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In conversation with our young researchers: Dr Sofie Waltl

Data-intensive research.

Housing markets form an integral part of the economy and everyone is affected by housing price fluctuations, either directly as owners or indirectly as renters. Accordingly, housing markets are monitored by many parties including policy makers, investors, landlords and planners. House price indices are an important tool for assessing housing markets, although standard indices are probably not fully capturing and understanding the complex dynamics of these markets.

How much does the housing market affect the economy? How to measure aggregate house price movements? Are measurement tools fit for purpose?

Sofie Waltl, a postdoc researcher at Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER) and assistant professor at the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU), is developing methodology to improve economic measurement tools mainly for housing-, wealth- and inequality-related issue.

A mathematical approach to economics

Through her various research projects, Sofie Waltl showed that standard house price indices are not enough to fully understand and capture the dynamics in housing markets. Indeed, standard index construction techniques might be imprecise to detect changes in the general tendency of house price trends. This issue is critical as the relation between prices and rents varies quite significantly within a market.

To address this challenge, the economist designs new techniques or adaptations of existing techniques to enhance the assessment of housing markets. This also includes exploring other types of data collection including surveys and experimental techniques. Having several types of data all describing the same phenomenon allows her to study also how people think about their decisions.

“I work on developing methodology to improve economic measurement tools mainly for housing-, wealth- and inequality-related issues. Due to my work on housing topics, I also drifted a bit towards policy-evaluation and design. In particular, I recently worked on rent control policies in a historic setting in St. Petersburg and currently a recent debate about rent control in Berlin.”

“All projects have in common being very data-intensive and I’m fascinated employing all kinds of data sources: hard to access historic sources and messy web-scraped data up until neatly collected experimental, survey and administrative data. In short: I love data and how to filter the information I am interested in from a bulk of numbers.”

Dr Sofie Waltl

Research, what else?

After graduating in mathematics from the University of Graz in Austria, Sofie Waltl was interested in applying what she had gained. To her studying mathematics leads to a certain way of thinking : “you acquire profound skills to discover meaningful paths through chaos, find creative problem-solving skills and are used to intellectual complex moves”. Following a conversation with one of her supervisors she realised that mathematics played a key role for economists to build precisely defined models from which exact conclusions can be derived with mathematical logic. And so the economist emerged.

“While writing my Master’s thesis and after a couple of internships, I was quite convinced that research was the thing I wanted to do. I’ve always had a bit the feeling that research is kind of a natural fit.”

Dr Sofie Waltl

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

To Sofie Waltl, “working in such a multi-disciplinary research setting is very fruitful.”

“There is a lot happening in a rather small place and communication across institutions works quite well at the level of researchers. I believe that this is something rather hard to find in large countries – simply because you cannot just physically pass by at every single institution you are interested in without having to travel large distances.”

Dr Sofie Waltl

An FNR CORE programme grantee

On top of holding a postdoc position in LISER, Sofie Waltl successfully applied for a large-scale research grant as a principal investigator by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) CORE programme.

Her research project, entitled Are People Aware of their (Housing) Wealth? Assessing Owner-Estimated Home Values in Survey and Experimental Data, seeks to develop accurate measurement of the stock of housing wealth, its distribution within society, and heterogeneity in (housing) wealth.

Through this programme, she can hire young researchers, target more complex research designs and just scale up by increasing the number of research papers she is working on as well as the number of research collaborations worldwide.

More about FNR CORE programme

About living in Luxembourg

The researcher likes the multi-cultural flair in the city of Luxembourg. In particular, she enjoys the local culture and the many activities in the city, especially during summertime.

“On a normal day in Luxembourg, I usually would have used at least some words from 2-4 languages – just on my way from home to work. I really like the combination of locals and people from everywhere.”

Dr Sofie Waltl

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In conversation with our young researchers: Dr Susheel Bhanu Busi

Biofilms in high-alpine streams.

As climate change melts away frozen landscapes, high alpine ecosystems are threatened. While we think of them as too extreme to harbor life, we know they’re not only habitable, but they are major ecosystems. In these environments, cold-adapted microorganisms are not only surviving but growing. Understanding how these tiny organisms can thrive in such extreme conditions is a priority.

How does microbial life survive in harsh ecosystems like glacier-fed streams? What functions do biodiversity and ecosystem provided by these communities have? Why it has become urgent to study them?

Dr. Susheel Bhanu Busi is a Postdoctoral Researcher with a molecular microbiology background in the Systems Ecology group at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) at the University of Luxembourg. He is studying how biofilms and the domains within like archaea, bacteria, viruses and (micro)eukaryotes adapt to life in alpine streams originating from glaciers.

Microrganisms colder than ice

Glacier-fed streams are harsh ecosystems dominated by microbial life organised in benthic (at the bottom of a body of water) biofilms, yet the biodiversity and ecosystem functions provided by these communities remain under-appreciated.

To better understand the microbial processes and communities contributing to glacier-fed stream ecosystems, the microbiologist uses high throughput sequencing. Low biomass and high inorganic particle load in glacier-fed stream sediment samples may affect nucleic acid extraction efficiency using extraction methods tailored to other extreme environments such as deep-sea sediments.

Originally a wet-lab researcher, manipulating liquids, biological matter, and chemicals, Dr Susheel Busi now straddles both the wet- and dry-lab, focusing on computational methods, to study biofilms in alpine streams. In practice, he used an adapted phenol-chloroform-based extraction method which resulted in higher yields and better recovered the expected taxonomic profile and abundance of reconstructed genomes. His studies provide a first systematic and extensive analysis of the different options for extraction of nucleic acids from glacier-fed streams.

“I believe that my current research into biofilms in alpine streams sheds light on how archaea/bacteria/viruses/microeukaryotes adapt to the cold and harsh environments. More importantly, it sheds the light on the rapid pace at which we are losing high alpine ecosystems due to accelerated global warming, and climate change in general.”

Dr Susheel Bhanu Busi

Research to make the world a better and safer place

Dr Susheel Bhanu Busi’s research journey started as an undergrad at the Madras Christian College in Chennai, India. Looking through the ocular of the microscope he got fascinated by the idea of motility in bacteria. Subsequently, his research led him to a Master’s in Biomedical Sciences at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland in the USA, where he worked on culturing a probiotic bacterium resistant to both high-temperatures and a low-pH.

“The idea was to use this commercially in both food and animal-feed preparations without losing viability of the bacterium and incidentally this also brought me a patent.”

Dr Susheel Bhanu Busi

The researcher’s interest in biofilms and the interactions therein grew as a PhD student at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

“My PhD work identified not only biomarkers of colon cancer allowing for non-invasive screening, but also certain bacteria that may one day be used as potential therapeutics.”

Dr Susheel Bhanu Busi

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

Having lived in the USA for 10 years, the microbiologist was seeking a new challenge. He was already aware of Luxembourg, specifically of Prof. Paul Wilmes. “The prospect of working with one of the leaders in the field of multi-omics, coupled with the very collaborative environment the LCSB offered was as good a reason as any to come here. Looking back, I wouldn’t have chosen any other way!”

To Susheel Bhanu Busi, “Luxembourg punches well above its weight in the sense that despite being a smaller country, the research community is both diverse and internationally acclaimed.”

“The resources made available to researchers via the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR), coupled with the vast levels of expertise across many areas of Science, not just at the LCSB, but also the LIH, LNS, LIST would be ideal for researchers at all career levels. Most importantly, the interdisciplinarity of the research happening across the several labs make Luxembourg one of the premier destinations for microbiome and multi-omic research.”

“From my experience in the USA, I can attest to the world-class facilities available here in Luxembourg for those involved in small animal model research. The microbiome research infrastructure such as the Sequencing Platform at the LCSB speaks for itself, with its highly integrated role in many research projects across many Life Science disciplines. The same holds true for the Metabolomics platform, where many future microbiome studies will eventually gravitate towards.”

Dr Susheel Bhanu Busi

Interdisciplinarity and collaboration

Belonging to the Systems Ecology group at the LCSB, Susheel Bhanu Busi has been involved in many collaborative research projects in Luxembourg.”When I first started in the Systems Ecology group with Prof. Paul Wilmes, I had the opportunity to work on the ‘Colonization, succession and evolution of the human gastrointestinal microbiome from birth to infancy’ project in collaboration with Dr. Carine de Beaufort, specialising in paediatric diabetology at the Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg (CHL), and the Integrated BioBank of Luxembourg (IBBL).” He is also currently working on a project looking into the evolution of antibiotic resistance in mice in collaboration with Dr. Elisabeth Letellier from the Department of Life Sciences and Medicine (DLSM).

Dr Susheel Bhanu Busi is a member of the Luxembourg Society of Microbiology, which every year brings together all researchers and stakeholders involved in Microbiology in Luxembourg and further fosters a collaborative environment.

International collaborative studies with labs in Bangladesh, Germany, India, Switzerland and the USA span from antimicrobial resistance and animal models to extending bioprospecting efforts in other ecosystems. For instance, the glacier-fed stream biofilm project is a collaboration with Prof. Tom Battin at the Stream Biofilms and Ecosystems Research (SBER) lab at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“The research environment in Luxembourg, especially at the LCSB is amazingly interdisciplinary and fosters collaborations both within the country and also internationally. “

Dr Susheel Bhanu Busi

About living in Luxembourg

Having grown up in India and then lived in the USA, Susheel Bhanu Busi finds that Luxembourg is a happy median between the two countries.

“Luxembourg has the accessibility and ease of access to many things governing one’s life, that the States offer, with the mix of family-oriented values that are reminiscent, to me at least, of home (India)”

Dr Susheel Bhanu Busi

More about the Systems Ecology Group of LCSB

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In conversation with our young researchers: Adelene Lai

PhD candidate Adelene Lai at Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) is an environmental cheminformatician who develops workflows, algorithms, and software to help identify environmental chemicals. 16% of annual […]

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In conversation with our young researchers: Dr Martín Fernández Sánchez

Migration issues.

The number of international migrants has increased remarkably during the past decades, rising from 85 million in the 1970s to more than 280 million nowadays. The prospects are that migrant flows will grow even faster in the near future due to climate change and conflicts. As a result, there is more and more interest among policymakers and society to understand who migrates and why, the consequences for both sending and receiving countries, and how to design better policies that could increase the gains from migration while reducing its potential costs.

What are the long-term consequences of migration for the hosting and sending communities? How cultural norms are conveyed though migration? What is the role of migrant networks and information in shaping migration decisions or migrants’ economic performance?

As part of the Crossing Borders Research Programme of the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER), postdoc Martín Fernández-Sánchez examines migration issues through the lenses of history. Adopting a long-term / historical approach, the economist reassesses existing questions with new data and methods while exploring novel questions, which were impossible to address until now.

An interdisciplinary approach to tackle migration issues

Focusing on migration issues, Martín Fernández-Sánchez works at the intersection of development, history, and cultural economics. As such, the economist relies on major historical episodes that have particular features making them a perfect laboratory to examine broad questions in a causal manner. In other words, he looks for particular settings that create so-called natural experiments in which certain individuals or communities are quasi-randomly exposed to the aspect studied. In history, the post researcher is looking to a setting that mimics as close as possible a randomised control trial, such that some individuals are being “treated” and others part of a comparison group.  These “natural experiments” often originate because of regulations, changes in policies, displacements of people due to wars or natural disasters.

The Spanish national researcher describes his approach as interdisciplinary. Indeed, the type of questions he explores means relying on other social sciences such as history, sociology, anthropology, etc. Such an approach not only nurtures his knowledge of the context under study but also guides him asking the right questions, building a conceptual framework that could help understand the results and explore the mechanisms underneath, and to have a better idea of the subtleties that may make the findings hold (or not) in other settings. 

In practice, he combines different sources of data and methodologies. For instance, he brings together historical data coming from a variety of sources and contemporary administrative and survey data. When it comes to methodology, he relies on the most rigorous techniques of causal inference borrowed from econometrics to establish causal links.

“My research examines migration issues through the lenses of history, which offers several advantages and has the potential to challenge current views/conclusions as well as to inform and reshape migration policies. Moreover, I not only consider economic aspects of migration but also examine other dimensions such as how they can shape cultural norms and political outcomes, as these may lead to changes in our societies that persist long after the arrival/departure of migrants. Studying past migration episodes helps us to better understand current ones and to the design the best policies for the future.

Dr Martín Fernández-Sánchez

Research as a revelation

The economist’s first approximation to research occurred during his last year of bachelor at the University of Vigo. As he got more and more interested in economics and passionate about research, a career in academia became clear to him. Miraculously, as he describes his journey, Martín Fernández-Sánchez earned a grant from a private foundation to do a Master in Economic Research in Cambridge before joining the Paris School of Economics to follow a Master in Public Policy and Development and eventually complete his PhD.

“I think that my studies in economics (which raised my awareness about large disparities in income and living conditions across countries) together with my personal experiences deeply shaped the way I see life. I came to realise that where you are born is the most important factor determining your future opportunities and international migration is the great leveller that could help improve the life of millions of people around the globe.”

Dr Martín Fernández-Sánchez

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

To Martín Fernández-Sánchez, “Luxembourg has created a very dynamic environment in which people are eager to share ideas and collaborate to exciting projects. Similarly, there are many funding opportunities that can be pivotal depending on the needs of your specific research. Finally, the position of Luxembourg at the heart of Europe is very advantageous, making it very easy to reach other research hubs in Europe such as Paris or London.”

“I chose Luxembourg for a number of reasons. First, because of its current research excellence and the great prospects looking forward. Both at LISER and the University of Luxembourg there are excellent researchers working on migration issues and there is a clear ambition to keep bringing great scholars, finance frontier researcher, and support research activities.”

“Another attractive feature of Luxembourg is that it offers everything one could ask any major European city and, at the same time, it feels very close to nature. I really enjoy this dualism and balance between a cosmopolitan and a laid-off life.”

Dr Martín Fernández-Sánchez

Interdisciplinarity and collaboration

Belonging to the Crossing Borders Research Programme led by Frédéric Docquier, Martín Fernández-Sánchez is currently collaborating with other researchers on a project seeking to understand how access to information affects domestic migration in Africa. He is also involved in a project assessing the influence of migrants’ skills and networks on their economic performance in collaboration with Frédéric Docquier and Fabio Mariani from UCLouvain.

“LISER is quite of a unique place as it gathers together social scientists from different disciplines (such as economics, geography, and others) and strongly encourages collaboration among them. This interdisciplinarity is a great asset as very often, there are particular technical needs or tools that certain colleagues may have expertise on and that help us progress much faster. Similarly, people with other backgrounds tend to look at issues from a different angle, which contributes to make our research better.”

Dr Martín Fernández-Sánchez

Crossing Borders Research Programme at a glance

Assess historical and recent cross-border flows and understand their root drivers

Use innovative sources of data to study the interplay between different forms of mobility

Analyse the economic and societal consequences of migrant flows for all parties concerned

Provide stakeholders and the civil society with databases and expert analyses that help understanding migration flows and the consequences of policy actions

Develop tools to help policy decision-makers maximize the gains and/or minimize the cost of current and future migrations

Build projection tools to anticipate future movements

Contribute to the training of PhD researchers on these topics.

More about LISER Crossing Borders Research Programme

About living in Luxembourg

The researcher sees the country as very diverse and international. He particularly likes the cultural scene and how close we can be to nature.

“For a music lover as myself, I must say that the music scene in Luxembourg is pretty amazing, with places like Philharmonie, Rockhal, den Atelier, Kulturfabrik, and many others.”

Dr Martín Fernández-Sánchez

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In conversation with our young researchers: Pauline Mencke

Neurodegenerative diseases and cancer affect millions of people worldwide. Translational neuroscientist Pauline Mencke has chosen Luxembourg to study a gene that is involved both in Parkinson’s disease and the […]

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In conversation with our young researchers: Dr Sunday Ojochegbe Okutachi

K-Ras protein and cancer.

For over 40 years since its discovery, researchers around the world have been working to develop drugs against the K-Ras protein with very little success. This protein is involved in about 15% of all cancer cases worldwide.

In 2020, cancer was the second leading cause of death in the world. We expect the global cancer burden to continue to rise as a result of lifestyle changes, increased life expectancy and a growing ageing population. Dr Sunday Ojochegbe Okutachi, a newly graduated doctor in cancer biology of the department of Life Sciences and Medicine at the University of Luxembourg, is developing new compounds that act against major chaperones of K-Ras in the cell.

Mutations in the KRAS gene associated with 15% of all human cancers

Ras proteins were among the earliest identified oncogenes. Being implicated in approximately 19% of all human solid tumors, those proteins are the most frequently mutated oncogenes in cancer.

Major breakthroughs have recently led to the clinical development of the first direct and covalent inhibitors of the K-RasG12C mutant. Yet, the majority of K-Ras driven cancers are not G12C mutated.

To effectively treat K-Ras mutated and/or K-Ras driven cancers, the need to pursue multiple direct and indirect therapeutic strategies including the targeting of K-Ras trafficking chaperones as well as the synergistic targeting of different nodes in K-Ras mediated signaling pathways will be crucial. Hence, Sunday Ojochegbe Okutachi focuses on identifying novel isoform specific inhibitors of Ras protein signalling.

The overarching aim of my research is to identify novel small molecules that can interfere with K-Ras membrane localisation through the inhibition of K-Ras trafficking chaperones by both covalent and non-covalent binding. To this end, we designed and developed relevant assays for the in vitro and in cellulo characterisation of small molecules against the trafficking chaperone proteins CaM and PDE6D.”

— Sunday Ojochegbe Okutach

Research as a vocation

The cancer biologist grew up in a relatively rural city in Nigeria. His experience with the direct consequences of poor healthcare instilled in him a strong interest to pursue a career that attempts to proffer solutions to the issue. Hence, he naturally took interest in the life sciences and graduated valedictorian in Biochemistry in his bachelors programme. Then, he secured a scholarship to study Translational Oncology in the UK where he also graduated with distinction.

The exposure to the interface between basic research and clinical oncology practice informed his subsequent decision to go deeper into the cancer drug discovery and development process. To this end, he joined the cancer cell biology and drug discovery group of Professor Daniel Abankwa at University of Luxembourg to pursue his PhD in 2018.

“I am deeply committed to helping fight disease both at the scientific and on a private level. My long-term desire is to help bring useful healthcare solutions to people. As such, I will be working at the interface between basic research and translational outcomes in the molecular diagnostics industry. Also, I recently founded a cancer nonprofit that helps in increasing cancer awareness and organise fundraising to support cancer preventive and diagnostic activities in my home country of Nigeria.”

Sunday Ojochegbe Okutachi

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

To Sunday Ojochegbe Okutachi, “Luxembourg is at the forefront of many research fields. Researchers from here regularly publish in high impact and open access journals. Research is well funded and innovation is greatly encouraged. If you are looking for a highly dynamic, international and globally competent scientific environment, Luxembourg is the place for you.”

As Prof. Abankwa is a leading expert in Ras biology, It was a great opportunity to work in his lab in Luxembourg. Also, Luxembourg has one of the most innovative, agile and competent research programs out there. Through various initiatives, Luxembourg continuously attract some of the best academics across the globe, as a result, the research environment is filled with highly competent, international and diverse professionals. All these factors informed my decision to execute my PhD in the only Grand duchy in the world.”

— Sunday Ojochegbe Okutachi

A robust research environment fostering collaboration

Working in the laboratory of Prof. Daniel Abankwa, Sunday Ojochegbe Okutachi executed his research project at the University of Luxembourg in collaboration with scientist from Finland and the NCI-Ras initiative in the USA.

“Luxembourg has a very robust research environment that supports innovation and collaborative research. “

“The country invests heavily in obtaining state-of-the-art equipment in biomedical research. Consequently, researchers are able to carry out their work with minimal hassle. Indeed, the commitment of the relevant authorities to make the country a leading scientific hub is highly commendable.”

Sunday Ojochegbe Okutachi

About living in Luxembourg

The researcher sees the country as very safe, family oriented, welcoming and socially generous. These very positive experiences largely instructed his decision to stay in the country beyond his PhD.

“Luxembourg has one of the highest standards of living in the world, its extremely charming medieval castles, beautiful and safe streets are solid reasons to live here. In addition to these, what I love most about the country is that it is a great place to have and raise a family.”

Sunday Ojochegbe Okutachi

Sunday Ojochegbe Okutachi recently completed his PhD, entitled Characterization of novel covalent and non-covalent drugs against K-Ras surrogate targets.

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In conversation with our young researchers: Adelene Lai

Environmental Cheminformatics.

With over 350,000 environmental chemicals registered for production and use across the world, there are simply more than researchers can analyse. Increased computational resources are critical.

PhD candidate Adelene Lai at Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) is an environmental cheminformatician who develops workflows, algorithms, and software to help identify environmental chemicals.

16% of annual deaths worldwide attributed to air, water, and soil pollution

Adelene Lai’s research explores how to make the most of computational resources, software and databases to analyse and understand the thousands of measured chemical signals.

The researcher explains that “we measure thousands of signals in a single sample, but we understand very few.” Indeed, the approach to assessing environmental chemicals remains “one-by-one”, though they exist in multitudes as complex mixtures (“soup”) in our environment.

“Recent boosts in computational power and improved tools have also been essential for analysing large amounts of measured data, which for environmental samples is very important, as there are typically many samples from multiple locations and timepoints, e.g. water samples from multiple sites throughout Luxembourg over multiple months.”

Adelene Lai

Environmental Chemistry to be in its own Big Data phase

The cheminformatician develops workflows, algorithms, and software to help identify environmental chemicals.

“Environmental Chemistry is approaching its own Big Data phase, and we need to do things in increasingly automated and ‘smart’ ways. For example, we developed a highly automated workflow to help the Swiss authorities identify unknown chemicals in wastewater coming from industrial sources using Open tools and databases.”

Adelene Lai

More recently, the scientist teamed up with the Luxembourgish Water Management Agency to help identify pharmaceuticals and pesticides in local surface water, where Adelene concentrated on database mining, data curation, and data visualisation.

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

“Three main reasons: the Schymanski group at LCSB is visionary, unique, and interdisciplinary in its approach to identifying environmental chemical pollutants; Luxembourg has a strong emphasis on Open Science, specifically at the LCSB through Responsible and Reproducible Research (R3); and the research culture in Luxembourg is very dynamic and open to new ideas.”

3rd year PhD candidate Adelene Lai is an environmental cheminformatician

Adelene Lai is a member of the group of FNR ATTRACT Fellow Associate Prof Emma Schymanski. Adelene has been selected to attend the prestigious 2021 interdisciplinary Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in June 2021.

Excerpts from Spotlight on Young Researchers: Identifying environmental pollutants

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In conversation with our young researchers: Rutuja Bhusari

Gas sensors are an important part of our everyday lives to identify potentially dangerous gases emitted by all kinds of common furniture in our cars, houses, and other indoor environments. Yet, gas sensors based on metal oxide materials operate at high temperatures, meaning they need a lot of energy.

PhD candidate Rutuja Bhusari at Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) is seeking to create a gas sensor powered by nature combining materials at nanoscale.

Using natural light to power gas sensors

Rutuja Bhusari’s research explores how to reduce the energy consumption of gas sensors. And that’s quite a challenge. Indeed, metal oxides are semiconductor in nature, meaning they have either a low or no current at all passing through them. They need external energy source like heat to increase their sensitivity towards presence of different gases in the atmosphere.

Metal-oxide based gas sensors usually work at high temperatures which leads to certain application disadvantages. In my work, I use light to activate charge carriers and heterostructures to make use of properties of two materials in one, to overcome the need to use heat to operate these gas sensors.”

Rutuja Bhusari
Rutuja working on the synthesis of nanomaterials in a chemical lab
@Fnr Spotlight on Young Researchers: A gas sensor powered by natural light

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

“Luxembourg presented me with two opportunities in one package. When I completed my masters, I wanted to do a PhD in the exact topic I am working on and wouldn’t settle for anything else. LIST, FNR and Renaud Leturcq gave me the chance to do the same. This happens very rarely in life that you get what you want, and you don’t have to compromise! Other than my work, I am extremely passionate about travelling. Luxembourg, being strategically located in centre of Europe, has presented me many instances to fuel my wanderlust. I could not ask for anything more from life.

[As for Luxembourg itself] it is a very cosmopolitan country, it was very easy for me to adjust here. I have met so many different people, I have a great supervisor and very good colleagues, and I feel that we are like a huge family. Besides LIST, Luxembourg is also a very good place to live. The kind of facilities that the government provides to its citizens are indeed very attractive.”

— Rutuja Bhusari, a final-year PhD candidate at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST).

Rutuja Bhusari’s PhD project is funded by the FNR in the framework of the PRIDE Doctoral Unit ‘Materials for Sensing and Energy Harvesting’ (MASSENA). Launched in 2016 by LIST and the University of Luxembourg with the support of the FNR, MASSENA is a Doctoral Training Unit which focuses on materials enabling future applications in sensors and energy harvesting by embracing stimuli from strain, motion, temperature, electric field, light, and chemistry. Towards this goal MASSENA is organised in four thematic clusters: strain sensors and energy harvesters; electronic sensors and energy harvesters; biocluster; electronic structure calculations.

Excerpts from Spotlight on Young Researchers: A gas sensor powered by natural light and Rutuja Bhusari, when research becomes an actor of change

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In conversation with our young researchers: Dr Lorella Viola

The impact of digital on humanities research is far-reaching. On top of changing the way many researchers conduct their work, it has also spawned entirely new fields of research, such as digital humanities. Linguist Lorella Viola is examining how software can enable critical digital humanities practice.

Dr Lorella Viola, a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C2DH), has focussed on designing Digital Humanities methodologies that combine both quantitative and qualitative analyses and assist humanities scholars to contextualise and unveil the patterns hidden within large digital collections.

Embedding the active role of the researcher in the process of knowledge production in a digital environment

Lorella Viola’s research explores how software can empower a critical practice of digital humanities. As such, she looks at both the use of technology and the processes that generate it. It includes the historical, social, political, cultural and ethical impact of digital for research.

The role of the linguist is to bring the critical thinking of the humanities not just to the functionalities of the software, but also to the very technologies, methods and infrastructures that support the project

The aim is to further strengthen and promote cultural criticism in digital practices by embedding the active role of the researcher in the process of knowledge production in a digital environment.

Lorella Viola

Previously, Lorella developed critical, data-driven methodologies that assist researchers in investigating the relationship between language, media and society in large historical textual repositories.

Interdisciplinary to enable critical digital history practice

Lorella’s work is part of the ‘Digital History Advanced Research Projects Accelerator’ (DHARPA). Bringing together an interdisciplinary team, the project aims to assess the impact of technology on historical research. It also seeks to experiment with how technology can reshape the methodological underpinnings of history as a scientific discipline. The project is led by FNR PEARL Chair Sean Takats at the C2DH at the University of Luxembourg.

Lorella’s research fuels the team’s work towards building software to facilitate computational analysis, replicability, transparency, Open Access publication, standardisation and research dissemination.

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

“I came to Luxembourg because the Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C2DH) where I am based is of the highest expertise and resources in Europe for the study of the epistemological consequences of digital technologies for history and the humanities at large. C2DH is for me the perfect environment to explore how to embed criticality into the development and application of digital tools and methodologies for humanities and social science research as well as to foster transparency, reproducibility and accountability in digital humanities practice. C2DH is also highly interdisciplinary and therefore it was the natural fit for my research.”

— Dr Lorella Viola, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C2DH) .

Read more about the DHARPA research project

Extracts from Spotlight on Young Researchers: Empowering critical digital humanities practice

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In conversation with our young researchers: Pauline Mencke

Neurodegenerative diseases and cancer affect millions of people worldwide. Translational neuroscientist Pauline Mencke has chosen Luxembourg to study a gene that is involved both in Parkinson’s disease and the brain cancer Glioblastoma multiforme.

Pauline Mencke, 3rd year PhD candidate at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB), aims to identify common mechanisms shared by the diseases. Her research would allow for the identification of a common pathway and potential drug target, ultimately improving the outlook for patients.

What do Parkinson’s disease and Glioblastoma multiforme have in common?

Pauline Mencke strives to understand the gene PARK7 encoding the protein DJ-1 to find common disease mechanisms

According to the biologist, the etiology is not yet fully understood because of the complexity and heterogeneity of PD. This is why there is no cure for the disease.

“In the same manner, GBM is a very heterogeneous and complex disease, meaning that it is very difficult to identify individual causes and treatment strategies that are tumour specific,” explains Pauline Mencke.

In the last years, there has been increasing evidence that a specific gene encoding the protein DJ-1 is associated with both diseases. As part of her PhD project, biologist Pauline Mencke is studying the role of DJ-1 in more detail:

“We know that genes that are upregulated in cancer are frequently downregulated in PD and vice versa.”, Pauline explains.

Interestingly, increased expression of some PD-associated genes like one called ‘PARK7 (DJ-1)’ influence cell proliferation and metabolism, meaning they support tumorigenesis – the formation of tumours.

“In PD, the effect reverses, as loss of DJ-1 protein function causes PD. In the scope of my PhD project, we are simultaneously studying the role and function of DJ-1 in PD and GBM to better understand its role in both conditions.”

Making collaboration a source of progress

Collaboration is integral to Pauline’s studies. Indeed, she cooperates with several scientists for her project, both in Luxembourg and abroad.

Case in point: the PD-patient derived iPSCs [stem cells] that she is using for her project were obtained from fibroblasts from a collaboration with Prof. Dr. med. Vincenzo Bonifati from Rotterdam.

“For the CRISPR Cas9 mediated correction of the mutation in the iPSCs, I profited from the expertise of Dr. Javier Jarazo from the LCSB. I am also collaborating with ATTRACT Fellow Dr. Johannes Meiser from the LIH, who is helping me through his expertise in metabolomics.

In collaboration with Dr. Carole Linster from the LCSB, Pauline strives to identify enzymatic functions of DJ-1.

Pauline is also working hand in hand with Prof. Dr. med. Michael Platten from the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) in Heidelberg.

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

“I have studied molecular medicine in Regensburg, Germany, and from the beginning of my studies, I was interested in translational medicine, studying causes and mechanisms of diseases to help to identify better treatments. During my master studies in Luxembourg, I met Prof. Dr. med. Rejko Krüger and learned about his excellent research. This is why I decided to do my PhD in his highly interdisciplinary translational group.”

— Pauline Mencke, 3rd year PhD candidate at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB). Her PhD is supported by an AFR grant from the FNR.

Read more about the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine.

Extracts from Spotlight on Young Researchers: The role a gene plays in neurodegeneration and cancer

Industrial & Service Transformation Inside Research Luxembourg Latest news

In conversation with our young researchers: Dr Alexander Steen

The ubiquity of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the fact that no scientist can be an expert in every field means AI is an interdisciplinary field at heart. Computational logician and AI researcher Postdoc Dr Alexander Steen, has chosen Luxembourg to run his research projects.

The expertise in the research group Dr Steen is associated with reflects interdisciplinarity. Indeed, it brings together Lawyers, Logicians, Mathematicians, Computer Scientists, Philosophers and Engineers – supplemented by expertise in the other faculties.

Making Universality happen

Technological progress in AI affects us all. Indeed, researchers from numerous scientific fields are working on the best way to bring AI forward. It includes the study of systems able to autonomously reason over arguments – calculators for philosophical, ethical or legal debates.

Dr Steen studies the theoretical and practical aspects on how to automate and implement logical reasoning. His focus is on interdisciplinary contexts: normative and legal decision-making and philosophical arguments.

According to Dr Alexander Steen, who defines his work by its universality: “Logic is everywhere around us, in different forms and shapes. Automated reasoning has been around since the very beginning of AI research[…] Modern logic has become more diverse and inclusive: We now try to capture intuitive notions of philosophical, moral, legal and common-sense reasoning – which is in a sense much harder than purely mathematical logic – and to let a machine autonomously reason about these aspects.” 

The underlying idea, Alexander explains, is to provide quite general means for AI-assisted reasoning. It is also about simulating domain specific requirements within that framework. This way, e.g. ethical and legal discourses can be made explicit and addressed by autonomous systems. As such, it contributes to explainable and transparent AI systems that we urgently need.

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

“Luxembourg lies in the heart of Europe, with a unique mixture of people within and outside of the University. I’ve never seen a research group like the one I am associated with now: Lawyers, Logicians, Mathematicians, Computer Scientists, Philosophers and Engineers – with even more expertise in the other faculties. ”

— Alexander Steen, Postdoc Researcher, University of Luxembourg, and Principal Investigator of the CORE Junior project ‘Automated Reasoning with Legal Entities (AuReLeE)

Read more about the Individual and Collective Reasoning Group of University of Luxembourg.

Extracts from Spotlight on Young Researchers: AI for ethical and legal debates

Inside Research Luxembourg Latest news

In conversation with our young researchers: Dr Jennifer Dusdal

Home to nearly 2,000 public researchers, Luxembourg has created a thriving research and innovation scene, fostering collaboration. When starting a research career, finding a destination which encourages teamwork and interdisciplinarity, in particular, is everything.  

Postdoc Dr Jennifer Dusdal, a social scientist at the University of Luxembourg, is one of our young researchers who is conducting her research projects in Luxembourg.

Interdisciplinarity as a powerful driver to research excellence

Today, millions of researchers worldwide collaborate across organisational, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries, extending the possibilities of new scientific discovery. This, and the associated data, has paved the way for the scientific field Science of Science, where one key question is understanding exactly how scientific quality is fostered by research collaboration.

According to Dr Jennifer Dusdal, who’s exploring the scientific field Science of Science, “contemporary science is marked by a powerful shift towards increased creation and dissemination of new scientific knowledge beyond the scientific community. A timely and important development that is likely to involve researchers, policy makers in ministries for higher education and research, university/research institute managers, and funding agencies.” 

An increasing amount of research questions cannot be answered by researchers from just one scientific discipline – collaboration is key in scientific research. Thanks to all the data available on research collaboration output, social scientists are now increasingly able to look at the big picture and ask a range of questions with the goal of understanding the mechanisms of what makes science excellent.

One of the biggest challenges in the field of Science of Science, Jennifer explains, is the advancement of cross-disciplinary methods to analyse different types of data, as well as addressing theoretical problems to allow for a deeper understanding of the relational structures and drivers of scientific research. Addressing these challenges will open the door to providing in-depth insights into the fundamental, but complex mechanisms behind scientific discovery.

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

“It was an unexpected opportunity for me to join the University of Luxembourg. I am a sociologist of science who is inquisitive about science capacity-building and the development of diverse higher education and science systems. Working in a young, vibrant, expanding, and globalised research environment enables me to observe its institutionalisation and related negotiation processes at different levels in real time.

Excellent research conditions, a strong team, opportunities to meet curious colleagues from different fields, and support to develop my academic career makes Luxembourg the perfect place for my research.”

— Jennifer Dusdal, Postdoc Researcher, Department of Social Sciences, University of Luxembourg

Find out more about Science of Science in the Spotlight

Read more about the Faculty of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences of University of Luxembourg.

Extracts from Spotlight on Young Researchers: How is scientific quality fostered by research collaboration?