Funded Projects 2016

Selected projects

A new Detector Concept for Dark Matter Searches

Project leader: Jochen Schieck (Institute of High Energy Physics)

Many different observations indicate the existence of a new form of matter, which is invisible, so-called dark matter. Dark matter is consistently being observed as being five times more prominent than ordinary visible matter. Up to now the most compelling explanation for dark matter is given by the existence of a new unobserved elementary particle. Detectors made of silicon have the potential to observe scattering processes with very light dark matter particles. Within this project a dedicated silicon based detector will be used, with a very low noise behaviour, a DEPFET-RNDR. Up to now, this detector type has only been used for other applications and here it will be adapted for the search of dark matter. The aim is to understand the full potential of this detector type for dark matter searches and to perform a first search.

A new Approach for Golden Treasures. Innovative Analyses in Archaeometry

Project leader: Barbara Horejs (Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology) and Ernst Pernicka (University of Heidelberg)

The appearance of metal hoards with gold objects in the Bronze Age of southeastern Europe and Anatolia marks the beginning of the development of social elites and state formation. However, it is traditionally difficult to analyze archaeological gold objects, especially, if sample material is required. In the framework of this project it is planned to develop an innovative, brand new and easily transportable device to take non-destructive gold samples for provenance analyses based on laser technology, both from newly excavated sites as well as from prestigious museum collections all over the world. The occurrence of gold treasures can be seen as a marker for the emergence of social elites leading to the formation of complex societies. In a unique collaboration between natural sciences and humanities two high class research institutions, whose directors have been awarded with ERC grants (OREA and the University of Heidelberg, Department of Geosciences), and which have never before collaborated in this area of research will work together. The proposed portable sampling unit and the sampling methodology developed will not only be of importance for this pilot project but for other related disciplines in future as well.

Tracing 3000 years of disease history - In search of evidence of malaria in bone and dental samples from northern Africa, the Mediterranean, and Central Europe using innovative technologies and an interdisciplinary approach

Project leader: Michaela Binder (Austrian Archaeological Institute)

Although malaria remains a major public health threat throughout large parts of the world, its origins and spread as well as its impact on ancient civilizations remain poorly understood. Human malaria is caused by four (more recently five or six) species of malaria parasites of the genus Plasmodium. P. falciparum, P. vivax, and P. malariae have been known to be endemic in Europe and the northern Mediterranean throughout the last centuries, even though only P. falciparum causes malignant, potentially lethal malaria. The question of when P. falciparum spread to the northern Mediterranean remains highly controversial even though it is frequently associated with the decline of the Mediterranean civilizations in late antiquity. However, there is little physical evidence to support this assumption because despite significant methodological and technological advances in the identification of ancient pathogens in human remains, malaria still escapes detection.
This project aims at establishing an innovative approach to analyzing bone and dental samples from archaeological human remains for the presence of malaria through an interdisciplinary study team led by bioarchaeologist Michaela Binder at the Bioarchaeology Research Group at the Austrian Archaeological Institute/Austrian Academy of Sciences in cooperation with the Medical University of Vienna. Comprising specialists in archaeology, anthropology, history and human malariology, the following research strands will be pursued:

1.)    Bioarchaeological examination of skeletal human remains from archaeological sites in areas potentially endemic for Malaria
2.)    Development of biomolecular research protocols to detect DNA of the malaria parasite in bone and dental samples
3.)    Application of immunodiagnostic tools to detect smallest quantities of malaria antigens and for the quantification of malaria biomass.
4.)    Analysis of historic medical sources including a systematic search in both edited and unedited to provide sound historical contextualization of the results.

Infectious diseases such as malaria can safely be assumed to represent a key parameter of life in the past, affecting settlement patterns, triggering migrations and leading to growth or decline of populations. Thus, eluciating their distribution and epidemiology in the past is a crucial element in any attempt to comprehensively reconstructing human history and understanding the processes and dynamics that led to the formation of human societies both past and present. Moreover, human skeletal remains allow for long term perspectives on population trends and movements, transmission of diseases or adaptation to climate, which are not only relevant for historians or archaeologists but also to modern clinical and epidemiological research. Elucidating the evolutionary processes that shaped both pathogens as well as human response to these agents is crucial for understanding, but also for finding ways to cure diseases affecting us today. Archaeological human remains are a key resource for any such attempts. Integrated with data about the environmental, cultural and social background of the population under study, they can allow for important insights into the evolution of host-pathogen-relationships, origins of genetic variability and risk factors associated with many modern diseases. Consecutively, finding new ways to elucidate the yet unknown genomic and epidemiological history of Malaria will represent a major step towards better understanding and possibly finding new ways to tackle what still represents one of the deadliest infectious diseases world-wide.

Leaving – Persevering – Arriving. A transdisciplinary survey of the recent situation of refugees in Austria

Project leader: Josef Kohlbacher (Institute for Urban and Regional Research) and Maria Six-Hohenbalken (Institute for Social Anthropology) 

The project will be carried out by the Austrian Academy of Sciences’ “Network for Refugee Outreach and Research” (ROR-n) and intends to make an important contribution to objective public discourse about refugees based on scientific data. A transdisciplinary perspective will be ensured by the cooperation of experts from social and cultural anthropology, migration research, political science and Iranian studies.
Social network theories and theories of ethnicity are the most important theoretical approaches. Practically oriented, the project aims to develop policy recommendations in the form of feasible good-practice measures for stakeholders and proposals for sustainable solutions in various spheres of integration. Furthermore, the results of this project will be incorporated into a panel study covering an investigation period of more than five years.

In terms of methodology, 135 partially structured narrative biographical interviews with respondents from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are planned. These will be carried out by native speakers in Kurdish (Sorani, Badini), Syrian and Iraqi Arabic, Pashto and Farsi-Dari. Forty respondents will be interviewed a second time within the duration of the project. For a systematic analysis and comparison of the relevance of the spatial context on the integration paths of the refugees, data acquisition will take place in Vienna as well as in smaller Austrian communities. Focus group discussions and a sample of expert interviews are planned to further supplement the data pool, to check the results and derive perspectives of action. Thus, political and administrative representatives, religious authorities, stakeholders, social-workers, and representatives of NGOs and migrant associations etc. will also be involved.

Further key aims include the compilation of a unique Austrian data pool, initialising mutual learning processes and fostering scientific exchange and co-operation with institutions in countries with a longer tradition of refugee immigration, such as Germany and Sweden on the one side and Austria’s Eastern European neighbouring countries (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary) on the other side. The distinguishing innovative feature of this project lies in its transdisciplinary nature and in the close interdependencies between research oriented and practical goals. This should lead to results that relevant to the social sciences, stakeholders, political decision-makers and refugees.

Y-chromosomal haplotypes in prehistoric horses to elucidate domestication, early human land settlement, migration waves and warlike operations

Project leader: Gottfried Brem (Host institution: Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology)

The history of humanity is inseparable linked to the horse. The utilization of horses revolutionized transport facilities and warfare. The migration of ancient human tribes lead to the dispersal of horses from Eurasia to Europe interconnected with the spread of cultural signs and language. Since early domestication, stallions have a particular impact regarding representativeness and breeding value. Variable genetic markers on the male specific Y-chromosome enable us the genetic reconstruction of these stallions’ genealogies. We perform high throughput sequencing technologies to identify present and ancient horse Y-chromosomal haplotypes and link horse genealogies to human history to unravel anthropological questions.

Materiality and material culture in Tibet

Project leader: Christian Jahoda (Institute for Social Anthropology)

The geographic and linguistic-cultural focus of the project is past and present-day Tibet. The three main topics are

1) materiality and material culture in early imperial Tibet,
2) materiality and material culture in Buddhist architecture and art and
3) concepts and practices related to materiality and material culture. Social anthropological, art historical, architectural and Tibetological research is combined with materials-related assessments.

Small Cell Collider: Dissecting the regulatory impact of physical interactions between single immune cells

Project leader: Matthias Farlik-Födinger (CeMM - Research Center for Molecular Medicine GmbH)

Communication between cells can be indirect through the secretion of cytokines and hormones or direct through surface-receptor mediated interactions between neighboring cells. Most notably, cells of the immune system depend on physical interactions with other immune and non-immune cells.
Here we propose a novel technology and initial biological applications for comprehensively dissecting physical interactions between single cells. We establish a workflow for bringing individual immune cells into physical contact in a defined order of events and analyze the regulatory mechanisms by single-cell transcriptome mapping.

Quellmassen der Gravitation im Quantenregime

Project leader: Markus Aspelmeyer (University of Vienna) and Časlav Brukner (Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information Vienna)

This pathfinder project aims to establish the exploration of the interface between quantum physics and gravity as a new direction of research at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. It combines theory research on quantum information at the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information IQOQI Vienna of the Austrian Academy of Sciences with experimental research on quantum optomechanics at the Faculty of Physics of the University of Vienna. During the 2-year period the project will support work on establishing a theoretical basis for the hitherto unexplored quantum regime of gravitational source masses, together with the buildup of a first proof-of-concept experiment demonstrating the gravitational interaction between microscopic source masses.


Dr. Alexander Nagler
Support Science and Research
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