From Black Hole to Covid-19 Vaccines: 9 times curiosity-led science brought us to unexpected places

Blackhole images generated in 2019 (left) and 2021 (right). EU-supported science has helped break barriers over the years. © Event Horizon Telescope

1. Return to the Black Hole

These exotic cosmic objects have enormous mass but are small in size. Curving spacetime, black holes heat surrounding matter to super-high temperatures. They also raise some of the most complex questions about the nature of reality, and ultimately of our existence.
The second anniversary was celebrated by the release of an even more revealing image, showing how the black hole looks in polarised light. This is the first time astronomers have been able to measure polarisation, a signature of magnetic fields, this close to the edge of a black hole. The observations are key to explaining the mystery of how galaxies can project streams of energy thousands of light-years outward from their core.

2. From cancer to COVID-19

“It is the first time in human history that an effective vaccine against a new pathogen has been developed from scratch, evaluated in a phase 3 trial, and is authorised while a pandemic is ongoing,” said Prof. Uğur Şahin. The eminent researcher, together with his partner Özlem Türeci, has been studying messenger ribonucleic acids (mRNA) for more than two decades. They recognised that their mRNA vaccines — originally intended to fight cancer — could be adapted to address threats from newly emerging viruses. More

3. Microchip to detect tumour cells

There are trillions of cells of different sizes and shapes in the human body. In such a densely populated environment, the chances of detecting a single tumour cell seem pretty weak. Yet, to prevent potential metastasis — responsible for 90% of cancer-related deaths — early detection is a must. Liesbet Lagae, a Belgian engineer, is developing a microchip device that hunts for, inspects, and separates malignant cells circulating in the blood, quickly and cheaply. More

4. Vaulting through history

Craftsmen and technicians from the Strasbourg Cathedral restoration workshop replicated the medieval process behind making vaults at St. Anne’s Church in Annaberg, Germany. Image credit — María José Ventas

5. Next-generation AI

6. Tackling electoral hostility

Why do people hate each other for supporting different sides in a referendum or an election, and how can democratic societies reconcile after such a rift? Electoral disagreements have always existed, but situations where people end up despising others for their different voting preferences, seem increasingly common. ERC-funded research by Michael Bruter analyses how electoral hostility develops over time and potential solutions to resolve it. See a graphic story about electoral hostility.

7. Heart disease and women

Each year, there are more than 6 million new cases of cardiovascular disease in the EU. Unfortunately, due to obsolete stereotypes women are much more likely than men to be misdiagnosed when affected by heart disease.

8. Sharing food

What is the impact of food sharing on society, the economy and the environment? And what about the food we share beyond the family setting?

9. Jazz and physics

“I was always fascinated by the relation between the unpredictability of quantum mechanics and the unpredictability of a free improviser playing an instrument,” Maciej Lewenstein said. He used his passion for free-improvised music to help explain the intrinsic connections between quantum physics and jazz. The randomness of things in music could help us understand scientific issues that otherwise would be very difficult to comprehend. Find out how he did it.

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