methodological testing phase of the SPRING project, the widespread monitoring of pollinating insects is expected to go live and provide a much better overview of Europe’s pollinators. The aim of the researchers is to involve most European countries in the monitoring program in order to identify the areas that need improvement in terms of assessing and protecting the situation of pollinators.

New method used by researchers to study nitrogen uptake of cyanobacteria

Gábor Bernát, a scientific senior research fellow at the ELKH Balaton Limnological Research Institute (BLKI), and his co-authors have reported the latest results of their studies on nitrogen uptake by cyanobacteria in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology. The researchers used state-of-the-art methods, including Nano SIMS mass spectrometry, an innovative technique in the field of biology, to monitor the uptake of nitrogen by cyanobacteria and the pattern and diurnal variation of nitrogen binding. They have been able to explore several carbon and nitrogen management mechanisms that contribute to the success of the studied unicellular organisms in a dynamically changing aquatic environment.

Nitrogen-binding microorganisms are extremely important in the production of bioavailable forms of nitrogen. Unicellular nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria (UCYN) are common members of marine phytoplankton communities, including those with rapidly changing nitrogen concentrations.

“We monitored the nitrogen uptake of cyanobacteria by modern biophysical methods, including Nano SIMS mass spectrometry, which is a new technique in biology. Cells were grown in two ways: with or without nitrogen in the culture medium. In the latter case, the cells are forced to bind nitrogen from the atmosphere in order to survive. The growth of cyanobacteria nurtured under different conditions is characterized by different energy requirements, different biochemical pathways and completely divergent daily cycles. In cyanobacteria grown in a nitrogen-free medium, nitrogen fixation occurs at night because the dioxygen (O2) produced during photosynthesis is toxic to the nitrogen-fixing apparatus. However, the energy needed to fix nitrogen is provided by photosynthesis, so nitrogen-binding cells store some ‘fuel’ in the form of polysaccharides overnight,” explains Gábor Bernát.

Researchers were also curious about when and where key chemical elements grown under different conditions would incorporate key chemical elements in the course of the day. Using the new examination procedures, the experts have gained a much richer and more complex picture of cell activity than before and have also been able to explore several carbon and nitrogen management mechanisms that contribute to the success of the cyanobacteria being studied in a dynamically changing aquatic environment.

Surprising behavior of exotic matter-antimatter atoms observed at CERN with the participation of Wigner RCP researchers

In the ASACUSA collaboration at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), researchers have observed a surprising behavior of exotic matter-antimatter atoms in superfluid helium. Anna Sótér, assistant professor at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) in Zurich and of Hungarian origin, played a key role in the experiments, while Dániel Barna, a researcher at the ELKH Wigner Research Centre for Physics (Wigner RCP), and Dezső Horváth, professor emeritus at the Wigner RCP also contributed to the experiments. The findings may potentially open up new avenues in particle physics, materials science and astrophysics. A paper written on this topic was published in Nature on March 17, 2022.

“Our study suggests that exotic matter-antimatter helium atoms could be used beyond particle physics, in particular in condensed-matter physics and perhaps even in astrophysics experiments,” says ASACUSA co-spokesperson Masaki Hori. “We have arguably made the first step in using antiprotons to study condensed matter.”

The ASACUSA collaboration is accustomed to making exotic matter-antimatter helium atoms to determine the antiproton’s mass and compare it with that of the proton. These exotic atoms contain an antiproton and an electron around the helium nucleus and are made by mixing antiprotons produced at CERN’s antimatter factory with a helium gas that has a low atomic density and is kept at low temperature.

Low gas densities and temperatures have played a key role in these antimatter studies, which involve measuring the response of the exotic atoms to laser light in order to determine their light spectrum. High gas densities and temperatures result in spectral lines caused by transitions of the antiproton or electron between energy levels that are too broad, or even obscured to allow the mass of the antiproton relative to that of the electron to be determined.

This is why it came as a surprise to the ASACUSA researchers that when they used liquid helium in their new study, which has a much higher density than gaseous helium, they saw a decrease in the width of the antiproton spectral lines.

Moreover, when they decreased the temperature of the liquid helium to values below the temperature at which the liquid becomes a superfluid, i.e. flows without any resistance, they found an abrupt further narrowing of the spectral lines.

“This behaviour was unexpected,” says Anna Sótér, who was the principal PhD student working on the experiment and is now an assistant professor at ETHZ. “The optical response of the exotic helium atom in superfluid helium is starkly different to that of the same exotic atom in high-density gaseous helium, as well as that of many normal atoms in liquids or superfluids.”

The researchers suspect that the surprising behaviour observed is linked to the radius of the electronic orbital, i.e. the distance at which the exotic helium atom’s electron is located. In contrast to that of many normal atoms, the radius of the exotic atom’s electronic orbital changes very little when laser light is shone on the atom and thus does not affect the spectral lines even when the atom is immersed in superfluid helium. However, further studies are needed to confirm this hypothesis.

The result has several ramifications. Firstly, researchers may create other exotic helium atoms, such as pionic helium atoms, in superfluid helium using different antimatter and exotic particles to study their response to laser light in detail and measure the particle masses. Secondly, the substantial narrowing of the lines in superfluid helium suggests that exotic helium atoms could be used to study this form of matter and potentially other condensed-matter phases. Finally, the narrow spectral lines could in principle be used to search for cosmic antiprotons or antideuterons – a nucleus made of an antiproton and an antineutron – of particularly low velocity that hit the liquid or superfluid helium that is used to cool experiments in space or in high-altitude balloons. However, numerous technical challenges must be overcome before the method becomes complementary to existing techniques for searching for these forms of antimatter.

Two BTK historians win funding from European Research Council Consolidator Grant

Two senior research fellows from the Institute of History of the ELKH Research Centre for the Humanities (BTK), deputy director András Fejérdy and Gábor Kármán, have been awarded EUR 2 million funding for the implementation of their research projects from the European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant. In the history of European research funding, it is highly unusual for the applications of two researchers from a single Central European humanities research institute to be awarded funding at the same time.

The topic of András Fejérdy’s project is the history of the conflicting relationship between the sovereign state and Catholic Church in connection to the phenomenon of state oaths from 1780 to 1990. Gábor Kármán’s winning project will examine the shared qualities observable in the diplomacy of individual small states situated on the border between the Ottoman Empire and Christianity in the 16th to 18th centuries.

The European Union’s largest grant scheme to support exploratory research is responsible for providing long-term funding for research with potential for high rewards. The ERC scheme is open to leading researchers with no restrictions on age, gender or country of origin, who are planning to carry out their projects in Europe. The Consolidator Grant holds the middle position among three major individual ERC application types. It offers grants of up to EUR 2 million over five years to researchers who already have an independent research team and an independent research program, and who apply seven to 12 years after obtaining their PhD. The supported research projects cover a wide range of physical and technical sciences, life sciences, and social sciences and humanities.

András Fejérdy emphasized the importance of the support: “It is a great pleasure and a source of pride that we have both won this prestigious international research grant at the Institute of History. With these awards, our institute has once again shown that in the field of history it is – to use a sports analogy – capable of competing not only in the national championship, but also in the Champions League.”

More information in Hungarian about the research projects is available here.