Tartu University News

What to notice in the Soviet Estonian Female Bildungsroman?

23 hours 42 minutes ago

Recently, Johanna Ross defended her doctoral thesis at the University of Tartu in which she examined works by Soviet Estonian women writers and the depiction of female characters in them.

This topic has intrigued Johanna Ross for a long time. About ten years ago, she began writing a master’s thesis on the topic of Aimée Beekman’s novel An Opportunity for Choice (Valikuvõimalus), more specifically, on the topic of its reception. It has been said that this novel influenced a whole generation of women by challenging the current model of marriage, as discussed in Universitas Tartuensis magazine.

The 1970s and 80s were different for Soviet Estonian literature than earlier times. Many novels on contemporary topics were published, which focused mainly on the marital and extramarital relationships of the characters. Even though these novels were read and talked of, they were considered to have a low literary value.

Understood differently

Retrospectively, these novels and the common direction have been interpreted differently. It has been found that these novels were light fiction and not recognised or acknowledged by the Soviet critics as such. On the other hand, signs of an onset of feminist consciousness in these novels have been seen in these novels.

In her doctoral thesis, Ross gave an overview of novels by Soviet Estonian women authors which can be read as Bildungsroman. These novels focus on the young female protagonist’s quest for her role in society, seeking to reconcile her own wants and desires with societal expectations.

The literary texts analysed by Ross depict the personal and societal growth of a woman, but are created under specific conditions. Firstly, the public order is totalitarian and secondly, female roles dominating both the actual political sphere and the social praxis diverge from the official ideal.

Thirdly, literature by default functions as a site of resistance where opposition to the official doctrine is considered de rigueur.

Johanna Ross wanted to find out, which situations are played out on literary characters and how they resonate with the audience. For this purpose, she designed two ways of reading.

The first one is a national-oppositional reading mode. This reading assumes that literature rebels against the Soviet regime and the Soviet literary ideology by trying to subvert it in a surreptitious manner that is recognisable for the informed reader.

The second is a feminist reading mode which also often employs a subversive rhetoric of resistance by either criticising the traditional gender roles and the corresponding storylines.

In the analysis of the texts, Ross included their contemporary reviews, taking into account that the reviews published in the Soviet media might not have reflected the immediate reading experience, but were informed to a considerable extent by the political currents of the time.

Among others, Ross also looked at war novels published mainly in the 1960s. According to her, the Khrushchev Thaw made it possible, both in Estonia and elsewhere in the Soviet Union, to write about war in a slightly different manner than before.

Thus, the authors could pay more attention to the meaning of war for the individual. “Based on my thesis, it could be concluded that Estonian women writers carried out this deviation by depicting everyday life in the home front or in occupied areas where there was a majority of women”, said Ross.

Authors largely depicted their own experience, or that of their close acquaintances. However, the female characters created were strong women who were not afraid of physical labour, as dictated by the Soviet ideology. Ideologically, they are also pure and righteous, or at least on the path to such purity. On the other hand, these characters are created in a very feminine way. The author draws attention to their physical appearance and their caring nature.

On the one hand, they have romantic interests, but – in keeping with a typical model for the female Bildungsroman – romances seldom have a happy ending. The female protagonist typically has to – and wants to – cope on her own.

Changes between editions

One of the novels that Ross looked at more closely was With Tale of the River Emajõgi (Emajõe jutustus) by Luise Vaher. Her attention was primarily drawn to the differences between the two editions published in 1960 and 1974. The author has made changes to the text that mostly concern the female protagonist Anneli and her life.

The earlier Anneli took the path destined for a hero of a Soviet novel distancing herself from her old life and reactionary family and striving towards a new, communist social order.

“Descriptions of her looks, thoughts and feelings, however, are often reminiscent of a romantic heroine straight out of a “bourgeois” romance novel – a popular genre in Estonia during the author’s youth”, said Ross.

In the new edition, the author tries to make Anneli’s story more “correct”, to mould the protagonist into a more politically conscious Soviet woman. Descriptions of her looks and romantic scenes have been cut down and in general, the importance of a romantic storyline for her has been downplayed. “This decreases the importance of the private sphere in the novel and in turn makes the story less appealing for the audience”, thought Ross.

The author of the doctoral thesis also looked at Village Without Men (Meesteta küla) by Lilli Promet. This novel, set in the home front has an abundance of female characters, descriptions of their past and wartime scenes of their everyday lives.

The novel is made significant by the fact that the author and various institutions wrangled for three years over its publication. Ross explained that the main reason concerned the structure of the text which put it into contrast with the heroic narrative of the Great Patriotic War.

During those three years, when the publishing of the novel was delayed, the range expanded of what was considered as being acceptable. “The novel in question served as an agent of change itself in the local context and permission was finally given”, said Ross.

As a result, the publication history of the novel marks it out as a bold, rebellious act despite the fact that the text itself includes utterly Soviet scenes of meetings and people singing The Internationale together, for example.

Almost 20 years later, Lilli Promet writes the novel Girls from the Sky (Tüdrukud taevast). The protagonist is an Estonian-born Soviet female parachutist who is tasked with gathering information in German-occupied Estonia. The protagonist is described as particularly ladylike, drawing attention and letting herself notice her own and other women’s clothes and hair.

The reception of the novel was rather cold. Ross considers one of the reasons was probably because war history, including the occupation of Estonia, was still a highly regulated subject despite the slowly slackening ideological constraints and remained so up until the collapse of the Soviet Union. “These traumas had still not been talked through for Estonians. The audience was somewhat sceptical towards any sort of lighter approach to the subject”, said Ross.

Ross noted the same for Aimée Beekman’s Potato Bells (Kartulikuljused). It does not give priority to the gender issue but it depicts Estonians’ mass escape to the West in 1944 in a grotesque light.

Another reason is the gender discourse that had undergone a change by 1979. Girls from the Sky found itself against the backdrop of the so-called everyday literature rather than war literature.

“Although the feminisation of the character of a Soviet female parachutist could have been intriguing in theory, it seemed more like a caricature at the time, belittling both war and women, and the audience was not amused”, said Ross.

Ross looked more closely at marriage novels that centre on the question of reaching, maintaining or breaking up a marriage. The first such novel she analysed was Ukuaru by Veera Saar.

It is a two-part novel, with a significant focus on finding oneself either through professional, social self-actualisation or through family.

Perhaps the most remarkable part for Ross is the way that half of Ukuaru has been almost completely forgotten. The story of private self-actualization as embodied by Minna of Ukuaru is well remembered: she lives during the lost Golden Age, the Republic of Estonia of the 1930s, and fits the romantic archetype of an Estonian country woman.

At the same time, Kaili, a Soviet Estonian forestry worker in the 1950s, who works hard to break out of the shadow of her husband, has been left out.

Influenced by the completion of the library

Ross explained that as the library of the University of Tartu was closed to the renovation works during the last years of writing her doctoral thesis, she had to find help from Tartu Oskar Luts Public Library and the Estonian Literary Museum’s Archival Library.

At the same time, the author of the doctoral thesis found that the need for being at the library physically has declined.

While writing the thesis, Artiklite ja Retsensioonide Kroonika (Chronicle of Articles and Reviews), journals Keel ja kirjandus (Language and Literature), Looming (Creation) and Vikerkaar (Rainbow) as well as the newspaper Sirp ja Vasar (Sickle and Hammer) had also been fully digitised and made available online. This made work considerably easier.

The translation of this article from Estonian Public Broadcasting science news portal Novaator was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.


Category: Research
Mari-Liis Pintson (pintson)

Folkloristic approach throws new light on old norse sagas

23 hours 52 minutes ago

Old Norse family sagas are the part of vernacular literature written by Scandinavian people up to 14th century. Although the stories are very realistic, usually connected with realism and down-to-earth conflicts, supernatural elements are also present and important in them. Most of the scholars have neglected these elements, but the professor of Scandinavian studies at the University of Tartu, Daniel Sävborg, has inversely felt special interest in these parts.

Old Nordic literature has been Sävborg’s focus for a very long time, because Icelandic sagas are very rich and fascinating material, as he said. What is more, he mentioned that Icelandic authors wrote more over 100 years than Swedish authors wrote during the whole medieval times. So, the culture of Iceland had the one with the largest vernacular literatures in Europe during those times.

With his four-year project, he wanted to throw light on these parts exactly, which have generally been neglected, and with the help of new perspectives, regarding comparative material as well as theory. “The Old Norse stories are realistic,  about farmers’ lives, for example, but there are also trolls and other supernatural beings as characters. They have been seen as some sort of anomaly and therefore it seems that these have not been researched, as they do not fit into the general picture of what Icelandic sagas should look like”, he explained.

Different People Interpreted Supernatural Differently

He also wanted to use a folkloristic approach, since until now, the Old Norse literature has been largely studied by the philologists, who are mainly analysing written text and language, but the folkloristic view opens new aspects of the stories and also give material for comparison with the later stories.

“My goal was to see the supernatural elements in the folkloristic way to understand them as a possible part of the people’s folk belief in the time when the text was written”, Sävborg noted. “It is quite clear that nowadays it is maybe rather peculiar to have superstitions, but in medieval times, it was an important part of people’s lives. They believed that that trolls and spirits lived in the mountains and forests, for example.”

As one of the most important results, Sävborg named the very clear distinction between learnt and popular discourse. “Earlier scholars have considered supernatural as a purely literary motif in the sagas, but I would say that it reflects a real thing. But of course, I could determine very different treatment of supernatural characters in the different type of texts. In the texts written by priests, for example, supernatural characters were basically manifested demonic spirits, demons and devils, but not an independent species, as they were interpreted in the sagas of farmers, for example. For regular people, trolls were species who lived in the mountains and had families etc”, he described and added that this distinction can explain the depiction of supernatural beings in different texts.

Helps to See Deeper

Sävborg sees that the same distinction can be used in the future when working with some other supernatural medieval texts, because by using this, it is possible to see so much more in the texts. As one more recommendation to colleagues or contribution to the science he named, the general idea is to use a more folkloristic approach and compare earlier texts with later ones.

During his project, Sävborg published many publications and some books, and he has some more articles coming. He also plans to continue supernatural studies and research oral narratives and traditions, maybe with an ex-doctoral student from Reykjavik.

Further information:
Daniel Sävborg, UT Professor of Scandinavian Studies, Head of the Department of Scandinavian Studies, daniel.savborg [ät] ut.ee

Written by Marii Kangur

This article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.

Category: Research
Mari-Liis Pintson (pintson)

Smarter data analysis strategies will improve infertility treatment in the future

1 day ago

Scientists from Tartu have discovered a simple way how to improve infertility treatment in the future. The results of the study, published in Human Reproduction, a top journal in the field, can be used in precision medicine to account for the variability in each female patient's menstrual cycle. This personalised approach will first and foremost benefit those couples, who have experienced repeated IVF failure.

In 2017, more than 2800 in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures were carried out in Estonia, resulting in the birth of 430 babies, which accounts for 3% of all births. The low 15% success rate of IVF can be caused by problems in several stages of the treatment. One of such stages is embryo implantation, which marks the beginning of the pregnancy. However, if the embryo is transferred into the uterus on the wrong day, even the best embryos cannot overcome this, resulting in a negative pregnancy test.

The task of the infertility treatment specialist is to recommend the best treatment for each patient. Female infertility can be caused by problems with endometrial (the inner uterine lining) receptivity. While in natural conception the developing embryo can „sit and wait“ until the endometrium matures to peak receptivity, in IVF treatment it is of utmost importance to transfer the embryo on the correct day to increase the chances of pregnancy. Different methods are used to assess endometrial receptivity, the most accurate of which is a test measuring the expression patterns of different genes in an endometrial biopsy. For this, a minimally invasive endometrial biopsy is taken in the cycle preceding the IVF cycle on the day the endometrium is supposedly the most receptive. Analysis of the expression patterns of specific marker genes provides vital information to decide whether the „right genes are expressed at the right time.“ If needed, the time of the embryo transfer is adjusted, providing an example of precision medicine in infertility treatment.

The study, published in Human Reproduction, a leading journal in the field of reproductive medicine, is based on the well-known fact that the inner uterine lining consists of several different cell types. The novelty of the study lies in the fact that previous studies have not considered the effect of cell type proportions on endometrial gene expression profiles. This novel approach makes gene expression profile analysis more specific, thus also improving the performance of tests based on gene expression patterns. The paper has also been highlighted by the editor-in-chief of Human Reproduction, meaning that it is considered to be a remarkable improvement in this field.

The study was a collaboration between scientists from Estonia and Spain, and a natural progression to the earlier work of the research group in Tartu, which allows to improve IVF efficiency. Marina Suhorutšenko, the first author of the paper and a PhD student at the Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Tartu, explains: „It is common knowledge that the inner uterine lining includes different cell types; however, all the previous studies have consistently ignored this fact. Our work shows how to account for this variability in cellular composition, and thus considerably improve the accuracy of biomarker discovery.“ In the clinical setting, only the whole tissue gene expression profile is usually analysed, as analysing cellular fractions separately is labour-intensive and expensive. „We have developed a pipeline that allows to skip this step, and instead uses a different data analysis approach to improve the accuracy without extra costs,“ added Suhorutšenko.

Dr. Triin Laisk, a Research Fellow at the Estonian Genome Center, who coordinated the data analysis of the study adds that the confounding effect of biopsy cellular composition has been largely ignored in the past, and not only in the field of reproductive medicine. „By taking it into account we can decrease the amount of random and false positive findings, and eventually improve our knowledge on the biology behind different conditions, as well as facilitate the discovery of novel biomarkers,“ said Dr. Laisk.

The results of the study have immediate practical value, and the research team is currently working on how to integrate these findings into a genetic test that is used in infertility treatment clinics to select the best day for embryo transfer. The Competence Centre on Health Technologies (CCHT), where the study in question was carried out, has developed an endometrial receptivity test called beREADY.

„We have done some important basic science, such as this study, that eventually will improve the efficiency of IVF treatment,“ explains Professor Andres Salumets, the coordinator of the study. „Tests and methods applied in the clinical setting are never the result of only one discovery. There are smaller and greater breakthroughs, but the elegant data analysis solution applied in this study is a good addition to the beREADY personalised treatment tool currently being tested by several clinics. From a technological point of view, we can use patented solutions in the beREADY test, but we also need to use smarter data analysis approaches to stand out among the competitors,“ said Prof. Salumets.

Media Contact: Andres Salumets, UT Professor of Reproductive Medicine, +372 5620 4004, andres.salumets [ät] ccht.ee   Translated by Estonian Research Council Category: Research
Mari-Liis Pintson (pintson)

Inaugural lecture by Marko Pajević, UT Professor of German Studies

1 week 1 day ago

On 11 October at 16:15, the University of Tartu Professor of German Studies Marko Pajević delivers his inaugural lecture “The Access to the World. Poetic Thinking and Reality” in the university assembly hall.

If we want to understand the world, we must first of all understand our access to it. In Professor Pajević’s view, when making sense of our perceptions, we necessarily recur to language. Our sensual perceptions pass through words in order for us to make sense of them and to establish what we consider the world we live in, our worldview. Consequently, meaning comes with language.

Literature can be considered the laboratory of meaning. If we want to think the specificity of literature, la chose littéraire, we must however think beyond the sign and find ways of considering other dimensions of meaning-making. Poetic thinking considers language not as a product but as an activity of the interaction between the form of language and the form of life. That implies that we have to consider the continuous (Henri Meschonnic) of language: we could say with Wilhelm von Humboldt that it is not the words that constitute speech but, on the contrary, the words emerge out of speech. Language is thus always determined by its unique situation. Reason must resonate with the world; we have to ‘reasonate’. This is the dialogical dimension of poetic thinking, the relationship primes.

Whence the need for a poetological anthropology. The Humanities then are ‘disciplines of meaning’, shaping our perception of reality.

Marko Pajević studied in Munich, Berlin and Paris and received his PhD at the Free University of Berlin and Paris 8 University on the poetics of Paul Celan, and his habilitation on Poetic Thinking in France. He taught at the Sorbonne, Queen’s University Belfast and the Royal Holloway University of London and Queen Mary University of London, and was a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre Marc Bloch (Humboldt University of Berlin) before taking up his appointment at Tartu in January 2018. He has published monographs on Paul Celan, Franz Kafka and Poetic Thinking and many articles on various aspects of poetics. For his recent and current projects, see apt.ut.ee. Professor Marko Pajević’s work in Tartu is supported by the University of Tartu ASTRA project PER ASPERA, which is financed by the European Regional Development Fund.

There will be a live webcast of the lecture, which can be viewed on the university’s video portaal www.uttv.ee

Additional information: Marko Pajević, Professor of German Studies, 58535504, marko.pajevic [ät] ut.ee

Category: University
Kaja Karo (kajakk)

New Counselling Centre opens doors to students

1 week 2 days ago
08.10.2018 The Study Department of the University of Tartu opened the doors on the new offices of its Counselling Centre to students at all levels of study this week. The centre is now based in the university’s library. The counsellors at the centre help students think about their studies and careers and draw up a personal development plan to enhance their skills and knowledge. It is important to the centre to reach every student at the university. Given that the library is one of the most important hubs for the student body of any university, the decision was taken to set up the centre’s new offices precisely there. In addition to advice on the organisation of studies and careers, the counsellors at the centre share information about training and seminars. Working with tutors i.e. counsellors who are students themselves, the staff at the centre are available to help undergraduates who speak either English or Estonian. Students will find it worthwhile approaching the counsellors as soon as possible so that the plans drawn up early on in their studies at the university can be successfully implemented or, if necessary, amended in good time. The Counselling Centre aims to offer high-quality, impartial, confidential and relevant advice that is available to the entire student body. More information about the centre can be found online at www.ut.ee/en/counselling. Additional information:
Kristel Mikkor, Head of Office of Academic Affairs, 737 5508, kristel.mikkor [ät] ut.ee Category: University
Mari-Liis Pintson (pintson)

Finnish entrepreneur Peter Vesterbacka gives a public lecture at the University of Tartu

2 weeks 4 days ago
28.09.2018 On 3 October at 18:00, the Finnish entrepreneur Peter Vesterbacka will deliver a public lecture “Big ideas and big mistakes. How to get back on your feet”.  Peter Vesterbacka is a colourful person. It was after he joined the game developer Rovio that Angry Birds became the world’s best known mobile game and Vesterbacka himself the most sought-after Finn in the world. Vesterbacka’s attention is currently focused on the world’s leading startup event Slush and the plan to build the Tallinn–Helsinki tunnel funded by private capital, primarily from Chinese investors, in an unbelievably short time. In his view, our twin cities have the potential to become one of the global centers of attraction. The lecture is held in English at Jakobi 2–226.   Further information: Aitel Käpp
Head of Marketing and Communications
Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
aitel.kapp [ät] ut.ee Category: Continuing Courses
Mari-Liis Pintson (pintson)

UT iAcademy starts today!

2 weeks 5 days ago
27.09.2018 World-changing ideas result from effective cooperation. For that purpose, the iAcademy innovation programme has been launched, bringing entrepreneurs together with researchers and students. The programme aims to create innovation projects that would solve the challenges faced by enterprises. Read more on the web ...   Category: Entrepreneurship
Mari-Liis Pintson (pintson)

University of Tartu maintains high position in world university rankings

2 weeks 5 days ago

The Times Higher Education (THE), which is considered the world’s most reputable compiler of university rankings, published the most recent ranking of the best universities yesterday. Despite the ever-increasing competition, the University of Tartu maintains its standing in the 301–350 range.

In the newly published rankings, the University of Oxford is the first, the University of Cambridge takes the second and Stanford University the third place. The journal ranked a total of 1,258 higher education institutions. The other Estonian university featured in the table, Tallinn University of Technology, is ranked in the 601–800 range.

Read more on the web ...

Category: University
Mari-Liis Pintson (pintson)

Design contest for the rector’s chain of office, medals and badge of distinction of the University of Tartu

2 weeks 5 days ago
27.09.2018 The University of Tartu announces a design contest for the design of the rector’s chain of office, the medals (grand medal, medal, medal of the honorary doctor, medal of the honorary fellow, Skytte medal) and the badge of distinction of the university. General principles of the design of the chain of office of the rector, medals and badge of distinction:
  • the chain of office, medals and badge of distinction correspond to the sources of identity of the University of Tartu;
  • the design withstands the test of time;
  • the rector’s chain of office, the grand medal, the medal, and the badge of distinction form a stylistically uniform set;
  • the facade or the portal of the university’s main building as a generally known symbol, the text “UNIVERSITAS TARTUENSIS” and the year of founding the university 1632 are used as central design elements;
  • the design of medals and the badge of distinction expresses the principles laid down in the statutes of these awards;
  • the material of the chain of office, medals and the badge of distinction must comply with their intrinsic value.
Basics of the design of the rector’s chain of office:
  • the design stems from the symbols that reflect the university and its academic spirit, and not from the current structure of the university;
  • the basic material of the chain of office is silver; in addition, other materials can be used.
Basic parts of the rector’s chain of office:
  • front central element;
  • side chains;
  • support chain (on the back of the neck);
  • central element on the back.
Dimensions of the rector’s chain of office:
  • length (total for front and back) up to 60 cm; possibility to shorten or lengthen by a few centimetres;
  • width of side chain at least 3 cm, in proportion to the size of the central element;
  • length of support chain 16–19 cm.
The design of the rector’s chain of office, medals and badge of distinction of the university must be submitted as a set of seven designs. Submission deadline is 30 January 2019. Please submit your entry and the price quotation for realisation of the designs in an envelope marked with a unique title/word to the academic secretary of the University of Tartu, Ülikooli 18–138, 50090 Tartu. The author’s name should be supplied in a separate sealed envelope. Entries must be presented in two-dimensional design, scale 1 : 1, showing depth and thickness, as well as materials used. If requested, digital images of the designs may be enclosed. Winners will be chosen by a committee comprising the rector of the University of Tartu, Professor Juhan Maiste, Professor Kadri Mälk, Lecturer Eilve Manglus and a representative of students. The prize fund for the selected designs is 10,000 euros; the committee will decide the distribution of the amount between the winning entries. The university will make an agreement with the author(s) of the winning designs for making the rector’s chain of office and medals. The deadline for handing the rector’s chain of office and the medals over to the university on 1 October 2019.   Further information: Andres Soosaar Academic Secretary of the University of Tartu 737 5605 andres.soosaar [ät] ut.ee Category: University
Mari-Liis Pintson (pintson)

Inaugural lecture by Professor Juhani Yli-Vakkuri: a Philosopher Looks at Semiotics

3 weeks ago

On 26 September at 16:15, the University of Tartu professor of philosophy of language Juhani Yli-Vakkuri delivers his inaugural lecture “Is Meaning Arbitrary? A Philosopher Looks at Semiotics” in the university assembly hall.

According to the thesis of the arbitrariness of meaning, the relationship between the sound of a linguistic expression and its meaning is arbitrary in that a meaning that is associated with one sound could have in principle been associated with any other sound. The arbitrariness of meaning has assumed a special pride of place in the semiotic tradition, but it is also widely accepted by linguists and philosophers. This lecture will make a case for the surprising conclusion that the arbitrariness thesis is false: some meanings of some sounds cannot, even in principle, be associated with certain other sounds.

Juhani Yli-Vakkuri completed a PhD (DPhil) in philosophy at the University of Oxford in 2012. Before being elected Professor of Philosophy of Language at the University of Tartu in September 2017, he was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oslo and an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow at Bielefeld University.

Professor Yli-Vakkuri’s research interests are in the philosophy of language, the philosophy of mind, epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophical logic. He is co-author (with John Hawthorne) of the monograph Narrow Content (Oxford University Press, 2018) and co-editor (with Mark McCullagh) of Williamson on Modality (Routledge, 2017), and his work has appeared in a variety of leading philosophy journals, such as Noûs, Analysis, Philosophical Studies, and Philosophical Quarterly.

Professor Juhani Yli-Vakkuri’s work in Tartu is supported by the University of Tartu ASTRA project PER ASPERA, which is financed by the European Regional Development Fund.

There will be a live webcast of the lecture, which can be viewed on the university’s video portal UTTV.

Additional information: Juhani Yli-Vakkuri, Professor of Philosophy of Language, +4 9176 2377 5633, tuomo.juhani.yli-vakkuri [ät] ut.ee

Category: Research
Mari-Liis Pintson (pintson)

IdeaLab starts with a new pre-incubation programme

4 weeks ago

The autumn season of the University of Tartu’s IdeaLab starts on 20 September with Idea Hackaton, which is also the opening event of the Starter programme and the new Fast Track Tartu programme piloted by members of the Tartu startup community.

The Idea Hackathon, led by Harald Lepisk and Taavi Tamm in Spark Hub on 20 September, is open to all young people interested in entrepreneurship, no matter whether they have a business idea or not. Everyone with a business idea will have an opportunity to pitch and others can join the team whose idea they like best. The idea can be developed further either in the Starter programme or an entrepreneurship education course. The Starter offers workshops on various topics, such as marketing, presenting business ideas, service design, etc. The best teams are going to pitch their ideas at sTARTUp Day on 24 January 2019.

According to manager of the IdeaLab Maret Ahonen, this year’s Idea Hackathon will be different from previous ones because the event is organised in cooperation with the Tartu startup community, and the representatives of Tartu startup ecosystem and EIT Health will be present.

“We want to validate whether bringing all the organisations together helps the teams to better understand what is going on in the startups of Tartu. If this event proves successful, we could turn the whole Tartu startup ecosystem into an accelerator programme, which helps teams with cool ideas to reach their goals,” said Lauri Sokk, the head of Smart City Tartu of Tartu City Government.

The Estonian-Latvian joint programme EstLat-Accelerate is looking for already existing teams who are interested in workshops and mentoring in Tartu and Riga. While the Starter programme is open for everyone, the EstLat-Accelerate will select only about 10 teams to join the programme.

In the Yep!Starter programme, the IdeaLab together with the Tartu startup community members organise workshops on various business topics for Ukrainian students in Kyiv.

Sign up for the Starter and EstLat-Accelerate programme on the UT IdeaLab’s website at ideelabor.ut.ee. All programmes are free for participants and the events are held in English.

The Starter programme is funded by the European Social Fund. EstLat-Accelerate is implemented under the European territorial cooperation goal of the cohesion policy and it supports cross-border cooperation. The programme is co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Republic of Estonia and the Republic of Latvia.

This article reflects the views of UT IdeaLab. The managing authority of the programme is not liable for how this information may be used.

Contact: Riin Lisett Rei, UT IdeaLab marketing and communication manager, 737 4817, riin.lisett.rei [ät] ut.ee

Mari-Liis Pintson pressinõunik tel +372 737 5681
mob +372 5866 8677 mari-liis.pintson [ät] ut.ee


Category: Entrepreneurship
Mari-Liis Pintson (pintson)

International recognition to the high level of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences at UT

1 month ago

For the first time, the University of Tartu reached the top 50 in pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences in the reputable Academic Ranking of World Universities, also known as the Shanghai Ranking.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University has published the international Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), also known as the Shanghai ranking, since 2003. Every year more than 1200 universities are evaluated and the best 500 are included in the ranking. While last year the University of Tartu’s rank in pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences was within the range 76–100, this year UT ranked as high as 49th.

Head of the Institute of Pharmacy of the University of Tartu, Professor in Pharmacognosy Ain Raal said he was proud of his colleagues, his speciality, and the university. “A position among the fifty best universities in the world in pharmacy is a great surprise, a great pleasure and recognition for the Institute of Pharmacy, as well as an honour to Estonia and to the University of Tartu,” Raal said.

He pointed out the three factors behind the high position in the ranking, “We have managed to achieve a lot with few people and few resources, because our productivity per person is high. We cooperate closely both at the international level and in Estonia and among ourselves, and despite our very small number of pharmacy scientists we have managed to contribute at a high level to all the narrower branches of pharmacy.”

Further information:
Ain Raal
UT Professor in Pharmacognosy
5386 4749
ain.raal [ät] ut.ee

Category: University
Mari-Liis Pintson (pintson)

Video: Academic year opening ceremony

1 month 1 week ago
04.09.2018 Opening ceremony of the 2018/2019 academic year took place on Monday, 3 September in the University Assembly Hall.

Opening address: Professor Toomas Asser, Rector of the University of Tartu

Salutatory addresses:
  • Indrek Reimand, Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry of Education and Research
  • Urmas Klaas, Mayor of Tartu
  • Allan Aksiim, President of the Student Council of the University of Tartu
  • Anette Kuuseorg, First-year student of physics, chemistry and materials science of the Faculty of Science and Technology


Category: University
Mari-Liis Pintson (pintson)

Neurobehavioral correlates of obesity are largely heritable

1 month 2 weeks ago
30.08.2018 When it comes to weight gain, the problem may be mostly in our heads and genes. Clinicians should consider how the way we think can make us vulnerable to obesity, and how obesity is genetically intertwined with brain structure and mental performance, according to new research.  The study, led by researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro) and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Aug. 28, 2018, was an examination of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and cognitive test data from 1,200 individuals, supplied as part of the Human Connectome Project.  Researchers found that people with higher a body mass index (BMI) showed reduced cognitive flexibility, ability to delay gratification, visuospatial ability and verbal memory. They also found that people with increased BMI tended to have a thicker left prefrontal cortex and a thinner right prefrontal cortex. Previous studies have shown damage to the right prefrontal cortex can lead to increased eating.  Subjects with higher BMI also had increased volume in the left amygdala, which is believed to play a role in response to food cues. They also had decreased volume in the entorhinal-parahippocampal structures, which are associated with episodic memory and context mediation. This suggests a model where people prone to obesity are more sensitive to visual food cues, and less able to resist them by considering the negative context of eating, like weight gain. Many of the subjects were siblings, including fraternal and identical twins. This allowed researchers to determine the heritability of the traits as well as obesity, measured by BMI. Using statistical methods, researchers found that many of the cognitive and neurological traits have genetic links with obesity. This suggests the role genetics play in obesity is manifested at least partially through brain anatomy and cognitive functions.  “This research will be useful in developing interventions to help people with obesity,” says study’s lead author, Uku Vainik, a researcher at The Neuro and the Institute of Psychology at University of Tartu. “Modifying neurobehavioural factors with cognitive training, to improve people’s ability to resist food, for example, could hold promise. Interventions shouldn’t just focus on diet, but also acknowledge the neurobehavioural profile that obesity is genetically intertwined with. Such interventions might help people to stay lean despite their genetic signature.” “This work adds support to the theory that body weight in humans is partly under control of higher-level brain systems involved in cognition, decision-making and motivation,” says Alain Dagher, the paper’s senior author. “Furthermore, individual differences in these brain systems that regulate food intake appear to be moderately heritable.”  This study was supported by funds from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Uku Vainik was supported by the Estonian Research Council, and Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS). Additional information: Uku Vainik, Research Fellow of the Department of Experimental Psychology (University of Tartu), uku.vainik [ät] ut.ee Category: Research
Mari-Liis Pintson (pintson)

University of Tartu and Graanul Invest cooperate to develop wood valorisation technology

1 month 2 weeks ago

University of Tartu and AS Graanul Invest signed a framework agreement last week which provides for research and development cooperation to develop wood and biomass valorisation technology in Estonia. According to the five-year agreement, the parties plan to conduct joint research studies and develop training programmes. Graanul Invest is also willing to contribute to doctoral studies in this area at the University of Tartu.

“There is surely a need and an opportunity in both Estonia and the whole world for wood and biomass valorisation on a new technological level, and the university is willing to cooperate with all enterprises who consider it promising and who would also be ready to finance the cooperation,” said Vice Rector for Development of the University of Tartu Erik Puura, recognising the initiative of Graanul Invest. “We are particularly pleased with the company’s plan to support doctoral studies.”

Peep Pitk, R&D Manager of Graanul Invest, was pleased to have found a local research partner in the University of Tartu – a partner who is looking towards industry and willing to contribute to a more applied approach to cooperation with the private sector. “In cooperation with our partners we are setting up an innovative wood fractionation plant, and cooperation with UT will help us find the best solutions for process optimisation and product development.”

In the University of Tartu, the framework agreement will be carried out by the Centre for Synthetic Biology led by Mart Loog, Professor of Molecular Systems Biology of the Institute of Technology.

According to Loog, the cooperation agreement resulted from the parties’ common interest in establishing high-technology industry for biomass valorisation in Estonia. “The University of Tartu has expertise in the area of synthetic biology and Graanul Invest has a clear vision on how to apply the know-how in industry,” said Loog. “Our cooperation should lead to converting the knowledge, which is currently on the fundamental science level, into a form that can be applied in industry. Biomass is our national treasure, and both parties are interested in its sustainable use.”

Cooperation under the agreement has already started. The core facility for wood chemistry and bioprocessing, a member of the cluster of biotechnology core facilities of Estonian research institutions (BTCluster), in cooperation with Graanul Invest have already started the validation of lignin analysis methods and evaluation of opportunities for lignin valorisation. The University of Tartu is currently preparing for a project of the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Teaming programme in order to establish – in cooperation with the Novo Nordisk Foundation Centre for Biosustainability of Denmark – a centre for the development of industrial cell factories in Estonia, one of the goals of which is to provide world-level scientific expertise for the development of the wood valorisation technology for Graanul Invest. The University of Tartu is also developing a master’s programme in industrial bioprocesses, which is specifically based on the interests of Graanul Invest and other biotechnology companies.

Further information:

Mart Loog, UT Professor of Molecular Systems Biology, 517 5698, mart.loog [ät] ut.ee
Karit Kaasik, Marketing Manager of AS Graanul Invest, 5597 6353, karit.kaasik [ät] graanulinvest.com

Category: Research
Mari-Liis Pintson (pintson)

Photos: Inaugural ceremony of the Rector of the University of Tartu

1 month 2 weeks ago

On Friday, 24 August 2018 the inaugural ceremony of the Rector of the University of Tartu Professor Toomas Asser was held in the University Assembly Hall.


  • Opening address by the University of Tartu Council Chair Ruth Oltjer
  • Salutatory address by Professor Tõnu Lehtsaar
  • Salutatory address by the President of Estonia
  • Rector’s oath of office.
  • Handing over chain of office
  • Inaugural speech by Rector magnificus Professor Toomas Asser
  • Greetings:
  • Mailis Reps, Minister of Education and Research
  • Professor Jaak Aaviksoo, Rector of the Tallinn University of Technology
  • Allan Aksiim, President of the Student Council of the University of Tartu
Category: University
Mari-Liis Pintson (pintson)

Global Soil War Discovered Thanks to UT Scientists

2 months 2 weeks ago

The first global study of soil genomics revealed a battle right under our feet. The clash between fungi and bacteria and research into this topic may benefit both farmers and the pharmaceutical industry.

The microscopic fungi that inhabit soil are essential for plant growth, but they are constantly at war with bacteria in order to survive. The discovery was made by an international research team led by the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and the University of Tartu in Estonia.

The lead authors of the study are Mohamad Bahram from the University of Tartu and Falk Hildebrand from the EMBL. They are the first scientists to study bacteria and fungi found in soil all across the world.

The research showed that only 0.5% of the millions of genes found in soil are familiar to us from gut and ocean microbiomes. "The number of unknown genes is overwhelming, but the ones we can interpret clearly point to a global war between bacteria and fungi in soil," says Peer Bork, EMBL group leader and corresponding author of the paper.

This new knowledge can help predict the impact of climate change on soil and help us make better use of natural soil components in agriculture. This is important because climate change and extensive use of synthetic fertilisers have considerably decreased the diversity of the soil microbiome. The soil microbiome is a microsystem that consists of bacteria, microfungi, unicellular organisms and other microorganisms that are invisible to the naked eye. The reduction in the biodiversity of this system has made crop cultivation increasingly difficult.

A better understanding of the interaction between fungi and bacteria in soil could help to reduce the use of soil fertilisers in agriculture. This would give beneficial microorganisms a better chance of survival in their natural habitat.

The study also showed that fungi and bacteria that are in constant competition for nutrients produce a variety of antibiotics such as penicillin in order to gain an upper hand over one another. This can be survived only by bacteria that have sufficiently effective antibiotic-resistant genes.

This knowledge can be used to predict the spread of genes that lead to antibiotic resistance in different ecosystems and the ways they may reach human pathogens, i.e. disease-producing agents. This in turn can be used to pinpoint locations with high levels of natural antibiotic producers. This can greatly benefit the medical industry, as the rapid development of resilient bacteria has made finding effective antibiotics more complicated.

In order to produce such results, scientists had to get their hands dirty and analyse 58,000 soil samples collected over five years from 1,450 carefully selected sites all over the world. Forty samples were collected from each site. All of the sites had to be untouched by human activity, including by agriculture. Of the 1,450 sample sites, 189 were selected for in-depth analysis, covering the world's most important biomes on all continents from tropical forests to tundra.

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Category: Research
Kaja Karo (kajakk)

Toomas Asser to Head University of Tartu Starting From 1 August

2 months 2 weeks ago

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Today, on 1 August 2018, Professor Toomas Asser will begin his tenure as the Rector of the University of Tartu. The current Acting Rector, Professor Tõnu Lehtsaar, handed over the university's administration, assets and documentation to Toomas Asser yesterday, on 31 July.

As he handed over the documents, Tõnu Lehtsaar thanked everyone for pleasant cooperation. "Support is essential to the work of rectors. I was reassured that the university is strong and able to cope with unexpected circumstances. I wish the university every success in the future," said Lehtsaar, who added that he is planning to take some time off in the upcoming weeks in order to rest.

Professor Toomas Asser gave Tõnu Lehtsaar his heartfelt thanks for his willingness to help with the running of the university during the difficult transitional period. "I have stood close to the university administration for quite a while and I know how much responsibility it involves."

Toomas Asser said that he is already grateful to the university's staff for their assistance in running and developing the organisation. "I will begin my work as rector with great confidence, because I know that I have a strong team. On the other hand, it is a bit unnerving, because running the University of Tartu is completely different from my previous work as a doctor at the Tartu University Hospital."

The University of Tartu Senate appointed Professor of Psychology of Religion Tõnu Lehtsaar Acting Rector on 27 December 2017, following the unexpected death of Rector Professor Volli Kalm. Tõnu Lehtsaar will resume his work as the chaplain and counsellor of the university staff and a member of the University Council on 1 August.

Professor of Neurosurgery Toomas Asser was elected Rector of the University of Tartu on 26 April 2018. His tenure begins on 1 August 2018 and lasts for five years. The inauguration of the rector will take place on 24 August.

As of 1 August, the university's rectorate will also have a new Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs – Aune Valk. Vice-Rector for Research Kristjan Vassil and Vice-Rector for Development Erik Puura will continue in their current roles.

There are also other changes in the membership of the University Council. Professor of Cardiology Jaan Eha will replace Toomas Asser as a member of the council. Irja Lutsar, who participated in the work of the council as an alternate member during Tõnu Lehtsaar's tenure as the acting rector, will resume her work as a member of the senate.

More information: Toomas Asser, Rector of the University of Tartu, +372 737 5600, rektor [ät] ut.ee

Category: University
Kaja Karo (kajakk)

An important genetic test for pregnant women will soon be made in Estonia

2 months 2 weeks ago

Estonian researchers have developed an innovative method of medical genetics that will enable non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) to be carried out soon in Estonia. NIPT is like an insurance policy, providing reliable genetic testing about fetal chromosomal health already at an early phase of pregnancy. An advanced genetic testing laboratory location on site strengthens the diagnostics sector in Estonia.

The age of pregnant women continues to increase in Estonia and elsewhere in Europe, which is associated with a higher risk for fetal chromosomal diseases. With the help of NIPT, the genetic mutations causing these diseases can be detected with 100% precision at an early stage of pregnancy by analysing fetal cell-free DNA from a pregnant woman’s blood sample. The NIPT has been available for pregnant women in Estonia even now, but so far samples have been sent and analyzed abroad. Therefore, the cost of testing is about €400–800 per test and is paid out of the pocket by families. 

The Competence Centre on Health Technologies (CCHT), along with University of Tartu (UT), has created a new NIPT algorithm, the core of the NIPT testing procedure, referred to as NIPTmer. By applying NIPT, a blood sample obtained from pregnant woman is used to find out if a fetus is carrying an additional copy of chromosome 13, 18, or 21. For example, an additional copy of chromosome 21 causes Down syndrome, which is one of the most prevalent causes of developmental disability. In addition, NIPT provides information about the sex of the fetus.

Andres Salumets, Professor of Reproductive Medicine at UT and the Head of CCHT confirmed that the introduction of NIPT bridged the last gap in the fetal health screening program in Estonia. As modern and accurate genetic studies become available to all pregnant women in Estonia, it is important that samples are not sent for analysis abroad, as the reporting should be made quickly, in order to reduce the anxiety of future parents.

The developed NIPT technology makes it possible to detect fetal chromosomal diseases from maternal blood from the 10th week of gestation onward. Nowadays, at this early stage of pregnancy, the NIPT is the only available technology to reveal fetal chromosomal diseases with 100% accuracy, while other screening methods demonstrate lower reliability. 

The development of NIPT has to date been largely accomplished by large international companies, keeping the price of the testing high. Since patients in Estonia pay for NIPT by themselves, it is not affordable for all pregnant women. At the same time, NIPT testing is effective in revealing all fetal chromosomal diseases, and it is completely risk-free for the fetus and the mother. Therefore, for example, in the Netherlands and Belgium, the NIPT is fully reimbursed to all pregnant women to provide the best services to the entire society.

In Estonia, the development of novel NIPT technology has been supported by Enterprise Estonia (EAS) at CCHT, involving the researchers from the University of Tartu and clinicians from the Tartu University Hospital and the East Tallinn Central Hospital. According to professor Ants Kurg and Dr. Lauris Kaplinski, both from the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology at UT, nearly 550 pregnant women have been tested for fetal chromosomal diseases in Estonia using NIPTmer, and the disease has been correctly detected in ca. 40 fetuses.

“Collecting a critical amount of valuable blood samples from pregnant women to develop the test takes a long time and requires close cooperation between scientists and clinicians”, said Dr. Kaarel Krjutškov, the Head of the Product Development at CCHT. He added that advanced IT know-how was applied to develop the NIPTmer data analysis algorithms for the NIPT platform. “As we achieved encouraging results from the clinical validation study using NIPTmer in fetal screening, the laboratory at CCHT is now fully prepared to offer the NIPT service. Moreover, as we do not need to pay license fees as we use our proprietary technology and do not send the NIPT samples for testing outside of Estonia, the pricing of NIPT is kept as low as possible”, he added. According to Krjutškov, a NIPT genetic test must be performed within ten days after blood sampling. “We need to do an analysis for this time, regardless of the number of samples. It’s like a regular bus, which has to run even when there are few passengers”, he said.

The paper describing the NIPTmer platform for fetal chromosomal screening was published in Scientific Reports, providing the last missing piece of expertise before starting to provide precision medicine services to pregnant women in Estonia. The annual need for NIPT testing reaches up to 5,000 tests in Estonia and costs up to 2 million euros. In 2017, the Estonian Gynecologists Society made the application to the Estonian Health Insurance Fund to start compensating for NIPT at least for pregnant women with high-risk pregnancies for fetal chromosomal disorders. The application is still pending and the decision will be made public this year. Kaarel Krjutškov added that the genomics lab at CCHT is planning to begin the NIPT analyses this autumn.

Original article is available at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-23589-8

More information:
Dr. Kaarel Krjutškov, Head of Product Development at CCHT, mobile phone: 5126 416, kaarel.krjutshkov [ät] gmail.com
Prof. Andres Salumets, Head of CCHT and Professor of Reproductive Medicine at UT, 5620 4004, andres.salumets [ät] ut.ee

Category: ResearchPress release
Kaja Karo (kajakk)

Priit Eelmäe to take over as Tartu University Hospital director

2 months 3 weeks ago

The council of Tartu University Hospital elected Priit Eelmäe, the current chairman of the board at Haapsalu Neurological Rehabilitation Centre, to take over as director of the university hospital for a five-year term.

Eelmäe graduated from the University of Tartu in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in exercise and sports sciences. In 1997, he defended his master's thesis in physical therapy at the same university.

He has previously worked as vice-dean of the University of Tartu Faculty of Exercise and Sport Sciences, chair and lecturer of the same faculty's Institute of Exercise Biology, Chair of Physiotherapy and Health Promotion, and manager of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Unit at the Tallinn University Haapsalu College Competence Centre in Health Promotion and Rehabilitation. Since 2008, Eelmäe has served as director of Haapsalu Neurological Rehabilitation Centre and contributed to the development of this field in Estonian medicine.

Eelmäe has also been a member of the Estonian Hospitals Association and served as president of the Estonian Physiotherapists Association.

Additional information:
Urmas Klaas, Tartu University Hospital´s Head of the Council, Mayor of Tartu, 513 5145, urmas.klaas [ät] raad.tartu.ee
Priit Eelmäe, 5393 2020, priit.eelmae [ät] hnrk.ee

Category: University
Mari-Liis Pintson (pintson)
17.10.2018 - 11:14
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