Director of Ragnar Nurkse School of Innovation and Governance in Washington Post
Dr. Veiko Lember, the Director of TUT's Ragnar Nurkse School of Innovation and Governance, was recently interviewed by the Washington Post where he discussed his new book "Public Procurement, Innovation, and Policy: International Perspectives" (published by Springer). The book is co-edited by Dr. Lember, Professor Rainer Kattel and Dr. Tarmo Kalvet (all Ragnar Nurkse School of Innovation and Governance).
Text by Nancy Scola
"Governments have always been the lead financier of technological development," says Veiko Lember, the director of the Ragnar Nurske School of Innovation and Governance at Estonia's Tallinn University of Technology. "And since World War II, one of their main tools has been procurement."
Boring as it sounds, procurement -- in short, what a government buys -- has been a hot topic in the United States since the flawed rollout of the HealthCare.gov Web site last fall and what it revealed about how the federal government works with technology vendors. Lember is co-editor with colleagues Rainer Kattle and Tarmo Klavet of a new 309-page book from the publisher Springer called "Public Procurement, Innovation, and Policy: International Perspectives." And in putting together the survey work, Lember reports by phone from Germany, where he is attending a conference, he realized that no matter the failings in how the United States builds and buys technology, it is both the envy of the world and largely impossible to copy.
In large part, both are due to the role that the military and intelligence communities have played in developing new technologies. The American experience is detailed in a chapter in the book authored by Linda Weiss, a political science professor at the University of Sydney. In particular since the Cold War, writes Weiss, the United States has developed a unique model driven by its "national security state," one that "uses more resources, takes higher risks, and produces more extensive ('radical' or revolutionary) innovations than any of its competitors."
This is "procurement activism," says Weiss, pointing to the fact that such iconic American companies as IBM, Boeing and Texas Instruments had defense industry bodies as their first big customers. Defense and intelligence dollars, Weiss details, fertilized the creation of everything from the Internet to Silicon Valley to the U.S. semi-conductor industry.
That history is fairly well known. Less known, says Lember, are some of the reasons why other countries, European nations in particular, have struggled to match that success. And while the budget (today) for defense and intelligence in the United States tops $1 trillion, it isn't just a question of spending. Lember says of his colleagues in Europe who study innovation, "No one is satisfied with the way procurement works here today."
In the United States, for example, there has long been a focus on highly-permeable boundaries between the various sectors involved in innovation, such as between the public sector, including the military, and the private sector, as well as between organizations devoted to research and those focused on products. But that free flow is supported by formal structures for information-sharing, and those are far more lacking in Europe, says Lember. He points to a case study on Denmark included in the book. That country, he says, practices "very informalized cooperation" that has made it difficult to foster those more structured exchanges.
Meanwhile, as other countries rush to learn from the United States, this country has evolved. The historic examples of government-funded innovation, says Lember, involved "developing technology for some sort of mission: putting a man on the moon, or creating the Internet." But that approach led to the flourishing of all sorts of accidental, tangential innovations -- the online economy, telemedicine, the Space Pen. The focus now in innovation circles is, he says, on "how we can redesign our institutions so that these spillovers are intentional."
There, too, the United States is ahead, says Lember. In recent years a pack of venture capital-like firms have spun off from the defense and intelligence sectors, such as the CIA's In-Q-Tel, the U.S. Army's OnPoint Technologies and the Department of Defense's Rosettex Venture Fund. Those entities serve as a first customer for new innovations and also help push them into the broader market. Keyhole, for example, started as an In-Q-Tel-funded company and later formed the basis for Google Earth.
The "CIA model," says Lember, "may be the answer" to Europe's procurement challenges. But if so, it's a complicated one. Software and hardware flowing from an intelligence industry pipeline look different in light of the Edward Snowden revelations, he points out, especially in Europe, where many have recoiled from those National Security Agency disclosures.
And Lember suggests an additional wrinkle. Despite the focus on opening the process here in the United States post-HealthCare.gov, innovation procurement has seemed to flourish in secrecy, he argues. One reason? "We tend to think the government doesn't have the right to fail, but innovation is all about failures," he says. "That's one reason why success cases have emerged from the security and defense sectors: a lot of their procurement happens out of public sight."
Procurement is a difficult job, Lember says his research has taught him. In governments all over the world, people are forced to learn it on the job. "People aren't trained to do it," he says--except, that is, "in the military colleges in the United States."
Published August 1st 2014
Mathematical model saves time and money
Theoretical modelling may lead to very practical results.
TUT Research Laboratory of Multiphase Media Physics has partners from Norway all the way down to Australia. Many research teams from universities abroad are very interested in the work of Dr. Alexander Kartushinsky in developing the mathematical modelling of multiphase flows against unique calculation models. This is backed up by his successful presentation on the call for proposals for the Norwegian Financial Mechanism programme, resulting in cooperation with the University of Bergen in Norway until 2016.
Although the activities of this scientist researching air-flows containing particulates are mainly related to theoretical modelling, this area of work also includes practical applications in various technological area such as energetics, pneumotransport, environmental issues and others. Doctor Kartushinsky has expressed great interest in researching and improving the process of fluidised bed combustion. His model allows to determine the necessary flow velocity, the size and quantity of particles and the required flow parameters. Supervised by Dr. Kartushinsky, these solutions were developed by Igor Krupenski and Alexander Shablinsky in their PhD’s. For four years, he has also shared his knowledge and experience on multiphase flow theory as a visiting professor with students from University of Texas in San Antonio, United States.
In fact, Dr. Kartushinsky has been active in the same research team for 32 years, which has been based in many different places over those years. Working in the Estonian Energy Research Institute in the ‘90s, his main research subject was the aerodynamics of oil shale-fluidised bed combustion. The main problems concerned the quantity of particles and their flow distribution, inter-collision and the resulting counteraction flow – causing or suppressing turbulence. Most importantly, the mathematical model of the process being created must give results as close as possible to the processes taking place in actual devices.
This is the reason behind the increasing interest in Dr. Kartushinsky’s models abroad. Thus, cooperation with Adelaide University in Australia is underway, where experiments are being conducted but modelling still needs to be implemented. The latter helps to save time and money as each detailed construction does not require separate actual experiments. In Australia, the main research focus is on pipe and jet flow, in which particles combust and where effects of radiation also play a role.
In winter, Dr. Kartushinsky was invited to Eindhoven University in the Netherlands, where the possible cooperation on creating steel cooling systems was discussed, using the two-phase flow of droplets and steam. The models created in TUT are compatible for modelling even these processes. However, the cooperation also assumes using the new laboratory of TUT Department of Thermal Engineering.
The laboratory has high hopes for the upcoming visit in June this year of Stathis Michaelidese, Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering of Texas Christian University and renowned professor of fluid mechanics and thermodynamics. He is a long-time cooperation partner of the laboratory and is very interested in its models.
TUT researchers received a grant for research into a rare disease
TUT scientists from the Department of Gene Technology were one of the six who received, alongside with researchers of world-famous universities, a one-year grant from a US private foundation, the Pitt Hopkins Research Foundation.
Pitt Hopkins Syndrome is a cognitive functional disorder (i.e. a form of mental retardation) caused by the mutation of one gene, the TCF4 gene, and diagnosed in less than 500 people in the world. This is caused by a so-called de novo genetic mutation – one that is non-hereditary. Since Pitt-Hopkins syndrome manifests itself at an early stage, there are better chances for its treatment due to the greater plasticity of children’s brains. TCF4 gene has attracted wider interest mainly due to the fact that polymorphisms (variations creating predisposition to a disease) of the same gene have been linked to schizophrenia.
“In Estonia, where few private donations are made in charity, it may be difficult to understand that money can be raised by private initiative even for such a rare disease," says Tõnis Timmusk, TUT Researcher-Professor of Gene Technology.
Principal investigator of the $ 50,000 grant titled “Signalling pathways and compounds regulating transcriptional activity and phosphorylation of TCF4 protein in neurons” is professor Timmusk, co-investigator is research scientist Mari Sepp. They attracted the Foundation’s attention with their research article published in 2012 in the leading journal of human genetics “Human Molecular Genetics”. “Thanks to this article we were invited by the Pitt Hopkins Research Foundation to apply for research funding, “says Tõnis Timmusk.
However, an invitation to apply does not mean that funds will be allocated. There are quite many private foundations especially in the USA, but it is not very likely that one receives funding, since the foundations are usually rather careful when allocating money. “The ones that have received funding earlier are more likely to receive funding also in future,” describes Timmusk. “If everything goes well and the results are promising, of course.”
Timmusk’s application was approved only on the second attempt and even in this time by a subsequent decision. Besides the fact that the applicant was new, the origin was an additional obstacle. “Private foundations do not want to allocate money out of the USA”, explains Timmusk. “First, a foreign tax system in itself raises questions. Therefore I highly appreciate receiving this grant. I consider it a great honour that the Pitt Hopkins Research Foundation has faith in the scientific activities of our group in the field of research into this rare disease”.
Indeed, all the rest of the grant recipients are from the USA, from world-famous universities such as Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, etc.
How to improve the quality of bread
There is a lot to study about our everyday bread – from the composition of dough to the staling of bread.
Anna Traksmaa, a research scientist at the Chair of Food Technology of TUT and a scientist at the Competence Centre of Food and Fermentation Technologies, studies the processes that take place during the baking and preservation of bread. Last year her dissertation “Rye sourdough fermentation and bread stability” won the I prize in the field of bio- and environmental sciences at the Estonian national student research competition.
An interesting subject is the staling of bread. Everyone has probably noticed that it takes more time for rye bread than white bread to go stale. This fact was scientifically proven for the first time in the dissertation of Traksmaa that was supervised by professor Toomas Paalme from the same Chair.
The logical question that followed was why that is. One of the causes for staling is the recrystallization of starch which was studied with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), X-ray diffractometry (XRD) and polarized light microscopy. The crystallinity of starch disappears during the baking of bread. However, during bread storage crystals start forming again and they do it in a way that enables them to absorb a lot of water. Water contained in bread goes into these crystals.
It is complicated to slow down the recrystallization of starch. The best known method to slow down the staling process is to store bread in a plastic bag which helps to certain degree – at least the moisture does not vaporize into the air. There are also other ways to slow down the staling process. Acidity of bread, the level of which is higher in rye bread than in white bread, plays an important role. For example, acidity retards mold growth. Recrystallization of starch is slower in rye bread than in white bread. It is not clear yet, why.
Traksmaa with colleagues also studied the fermentation of rye sourdough – how it works with various lactic acid bacteria, how fast the process is, how stable is the end result and what quality it has. The speed of the process can be measured with isothermal microcalorimetry that studies the production of heat by bacteria. The faster bacteria grow the more heat is released. It was observed that the speed of growth is determined primarily by the acidity of the environment – in an acidic environment the bacteria do not grow very well. “In theory the faster they grow the better,” Traksmaa says. In reality, however, fast bacterial growth does not always guarantee the best outcome.
Bread manufacturers usually calculate how much B-complex vitamins and fiber the bread theoretically contains based on recipes and certificates. It was found in Traksmaa’s dissertation that this is actually not that easy. In analyzing bread it was discovered that almost all vitamins are destroyed due to enzymatical processes or as a result of thermal treatment and their concentration in the product is 20-40% lower than the theoretical calculations indicate. There was also one exception – the concentration of vitamin B3 was ten times higher than it theoretically should have been. Theoretical calculations regarding dietary fiber content were also inaccurate – primarily due to increased levels of insoluble dietary fiber.
Traksmaa’s dissertation also included an analysis of aroma conducted with gas chromatography to find out which volatile compounds are formed in fermentation, and which ones in case of new and old bread. In the end, only the person eating the bread can evaluate its quality – in other words by analysis of sensory properties. In simple terms it means that people who have relevant training – assessors –assess the texture, aroma and taste of bread. This enables to compare how the use of different bacteria affects the end result. As it turned out, the texture or aroma of bread was indeed better with certain bacterium.
The study of micro-organisms allows for greater efficiency in foodstuff development
Micro-organisms affect the characteristics of foodstuffs, for example, the taste of cheese.
One of the basic skills of the Tallinn University of Technology Department of Food Processing is the ability to cultivate micro-organisms. Toomas Paalme, Professor of Food Technology, has been working in this field since the mid-1970s, when, as a Tallinn Polytechnic Institute student, he found himself working at a Hungarian laboratory that was studying fermentation processes controlled by computers. “Actually, it felt a bit surreal, that through some sort of miracle we were able to acquire a similar fermenter from Sweden for Estonia,” he remembers. Paalme began with the model organism E. coli. Currently, the primary objects of study are lactic bacteria and yeasts.
The goal is to understand the metabolism of bacteria, and to prepare models of their growth and metabolism. On the one hand, these models should help to optimise the process of growing bacteria and, on the other hand, help to define the growth limits – what is the maximum yield of the process. A non-optimised process might provide only one-hundredth of the yield that could be obtained by optimising. However, when starting a new process, it is very difficult to define what it is capable of.
In cooperation with Competence Centre of Food and Fermentation Technologies and yeast producer Lallemand Inc., researchers from Tallinn University of Technology determine the vitamin content of products from Salutaguse Pärmitehas AS. The main product produced by Salutaguse is inactive yeast, which is used in foods and food products consumed by vegetarians. The inactive yeast contains a large quantity of glutamic and nucleic acids, which give food a meaty flavour.
In addition, researchers are developing yeasts that contain functional components. One example is glutathione rich yeast (glutathione is an anti-oxidant, which is used in the wine and bread industries), another is yeast that contains selenium, an important food supplement for people suffering from a selenium deficiency.
Lactic bacteria are interesting because they participate in the production of sour milks, yogurts and cheeses. Lactic bacteria are immobilised in cheese during curdling, where they begin to undergo two processes. Some of the bacteria begin to grow, while some undergo autolysis. During the process of autolysis, enzymes are released into the cheese, which cut the casein matrix of the cheese into smaller pieces, as a result of which taste peptides and amino acids are created, changing the structure and taste of the cheese.
The extensive variation in the taste of cheeses is actually due to the fact that those microbiological processes in which lactic bacteria take part are, based on the conditions for the preparation of the cheese, including the process of adding fermentation starter, directed differently. Paalme recalls a consumer survey about which cheese Estonian consumers prefer. “It then became clear that about half of consumers preferred what I believe are tasteless cheeses, with the other half preferring stronger, more sharper tasting cheeses,” he said. The study of lactic bacteria promises to allow for greater precision in influencing the taste creation process.
The most recent scientific discovery was made when studying how lactic bacteria grow on different substrates. More precisely, researchers observed how lactic bacteria acquire peptides alongside amino acids in the culture medium. It became apparent that when lactic bacteria are grown on peptide rich culture media, in order to build proteins, half of what they take up is peptides and half is amino acids. The biggest surprise was that if yeasts take up amino acids, they excrete them in approximately the same amounts. “An article on the subject will soon be published,” promised Paalme.
Linking regional airports into global air cargo network
A third of air cargo in Baltic Sea region is delivered by truck, not air, study finds.
A three year’s long project, called Baltic.AirCargo.Net, was finished in September, now it’s fading out period. The objective was to see how the Baltic Sea region can benefit from air cargo traffic.
A problem was that the business is very closed. “You can’t go to someone, do an interview and ask for details – they just won’t tell you,” said Gunnar Prause, a visiting professor of entrepreneurship and logistics at TUT. “But we got some light.”
Air cargo business is not very developed in the Baltic Sea region. Only 5% of European cargo flows through the region – the biggest part goes mostly through large Central European industrial areas like Paris, Frankfurt or Amsterdam. The biggest air cargo player in Baltic Sea area is Copenhagen where about half of the Baltic air cargo is handled.
Interestingly a large part of it isn’t even delivered by airplanes. “We found out that about 1/3 of air cargo in Baltic Sea region is not transported by air, it’s transported by trucks, so-called flying trucks,” Prause said.
If you want to send an air cargo package, maybe from Estonia to Shanghai, a truck will come to the air cargo terminal where the package is checked in as air cargo and loaded into the truck. The truck is then sealed by the customs and drives into Frankfurt, where the package is loaded onto a Lufthansa Cargo plane heading for Shanghai.
After mapping cargo flows and hotspots, the objective was to look for success business models for Baltic regional airports and how to link interesting air cargo destinations to the main European air cargo hubs. For Estonia, the main question is the future of Ämari airport – could it have a practicable business plan as a private airport and how the business model could look like?
Volumes are usually too small for airports like Ämari, but flying trucks could help out in this. Also, to survive as a regional airport you have to specialise – like Billund airport in Denmark that has found its niche as a transporter of life stock. But the tricky part is that it is not enough to focus on specific cargo, it also necessary to find destinations for it.
Other concept for air cargo business is planned for Parchim airport in Northern Germany where in the final stage a bond business park, including logistics and manufacturing facilities related to air cargo activities, should be realised. Concepts like this need the involvement of local firms cooperating with the regional airport and contributing to air cargo services. But the air cargo business is dominated by large international companies which are not that keen to accept new small firms among their ranks. “Companies who are handling the air cargo have their own links,” Prause said. “It’s complicated to come into this network as a distributor or logistics service provider.” So a part of the project was constructing a new IT platform in order to create an open transport spot market and to allow regional SMEs to access the market of delivering and handling air cargo.
The future outlook for the region is a little bit cloudy. Air cargo is a profitable business which is expected to grow the coming years but the volumes in Baltic Sea region are too small due to low population density and missing industry. New future hubs like St. Petersburg or Berlin can bring more dynamic to the region but destination Tallinn which enjoyed in the past relatively high air cargo volumes compared to Riga and Vilnius because of high air cargo handling activities (fashion, furs) for St Petersburg will probably not benefit from this. Additionally new security regulations will make air cargo business from the middle of 2014 more complicated and expensive.
TUT took part in the European project as a member a larger network. It was one of only two air business related projects in Baltic Sea region. The lead partner was University of Wismar in Germany, where Prause worked for many years. Other partners came from Belarus, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Sweden.
Using the world’s lightest material to make electrodes for sensors
Chemists at the TUT study the applications of aerogels, including version of the world’s lightest one.
A small glass tube on the desk in the TUT Laboratory of analytical chemistry contains a cylindrical piece of plastic-like material, which does not seem to have any weight at all. In fact, it is the lightest substance in the world.
Such substances are called ‘aerogels’. “We did not invent this, but we are currently making them,” said Mihkel Koel, Leading Research Scientist at the Chair of Analytical Chemistry. “Finally, we would like to be able to supplement it with molecules that react to light or with other molecules.” Such super-light materials can be used, for instance, in detectors to make extremely light small sensors.
In another type of aerogel, which is only a little heavier, the researchers at the TUT try to use phenols created in the processing of Estonian oil shale. They were once applied in the production of adhesives and resins and similar materials, but this research is no longer continued at the TUT. “We approached it from a slightly different angle and found that they can be used for making very light materials,” said Koel. The current goal is to use this method to transform phenols into insulation materials or metal adsorbents. This is done in cooperation with the Virumaa College of the TUT, which has more know-how related to oil shale. The researchers at the TUT focus on the fundamental scientific aspects, while the Virumaa College investigates the possibilities of application.
Pyrolysis of aerogel, i.e., heating in the absence of oxygen, can produce carbon with a very stable and homogeneous structure. This is of great interest for electrochemists – producing fuel- cells and supercapacitors – which need carbon with a very uniform structure and specific porosity to make electrodes. This research is conducted in cooperation with the electrochemists at the University of Tartu.
The third cooperation project involves colleagues from the same TUT Faculty of Science who are working in the field of synthetic chemistry, particularly with catalysts. “They tell us, which metal is a good catalyst, and we try to attach it to the carbon,” described Koel.
The fourth project is associated with the analyser developed at the same Chair. Aerogels could be used for making electrodes for extra small sensors, resistant to shocks and temperature fluctuations. “We know the general principle and have to find the correct technical solutions,” said Koel.
The study of aerogels at the TUT has resulted in the award of one patent and two doctoral degrees, with a third thesis still in development.
Chemical weapons analyser is targeting the space
The device developed at the TUT, known as a chemical weapons detector, can find new applications in space.
The primary application of the device, developed for the Ministry of Defence at the Chair of Analytic Chemistry of the TUT Faculty of Science, is to provide soldiers with a portable tool for quick detection of the use of chemical weapons.
The operating principle of the device is based on capillary electrophoresis. A sample of a substance is placed on top of ultra thin capillary, e.g., with a syringe. It is then separated into components for an analysis with the sensor. This enables to analyse a wide variety of chemicals. For instance, the laboratory of the Chair includes a much larger device, based on the same operating principle, for studying the impact of metals on protein activity among other things. Similarly, the analyser developed by the researchers at the TUT can be used in many applications. “It is essentially like a single hammer that we use for hammering different nails – the technology of capillary electrophoresis enables to build very small and portative analysers,” explained Prof. Mihkel Kaljurand, Director of the Department of Chemistry and Head of the Chair of Analytical Chemistry.
One possible application would be the analysis of human breath to detect pathogens of different diseases, such as lung cancer. “Sometimes people need to go out of the lab to take readings on site,” added Kaljurand. “For instance, to determine whether suspected drug users have indeed used narcotic substances. Or whether somebody somewhere has used chemical weapons.” The current methodology requires a sample to be taken to a lab and analysed there, so that the actual substance can be identified in three days, for instance. However, the device developed at the TUT would provide an almost instant answer.
Negotiations have started with the European Space Agency on developing a model, which could be used for analysing soil samples on other planets to see whether the samples taken by a robot contain bacteria or other signs of the presence of life. The current analysers used in space are only capable of processing gases and this requires any soil samples to be heated by up to 800 degrees, depending on the environment. Unfortunately, some substances disintegrate as a result of such processing and the results are not always unambiguous. The device developed at the TUT could also process liquids. “Ideally, we would stay at minus 80 degrees, the temperature found on Mars,” said Kaljurand.
Three prototypes have been currently completed. Two of those have to be connected to a computer for data analysis, while the third contains an integrated processor and screen. “Final completion of such a device requires a long period of development,” explained Kaljurand. “We still have plenty to do before something is finished.” However, one future application of the device is already known and it is also associated with chemical weapons. Namely, about 8,000 tons of missiles containing mustard gas have been sunk in the Gotland region of the Baltic Sea, posing a potential leakage hazard. The device of the TUT researchers will be used in an expedition in the next summer to analyse seabed mud for any traces of leaked mustard gas. “This will be a kind of moment of truth for our device, to see whether it can contribute something,” said Kaljurand.
A portable device for the assessment of brain condition
The researchers of the Tallinn University of Technology (TUT) are developing a portable device for the analysis of brain electrical signals, which would enable to assess brain functioning.
In cooperation between the TUT Department of Computer Engineering and the Department of Biomedical Engineering of TUT Technomedicum, a prototype of an innovative portable electroencephalography (EEG) analyser has been completed and introduced to the members of the Steering Committee of the Centre of Excellence CEBE by the Project Manager and Senior Researcher Maksim Jenihhin this week. The EEG analyser, which is developed under the Centre for Integrated Electronic Systems and Biomedical Engineering CEBE, could be used to assess brain condition during the regular medical checks of workers with high sense of responsibility, such as policemen, rescue workers or military staff members, as well as wider population.
The EEG spelling resembles the term electrocardiography, abbreviated EKG, and this is not incidental. The EKG is used to check the electrical activity of the heart, while the EEG measures the electrical signals of the brain. However, in contrast to the EKG, the doctors are generally not interested in the EEG. The reason lies mainly in the fact that it is very difficult to understand brain activity. While cardiac electrical signal has a specific shape and it is possible to diagnose the heart condition according to those changes, the electrical signal received from the brain is completely irregular. “Millions of brain processes take place simultaneously, thus it is very difficult to distinguish the necessary ones,” says Hiie Hinrikus, the Lead Research Scientist of the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
At the same time, based on the data of the USA National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a quarter of the population has some sort of mental disorder and about six percent (one out of every 17 people) suffers from serious illness. The fast pace of life constantly increases mental burden and thus raises the number of people suffering from mental disorders. The early detection of mental disorders before the emergence of subjective symptoms would allow preventing them from deepening and significantly improving treatment.
Hinrikus with her colleagues Maie Bachmann, Jaanus Lass, and others is engaged in the research of the electrical signals of the brain in cooperation with the North Estonia Medical Centre and the West Tallinn Central Hospital. For this, they compare the EEG signals of healthy people and patients with various brain disorders. Thanks to advanced signal processing techniques, they have learned to distinguish small changes in the EEG signal. Bachmann’s research work won at the ICT project competition and the aim of this research is to create databases of the EEG signals to investigate brain disorders and develop efficient algorithms to identify them.
The TUT researchers’ original EEG analysis technique is protected by a fresh US patent. “We are thinking of laboratory tests, but not about production for the time being,” Hinrikus describes further plans to develop the EEG analyser.
No. 1 in the Baltics and amongst the best universities in the world
Tallinn University of Technology was ranked amongst the best of 450 universities in the world and is first amongst the Baltic universities, according to the QS World University Rankings.
This year's QS Rankings three top rated universities found were Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University and University of Cambridge.
Andres Keevallik, rector of Tallinn University of Technology (TUT), had high praise for the academics, administrative staff, students and all others who contribute to the university’s work. He acknowledged and thanked all lecturers, researchers, employees and students of TUT for their wonderful job. “QS World University Rankings is one of the most well-established and trustworthy listings in the world. TUT activities of study and research development are internationally acknowledged. For a technology university located in such a small country as Estonia, this is a great achievement,” added rector Keevallik.
Founded in 1918 TUT is currently the only university of technology in Estonia with unique synergies between technology, the natural, social and medical sciences. Its mission is to support the economy, business and industry of Estonia. More than 60 000 students have graduated from TUT while it has registered 13 600 students currently studying and of these approximately one thousand are international students from the US through to China. TUT enjoys solid partnerships with universities all over the world, including universities within the QS Rankings top (including Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, Harvard etc.). TUT has representation in Silicon Valley in the USA and Shanghai in China to promote innovation and ensure access to cutting edge technological information. TUT campus has expanded and upgraded and has 72 buildings, with eight faculties, and hosts the Estonian Information Technology College and the Tallinn Science Park Tehnopol, that centralizes more than 150 high tech enterprises. Students can access TUT also at independent colleges in Kuressaare, Tartu, Viru county and Tallinn. There are a range of activities to promote study including sports, recreation, social and cultural amenities. Sports and housing facilities were ranked elsewhere as among the best in Northern Europe.
How small lactic bacteria grow
Kaarel Adamberg, Young Researcher of the year of TUT, is dealing with the development of lactic bacteria for dairy industry.
Kaarel Adamberg is a versatile person, working on three posts. In TUT he is a senior researcher in the Institute of Chemistry of the Faculty of Science and in the Department of Food Processing in the Faculty of Chemical and Materials Technology, and is also working as a project manager in the Competence Center of Food and Fermentation Technologies (CCFFT). He is conducting research in lactic and other bacteria. „We try to understand bacteria, in order to use them in food production and also in chemical industry as cell plants,“ says Adamberg.
Lactic bacteria are used in the production of fermented milk and cream products, cheese and other products (such as acidified vegetables and sausages) as leaven. Recently there have been also attempts to use them in medicine industry, e.g. in the production of vaccines, but CCFFT is not dealing directly with this field.
While the bacteria Escherichia. coli, which is widely used in industrial production, is rather modest and grows on glucose, to which the components similar to fertilizer (ammonium, potassium and other salts) are added, the handling of lactic bacteria is much more difficult. Researchers must prepare themselves a mixture suitable for carrier medium, using 20 amino acids, several vitamins and other components, which must be weighed separately.
Bacteria are grown in a bioreactor. A human being can hardly perceive their size. The dimension of protozoa is about micrometer, which means that you could put thousand of them in a row on a single millimeter. If you eat one hundred grams of yoghurt, 1011 bacteria will enter your gastro-intestinal tract, Adamberg says.
Bacteria are pumped out from the bioreactor together with their caused products, which in this case is mainly lactic acid. In the reactor it is possible to measure temperature, oxygen content, acidity (pH) and other parameters affecting the process. These conditions should be optimised depending on the research task. Control is performed via computer, where also various diagrams can be monitored – e.g. decrease of the consumption of oxygen in time and inversely proportional increase of the production of lactic acid with small shift.
There are two reasons for research and development of lactic bacteria. On one hand, consumers want different products. Some like sour, some mild yoghurt. Different leavens (lactic bacteria) are needed for their production. On the other hand, dairy companies wish to optimise their production to maximum possible extent. „Unfortunately there are hundreds different species of lactic bacteria, with many different strains,“ Adamberg says. „For example, one strain may produce a specific flavour component, while another will sour milk more quickly.“ The most important parameter of lactic bacteria is the speed of souring and coagulation of milk under their influence.
Leaven industry would like to select the most suitable from these thousands of strains. Various equipment are used for this purpose, enabling to perform tens and hundreds of tests e.g. for analysing different milks or strains of lactic bacteria. In every test the characteristic parameters of cell growth are measured, such as production speed of acids with pH meter, emission of heat with micro-calorimeter or change of the number of cells with flow cytometer. Another area is analysis of aromatic compounds. „We are able to measure every molecule produced by bacteria during their life,“ says Adamberg. The main metabolic product of lactic bacteria is lactic acid, but they can also produce acetic acid, formic acid, ethanol and various aromatic compounds. „We want to know, why and under which conditions they are producing these compounds,“ explains Adamberg. The answer will enable to grow the biomass of bacteria in large industrial fermentors (10-100 thousand litres), to find the right growth conditions, pH, temperature and content of culture medium, in order to retain the qualities of bacteria also in dairy industry, where they are used for the production of dairy products.
Researchers of TUT breed fungus disease resistant whea
To achieve resistance, the researchers interbred field cultivated wheat with wild wheat.
Common wheat tends to be non-resistant to several diseases. One such disease is a fungus disease called mildew. Contemporary cultivated wheat has evolved from relatively limited amount of individuals, therefore its genome does not include very many resistance genes, which could ensure anti-disease resistance.
In order to make the field wheat resistant to mildew, the researchers of the Department of Gene Technology have interbred it with a related wheat species from the Caucasian mountains, to which the local pathogenic fungi have not adapted. The objective was to find out, what makes wild wheat resistant to the disease and how the right ’pieces’ of the genome of wild wheat could be transferred to cultivated wheat. „This was not an easy task, because different species do not interbreed,“ says Kadri Järve, senior researcher of the Chair of Gene Technology.
Still they succeeded to get some hybrids. From their descendants the most resistant were selected for further research. DNA markers were used to find out, where in the wheat genome and in which chromosome the resistance gene is located. The researchers of the Chair of Gene Technology produce recombinant plants containing as small section of the genome part of wild wheat providing resistance as possible.
By now the gene has been transferred to a Finnish wheat species bred in 1949, but it is not very interesting from agricultural point of view – it does not ripen in time and will not provide sufficient crop. Now the objective is to transfer the gene into a contemporary Estonian wheat species, which is very susceptible to mildew. „We are working between application and theory,“ says Järve.
The researchers of TUT cooperate with a Czech laboratory, which is arranging the sequence of wheat genome, precisely the necessary chromosome – the chromosomes of vast genome of wheat have been divided between different laboratories of the world for sequencing.
The result of work of the researchers can be used also abroad. Currently the Chair of Gene Technology is considering its transfer into the global gene bank of cereals in Mexico. „We are not very eager to do this,“ says Järve. Plants cannot be patented and from the gene bank anyone could use the work result. However, an agreement could be concluded, which would ensure to the researchers of TUT co-authorship of potential new wheat species bred on the basis of their work. In any case, Jõgeva Plant breeding Institute can use the result free of charge, in order to breed new disease-resistant varieties. „We’ll finish this one and then will see,“ Järve describes the future prospects.
In addition to practical application there could be also a scientific discovery. There is reason to assume that resistance of wild wheat has different molecular mechanism. „If this is true, it will be interesting,“ says Järve.
East European innovation policy is imitating Finland, but less efficiently
The research of Professor Rainer Kattel is comparing the impact of public structures on innovation in East Europe and elsewhere.
The research of Professor Rainer Kattel, the director of Ragnar Nurkse School of Innovation and Governance, which received the national research award this year, studied how the public structures (various organisations of the public sector and their cooperation patterns) are influencing innovation in East Europe, compared e.g. to the Nordic countries or Asia. No such comparisons have been conducted elsewhere. „We have brought some new methodology to innovation research,“ says Kattel. A major conclusion of the research declares that East Europe has copied much from the West, but little account has been taken of local needs. This causes the paradox of copying – the policies are similar to Finland, but their efficiency and effect is essentially lower.
RNS is divided into two main parts – one dealing with innovation and the other with governance and public administration. While many researchers of the world are arguing over the innovation policy itself, if it should be conducted through lowering of taxes or supporting of export, RNS concentrates more on the issues, how the policy is put into practice, how it is understood by officials and politicians, how and by whom the policy is assessed. Study of technology and society (e.g. e-government) and financial regulations are added as side lines. The objective is not to concentrate too much on a single discipline.
„Innovation does not mean that a man wakes up in the morning and does something, but it takes place in a certain environment,“ explains Kattel. Economic should be observed on a broader scale, together with the social system, education, culture. A keyword is ’economic structure’ and not only in the meaning, what the companies do, but also the institutional framework.
„Our methodology is targeted to the principle that life is very diverse and we should be able to describe this diversity e.g. on 20 pages,“ says Kattel. „It is more important to understand, what can influence entrepreneurs to adopt certain decisions, not what is a quantitative consequence of some policy, because it is very difficult to measure many things.“ He brings an example: financing of health care, which is very complicated, because one cannot define health unambiguously, unlike disease.
Thus his school is dealing rather with interpretation of the meaning of the surrounding and drafting of narrative – which does not mean that empirics or statistics would not play essential role there. Strong side of such approach is the possibility to describe better the diversity of life. Weak side is the fact that with this method it is not easy to put things into one sentence or one number – and the decision-makers may not like this.
The specific research methods are interviews, participation surveys, which in extreme cases may be conducted in ethnographic or anthropological style. For example, in case of Master’s theses it has also happened that the author goes to work somewhere and then writes his graduation thesis on its basis.
Tallinn Tech’s Visit to Indian Top Universities
From June 17-21 Tallinn Tech visited India in order to develop closer cooperation between Tallinn Tech and Indian Universities. From Tallinn Tech side Prof. Peeter Müürsepp - Vice-Dean of International Academic Affairs of Tallinn School of Economics and Business Administration and Mrs. Mari Peets - Vice Director of International Relations Office
were representing the University in India.
The most significant reception took place in one of the best Indian Universities- Jawaharla Nehru. One of the main topics of the meeting was to develop a joint program called Cyber Diplomacy. This special program is meant to combine cyber security with diplomacy and law. Tallinn Tech would be represented by the Institute of Computer Science , Institute of International Relations and Institute of Law. The meeting was highly successful while JNU showed also a great interest of other Tallinn Tech study programs.
IIT Guwahti is Tallinn Tech’s first partner university in India. This year IIT Guwahti is ready to take the first group of exchange students from Tallinn Tech. It will be a fantastic opportunity for Tallinn Tech outgoing exchange students. Their beautiful campus is located in east-India, Assami province. In October Tallinn Tech’s Institute of Clinical Medicine will host a guest lecturer Keyur Sorathia from IIT Guwahati. He is a well respected lecturer in the field of Clinical Medicine.
Tallinn University of Technology also visited other good Indian universities - Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Gautam Buddha University. Professor Müürsepp visited the Head Office of Reliance Industries Ltd., in Mumbai. Reliance is one of the biggest holding companies , that is run by one of the most powerful persons in India - Mukesh Ambani. Recently they signed the contract to cover the whole India with the 4G Network. Most important for us is that the same company is waiting Tallinn Tech students for internships and even for more permanent positions. Tallinn Tech will have the first contest for the free places in the coming Fall.
Is the EU detrimental to market economic reforms?
Professor Karsten Staehr’s favourite paper deals with the effect that closeness to the EU has on reforms in a country.
On the notice board of TUT’s Department of Finance and Economics there is a cartoon depicting a classroom, where both the professor and the students are staring at a student, who is lying on the floor, obviously not feeling well. The caption reads: “Professor Staehr reached a life-long goal – to bore a student to death.”
In real life such a scenario does not seem too likely, however, as Karsten Staehr, who is a Danish national, certainly belongs to the livelier and more expressive school of economics professors. And, he is also one of the most cited macroeconomists in Estonia. Staehr himself is a bit dismissive of this honour. “I have some bad papers that are cited, yeah,” he says. “The rule is that the papers I like the most are neither read nor cited, while those I like less are read and cited.”
One of his own favourites is a paper about how a country’s closeness to the EU is tied to democratic and economic freedoms in the country. Staehr found out that when one of the 27 post-communist countries has been getting closer to the EU, the democratic reforms typically advanced, while market economic reforms regressed – perhaps as a result of regulation that had to be harmonised with the EU. “I don’t think it’s read by anybody, at least it’s not cited by anybody,” is Staehr’s bittersweet comment.
This paper belongs to one of three fields that Staehr is mainly researching, namely political economy, where he particular deals with the question why some countries have pursued one kind of economic policy but others have chosen a different path. Another of his focus areas is macroeconomics and monetary economics, where he works on inflation dynamics, why different countries were hit differently by the global financial crisis and why some countries, in particular Baltic States, are very sensitive to economic shocks.
His third interest lies in public finance. At the moment Professor Staehr is finishing an article with Guido Baldi from the DIW in Berlin on the differences in European fiscal policy before and after the global financial crisis. Staehr also has some papers on the Estonian taxation system. With one of his doctoral students he is researching tax evasion and try to estimate the underreporting of income by households with business income in the period of 2002-07. They have found a large extent of underreporting of income but, a bit surprisingly, there is not much difference in the extent of underreporting between the beginning and the end of the period.
Staehr also participates in different research projects when he is invited to do so. This autumn he will be researching the importance of competitiveness. While competitiveness is not easy to define – there are hundreds of definitions for the word and some economists even say no such thing exists – it is very relevant politically at present. “Crisis countries should improve their competitiveness, meaning lowering the salaries of somebody,” Staehr explains the political thinking. So policy measures undertaken in Greece are in large part tied to improving competitiveness. The debate on whether the Baltic countries should have devalued their currencies during the crisis is also based on the assumption that competitiveness matters to some degree.
Staehr knew about the Baltic States already in Soviet times through his grandmother who was interested in the Nordic cause between the two world wars. In 1996-97 he was working in Lithuania. In 2001 he came to teach in Tartu, and shared his time between Estonia, Norway and Denmark. He came to Tallinn in 2006. “When I visit Copenhagen or Oslo, and I return to Estonia, I feel myself at home,” he says – although, he confesses, he still has serious difficulties with the Estonian language.
Large investment: Production of TUT researchers’ cancer drug comes to Tehnopol
The production of endometrial cancer drug candidate Virexxa, part of the project portfolio of the Competence Centre for Cancer Research (CCCR), will be organised in Estonia by AS Kevelt, for which the owners are spending EUR 8 million to upgrade their company's drug production unit.
According to CCCR Director Riin Ehin, at the end of April the international biological drugs and diagnostics company OPKO Health invested EUR 46 million in Pharmsynthez, the parent company of CCCR’s partner AS Kevelt. The current owners also invested an additional EUR 20 million. The EUR 8 million will be used to upgrade AS Kevelt’s drug production unit, in which the production of drugs for the European and US market will begin.
“Cooperation between Pharmsynthez and CCCR can be compared to Skype, since development activity and future production will take place in Estonia. Estonia was selected as the location for drug manufacturing due to the strong level of cooperation between the public and private sectors in cancer research and drug development," noted Ehin.
According to her, investors have also recognised the efficient and well-structured operation of CCCR, excellent understanding of new paradigms in drug development, and the capability to bring a scientific discovery to the point of innovation. AS Kevelt and CCCR are also working together on another drug candidate – Oncohist – intended for the treatment of acute myeloid leukaemia.
Virexxa is a potential drug candidate for the treatment of stage four endometrial cancer. There is currently no specific treatment for the disease, which affects 25 000 patients annually in Europe. Virexxa drug trials have been quite successful and the market potential ranges from EUR 600 million to EUR 1 billion. The potential is also great for Virexxa on the US market.
Established in 2005, CCCR currently has 14 projects in development, with financing provided by Enterprise Estonia, Archimedes Foundation and CCCR's 14 partners. The latter includes the Tallinn University of Technology, the North Estonia Medical Centre Foundation, the University of Tartu, as well as biotechnology, drug development and organic synthesis companies from Estonia, Sweden, the United States and Latvia.
International Oil Shale Symposium
International energy experts converge in Estonia for the International Oil Shale Symposium
From 10 to 11 June, Tallinn will host high-level energy experts for a discussion about the current state of play in oil shale energy and its future opportunities. The Oil Shale Symposium, being held in Estonia for the fourth time, will be attended by representatives of the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the World Energy Council (WEC), as well as experts from the world’s leading oil shale industries and universities involved in the sector.
“Estonia has years of experience and extensive knowledge in mining and processing oil shale. Oil shale is the cornerstone of our energy security. This makes us one of the leading oil shale developers in the world. Ever more countries are taking an interest in tapping their oil shale reserves, and in this Estonia can show the way, sharing its knowledge and experience,” said Juhan Parts, Estonia’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications and one of the main presenters at the Symposium.
The objective for the Symposium, organised by Enefit, Tallinn University of Technology, University of Tartu and Colorado School of Mines, is to generate and boost international interest in the oil shale industry and to be the initiator of discussion and the builder of links amongst various interest groups in the development of this industry. “The Symposium will provide Estonia with an extraordinary opportunity to continue its long-standing tradition of hosting this conference on oil shale and to demonstrate its world-class knowledge and experience in the oil shale industry,” Sandor Liive, Chairman of the Management Board at Enefit, elaborated on the reasons for this major event on oil shale being held in Estonia.
The Symposium will feature over 50 presentations. They will include presentations by Didier Houssin, Director of Energy Market and Security, IEA, who will address the outlook for non-conventional oil and gas on the global energy market, and Dr Leonhard Birnbaum, Vice Chair Europe, WEC, who will discuss global energy trends. Sustainability of oil shale energy will be analysed by the macroeconomics expert Hardo Pajula.
The international oil shale conference will be held in Estonia for the fourth time. The first conference was held in Estonia in 1968. The last time Estonia hosted the International Oil Shale Symposium was in 2009, when the event was attended by 300 specialists in their respective fields from 24 countries. Attendees at this Symposium will include the oil shale industry’s most successful companies, technology developers, most acclaimed researchers, academics, and governments’ representatives and officials in the relevant field. More than 300 attendees from 21 countries have been registered, including oil shale specialists from China, the United States, Brazil, Jordan, Russia and Turkey.
The Oil Shale Symposium will be held at Tallinn University of Technology, from 10 to 11 June. The event is being organised with support from Enefit, Tallinn University of Technology, University of Tartu, Colorado School of Mines, Haldor Topsøe, Air Products, Outotec, Total, Fluor and QER, with the event partners including the WEC and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications of the Republic of Estonia.
For further information and the event programme, go to: www.oilshalesymposium.eu
Journalists interested in the event are invited to contact the Press Officer for the event, to obtain accreditation and further information.
International Oil Shale Symposium
Tel +372 71 55 620
Tel +372 52 11 145
Only a day to the launch of ESTCube
ESTCube, Estonia’s first satellite is ready and attached to the launcher VEGA. VEGA is the newest launch vehicle of the European Space Agency and it will have its second flight this year. Right now, ESTCube is waiting for its launch in French Guiana for less than a day. VEGA’s start is planned for 4 May at 5.06 AM (Estonian time). ESTCube will decouple from the rocket in a few hours after its launch.
For now, members of the ESTCube team are on their way to French Guiana in order to thoroughly examine the ESA’s spaceport and watch the rocket launch. The ESTCube project manager and members of the team, students from Tallinn University of Technology and the University of Tartu, will go see the launch.
You can watch a live broadcast of the launch online at: www.arianespace.tv
Questions to Paul Liias, TUT student:
1) What have been your tasks in relation to ESTCube?
There have been many different task throughout the ESTCube construction My main duties as a product developer have been the development, construction and testing of the ESTCube body and mechanisms. Over a period of five years, we tried out the entire product development cycle with ESTCube. In addition to the satellite components, we had to design all the elements necessary for the production and testing of the components. In the course of the project I also had to deal with complex documentation necessary for obtaining a permit for the satellite to launch with the launcher VEGA.
In addition to technical duties, I had other interesting roles to perform, such as communication with the media, organisation of events, etc.
2) Why are you participating in the project?
There are many reasons for taking part in the ESTCube project. Actually I have been interested in aviation since I was a child. When the sudden opportunity to build a satellite emerged, I joined immediately. In the ESTCube development process it was possible to think big within one litre and apply the solutions we created in practice. Each CubeSat is different from others and new engineering tasks need to be solved every time. Therefore, copying an existing solution is normally impossible – you have to come up with your own solutions, which is what made this project interesting for me.
Besides, who would not want to launch their own satellite into the Earth’s orbit!
3) What skills and knowledge that you learned at TUT have you used in the process? Which new skills have you learned?
In principle, I can say that nearly everything I learned during my Bachelor’s studies at TUT was useful for building the satellite. In some aspects it was surprising even for me since often when you study it seems that what you learn will never be put to use in practice. The best example I can give is technical drawings – a subject where we had to do all the drawings manually. At the time it seemed silly as all drawings are made on computers these days. But in reality the skill of manually drawing plans was very useful. Even during my practical training in the German Aerospace Center I had to draw a number of plans manually. Naturally, we had to work hard and do a lot of additional reading and learning.
What I learned in the course of the project is mainly what can only be learned through a practical experience. For me, it was very interesting to make technical drawings and communicate with manufacturing companies both in Estonia and Germany. During the development process I dealt with different materials and processing processes.
But what I value above all is the experience of carrying out a project and teamwork in the framework of an international project. There were many bodies that were part of the ESTCube project and they were scattered all over Europe. Such an experience will definitely help me avoid mistakes in similar situations or find better solutions to problems in the future.
Robotic fish navigate flowscapes
March 6th, 2013 – The EU funded European research project FILOSE has developed robots with a new sense - lateral line sensing. All fish have this sensing organ but so far it had no technological counterpart on man-made underwater vehicles.
In an article published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A, FILOSE team members describe a robotic fish that is controlled with the help of lateral line sensors. During the last 4 years, the FILOSE collaboration has investigated fish lateral line sensing and locomotion with the aims of understanding how fish detect and exploit flow features, and of developing efficient underwater robots based on biological principles.
Though flow is a highly volatile and unsteady state of matter, it can nonetheless be measured and characterized based on many salient features that do not change much in space and time (such as flow direction or turbulence intensity, for example). These salient features can then be described as a “flowscape” - a flow landscape that helps fish and robots to orient themselves, navigate and control their movements.
“So far flow in robotics is treated as a disturbance that drives the robots away from their planned course”, says Prof. Maarja Kruusmaa, the Scientific Coordinator of the FILOSE project. “We have shown that flow is also a source of information that can be exploited to better control the vehicle. Also, flow can be a source of energy if we can understand the flow dynamics and interact with eddies and currents in a clever way”.
Experiments with flow sensing and actuation in FILOSE have demonstrated that a fish robot can save energy by finding energetically favorable regions in the flow where the currents are weaker or by interacting with eddies so that they help to push the robot forward. The robots are also able to detect flow direction and swim upstream or hold station in the flow while compensating for the downstream drift by measuring the flow speed. FILOSE robot hovering in the wake of an object in the flow is demonstrated to reduce its energy consumption. “It is similar to reducing your effort in the tailwind of another cyclist or reducing the fuel consumption of your car by driving behind a truck”, Prof. Kruusmaa says.
Several prototype artificial lateral lines and robot actuators were developed in FILOSE to experimentally investigate different aspects of sensing and locomotion in fluids, such as how to use compliant materials to efficiently swim in turbulence, how to build robots that are mechanically simple but still behave like fish, how to interpret flow features and use them for controlling the vehicles, and how to measure robot’s own motion from the flow signals.
The FILOSE project has contributed to our understanding of the “fish-centric” viewpoint of the aquatic environment. “Robotic experiments have also helped us to understand fish behaviour”, says FILOSE collaborator Prof. William Megill, who led the University of Bath’s contribution to the project. “By recording flow sensor data from a robotic fish head which we’ve programmed to move like a real fish in similar flow conditions, we are able to understand what fish are able to perceive.”
The lateral line sensing fish robots have been a joint effort of experts in fish biology (University of Bath, UK), underwater robotics (Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia), mechanical engineering (Riga Technical University, Latvia), signal analysis and flow perception (Verona University, Italy) and of sensor technology (Italian Institute of Technology).
Full bibliographical information: Salumäe T, Kruusmaa M. 2013 Flow-relative control of an underwater robot. Proc R Soc A 20120671.
Maarja Kruusmaa, FILOSE scientific coordinator, maarja dot kruusmaa at ttu dot ee, phone: (+372) 51 83 074
William Megill, FILOSE partner, email@example.com, +44 7745 730873
Enn Mellikov: lifework award adds enthusiasm
Enn Mellikov is a member of of Estonian Academy of Sciences and the professor of Chair of Semiconductor Materials Technology at the Tallinn University of Technology. Recently he was awarded a scientific award of the Republic of Estonia for his long-term fruitful research and development work. It is always pleasing to meet with approval and I am looking enthusiastically ahead regarding alternative energy and energy materials particulary, he said.
The largest share of Enn Mellikov’s scientific research has been connected with material science of complicated semiconductor compounds. More precisely his research has been directed to the development of new materials that can transform efficienly solar energy into electrical energy. During the last decade, Mellikov’s laboratory has been virtually the only one in the world which has been looking for the ways to increase the efficiency of solar panels with the help of powder-like materials. The advantage of the technology that has been developed is the low price of the preparation process of materials and the simplicity of bearing under-panel structures of the material. Answering the question about how far he has progressed in his dreams Prof Mellikov said that dreams should always be bigger than what has already been achieved. "This is the most important thing, I have always said that at least I can dream".
„Whereby being a material scientist, my main criterium has been how to use cheaper materials for the device formation and as a result to get higher effectivity of solar panel and cheaper electrical energy in the end," said Prof. Mellikov. The technologies created by his laboratory have been patented more than 60 times. In 2002-2006 the Department leaded by E. Mellikov was nominated as EU Centre of Excellence in Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells, from 2007 Department belongs to the Solar Energy Centre of Excellence of Nordic Countries started operating. At the moment the Department belongs to two Estonian Centres of Excellence of Science. Mellikov is the member of the management board of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, of the Evaluation Committee of Estonian Science Agency. He represent Estonia in several Eu networks. More than ten master and PhD theses have been defended under his supervision. He is one of founders of companies Crystalsol GmbH, Crystalsol OÜ and new international master study Curricula in Sustainable Energetics at TTU and Tartu University.
The article was published on ERR portal on February 14th 2013.
IIT Council visiting Tallinn University of Technology
India is the new target market for Tallinn University of Technology and the cooperation between the institutions have started to expand. After the visit of Tallinn Tech to India in September 2012, it now had a return visit from Indian Institute of Technology Council. The IIT Council is the governing body responsible for all of the Indian Institutes of Technology.
Representative of IIT Council, prof. Prashant Kumar Sharma had meetings with the administration and the faculties of Tallinn Tech. During the meetings, the plans for Indian market were put together and selected certain fields for cooperation. One of the most potential cooperation platforms is Mektory.
India is one of the target markets for Tallinn Tech, starting from 2012. Currently there are 13 Indian students studying in Tallinn Tech.
More information Ms. Kätlin Keinast, International Relations Office, 620 2022, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Microsoft's Career Day
Do you want to develop the new Xbox, Windows or get an experience programming Skype, Surfae or other development teams?
Come and join THE info-session, where Microsoft’s professional recruitment-team will give you advice on how to apply for internships in Redmond and European development centres. Also they will give tips on how to create an impressive CV.
Microsoft will offer pizza and a cozy environment for the info-session. Bring your CV and set your steps towards TUT, because you have the chance to WIN AN XBOX 360 WITH KINECT!
The Career Day is for IT students from all Universities!
More information and the registration - www.eneta.ee/university
Come and build a firm foundation for your career!
Microsoft & TUT
Spring 2013 Orientation Days!
At the beginning of every academic semester Tallinn Tech organises Orientation Days for the new international students. In Spring 2013 takes place on 25.-26. January.
See more information from here: Tallinn Tech Orientation Days
TUT Professor Alvar Soesoo was awarded the title of a Honorary Scientist of Europe
Alvar Soesoo, a professor at Institute of Geology at TUT, earned the Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz Medal of the European Academy of Natural Sciences for his outstanding contribution in developing natural sciences. Soesoo was also awarded the title of Honorary Scientist of Europe. The award was handed over in Hannover, Germany. Prof. Soesoo was awarded the medal for developing and promoting the geosciences.
The areas of research of Prof. Soesoo include petrology, geochemistry, modelling geoprocesses, geochronology, volcanism and magmatism, melting of rocks, geology of mineral resources, environmental quality research, and geotectonics.
Currently, his main focus is on the evolution of the Fennoscandian and Baltic lithosphere evolution, the analogue and numerical modelling of crustal magma, and the research of natural resources.
Alvar Soesoo has published about 90 research publications.
Before Alvar Soesoo, the TUT scientist and member of Estonian Academy of Sciences Anto Raukas has received the geoscience award of the European Academy of Natural Sciences (in 2010), as well.
Leibniz Medal is awarded once a year in the field of natural sciences.
Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz lived in Germany in 1646–1716, and was a renowned mathematician and philosopher. He invented differential and integral calculus independently of Newton. He developed a logical calculation, which later laid the foundation for modern computer architectures. Leibniz introduced a number of mathematical symbols: multiplication and division points, the integral and differential characters. He also made a major contribution to the development of physics and engineering. His ideas have influenced the development of biology, medicine, geology, psychology, and information technology. In the field of philosophy, he is one of the three most influential rationalists of the 17th century.
For further information please contact:
Prof. Alvar Soesoo, Institute of Geology at TUT, phone +372 620 3063, email@example.com
Press release was composed by:
Krõõt Nõges, TUT Public Relations Officer, phone +372 620 3594, mobile phone +372 5303 6163, kroot dot noges at ttu dot ee
New laboratory supports development of shale oil industry
The laboratory, which opened on the last day of October, will initially study matters related to shale oil production. In a couple of years, liquid fuels obtained from biomass – mainly distilled fuels from biomass – will also be included.
TUT’s newest laboratory, the chemical engineering and fuels research laboratory of the Department of Chemical Engineering, with an orientation towards chemical engineering thermodynamics, is located in three rooms on the second floor of building IV. To be precise, one piece of equipment did not fit inside of the three rooms and is located on the first floor. The remaining equipment is actually located in the above three rooms, one of which is for the carrying out of laboratory work by students, with the remainder set aside for research work.
There are actually other modern, well-equipped, laboratories in Estonia where liquid fuel analyses can be performed, such as the laboratory at the Estonian Environmental Research Centre. Typically, these laboratories conduct standard analyses that are prescribed in standards. “Research, from the position of the development of science and technology, requires analyses and measurements which correspond to the conditions of processes and technologies,” said Vahur Oja, Director and Professor of the TUT Department of Materials Science. In many cases, the quantities of substances obtained during research are quite small; which is not the case with standard fuel analysis, where there is usually no problem involving a lack of liquid to be examined.
The goal of the new laboratory is to support the chemical and fuel industries and the resolution of related environmental problems; not to analyse whether the liquid meets some standards. The determination of necessary thermodynamic parameters and phase balances can be carried out in the laboratory. Another important need is the training of chemical engineers. An important area in this is chemical engineering thermodynamics, towards which this laboratory is also oriented. These together should provide a foundation in Estonia for engineering knowledge in the field of chemical engineering thermodynamics.
The creation of the laboratory actually took ten years. The Department invested a couple hundred thousand euros of its own funds. The necessary infrastructure for the laboratory was provided a few years ago with the renovation of the housing for the Faculty of Chemical and Material Technology. Now, after an additional EUR 600 000 has been obtained within the framework of the Estonian Energy Development Programme, which was supported by the EU and the European Regional Development Fund via Archimedes, something which can be referred to as a laboratory has been created. The selection of equipment was governed by the need to analyse small quantities of substances under conditions that are close to those of process conditions, and that they be somewhat unique in Estonia – for example, the only high pressure differential scanning calorimeter in Estonia.
Over a period of four to five years in the future, depending on financial possibilities, there are plans to also create a network of process simulators, which would allow for thermodynamic parameters to be assigned based on calculations, thereby controlling the reality of the process. The prospective investments would amount to EUR 100 000. There is currently an increasing tendency in the world to rely on the results of modelling work, with the number of laboratories where measurements can be carried out continuing to decrease. At the same time, modelling also requires test data in order to control the realism of the model. “When developing the laboratory we set the ability to initially perform good tests as the foundation and that only afterwards would we begin using computational models” explains Oja.
The goal of the laboratory over the next couple of years is, based on the project for which we received support, the study of shale oil and the substance systems related to production – for example, the examination of the feasibility of processes related to thermal bitumen. In the future it is planned to expand activity to cover fundamental thermodynamic research, as well as oils obtained from biomass, where similar problems to those in the field of oil shale – gaps tend to appear in data – are present. If the investigation of oil shale is rather an Estonia specific question, then the topic of biomass oils is a topical international issue.
There are currently three senior research fellows, one research fellow and three doctoral students working in the laboratory, with four Master’s students and Bachelor’s students included for the purpose of finding the next generation of researchers. A total of up to ten research staff should begin work in the laboratory.
Exchange studies in China!
TUT is looking to intensify its cooperation with the best Universities of Technology in China. We are looking for students who are interested in one semester exchange in Shangai, Beijing or Macau Universities of Science and Technology already this Spring!
Check out the exchange info at http://www.ttu.ee/studying/exchange-studies/exchange-studies-outgoing/b_studies-outside-eu/.
If interested, contact Ms Mari Peets at firstname.lastname@example.org. In your e-mail, please mention your faculty, programme, study level and grade point average at TUT. Financial support available for the best applicants!
Deadline on Monday, 10th of December 2012!
Career Seminar: How to write good CV and motivation letter?
Already this Thursday, 6th of December! Career Seminar goal is to prepare participants for the process of applying for a job through short theory, sharing experiences and conducting practical exercises.
When: 6.12.2012 at 4pm-6pm
Where: TUT main building I-228
- Overview of Estonian labour market.
- Foreigner's opportunities for finding a job in Estonia?
- Working while studying?
- How to write a good CV?
- How to write a good motivation letter?
Presenter: Career counselor with long-time experience, Mirjam Lindpere.
Seminar is free of charge!
NB! After registering, if you are unable to attend, let us know asap: career at ttu dot ee
Seminar is supported by ESF, under the Primus program
More information and registration from here: TUT Career Center
Tallinn Tech is proud to participate in the Erasmus Mundus HERITAGE (India-EU) project!
HERITAGE is a project for fostering structured cooperation between EU and Indian Higher Education Institutions through academic partnerships.
In the frames of the HERITAGE project, 105 students and 35 members of academic and non-academic staff from prominent Indian universities will have the opportunity to gain international experience and expertise in ten renowned European universities. During the project kick off meeting in Chennai, India on 5-6 November, Tallinn Tech had a chance to introduce its international study programmes, research possibilities and support services to the Indian partners. First exchange students from India will start their studies in Tallinn already in September 2013.
HERITAGE project INDIAN PARTNERS:
- Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM), Chennai (project co-coordinator)
- Anna University, Chennai
- Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore
- Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB), Mumbai
- Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IITG)
- Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur ((IITK)
- National Institute of Technology Warangal (NITW)
- National Institute of Technology Rourkela (NITR)
All Indian partners are open to discuss further academic exchanges, joint research activities and sign cooperation agreements.
HERITAGE project EUROPEAN PARTNERS:
- Ecole Centrale de Nantes, France (project coordinator)
- Technische Universität München, Germany
- Universidad de Sevilla, Spain
- Tallinna Tehnikaülikool, Estonia
- Politecnico di Milano, Italy
- Politecnico di Torino, Italy
- Warszaw Univerity of Technology, Poland
- Instituto Superior Tecnico, Portugal
- Czech Technical University in Prague, Czech Republic
- Cardiff Metropolitan University, UK
Tallinn Tech workshop and China Expo
One of Tallinn Tech students, Maarja Mõtus, had a wonderful opportunity to be part of the TTÜ/TUT delegation at the China Educational Expo on 18th-20th October 2012. Here she shares a little about what she did and what impressions she brought back.
China Educational Expo is a vast fair that takes place in biggest cities of China and runs altogether for a month. TTÜ/TUT together with other Estonian universities and Archimedes foundation showed there what Estonia has to offer. Combined with the fair at the exhibition center, TTÜ/TUT brought guest lecturers and held workshops in the partner universities. Together with Rain Öpik, Jaan Übi and Toomas Lepik form ICT department I had the luck to be part of that team.
To those who might read this with some little jealousy, I can comfort you by saying this trip was far from a vacation or holiday, rather it was an ultimate challenge for well-trained business traveller. On Wednesday mid-day we left Tallinn and the very next morning, just two hours after we had landed we were in front of students and had to be ready for another take-off – this time an educational one.
The workshop I held was about Design Research. Despite the fear of possible Chinese-English communication problems, we managed nicely. My obscure expressions got quickly translated back and forth on their smartphone dictionaries. There were 8 students in class - a cozy crowd to manage and be with. Students were from ICT and telecommunication studies and this was their very first design class. Their feedback was very positive so the energy was well spent and exchanged.
Read more from Tallinn Tech Design and Engineering programme website
Tallinn Tech is proud to present our professor in Stanford University!
Tallinn Tech is proud to present: Prof. Katrin Nyman-Metcalf from Tallinn Law School is now visiting professor in Stanford University!
My main interest both for research and my practical work as an international consultant is communications law in a wide sense (ICT, e-governance, media law) especially in post-conflict and developing nations. For my stay at H-Star my topic is communications technology as a key to increased democratic participation, looking at legal aspects. Both e-governance measures and media use in the democratic process are analysed. As always with law and technology, the question is when in the process legal regulation can come in so as not to stifle but instead support innovation while still protecting against risks.
See more about Stanford University visiting professors
An article written by Estonian scientists is published in the textbook of IMF´s chief economist
The article is written by three authors of whom two are professors of economics at the Tallinn University of Technology and it illustrates a chapter on the role of expectations in consumer behaviour in the textbook of Olivier Blanchard, the chief economist at IMF.
The new edition of Olivier Blanchard´s, the chief economist at IMF and a professor at MIT, textbook “Macroeconomics” has been published in the beginning of October and it includes the article of three Estonian economists as a one-page case study of Estonia. The article “Consumption Sensitivities in Estonia: Income Shocks of Different Persistence” written by Merike Kukk, researcher at the Department of Finance and Economics at the Tallinn University of Technology, professor Karsten Staehr and Dmitry Kulikov, a chief specialist at the Economics and Research Department of the Bank of Estonia, was published this year in the Working Papers of the Bank of Estonia.
Kukk used Blanchard´s textbook in her course in spring and actively was in contact with the publishing house. So, they asked her whether she would like to write a case study for the new edition. “Pearson publishing house wanted to include more examples of different countries in their international edition,” said Kukk. “The case studies in the book are mostly US-focused.” Since she had recently finished a research that tested consumption theory that is described in the macroeconomics textbooks, it did not take her long to find a topic for the case study.
The case study underwent the usual procedure of editing/assessment during which the contacts of the publishing house (i.e. professors) assessed the relevance of the example for the chapter. “They found the case study to illustrate adequately the consumption theory discussed in the chapter and this is how it ended up in the textbook,” said Kukk.
The article by Kukk, Staehr and Kulikov analysed the reactions of Estonian households to income shocks of different persistence by using the Friedman´s Permanent Income Hypothesis as the theoretical starting point. The analysis was based on the Estonian Household Budget Survey which enabled to distinguish between income shocks of high-persistence regular shocks and low-persistence temporary shocks based on the information gathered during the interviews of individual households. The dataset consisted of 2351 households who were interviewed twice, with a year apart, during 2002-2007, i.e. a period of rapid economic growth and increasing household income in Estonia.
The study showed that households base their consumption decisions on expectations, differentiating between changes in income of different persistence. It was found that an increase in regular income by 10% increases consumption of non-durable goods by 3.3%, while a change of the same magnitude in temporary income affected consumption only by 2%.
The significance of expectations in consumption decisions is further strengthened by the fact that in 2003-2006 Estonian households consumed more than they earned. The peak in consumption was in 2006 when consumption exceeded income by 6.3%. In 2006-2007 real wages increased by 12-13% and consumption grew more rapidly than income as it was presumed that income will continue to increase in the future. Thus, consumption was based on expected future wealth.
Although the time period observed was exceptional in Estonian economy, the expectations of households and their consumption decisions can be compared to those of countries with more stable economic environment. Since there is no data available from the deep recession experienced by Estonia in 2008–2009, it was not possible to examine whether the same pattern continued during the downturn or whether the findings reflect factors that are unique for the upturn.
Metals could initiate a chain reaction leading to Alzheimer's disease
A thesis defended at the Tallinn University of Technology looked at the role of copper and zinc- the most common biometals – in the formation and progression of Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's disease is the main cause of dementia amongst the elderly and it is the third leading cause of death in developed countries. Molecular events that trigger this slowly progressing neurodegenerative disease are not yet clear, which complicates the development of new drugs.
The main hypothesis during the past decade is that the first trigger of the cascade of events leading to neuron death, is the amyloid-beta (Aβ) peptide, which forms amyloid deposits or plaques, a characteristic of the disease. In addition to the peptides they also contain in high levels the most common biometals - copper, zinc and iron. Based on research a hypothesis has been proposed that disturbances in the homoeostasis of Zn(II) and Cu(II) ions- the dynamic state of balance- in the brain cause the deposition of amyloid-beta into plaques and that copper and iron- the redoxactive metals hidden in the plaques -are responsible for the death of neurons.
Ann Tiiman, a research fellow at Tallinn University of Technology's Department of Gene Technology, investigated in depth the corresponding processes in vitro, in her doctoral thesis "Interactions of Alzheimer’s amyloid-β peptides with Zn(II) and Cu(II) ions". In the doctoral thesis supervised by Senior Research Fellow Vello Tõugu and Professor Peep Palumaa (who last year was awarded a national science award for research in the field) the binding affinities of the amyloid-beta peptide to Cu(II) and Zn(II) ions were reliably determined. These turned out to be in a biologically relevant range, so that in certain parts of the brain this peptide could directly bind Zn(II) as well as Cu(II). Next, it was established how Zn(II) and Cu(II) ions affect peptide fibrillization. In conditions where fibrillization happens quickly (which could correspond to growth of already existing plaques) metal ions inhibit fibrillization. At the same time both ions cause the formation of metal-induced aggregates, which transform into fibrils over the course of time. "Consequently in conditions where fibrillization occurs slowly- several days, weeks or even months- metal ions speed up the formation of fibrils" said Tiiman.
The fibrillization of the peptide is an auto-catalytic process - it starts up very slowly in the absence of primary fibrillar particles but in the case of preexisting fibrils, it proceeds with considerable speed. The level of amyloid-beta peptide in the brain is very low and fibrillization centres are virtually absent in the brain of a person who is not suffering from Alzheimer's disease. This is why fibrillization is very unlikely or slow there. If the balance of metal ions is disturbed in some parts of the brain, the metal ions can bind to amyloid-beta peptides and induce the formation of aggregates, which in turn develop into fibrils and can initiate the formation of amyloid plaques. Aggregates that contain copper are very toxic in the presence of reducing agents, leading to the production of reactive oxygen species. This could be the main mechanism causing the death of neurons in a brain with Alzheimer's disease.
In Tiiman's opinion, the proposed mechanism based on the experiments in vitro needs validating in more complex experimental systems.
Grand Opening of American Space (Photos)
Grand Opening of American Space – The US Technology,
Culture and Education Center (Atrium, Building VII)
TUT rector Andres Keevallik and Jeffrey D. Levine, US Ambassador
TUT 92. Students Birthday
TUT invites students to celebrate and friends to congratulate!
This will be a night to remember for us all!
TUT Culture Club party trilogys last, but the biggest and the most memorable is before you - TUT Students Birthday! Every TUT student has two birthdays in a year and one of them takes place on the 28th of September in TUT underground parking lot (between the 2nd and the 3rd dormitory) - 2 halls, 2 stages - music for every taste!
The most stuentful musical collective will sing for all the birthday kids and students from different universities together with:
SINGER VINGER and DJs:
- Erki Kukk
- Rene Jõhve
- Vicious Vendetta
Tickets from pre-sale 4€ / on the spot 6€.
Pre-sale begins at 24.09: TUT Stdent Union, TUT Student House bar and TLU Student Union.
At 8pm - Birthday WARM-UP at TUT Student House
Also a big birthdaygame, with the prize of a laptop and a Playstation 3!!!
Tallinn University of Technology at Turkey
Tallinn University of Technology is attending the International Education Fair of Turkey (IEFT) 2012 in Istanbul. IEFT is a leader in education fairs in Turkey and is committed to bringing top universities, colleges and language schools together with motivated students and their families. IEFT welcomes nearly 20,000 Turkish students at each of the semi-annual fairs.
TUT representatives will attend the fair in Istanbul on 6-7th October at the Hilton Hotel Convention Centre. The prospective students have excellent opportunity at the fair to get information about different programmes taught in English at TUT and even present their application documents on spot. Detailed information about the fair is available at www.ieft.net.
In addition TUT will have two info sessions in Istanbul on 5th of October at Istanbul Technical University and at EduYork Education Services Office. Come and meet us also there!
If you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact International Study Center via e-mail: email@example.com or phone: +372 620 2022
Avoid cheap LED lights
A lifecycle test of light emitting diodes (LEDs) indicated that the data of large manufacturers are reliable, while cheap LED lights should be avoided.
When it comes to electronic equipment, people often question the reliability of durability indicators published on product packaging or in user manuals. Many users have experienced that mobile phone battery life in actual use can be quite dissimilar to the indicators advertised by manufacturers, which are based on hypothetical usage scenarios, often quite different from real situations.
In a study, the Thomas Johann Seebeck Department of Electronics at the Tallinn University of Technology focused on the characteristics of LEDs. During a test cycle of two years, Master’s degree students of the Department tested the reliability of the data published by LED manufacturers on product packaging. The tests were part of research for their theses, supervised by researchers of the Department. According to Professor Toomas Rang, Head of the Department, the results indicated that LED manufacturers are fairly frank in their statements.
There were no complaints about the products of large manufacturers, such as Cree in the USA. The luminous efficacy – the efficiency of producing visible light as perceived by human eyes – of their diodes naturally decreased slightly over the two-year test cycle, but it never came close to the lower limit specified by the manufacturers. In LEDs of smaller manufacturers, the drop in luminous efficacy was steeper but did not fall below the critical level either. In new LEDs, the luminous efficacy improved at first and then started to decrease. This is probably caused by the phosphor-based light filter of LEDs, which seems to require a certain running-in period.
The situation is, however, completely different in the category of cheap indicator LEDs. “We had a lot of fun with those,” said Prof. Rang. The conclusion was relatively straightforward – avoid buying cheap LEDs. The most extreme example was a blue LED, which started to change colour over time and ended up turning white. The fault was probably again caused by structural changes in the chemical lens of the LED, which is used to change the colour of light.
Great start for the year! TUT Orientation Days for new International students were successful and popular.
This academic year TUT welcomes more than 260 new international degree students and almost 200 new exchange students. To make them warmly welcome, TUT Orientation Days for new international students took place on 31st of August and 1st of September. Two days full of introduction to studies in TUT and living in Estonia.
First day, “Academic day”, gave a good overview of study systems in TUT to more than 300 new international students. Students met their faculty coordinators, listened to presentations about student services like career center and counseling in TUT and by Police and Border Guard Board about legal living and working in Estonia. In the afternoon, all new international students had a chance to hear interesting facts about Estonians, Estonian culture and trends in food. Among all the students who did not get tired of this long day, a lottery was done – great prizes by Tallink, Reval Sport and Tallinn Card were given out! The day was finished by a tour on a red City Tour Bus.
Second day, “Picnic day” started with Orientation Game in Tudengimaja that was full of new international students – eager to run and discover hidden points in TUT campus together with new, around 200 international friends. Almost 50 volunteers from TUT´s student organizations helped to organize the activities and games in different points all over the campus. After the orientation game, TUT male choir band gave an amazing concert. And what would be “Picnic day” without a picnic? Everybody could eat real Estonian food, including milk product Kohuke. All students who participated in orientation game got prizes according to how many points their teams collected at the game. The list of supporters was long, starting from Olde Hansa, Nordic Hotel Forum, Solaris, Tallinn Card… Full list of supporters can be found from TUT Orientation Days web page.
TUT International Relations Office, organizer of Orientation Days, has still smiles on the faces – thank you for these great days! And this is just the beginning of your studies in Tallinn University of Technology!
Enjoy the pictures of the event that you can find fromiTUT Facebook page and we wish you successful start of the studies!
Coral research to serve pharmaceutical development
Articles by TUT biochemists may give clues for the development of more effective pharmaceuticals for the treatment of bronchial asthma.
Lipoxygenases (LOX) are common among both the fauna and flora (more specifically, LOX are dioxygenases of polyunsaturated fatty acids). LOX reactions may start synthesis of various signalling molecules (leukotrienes, lipoxins, jasmonic acid, etc.) or be involved in evoking both structural and metabolic changes in cells. Thus they carry an important role in the pathogenesis of several diseases, including atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, cancer and bronchial asthma. For the latter, the new generation pharmaceuticals are either 5-LOX inhibitors or leukotriene receptor antagonists, explains prof. Nigulas Samel, professor of biochemistry at TUT and head of the research project. In the process of developing more effective and safer pharmaceuticals it is essential to thoroughly study the properties (structure, functions and regulation) of the molecules that the pharmaceuticals target.
Recently, two research articles prepared by the Chair of Bioorganic Chemistry of the TUT Department of Chemistry were published in top biochemistry journals, Biochemistry and the Journal of Biological Chemistry: “Activation of 11R-Lipoxygenase Is Fully Ca2+-Dependent and Controlled by the Phospholipid Composition of the Target Membrane” (by Reet Järving, Aivar Lõokene, Reet Kurg, Liina Siimon, Ivar Järving and Nigulas Samel) and “Structure of a Calcium-dependent 11R-Lipoxygenase Suggests a Mechanism for Ca2+ Regulation” (by Priit Eek, Reet Järving, Ivar Järving, Nathaniel C. Gilbert, Marcia E. Newcomer and Nigulas Samel). Both articles deal with the activation of lipoxygenases induced by calcium ions via binding to intracellular membranes.
Studying human 5-LOX is complex due to the extreme instability of this protein. A fortunate incident rendered help in this regard. During their earlier work, TUT researchers were able to identify and clone a novel LOX with unique 11R-specificity from the arctic coral Gersemia fruticosa. 11-LOX is structurally relatively close to human 5-LOX and their calcium modulated activation mechanisms are also similar. However, the main advantage of 11-LOX is its high stability and catalytic activity. These properties make it a very promising model enzyme for the study of the specificity, activation and regulation of LOX catalysis.
The article published in Biochemistry describes the first detailed and systematic research of binding kinetics, proving that a membrane’s phospholipid composition plays a crucial role in the intracellular positioning and activation of LOX. The universal model of LOX regulation proposed by the TUT researchers distinguished between two phases of binding enzymes to the membranes: preliminary lipid-specific non-productive phase independent of Ca2+, followed by a Ca2+-dependent active binding phase.
Second, study of the crystal structure of 11-LOX, determined together with researchers from Louisiana State University, revealed that the active site of this enzyme (the area in the molecule of the protein where the binding of fatty acid and catalysis take place) forms a closed T-shaped channel with two potential entrances. Also, a strongly conserved bridge between the regulatory domain of the enzyme (see the orange area in the drawing) and the active site in the catalytic domain (see the blue area in the drawing) was detected. “That is why we posed the hypothesis that during calcium binding, conformational changes of the regulatory domain are communicated to the catalytic domain via this bridge. The mouth of the active site opens as a result of these changes and the enzyme becomes active,” says doctoral researcher Priit Eek, the first author of the article in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
According to Samel, the work of TUT researchers will have a profound contribution to the better understanding of the regulation of LOX enzymes and will provide new ideas for pharmaceutical development. Marine invertebrates, especially corals, are likely to become significant model organisms in biomedical studies as many metabolic and regulatory pathways essential for humans that have been lost during evolution in several favourite model organisms of biologists, such as Drosophila and C.elegans, have been preserved in them.
Sea model forecasts Estonian sea water parameters
As a result of the Doctoral thesis defended at the Tallinn University of Technology a three dimensional sea operational model was set up, creating the possibility to forecast sea level.
According to researcher Priidik Lagemaa at the Marine Systems Institute at Tallinn University of Technology, his Doctoral thesis belongs to the field of operational oceanography. Operational refers here to real-time forecasts which take place daily and automatically. Within the framework of the Doctoral thesis supervised by Professor Jüri Elken, Director of the Marine Systems Institute, the three dimensional operational model HIROMB – which calculates and forecasts physical parameters for Estonia’s marine areas – was set up in Estonia. In addition, during the course of his Doctoral thesis, Lagemaa also developed a sea level forecasting part for the operational monitoring system, which is called the Estonian Sea Level Information System. This is one example of the application of an operational model. It is also a tool for conducting scientific research.
Lagemaa’s system provides a 48 hour forecast. A forecast is provided for sea level, salinity and temperature of sea water, ice parameters (ice drift, thickness, and type of ice), currents, etc. The most popular output for ordinary people, according to Lagemaa, is sea level, since it can be “seen with the naked eye”. Occasionally flooding occurs, and there is a simple to use application in the form of an information system for sea level. In principle the remaining sea parameters can also be made easy to use, but that is a job for the future.
Lagemaa works in the Department of Modelling and Remote Sensing, one of the three research departments in the Marine Systems Institute. In addition to HIROMB, the department also uses the GETM model (mainly for climatology studies) and the wave model SWAN. The former is used together with the ecological model ERGOM. In addition, two operational models – analogous to HIROMB – are gradually being used to study the possibilities of using these. The drift model SeaTrackWeb is primarily used to study oil spills. People working in the field of remote sensing process remote observation data, which mainly originates from satellites (as well as airplanes).
According to Lagemaa, HIROMB can be used to effectively model Estonia’s marine areas. In terms of results, the most important is the Sea Level Information System.
The precision of this system falls within +/-25 cm and +/-3 hours
Within the framework of the work it was also proven that current knowledge about circulation in the Gulf of Finland may not always prove to be true. Under certain conditions a rather different circulation pattern may appear in comparison with the classical circulation scheme. According to Lagemaa, the Doctoral thesis does not offer an explanation for the problem, but instead directs attention to it.
TUT Orientation Days for new international students 31st of August and 1st of September
At the beginning of every academic year TUT organises Orientation Days for the new international students starting the studies at TUT (exchange and degree students).
In autumn 2012 the Orientation days will take place on 31.08.12 - 01.09.12.
During the Orientation Days you will hear about:
- residence permit, health insurance, Estonian ID card, accommodation, study agreements etc - by International Relations Office
- academic issues, about your study programme, courses, classes and professors - by your Faculty
- services provided by the University - from the representatives of Library, Sports Center, student counselor etc.
- ways and possibilities to spend your free time in Tallinn and TUT - by International Club, ESN Tallinn and TUT Student Union
We highly recommend attending TUT Orientation Days as it is the best opportunity to ask all the questions that may arise during your first days at the University. And it is a great chance to get to know each other even before your classes start! It is useful and fun at the same time.
Please see from here the full programme and all additional information about Orientation Days: www.ttu.ee/orientationdays
Shanghai Jiao Tong University visit to TUT
On the 21st and 22nd of August delegation of Shanghai Jiao Tong University visited Tallinn University of Technology. The delegation was led by Vice President Professor Huang Zhen. Shaghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) is one of the top universities in China.
Main discussion between SJTU and Tallinn University of Technology was about how to start cooperation on international study programmes on Master’s and PhD level, and how to create exchange programmes for students and professors between the universities. Besides this, a discussion took place about various existing e-services, the prospective trends and what could be the future common projects in the field.
Business delegation of China’s company 7Seas and Estonian company NOW! Innovations took part of the visit as these companies are already in a collaboration to produce and introduce innovative and new software designed applications for parking and transportation industry in China.
In addition to cooperation discussions the delegation visited TUT Centre of Biorobotics, ICT Demo Center in Ülemiste City and met Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications Mr. Juhan Parts.
Advanced Oxidation Helps to Decompose Micro-pollutants
The Chair of Chemical and Environmental Technology at the TUT Faculty of Chemical and Materials Technology researches advanced oxidation processes that help to treat waste water and soil more thoroughly than usual.
Regular treatment is not fulfilling its role to the desired capacity. It is capable of decomposing human and animal residues such as, for example, faeces. “But today, quite a lot of chemicals have emerged,” says the Head of the Chair of Chemical and Environmental Technology, Professor Marina Trapido. These chemicals include preservatives and colourants in food products, colourants in clothes, also all kinds of pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and home care products that all end up in the waste water. According to the studies, these do not always decompose. Some of these micro-pollutants pass through the sewage plant to the extent of 10% of their total mass, and some manage as much as 90% and end up in the environment, where they can cause problems. Industrial waste water in particular contains large amounts of micro-pollutants, and removing them would seem to be a reasonable step forwards.
One way of getting rid of micro-pollutants is to absorb them.
This can be done with activated carbon, but this costs a small fortune. The other way is to decompose them. Therefore, advanced oxidation processes are suitable for this job. These processes are not very new. For example, ozonation or UV-treatment have been acknowledged options for a century or more. However, these are used for much shorter periods of time in environmental protection. During advanced oxidation processes, hydroxyl radicals emerge. They are such powerful oxidants that they decompose almost all organic substances in the water.Research on these processes began thirty years ago, while the TUT laboratory was established twenty years ago.
Advanced oxidation processes are widely used in the USA. But in Europe, in the Water Treatment Plant in Paris, for example, it is used due to the high concentration of pesticides in the River Seine. Ozone is implemented in Switzerland to decompose the pharmaceuticals. Additionally, patented commercialised technologies are available around the world to treat industrial waste water. These would be particularly well-suited for decomposing dyes used by the textile industry. Advanced oxidation processes are not yet in use in Estonia.
Trapido believes that technologies that are based on her research group work will also be introduced into use in the future, particularly due to EU requirements. The EU has also started to set standards for micro-pollutants. Today, micro-pollutant concentration is researched in the outdoor environment. For example, in the case of toxic substances, the effect of the combination of a high dose and a short period of time can be seen with the naked eye. However, the long-term impact of small concentrations is still unknown.
The TUT research group once started their work with laboratory experiments on waste water. Soil residual pollution problems caught their eye within about ten years. Although today, biological measures are preferred in soil remediation; these may not always work with persistent substances.
When using large doses of oxidants during advanced oxidation processes, the substance can be completely decomposed: mineralised into carbon dioxide and water that are accompanied by sulphate, nitrate or phosphate. However, due to its expensiveness it is not expedient to go that far. Normally, residual products emerge during the process, usually organic acids. Therefore, TUT research is also studying these processes by performing toxicity tests on them, mainly using water fleas. They are also performing Ames tests to study mutagenicity. It is suspected that mutagenic substances may be carcinogenic.
According to Trapido, it is inaccurate to think that the implementation of advanced oxidation processes is very expensive. Instead of paying pollution fines or additional pollution load charges, extra treatment of waste water sometimes pays off in five years.
Rare Disorder May Give Clues for Treatment of Schizophrenia
Scientists hope to get clues for the treatment of schizophrenia from research on a gene that causes a rare developmental disorder.
One of the leading journals on human genetics Human Molecular Genetics has in its latest issue on 1 July published an article by Professor Tõnis Timmusk and two researchers Mari Sepp and Priit Pruunsild of the Tallinn University of Technology, “Pitt–Hopkins syndrome-associated mutations in TCF4 lead to variable impairment of the transcription factor function ranging from hypomorphic to dominant-negative effects.” The article addresses mutations of the gene TCF4 that causes the rare disorder Pitt-Hopkins syndrome.
Pitt-Hopkins syndrome is a cognitive functional disorder (in layman’s terms a form of mental retardation) diagnosed in less than 130 people in the world. Polymorphism or variation in the DNA sequence of the same gene has been linked to schizophrenia. “This is why this has become a relatively interesting gene in the past few years”, stated Timmusk, Head of the Chair of Molecular Biology of the Faculty of Science.
Pitt-Hopkins syndrome is caused by a so-called de novo genetic mutation – one that is non-hereditary. The mutation may be in any part of the gene, but it appears in only one allele. Whereas in many other genes the other, unaffected allele would be able to compensate for the defect, this is not the case in TCF4. This indicates that the protein encoded by the TCF4 gene is essential for the development of the nervous system, and that human development depends significantly on the amount of this protein in the body.
Whereas it was formerly believed that Pitt-Hopkins syndrome is the result of the loss of function of one allele, the research conducted by scientists from the Tallinn University of Technology shows that the disorder may also appear as the result of a partial loss of function of one allele or even if it acquires a new function. Sepp has studied all known mutations of the TCF4 gene – of the known cases only a few are analogous to another – and points out that in one case the protein became dominant-negative, that is, it might have interfered with the function of other normal proteins in the cell. This is further complicated by the fact that the protein linked to the TCF4 gene does not function in the cell on its own, rather it requires partners, of which there are several dozen.
Since Pitt-Hopkins syndrome manifests itself at an early stage, there are better chances for its treatment due to the greater plasticity of children’s brains. If previously it was believed that mental retardation cannot be treated, then the results of recent tests on mice give some hope that it can, according to Sepp. The identification of treatment is simpler for disorders caused by one gene. For more common disorders caused by the malfunction of hundreds of genes, scientists still have to rely on trial and error.
One such polygenetic disorder towards which the polymorphism of the TCF4 gene gives a predisposition is the common disease schizophrenia. This is why the gene and Pitt-Hopkins syndrome to which it is related have received heightened attention from scientists. “If we know more about the mechanisms of a rare disorder, then maybe we can gain new knowledge about other diseases as well”, says Sepp.
BOS 2012 brings the nobelist Akira Suzuki to TUT
From 1 to 4 July, chemists from across the globe will meet at the chemistry conference Balticum Organicum Syntheticum (BOS 2012) at TUT. The keynote speaker of the BOS 2012 conference will be the nobelist Akira Suzuki.
The conference will bring the world’s leading chemists and chemical industry researchers to Estonia. The organisers have expressed their mission as follows:
1. We wish to spread the excitement of dealing with organic chemistry in both research universities and the chemical industry across the world;
2. We wish to promote cooperation between the chemists of the Baltic states and other countries, and support professional networking and joint actions within the framework of research projects;
3. We wish to introduce the history, architecture and natural beauty of the Baltics to the participants.
Akira Suzuki is a Japanese chemist and Nobel Prize Laureate (2010) who discovered the reaction of carbon-carbon bond formation, the so-called Suzuki reaction. Suzuki was born on 12 September 1930 in Hokkaido, Japan. He studied at Hokkaido University and after receiving his PhD degree he worked there as a docent. From 1963 to 1965 he worked at Purdue University. During 1994-1995 he worked at Okayama University of Science and during 1995-2002 at Kurashiki University of Science and Arts. In 2010 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry together with Richard F. Heck and Ei-ichi Negishi.
Mathematical methods enable determining the characteristics of materials
Studying the characteristics of materials by inverse problems granted this year’s national scientific award.
“There is a lot to be studied, this subject will never become exhausted,” states Jaan Janno, professor with the Tallinn University of Technology (TUT) and senior research fellow with the Institute of Cybernetics at TUT. Janno, who received this year’s national scientific award in exact sciences, is mainly engaged in inverse problems – problems, in whose case the cause is determined by observing the result. His field of research primarily consists of inverse problems derived from mechanics, for example determining the characteristics or microstructure of viscoelastic materials.
The result to be studied is a state, depending on the environment, in which it is formed. In thermal conduction process it may be temperature, while in case of an electrical process, it may be the level of electric field, electric current or magnetic field. Janno points at his desk. A wave can be transmitted through the desk, whereafter the wave speed can be measured and the characteristics of elasticity can be determined. The more rigid the body, the faster the wave penetrates it, and the modulus of elasticity can be determined according to the wave propagation speed.
In a more complicated case, the material depends on several parameters. Microstructure parameters are examples of these. In a microstructure, waves are more complicated and informative; among other things, they enable determining the mechanical characteristics of a material. This knowledge is needed to model the mechanical behaviour of materials, usually established by differential equations. "A model is built in theory, and then it must be tested in practice," Janno explains.
In order to find out how a model matches the reality, an inverse problem is solved to determine the coefficient of these differential equations. If different data produce more or less similar results, it may be said that the model is valid. If the results tend to differ, the model is probably not the best one for the specific material and needs to be adjusted.
Questions of mathematical accuracy related to informativeness are essential to such calculations. “When trying to determine something through measurements, the question is whether the measurements include enough information for us to find out all that we desire,” describes Janno. The main thing in this respect is to determine whether a solution is mathematically unambiguous.
If a solution is unambiguous, there often occurs another issue – stability. If an unambiguous solution happens to be unstable, the amount of information is also slightly insufficient. Measuring a process is always related to errors. If the errors are magnified in the solution, the problem is not good. Bad problems, however, also have their own specific solution methods. The solution often means solving a bad problem through solving a good problem. "The bad problem is not solved, but a similar good problem is, and the best possible result is determined," says Janno.
The increasing complexity of chips also makes it more difficult to diagnose faults if the chip has failed during a test
The Doctoral thesis of Tallinn University of Technology Department of Computer Engineering engineer Sergei Kostin will help to find a compromise between the accuracy of diagnosing faults in chips and the resources required to perform diagnosis.
According to Moore’s Law – which has been taken as a trend by manufacturers – microprocessors are simultaneously becoming more powerful, smaller and complicated. As a result, finding possible faults in chips is also becoming more difficult. The tester must be small and simple on the chip, consuming few resources. In addition to the presence of an error, it should also be able to diagnose the possible location of the fault – which is, naturally, made all the more difficult the greater the number of transistors hiding on the incredibly small chip. It should be possible to understand whether the fault in question is random or not; whether it is a manufacturing fault or not. Depending on the nature of the fault, it may be necessary to tune the manufacturing process or possibly to change the product’s design. The defect may, for example, be a result of the transistors being located too close to each other on the chip.
Optimization algorithms help to increase the speed of diagnosis and reduce factor costs. In the interests of diagnostic accuracy, the tester’s memory should be as large as possible; however, this consumes resources.
Complicated chips can be diagnosed hierarchically. Even though the number of transistors on chips is continually increasing, the number of inputs and outputs remains the same. In order to determine the location of a fault, the areas where the fault may be located must be found; followed, if necessary, by the locating of the module containing the fault. After which it is possible to narrow down the possible location of the fault within the module. An increase in the accuracy of the diagnosis also naturally results in an increase in resources consumed – the space which the tester occupies on the chip, as well as the energy required. Naturally, the question arises as to what would be the optimal solution.
During the course of the Doctoral thesis, supervised by Professor Raimund Ubar, Sergei Kostin developed software which should help provide an answer to this question. In addition, the dissertation reflects methods and algorithms developed during the course of the work. Their efficiency has been compared using various models. Using these methods, it is possible to find a compromise between diagnosis time, memory and localisation. Depending on the complexity of the circuit and existing resources, different solutions may be required. The methods found in the Doctoral thesis were also tested on different circuit models.
How to get petroleum from oil shale?
TUT researchers try to obtain more oil from oil shale and extend considerably its sector of use.
Oil shale consists of a mineral part and a valuable organic matter or kerogen. Currently, in the course of the chemical process of pyrolysis, used for the production of oil from oil shale, only 40–45 percent of the organic matter of the local oil shale is converted into oil. “This is far from the actual oil potential of our kukersite oil shale,” has been proved by senior research fellow Hans Luik, the head of the Laboratory of Oil Shale and Renewables Research at the Institute of Polymer Materials in TUT Faculty of Chemical and Materials Technology. “In case of pyrolysis as the only currently existing industrial technology, the greatest problem is the formation of environmentally hazardous semicoke from which high mountains have been heaped up in Estonia.”
As noted by Luik, over 90 percent of kerogen can be used purposefully, that is, to liquefy it two times more. “At present, industrial shale oil yield is approximately one barrel only, but that can be doubled up to two barrels” he points out.
What is petroleum, what all can be produced from it, and the fact that this raw material constantly rises in price is known by everyone who is a bit acquainted with economy. Another question, however, is what shale oil as such is like? It is a very specific undefined product, of marginal importance in the world market. Shale oil is not petroleum-like, mostly a combination of hydrocarbons, but contains also a lot of oxygen, sulphur, or nitrogen containing compounds. In the composition of Estonian shale oil various oxygen compounds are dominating, constituting up to two-thirds of the total oil. Typical of American shale oil are nitrogen compounds. In the pyrolysis of the oil shale from Middle East, sulphur compounds in abundance are formed. The above-mentioned explains why the sector of use of shale oil is very narrowly defined when compared to petroleum. At the same time, however, if one could withdraw the most of oxygen, sulphur, and nitrogen from the shale oil as a result of further processing, we would have a hydrocarbon-rich product, that is, synthetic petroleum.
According to Luik, the aim of the laboratory, led by him, is the development of the fundamentals of future technologies for the maximum liquefaction of oil shale and for the thermochemical conversion of the obtained shale oil into conventional petroleum analogue. As known, natural petroleum has been formed in the course of catagenesis from oil shale during millions of years. “These natural processes can be technogenically copied, improved and carried out in the respective reactors in a couple of hours,” confirms Luik. As the main process of oil shale liquefaction, his laboratory develops a technology based on thermal dissolution, which would ensure a quick formation of thermobitumen as the primary liquid product from kerogen, as well as its separation for further refining. Actually, with this process the mineral and organic part of oil shale would be separated from each other, whereas the mineral part would not represent the environmentally hazardous semicoke but a neutral by-product, proper for further use. Thermobitumen is an intermediate product in synthesis of petroleum and is subjected to hydrogenation in order to remove heteroatoms and replace them with hydrogen. As a final result, we could get petroleum, which, on the one hand, is extremely required and expensive product in the world market, on the other hand, a raw material from which we could produce motor fuels, plastics, fibres and lots of other articles also in Estonia.
TUT electronics specialists are planning unique semiconductor devices
Thomas Johann Seebeck Department of Electronics institute has developed a technology, more efficient than the others, for the purpose of producing contacts to power semiconductors; at the same time, the institute’s researchers are also planning a solid connection of silicon carbide-semiconductor material with a different energy gap width (different polytypes), which is unique in the world.
Semiconductor is a material, one characteristic of which is the outstanding dependence of conductivity on temperature change. The time of hitherto common silicon-based semiconductor devices is about to end. More and more, faster semiconductor devices with a higher temperature handling capability are needed. Losses depend on the speed of the switch: with faster devices one can reduce the energy losses appearing in the course of switching processes. The devices with a better temperature handling capability need also less cooling down — and are therefore much smaller.
In the formation of one type of semiconductor devices, based on gallium arsenide, Tallinn University of Technology is cooperating with the Tartu enterprise Clifton Ltd., which produces such devices. “The liquid-phase epitaxy technology used at Tartu’s plant is sufficiently long known in the world, but the whole process entails some special knacks which only they know and are able to realise,” explains the head of the TUT Thomas Johann Seebeck Department of Electronics, professor Toomas Rang. This has attracted the attention of many big industrial undertakings, for example Telefunken, towards Clifton’s products. TUT researchers try to find out for Clifton the technological and electrophysical parameters influencing these devices’ characteristics, by providing references as to what should be changed so that the devices’ parameters should thereby meet consumers’ wishes and needs significantly better.
Professor Rang still observes that gallium arsenide is nevertheless not the most perspective future material in semiconductor industry. “Today we have this material’s production capability and the product’s price level is also accepted by consumers,” he notes. Still, according to prof. Rang, a better variant would be silicon carbide, which is a material with remarkably better traits when compared to gallium arsenide, but its production is unfortunately more expensive. Mostly, silicon carbide based semiconductor devices are used in light emitting diodes (LED) and one perspective sector of use is, for instance, car industry.
If silicon itself tolerates only up to 150 Celsius degrees temperature rise, then with silicon carbide based semiconductor devices one has made measurements at the TUT around 400–500 Celsius degrees. But the work of silicon carbide-semiconductor devices has been numerically simulated even around thousand degrees, without the devices’ characteristics and parameters becoming unfit for use. Silicon carbide is naturally only found in meteorite impact sites and one is not able to produce from it semiconductor material in Estonia — in fact, they are properly produced by the US enterprise Cree Inc. Though, with reference to the latter, the TUT researchers have their contribution to give.
One of the most important moments in the production of semiconductor devices is the transference of current from crystal into the surrounding electric circuits. In order to do so, the crystal has to be made metal contacts. Usually, evaporation or sputtering technologies are used when contacts are made, the disadvantage of which is the uneven adhering quality in case of large contact surfaces. The latter is especially important in case of producing power semiconductor devices. With reference to power devices, this means that under high temperature metal layers are put on the semiconductor, first to the one side and the second to the other side of the semiconductor wafer. The TUT, however, has developed a far more efficient technology, during which a metal film is put at the same time on the both sides of the semiconductor wafer. This gives a possibility to produce novel high-voltage power electronic devices, which cannot be produced in any other way, like semiconductor stacks, consisting of several p–n junction (one-way conductivity area) layers. The more one connects p–n junctions consecutively and switches them to reverse voltage, the larger reverse voltage drop one can control with this device.
Another idea, however, is to create a unique special transition, uniting the two silicon carbide polytypes by using solid connection technology, which is commanded by the Thomas Johann Seebeck Department of Electronics. By uniting different semiconductor materials, semiconductor heterojunctions are formed, which have very specific electric characteristics and parameters. The use of such heterojunctions in semiconductor devices allows to significantly improving the electrical and optical characteristics of the devices. For instance, semiconductor lasers are based mostly on such heterojunctions.
But the connecting of several semiconductor materials also entails problems. Due to the differences of thermal expansion factors, mechanical voltages appear easily in transition areas and break the formed semiconductor devices. In case of silicon carbide, the thermal expansion factors of several polytypes do not differ considerably. The US space agency NASA has once already proved the possibility of such solution by connecting silicon carbide polytypes 3C and 6H into a new polytypical heterojunction. But this remained unfortunately the sole experiment. Professor Rang’s research group is planning to create in the nearest future a different heterojunction by connecting silicon carbide polytypes 3C and 4H. The result to be achieved should pass, for example, in the applications of specific MOS devices, in order to create highly sensitive ultraviolet radiation sensors or high-speed semiconductor switches for the purpose of energy transducers.
Other Substances Should be Considered while Cleaning the Environment with Apatite
A doctoral thesis, defended at TUT, indicates that it would be unfeasible to use apatite for cleaning metals out of soil containing EDTA, or ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid.
The research at the Laboratory of Inorganic Materials of the Faculty of Chemical and Materials Technology at TUT mainly focuses on matters related to oil shale ash. However, there is also a three-member research team for studying the apatite mineral group that containsmainly calcium and phosphorus. Apatite occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust; it is also part of human bones and teeth.
As apatite is able to bind toxic metals into its structure, this widely used mineral is also utilised for cleaning the natural environment. For example, the mineral can be mixed into contaminated soil or a barrier can be created on a river to stop harmful elements. In nature, however, the metal binding process is influenced by complexing agents compounds that can associate ions or molecules. The impact of complexants, namely EDTA and humic substances, i.e., polymers created as a result of humification of plant or animal remains, on binding zinc and cadmium ions to hydroxyapatite and fluorapatite was the subject of the doctoral thesis by Karin Viipsi, an engineer at the Laboratory of Inorganic Materials.
The statement in the title may seem self-evident; however, there has been no established knowledge in this field, at least not with regard to apatite. “There have been very few previous studies,” said Viipsi. Her research showed that humic substances do not influence the binding of metallic ions. However, EDTA significantly hinders metal binding, since it forms a complex with metals. Hence the conclusion – if EDTA that is used in fertilizers and detergents, for example, has gotten into soil, it would be unfeasible to use apatite for cleaning the affected area.
The second part of the doctoral thesis, supervised by Kaia Tõnsuaadu, Senior Research Scientist at the same laboratory, dealt with process modelling to explain how metal is bound to apatite. In collaboration with Umeå University (Sweden), the research was carried out with an X-ray photoelectron spectroscope and the results were used for compiling a model. “Innovative and extremely important,” was Viipsi’s assessment of the results. It appeared that metals are bound to apatite through ion exchange on the surface of the mineral. As a result, a new metal-containing layer is formed on the mineral surface. The model can be used to predict the optimum conditions of processes related to apatite.
Karin Viipsi doctoral thesis: "Impact of EDTA and Humic Substances on the Removal of Cd and Zn from Aqueous Solutions by Apatite."
Smaller molecules are restricted more than larger ones in cardiac muscle cells
A doctoral dissertation recently defended at Tallinn University of Technology confirms a paradoxical observation – smaller molecules decelerate in myocytes at a higher rate than larger ones.
It would probably be rather difficult for most people to see a connection between lab mice and the Institute of Cybernetics at TUT. Nevertheless, the basement of the Institute includes a room where these small animals help to improve our knowledge of cardiac mechanisms. The Laboratory of Systems Biology also performs tests on rats and fishes, as they all have different cell structures. The research at the Laboratory is focused particularly on heart cells, using both animals and mathematical models.
Mitochondria produce ATP molecules, which store chemical energy for conversion into mechanical energy in muscle cells. The oxygen inhaled by us is, in fact, used for the production of ATP. However, some diseases cause a change in the movement or, more specifically, diffusion of ATP molecules – it is restricted in healthy cells and facilitated in diseased cells, interfering with proper cell function. That is why the movement of ATP molecules interests scientists.
The doctoral dissertation defended in February by Ardo Illaste, lab engineer at the Laboratory of Systems Biology, confirms the paradox that the movement of smaller ATP molecules in cells is restricted more than that of larger ones. While certain small molecules normally move four times faster than large ones, this difference drops to 1.7 inside the cell. “I could not say that the problem is now solved,” said Illaste himself modestly. “We do not know yet, what type of obstacle we are dealing with. Hopefully, we will discover this in the future. Now that would be something.”
In total, the Laboratory has 17 researchers, including 8 doctoral students. Some have a background in gene technology, others in technical physics. The latter group, including Illaste, is also working on mathematical modelling. The Laboratory has a couple of hundred processors available for modelling. “Mathematical methods provide us with additional information, which could go unnoticed during laboratory tests,” explained Illaste. In his doctoral research, supervised by Marko Vendelin, Illaste also applied mathematics by creating a model of barriers, approximating cell structure, that affect the movement of molecules.
The microscopes used in laboratory tests have been designed by the researchers at the Laboratory, as there was no suitable solution on the market. Similarly, they wrote the software for the equipment.
The Laboratory of Systems Biology has a five-year research plan. In 2007, the Laboratory received a five-year grant from British Wellcome Trust Fellowship. An application for a follow-up grant has been submitted and, according to Illaste, initial feedback has been positive. It would be difficult for the Laboratory to survive using only financing from Estonia.
Ardo Illaste : Analysis of Molecular Movements in Cardiac Myocytes
The springs of shale gas, or the new petroleum
“We just postponed the energy crisis by 100 years,” so say hundreds of shale gas producers in the U.S., who like to use resounding descriptions like ‘game changer’ or ‘paradigm change’ when referring to their new product. They are talking about going to the very source of petroleum in fossil fuel extraction, i.e., extracting shale gas at a depth of two or three kilometres. Shale gas is already replacing previous natural gas sources in the U.S. and the volume of estimated reserves is increasing worldwide.
Shale gas is gas trapped in pore spaces of shale. Shale is a source rock for natural gas and petroleum. Shale gas is produced if shale has been sufficiently heated by geological processes and natural gas and/or petroleum has been released from shale. Shale gas is known as an unconventional mineral resource. Shale was previously not considered as a globally important source of gas. However, after successful industrial implementation of hydraulic fracturing in horizontal wells in the past three years, shale gas and shale as its source rock is now regarded as an unconventional mineral resource. Without fracturing, shale has very poor water and gas permeability, which prevents the gas in its pores from being released. “If this method spreads all over the world, shale gas will become a conventional, ordinary mineral resource,” writes Ingo Valgma, Director of the Department of Mining at TUT, in the magazine Inseneeria.
As a result of shale gas rush, which could even be compared to the Gold Rush, the U.S. have now discontinued natural gas imports from Canada and are becoming exporters of both the gas itself and the technology of shale gas extraction. While petroleum prices are increasing, the price of gas has decreased by five times in the U.S. in the past three years.
Shale gas exploration
Shale gas exploration is carried out in three stages. 1. Drilling of wells and well cores. Examination of mineralogical composition and other properties relevant for shale gas, and generation of an initial geological model to locate ‘sweet spots’. 2. A seismic survey of a presumable sweet sport area and a 3D model of propagation of seismic waves. 3. Drilling of a well in the sweet spot to study rock properties with loggers and, if results are favourable, initial attempts at shale fractioning. If this results in a release of gas, the location can be confirmed as a source of shale gas.
A seismic survey consists of generation of sound waves, either on surface or in a bore well, and measurement of the speed of wave reflection. As waves are measured and generated in several locations, this results in a spatial model of the earth’s subsurface enabling to identify the position of shale layer. Loggers, or recording sensors, are used to probe the bore well and to record desired indicators at each depth level. The results, together with an analysis of well core and the seismic model, are used to calibrate the parameters of shale deposits. The extent of gamma radiation, indicative of uranium content, is an excellent shale indicator.
Kerogen decomposition fractures
The pore content of clay, minerals and gas is determined in well core and bore well. A low clay minerals content in shale means easier drilling and hydraulic fractioning, as the rock is brittle and will not expand on contact with water. Otherwise, the drill bit may get stuck in the well and pores can close due to plasticity of clay. In this case, gas is not released from shale. Ultrasound is used to survey the tension and fractures in bore well rocks. This aids in positioning of horizontal bore wells to maximise the open surface area for release of gas from shale pores.
The share of pores in potentially gas-containing rocks is 4-10%. Shale pores are the result of disintegration of kerogen, i.e., organic substance, in shale over a long period of time under the influence of heat and pressure. Methane released from kerogen is partially trapped in pores and fractures. Drilling of a vertical well takes approximately seven days, while a horizontal well is drilled in three or four weeks.
Surprising deep-sea trilobite fossil found in Estonia
A rare fossil was found on the Estonian shore. The mineralised cast of a trilobite, a marine animal that lived 460 million years ago, indicates that the rising sea level brought deep-sea fauna into this area. As reported by the TV news programme Aktuaalne Kaamera, the trilobite was found by Adrian Popp, a graduate of Hannover University, who was doing his doctoral research at the Institute of Geology of the Tallinn University of Technology.
Adrian Popp and Helje Pärnaste, Senior Researcher at the Institute of Geology of TUT, were out doing fieldwork. To the surprise of both scientists, the German found the trilobite, which had never been discovered in Estonia before.
Pärnaste explained that the trilobite once swam in deep water close to seabed, not near the shoreline. “The fact that it was swimming can be seen from its very large eyes around the head, enabling it to see in all directions, and a small body,” said Pärnaste.
After preparation of the fossil, it turned out that this type of trilobite had previously only been discovered in deep-sea sediments. The species did not live close to our shoreline.
“We can conclude that our rich oil shale fauna can be tied to a global sea level rise that, immediately before the formation of oil shale, brought ashore types of fauna that previously had not existed here,” explained Pärnaste.
A large wave of diversification occurred immediately before the formation of our oil shale. The general rise in sea level caused migration of marine biota from other regions and from the deeper areas of the Baltic basin closer to shore.