Innovation Fund Research: Funded Projects 2017

In-situ atomic resolution study of functional oxide based nanomaterials

Principal investigator: Dr. Zaoli Zhang (Erich Schmid Institute of Materials Science, ESI)

The project focused on the development of a new methodology for the study of the physical and chemical properties of the oxide based nano-devices during its operation condition at atomic level by advanced aberration corrected transmission electron microscopy. Such studies are crucial for wide area of applications, including transparent electronics, optoelectronics, magnetoelectronics, photonics, spintronics, thermoelectrics, piezoelectrics, power harvesting, hydrogen storage and environmental waste management. In particular the developed approach will be applied to study the Metal-Insulator Transition (MIT) in Vanadium dioxide (VO2) at the atomic resolution. It is typical correlated-electron material and has received significant attention as a result of its abruptly discontinuous MIT close to the room temperature. Understanding the nature of MIT in correlated materials remains challenging due to the lack of a bridge between atomic and electronic kinetics as well as atomic resolution in-situ real time observations during the MIT process. The proposed new methodology of in-situ atomic resolution investigation of the kinetic process of the monoclinic-to-tetragonal phase evolution would clarify the interplay between atomic and electronic structure changes of the whole VO2 MIT process, and solve this long-standing scientific issue.

Reading the Asian Monsoon Record

Principal investigator: Prof. Christoph Spötl (Full member, University of Innsbruck, Commission for Geosciences)

The Asian monsoon is one of the largest atmospheric flow systems on Earth affecting the livelihood of hundreds of millions of people. Intensive research has revealed evidence of major and commonly abrupt changes in the strength of the system during the most recent geological history. This groundbreaking evidence is largely based on precisely dated speleothem (cave) records. Although this monsoon archive now extends back 640,000 years without gaps, the key proxy parameter, the oxygen isotope composition of speleothem calcite, remains incompletely understood, greatly limiting its use a quantifiably monsoon proxy. Here we propose a threefold approach to tackle this long-standing research question by combining innovative laboratory techniques including: stable isotope analyses of fluid inclusions; microthermometry of fluid inclusions, and, precise determinations of 17Oexcess of the calcite. Although this research involves substantial risks as it enters unchartered territory it holds the prospect of paving the way towards disentangling the atmospheric precipitation and the local temperature effects and will provide temperature and humidity records across intervals of major climate changes. These analyses, carried out along the main flow path of the Asian monsoon from northern India to Southeast China will eventually also yield important new constraints for the next generation of isotope-enabled general circulation models.

Towards extra-terrestrial habitats (TETH)

Principal investigator: Dr. Luca Fossati (Space Research Institute, SRI)

The discovery and characterisation of extra-solar planets (exoplanets) is bringing us closer and closer to the answer to “Are we alone in the universe?” Just a handful of low-mass planets orbiting in the habitable zone  of solar-like stars have been found so far, but the next few years will see the start of a number of major facilities aiming at the systematic search of Earth-like planets orbiting solar-like stars. Some of these planets will orbit stars close enough to allow atmospheric characterisation, including the possible detection of biosignature gases, that is compounds indicative of the existence of life on the planetary surface. Formation and evolution studies of Earth's atmosphere reveal that an Earth-like atmosphere and habitat is characterised by a Nitrogen-dominated atmosphere and that it could be detected by measuring the relative atmospheric abundances of Nitrogen, Oxygen, Carbon, and Hydrogen. However, Nitrogen, which is the main fingerprint of an Earth-like habitat, is extremely difficult to detect and it may be possible only in the ultraviolet, which is a wavelength range that has not yet been studied in relation to low-mass exoplanets. We will produce simulated spectra of possible habitable planets placed under different conditions to study the detectability of Earth-like habitats with future space- and ground-based facilities.

Development of a compact sub-Kelvin detector system for nuclear forensics and nuclear accountancy applications

Principal investigator: Dr. Ken Suzuki (Stefan-Meyer-Institute for Subatomic Physics, SMI)

The Stefan Meyer Institute has successfully built1 a compact, easily portable, cost-effective, dry sub-Kelvin cryostat as a platform for cryogenic superconducting detectors. The detectors have an unprecedented energy resolution of a few eV resolution for 10 keV x-rays. For comparison, this is ten-times better than other state-of-art detectors. The superconducting detectors also have a much lower noise floor and do not generate false positives allowing the analysis of very dilute emitting material. The goal is now to combine the novel superconducting detectors with the recently developed cryogenic infrastructure at SMI to build a high-resolution x- and γ- ray spectrometer.

The project at the SMI will develop the spectrometer to address nuclear safety issues including forensics and accountability for international nuclear non-proliferation treaties. For example, a quantitative assessment of a uranium enrichment is usually done either chemically or with Germanium-based γ-spectroscopy, both suffer from major disadvantages. The SMI system has significant potential for use in the field of verification of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

The system at the SMI was originally intended to be used for the spectroscopy of exotic atoms2 by measuring the energies of x-rays emitted from kaonic atoms. During the development it became apparent that the remarkable properties of the cryogenic detectors in question could be put to effective use outside the original physics use-case.

1 EUREKA Eurostars2 CoD 1: 8882
2 Exotic atom is comprised of at least one unusual constituent (π–, K–, p̅) than a normal atom (e– and nucleus)

Railway vibrations from tunnels

Principal investigator: Prof. Holger Waubke (Acoustics Research Institute, ARI)

Railway traffic in tunnels avoids any annoyance by acoustic emissions in the surrounding. Still vibrations occur that propagate through the soil and are perceived in buildings near the tunnel directly or indirectly as secondary airborne noise. In the past many measures are developed to reduce the vibrations level. The main problems are that the costs of those measures increase with efficiency and that the most effective measure, the floating slab, has to be planned before the tunnel is build, because it has an influence on design and dimension of the tunnel. Therefore, precise prediction tools are needed for an effective usage of shielding measures. Up to now, simple models are used for the prediction of vibrations in the soil and at the surface caused by railway vibrations that lead to large differences of up to 10 dB between prediction and measurement. The aim of this project is to improve the situation using more detailed models based on mechanics. The soil is implemented as a horizontally layered medium. An appropriate method to take the infinite extension of the soil into account is the application of the boundary element method. The tunnel shell and the superstructure has to be modelled using finite element method. To reduce the numerical efforts it is assumed that the tunnel is straight and has a constant shape. This allows the application of the 2.5D method. The 2.5D model also allows including velocity of high-speed trains in the numerical model.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace: Computational Modelling in Policy Advice

Principal investigator: Dr. Anja Bauer (Institute of Technology Assessment, ITA)

Computational modelling has gained increasing relevance for supporting political and societal decision-making on a range of complex and controversial questions. However, the proliferation of computational modelling in policy advice is hardly acknowledged and reflected upon in public and scholarly debates on scientific policy advice. The project strives to open the ‘black box’ of modelling in policy advice and to provide empirical insights into computer modelling and simulations as epistemic and political instruments and practices.

The project provides a systematic overview over the epistemic characteristics of computational modelling and simulations in different policy areas. The main modelling approaches are identified and classified along their methodological approach, scale, scope, disciplinary and institutional configurations as well as their linking to specific policy issues.

Beyond the systematic overview, the project strives for a profound understanding of how computational models and simulations are used in advisory contexts in different policy areas. Against the background of recent assaults on the authority of science the project particularly asks how credibility and legitimacy claims are ensured in the interaction and communication between scientists and political as well as societal stakeholders.

The project provides empirical insights into the inner world of modelling and simulation; it reveals how scientific evidence is produced and legitimacy maintained and how the exceptional position of scientific knowledge can be justified in the digital age.

Linked Cat+. Explore half a century of knowledge production at the Academy

Principal investigator: Dr. Sibylle Wentker (BAS:IS Library, Archive, Collections: Information & Service)

The Austrian Academy of Sciences (OeAW) was established in 1847 as a learned society. As such the OeAW has been an important forum for the production and communication of scholarly knowledge for over 150 years. The meetings of the two major divisions, mathematics & natural sciences and humanities & the social sciences, took place in Vienna with scholars presenting their findings either at the academy or by correspondence, including numerous events that shaped the history of science. We will be focusing on the written outcome of the meetings: the proceedings (Sitzungsberichte), dating back to 1848. The main objective of this project is to bring the first half century of this unique forum to life, by making the communication within this forum accessible, discoverable and reusable. Our three pillars are: open, linked and visual. This project will not only provide bibliographic catalogue data as linked open data, but also allow for feature-rich visual exploration of this data. “Linked Cat+” complements two current projects “PAAS” and “APIS”. By linking these two resources to the metadata of the proceedings, we will create a complex and coherent knowledge network. Overall objective of this project is to deliver the proceedings of the OeAW together with bibliographic information and additional semantic enrichments as feature-rich digital open-access resources for scholars, student and interested public.

Unfolding the Woldan Collection -A data model and prototype for dissemination and visualization of cultural heritage in a spatial-temporal way

Principal investigator: Andreas Krexhammer (Library, Archive, Collections: Information & Service)

GIS (geoinformationsystems) or GIScience, their instruments and methods of study, data structures and computational techniques for capturing, representing, processing, and analyzing geographic information have been well established in geography for decades. More and more disciplines like humanities and history recognize the advantages of this spatial approach. The benefit is simple; GIS makes information mappable and users can discover relationships that make a complex world more immediately understandable by visually detecting spatial patterns that remain hidden in text and tables. New methods and technologies in geoprocessing and localization enable scholars to transfer historical sources and individual content of these sources into geodata. This also opens up the possibility of transferring a cultural heritage collection – like the Woldan Collection - into geodata, with all the benefits of GIS. Furthermore, it allows such a collection to be investigated in a spatial-temporal way and on a very detailed and specific level. Quite simply, it makes information accessible that wasn`t visible before. The project aims to create a complete data model and to evaluate tools and methods in order to transfer historical sources into geodata. This data will be presented and disseminated through a geodata-portal, which enables the user to research any historical source through time and space. The success of this project will be manifested in a prototype capable of telling two very different map stories based on the geodata we gained from the historical sources. On one hand, it will involve the story of the first Dutch expedition to East India (1595-1597) made by Cornelius Houtman – the  Woldan Collection holds some rare and valuable material on this expedition. On the other hand, we want to map the history of rail transport in Austria (1824-1918) and the Austrian empire, using the collection’s comprehensive stock of maps, literature and pictorial material pertaining to this subject.

Visualizing the unknown Balkans

Principal investigators: Prof. Barbara Horejs (Corresponding member, Dr. Mario Gavranović (Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology, OREA)

The aim of this project is to take an innovative and explorative approach to understanding of the past in the Balkans by assembling the results of cross-border and diachronic archaeological research with the use of responsive, wide-ranging visualization tools. With his turbulent history, unique geographical and ethnical diversity and intermediary position between Central Europe and Mediterranean, the eclectic region of the Balkans represents a true challenge for comprehensive humanistic studies aiming to provide an extensive and holistic view. The basis for the feasibility of the project are the research actions and cooperation’s of the OREA Institute as one of the very few archeological institutions worldwide with a strong focus on the prehistory of the Balkan Peninsula. The digital reconstruction of sites and ancient landscapes will combine the results of the achieved archeological work and employ new datasets from geophysical prospections, field surveys and mapping (GIS) in cross-cultural and diachronic perspective. The interdisciplinary actions will generate large amounts of new and essentially missing data that will uniquely incorporate archaeology, geoscience, cartography and digital visual media. Altogether 5 key areas are selected representing the broad chronological and cultural framework to reach our aims:1.    First farmers and herders in Leskovac region2.    Bubanj and the rising of Copper Age central places3.    Bronze Age Metallurgy in East Serbia4.    Late Bronze Age communities in Bosnia5.    Prehistoric Burial TumuliWebsite

Migration as an Artefact of Scholarly Thought. An Inquiry into Pre-Modern and Early Modern Precursors of Migration Theory

Principal investigator: Prof. Walter Pohl (Full member, Institute for Medieval Research, IMAFO)

Migration and its consequences belong to the most relevant societal challenges that present-day policy makers and social scientists have to face. However, reflecting on migration is not the prerogative of modernity: If we assume that man, as homo migrans, has always migrated, we can be assured that man has also always reflected upon his mobile existence. Therefore, the project traces the concept of migration to its origins in the history of intellectual thought. Assessing the ideas, views and judgements on migration, and on human mobility in general, that were formulated by scholars between antiquity and the eighteenth century, the project team is going to link the fields of historical migration studies and intellectual history. Focusing on different genres of pre-modern scholarly writing – such as ethnography, theology, historiography as well as economic theories – the researchers will assess the rich plurality of opinions, but also identify possible common features that linked these different fields into overarching, superordinate discourses on human mobility. This approach promises new results, which are of interest not only to specialists in the humanities, but also to policy makers and the general public, since our present-day perception of migration and the migrant individual can only be fully understood – and challenged – through an assessment of its historical genesis.

Provenance matters. A multi-proxy Approach for the Determination of White Marbles in the Roman East

Principal investigator: Priv.-Doz. Sabine Ladstätter (Austrian Archaeological Institute, OeAI)

A series of methods for tracing the origin of white marbles used in antiquity has been applied during recent decades. However, any single method (stable isotopes, EPR, chemistry) used has failed so far to produce unambiguous results. This led us to search for new and additional methods. The chemical composition of micro-inclusions in the marbles turned out to be a very useful additional method in pinpointing the origin of marbles. Our databank for white marbles from the classical marble sites in Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and from different alpine quarry sites comprises about 4000 quarry samples so far. A further extension of the analytical variables for quarry samples as well as artefacts within this project will place the marble provenance analysis on completely new ground.

This extended methodological approach for marble provenance analysis will be applied in this project in order to understand the impact radius of local marble production and the workshops of an area. Furthermore, the combined investigation of the provenance of the marbles and the architectural style and craftsmanship used in the architecture and sculpture in different areas in the Roman East will help to elucidate the question of whether travelling executed prestigious architecture in the Roman East, using and importing the tried and tested marble from their place of provenance.

Operational Entanglement

Principal investigator: Prof. Barbara Kraus (Member of the Young Academy, University of Innsbruck)

Entanglement, a very special way of correlation among two or more objects, is at the heart of Quantum Physics. It dictates the bahaviour of quantum many-body systems, and is also at the basis of all its modern applications, like quantum computing and quantum communication. Hence, a full understandig of this intriguing property is of paramount interest in many areas of physics. Despite the fact that bipartite entanglement is meanwhile very well characterized, and the amount of theoretical an experimental effort behind its study, the multipartite setting is far from being understood; new routes  have to be undertaken in order to tackle this relevant problem. This research program aims at giving a twist to the study of entanglement in multipartite systems. The main idea is to relate this property to different physical phenomena that appear in many-body physics, like the existence of phase transitions, or the emergence of properties in different phases of matter. In particular, we will identify which aspects of entanglement are responsible for those phenomena, and this will guide us to extract the relevant entanglement properties of multipartite states.

In situ design and testing of metall ic glass composites

Principal investigators: Prof. Jürgen Eckert (Corresponding member), Dr. Christoph Gammer (Erich Schmid Institute of Materials Science, ESI)

Traditional materials science creates novel materials systems by changing processing routes. Their mechanical properties and microstructures are analyzed, and the property-structure relationship is obtained indirectly. Our vision is to overcome this paradigm by creating and testing tailored materials in situ in a microscope. This allows to control the desired material structure and additionally enables the direct observation of the effect of the structures on the mechanical properties. In the present project we will demonstrate in situ design and testing of metallic glass (MG) composites. MGs have outstanding mechanical properties and can be easily shaped, making them ideal materials for high-performance applications. Still, their low ductility at room-temperature has inhibited successful commercialization. This problem can be overcome by using composites of a MG matrix with crystalline secondary phases. For this it is planned to use different external stimuli to introduce nanoscale heterogeneities into the MG. These stimuli can be a heat source or a laser, ion or electron beam. To study the deformation at the nanoscale, in situ tests will be carried out in a transmission electron microscope. The concept of in situ design and testing is applicable to a wide range of materials and is therefore expected to open a new research avenue.

Immunomicrobiome - A new model for tissue repopulation of immune cells and microbes in humans

Principal investigator: Prof. Georg Stingl (Full member, Medical University of Vienna, Department of Dermatology)

The community of microorganisms of our body, so called microbiota, contributes to health and diseases by influencing the immune system. In this study, we analyze the so called “immuno-microbe axis” of the skin and gut over time in patients upon allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), when immune cells and microbes of the donor are virtually eradicated. This offers the unique opportunity to analyze principles of the microbe – immune cell interaction, their repopulation kinetics of barrier organs and, more specifically, pathomechanisms relevant for HSCT complications.

We will therefore assess the dynamic shift of the microbiome and correlate it with the immune response in transplant recipients over time by state-of-the-art techniques and bioinformatics. Understanding the interplay of the cutaneous and gut microbiome with the donor- and host-derived immune response will provide important information about the role of microorganisms on immune reconstitution in non-lymphoid organs.
Besides unraveling principles of microbe – immune cell interactions, this study has direct translational relevance as it allows us to correlate the composition of the microbiome and (in)appropriate immune cell activation with clinical parameters in the course of HSCT. The most robust risk-associated biomarkers will be used to establish a diagnostic kit for patient care to improve patient stratification and, ultimately, to improve transplantation success.

HistoGIS - A Geographical Information System, workbench and repository to retrieve, collect, create, enrich and preserve historical temporalized spatial data sets

Principal investigator: Dr. Peter Andorfer (Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities, ACDH)

Information about historical political/administrative units is usually communicated through maps. Our human perception allows us to extract diverse information by just looking at a map; we can, for instance, at a glance identify border lines, streets and cities and answer questions such as: “Was city A part of country B in the year C or which countries shared a border line between Year D and E”. A machine on the contrary is hardly capable of doing something similar. The starting point to make a map machine readable is to have it digitized and georeferenced in form of a so called raster image (geotiff), which is usually the standard outcome of projects such as the “Woldan goes digital Project” or “Mapire”. To capture any further information transported in historical (political) maps, those raster images need to be vectorized, i.e. transformed into so called vector- or shapefiles, which can spatially describe points, lines, and polygons,  thus making it possible to represent border lines, rivers, or the location and outline of cities. This is where “HistoGIS” starts:  HistoGIS is a platform to collect, create, curate and share temporalized shapefiles and thereby make implicit information stored in maps explicit and machine readable. HistoGIS wants to collect existing data, enrich it and give it back to the community. But HistoGIS also wants to invite researchers from various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences to embed HistoGIS into their research projects and workflow, be it as an analytical tool, be it as an enrichment service, be it as a workbench for data creation and curation or be it as a publishing platform and stable repository for data, crafted in their own projects.

Innovations in Research and Documentation of Intangible Cultural Heritage (IRDICH)

Principal investigator: Prof. Thede Kahl (Corresponding member, Commission Vanishing Languages and Cultural Heritage)

The previous examination of intangible cultural heritage is predominantly limited to collection and documentation. IRDICH wants to find ways to examine the effect of the academic analysis of the affected communities and to use the potential of these communities to contribute to research, by the example of five language communities. For the dialogue between researchers and the communities, a laboratory is created in which editors, trainers, researchers and representatives of the communities have common access to the collection, publication and use of research data. The main objective of the project is to help communities retain their practices, expressions, knowledge and skills that they wish to preserve as communities, groups or individuals as part of their cultural heritage. Intensive training will enable the representatives to record in their own and document their threatened culture and then process and present the field material in a common laboratory. Parts of the data will be collected at the ÖAW (commission VLACH) and will be available for further research.

Bio3DPrint :: Exploration of a natural 3D printing system

Principal investigators: Dr. Florian Raible (Member of the Young Academy, University of Vienna), Prof. Christian Hellmich (Member of the Young Academy, Vienna University of Technology)

Over millions of years, natural selection has allowed organisms to optimize materials and structures to meet specific needs. Naturally evolved materials thus often have remarkable properties that are not easily matched by human engineering, be it the strength of spider silk or the adhesion force of gecko feet. As a result, dissecting the engineering principles of nature holds the potential to improve human materials, in particular at the micro- to nanoscale.

This innovative project focuses on the generation of specific bristles by marine worms. Such bristles are enormously versatile structures that nature has “learned” to engineer with extreme precision into stereotype forms, including miniature hooks, feathers, joints, or blades. Interestingly, the natural fabrication of these structures seems mechanistically related to the principle of 3D printing, a man-made technology that pervades many application fields. One of the significant limitations of current 3D-printed products, however, is their mechanical weakness in the third dimension that is inherently correlated with the successive apposition process. It is currently unclear how nature has “solved” this engineering problem, and if human engineering could learn from it.

In order to get first insight into this intriguing question, the project joins two research groups with highly complementary expertise: The team of Dr. Florian Raible (University of Vienna) that pioneers molecular research in marine worms producing such fascinating bristles; and the group of Prof. Christian Hellmich (TU Wien - Vienna University of Technology), an expert in material sciences, with particular interest in bio-inspired materials. The project will enable the teams to set up a common experimental and theoretical framework that will allow them to assess the mechanical properties of bristles at the microscale. In turn, this will facilitate studies into the molecular machinery producing these bristles.


Dr. Alexander Nagler
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