At the Research Front in Lund

At the Research Front in Lund

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@Tove Nordén
Photo: Daniel Polberger

On 10 December, the Nobel Prize is awarded in Stockholm, the most prestigious award for science in the world. But what research is actually carried out in Lund? Here is a selection of exciting research at the University, in the five categories of Nobel.

CHEMISTRY

Villy Sundström is a researcher at Kemicentrum, in chemical physics. He and several other researchers are working on investigating new types of materials that are supposed to transform energy from sunlight in an effective way – either to electricity or to a type of fuel. Above all, Villy Sundström observes the processes taking place inside the materials, and the researchers use laser pulses to see what happens when light hits the materials.

Many solar cells today are made of very rare metals – such as ruthenium, indium or gallium. But producing such solar cells in a large scale would not work, since the material would be difficult to get hold of, and it would therefore be too expensive to produce the solar cells. And neither would it be environmentally friendly. The hard part of Villy Sundströms research is figuring out what a better material could look like. The endeavour is to find new types of materials – cheap, easy to produce with no negative effects on the environment.

”They should also be effective and have a long life time so that they will not break. There are a lot of requirements that need to be fulfilled in order for a material to work at a commercial scale”, Villy Sundström says.

But there has been some progress. Recently, an article was published in Nature Chemistry on the dye-sensitized solar cell: a thin film made of particles of titanium dioxide covered in a colour substance. But the problem is that the colour substance most used contain a very rare substance – ruthenium. Villy Sunström’s and Kenneth Wärnmark’s research groups at Kemicentrum managed to produce a similar colour substance, but used iron instead of ruthenium. And there is loads of iron on earth.

”The colour substance could transform light to electrons effectively, but that is only part of a solar cell. We already know that this particular colour substance probably would not work in a fairly functioning solar cell and need to develop it further. But there are already ideas for that”, Villy Sundström says.

How long will it take before your research results in a product?

”There are many steps from developing a new material to a material that is commerscially interesting and usable in practice. But at least five, maybe ten, years. Then you have to convince house builders and technology developers to use this new technology instead of old solar cells”, Villy Sundström says.

MEDICINE

Malin Parmar leads a research group studying cellular therapy for Parkinson’s disease. The disease kills the cells in the brain that produce the body’s feel-good hormone, dopamine. Today, dopamine pills are used as a cure, but they only work in early stages of the disease. Malin Parmar’s research groups explore how to replace the dead dopamine cells instead, through transplants of new dopamine producing cells to the brain. They have currently managed to steer stem cells into dopamine producing cells, which could be transplanted to the brain. In parallel with this, the researchers are working with reprogramming already developed cells into dopamine cells – a discovery which the research group was first in the world to accomplish. With this method, it might be possible in the future to use the patient’s own skin cells, remake them into dopamine cells and then transplant them to the damaged brain. This method could also be used as a cure for several other diseases.

”The challenge is to steer the skin cells so they end up exactly the same as the type of dopamine cell that exists in the brain”, Malin Parmar says.

PEACE

Karin Aggestam is researching several projects connected to justice, peace-building and peace negotiations, specialising on the Middle East. Her research is largely cross-scientific, and recently, she has been studying water conflicts and how they have become an important aspect of international peace-building efforts. In a new project, she is studying women as international peace brokers. In the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 ( from 2000), the importance of opening up opportunities for women to partake in and increase their influence in peace processes is highlighted. But despite 15 years having passed, little research has been made on women and international mediation.

”It is exciting with an unexplored subject, but still remarkable that there has not been more research made on women participation in the peace process”, Karin Aggestam says.

What do you think about there being a peace prize?

”The principle of paying attention to peace is very good. Sometimes, we tend to notice war and conflicts much more than peace politics”, Karin Aggestam says.

PHYSICS

How long does it take for an electron to leave the atom? Not an entirely easy question to answer. Johan Mauritsson’s research is about trying to figure out how electrons move inside atoms.

”Since they move so incredibly fast, we have to find new ways of catching them and observing how they move”, he says.

Using cameras is therefore not an option. Instead, researchers use short laser pulses to see how electrons move, which has previously not been possible. In order to catch the movements of the electrons, researches use so called attosecond pulses, which are extremely short. There are as many attoseconds in a second as there are seconds in twice the age of the universe.

”When we manage to see them, we want to start steering the electrons and controlling their movements in order to see if everything we think we know about the world is really true, the things we have only calculated and taken for granted”, he says.

And what would be most exciting is if the electrons behaved differently than researchers have previously believed.

”Since this is such a new field of research, it is particularly exciting to manage in seeing what no-one has ever seen before”, Johan Mauritsson says.

LITERATURE

Johanna Lindbladh is a doctor in Slavic languages specialising in Russian literature, which she also researches. She has just finished her project The Memory of Chernobyl, where she researched how literature and film in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia have portrayed the Chernobyl catastrophe.

”An important, reoccuring theme is that the catastrophe was the starting signal for what would happen five years later, with the fall of the Soviet Union. Chernobyl became a metaphor for the fall of the Soviet Union and a starting point for exploring the Soviet neing, and how this image fell apart after the catastrophe”, she says.

Johanna Lindbladh’s research has actually been affected by this year’s Nobel laureate, Svetlana Aleksijevitj. The idea for the project The Memory of Chernobyl was born in much thanks to the laureates book A prayer for Chernobyl. At that time, Johanna Lindbladh studied the memory of the past in Russian autobiographies and prose from the perspective: who are we today and what importance does literature have in understanding the past and the self.

”My next project is only at an idea stage, but I am thinking of continuing with Aleksijevitj”, Johanna Lindbladh says.

Translation: Carl-William Ersgård

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