Falling Walls 2014

    How Responsive Nanomaterials Take Medicine to the Next Level

    Adah Almutairi
    Associate Professor, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Department of NanoEngineering; Director of the joint KACST- UC San Diego Center of Excellence in Nanomedicine and Engineering

    Self-destruction mechanisms are not only a frequent feature of action movies, they are also the next big thing in nanomedicine. Think of tiny capsules that overcome complex barriers of the body and eventually dissolve, releasing substances to specific places – and at specific times. From self-healing materials, to nutrients, drugs, fat-burners and fragrances – smart polymers, nanoparticles, and hydrogels have a wide range of therapeutic, diagnostic, or cosmetic applications. Adah Almutairi, who has received recognitions like the NIH New Innovator Award, is a specialist in bioresponsive materials and leads an interdisciplinary research team at UC San Diego. In her research work, she applies cutting-edge macromolecular engineering techniques and nanotechnology to innovate the visualisation of molecular processes in living organisms and to improve drug delivery and biopharmaceutics. Her group’s most recent discovery is a novel mechanism which uses light to activate drug-delivering nanoparticles and other targeted therapeutic substances inside the body. At Falling Walls, Adah Almutairi presents an overview of her fascinating research and an outlook on its groundbreaking possibilities in health care.

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    How Neuroscience Explains The Rise of Experience from the Brain

    Christof Koch
    Chief Scientific Officer, Allen Institute for Brain Science, Seattle

    Over the last years, much has been learned about the neuronal basis of consciousness in the brain. Together with a recently developed Integrated Information Theory of consciousness, this progress raises the possibility that science will soon come to grips with this most ephemeral, yet most fundamental, of all phenomena at the heart of the mind-body problem. These studies suggest that consciousness is more widespread than usually assumed, including in many animals, but not in computer models of the brain. Christof Koch developed his interdisciplinary approach, which integrates the natural sciences and mathematics with more traditional philosophical concerns, during his years of cooperation with his mentor Francis Crick, the Nobel-winning co-discoverer of the DNA structure. After a 27-year research career at the California Institute of Technology, Dr. Koch left academia to become the Chief Scientific Officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. Funded by Microsoft founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen, the Seattle-based institute takes a Big Science approach to build Brain Observatories in order to catalogue all the cell types of the cerebral cortex and its complete interconnectivity using quantitative models to understand how it gives rise to behavior, perception, and consciousness.

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    How Quantum Physics Questions Our Perception of Reality

    Anton Zeilinger
    Professor of Physics at the University of Vienna and President of the Austrian Academy of Sciences

    Plato’s famous Parable of the Cave illustrates the idea that human beings will never be able to see the truth until they leave the cave in which they are held prisoners, where they are forced to watch shadows on the dark walls and see only projections instead of reality itself. It has been suggested that this old metaphor of our limitations of understanding might well describe the relationship between classical physics, which studies phenomena of the sensible reality, and quantum physics, which explores what lies underneath. Quantum physics challenges traditional perceptions of reality: it teaches us that matter is mainly void, that objects can simultaneously exist in different places, and that they are physically correlated in space and time through a phenomenon called “entanglement” – what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”. A pioneer in quantum information and the foundations of quantum mechanics, the Austrian physicist Anton Zeilinger has been awarded the first Newton Medal and the 2010 Wolf Prize in Physics, among other recognitions. He realised many important quantum information protocols for the first time and helped build the basis for future quantum communication networks, the long-distance transmission of signals using the properties of entanglement, powerful quantum computers, and quantum cryptography, which might bring us perfect data security. At Falling Walls, Zeilinger demonstrates how the growing knowledge of quantum physics will change the way we perceive ourselves and the reality surrounding us.

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    How Novel Methods in Neuroscience Open up New Horizons in Research and Therapy

    Karl Deisseroth
    D. H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
    Stanford University

    Beginning ten years ago, Karl Deisseroth and several of his students developed the most disruptive technology neuroscience had seen in a long time. Optogenetics is a method to control single kinds of brain cells with a light-triggered switch, allowing scientists to turn on and off specific cells and connections in the brain and to map neural circuits with extremely high precision. The technique was freely distributed to thousands of laboratories and launched a new era in neurobiology research and therapy. Deisseroth, who is also a practicing psychiatrist, applies his methods in the clinic to create better treatments for mental disorders. In the near future, new devices and treatments based on insights from optogenetics might be used to treat illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease, anxiety, or schizophrenia. In 2013, Karl Deisseroth presented yet another game-changing technique, which provides a way to make intact organs such as the mammalian brain transparent to light, allowing detailed insights into its structures and pathways. Since then, laboratories around the world have begun using the technique, called CLARITY, to gain three-dimensional views of complex neural networks and map brain functions. At Falling Walls, Karl Deisseroth explains how optogenetics and CLARITY can shed light on, and ultimately help address, mental illnesses, which remain some of the least understood phenomena in medicine.

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    How Quantum Materials Hold The Key To A New Generation of Superconductors

    Suchitra Sebastian
    University Lecturer and Royal Society University Research Fellow in Physics at the University of Cambridge

    Current technologies from silicon chips to computer memory to mobile phone displays are all derived from the fundamental quantum properties of materials. Creating novel materials and manipulating their electronic arrangements is the key to harnessing quantum properties at a macro-level for revolutionary technological advances. Suchitra Sebastian, an experimental condensed matter physicist, L’Oréal UNESCO Women in Science Fellow, and winner of a five-year Starting Grant from the European Research Council, is particularly interested in an extraordinary physical phenomenon known as superconductivity. Superconducting materials transport electricity with zero loss and currently find uses ranging from magnets in MRI machines to particle accelerators in CERN. Suchitra Sebastian is working towards finding novel superconductors that operate at accessible temperature, dramatically increasing their technological applicability. These findings set us firmly on target to discover novel superconductors by design rather than by serendipity – which would open doors to access the enormous potential of these materials and unlock a wide variety of technologies: from lossless electrical transmission to smart electricity grid solutions, from magnetic levitating trains to supercomputers, and from high-efficiency wind-turbines to energy storage systems. At Falling Walls, Sebastian speaks about these new findings and the ongoing quest for what has often been termed “the Holy Grail” of materials physics.

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