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5 new strategic research and innovation projects made in Luxembourg

The INITIATE programme supports the initiation and development of strategic research and innovation project ideas that will help make Luxembourg internationally competitive in priority domains. Five INITIATE projects have been granted so far.

Through INITIATE, the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) wishes to back and guide the early-stage development of high-risk/high-reward strategic project ideas, up to the point where a solid project proposal is formulated that can potentially be submitted to other strategic programmes, a dedicated one-time call, or a bespoke “package” of funding  instruments.

Five projects have been granted so far: round-up.

NATIONTWIN (Responsible AI for a NATION-wide and privacy preserving Digital TWIN)

The objective of this proposed project is to investigate the feasibility at the Luxembourg scale of a future strategic programme associated with the research and the implementation of a testbed and a living lab related to  a “Nation-wide and privacy preservation digital twin” enabled by “responsible AI”.

Main coordinating institution:  Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST)

Education 21

Education plays a central role in our lives. It shapes our future and lays the foundations of cultural and technical innovations. Education also makes us resilient to crises and allows us to thrive in an uncertain, rapidly changing world. It is now urgent to update Education for the 21st century, to empower people in lifelong learning and offer equality of educational opportunities in a multilingual and diverse society.

To meet this national research priority, the project will unite specialists from Education, Psychology, Sociology and Computer Science and design an innovative, interdisciplinary research initiative that aims to establish Luxembourg as a frontrunner in 21st Century Educational Research.

Digital technologies and large-scale data hold the potential to dramatically improve Education; but they also comprise serious risks of dehumanization and data privacy breaches. The goal is to develop and scientifically validate human-centric, digitally enhanced learning solutions. Putting people at the centre of the efforts, these solutions will be directly usable by the learners and advance the understanding on how humans of all ages and backgrounds learn best. More specifically, the project will develop four flagship projects that revolve around personalized education: a digital learning assistant, a digital teacher assistant, a lifelong learner pass and a skills market dashboard.

Main coordinating institution: University of Luxembourg

Henriette and André Losch Centre for Childhood Disorders

The aim of the proposed “Henriette and André Losch Centre for Childhood Disorders” (hereinafter “Losch Centre”) is to carry out fundamental, translational and clinical research to understand the underlying mechanisms of childhood diseases and to develop new methods for their prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The Losch Centre’s research will focus on rare childhood disorders of the brain, metabolism and the immune system and the interaction thereof.

Main coordinating institutions: Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB/University of Luxembourg) & National Health Laboratory (LNS)

Automation and personalisation in complex financial systems – a concept for a national Centre of Excellence in Research in Financial Technologies

Investigating the feasibility of creating a national Centre of Excellence in Financial Technologies. Focus, from a business perspective, on automation and personalisation in complex financial systems. Hub of excellence in financial technology research and innovation, education and training, business development and thought leadership, and strengthening of Luxembourg’s position as an international financial centre. The idea of the centre is driven by the government’s objective to establish Luxembourg as the most trusted “data economy” in the European Union by 2023.

Main coordinating institution: Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT/University of Luxembourg)

Clinnova: Unlocking the potential of data science and artificial intelligence in health care

Health data and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms are at the heart of an accelerating digital health revolution. It promises direct benefits for people with or without disease and is expected to become a key driver of the digital economy. Hence, digital health is one of the national priorities of the Luxembourgish government. Clinnova aims at putting Luxembourg into the centre of this emerging arena. To develop integrated, AI-driven healthcare solutions Clinnova will create a data-enabling environment by establishing a data integration centre as well as by developing shared approaches for data integration and data interoperability. Initially, the creation of data-driven health solutions will be supported by three defined medical use cases in chronic inflammatory diseases (inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid diseases and multiple sclerosis). Expanding further into additional patient data, the established infrastructure and workflows have the potential to transform the healthcare system towards personalisation, sustainability and prevention and will be an important resource for further public and private partnerships.

Further, Clinnova’s ability to tie in leading clinicians across University hospitals and private clinics in France, Germany and Luxembourg around shared patient stratification approaches is at the core of the effort and will be a blueprint for developing integrated, cross-border digital health solutions.

Main coordinating institution: Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH)

More information on the INITIATE programme on the FNR’s website

Latest news Sustainable & Responsible Development

Exploring the origins and fate of lunar water

Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) is collaborating with institutes from Europe and abroad, for a more robust interpretation of lunar ‘soil’ analyses from samples beneath the surface in the South Pole region of the Moon. They are looking at how water ice molecules behave when changing from ice state to vapour state.

“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.

This famous quote from Neil Armstrong, who in the late 1960s was the first man to walk on the Moon, has profoundly marked our history and knowledge. These first manned Apollo missions, however, led scientists to believe that the Moon was a bone-dry celestial body. It is only very recently that new exploration missions have revealed the existence of water ice pools in the polar regions of the Moon.

At the dawn of space mining missions, this discovery opens new horizons and raises new research questions, to which Veneranda López Días, researcher at LIST (Environmental Research and Innovation Department/ERIN), together with her colleagues at the ERIN and Materials Research and Technology departments, are trying to answer through pioneering projects with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA).

Setting up a future lunar base could be made much simpler by using a 3D printer to build it from local materials. ©ESA/Foster + Partners

From a better understanding of lunar water behaviour…

In non-terrestrial environments, such as the Moon, only little is known about the water molecule’s behaviour. This information is nonetheless essential for a better understanding of lunar water sources and fate, and by extension, to identify if it could be a viable resource.

For filling pressing knowledge gaps on lunar water behaviour, Laurent Pfister, head of the ENVISION unit at LIST (ERIN), is leading an interdisciplinary team composed of experts in mass spectrometry from MRT and isotope hydrologists from ERIN. They contribute to ESA’s ambitious PROSPECT mission (Package for Resource Observation and in-Situ Prospecting for Exploration, Commercial exploitation and Transportation).

 “In the frame of the Luna 27 mission that will be launched in 2024/2025, we are collaborating with institutes from Europe and abroad, for a more robust interpretation of lunar ‘soil’ analyses from samples beneath the surface in the South Pole region of the Moon.”, explains Veneranda.

More specifically, and with the support of LSA, the LIST team conducts a pioneering project focusing on the isotope fractionation processes of Hydrogen (H) and Oxygen (O) stable isotopes during water ice sublimation under lunar environmental conditions. In other words, they are looking at how water ice molecules behave when changing from ice state to vapour state.

As a concrete example of application, the Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSRs) at the Moon poles act as cold traps, with temperatures down to -250°C, and collect any vapours that pass through the lunar environment. Hence, PSRs contain a fossil record of the early Solar System that could considerably improve the current state-of-the-art related to the lunar water cycle and the early solar system history.

… to space mining missions on the moon and beyond

“Progress in this respect will be of direct relevance and interest for space mining companies and scientists investigating the water cycle on the Moon and the origin of water delivered to the Earth-Moon system and its history.”, highlights Veneranda.

Water extraction and processing on the Moon is highly relevant for In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU), since it serves as propelling, radiation shielding, thermal management and life-support consumables. It would therefore contribute to reduce the costs and complexity of bringing supplies from the Earth’s deep gravity well and settle the human presence on the Moon (Moon Village) as an intermediate base to prepare for future missions to Mars – or other destinations – but also to extend the space mining to asteroids.

Moreover, lessons learned from this project may eventually benefit water resources related research on earth. The expected findings and results shall help identifying synergies between terrestrial and non-terrestrial hydrology, for ultimately triggering new momentum in both planetary and Earth system sciences.

The interdisciplinarity of LIST as an asset

“Given that we explore mostly unploughed ground – both in terms of instrument development and exo-hydrological process understanding – this project is extremely challenging, but also all the more exciting.”, testify Laurent and Veneranda.

LIST’s researchers need to find innovative solutions to untackled problems related to the extraction of water and ice from lunar ‘soil’ samples. At the same time, they need to design and build devices that operate in an incredibly hostile and challenging environment – with very low temperatures and a very pronounced vacuum – and still capable of delivering the finest possible resolution in stable isotope measurements for O and H in ice. The new instruments, experimental data and process knowledge obtained from exo-hydrology research shall ultimately also reduce knowledge gaps that prevail in terrestrial hydrology – a field that remains measurement limited to date.

With its cohort of experts in multiple and yet highly complementary fields – spanning from hydrology, inorganic geochemistry, soil science, chemistry to physics – LIST offers a unique blend of qualities and skills that are required for facing such an extraordinary and galvanising challenge.

This article was originally published by the LIST

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Luxembourg funded by the EU to address the issue of urban health

Prof. Martin Dijst of LISER (Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research) will coordinate a Marie Curie ITN (Innovative Training Networks) project that fosters new skills

Through its Horizon 2020 programme, the EU has funded the “Systems approach of URban enviRonmEnts and heALth (SURREAL)” project, led by Prof. Martin Dijst, Director of the Urban Development & Mobility Department at  LISER.

With this project “Systems approach of URban enviRonmEnts and heALth (SURREAL)”, an ITN Innovative Training Network of the H2020 funding programme will for the very first time be coordinated from Luxembourg and will be deployed across the entire network including France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Israel and Estonia.

The aim of the ITN (Innovative Training Networks) is to increase the scientific excellence and innovative character of doctoral research and training in Europe (EU Member States and countries associated to Horizon 2020), by extending the traditional framework of training to university research in a pioneering and original way. ITNs are resolutely interdisciplinary projects that can respond to major economic and social challenges

© Shutterstock

Why unravel the complexity of urban health?

Worldwide, people’s health status has increasingly been put under pressure by demographic growth, primary energy uses, mobility, and urbanization. Every year, more than 1.2 million people on average die prematurely in EU countries. However, there are large disparities in life expectancy in terms of socio-economic status, gender, age, and ethnicity. On the one hand, cities are especially prone to creating the conditions for health problems, such as sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy diets, air and other pollutions, and stress. On the other hand, cities also offer opportunities for structural and long-lasting healthy transformations in lifestyles and health status. However, the big question is to figure out how to achieve these transformations in a situation where the complexity of urban health problems is increasing, involving many actors. Although not directly focused on COVID-19, this project studies heavily underlying health issues of this pandemic such as unhealthy food consumption, lack of physical activity, air pollution and stress.

The aim of the project is to deliver a unique, creative and single training network for 15 early-stage researchers to co-create an understanding of the urban health system’s complexity, and co-design and apply adequate interventions in the system. The project will draw upon interactions between academic disciplines such as epidemiology, public health, and geography, and a wide range of entities such as medical centres, public authorities, and NGOs as well as citizens. Equipped with this expertise and supported by innovative training formats, such as Collaborative Learning in Practice, SURREAL trains the next generation of professionals in urban health.

To carry out this project, LISER, as coordinator, has joined forces with:
  • L’Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale INSERM (France)
  • University Medical Center Utrecht (Netherlands)
  • Hasselt University (Belgium)
  • Erasmus Medical Center (Netherlands)
  • University of Luxembourg (Luxembourg)
  • Tel Aviv University (Israel)
  • Barcelona Institute for Global Health ISGLOBAL (Spain)
  • Wageningen University & Research (Netherlands)
  • University of Tartu (Estonia)

This article was originally published on LISER’s website. To learn more about the SURREAL project:
Interview with Prof. Martin Dijst

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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:
  • Telephone + 352 46 66 44 9575                                     
  • Fax: +352 46 66 44 36702

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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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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War as an electoral weapon

Politicians and voters in the countries of Ex-Yugoslavia are still referring to conflicts which happened two decades ago. A political scientist wants to understand why and how to let go of the past.

This article was originally published by the Luxembourg National Research Fund

When French president Emmanuel Macron addressed the Coronavirus epidemic on 16 March 2020, he used the well-known rhetoric of war, repeating six times throughout his speech: “We are at war.” Such choice of words is often used to release extraordinary budgets and mobilize citizens against a public enemy, be it actual war, cancer, drugs or terrorism.

Josip Glaurdić © FNR / Rick Tonizzo

Strangely enough, the effect of real war on the political discourse and electoral processes has not been studied in much detail, says Josip Glaurdić, a political scientist working at the University of Luxembourg. He wants to fill this gap.

“I grew up in Croatia,” says the researcher. “I was a teenager during the conflict which shook Yugoslavia in the 1990s. It struck me to realize as a student that standard political theory made the assumption that wars did not really affect the usual polarizations found in politics, such as between religious groups, ethnicities, workers and capital or urban and rural regions. So I decided to get a closer look into it.”

He launched a large European project to uncover what the experience of war changed both for politicians and for voters living today in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. The first results show that political actors are often still stuck in the past. But also, that change seems possible.

Glory or suffering?

“Politicians still talk a lot about the conflicts, twenty years after it they ended,” says Josip Glaurdić. “Confronted with a difficult question about a current issue, they often evade the topic and divert the discussion towards the past. They ask for instance the question ‘Where were you during the war?’, which becomes normative.”

The researcher and his team used algorithms to analyse thousands of pages of speeches made by politicians in parliament, in public or on social media, studying the frequency of war-related concepts and whether they were positively or negatively connoted.

This analysis uncovered stark differences in the way politicians talk about former conflicts. Amongst members of nationalist parties, those who did not take parts in armed conflicts tend to use a more positive language. They talk about ‘victory’ and ‘unity’ or argue for instance that the State should support widows of soldiers in recognition of the ‘glorious sacrifice’ of their husbands. Those who experienced the war are more cautious and would rather talk about the widow’s suffering to justify supporting them. Politicians more on the left, especially the ones who did not fight, address the consequences of war in technical terms, addressing for example the need to fix infrastructure.

Gaming for political science

The research project also used targeted advertisement on Facebook to recruit 15 000 persons across the six countries to take part in several gamified online surveys. The participants had to take decisions in different situations, such as having to vote for different fictious politicians, after having filled in their sociodemographic information and answered questions about their war experience.

“The answers are very interesting,” says Glaurdić. “Between two hypothetical politicians with identical profiles, the one having fought in the war is more likely to get elected – nationalist voters would even forgive a conviction for corruption.”

The survey tests the hypotheses that people having experienced violence tend to trust their friends more than the media and are generally more risk averse. The participants were asked whether they would rather read news stories recommended by theirs friends or by the media. They also played the role of a mayor who must choose between two companies seeking a right of establishment, one promising higher employment but with higher risks.

Stuck in the past

In a third project, the international team surveyed citizens of Bosnia just before and after the 2018 national elections. “People in the Balkans tend to distrust politicians and the media,” explains Glaurdić. “This happens for a reason, because corruption and ideological media are still widespread. We wanted to find out if this distrust is fixed and is a liability of war or rather something more individual.” The researchers asked the participants what they thought about the electoral process and the media coverage.

Voters whose candidate had lost the election expressed more distrust than those whose candidate had won.

“On the one hand, this is myopic, like a player losing a game who complains about the rules being unfair to him. On the other hand, it is a positive sign as it shows that people are still engaged in the political process. They are not so much disillusioned to make democracy and fair media appear like a lost cause.”

Glaurdić’s research highlights the strong impact of the experience of war amongst politicians and voters, and that many of them seem to be still stuck in the past. With his work, he wants to understand whether this arises because of personal trauma or because of the politicization of the war. Above all, he wants to find out which factors can help both citizens and politicians escape this war narrative and political framing.

“The present situation is filled with crucial issues which urgently need to be solved,” he says. “Much more than dwelling on who did what 25 years ago.”

About the European Research Council (ERC) 

The European Research Council, set up by the EU in 2007, is the premiere European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between grantees’ pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation.

Industrial & Service Transformation Sustainable & Responsible Development

Put some sunshine in your engine

A chemist wants to use solar energy to produce hydrogen from water. His idea? To draw inspiration from the molecules that allow plants to grow and animals to breathe.

Generating electricity or hot water from the sun is a well-known idea. However, solar energy could also be used to turn water into hydrogen or turn carbon dioxide into synthetic methane. Thus, produce “solar fuels”.

Nicolas Boscher © FNR / Rick Tonizzo

This is the approach followed by Nicolas Boscher, a researcher at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST). He is developing new polymers capable of producing hydrogen in a clean and renewable way. This is crucial if it is ever to supply fuel cells to power cars, trucks and merchant ships over long distances. Nevertheless, doing so with a positive carbon balance requires being able to produce the gas cleanly, without greenhouse gas emissions.

This is difficult: hydrogen is mainly produced from methane in a reaction that emits CO2. Other processes use water, which is dissociated into hydrogen and oxygen using an electric current. Since the available electricity is partly generated from fossil fuels, this method indirectly emits carbon dioxide. As a result, hydrogen is not yet a clean fuel.

Molecules of Life

“Scientists have developed many materials to dissociate water into hydrogen from solar energy, but their efficiency is still too low or their cost too high,” notes Nicolas Boscher. “I think that a paradigm shift is needed and that entirely different approaches need to be tested”.

His inspiration comes from nature: the chemist wants to take advantage of a class of molecules crucial to life, porphyrins, which are involved in the breathing of living beings. They form the basis of haemoglobin, which transports oxygen in the blood, and chlorophyll, which enables plants to produce carbohydrates.

“These ring-shaped molecules are very versatile,” continues the researcher. “They are like Swiss Army knives for a chemist like me.”

The first stage of Nicolas Boscher’s project consists of creating porphyrin polymers and weaving them into a three-dimensional network. This extremely porous material allows water molecules to pass through. These molecules can then interact with the porphyrins. By absorbing sunlight, their ring produces an electron that dissociates water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen.

Infographics by Ikonaut
Chemical synthesis in a vacuum

If the idea seems simple, implementing it is less so. Because porphyrins, insoluble in water, are difficult to handle by traditional chemistry based on reactions in liquids. The scientist uses a different type of process: he reacts the different components by mixing them in gaseous form at very low pressure.

“This technique, chemical vapour deposition, is typically used in the manufacture of electronic chips. I did my first research in this field, which allowed me to adapt these methods to work with organic components, including porphyrins.”

The team has already been able to make thin porous layers that join two hydrogen atoms into a gas molecule. It still must be combined with the preliminary step of dissociating the water into hydrogen atoms and gaseous oxygen.

Towards a greener chemistry

The renewable production of hydrogen can also be used to produce synthetic methane and plastics, which generally come from the fossil fuel sector. This requires combining it with carbon atoms, obtained by extracting CO2 from the ambient air or by filtering the gases emitted in thermal power stations. This would represent a giant step towards green chemistry, which does not use fossil fuels either as a source of energy or as a raw material.

This article was originally published by the Luxembourg National Research Fund

About the European Research Council (ERC) 

The European Research Council, set up by the EU in 2007, is the premiere European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between grantees’ pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation.