Future Earth Program for Early-phase Grants Advancing Sustainability Science

Josh Tewksbury

The increasing prominence of sustainability science stems from the realization that many of the most pressing global problems facing society are complex mixtures of economic, societal and environmental issues, and that solving the resulting problems will require collaboration among researchers from many different scientific disciplines. The reduced resilience of natural systems is creating coupled socio-ecological systems that need to be addressed on an appropriate level to allow natural, physical and social sciences to provide stronger predictive capacities and to point the way to solutions for the management of these systems.

Supported by the NOMIS Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (United States), the international research platform Future Earth has established the Program for Early-phase Grants Advancing Sustainability Science (PEGASuS). By bringing together teams of scientists that have a successful track record of building large-scale collaborative projects and by coordinating their efforts to develop interdisciplinary methods, PEGASuS aims to build effective research communities around three major themes:

  • Integration of water, energy and food management
  • Prediction of and adaption to rapid changes in ecosystems
  • Sustainable management of ocean resources

The winners of the first round of the program have been announced in August 2017  >> link

While the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is providing core support with a strong emphasis on natural and physical science, the NOMIS Foundation enables Future Earth to fully integrate social science researchers into PEGASuS projects.

PEGASuS is being led by Joshua Tewksbury at the University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State University.

NOMIS Postdoctoral Fellowship Program at eikones – Center for the Theory and History of Images

For over a decade, eikones – Center for the Theory and History of the Image at the University of Basel, Switzerland, has been dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of images as instruments of human knowledge and cultural practice. Eikones has been examining the functions and epistemological value of images in different social, aesthetic and scientific contexts. Images are not merely understood as tools that complete certain tasks, but instead as systems of representation that differ from linguistic or mathematical systems because of their particular structure; they thus produce specific forms of knowledge.

The NOMIS Postdoctoral Fellowship Program supports groundbreaking research projects related to how images act as models or paradigms in scientific and aesthetic contexts. In both settings, images often assume an exemplary character, aiding epistemic and learning processes. They fulfill evidential, didactic and symbolic functions, and thereby produce different forms of knowledge. Relevant topics of research might consider, for example, the history and theory of imaging techniques in the natural sciences; the ideals and stereotypes that shape social contexts and political discussions; or the formation and dissolution of canons, iconographies, character types and styles in the arts.

On the methodological side, the NOMIS fellows will be selected from different scientific fields, and reflect on the relationship between their individual discipline and image studies. Sebastian Zeidler and Ingrid Vendrell-Ferran were the first of the NOMIS fellows. Zeynep Gürsel, Sean Silver, Philipp Ekardt and Tobias Wilke are the new fellows appointed for 2018-2019.

The NOMIS fellowships at eikones are being supervised by Markus Klammer and Ralph Ubl.

Professorship of Genome Biology, ETH Zurich

Clinicians’ approaches to the prevention and treatment of diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease are beginning to experience a shift from evidence-based medicine to personalized medicine. We now can perform genetic tests in order to determine if a person is susceptible to developing a particular disease as well as what response a person might have to a certain treatment. This rapidly growing field has the potential to greatly increase the chances of successful treatment by tailoring therapy to individual molecular and genetic profiles.

To promote the advancement of personalized medicine, Switzerland has launched the Swiss Personalized Health Network, a national research initiative to establish high-tech infrastructure for personalized medicine and to create stronger ties between hospitals and universities. ETH Zürich, a leading Swiss science and technology university, is participating in the effort to establish and advance the field of personalized health and technology through a new Professorship of Genome Biology within its Department of Biology.

The professorship is funded by NOMIS in cooperation with the Lotte und Adolf Hotz-Sprenger Stiftung. The key objective is to study the functional elements encoded in complex genomes through comparative analysis, seeking to deepen our understanding of how the genetic variation in the human population is related to disease susceptibility. This includes research on the distinctive cellular signatures of diseases (e.g., cancer) and on respective responses to drugs, as well as research on the mutations underlying cancer.

Against this background, the new professorship will develop an independent program in the area of human/mammalian genomics. In addition, it will develop and apply tools and data to pioneer new ways of understanding the genomic basis of quantitative traits, interaction networks and disease.

Jacob Corn was appointed Professor of Genome Biology at ETH Zurich in 2018. Corn is the founding Scientific Director of the Innovative Genomics Institute and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His research aims to bring about the end of genetic disease through the development and application of next-generation genome editing technologies — improving human health through the fundamental understanding of disease mechanisms.

NOMIS Professorship for Decision and Neuroeconomic Theory, UZH

Neuroeconomics is a new academic field emerging from the intersection of neuroscience, psychology and economics. The goal of this discipline is to provide a foundation for the study of underlying neural processes of decision-making within today’s economic environment.

Essential to the further progress of this field is the construction of empirically informed, testable models that connect the level of neural and mental processes underlying decision-making with the descriptive models of choice that characterize modern economics. By linking the fields of neuroscience and the economics of individual decision-making and building a theoretical bridge, neuroeconomics can realize its full potential, contributing to a microfoundation of behavior from a neural and mental processes perspective.

The Department of Economics at the University of Zurich (UZH) — one of the leading economics departments in Europe — hosts several professorships dedicated to the empirical study of the neural underpinnings of human behavior. However, although the bridge-building capacity of neuroeconomic theory is of great importance for the advancement of the field of neuroeconomics, it is largely missing from current research. The Department of Economics at UZH and the NOMIS Foundation have thus entered a long-term partnership through the establishment of the NOMIS Professorship for Decision and Neuroeconomic Theory.

The synergistic interaction between neuroscientists, psychologists and economists at the Department of Economics at UZH provides an excellent interdisciplinary environment in which the new professorship can draw on collaborative expertise from all involved disciplines to develop viable models with significant impact on the field. It is this highly innovative approach and collaborative culture that aligns perfectly with NOMIS’s values and that forms an ideal foundation for a successful, long-standing partnership.

Carlos Alós-Ferrer was appointed Professor for Decision and Neuroeconomic Theory in 2018. He is an economist who, prior to joining UZH, was professor of microeconomics at the University of Cologne, Germany, and the speaker of the interdisciplinary research unit “Psychoeconomics,” funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). He studied mathematics at the University of Valencia, Spain, and received his PhD in Economics at the University of Alicante, Spain, in 1998.

Nature Communications: “Cardiac afferent activity modulates the expression of racial stereotypes”

NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award winner Manos Tsakiris and his team of scientists have published the results of their research examining the connection between racial stereotypes and heartbeat in the journal Nature Communications.

By tapping into the phasic activation of arterial baroreceptors, known to be associated with changes in the neural processing of fearful stimuli, the team demonstrated activation of race-threat stereotypes synchronized with the cardiovascular cycle. In other words, our heartbeat can increase pre-existing racial biases when we face a potential threat.

Participants in the study were likely to misperceive a situation involving a black person as life-threatening, when experienced during cardiac systole rather than cardiac diastole. The heart’s firing of signals to the brain during cardiac systole, in combination with the concurrent presentation of a potential threat, increases the chances that even a non-threat will be perceived as threatening. This finding could provide valuable insight into understanding racially biased behavior, such as the high incidence of shootings of unarmed black people in the United States.

The research was conducted by scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London, working with Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), and was enabled by the European Research Council and the NOMIS Foundation. More information can be found in the Royal Holloway press release.

University of Zurich joins Open Library of Humanities’ Library Partnership Subsidy system

The University of Zurich (UZH), a NOMIS partner and one of the leading research universities in Europe, has joined the Open Library of Humanities’ (OLH) Library Partnership Subsidy (LPS) system. OLH is a charitable organization dedicated to publishing open-access scholarship with no author-facing article-processing charges. OLH is funded by an international consortium of libraries whose mission is to make scholarly publishing fairer, more accessible and rigorously preserved for the digital future.

In 2017 the Department of Economics at UZH and the NOMIS Foundation established a partnership in the form of the NOMIS Professorship for Decision and Neuroeconomic Theory.