Category Archives: science

What changes will nanoelectronicsbring to our lives?

We are surrounded by nanoelectronics through products such as computers, mobile phones, sensors and electric cars. Nanoelectronics may also grow much stronger in the energy efficiency area in the near future. However, the sustainable growth faces several challenges

In nanoelectronics, miniaturised electronic circuits are integrated on semiconductor chips where the basic element is the transistor. The size of the transistors produced is under 100 nm. Andreas Wild is Executive Director of the ENIAC JU. The task of this public-private partnership is to coordinate European research in nanoelectronics. He sees many interesting changes coming with the evolution of nanoelectronics. “We have little electronics in the buildings, but the buildings are huge energy consumers. There will be an influx of nanoelectronics that will completely change the ways we are living in and using buildings, making them energy self-consistent, extremely comfortable and adaptable to the needs of the people. The buildings will be able to read how many people are inside, what are they doing, then adjust everything and also give the people a human interface to express their wishes. Rather than pilot projects this will be the norm. Europe has already issued regulations. I believe in the next five to ten years nobody will construct a building that haven’t got these features.”

Laurent Malier, CEO of the research center CEA-Leti in France, highlights another area where nanoelectronics may be prominent. “What we are going to explore more are nanoelectronic devices for biology and healthcare. It could be easy and low cost diagnostics. This is an area of growth in a large perspective,” he said.

The sustainable growth of nanoelectronics faces several challenges. “You see technological challenges, materials, processes and so forth. You see design challenges, how to put together billions of components quickly, reliably and predictably. Then there are systemic challenges, what are the functions that all these billions of transistors are supposed to achieve on every chip and how do they relate to the everyday life of the people using the devices,” Wild said.

Malier sees additional challenges. “One is the compromise between low electrical power consumption and very fast processing capability. The other one is lithography, the capability to reduce the size of features. The third one is to increase complexity with either 3D integration, stacking chips on each other, or integration of new functions.”
We are dependent on nanoelectronic devices and soon we might see a drastic reduction in our energy consumption thanks to the advances in this area.



The battle of the bulge

Deciphering satiety signals from the gut to the brain, could help devise smart food designed to communicate feeling of fullness to the brain, and thus help fight obesity

We know nutrients interact with gut cells, which dispatch chemical messengers – hormones– to the brain to signal “stomach full.” This messaging from our food to gut to brain is now being decoded to fight obesity.  

Until now, gastric bypass surgery has been the fastest way to treat obesity. Not only does it cause weight loss, but it can also cure diabetes in some. “The resolution is almost instantaneous indicating that mechanisms other than weight loss itself are responsible. This has turned the focus towards appetite-regulating hormones from the gut,” endocrinologist Jens Holst of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark tells 

What if you could cause the same effects, without surgery? Holst discovered a small molecule in the gut, called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which acts on parts of the brain that regulate appetite.  He is now involved with a EU funded research project, Full4Health, which aims to reveal how food can trigger signalling mechanisms communicating feelings of hunger or fullness to the brain. 

“There is a raft of hormones, which are all satiety hormones, which will tend to help terminate a meal,” says project coordinator Julian Mercer, obesity scientist at the University of Aberdeen, UK. “We don’t know much about which nutrients are involved and whether we can manipulate how food interacts with those signalling systems and how those systems are integrated at different levels in the brain.”

The project could help pinpoint future drugs for either obese people or those who have trouble consuming enough nutrients. “It would be even better if we could come up with smart food,” says Mercer.  Insights will feed into another project which seeks to develop ingredients capable to giving the feeling of fullness called SATIN.

The research stands out from similar previous studies by focusing on males and females, lean and overweight people, from four age groups including children, teenagers, adults and elderly.  “If we are looking to reformulate foods to come with additional benefits built into them, those reformulations will likely vary in different groups,” says Mercer. So no one size will fit all.

Steve Bloom, gut protein expert at Imperial College London, UK, says the project addresses a large problem with substantial research funds, but the aspirations are vague.  “It’s a worthy endeavour but I doubt any breakthrough will occur. I’d be delighted to be wrong,” he tells

Its chance of success may be limited because studying internal satiety factors would not impact external factors affecting the way people eat. “It is very challenging and that is because feeling satiated does not necessarily stop people from eating,” comments Ellen van Kleef, behavioural expert at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “Manipulating information about the nature of the food provided, [such as] caloric or fat content, or situational context, [by] framing a food as a meal versus a snack, influences perception, choice, satiety and the amount of food people eat,” van Kleef explains. “This interplay between internal signals of hunger and satiety and external signals makes it very challenging,” she adds.


Airborne water leak detection using an innovative ‘Triangle method’

Researchers have used planes and drones equipped with multispectral and infrared cameras to detect water losses in pipes in rural areas. The data has been analysed through a pioneering method combining the measure of the temperature of the surface and the vegetation cover fraction

This year is on course to be one of the hottest since measurements began and Europe saw its joint second warmest June on record. While the global soaring temperature is heavily impacting water resources, it is crucial to address the leakages in pipes and transmission mains. In some European countries almost half of the channelled water is lost before it reaches the tap.

A high share of the losses happen in large diameter mains crossing rural areas, where companies have trouble monitoring them due to traditional field surveys being costly and time consuming.

European researchers have therefore developed a surveillance service using planes – to survey wide areas – and drones –- for sites difficult to access – equipped with multispectral and infrared cameras. To analyse the data, they used the so called Triangle method. It is quite a pioneering approach to detecting water leaks, which combines surface temperature measures and a vegetation index.

It is based on the fact that leaks lead to lower surface temperatures, which can be detected by a thermal infrared camera. However the thermal response of vegetated soils is different from the bare ones, making it difficult to obtain an unequivocal answer in terms of moisture content and potential water loss. The researchers therefore added a parameter measuring the vegetation cover fraction, which is inferred by hyperspectral cameras, to get a temperature-dependent humidity scale which varies according to the vegetation.

The system has been developed under the EU project WADI, coordinated by Its executive director Elena Gaboardi shares the most important final results of the study.

Why is this technology financially competitive?
Limiting water leaks curbs the operational costs of the utilities, including the energy costs for pumping water, while increasing the amount of water that can be sold. This, in turn, limits the risk of raising prices for the customers.
Compared to competing technologies, the WADI system’s economic benefit lies in the efficiency of operations: it can monitor complex networks and long pipes (50 to 90 km/h depending on the use of drones or planes) and, as it’s airborne, can reach inaccessible or secluded locations with all kind of terrain. Moreover, the cost of conventional ground detection techniques ranges from 1,000 to 5,000 euro per kilometre, while the airborne technology ranges from 50 to 200 euro per kilometre.

What are the main advantages for the environment?
Besides the savings in power consumption for water extraction and distribution, the identification of water leaks would obviously lead to more available water resources. Ultimately the amount of chemicals used in water treatment plants for human water delivery would also be lower.
In this context, we applied an environmental and economic life cycle assessment and compared the results with the mainstream technology, which is the acoustic method. We took into account, for instance, the fuel consumed during the aircraft flights (MAV), the impact of manufacturing planes on some indicators such as freshwater eutrophication [as a consequence of the release of industrial wastewater, ed. note] and water depletion, the human toxicity indicator related to the mercury contained in the infrared detector of the cameras.
For the drone flights (UAV), we focused on the impact of batteries on the ozone, metal resources and human health. In particular, we considered the electricity consumption to charge them and the need to replace them during the drone’s lifetime.
It was estimated that applying the WADI techniques (both technologies (MAV and UAV) to 5% of European water distribution systems could potentially reduce 166.5 million kg of CO2/year, by cutting the energy consumption for the water supplying. In comparison to the carbon footprint associated with the MAV and UAV WADI units (270,000 kg CO2eq and 545 kg CO2eq respectively), the benefits are enormous.

You did two aerial campaigns in France and Portugal. What are the most important results from the field testing?
The campaign in France was the first test in a real environment. We validated our equipment and fine-tuned our measurement strategy. Afterwards, the two surveys in Portugal showed remarkably better results. The images collected during the UAV and MAV flights were processed and analysed, and potential leakage events were identified. Each detection event was then classified as true positive/true negative /false positive /false negative and was associated to other parameters, namely: the technology used (UAV/MAV), the environmental conditions, the vegetation type and soil type, humidity, soil temperature, irrigation presence and precipitation in the ten days previous to the flight.
All in all the system proved able to detect water in the soil in approximately 70% of cases, while the performance of the technology in discovering actual water leaks was approximately 50%. Most importantly, we observed that the accuracy of the system in targeting true events has improved significantly over time, from one campaign to another. We are therefore confident that a larger baseline of cases would further improve the performance.

What are the best conditions for using the WADI technology?
The technology works best in agricultural zones with bare soils, crops at the early stage of development and mixed areas. It doesn’t perform as well in forest areas. Results also suggest that the solution work well in clay and sandy clay soils but not so much in silty clay soils.
The complexity or diameter of the pipes to be investigated and the type of technology used (UAV vs MAV) don’t affect performance. Weather conditions, on the contrary, may do so. For instance, the campaign in France was carried out after heavy rains and that made it difficult to detect leaks correctly.
The water utilities that tested WADI helped us in identifying the improvements needed and they may well continue to use the technology, thus contributing to its improvement.
On the technical side, the performances will need to be enhanced, especially on terrains with specific or abundant vegetation. Moreover, the time between the flight and the data analysis should be reduced and not take more than one month.

What will happen after the end of the research project? Will water utilities be able to use this technology? When?
The service is now at the prototype stage. A group of partners have prepared a roadmap for the development of a full service in the future, the horizon being about one year from the end of the project and 2022 for the commercialisation.


Genetic testing in the steak-house

DNA analyses may help select the best breeds by predicting how beef will taste once it reaches our palate

Using state-of-the art genomics to predict whether a piece of beef will be tender enough may sound excessive. Until now, the meat industry has been using low-tech methods to assess beef quality, based on carcass weight, hanging method and pattern of muscle fat stripes, also known as marbling. However, traditional approaches may lack competitiveness at an industrial scale. “The meat industry needs more precise and consistent ways to predict the quality of beef before it reaches the shelves,” Geraldine Duffy, tells She is the Head of food safety at the Teagasc Food Research Centre in Dublin, Ireland, who coordinates the EU-funded project ProsafeBeef.

As a part of the project, about 3,000 genes involved in muscle biology were selected by Jean-François Hocquette and his group at the Herbivore Research Unit of the National Agronomic Research Institute (INRA) in Theix, France, after mining the scientific literature. These candidates may have an impact on tenderness, flavour and juiciness: three main parameters that influence meat quality. “These genes belong to different families: those which regulate fat, connective tissue and protein contents of muscles, respectively”, remarks Hocquette.

An additional family of genes associated with meat quality is that of so-called “heat shock protein(HSP)” genes, the researchers found. They are also known to be involved in processes such as tissue damage and death.

These findings are “interesting and encouraging […] and the association of heat shock protein (HSP) genes with meat tenderness is convincing”, Hasan Khatib tells He is an associate professor at the department of Dairy Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. However, he adds: “since HSP genes are involved in so many other processes in the cell, I still do not have a comprehensive idea on  how animals will be selected in breeding programs based on [these genes]”.

The work of the French team led to the development of a DNA chip, capable of quickly analysing the selected genes’ activity in beef muscle samples.  In parallel, a panel of experts tasted the same beef samples and gave a score on their quality.  They then compared the two sets of data, from genetic and more mundane sensory appreciation. The results, recently published on the journal Biomed Central Veterinary Research, show that genetic analysis can indeed help to predict the quality of meat. Some of the genes analysed in the study accounted for up to 40% of the variability in tenderness between different samples.

“The next step will be to combine all these markers and use an algorithm to predict meat quality more precisely,” comments Hocquette. Some genetic tests for meat quality are already available, but they rely only on a few markers and do not work for most breeds used in the EU, he adds. Ultimately, one of the scientists’ goals is now to establish a consumer-oriented label of certification that would include genetic criteria.

Luciano Pinotti, a professor at the department of Veterinary Sciences and Technology for Food Safety of the University of Milan, Italy, welcomes the application of genomics to meat quality selection: “[the] ‘omics’ approach to meat quality is innovative, and may lead to long term improvements.”  Yet, for the beef eaters among readers, a little more patience is required before this method yields the perfect steak.


Germany ready for eletronic identification means (eID)

Germany is the first Member State to complete the formal notification of an eID under the 2014 Regulation on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market (eIDAS Regulation).

The European Commission calls for a wider use of electronic identification means across the EU, as Germany has taken the final step to enable its citizens to use the electronic Identification means (eID) to access online services in other Member States.

As part of the Digital Single Market, this step is needed to ensure a mutual recognition and the use of national eIDs across all Member States. This accomplishment arrives on the eve of the Tallinn Digital Summit of 29 September, where Heads of State and government will discuss further plans for digital innovation in the years to come. Once eIDAS will be fully operational, EU citizens and companies will have the choice to use the eID to access online public services in other Member States. In addition, commercial services will be able to rely on such eID for their business offering across the EU. While the Members States are free to decide whether they notify their eIDs, they all must recognise the eIDs of other Member States that have already been notified.

Europol: new solutions for ATM Malware Protection

“The joint industry – law enforcement report by Europol’s EC3 and Trend Micro shows that the malware being used has evolved significantly and the scope and scale of the attacks have grown proportionately. While industry and law enforcement cooperation has developed strongly, the crime continues to thrive due to the major financial rewards available to the organized crime groups involved. This report assesses the developing nature of the threat. I hope that it serves as a blueprint for future industry and law enforcement cooperation,” said Steven Wilson, Head of EC3.

Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) and Trend Micro, a global leader in cybersecurity solutions today released a comprehensive report on the current state of ATM Malware. Cashing in on ATM Malware details both physical and network-based malware attacks on ATMs, as well as highlights where the malware is created.

ATM malware has evolved from requiring physical access to infect the machines to now successfully attacking network-based access using the bank’s corporate network. The report dissects recent attacks using bank networks to both steal money and credit card data from ATM machines, regardless of network segmentation. These attacks not only risk personally identifiable information (PII) and large sums of money, but also put banks in violation of PCI compliance standards.

“Protecting against today’s cyber threats and meeting compliance standards require increased resources that are not always available for organizations, including those in the financial services industry,” said Max Cheng, chief information officer for Trend Micro. “Public-private collaborations strengthen the global, ongoing fight against cybercrime, and help fill the resource gap for organizations. This report furthers Trend Micro’s commitment to helping law enforcement and private businesses mitigate future attacks and protect individuals.”

In addition to the public report, a limited-release version is available to law enforcement authorities, financial institutions and the IT security industry. This private report provides greater detail for public and private organizations to harden ATM and network systems and prevent future attacks against financial institutions.

UK: new objectives for continued science success


Continued collaboration in science and innovation is an important part of the UK’s future partnership with the EU. This is the message the UK Government is expected to set out in a new paper published today.

The paper on science and innovation will lay out a range of mechanisms and areas for future collaboration that the UK will seek to discuss with the EU as part of the negotiations on the future partnership.

It will also consider areas where there are precedents for countries outside the EU to participate in pan-European programmes such as Galileo and Copernicus.

The UK space sector is worth over £11.8 billion to the UK economy, and employs at least 37,000 people around the country. Our work in the European Space Agency has put Tim Peake in space and is enabling us to explore Mars.

The paper will also lay out projects on nuclear research including:


·         the Oxfordshire-based JET (Joint European Torus) which is funded by the Euratom Research and Training programme and supports 1,300 jobs in the UK, 600 of which are highly skilled scientists and engineers; and

·         ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) which has generated over £450m worth of contracts so far for UK business


The UK will also continue to collaborate with European partners through international organisations that are not part of the EU for example the EUREKA network that helps SMEs collaborate on R&D across borders and CERN, the European platform for particle physics and the fundamental laws of nature of which the UK was a founding member.


Other initiatives where the UK will seek to explore options for future collaboration include the European Medicines Agency and EU framework programmes. The current programme, Horizon 2020, has over 7,300 UK participants so far and has seen many successes through collaboration, including through the Innovative Medicines Initiative and:


·  Through the HYFIVE project the UK together with other EU and international partners has taken hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to market, moving Europe towards a competitive low-carbon economy and providing cleaner air to all

·  The UK has worked with other EU and international partners to train young researchers to exploit big data through the LONGPOP project

·  Through the PAL project the UK has collaborated to build robots that interact with children to help manage their diabetes.


Secretary of State David Davis said:


“As the Prime Minister set out in her Lancaster House speech, a global Britain must be a country that looks to the future. That means being one of the best places in the word for science and innovation.

“This paper sends a clear message to the research and innovation community that we value their work and we feel it is crucial that we maintain collaboration with our European partners after we exit.

“We want to attract the brightest minds to the UK to build on the already great work being done across the country to ensure that our future is bright and we grow this important sector.”


Science Minister Jo Johnson said:


“From space exploration and developing better and safer medicines, to nuclear fusion research, the UK and Europe have a long history of close collaboration to meet the world’s great challenges. It’s in our mutual benefit to maintain this successful partnership, and this paper clearly outlines our desire to have a full and open discussion with the EU to shape our joint future.

“With science and innovation at the heart of our Industrial Strategy and our additional investment of £4.7 billion for research and development, we are ensuring we are best placed to continue being at the forefront of new discoveries, and look forward to continuing that journey with the best minds across Europe.”


The UK is a world leader in science and innovation and the paper also states that we want to continue to be a hub for international talent and sets out that it is vital we ensure research communities can continue to access the high level skills that support the science and innovation sector. It will say that the UK will seek to agree a system for continued recognition of professional qualifications, and will continue to welcome the brightest and best after we exit.


The paper makes clear that the Government is committed to maintaining the UK’s status as a world leader in science and innovation and strengthening its science and research base, which already includes four of the world’s top ten universities, a world class intellectual property regime and more Nobel Laureates than any country outside the United States.

European Capital of Innovation: ten innovative cities shortlisted for 2017

“Every new edition of the European Capital of Innovation showcases more inspiring and innovative ideas from across Europe. The tough competition this year proved how vibrant our local innovation ecosystems are. The journey so far has been very exciting, and the best is yet to come. I am looking forward to announcing the winners in November and further cooperating with them.” Said Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation.

Ten cities – Aarhus, Berlin, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Nice, Paris, Tallinn, Tampere, Tel Aviv and Toulouse – are shortlisted as candidates for the European Capital of Innovation contest. The finalists have been selected from 32 eligible applications by an independent panel of experts for using innovative ideas to improve the quality of urban life and for getting citizens more involved in their communities.

The winner of the contest will be announced at the Lisbon Web Summit on 7 November and will receive €1 million to further support the city’s innovative activities, while two runner-up cities will receive €100,000 respectively. Previous winners of the contest include Barcelona in 2014 and Amsterdam in 2016.

EIB, €35 million to support brain cancer treatment

Patients who suffer from the most aggressive type of brain cancer, glioblastoma, will soon have broader access to a new form of treatment thanks to financing by the European Investment Bank (EIB).

“More than 20 million people worldwide are expected to live with cancer in the year 2030 – a 50% increase from the levels of 2012,” said Ambroise Fayolle, Vice-President of the EIB and responsible for operations in Germany. “The therapy developed by MagForce has the potential to considerably ease the burden for some of those patients, and I am proud that EIB backing will actually help save people’s lives. The EU bank provides long-term and stable capital support to the company’s R&D which will enable MagForce to accelerate the market launch of new treatments. It’s this type of support for innovative companies that is crucial to strengthening Europe’s competitiveness.”

The EIB and German medical device company MagForce signed a financing agreement which will allow the company to borrow up to €35 million over the coming three years, subject to achieving a set of agreed performance criteria.

The transaction with MagForce was made possible by the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). EFSI is the central pillar of the Investment Plan for Europe, in which the EIB Group and the European Commission as strategic partners aim to boost the competitiveness of the European economy.

MagForce has developed NanoTherm therapy, a new approach to the local treatment of solid tumours. The method is based on the principle of introducing magnetic nanoparticles directly into a tumour and then heating them in an alternating magnetic field. Depending on the duration of treatment and the temperatures achieved within the tumour, the tumour cells are either irreparably damaged or sensitised for additional chemo or radiotherapy.

This approach makes it possible to combat the tumour from within, while sparing surrounding healthy tissue. The side effects of the treatment are significantly lower than those in the standard methods currently used. In addition, the NanoTherm therapy displays a high degree of efficacy proven in clinical studies. It received regulatory approval for brain cancer in Europe, and patients are already successfully treated in Germany.

EIB financing will support NanoTherm’s Europe-wide roll-out for brain cancer treatment. Furthermore, the facility will support European and global approval for prostate cancer – another oncological condition, which can be treated with NanoTherm therapy. In addition, MagForce is working on next generation nanoparticles, which will not only be able to generate heat but can also be used as drug transport mechanisms.

Ben Lipps, Chief Executive Officer of MagForce, commented: “We are honored that MagForce is backed by the European Fund for Strategic Investments. The loan will significantly enhance our financial standing and help us to roll-out MagForce’s NanoTherm therapy across Europe. It will also support the development and global commercialisation of prostate cancer solutions and MagForce’s next generation NanoTherm.”

European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, said: “The European Commission is committed to promoting investment in research and innovation. I am delighted that, with today’s agreement, the Plan is contributing to the development of sophisticated new treatments for cancer patients. This is a very tangible example of the powerful impact EU support for investments can bring about.”

ERC: €2 billion investment in top European researchers


“This is the starting whistle for the next round of this champions’ league of European research within the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. I hope this new series of competitions for excellence in science will identify and reward potential breakthroughs, and will be an investment for the future of Europe.” Stated Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation.

The European Research Council (ERC) announces its 2018 grant competitions with a total budget of around €1.86 billon, most of which earmarked for early- to mid-career researchers. In addition, the ERC is reintroducing Synergy Grants, the funding scheme for groups of two to four scientists who jointly address ambitious research problems.

The Work Programme, established by the ERC Scientific Council, was pre-announced on 19 July, and adopted today by the European Commission.

The President of the ERC, Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, said: “The reintroduction of Synergy Grants in the 2018 Work Programme has been much anticipated. These grants can trigger unconventional collaborations, allow for the emergence of new fields of study and help put scientists working in Europe at the global forefront. By providing €250 million of funding for the Synergy Grant call, the ERC Scientific Council intends to make possible substantial advances at the frontiers of knowledge which would be impossible for researchers working alone.”

The Work Programme includes all the well-known and established ERC funding schemes: Starting, Consolidator and Advanced Grants, as well as Proof of Concept Grants for ERC grantees who wish to explore the innovation potential of their research results.

What is new is the Synergy Grants scheme. Building on the experience of the 2012 and 2013 pilot competitions, the ERC Scientific Council decided to reintroduce Synergy Grants for groups of two to four excellent principal investigators. The grants may be awarded for up to €10 million for 6 years. The ultimate goal of the scheme is to give support to close collaborative interactions that will enable transformative research, cross-fertilizing disciplines and capable of yielding ground-breaking scientific results.

Some 900 new grantees are expected to benefit from ERC funding next year across all schemes. They will employ an estimated 6,000 post-docs, PhD students and other members as part of their research teams. The Work Programme foresees that the ERC will continue to qualitatively analyse the scientific output of its funded projects with a particular focus on any potential breakthroughs and discoveries.

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