New Frontiers Research Groups Programme – Abstracts

New Frontiers Research Groups Programmes 2012 and 2013:
Abstracts of Funded Projects

Wais Christina: Corpus Vitrearum – Medieval & Modern Stained Glass in Austria (Institute of History of Art and Musicology)

By reacting to current developments within the International Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi (CVMA), the project “Corpus Vitrearum – Medieval and Modern Stained Glass in Austria” is an innovative research initiative on an European level. In fall 2012, at an international conference held at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the Austrian National Committee proposed the augmentation of the scientific work of the Corpus Vitrearum, restricted almost exclusively thus far to medieval times, with research on the stained glass holdings of the 19th to the 21st century on an international level. Thus from 2014 onwards all of the interested member countries will work towards the compilation and publication of this research according to compulsory guidelines.

In order to be able to fulfill this task, the work on Austrian medieval stained glass, until now embedded within the Austrian Academy of Sciences, will be continued during the five years of the proposed project and augmented with the documentation of stained glass after 1800. 

Divided into six epochs (Classicism, Historicism, Jugendstil, Interwar period, Post-war period, Contemporary art) the main works in the genre of stained glass will be treated pars pro toto (as a part taken for the whole) in order to reach the following goals:
•    first time analysis of  works so far widely unobserved by art historical research,
•    the relation of selected works to the Humanities (in regard to art, politics, theology, history of technology),
•    the elaboration of guidelines for publication of the holdings.

The project’s findings will be exchanged and processed at the international conference of the CVMA, taking place every two years, and they will be evaluated by a specialized team. The project leader Dr. Christina Wais, who will participate as the Austrian delegate of this team, would be able to establish herself by the proposed project as an international expert in the field of medieval and modern stained glass.

Weber Michael: Studying the quark-gluon plasma via low-mass dielectrons (Stefan Meyer Institute for Subatomic Physics)

According to Quantum Chromo Dynamics (QCD), strongly interacting matter at sufficient high temperatures and/or densities exists in a state of deconfined quarks and gluons, the so-called Quark Gluon Plasma (QGP), which has different properties than ordinary nuclear matter. In the early universe, a few microseconds after the formation, the conditions for the QGP were given, but cannot be directly accessed by astronomical observations due to the subsequent evolution of the universe. The only way to study this state of matter is via ultrarelativistic heavy-ion collisions. The ALICE experiment at the LHC features the unique possibility to study the properties of the QGP, since the net baryon density is very small and the initial temperature is the highest produced so far in laboratory experiments, corresponding to the conditions existing in the early universe.

Low mass dileptons, i.e. e+e- or μ+μ- with M < 1.5 GeV/c2, at low transverse momenta are uniquely able to probe the properties of the QGP and hadronic matter at extreme conditions in general, since they leave the collision zone undistorted and are emitted throughout the whole history of the collision. The fundamental questions, that will be addressed and described in more detail below, are:
•    the generation of hadron masses that is driven by the spontaneous breaking of chiral symmetry of QCD in the vacuum,
•    the temperature of the produced system throughout the whole collision history,
•    the space--time evolution of the produced system, in particular its life time.

In this proposal, I will focus on the analysis of dielectrons, i.e. e+e-  pairs in the central barrel of the ALICE detector at the LHC. First, electrons and positrons are identified with the powerful particle identification (PID) tools that ALICE provides. After the pairing one is left with the combinatorial background, which is determined and subtracted to retrieve the physics signal. The different contributions to the dielectron spectrum are extracted from reference measurements (pp and p--Pb collisions) and later used to study the in-medium modifications from the QGP on the short lived hadrons and the virtual photon yield and properties in order to achieve the above mentioned physics goals.
Within the project, the analysis of the increased statistics of Pb-Pb data and reference measurements in pp and p-Pb collisions will be done as well as simulation studies for precision measurements after the ALICE upgrade in 2018.

Brandt Marieke: Deciphering local power politics in Yemen’s frontier provinces Sa’da and al-Jawf  (Institute for Social Anthropology)

In recent decades, some seemingly peripheral areas of our increasingly globalized world have steadily moved up in the rankings of international relations and foreign policy priorities. These include Yemen’s remote and largely unexplored northern frontier provinces Sa‘da and al-Jawf. Since Yemeni unification in 1990 this area became the hotbed of particularly complex and violent local, national and international power struggles informed by social, economic, political, and sectarian backgrounds. The involvement of regional super powers like Saudi Arabia and Iran, the U.S. drone war in Yemen, and eventually the abductions of Austrian und EU citizens in Yemen have shown that these only seemingly “local” conflicts have reached a global impact and significance.

The research project aims at exploring, uncovering and explaining the profound social, denominational, economic and political transformations in the provinces of Sa‘da and al-Jawf by the means and tools of social anthropology and neighboring fields. It aims at generating empirical, cutting-edge and highly relevant knowledge about this largely unexplored region of increasing international importance. Rather than adopting a more centralized view, the project focuses on local and “peripheral” views and perceptions and investigates the crucial role of local actors in steering and implementation of broader political, economic and sectarian policies and programs, in other words: how locals capitalize transnational resources for pursuing their local strategies. In addition it elucidates the underlying historical continuity and endurance of positions and actions among local elites by assessing historical dimensions in current developments and their medium-term tendencies. By pursuing its empirical goals, this project is informed by theories, aims at testing some of them, and will strive to develop theories through the project’s results.
For this purpose an interdisciplinary research team of four researchers will be formed, Dr. Marieke Brandt being the project’s principal investigator and the Institute for Social Anthropology of the Austrian Academy of Science its host institution. The research methodology provides a triangulation of qualitative content analysis, qualitative social science methodology (with ethnographic fieldwork at its core) and the pioneering research approach “digital anthropological fieldwork”. The flexible triangulation of these methodological components does not only serve to deepen and widen the understanding of this region, it is also represents an innovative response to the changing security situation in the research area. The cooperation with internationally renowned experts ensures the project’s integration into the international research scene and academic landscape.

The installation of this research project, which is unique in both Austria and Continental Europe, provides the capacity for the rapid establishment of an internationally renowned and cutting edge research focus on contemporary Southwest Arabia. It profoundly innovates and expands the OeAW’s research portfolio in this field and provides an important impetus for research in Austria.

Bock Christoph: High-throughput dissection and reprogramming of epigenetic drug resistance in leukemia (CeMM Research Center for Molecular Medicine)

The genetic code of the DNA provides a universal building plan for the cell’s molecular machinery. But a second code is needed to control the complexity of the human body, organizing 1013 cells with (almost) identical genomes into 200 specialized cell types. This second code is called “epigenetic”. Defects in the epigenetic code are widespread in all cancers, and they create exciting opportunities for new therapies. The proposed project pursues the hypothesis that epigenetic mechanisms may be a common cause of acquired drug resistance in response to chemotherapy, and it explores the rational design of epigenetic combination therapies as a promising route for tackling epigenetic drug resistance in leukemia.

Konrad Gertrud: NoMoS: Beyond the Standard Model Physics in Neutron Decay (Stefan Meyer Institute for Subatomic Physics)

The Standard Model of particle physics is a theory that describes all interactions of subatomic particles, except those due to gravity. Although the Standard Model explains a wide variety of experimental results, it falls short of being a complete theory of fundamental interactions. Extensions of the Standard Model are needed to explain its deficiencies.

Our research focuses on precision experiments with cold neutrons. Precision measurements of the parameters describing the beta decay of free neutrons address important questions in nuclear and particle physics, astrophysics, and cosmology. The main emphasis is on the search for evidence of possible extensions of the Standard Model and on searches for new symmetry concepts. In high energy physics with colliders, one directly searches for new particles, complementary to low energy physics with neutrons, where we indirectly probe their existence.

The new user facility PERC delivers neutron decay products under well-defined and precisely variable conditions. For the first time, it is now possible to perform precision momentum spectroscopy of the decay electrons and protons. The problem so far was that systematic errors for count rate spectra are considerably larger than for asymmetry spectra.

With this research project, we intend to develop NoMoS, a Novel detection system for electron and proton Momentum Spectroscopy based on the RxB drift effect. In the RxB spectrometer, the charged decay particles are dispersed in a uniformly curved magnetic field, and then measured with large phase space acceptance and high resolution. The momentum resolution can reach 14.4 keV/c, if the position sensitive detectors have a spatial resolution of 1 mm.
The goal of this research project is to perform neutron decay spectroscopy on an unprecedented level of up to 10-5.  Most of the correlation coefficients in neutron decay are accessible by NoMoS. These coefficients – together with the lifetime – serve as observables for parameters beyond the SM. In particular, we plan to find the so far not observed and in the Standard Model forbidden Fierz interference term b or to present new limits. The Fierz term b is measurable in decays of unpolarized neutrons, as a distortion of the beta spectrum. A non-zero value for b would be an indication of the existence of scalar or tensor interactions. Scalar or tensor couplings in turn would occur if yet unknown charged bosons or leptoquarks were exchanged instead of a W boson.

Bell Oliver: Investigating Chromatin Dynamics and Memory in vivo (IMBA - Institute of Molecular Biotechnology)

During development of multicellular organisms, chromatin structure is constantly undergoing remodeling to facilitate changes in gene expression and DNA accessibility in response to cell-intrinsic and cell-extrinsic stimuli. In particular, antagonizing activities of histone modifying complexes add and remove posttranslational histone modifications contributing to the dynamic organization of chromatin at regulatory regions in the mammalian genome. In my laboratory, I plan to investigate the dynamics and epigenetic inheritance of nucleosome modifications in the context of physiological chromatin in living cells. Traditional genetic and biochemical analyses have mostly provided a static picture of chromatin regulation. These approaches have been insufficient to generate a comprehensive understanding of the actual function of chromatin modifications in gene regulation. Thus, separating cause from consequence will require approaches delineating the order of events involved in gene induction or repression. I will take advantage of a novel technique employing chemical inducers of proximity to dissect the sequence of events and measure histone modification kinetics at high resolution during cell-fate transitions, cellular reprogramming and signal-dependent gene regulation. Kinetic measurements will enable mathematical modeling of complex histone modification dynamics and patterns which could lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms involved in establishment and maintenance of stable gene expression states. Further, frequent mutations in chromatin regulators are emerging as the root cause of numerous human malignancies making chromatin modulation a potential therapeutic target. This assay system provides a powerful screening approach to identify novel components as well as modulators of chromatin regulatory pathways. Such screens may facilitate identification of putative therapeutic strategies to target aberrant chromatin regulation associated with disease.

These experiments aim to unravel the crosstalk between epigenetic regulation and cell plasticity, the underlying molecular circuitry in pluripotent and differentiated cells and ultimately help to incorporate epigenetic regulation into current transcriptional regulatory models.

Pradler Josef: New Frontiers in Particle Physics: Unraveling Dark Matter (Institute of High Energy Physics - HEPHY)

For almost a century, astronomical measurements consistently reveal a severe problem of missing mass, pointing towards a new, gravitating form of matter, Dark Matter (DM). It is now evident that DM cannot be comprised by astrophysical objects or any known forms of matter. It is expected that the solution of the puzzle is to be found in the deep connection of astrophysics, cosmology, and fundamental particle physics.

The group explores the spectrum of ideas that concerns the particle character of DM. DM may comprise an entire hidden sector of particles, contain several states, new dark forces, and feature dark radiation components—with consequences for cosmology and astrophysics, for underground rare event searches, and for high-intensity and high-energy particle accelerator experiments such as the Large Hadron Collider. The NFG studies in detail these consequences by exploring new ideas and possibilities for physics beyond the Standard Model of elementary particles and fields. The group thereby joins a global effort that seeks to unravel the particle nature of DM and to shed light on one of modern physics’ most pressing and unsolved problems.

Wolfram Marie-Therese: Multi-scale modeling and simulation of crowded transport in the life and social sciences (Johann Radon Institute for Computational and Applied Mathematics)

Crowded transport can be observed in various applications in the life and social sciences – ranging from the transport of charged particles through narrow pores to animal herding or pedestrian dynamics. In all these applications interactions the physical size of individuals as well as their interactions with others and their surrounding result in complex collective phenomena.

The NF aims to analyze these emerging phenomena from different mathematical perspectives. Starting from general modeling approaches of crowded transport on different scales to the development of efficient numerical simulation. A main focus of the modeling lies on the systematic translation of finite size effects as well as the consistent modeling of the multi-scale nature of the problems. Understanding the behavior of the derived models is a further key issue of the project – either by analysing their mathematical structure of by developing numerical methods to simulate the dynamics on computers.

The NFG on 'Multi-scale modeling and simulation of crowded transport in the life and social sciences' is hosted at the Radon Institute for Computational and Applied Mathematics (RICAM) in Linz. The group is headed by Marie-Therese Wolfram and consists of 2 PhD students and 2 post-docs.


Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften
Forschungsförderung – Nationale und Internationale Programme

Dr. Alexander Nagler
T +43 1 51581-1272

Mag. Anke Heynoldt
T +43 1 51581-1270


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