Fifteen students earn PhDs as part of COSMOS project

Dolenjske Toplice, 16 October - The Faculty of Information Studies in Novo Mesto recently organised the closing meeting of the COSMOS project in Dolenjske Toplice. A total of 15 students took part in the interdisciplinary project on mathematical modelling of complex systems and earned their PhD degrees under the mentorship of 15 principal investigators.

The international project entitled Complex Oscillatory Systems: Modelling and Analysis (COSMOS) started in January 2015 and will officially come to a close in December this year.

The consortium comprises eight European partner universities and faculties led by the University of Potsdam, and 15 industrial partners.

The partner institutions include the Faculty of Information Studies in Novo Mesto, which last week organised the project's closing conference in Dolenjske Toplice, which featured lectures, researchers' conferences and presentations of PhD theses of the participating students.

A key goal of the COSMOS project has been to provide training at the intersection of physics, applied mathematics and natural sciences to 15 early-stage researchers from multiple European countries and prepare them for a variety of academic and business posts through a combination of theoretical and experimental approaches.

The fifteen early stage researchers worked on their PhD theses at two different partner institutions in two countries. They also worked in industry for three months.

"When they graduate they are trained in multiple aspects of academic work, and they also have an industrial component to their training," said COSMOS project head Caroline Reid.

Project in mathematical modelling of complex systems

The topic of COSMOS is complex oscillatory systems, which means that the project deals with mathematical modelling of complex systems such as the human brain.

According to COSMOS coordinator Arkady Pikovsky, the topic unites people from different fields, including physicists and mathematicians, but also neuroscientists and physiologists.

The phenomenon of oscillatory dynamic and oscillated behaviour is present everywhere, not only in very complex physical experiments. "When for example you fly from Europe to America you experience jet lag and this is your oscillatory system of day and night, your organism needs to be resynchronised to new conditions and this is one of the subjects of this field of science," Pikovsky said.

Slovenian faculty participating in the project

Since the start of the project, multiple faculties have hosted numerous events and presentations of the project and students' research. Every six months a project meeting or a conference was hosted by one of the partners. The closing conference was organised by Zoran Levnajić of the Novo Mesto Faculty of Information Studies.

He said that the faculty, the youngest partner of the consortium, was very grateful for the opportunity to be involved in COSMOS. This is the faculty's first major international science project at the EU level and it is hoping for more such collaborations in the future.

Levnajić took part as one of the 15 principal investigators, which he described as a "great experience" from which he learned a lot, for example how to advise students and make them fully realise their potential.

Students took part in numerous scientific research projects

The participating students have published 25 scientific papers, including in prestigious journals such as Physical Review Letter, and quite a few are still in preparation, Reid said.

Some of the papers have involved more than one student and sometimes additional researchers who are not directly involved in COSMOS, so the work was very much interdisciplinary, according to Reid. "They haven't just worked on an individual project, there has also been cross-fertilisation of research, which I think is very beneficial," she said.

After almost three years, everybody is quite satisfied with the result, Pikovsky said. "I think we did a very good research and we educated a number of students who are enthusiastic and will form and shape European science in the coming years," he said.

Students' experience with the COSMOS project

Early stage researcher in the COSMOS project Gloria Cecchini found the project "wonderful". "I think we've been really really lucky to be part of this project, since we had the opportunity to interact with so many people, to travel so much, to go to conferences, and to learn about the different ways of working," Cecchini said.

Similarly, early stage researcher Bastian Pietras said the project had significantly contributed to his personal and professional growth. He said, however, that the travel researchers changing countries during their PhD studies, and adapting to a new environment, people and culture had been quite challenging and time consuming.

Nonetheless, Pietras said that through this experience "we've gained a lot of personal independence and a broad scientific view on things, from different angles." "I think we're well equipped for future challenges," he said.

Members of the consortium and financing

The members of the project consortium include the University of Potsdam, University of Lancaster, University of Aberdeen, University of Florence, University of Amsterdam, the Faculty of Information Studies in Novo Mesto, the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona and the Medical University of Graz.

COSMOS is part of the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network - European Joint Doctorates programme, funded by the European research and innovation programme Horizon 2020.

Early stage researchers in project COSMOS

Gloria Cecchini: Inferring the high dimension network structure in a multitude of coupled oscillators, more at this link.

Pau Clusella: Comparative analysis of oscillator models, more at this link.

Rok Cestnik: Inferring the structure of pulse-coupled oscillatory networks from data, more at this link.

Marco Faggian: Dynamical maximum entropy approach to neural networks, more at this link.

Aleksandra Pidde: Dynamics of membrane potential oscillations in biological cells, more at this link.

Marc Grau: Inverse-engineering of complex oscillatory networks, more at this link.

Federico Devalle: Collective phenomena in networks of spiking neurons, more at this link.

Maxime Lucas: Spatio-temporal dynamics of chronotaxic systems, more at this link.

Bastian Pietras: Frequency-doubling bifurcations in neuronal networks - a means of cross-frequency interactions, more at this link.