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University of Tartu to lead six centers of excellence for research

The main building at the University of Tartu (TÜ).
The main building at the University of Tartu (TÜ). Source: Andres Tennus/University of Tartu

Over the next seven years, the Estonian government is set to fund ten centers of excellence, which address scientific issues considered important for Estonia. The University of Tartu will lead six of the centers, while also participating as a partner in all the others.

According to a University of Tartu press release, the centers of excellence bring together high-level research teams from different fields and institutions to achieve top-quality international research results, while also considering the needs of the Estonian society and economy.

The new centers of excellence led by the University of Tartu will focus on research in green hydrogen and energy technologies, artificial intelligence (AI), personalized medicine, population and culture, well-being sciences and sustainable land use.

Sample of supercapacitator. Source: Kaspar Koolmeister

The University of Tartu is also participating as a partner institution in a center of excellence led by the Estonian University of Life Sciences (Eesti Maaülikool), which explores methods to reduce the environmental impact of new crops and food production suited to future climates.

The university is additionally involved in centers of excellence led by Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech), one of which is developing technologies for circular economy and the other focuses on energy-efficient construction methods.

University of Tartu research teams are also involved in the Center of Excellence for Fundamental Universe Studies, led by the Institute of Chemical and Biological Physics.

This center focuses on topics ranging from fundamental particle physics and cosmology to new-generation machine learning algorithms and potential quantum computing applications in basic research.

System for testing supercapacitators and batteries. Source: Kaspar Koolmeister

According to Mari Moora, vice rector for research at the University of Tartu, the new centers for excellence focus on important issues of international relevance. Moora added that using local data to find solutions will be valuable in shaping Estonia's future.

"The University of Tartu has a leading role in the Estonian research landscape. This is confirmed by the fact that the university is participating in all the new centers of excellence, and the number of centers of excellence led by the university has doubled when compared to the previous funding period. It is also pleasant that strong research teams from all our fields of research are involved in the centers," said Moora.

Based on precise data from archaeogenetics, studies of culture and linguistics, and paleoecology, the center of excellence will generate new knowledge regarding the evolution of the population and the unique culture of these areas in the European context. Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) and the Estonian Literary Museum will participate in the project as partners.

Estonian Roots. Source: Andero Kalju

The Center of Excellence in Sustainable Green Hydrogen and Energy Technologies, led by Professor of Physical Chemistry Enn Lust, focuses on developing novel energy conversion and storage devices. A demonstration center will be established to showcase advanced hydrogen and energy generation and storage devices, demonstrate them in operation, and cooperate with companies to find ways to produce new devices and bring technologies to the market. Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) has been involved in the work of the center of excellence as a partner.

The Estonian Center of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence, led by Associate Professor in Machine Learning Meelis Kull, advances innovative methodologies that help develop reliable AI systems. These methodologies will be applied to increase AI capabilities in key Estonian sectors, including e-governance, healthcare, business process management, and cybersecurity. Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) and Cybernetica AS are partners in the center of excellence.

Gene Chip. Source: Erki Piirimees

The Center of Excellence for Personalized Medicine, led by Professor of Bioinformatics Reedik Mägi, focuses on preventing and alleviating health problems in an ageing population.

This will be done by developing risk models for predicting diseases, taking into account the individual's origin, living and cultural environment, and by looking for biomarkers associated with diseases. Special attention is given to issues of population involvement as, when implementing personalized medicine, it is essential for people to understand their central role and responsibility in keeping healthy.

For example, the researchers will look into what people expect from the medical system and the steps they are willing to take to maintain their health. Tallinn University, OÜ ProtoBioS, and the Competence Centrer on Health Technologies are all partners in this center of excellence.

In Estonian Roots: The Center of Excellence for Transdisciplinary Studies on Ethnogenesis and Cultural Diversity led by Professor of Archaeogenomics Kristiina Tambets, researchers of the humanities and scientists will cooperate to clarify the formation of cultural and genetic diversity in Estonia and neighboring areas.

Based on precise data from archaeogenetics, studies of culture and linguistics, and paleoecology, the center of excellence will generate new knowledge regarding the evolution of the population and the unique culture of these areas in the European context. Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) and the Estonian Literary Museum will participate in the project as partners.

Estonian Roots. Source: Andero Kalju

The Estonian Center of Excellence of Well-being Sciences is led by professor of affective psychology Andero Uusberg.

The center will bring together social and natural scientists who study people and the contexts in which they operate. The aim being to find new methods to measure, understand and influence human well-being. Improving well-being is both an end in itself and a means to support economic growth, democracy, societal resilience and other values of society. Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) and Tallinn University are also involved in the center of excellence as partners.

The Center of Excellence of Sustainable Land Use is led by professor of geoinformatics Evelyn Uuemaa.

The center focuses on novel land use planning to preserve biodiversity and ensure carbon balance. Field data, satellite data and machine learning are used to identify and model the relationships between the carbon cycle and biodiversity. Socioeconomic analysis will be employed to assess the attitudes of landowners and land users as well as the feasibility of new land-use approaches. Other members of the center of excellence are the Estonian University of Life Sciences (Eesti Maaülikool) and the Center of Estonian Rural Research and Knowledge (METK).

The Estonian Ministry of Education and Research is supporting the work of each center of excellence with €7 million in funding.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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