Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology

Pushing boundaries far and near

6 February 2018

On Thursday 8 February, Uppsala University is once again hosting two internationally leading researchers for back-to-back lectures in memory of Anders Celsius and Carl Linnaeus. This year's lectures depart from opposite ends of an inconceivable spectrum: from the smallest elements in our cells to the most Earth-like planets outside our solar system.

What are the questions of concern to biologist Aviv Regev and astrophysicist Natalie Batalha? And what do their answers tell us about us humans and our existence? The Celsius-Linnaeus-Committee hosts Johan Elf and Nikolai Piskunov bring us up to speed on the lecturers’ research below.

She guides us to the Galaxy

Natalie Batalha

The Celsius Lecturer of 2018 is astrophysicist Natalie Batalha at NASA Ames Research Center and NASA's Kepler Mission, USA. Her host is Nikolai Piskunov, Professor of Observational Astrophysics at the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Uppsala University.

Natalie Batalha’s lecture is entitled Exoplanet Frontiers: Kepler & the Search for Life Beyond Earth – what can we expect from it?

Nikolai Piskunov: “Natalie Batalha is the science lead for the Kepler space telescope that was originally built to detect exoplanets – planets outside our solar system, but within our galaxy. Extrasolar planets can be seen at eclipses when planets pass in front of the stars they orbit. She and her research team are interested in stars similar to the sun, but also smaller and cooler stars. Natalie studies which planets are typical for different stars, being particularly interested in small Earth-like planets. They may harbour life, and in all cases, they need to be studied further to detect any biological activity. Although Kepler's mission was not to discover life on other planets, the plan has been to at least investigate where to start looking.”

“The biggest questions of concern to Natalie and her team are: what is a typical planetary system? How does it change between different types of stars? Is it more likely to detect planets around young stars or old stars? One should also remember that before Kepler, we only knew about a few hundred extrasolar planets. With Kepler we’ve discovered nearly 5 000 new ones!”

Why should people come listen to her?

"The exciting thing is that she will present plans for future projects. Her talk will not only focus on Kepler's history but she’ll also present their vision for how her work and the work of her research team will continue. It will be very interesting. I am really looking forward to her lecture.”

Your department at the Ångström Laboratory is also conducting research in this area – what’s your focus?

"We work with spectroscopy (experimental methods to study spectra ed. note) as a technology, but also to find stars that have planets. We can obtain important information about the stars in perhaps the most thorough way in the world, we can measure the temperature, size and how much radiation the stars give off to their planets. Our division of astronomy works on both instrument development as well as production of theoretical models. Our results are collected and distributed in a database at the Ångström Laboratory used by 3 000 professional astronomers, which is half of all the astronomers in the world.”

Do you have any question for Natalie Batalha yourself?

“How do we get from the current situation with exoplanets to the stage where we can actually search for life on other planets? It would be interesting to hear her response to that.”

 

CELSIUS-LINNAEUS LECTURES 8 FEBRUARY, 2018

Time: 09:15 a.m. – approx. 11.30 a.m.

Location: the Polhem Hall, Ångström Laboratory, Uppsala University

Free admission. No registration needed.

 

CELSIUS-LINNAEUS SYMPOSIUM 8 FEBRUARY, 2018

Time: 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Location: the Polhem Hall, Ångström Laboratory, Uppsala University

Free admission. No registration needed.

 

 

Read more about the Celsius-Linnaeus Lectures and Symposium at Uppsala University

More on Natalie Batalhas research

 

Anneli Björkman

 

 

She gives us new insights into our cells

Aviv Regev

This year's Linnaeus lecturer is Biology Professor Aviv Regev of the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard, USA. Johan Elf, Professor in Biological Physics at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Uppsala University, is her host.

Aviv Regev’s lecture is called Using experimental and computational approaches to decipher cellular identity and regulation – what will it be about?

Johan Elf: “Aviv Regev will talk about the new experimental methods she and her group have developed to look into human cells. In particular, they’re studying the amounts of different RNA molecules within single cells (RNA is a chemical substance which, among other things, serves as blueprint for protein synthesis ed.note). It is a form of large-scale molecular biology to understand how cells work by studying how systems of genes are regulated.”

"She will also present the advanced theoretical or computational methods that she has developed to analyse and interpret these measurements. It gives us, among other things, the opportunity to better understand cancer and immunological diseases.”

What's so innovative about the experimental methods Aviv Regev has developed? What is the secret behind her success?

"She has a very high sensitivity for detecting every RNA molecule in single cells. This way, it’s possible to compare different cells based on their different amounts of RNA molecules. It is, to a large extent, differences in RNA levels that make various cell types to be different, although they have the same DNA.”

"You can also compare the levels of RNA molecules in disease and healthy conditions, for example in cancer cells compared with non-cancer cells, and then systematically try to answer the question what the differences depend on.”

“Behind Aviv Regev’s success is first of all that she’s very clever and knowledgeable, but also that she works extremely hard and doesn’t hesitate to execute extremely difficult projects. She also has a background in mathematics and computer science which means that she’s been able to venture into the core of molecular biology with a transformational approach. In many ways, she has revolutionized how people will work with large-scale biology in the future.”

Why should people attend her lecture in the Polhem Hall?

"She is one of the world's foremost scientists and a very charismatic speaker. That’s a great start. Then I think she will give an inspirational insight into the opportunities and challenges of modern biology.”

“She also leads the massive international project, the Human Cell Atlas, which is mapping all the different cell types in the human body. It is the successor to the Human Genome Project that gave us a DNA map of the human genome. I hope she tells a bit about what it's like to lead the project. She certainly has exciting experiences of getting top scientists from all over the world to work together, which I think might be interesting for everyone to listen to.”

What do you look forward to talking to her about?

"I think we will talk about the benefits and challenges of using these methods in the bacterial system that I am interested in. Our optical measurements differ from Aviv’s more biochemical approach, but we are both interested in the dynamics and complexity of the cell control system and how to understand them.

 

CELSIUS-LINNAEUS LECTURES 8 FEBRUARY, 2018

Time: 09:15 a.m. – approx. 11.30 a.m.

Location: the Polhem Hall, Ångström Laboratory, Uppsala University

Free admission. No registration needed.

 

CELSIUS-LINNAEUS SYMPOSIUM 8 FEBRUARY, 2018

Time: 2:00 a.m. – 5:00 a.m.

Location: the Polhem Hall, Ångström Laboratory, Uppsala University

Free admission. No registration needed.

 

Read more about the Celsius-Linnaeus lectures and symposium at Uppsala University

More on Aviv Regev’s research

 

Anneli Björkman

 

See also the University’s press release

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