New professors 2013
Twenty-seven new professors were inaugurated at Uppsala University on 15 November 2013 in the grand inauguration ceremony. Here they present their research.
- Anders Ahnesjö, medical radiation physics
- JoAnne Dahl Knights, psychology
- Subhrakanti Dey, wireless sensor networks
- Matti Eklund, theoretical philosophy
- Anders Ekström, history of science and Ideas
- Johan Elf, physical biology
- Gunilla Enblad, oncology
- Mohammad Fazlhashemi, Islamic theology and philosophy
- Eva Forsberg, education
- Håvard Hegre, peace and conflict research, Dag Hammarskjöld Chair
- Margaret Hunt, history
- Erik Ingelsson, molecular epidemiology specialising in cardiovascular epidemiology
- Per Isaksson, mechanics of materials
- Frank Johansson, biology, specialising in conservation biology in animals
- Anders Karlsson, mathematics, specialising in ergodic theory
- Stefan Knight, biology, specialising in structural biology
- Frank Lindblad, child and adolescent psychiatry specialising in development-related vulnerability
- Anna Lindström, language and social interaction
- Dag Lindström, history
- Eva Lindström, biology, specialising in limnology
- Bengt Persson, bioinformatics
- Thomas Schön, automatic control engineering
- Vladimir Tolmachev, biomedical radiation science, specialising in protein-based radionuclide tumour target seeking
- Thiemo Voigt, wireless sensor networks
- Annika Waern, human-computer interaction
- Mimmie Willebrand, medical psychology
- Maxim Zabzine, theoretical physics
‘Ionising’ is the name for the type of radiation that has enough energy to knock out bound electrons from the material under radiation. When the atoms that are hit are part of the genome of living cells, there may be damage that exceeds the cell’s capacity to repair the genome. Improperly repaired DNA can lead to tissue damage, and in rare cases cause cancer. At slightly higher radiation doses the probability increases that radiated cells will be knocked out. As cancer cells often have a weaker capacity to repair themselves than healthy cells, radiation can be used to knock out tumours.
In modern times radiation treatment has been developed a great deal, as particle accelerators have become available. Patient images can be created in three dimensions using layer radiation (computer tomography), and computers have become powerful enough to enable precision calculation of radiation doses.
In my earlier research I was primarily interested in developing dosage calculation methods for improving the precision of planning and implementation of the treatment.
My current orientation ranges from basic questions about what effects are caused by the ionisation pattern of various types of radiation on the nano scale to clinical questions regarding the application of different measurement methods for patient positioning and dose determination. I am especially interested in questions relating to treatment with proton radiation, which will be available as of 2015 at the National Skandion Facility in Uppsala.
My research has helped to illuminate how people can relate to disease symptoms in a psychologically flexible way that in turn helps them to live a vital life, for the rest of their lives. I have worked with various projects involving people with chronic pain, including those who have been on sick leave for many years, and helped them to get back to employment and improved quality of life. I have written several scientific articles about this, along with the books Living Beyond Your Pain (2006), translated into Swedish with the title Släpp taget om smärtan (2008), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Chronic Pain (2005).
I have developed, applied and evaluated psychological treatment programmes for epilepsy, pain, asthma, constipation, stress, overweight and trauma not only for Swedish healthcare but also for hospitals in Pune, India, Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa, and Freetown in Seirre Leone. I have written scientific articles and several books in these fields as well: The Art and Science of Valuing in Psychotherapy (2009), Epilepsy: A Behavior Medicine Approach (1993) and Eating to Live Not Living to Eat (2014).
Network-based sensor and actuator systems have tremendous technological potential in a large area of application areas, such as environmental monitoring, healthcare for the elderly, regulating large-scale industrial processes, monitoring of mechanical structures, and a number of problems relating to defence and national security. To make this great potential reality, it is necessary to be able to provide network-based identification, estimation, and regulations with guaranteed performance under strict secondary constraints regarding energy consumption. My research leads to fundamental results regarding the design and analysis of new algorithms for network-based identification, estimation, and regulation that are both optimal and sustainable in the long term.
I have a parallel research interest involving various methods for solving the problem of the limited access of the radio spectrum and creating modern communications networks that are both faster and more energy efficient than those in use today.
My research involves many areas in analytical philosophy, including metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of logic and metaethics. A common theme in my research is how language leads us astray and how our language and our concepts can be based on false or even inconsistent assumptions.
Some of my work, from my doctoral dissertation onward, has had to do with famous paradoxes from antiquity, such as the liar paradox and the sorites paradox. I have argued the thesis that these paradoxes show that our language and conceptual system are inconsistent in a definite way. In metaphysics I have primarily been interested in the question of what it really means to exist (what is existence?) and for the question of whether reality can be vague or indefinite in a sense or whether it is only our representations of reality, our words and concepts, that can be said to be vague and indefinite.
In metaethics I have discussed what words ands concepts can be regarded as normative and what characteristics these words and concepts need to stand for if they are to be normative.
I work in a culture theoretical tradition and have been interested in areas such as critical theory, historical anthropology, the new cultural history, visual cultural studies and material culture. In the past decade my research has involved the development of historical perspectives on the new media and uses of media in our time, most recently in a project about the global mediatisation of natural disasters from the 18th century onwards.
My doctoral dissertation dealt with 19th-century world expositions. I have also returned to the history of expositions in more recent work. Two themes have been central: on the one hand, issues in the politics of representation and mediation and, on the other, the history of the concepts of publicity and the public.
Another aspect of my research is the relationship between science and society, in a historical perspective and a perspective of research policy, as well as the relationship between science and the media. In recent years this research strand has come more and more to address the question of the role of the humanities in the society of the future.
The surroundings of molecules in the living cell differ a great deal from the diluted solutions in which most of what we know about biochemistry has been studied. For example, diffusion in the cell is slower owing to the high macromolecular concentrations, and there a number of active processes that make living cells more interesting than diluted solutions.
When it comes to understanding the dynamics of biochemical reactions there are very precise theoretical methods to describe in detail what happens in a test tube, and we have a good idea how the most important molecules in a bacterium cell functions by itself. With the help of physical models we can also extrapolate test-tube biochemistry to what could be expected to happen when molecules interact in the living cell. In these models we try to take into account the geometry of the cell, the fact that certain molecules occur in very low numbers and that chemical reactions are both diffusion-limited and random.
My research aims to understand at what level of detail physical models must be built to capture the essence of the dynamics of the cell, and to investigate whether such models actually yield correct predictions of the cell’s behaviour. The latter requires precision experimentation in which we follow how individual protein molecules move in living cells, using high resolution in time and space.
Lymphoma is a group of malignant diseases based on cells in the immune system. In tumour tissue there are also normal cells from the immune defence, such as mast cells and eosinophil granulocytes.
I have studied the interplay between tumour cells and these healthy immune cells. I have been able to show that the existence of a great number of eosinophil granulocytes in tumours entails a poor prognosis. The explanation is that tumour cells attract the healthy immune cells, which in turn help the tumour cells by producing substances that the body normally uses to stimulate growth and cell division.
My group has found that the proportion of eosinophil granulocytes in tumours can be the result of both heredity and lifestyle. Patients that have diseases or medical treatments that affect the immune system also run a greater risk of developing lymphoma. I have also studied lymphomas from these risk groups and have managed to show that they differ from lymphomas that affect individuals outside of the risk groups.
I will continue to study the importance of the interplay between lymphoma and the immune system by, for example, being involved in the introduction of an entirely new treatment with genetically modified immune-defence cells to combat lymphoma.
My interest in the Islamic intellectual tradition was awakened in connection with my studies of the history of science and ideas in the 1980s. I wanted to do research on a world of thought where I had my roots. My dissertation was about the development of political thinking in the Muslim world in the 11th and 12 centuries. The focus was on the theory of ideas in pragmatic real politics, whose proponents anchored it in theological reasoning, inter alia.
Since then I have done research on the reception of European thinking and the construction of the conception(s) of Europe among Muslim thinkers in modern times. I have shown how conceptions of Europe and the West vacillated between extremes and then landed in attempts to build bridges between the two intellectual worlds.
Another strand of my research has been emergence of the political intellectual traditions that are referred to as political Islam. Representatives of religious institutions were involved in worldly matters early on, but it was not until the 19th and 20th centuries that theoretical debates about the relation between religion and politics took off. The background to this included the new political and social circumstances, inspiration from constitutional and parliamentary movements that swept the Muslim world, and the encounter with European thinking as a result of colonialism and other contacts. I have posed the question of whether the emergence of new political intellectual currents is limited to these factors or if it is necessary to take into account the importance of theological discussions and schools of thought.
From early on my research has addressed the governance, leadership and organisation of education.
One recurrent theme has been how various ways of designing education entail consequences for what norms, knowledge and values are conveyed from one generation to the next. Several of my projects analyse how politicians/bureaucrats, school professionals and researchers interact and counteract each other and how the relations and positions of dominance change through time.
Assessments of pupils’ performance and school outcomes have become more important in the governance of schools. In a comparative project, we identified different national assessment cultures and how these were affected by globalisation in the educational sphere.
Currently, together with colleagues from other subjects, I am studying research on higher education and the management of doctoral education. In one project we are also investigating the effects of the increased production and use of knowledge overviews.
My first research interest was whether trade and democratic institutions contribute to peace among states in international politics. I have worked in a growing research tradition that uses comparable historical data and statistical methods to identify systematic patterns such democratic peace.
My research has helped to establish democratic peace as a solid foundation and also to show that democratic institutions help to reduce domestic armed conflicts. In my later research I have devoted more and more time to whether these conclusions are determined by changes in circumstances that make it easier for democratic traditions to be generally accepted. In particular there is a general consensus that democracies are considerably more stable in economies with extensive differentiation and division of labour. Some of my work shows that democratic peace, internal and external, is stable in medium- and high-income countries, but not in the poorest parts of the world.
In my future work I want to analyse the interplay between institutions and economic conditions more closely, and especially to study external factors that can explain both economic and political development. Not least thanks to data gathered at Uppsala University it is now more and more clear that fewer and fewer people are losing their lives in armed conflicts. Understanding the ways in which economic and institutional factors influence each other is important if we are to be able to determine the probability of this trend continuing into the future.
The Early Modern era is usually seen as the period between 1500 and 1800. It was in these three centuries that the world we know today took shape. States developed bureaucracies and intricate systems for levying taxes. Gunpowder became crucial for the capacity to wage ware. Industrialisation and trade with remote partners changed the preconditions for patterns of production and consumption all over the world. Empires emerged whose political, social and cultural practices still affect the modern world. People began to redefine concepts such as God, nature and what it means to be a human being. Many features of this period strike us as new, and yet many others are alien, strange or downright repulsive.
I have always been interested in the interplay between what is familiar and what is alien in the Early Modern period. In one of my books I investigate how middle-class people in the 18th century tried to cope with insecurity in both family life and the economy during the century when Great Britain emerged as the world’s economic power centre. Another book deals with the complicated lives of 18th-century women, both in Europe and in the Ottoman Empire. I am currently working on a book about a commercial vessel in the British East India Company in the late 17th century. I am examining both the hopes and the human costs involved in business relations between Europe and Asia during the era of seafaring and trading voyages.
As a researcher in molecular epidemiology I study associations between molecular factors, such as genes, proteins and metabolites, and diseases in the population. My main research area is the connection between overweight, reduced insulin sensitivity, type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Cardiovascular diseases are multifactorial disorders caused by combinations of lifestyle and genetic factors. In recent years there has been an explosion in knowledge about how genetic factors affect the risk of cardiovascular diseases. This has happened thanks to major international collaborative projects with other researchers who work with population-based patient material. We use biological material to study how these diseases co-vary with variations in our DNA, circulating biomarkers like proteins or metabolites, or appearance or function that can be assessed using radiological methods like ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging.
The goals of our research are to understand the underlying mechanisms that lead to these cardiovascular diseases, to find new biomarkers for more individualised treatment and to discover new target molecules for drug development – all to achieve the overarching goal of reducing the burden from cardiovascular disorders and to improve how we treat our patients.
My principal research work is in theoretical and applied mechanics of materials. Many materials in nature are porous, complex, light and strong. Plants in the garden, trees in the woods and tissue in our human bodies are a few examples; baked bread, firm foam and sponges are others. They are all exemplars in material design. Starting with simple building blocks, nature combines them into extremely hierarchical structures, step by step, such as molecule chains, fibrils and fibres, each of which has a complicated network structure on various length scales. The final materials are formed by nature to be multifunctional; they are not over-designed, not under-designed, but rather optimised and recyclable. Despite their primeval history, the mechanisms that lead to deformation and breakage in such heterogeneous materials have been given relatively little research attention, primarily owing to the extremely complex microstructure of the materials, which clearly distinguishes them from considerably more homogeneous materials such as metals or ceramics.
In my research I am attempting to answer the fundamental scientific question of how a material’s microstructural properties affect its ultimate mechanical performance under different loads. With sophisticated computer calculations I want to understand the beautiful tricks nature uses in the creation of its complex material structures. The ambition is to use this knowledge to design new lightweight materials with custom-designed properties.
In conclusion, let me say that mechanics of materials is an active subject that is overflowing with important and interesting problems. I feel privileged to be involved in solving some of them.
The living conditions for organisms in constant flux, and fluctuations can be natural or caused by humans. In my research I study how organisms adapt to natural and human-induced environmental changes.
In what way and to what extent organisms adapt to their environment is dependent on their genetic characteristics (genotype), but also on how the environment shapes them (phenotype). We can ask the classic question: How much is heredity and how much is environment when it comes to adaptations to environmental changes?
I focus on several questions surrounding this theme, for example, how does fluctuating environmental change affect the genotype and the phenotype, respectively, and is it the same or different adaptation-enabling genes that are created by heredity and the environment respectively? To answer these questions, I use three natural model systems. I study how the developmental time of frogs, from egg to metamorphosis, changes when the water environments they live in experience longer or shorter dry periods. I also study how the development time and growth of damselflies from egg to adult dragonfly are affected by changes in temperature.
My research is important from the point of view of conservation, because it shows how and why characteristics that are not normally used in conservation biology are important for the adaptations of organisms in a changing environment.
Abstraction, in the sense of extracting what is most important and excluding what is irrelevant, is a crucial skill in humans. Our everyday whole integers constitute the first mathematical abstraction. Questions that arise in entirely different contexts can find common solutions through abstract analysis, which renders mathematics a tool and language for other sciences. At the same time, the subject as such is playing an ever more prominent role in our everyday lives, as in applications in medical technology, bio-databases, mobile telephony, and online banking.
A core component of my research has been precisely that – abstraction, to find underlying general structures and to analyse them. One such structure is metric space, which consists of a number of points and their distance from each other. In specific cases the points and distances often represent something concrete, such as the points being web pages and the distance the number of clicks from one side to another. I have managed to apply my research to the study of random wanderings in networks. More generally, this subject is the basis for Google’s search engine, certain financial theories and the generation of random numbers.
One of my more recent interests is functions that describe the distribution of heat. Here ‘heat’ means something somewhat more abstract than what we usually speak of, and the consequences of the study of these functions are virtually magical. The formulas about how heat spreads on a circle lead to seemingly unrelated theorems in number theory, for example how whole integers can be expressed as the sum of squares or how prime numbers are distributed.
In my research I have been especially interested in how protein molecules are combined into various fibre structures, such as spider threads or the hair-like fimbriae that many infectious bacteria use to fasten to tissue and cause infections. Variants of the common intestinal bacterium E. coli can use fimbriae to fasten to cells in the urinary tract and cause urinary tract infections. Dangerous variants of E. coli (such as ETEC, EHEC, EAEC) that can cause fatal diarrhoeal diseases, and many other bacteria, do the same thing.
Among other things, I have studied what the proteins that make up fimbriae look like and how they combine into fimbriae. This knowledge can be used to try to find new ways to combat infections caused by bacteria. Knowledge about the construction of fimbriae is now making it possible to produce pure forms of the parts from all types of fimbriae in a certain infectious bacterium. Parts produced in their pure forms can be used to develop antibodies that will then be specific to the various fimbriae. The pure parts and antibodies can then be used in diagnostics and treatment and to guide the development of vaccines.
For many years I have worked with research involving the sexual assault of children. This has also led to an interest in how children generally react to trauma and stress. One way to approach such issues is to monitor stress hormones, such as cortisol. This hormone is easy to use in research because it can measured in saliva – this provides a good picture of its concentration in the blood. For many children it is easier not to have to take blood samples. Together with associates in Stockholm and Uppsala I have conducted several such studies in widely disparate subjects, such as whether expanded music education in compulsory schools reduces stress, and whether a family’s living environment affects a child’s hormone levels. Currently we are interested in, among other things, stress in children with ADHD. We have found that such children have lower cortison levels than others. We are now going on to figure out why – and what the consequences are.
Another way to assess stress is to measure how a person’s heart frequency varies over time. This provides a good picture of how the autonomous – not regulated by the will – nervous system reacts. This study is also suitably gentle for use in children. We tape an apparatus, the size of a wristwatch, to the child’s chest and register heartbeats for 24 hours. Using this method, we have shown that young boys who are allowed to play computer games in the evenings at home react differently if they play a violent game than one without violence. Similarly, young people who have played very little react more strongly than those who have played a great deal. We interpret the results as the sympathetic nervous system being turned on, which is what prepares us to fight or flee.
Conversational language is primary for humans as a species and as individuals. My research is about uncovering and analysing the social dimensions of talking through the systematic analysis of audio and video recordings of naturally occurring social interaction.
The findings contribute to an expansive international and cross-disciplinary research field that shows that language is a resource for social action that enables us to create, maintain or break down social relations and establish ourselves and others as social beings.
I have also contributed to pioneering research on how to integrate multimodal aspects, such as eye contact, gestures and body orientation into the analysis of verbal language. My work is based on a broad empirical foundation and has studied everyday telephone conversations between private individuals, conversations around a dinner table, classroom conversations, interactions in paediatric healthcare, conversations between authorities and laypersons, and comprehensive material consisting of meetings between care-providers and pensioners in senior care.
With a few exceptions, I have participated in the entire research process from data collection to presentation of research findings. In my studies of talk in healthcare and caring, I have been interested in the extremities of the human lifecycle, with an emphasis on describing women’s capacity to take action in situations of vulnerability. In coming years I have a special assignment to develop research on language and ageing at Uppsala University.
In my research I came to be interested early on in cities and urban history. My doctoral dissertation dealt with relations between guild organisations, city governance and royal power in some Nordic cities from the 14th century to the early 17th century. In parallel with this I also started to pursue research on criminality, administration of justice and systems of social norms during the same period. In recent years I have returned to craft guilds in order to analyse strategies of work and making a living in the 17th and 18th centuries from a gender perspective.
In another research project I am now studying unmarried men in Sweden from the middle of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century. This is usually regarded as a period when marriage and family had a central place in the social order. Yet there were a great many unmarried adult men. Who were these bachelors, how did they live, how did they support themselves and what was their place in society? For some time I have also been developing an interest in the leisure-time culture and leisure-time consumption that began to emerge in the 18th century and early 19th century, with new patterns of consumption, new forms of socialising and altered urban space.
If you hold a glass of lake water in your hand, you are holding thousands of species that have not yet been identified. Even though new plants are discovered all the time, their distribution around the earth have been studied and described for centuries. Among the smallest microscopic ones, work with biological diversity has been underway for a much shorter time, and it has been revolutionised in just the last few years through the development of new genetic methods. We now know that the greatest biological diversity is found here, but we have barely scratched the surface of this enormous wealth.
My research is about the biogeography of bacteria, that is, the distribution of different species in time and space. Biology textbooks describe the laws regulating the biogeography of plants and animals, but we still do not know whether the same factors regulate microscopic organisms. There are probably major differences, because, for one thing, tiny organisms can be spread by wind and water in a different way than larger organisms. Moreover microorganisms grow rapidly and therefore evince more rapid development. In ecosystems, bacteria and other microorganisms play central roles by for example breaking down dead material. The very smallest organisms thereby are connected with the very largest processes, as their activity affects the amounts of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere in natural ways. One important question is whether the diversity of bacteria is important for their role in ecosystems. Generally speaking biological diversity is often important for how ecosystems function, but the question is whether bacteria are fundamentally different in this case.
Bioinformatics uses computer-aided methods of analysis to understand information in DNA and genetic products (proteins). One branch of my research aims to calculate the consequences of mutations in protein-coding genes in order to analyse the underlying molecular mechanisms behind cancer, hereditary disorders and other medically important disturbances. Thanks to tremendous advances in DNA sequencing techniques, which yield increased information about individual sequence variation, we have a fantastic potential to understand the molecular mechanisms of proteins. The effects of mutations can be predicted, and serious mutations can be diagnosed early, sometimes before they have led to any symptoms, which is of special importance for diseases for which early diagnosis is crucial.
In another research strand I am studying large protein families. The number of known protein sequences is now more than forty million. The number more than doubles annually, which entails a need for automated techniques for characterising protein families. In my research a technique for analysing sequence patterns (Hidden Markov Models) has been successful in dividing huge superfamilies into subfamilies, where each subfamily has shared properties that correlate with their function. I’m now working on various ways to automate this method in order to use it on a large scale on all protein superfamilies.
My work also includes coordinating bioinformatics operations at the Science for Life Laboratory and directing the Bioinformatics Infrastructure for Life Sciences (BILS).
My research is about creating and using mathematical models to describe and regulate dynamic systems, such as cars, planes, influenza epidemics and bacteria cultures. A mathematical model is a compact and interpretable representation of data that have been observed. I am busy developing algorithms that can automatically learn the mathematical models. A key property of these models is that they can represent the uncertainty that is inevitable in most situations. This means that the models describe both what we know and with what degree of certainty we know it. Models of this kind are of fundamental importance in creating a considerably higher degree of autonomy in machines such as helicopters, cars, robots and planes.
I make extensive use of computational methods in which random values are used to calculate approximate solutions. In the last two decades this mathematics has been developed dramatically, and there are no signs that these developments will cease. On the contrary, we are now in the midst of a minor revolution where we can solve problems today that no one thought could be solved five years ago. This is paving the way for incredibly exciting advances both in basic research and in industrial applications, both of which I value very highly.
Vladimir Tolmachev, biomedical radiation science, specialising in protein-based radionuclide tumour target seeking
Thanks to advances in molecular biology in recent years a connection has been discovered between malignant changes in cells and the presence of so-called tumour markers. The occurrence of these molecules can contribute to important information for diagnosing a specific tumour, which in turn can determine what treatment is most suitable for a certain patient. My research aims to develop substances for such diagnosis. A substance capable of binding to a certain selected tumour marker is marked with a radionuclide and then injected into the patient. If the tumour marker, in turn, is present in the tumour cells, this leads to an agglomeration of radioactivity in the tumour.
Using instruments such as a gamma or PET camera, the physician can visualise the presence of the tumour marker in both the primary tumour and in metastases with a single diagnostic investigation.
This type of diagnostics is called molecular imaging. We have developed a new type of protein, affibody molecules, that help to make the visualisation of tumour markers more sensitive in comparison with other substances. If other types of radionuclides are connected to the affibody molecules, they can be used to kill the tumour cells instead. My special interest is in developing chemical methods that will contribute to enhanced visualisation capacity in diagnostic substances.
Wireless sensor networks consist of small built-in systems (sensor nodes) equipped with sensors and actuators, which communicate via radio. Sensor networks can be used in a number of different areas, such as surveillance of sensitive outdoor environments, traffic flows, building automation and control of processes in industry. This versatility and their low cost make sensor networks interesting for multiple applications. Sensor nodes are often battery driven, with the radio consuming the most energy. This means that the radio has to be turned off as much as possible. This is a challenge for so-called multi-hop networks, where data is sent via other nodes to a base station. In the near future such sensor nodes and sensor nets will be everywhere, for example as a key component of the Internet of Things.
My research addresses the energy efficiency and security of sensor networks of today and tomorrow. In networks of the future millions of such units will have to be coordinated, which leads to exciting research questions concerning interference and interoperability, for example. Also of interest are other forms of communication than radio, such as light.
My research is in the field of interaction design, a field that aims to develop principles of design and well-documented design examples for new information technology. My primary focus has been on a new form of game – pervasive games. These games use information technology to move the game experience out into the real world. Position-based games are one example.
One thing that computer games, board games and sports have in common is that they are played in set places for a set time. This is not how pervasive games work: they mix game activities with everyday life. For players, they offer an extremely attractive and exciting interplay with reality, although those around them might have a hard time understanding what’s going on.
In my projects we have run design experiments and investigated the game experience of both players and those around them. Currently I am collaborating with Tom Tits Experiment in Södertälje to build in a game in their exhibition. The project is intended to enhance people’s understanding of how physics and technology experiments function and to make the exhibition more attractive to older children and adults.
Nearly all people experience events sometime in their lives that are challenging or deeply upsetting. In many cases such an experience can be processed and part of the individual’s life history. However, sometimes the event continues to affect the individual, who can develop symptoms of stress or other mental illness.
My research mainly deals with people who have experienced a severe bodily injury, more specifically burns. A severe burn is a life-threatening condition. Hospitalisation and rehabilitation involve tremendous pain and often take a very long time. Normally the entire family is affected by the injury and its consequences. Despite these strains, the majority of those affected describe their health and quality of life as good a number of years after the event. Why is that? How can we identify those who will need help coping?
Thus far research has shown that the individual’s prior health and adaptation patterns play a key role in recuperation. But the type of event and how the individual is dealt with afterward are also important. My research aims, on the one hand, to improve the clinical reception and treatment of patients following traumatic experiences and, on the other hand, to enhance our understanding of mechanisms that affect our ability to recuperate.
My research is in theoretical and mathematical physics, specialising in quantum field theory and string theory. String theory is a quantum theory for gravity, that is, a theory that unifies quantum effects with the effects of gravity. Quantum effects are not directly observable in everyday life, but they play a fundamental role in many important situations in physics, for example in black holes and the origin of the universe.
I have specialised in the application of modern geometry in string theory and quantum field theory. The history of geometry is intimately intertwined with that of physics. In modern times, since Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity showed that gravity is geometry, we have been aware that time and space are not passive arenas for physical events but rather dynamic parts of the physical processes. Nowadays virtually all concepts in basic physics are geometrical in nature, and the emphasis in the mathematics that is most relevant to describing fundamental physics has shifted from analysis, with its mainly local arguments, to geometry and topology, which is more global in character. In the last twenty years or more, string theory has come to play an ever-greater role on the boundary between physics and mathematics. This is where my main research interests lie.