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21st Century Education Latest news Sustainable & Responsible Development

Contemporary History in Luxembourg: WARLUX project

More than 10,000 Luxembourgish women and men wore German uniforms during WWII in armed forces and civil organizations. WARLUX will collect their biographies and investigate their individual profiles from the perspective of their social background, trajectories during the war and their life in the post-war period.

The ongoing project WARLUX, run by the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH) at the University of Luxembourg aims to study the biographies of young Luxembourgers, born between 1920 and 1927, who were drafted by the Nazi German authorities for the Labour Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst) and the German Army (Wehrmacht).

The conscription of young Luxembourgers is mostly recorded in official documents, including police files, enrolment registration records from regional authorities, transportation lists, and military records about their service. However, for the study of biographies a more personal window into the lives of the affected people is required, as behind these administrative files lay 10.000 life stories.

WARLUX project ©C²DH

Project Warlux

The focus of WARLUX is to analyse the evolution of experiences evoked by World War II from an actor-centred perspective and to re-evaluate the traditional categories of analysis by taking into account the multitude of war experiences and coping strategies of the people affected. This biographical focus will help to illuminate the individual experiences of soldiers, recruits, and women. In this regard, personal documents will constitute the core source for the overarching research question, including enlistment records, personal files of the German armed forces and the RAD, and ego-documents such as letters, diaries and autobiographies. Nevertheless, the project aims to collect the personal insights, voices, and subjective impressions of the affected people. How is it possible to gain insight into the personal and individual views of our objects of study? Their names are mostly known in memorials, lists and literature. Between year numbers and historical frameworks, biographies consist of much more, such as individual preferences, backgrounds, dislikes, characteristics, relationships to friends and family, etc. This is not readable from official documents and from lists and passports from the military service. To analyse their views, we need to dive deeper. What is left of their voices? Next to memoirs and oral history videos there are more sources to consider, the so-called “ego-documents” such as diaries and letters. Letters are a unique source and provide more information about individual fates than administrational documents.

If the letters are preserved they can provide insight into the stories of the affected people. The war was a major event for everyone in Luxembourg. This crucial epoch changed the lives of the entire country and robbed its citizens of their hopes and dreams. The letters and other ego- documents represent a slice of their fates, written from distant places, far away from home and loved ones, desperate, sad and scared.

What can these letters tell us, from an analytical and scientific point of view?

Families and friends were separated. The connection to home was only possible via letters and parcels, a communication network distributing news and greetings and signs of life. Nevertheless, the experiences distinguish themselves from each other in a crucial way. While the families at home had to think about food, logistics, and Nazi terror and switched into survival mode, the young men and women abroad suffered from homesickness and fear and the hope for the war’s end. The letters represented a bridge to the homeland. 

War letters and ego-documents in historical research

The analysis of letters is different than memoirs or administrative documents. Letters express the momentum of the experience of the event, emotions and thoughts. Memoirs written years or decades after the war can represent a distorted image of the true events but letters can show only a short glimpse in everyday life. One must also note that the content and the style of the document vary by its intended audience. A mother received a sign of life from her son (everything alright, I have enough to eat and I am doing fine), while letters addressed to a friend might include other storytelling about front life. It should be taken into consideration which information the writers wanted to tell the others – what was essential to them and what the other needs to know. 

The war letters were written under abnormal conditions. Some things remained unspoken; some senders incidentally integrated the horror of everyday war life into their letters only as a secondary matter. The reality of war is therefore not always reflected in these types of documents. Wartime correspondence differs clearly from ‘normal’ peacetime letters . In the case of military mailing service, transport times between 6 and 30 days can be assumed, provided that the shipment was not prevented at all due to an interruption of the postal service or loss. The conversation cannot take place immediately, but rather be “simulated in thought” by the writer, and more often than with correspondence in normal times, the transport route itself, the account of sending and receiving, will be the subject of the exchange. The time delay has an effect, especially in war with its rapid changes; a message can be out of date before it reaches the recipient. The awareness of this will influence the content of the letters. Nevertheless, the postal service provided a communication tool to stabilize personal relationships and to share news, emotions and experiences. 

These documents play a crucial part in research into individuals and their personal stories, although there are also limits to this analysis. Censors banned soldiers from revealing their position or giving details about combatants or units in case the documents were intercepted by the enemy. Next to official army regulations, the soldiers concealed certain facts or traumatic events either to avoid causing worry for their loved ones or because of the inability to express the horrors and the deaths they had to endure in battle. 

Letters offer a filtered and curated impression of the war experience but are nevertheless valuable for research about individual stories. 

Call for contributions

To extend the collection and to profit from these unique sources more documents are needed to conduct further research. 

Therefore a Call for Contributions from the public is carried out by the WARLUX team. Families and witnesses in Luxembourg are called on to share their memories and personal documents. WARLUX intends to find and identify personal documents, diaries, memories and photos which provide insight into individual experiences and stories during World War II. Families and witnesses are asked to look in their cellars and attics, in old boxes and cupboards from grandparents and parents to find documents and photographs about this period of time. 

The research team at the University of Luxembourg will (according to the agreement of the donors) scan it and store the documents properly. The families could send the documents to the University, or the researchers collect them themselves (in compliance with the hygiene measures). After digitising the documents (with the approval of the families), the team brings the originals back.

The letters and other ego-documents will be used for qualitative data analysis to add to our archive and to study the individual experiences of the researched generation. 

Download the call for contributions on C²DH’s website

To contribute and support the research of WARLUX, please contact the team via email, telephone or fax :

  • E-Mail: warlux@uni.lu
  • Telephone + 352 46 66 44 9575                                     
  • Fax: +352 46 66 44 36702

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Covid-19 taskforce Latest news

COVID-19: how could virus mutations affect current and future vaccination strategies?

The mRNA technology is often discussed in the context of vaccine development against SARS-CoV-2. Prof. Stephanie Kreis, Associate Professor at the Department of Life Sciences and Medicine at the University of Luxembourg, is a virologist by training who is now working in cancer research. She explained to us in her interview how virus mutations could affect current and future vaccination strategies.
Can you briefly explain what a virus is and what it does?

A virus is a small particle in which genetic material in the form of RNA or DNA is encapsulated by lipids and proteins. As they cannot live on their own, viruses are not considered living organisms as such. Instead, they need to infect a host cell where they hijack the molecular machinery and resources to replicate themselves to infect even more cells. There are thousands of different viruses out there many of which are still unknown. Typically, each virus has a specificity towards a certain host or cell type and thus only infects certain species, including humans.

An infection is started when surface proteins of the virus attach to specific receptors on the cell being infected. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus, this is the so-called spike protein. It connects to ACE-2, a molecule that is present on many different cell types in our body. After docking to this receptor, the virus releases its own genetic material (RNA) into our cells and this RNA serves as a blueprint to generate and assemble new virus particles. Viruses have the ability to turn our own cells into virus-producing factories and the released particles then go on to infect other cells and eventually other individuals. Luckily, our immune system has several clever strategies to deal with such an infection and to contain and eventually eliminate the virus.

How does a vaccination support the immune system in this?

By presenting a weakened virus or parts of a virus – such as the spike protein – during vaccination, we are priming our immune system, so that it can activate its lines of defence. As early as 1796, Edward Jenner performed the first well-documented vaccination of a young boy in England against smallpox virus. More than 200 years of research have yielded many different vaccines that have probably altogether saved more lives than any other clinical intervention.

How does vaccination work then?

The immune system recognises these vaccinated viral protein parts, also called antigens, and generates very specific responses and finally antibodies that detect these antigens. Upon a real infection with this particular virus, our immune system can now react much faster and more targeted to this virus so that the intruder has no time to replicate to numbers, which would make us feel sick. If the immune system is not primed either by vaccination or by previous natural infections, the viral replication cycles are usually faster than our immune response, so that we develop symptoms and get sick.

Furthermore, viruses constantly mutate and if the virus changes the composition of the key antigens, the previously acquired immunity might be impaired. Most likely, it will not disappear completely and all of a sudden, but it is possible that new viral variants are not efficiently recognised by our immune systems. This phenomenon is regularly seen with Influenza viruses.

Why and where do such mutations occur?

RNA-viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 are constantly mutating in a more or less random fashion. Most of these mutations do not change the composition or shape of the virus particle or become disadvantageous to the host. However, in the rare event that such stochastically generated mutants confer a survival advantage to the virus by allowing it to better adapt to an altered environmental condition or to escape an immune response or drug treatment, these variants will prevail. This is a normal evolutionary process not only seen in viruses but in all living organisms, including us. The only difference is that viruses, especially RNA viruses, mutate much more frequently and therefore it is important to routinely monitor the genetic sequences of pathogenic viruses. This knowledge is a pre-requisite to react quickly and adequately if we need to change the formulations of existing vaccines. These molecular epidemiological studies are performed for several important viruses around the world for many years already. We will now have to add Coronaviruses to this list of monitored viruses.

The UK-variant of SARS-CoV-2, which was among the first new variants to be reported in the media, has acquired small changes in the spike protein, which is also the target of our antibodies designed to neutralise the virus. The spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 consists of more than 1,200 amino acids, the building blocks of all proteins. Depending on which of these amino acids are deleted or exchanged, the impact on our immune response might be more or less critical. From all we know so far, the current vaccines are fully protective against the UK variant but might be slightly less effective against other variants.

How can the vaccination strategy be adapted fast enough to avoid the virus escaping the vaccinations?

Interestingly, the new mRNA-based vaccination technology might also offer ways to react quickly to emerging viral variants. The mRNA, which encodes the information needed to make a SARS-CoV-2 spike protein could be easily adapted to either encode other viral proteins or to code for the mutated variant of the spike protein. As the mRNA sequences are synthetically generated, they could be adapted to include the new sequences present in the UK, South African or other variants. It is even conceivable to combine several different mRNAs into one vaccine. This is an interesting and very promising development not only useful in the battle against coronaviruses.

Was mRNA technology used in the vaccination already established before?

Indeed, the COVID-19 vaccines developed by the German companies BioNTech, CureVac and the US-based company Moderna are the first mRNA vaccines approved worldwide. However, companies like BioNTech are working on mRNA-based therapies for far longer than a decade. Interestingly, this novel drug class was initially developed in the context of cancer treatment: Several clinical studies applying mRNA-based drugs have shown promising responses in late-stage cancer patients. Importantly, the safety profiles and assessments of these mRNA-based drugs have generally been very good even in severely ill, late-stage cancer patients; this was very important available knowledge when adapting the mRNA technology to anti-viral vaccines early last year. Given these promising data on mRNA-based cancer treatments and the current success with the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, I am sure we will see more mRNA-based drugs in the future.

It is important to emphasise that the mRNA technology with all its components, including modes of delivery, synthesis, protection and modification of the mRNAs, etc. has been around for quite some time. The rapid adaptations to a successful vaccine were made possible by the pressure of a major pandemic and the concerted efforts and financial support of all stakeholders. The clinical trials starting in spring 2020 were performed according to common standard regulations. The vaccine trials involved several tens of thousands volunteers worldwide and have shown remarkable responses as the necessary components of our immune system are being successfully activated to provide protection against the virus. Moreover, observed and expectable side effects were overall very mild or absent.

What does this mean for the current vaccination strategy?

We have innovative, highly efficient and safe mRNA COVID-19 vaccines at hand and soon several other vaccines based on previously available technologies will follow. All vaccines getting approval in Europe have been thoroughly tested and can be considered very safe and efficient to prevent infections with SARS-CoV-2. The overall very mild side effects are by far outweighed by the benefits of vaccination not only for the individual but also for entire populations. Of course, we do not know yet if long-term side effects may appear but given the knowledge we have on vaccinations in general and mRNA biology in particular this is very unlikely. On the other hand, the potential long-term effects a natural COVID-19 disease might cause, are likely much more serious and frequent.

Last but not least, the longer the virus circulates at such high case numbers in the world, the higher the chances for new and potentially more harmful variants to appear. High vaccination coverage is the most efficient way to stop this vicious circle and to allow us all to get back to a normal life.

This article was originally published by the University of Luxembourg

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Industrial & Service Transformation Latest news Personalised Healthcare

Launch of Cross-Europe nano-pharmaceutical project “PHOENIX” coordinated in Luxembourg

11 project partners from academia and industry located all across Europe have joined forces in a project called PHOENIX to create an “Open Innovation Test Bed” for nano-pharmaceuticals and it will all be coordinated in the Grand Duchy by Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST).

PHOENIX is an innovation project funded by EU’s Horizon2020 Framework Programme and it aims to provide services for the development, characterisation, testing, safety assessment, scale-up, GMP production and commercialisation of nano-pharmaceuticals to the market, making them available to SMEs, start-ups, research laboratories and interested users.

The project is coordinated by Dr Tommaso Serchi at LIST and supported at MyBiotech near Saarbrücken for the Scientific Coordination by Dr Nazende Günday-Türeli. PHOENIX will have a duration of 48 months starting on 1 March 2021 with a total budget of €14.450 million and a requested EU contribution of €11.1 million.

What are nano-pharmaceuticals?

They are drugs that use nanotechnology (the use of matter on an atomic, molecular, and supramolecular scale for industrial purposes) in some form. This could be in the sense that the drugs themselves are nanomaterials. For example, contrast agents are used in the form of nanoparticles rather than a molecule because nanoparticles are more stable and can stay longer in blood. Another example could be that the nanoparticle is used as a capsule to encapsulate the drug and protect it while enhancing adsorption and distribution.

Nano-pharmaceuticals have the potential to drive the scientific and technological uplift, offering great clinical and socioeconomic benefits to society in general, industry, key stakeholders and patients. Nevertheless, affordable and advanced testing, manufacturing facilities and services for novel nano-pharmaceuticals are main prerequisites for successful implementation of these advances to further enhance the growth and innovation capacity.

The implementation of an Open Innovation Test Bed

The establishment of current good manufacturing practice (cGMP) in nano-pharmaceutical production on a large scale is the key step to successfully transferring nano-pharmaceuticals from bench to bedside (from lab to industrial scale). Due to the lack of resources to implement GMP manufacturing at site, the upscaling and production of innovative nano-pharmaceuticals is still challenging to main players of EU nanomedicine market, start-ups and SMEs. To allow successful implementation of the nano-pharmaceuticals in the nanomedicine field, there is an urgent need to establish a science and regulatory-based Open Innovation Test Bed (OITB).

The PHOENIX project aims to enable the seamless, timely and cost-friendly transfer of nano-pharmaceuticals from lab bench to clinical trials by providing the necessary advanced, affordable and easily accessible PHOENIX -OITB which will offer a consolidated network of facilities, technologies, services and expertise for all the technology transfer aspects from characterisation, testing, verification up to scale up, GMP compliant manufacturing and regulatory guidance.

PHOENIX-OITB will develop and establish new facilities and upgrade existing ones to make them available to SMEs, starts-up and research laboratories for scale-up, GMP production and testing of nano-pharmaceuticals. The services and expertise provided by the OITB will include production and characterisation under GMP conditions, safety evaluation, regulatory compliance and commercialisation boost.

The 11 partners that form the PHOENIX consortium

  • Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) – Research and Technology Organisation (RTO) from Luxembourg – Project coordinator.
  • MyBiotech – Small Medium Enterprise (SME) from Germany – Project Scientific Coordinator.
  • Nanomol Technologies SL, SME from Spain.
  • LeanBio SL, SME from Spain.
  • BioNanoNet Forschungsgesellschaft mbH (BNN) – RTO from Austria.
  • Agencia Estatal Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC – two distinct institutes take part in the action CSIC-INMA and CSIC-ICMAB) – RTO from Spain.
  • Institute for Medical Research and Occupational Health (IMROH) – RTO from Croatia.
  • Research Center Pharmaceutical Engineering GmbH (RCPE) – RTO from Austria.
  • Cenya Imaging B.V. – SME from The Netherlands
  • Topas Therapeutics GmbH – Industry from Germany
  • Grace Bio SL – SME from Spain

More information on the project on LIST’s website

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Latest news Sustainable & Responsible Development

New innovative and sustainable projects for the Greater Region

Luxembourg takes part in three new Interreg Europe projects which tackle regional challenges in the construction, manufacturing and water sectors. The projects are carried out with several stakeholders from the Greater Region.

The University of Luxembourg endeavours to support and engage in research that contributes to sustainable development and has made transition to sustainable development one of its strategic pillars.

CO2REDRES: reducing CO2 emissions in the building sector

The production of cement clinker, the main component of cement, is accompanied by significant CO2 emissions. The use of supplementary cementitious materials to partially replace the clinker can reduce the negative impact of cement production on the environment. Currently, the main SCMs used in the cement industry are granulated blast furnace slag, a by-product of steel and cast-iron production, and fly ash from coal combustion in power plants.

The availability of these materials is expected to decrease soon in the Greater Region. The fact is that blast furnaces are gradually being replaced by electric arc furnaces, and the amount of waste in ferrous metallurgy is decreasing due to the increasing use of scrap metal as a raw material. Thus, there is a need to search for alternative additional cementitious materials. The goal of CO2REDRES “Treatment of secondary raw materials for the reduction of CO2 emissions in the construction industry” is to find substitutes and further contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions. This is a 2-year project, involving 18 partners with a budget of 1.25 million euros.

“We will identify unexplored raw materials, test new material additions that can be incorporated in cements, study the possible reduction in CO2 emissions as compared to traditional cement production and evaluate potential new products”, explains Prof. Danièle Waldmann, head of the laboratory of solid structures at the University of Luxembourg. “In addition, for the first time the University of Luxembourg is the coordinator of an Interreg project which demonstrates our willingness to innovate in the building sector”, continues Prof. Waldmann.

ComPrintMetal3D: popularisation of metal 3D printing

3D metal printing is an additive manufacturing process that produces physical metallic objects from a computer model. Additive manufacturing technologies can fabricate parts without shaping tools. Nowadays, 3D metal printing creates numerous opportunities, making many designs and processes possible. It allows engineers to create quickly functional parts like personalised medical implants, spare parts and non-standard elements used for instance in sports.

The 3D printing method has been rapidly developing. Currently, there is a need to present material properties of printed parts and current 3D printing methods that are affordable for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Thus, the project ComPrintMetal3D “Comparison of different 3D metal printing processes depending on the application” will evaluate 3D metal printing technologies and provide SMEs in the Greater Region with the latest knowledge. SMEs will be able to decide on the most efficient additive manufacturing methods and support the creation of new competitive products, ultimately strengthening their position on the market. The project gathers 16 partners with a total budget of 1.17 million euros for 2020-2022.

“First, we will survey the various existing technologies and compare them with one other. We will then choose some parts and illustrate their applications through design optimisation, manufacturing processes, and material analyses. The investigation will use a real case study on a medical implant, bicycle parts, and assembly line elements. A step-by-step guide on using existing 3D printing technologies will be provided and distributed to help companies make future decisions, increasing their competitiveness in the market. The project’s outcomes will be available for free to the public”, says Prof. Slawomir Kedziora, professor in mechanical engineering and design at the University of Luxembourg.

CoMinGreat: reducing water pollutants

Following the success of the Interreg project Emisûre (2017-2020), which enabled to test nature-oriented technologies based on constructed wetlands, elaborate different scenarios and develop a masterplan for the Greater Region, the project CoMinGreat “Setting up a platform dedicated to micropollutants for the Greater Region” was initiated by 17 partners with a total budget of 1.95 million euros for 2020-2022.

The project aims at building a competence centre on micropollutants that will centralise the knowledge and the main actors of the Greater Region. An internet-based micropollutant platform as a knowledge database for political decision-makers will be created. It will inform about ongoing projects and work from research as well as from practice. In addition, an information and demonstration centre will open at the Bliesen sewage treatment plant in Saarland.

“The general public will be informed about the basic process for the elimination of micro-pollutants and receive advice on how to reduce pollutants in household or business. In parallel, a mobile pilot plant will be set up at the Bliesen wastewater treatment plant to test common as well as innovative process technologies”, comments Prof. Joachim Hansen, professor of urban water management at the University of Luxembourg.

Interreg Europe is one of the key instruments of the European Union supporting cooperation across borders in different sectors. Interreg projects help bringing the latest research into innovative products and technologies.

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About Luxembourg Latest news

Luxembourg: THE place to hike

With 5,000 km of signposted trails, Luxembourg is an attractive destination for hiking fans. In 2020, the hiking paths proved to be exceptionally popular.

Despite the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic on our daily lives, a rather positive upside is that many people decided more than ever before to take advantage of nature and outdoors activities. The enthusiasm for hiking peaked at an all-time high in 2020.

Growing number of hikers

Recent statistics show that the number of hikers doubled in 2020, compared to the year before, on some of Luxembourg’s signposted hiking paths. One of the country’s most iconic walks, the Mullerthal Trail that leads through magnificent scenery with spectacular rock formations, was visited by over 160,000 hikers is 2020, which is almost 15,000 more than in 2019. The number of hikers on Escapardenne, a 158-km trail crossing the Belgian and Luxembourg Ardennes, increased by around 25%.

Increasing hiking information search

The strong interest in hiking in Luxembourg can also be seen in terms search queries on the internet. The national Geoportail reports that the number of page views in its section devoted to hiking paths doubled in 2020. The traffic also increased considerably on pages for paths labelled as “Quality Trails”, for example the Mullerthal Trail (+21%), Escapardenne (+161%) or the Naturwanderpark DeLux (+130%).

The website Visit Luxembourg reports a similar trend, with an increase of 75.5% in page views on its pages on hiking in 2020.

Following this growing interest in hiking in Luxembourg, and in order to meet the requirements of hikers, uniform standards regarding signage and markings will be put in place in the future.

With foreigners accounting for almost 50% of the population, Luxembourg is a truly cosmopolitan country with a long tradition of welcoming residents from around the world. It is a great place to live and raise a family, as well as to build an international career.

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Industrial & Service Transformation Latest news Sustainable & Responsible Development

Accelerating the transition to a sustainable energy landscape in Luxembourg

Encevo, the leading national energy player, the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) and the University of Luxembourg’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT) will team up to develop a long-term innovation program and identify resources to execute joint projects.

For Encevo Group, innovation plays a key role in driving forward the transition towards a sustainable energy landscape in Luxembourg and the Greater Region. By strengthening the ties between the leading national energy player and the Luxembourg research community, the three parties aim to launch the development of a long-term innovation program and identify resources to execute joint projects in the context of the energy transition and Encevo’s group strategy. Encevo can thereby profit from scientific resources at both institutes while researchers can profit from Encevos’ experience and practical knowledge of the energy landscape. The collaboration will target notably smarter and more intelligent energy grids, electricity and flexibility markets, renewable energies as well as data-driven business models in the energy sector.

The partners intend also to rely intensely on Luxinnovation – a trusted partner for companies launching innovative activities – to help facilitate planned cooperation.

From left to right: Thomas Kallstenius, CEO of LIST – Claude Seywert, CEO of Encevo S.A. – Prof. Björn Ottersten, Director of SnT.

“In a rapidly changing energy landscape, innovation plays an increasingly important role. We want to intensify our efforts in this area”, says Claude Seywert, CEO of Encevo S.A. He underlined his great satisfaction to now join forces with LIST and SnT.

“Climate change requires new energy management. Today, a lot of investment in Luxembourg and worldwide is focused on clean-energy technologies, such as solar arrays, wind turbines and electric cars. At LIST, we are working on such solutions that are ‘sustainable by design’, to reduce negative environmental impact as far as possible through the intelligent design of products, services and technologies. We have highly specialized researchers working on sustainable energy systems, and sustainable urban and built environments. Together with Encevo and SnT, we will be able to accelerate our innovation capacities in these domains for the country’s benefit”, says Thomas Kallstenius, CEO of LIST.

“The transition to sustainable energy is one of the strategic priorities for the University and we are pleased to be extending our long-lasting work with the entities of the Encevo Group. This latest collaboration builds on our success working with Creos, the grid operator within Encevo Group, on the smart grid, which has played a key part of the digitalisation of the energy sector in Luxembourg. We have a proven track record of mastering digital transformation through collaborative research projects with companies, and look forward to driving this cooperation with Encevo and LIST,” says Prof. Björn Ottersten, Director of SnT.

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About Luxembourg Latest news

Financial Times special report about Data and Innovation in Luxembourg

The famous newspaper published a full dossier presenting Luxembourg’s ambitions to diversify away from finance and become an advanced digital economy, stimulating private-sector innovation with government-led research.

“One of Europe’s smallest states has big ambitions to diversify away from finance and become an advanced digital economy, stimulating private-sector innovation with government-led research in technologies from space mining to supercomputers and cybersecurity. Can it succeed?” is wondering the Financial Times in a series of 6 articles showing how Luxembourg has made research and innovation a priority!

This investment is here well illustrated in the digital and IT sectors, space, and renewable energies.

Read the whole report here

Access to the different articles:

The report has been commissioned by the FNR and Luxinnovation

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Covid-19 taskforce Latest news

COVID-19: how is the economy affected by the pandemic? And what can we expect from the vaccinations in that context?

The COVID-19 pandemic not only challenges our everyday routines, but also the overall economy. We spoke about this topic with Prof. Conchita d’Ambrosio from the Department of Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences and Prof. Christos Koulovatianos, working at the Department of Finance. How is the economy affected by the pandemic – and what can we expect from the COVID-19 vaccinations in that context?

This article was originally published by the University of Luxembourg

How can one assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy?

COVID-19 has changed our lives. To evaluate the complex interactions that take place in society, economists use mathematical equations that model what we observe. Economists reacted to the pandemic by combining epidemiological models, also called SIR – Susceptible, Infectious or Recovered models, which assess the dynamics of the disease, with existing economic models. This combination is necessary to answer key questions, such as: what is the economic impact if we do not impose lockdowns, with many sick workers absent from work, and with heightened healthcare costs? What is the cost of every lockdown? What happens if many people refuse to be vaccinated? Some more advanced economic models also incorporate expectations of investors and consumers about the future, asking questions such as: will the announcement or the anticipation of a future lockdown or of a slow future vaccination rate make investors pull out of stock markets and other investments, causing negative chain reactions such as bankruptcies and unemployment?

What can we learn from such models?

As SIR economic models vary, depending on the detail of available data from the production sector, there may be a wide range of economic predictions. Models from the European Central Bank make optimistic predictions of more than 3% growth in the Eurozone in 2021. Yet, models scrutinising more detailed national data tend to be more pessimistic. For example, the model from STATEC/LISER gives numbers ranging from 4% to -0.5% GDP growth for Luxembourg in 2021, compared to a growth rate of 3% expected in the pre-pandemic year of 2019. Yet, these numbers may become worse, considering the strength of the second COVID-19 wave and the possibility of a third wave, given the slow rollout of vaccinations. The lockdowns put a heavy burden on the economy and society, along with psychological challenges. The lockdowns oblige entire sectors, especially hospitality, to reduce, suspend or stop production, which could lead to bankruptcies, financial losses and debt. Yet, “no lockdowns” can deteriorate production as well: due to the high fraction of sick workers, damages to people’s health who recover from COVID-19 can be permanent adding to a long-term cost, and lives lost are highly undesirable. There is one common response to both problematics: the earlier and the more comprehensive the vaccination is, the better it is for the economy and society.

Which role does the vaccination play in the modelling? 

It plays truly an important part! With the vaccination rollout underway, we can now introduce that variable to predict a potential end of the pandemic which was not possible half a year ago. Finally, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

The vaccination rate is however not the only variable in this model as the outcome also depends on our personal behaviourpolicies, and many other factors, such as political stability, the level and the risk of accumulated private and public debt, the exposure of the banking sector to such debts, etc. Still, the vaccination is the only realistic way to end the pandemic and the restrictions associated to it.

However, also the speed of intervention matters. We know this from studies on the optimal speed of monetary policy, for example: The “cold turkey” policy is less costly for the economy and the society than a gradual policy. From the models we can also see that the costs of economic recovery increase even more, the longer the pandemic lasts. In other words, the slower we vaccinate people, the higher are the costs for such a recovery.

What are the indicators that the availability of the vaccine has an effect on the economy?

The first to have made the predictions were the advanced SIR epidemiological/economic models that examine the expectations of investors and consumers. When the breakthroughs on the vaccine development were announced, the economy reacted to this news in a positive way: we could observe that the stock markets have stabilised again. This is a good sign as it creates a robust basis for investments and for rescuing companies and jobs. It is important for investors to have a stable and confident market rather than an unpredictable economic development. The vaccination also has a very positive impact on this.

Yet, there were negative updates to the good news too: As predicted, the oil price increased, as well as shipping costs for goods from China and general demand. Additionally, the slower rate of vaccine availability led to an update of expectations. Some models predict that the announced delays in vaccine availability in the EU, can lead to losses of 12 billion euros per week, about 3.5% of the weekly EU GDP.

In addition, the turbulent vaccine politics of “which country obtains vaccines first” is making financial markets nervous. This nervousness can impede economic recovery: nowadays, political and financial stability are intertwined more than in other normal times.

How do the lockdown measures impact the economy?

From an economic viewpoint, there is a short-term economic benefit to granting people the freedom to run their business, to go shopping and to invest money. However, during the pandemic, the benefits of this freedom are counterbalanced by the public and private costs imposed on our lives, the health system, the number of workers with sick leaves, the social turbulence. In the UK, during the first wave, the delay in imposing lockdowns brought with it a heavy toll on both human lives and on the economy. On the contrary, China is the other extreme, with drastic, very abrupt and extreme measures impacting the economy heavily, but for a shorter period, returning to economic and social normality earlier. Nevertheless, it would be difficult to implement such drastic measures in Western societies that have established laws respecting a high level of privacy and freedom of choice.

What will happen to the economy in the future? Can we come back to a pre-pandemic situation?

Strictly speaking, the economy was still recovering after the financial crisis of 2009 as banks have been undercapitalised in the past. The additional burden due to the COVID-19 measures has caused a setback on this track. However, this holds true for almost every country. It is important that we get back on track as fast as possible to minimise the damage for the economy and the society.

In the best-case scenario, the economy will return to its past economic performance once herd immunity is achieved. Yet, governments and the public will have to coordinate contracts to repay the accumulated debts during the pandemic.

If the immunity to SARS-CoV-2 is acquired too slowly, more and more companies will go bankrupt, for example. This might as well impair investments and lead to a prolonged recession causing socio-political problems for several years.

At the same time, some of the changes we now experience in everyday life might also bring new opportunities: An accelerated digitalisation as well as an alternative business-meeting culture with less travelling might very well transform the economy by also saving expenses. History has shown that after big crises of mankind such as wars, or pandemics, often major changes were implemented which improved the overall condition of society, such as Universal Suffrage, introduced in many countries after WW1 and the Welfare State after WW2. Along those lines, we hope that COVID-19 is also an opportunity to perform better. Thus, everybody should get vaccinated as soon as possible in order to end this pandemic and to move on to new opportunities.

As Luxembourg’s Minister for the Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development Carole Dieschbourg said at the October Days for Sustainable Development 2020, we need a shift from the old standard economic approach to a well-being socio-economic system with the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework.

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About Luxembourg Latest news

Luxembourg among the world’s least corrupt countries

The Corruption Perception Index is published by NGO Transparency International. The recently published 2020 edition ranks Luxembourg as the 9th least corrupt country in the world.

The Corruption Perception Index ranks 180 countries and territories around the world by their perceived levels of public sector corruption. The analysis is based on 13 expert assessments and surveys of business executives. It uses a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

Least corrupt countries

With a score of 88, Denmark and New Zealand share first place. Luxembourg scores 80 and is in 9th place, a ranking that it shares with its neighbour Germany. Belgium ranks 15th and France 23rd.

Positive effects – and challenges

The study notes that a low level of corruption has a generally positive impact on society. “Countries that perform well on the index invest more in health care, are better able to provide universal health coverage and are less likely to violate democratic norms and institutions or the rule of law,” it states.

However, the fight against corruption remains a great challenge. Over two-thirds of the countries covered score below 50, and close to half have been stagnant on the index for almost a decade. This indicates difficulties of tackling the root causes of corruption. This is particularly serious in the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic: the report claims that “corruption poses a critical threat to citizens’ lives and livelihoods, especially when combined with a public health emergency”.

In order to reduce corruption and better respond to future crises, Transparency International recommends strengthening oversight institutions, ensuring open and transparent contracting, defending democracy and publishing relevant data.

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Events Industrial & Service Transformation Inside Research Luxembourg Latest news

Space Resources Week 2021

The Space Resources Week 2021, organized in Luxembourg, is a 4-day online conference connecting thought leaders from the terrestrial resources sector, aerospace industry, financial institutions, research institutes and academia.

It aims at understanding the technical and economic challenges facing in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) and elaborating recommendations for the future development of this high technology sector.

Organized by the European Space Resources Innovation Center (ESRIC), in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA), the program of the event will include a series of captivating talks and facilitated discussion sessions on the technologies, business models and next steps that will enable space resources utilization in support of sustained and sustainable human presence on the Moon and beyond.

Back to Space Ressources Week 2019

The Space Resources Week 2019 gathered experts from all around the world, working in fields as diverse as oil & gas, terrestrial mining, space, finance, and government.

Visit spaceresourcesweek.lu for more details.