Looking back at 2017 (1/2)

Coral reefs that can survive global warming, an expedition around Antarctica, a booster for genetic research, a personnal virtual heart, a National Center for Data Science... Some of the EPFL’s research and milestones that marked the year 2017.

How fast is the universe expanding? Quasars provide an answer

The H0LiCOW collaboration, a cosmology project led by EPFL and Max Planck Institute and regrouping several research organizations in the world has made a new measurement of the Hubble constant, which indicates how fast the universe is expanding. The new measurement challenges some of the most recent ones, potentially pointing towards new physics beyond the standard cosmological model. 

With or without a driver, vehicles are able to cooperate

One thing is certain: one day our cars will drive themselves. But how will we make the transition from a handful of autonomous and connected cars today to a true smart system offering enhanced safety, comfort and seamless and robust operation, in just 15 years’ time? Researchers who worked on the European AutoNet2030 project believe it can be achieved by combining driving assistance technologies and inter-vehicle communications. They have shown that it is possible for vehicles with or without drivers to operate in high-speed, multi-lane traffic autonomously under real-life conditions. This is a key step in the ongoing shift towards autonomous driving. 

Switzerland Launches a National Center for Data Science

 Switzerland has launched a National Center for Data Science in order to innovate in the realm of data and computer science, and to provide an infrastructure for fostering multidisciplinary research and open science, with applications ranging from personalized health to environmental issues. It is a joint venture between EPFL and ETH Zürich with offices in both Lausanne and Zürich. The initiative will ensure that Switzerland possesses expertise and excellence in data science while striving to be globally competitive.

Using magnetic gates to track slalom skiers’ performance

EPFL researchers can now measure a slalom skier’s exact time at each gate all the way down the slope. The team at the Laboratory of Movement Analysis and Measurement has now come up with a way to closely track performance on each section of the slalom course by drawing on several different technologies. They started with accelerometers and gyroscopes, which measure the skiers’ acceleration and angular speed. The researchers then added a magnetic system to measure the elapsed time at each gate. Their system also calculates the skiers’ speed and trajectory more accurately than GPS.

ACE completes its voyage around Antarctica

 On Sunday, 19 March, the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE) reached Cape Town, South Africa. This marked the end of its trek around the southernmost continent, which began in this same port on 20 December 2016. The expedition was organized by the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI) and carried by the Akademik Treshnikov, a Russian research ship. By the end of the three-month voyage, a total of some 150 researchers had carried out the 22 projects selected.

Anti-cancer drug gets a boost when combined with antirheumatic

One of the goals in pharmacology is to increase the efficiency of drugs by minimizing their side effects. Recently, this effort has led to combining unrelated drugs to exploit their synergistic effects. This "drug-drug synergy" relies on interactions between the individual biological pathways on which each drug acts. Scientists at EPFL and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have discovered a synergistic effect between an anticancer and an antirheumatic drug, improving the former’s ability to kill off cancer cells. 

A more secure biometric authentication system

It’s too easy to fake fingerprints, and current biometric authentication systems are simply not secure enough. EPFL’s Security and Cryptography Laboratory joined forces with startup Global ID to develop an encryption technique for processing biometric data captured via 3D finger vein recognition - a system that’s next to impossible to counterfeit that could be particularly useful for hospitals, law enforcement and even banks.

Unraveling the mystery of snowflakes, from the Alps to Antarctica

Imagine taking pictures of thousands of snowflakes from three different angles with a specialized instrument installed at an altitude of 2,500 meters. Then imagine using 3,500 of these pictures to manually train an algorithm to recognize six different classes of snowflakes. And, finally, imagine using this algorithm to classify the snowflakes in the millions of remaining pictures into those six classes at breakneck speed. That’s exactly what researchers at EPFL’s Environmental Remote Sensing Laboratory did. Their aim is to improve the accuracy of snowfall measurements and winter weather forecasts.

A new EPFL incubator for education technology

EPFL’s new Swiss EdTech Collider ultimately will be home to around 30 startups involved in developing new education technologies. This coworking space will give these companies the chance to enhance their visibility among both clients and investors and to generate synergies. The startups will also have the opportunity to become involved in the cutting-edge research conducted by EPFL professors who specialize in education technology.

Two major projects drive genetics research forward at Campus Biotech

First, there is the Swiss genome center with a DNA sequencing capacity that is unmatched elsewhere in Europe. Then there is the gene therapy platform, which will work on developing new drug carriers to directly target defective parts of DNA. These two projects, which were simultaneously announced on 10 May, will give genetics research in the Lake Geneva region a real shot in the arm thanks to the extensive funding that will go into Campus Biotech in Geneva.

Coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba may survive global warming

Coral reefs in the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba can resist rising water temperatures. Scientists at EPFL and UNIL, and Bar Ilan University and the InterUniversity Institute of Marine Sciences in Israel, performed the very first detailed physiological assessment of corals taken from the Gulf of Aqaba after exposure to stressful conditions over a six-week period. They found that the corals did not bleach. If they survive local pollution, these corals may one day be used to re-seed parts of the world where reefs are dying. 

An algorithm designed to expand Wikipedia in all languages

With 40 million articles in 293 languages, Wikipedia is the largest encyclopedia ever made. The 5.4 million pages in English are particularly varied, covering 60 times more topics than the Encyclopaedia Britannica. But not all languages enjoy such depth of coverage. An Data Science Lab researcher has created a system that scans Wikipedia for important articles that are missing in other languages. This project could help expand the online encyclopedia’s coverage in minority languages, such as Romansh.

Your own virtual heart for non-invasive heart diagnostics

One day, a virtual version of your own heart pumping may help doctors diagnose heart disease and determine the best treatment for you, without the need of surgical intervention or other invasive clinical practices. The goal of the Chair of Modelling and Scientific Computing is precisely this as he builds mathematical tools to simulate heart function with increasing accuracy and that can be personalized to your heart based on medical scans. 

Alpine streams produce more CO2 after a warm winter

An EPFL study has for the first time measured the impact of climate change on alpine streams, and the results are quite worrying: after a low-snow winter, these streams release more carbon dioxide than they absorb.