PhD prizes conferred for the 21th time
By Filip Graugaard Esmarch
AUFF’s talent prizes recognise newly minted PhD graduates whose work in their fields and their presentation of it has received extraordinary recognition. Each prize-winner receives a cash award of 50,000 kroner in recognition of their achievements.
Once again, the faculties at AU have recommended a number of PhDs for the AUFF talent prize. Together, the University and Research Foundation have chosen five researchers who have each made an exceptional scientific contribution.
This year, the prize goes to a scholar of the didactics of mathematics, a microbiologist, a molecular biologist, an operations and data analyst and a doctor. They have each contributed new knowledge on the use of digital teaching resources, glacial algae, the immune system, waste management and patients suffering from Turner Syndrome, respectively.
DIGITAL TEACHING RESOURCES SHOULD BE USED WITH CARE
DIDACTICS OF MATHEMATICS
What happens to students’ mathematical communication skills when you use digital tools in your teaching? It is an important question to ask, not least considering the advent of digital tools and recent shift in focus in the didactics of mathematics from mastering to possessing skills.
Cecilie Carlsen Bach holds a PhD from the Danish School of Education, and she has studied this development focussing on the popular dynamic geometry application GeoGebra. In the six articles of her thesis, she explores the problems and potentials of using this type of application. In her research, she draws on the Networking of Theories and design studies:
“My project draws connections between theoretical perspectives on the use of digital technology and theoretical perspectives on mathematics communication. I used design studies and observed eight- and ninth-form students as they used GeoGebra and communicated in pairs,” she says.
Her overall conclusion is that the way students use their mathematical communication skills in situations involving GeoGebra largely depends on the circumstances.
“A main challenge is the fact that students focus on the digital tool and thus fail to use their communication skills. However, if used correctly, the tool can help students not only use their communication skills, but also to strengthen them,” says Cecilie Carlsen Bach.
Today, she is a postdoctoral scholar with the Danish School of Education, where she continues her research.
Hear more and meet Cecilie in the podcast series "De unge forskere"
NEW METHODS OF ANALYSIS MAY IMPROVE WASTE MANAGEMENT
OPERATIONS AND DATA ANALYSIS
Various factors influence modern-day waste management and recycling. And decisions are made at various levels – strategic, tactical and operational – which makes optimisation difficult.
At the Department of Economics, PhD Maximiliano Cubillos has demonstrated that a combination of two research disciplines – operations analysis and data analysis – can make a difference. The first focusses on solving management issues by drawing on mathematical and statistical methods.
“When it comes to optimising waste management, operations analysis can help us identify models for i.a. successfully reducing costs and improving services. In one of my studies, I provide an algorithm that can help us choose the right location for waste containers and plan collection routes,” Maximi¬liano Cubillos says.
He also draws on advanced data analysis tools for analysing data on the weekly weighing of household waste in Herning Municipality over a period of eight years.
“Here I use a new method that enables me to predict the amount of waste produced at household level. It turns out that combining the method with a machine learning algorithm will significantly improve projections.”
Maximiliano Cubillos’ thesis consists of seven articles, five of which have been published. The young Chilean researcher continues his research in logistics optimisation as a postdoctoral fellow with the Politecnico di Milano, Italy.
Hear more and meet Maximiliano in the podcast series "De unge forskere"
CHROMOSOMAL ABNORMALITIES AFFECT THE ENTIRE GENOME
GENETICS AND EPIDEMIOLOGY
One of the most common chromosomal disorders is Turner Syndrome, where one of the X chromosomes is missing or partially missing. According to Doctor, PhD Mette Viuff, studying the underlying genetic mechanisms may improve our ability to prevent diseases associated with Turner Syndrome.
“Very little research has looked into how a missing X chromosome actually affects the body and leads to illness. We wanted to change that. We studied fatty tissue, muscle tissue and blood from women with Turner Syndrome, and we were surprised to learn that the cause of disease is not simply the missing genes on the X chromosome,” she says.
The missing X chromosome also appears to affect the remaining chromosomes and the way the genes are read. This is a ground-breaking discovery, which attracted international attention.
“The general view used to be that the condition is the result of the missing gene. We have shown that it is not that simple. Various mechanisms come into play here,” Mette Viuff concludes.
As part of her PhD project, Mette Viuff conducted epidemiological studies, which also led to important findings. Patients with Turner Syndrome are typically treated with oestrogen for the rest of their lives, even though this is known to increase the risk of breast cancer and blood clots. Mette Viuff has shown that in Turner patients, the hormone only has a beneficial effect.
Today, she works as an obstetrician in Aarhus and contributes to a new research project on Turner Syndrome in her spare time.
Hear more and meet Mette in the podcast series "De unge forskere"
DETAILED KNOWLEDGE OF IMMUNE SYSTEM PATHWAYS
According to Louise Marie Dalskov Kjerulff, who holds a PhD in molecular biology, the immune system is the most complex system in the human body. Scientists are still unable to account for all of its mechanisms. But Louise Marie Dalskov Kjerulff’s basic research has increased our understanding of how the body recognises infections and how this leads to a targeted immune system response.
“I studied specific mechanistic aspects of some of the proteins in the immune system. How do they pass on the signal resulting in the production of interferon molecules? Because without them, there is no way to warn the surrounding cells of the infection and ultimately start the production of antibodies,” explains Louise Marie Dalskov Kjerulff.
Having provided significant new knowledge about these pathways, she managed to establish an innovative clinical trial protocol together with Aarhus University Hospital.
“It describes ways to purify primary immune cells directly from the patient and subsequently treat them to make sure they survive and may be used for research purposes,” she says.
Her research team used the protocol to describe corona virus’ interaction with the immune system of the lungs. However, to molecular biologists, the protocol is widely applicable, as it may help answer a range of questions.
After completing her PhD project, Louise Marie Dalskov Kjerulff briefly held a position as a postdoctoral fellow before exchanging research for communication as a member of staff at the AU Public Natural Science Lectures.
Hear more and meet Louise in the podcast series "De unge forskere"
GLACIAL ALGAE MAY ACCELERATE THE MELTING OF THE GREENLAND ICE SHEET
Especially in West Greenland, the colour of the ice sheet has begun to change; the new, darker colour means that the ice is melting faster than usual. The same phenomenon is seen at glaciers in other parts of the world, and it is the result of i.a. microalgae, which have adapted to the glacial environment. As a PhD scholar with the Department of Environmental Science, Aarhus University, in Roskilde, arctic microbiologist Laura Halbach studied the glacial algae of which little was known at the time.
“We did not know to which extent their growth was limited by the extremely nutrient-poor environment on the ice. And no one had studied their ability to absorb nutrients or the role of their pigments in light absorption,” she explains.
Today, Laura Halbach has filled this gap. As a PhD student, she conducted field studies and i.a. examined algae samples using a secondary ion mass spectrometer – a sophisticated technique which enables the study of algae at single-cell level. Previously, no one had used the technique in this field, but it enabled Laura Halbach to perform measurements revealing that glacial algae require very few nutrients.
“These are significant findings. These algae’s ability to effectively absorb and store nutrients suggests that they – aided by global warming – will be able to colonise more ice in the future and thus potentially accelerate the melting of the ice sheet,” says Laura Halbach.
Today, she continues her work as a postdoctoral researcher. She is currently rewriting articles from her thesis and adding more findings before publication.
Hear more and meet Laura in the podcast series "De unge forskere"