UT Austin | Portugal Program at Science 2017

Interdisciplinary research,
education and capacity building

12 Jul 2017

This Annual Meeting of Portuguese Researchers took place from July 3 to 5, at the Lisbon Congress Center, and brought together over 4000 participants.


Science 2017 aimed to promote a broad debate on the main themes and challenges that guide the activity of the Portuguese Scientific Community.

The annual meeting brings together the scientific and technological community in Portugal and guests from different spheres of society.

The 2017 edition marked the 20th anniversary of FCT (Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, created in 1997 by Professor José Mariano Gago, as Minister of Science and Technology, and the 50th anniversary of JNICT (National Board of Scientific and Technological Research), predecessor institution of FCT.

The Science 2017, was organized by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), Ciência Viva and the Parliamentary Commission for Education and Science.

The Science 2017 meeting counted on more than 400 communications by researchers who presented results of their scientific works, 700 posters of doctoral students and dozens of demonstrations of projects in loco.

Four UT Austin | Portugal researchers had the opportunity to showcase their research work:


Maria da Conceição Gonçalves Costa, Lusófona University
Project: Games for Media and Information Literacy Learning (GAMILearning Project)

Project Description: The GamiLearning project includes an international research team, with members from CICANT / CIC. Digital, the University of Texas, Austin, the University of Aveiro and an Industry Partner (PTC) that owns the SAPO Campus. The main objective of the project is to develop children’s critical and participatory dimensions of media, promoting students’ media literacy skills and digital identity management skills through collaborative learning experiences and the creation of digital games in the classroom.

The project’s has the specific objectives of creating conditions that allow the construction of digital games in the context of learning activities in the classroom; promote technical and socio-cultural skills in the area of digital security, digital identities and media literacy; promote collaboration during learning through the use of a social networking platform developed specifically for school contexts; to evaluate the impact of the creation of games by children in the development of learning processes in media literacy.

The project team has participated in several scientific meetings and written articles published in peer review journals, mainly in the area of media, media literacy, media education and game-based learning. Among the last participations are the participation in the Science Meeting 2017 - FCT / UT Austin Program, the participation in the EduLearn conference - IATED from 3 to 5 July in Barcelona; INTED 2017 conference on March 6 in Valencia; Congress of Literacy, Media and Citizenship on May 5 and 6 in Porto; Conference in Segovia from 15 to 17 June - III International Conference on Media Education and Digital Competence (Media Education Summit 2017). The team will also participate soon in the conference Audiences 2030 that will take place in Lisbon on September 28 and 29, as well in the 11th European Conference on Games Based Learning (ECGBL) on 5-6 October in Graz, Austria.

Some of the results presented in the Science Meeting organized by FCT/UTAustin Program show significant differences in the data collected before and after the project’s intervention in schools, indicating higher values in the post-test for dimensions of MIL connected to GamiLearning activities. As future work, the research team plans to analyze and cross qualitative and quantitative data collected, as well as to perform a social network analysis of the children’s interactions during the project intervention. The project includes also a teachers training, accredited by Conselho Científico-Pedagógico da Formação Contínua - Ministério da Educação that will take place during September and October 2017, and a final conference on April 19, 2018 in Lisbon, in partnership with the 2nd International Media Literacy Research Symposium.

For more information: gamilearning.ulusofona.pt


Joaquim Miguel Oliveira, U. Minho
Project: Engineering Patient-specific bioprinted constructs for treatment of degenerated Intervertebral Disc

Project Description: Lower back pain (LBP), which is strongly associated with intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration, is one of the most frequently reported age- and work-related disorder in actual society, leading to a huge socio-economic impact worldwide.

The current treatments have poor clinical outcomes and thus there is a growing interest in the potential of cell-based tissue engineering (TE) approaches aimed to regenerate the damaged IVD and restore full disc function. Silk fibroin scaffolds have promising features for tissue engineering strategies, once the physico-chemical and biological performances of the scaffolds can be tailored in a wide range by using different formulations and blending with elastin to mimic IVD ultrastructure. The proposed two-stage strategy consists in perform total IVD substitution/regeneration using a personalized approach by means of using reverse engineering, i.e. combining imaging techniques (e.g. MRI and micro-CT) and 3D-bioprinting technology.

In the first stage, human IVD datasets (MRI or CT) are adequately analyzed for developing accurate 3D models that mimic the native IVD sub-compartments. In the second stage, silk-based hydrogels are printed as 3D anatomical scaffolds and characterized thoroughly in vitro.

The implantation of custom-made silk/elastin implants closely mimicking native IVD and possessing an appropriate size, shape, mechanical performance, and biodegradability can improve recovery time after surgery and help to restore spine biofunctionality.


Ana Maria Oliveira Rocha Senos, University of Aveiro
Project: Exploring Stresses to Develop Functional Nanoceramics by in-situ TEM Sintening (TENSOSINT)

Project Description: The main objective of this work was to investigate the role of stresses on the microstructural design of functional ceramics using in-situ TEM sintering and K0.5Na0.5NbO3 (KNN), a lead free piezoelectric material, as the base material for these studies. The project relies on a strong collaboration between a team from the University of Aveiro, Portugal, with recognized experience in the development of functional ceramic materials, led by Professor Ana Senos, and a team from the University of Teaxas, at Austin, led by Professor Paulo Ferreira, with expertise in electron microscopy and sintering of nanoscale films.


Joaquim Armando Pires Jorge, INESC (Institute for Systems Engineering and Computers)
Project: Algorithms for Macro-Molecular Pocket Detection

Project Description: Algorithms for Macro-Molecular Pocket Detection is an exploratory project that aims to develop more efficient algorithms to detect pockets in very large molecules. Such algorithms are important in the design of new drugs, as they can predict the location where drugs can bind to a specific protein and, consequently, determine its implications on protein function.

The challenge of structure-based drug design (SBDD) lies in correctly predicting which small molecule (i.e., ligand) would bind to a specific protein and, consequently, which are the implications on its function. It is clear that SBDD requires a profound understanding of how a ligand interacts with the protein; more specifically, how a ligand fits in its binding site on the protein surface because such information is very useful to predict which other ligands might bind and how strong their bindings will be.

In the last few years, SBDD experienced a major boost owing to the increasingly number of known protein structures. This is largely due to the appearance of many structural genomics projects that unearthed X-ray crystal structures of proteins either with unknown or poorly known function. In fact, it was noted that while some of these proteins contained co-crystallized ligands, most of them were un-liganded. It was then clear that these latter “incomplete” protein structures would end up raising new challenges in respect to the prediction and characterization of protein-ligand interactions.

Searching for binding sites remains a challenge on both the size of proteins that current approaches can handle and the time required to find cavities. This project aims at devising efficient algorithms for detecting pockets/cavities on the surface of large (>500K atoms) proteins capable of binding to small molecules. More specifically, we aim to develop new and efficient geometric algorithms to determine pockets and other cavities in macromolecules, where we employ novel techniques in geometric modelling, computer graphics and visualization combined with high performance parallel computing.