GREECE: University's research policy pays off

Emphasis on research at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki is beginning to pay rich dividends. It encourages staff, students and academics to develop research and development projects, and leads to successful collaborations with international research teams and institutions. It also attracts financial support from Greek and foreign organisations and industries as well as forging a strong link between the university and the society at large

There are currently hundreds of research projects under development at the university and some of the most important were presented at the 73rd Annual International Exhibition in Thessaloniki, for which the research committee received a special award from the organisers.

Four projects in particular attracted a great deal of interest: Pandora, a rescue robot; Noesis, an innovative educational programme for autistic children; a Broadband Counter for Electromagnetic Radiation; and a formula racing car.

Important research was also presented regarding the Antikythira Mechanism for which the Aristotle University is a partner with Cardiff and Athens universities, the Greek National Archaeological Museum, Hewlett-Packard and the Leverhulme Trust among others.

Pandora (Programme for the Advancement of Non-Directed Operating Roboting Agents) is a rescue robot used after natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods, for the search and rescue of survivors. The robot is piloted by remote control in the disaster area from a safe distance. It maps the area and transmits information to the rescue teams of the precise place and condition of victims who are trapped and in need of help.

Professor Loukas Petrou, in charge of the postgraduate students who researched and developed Pandora, told University World News the prototype had been displayed in several international exhibitions. These included Robocop in China where the robot attracted the interest of a number of rescue organisations, despite the fact there are still problems of mobility and servicing to be solved before the robot is fully operational.

Noesis is an educational programme for the training of autistic children. It contributes to the development of their imagination, their speech and psychokinetic abilities and improves their social integration. It enriches the educational material, improves assessment and individual learning and helps in the updating and following of the learning process.

A very important function of Noesis is that it gives parents the opportunity to supervise their children when they are outside the home environment and monitor at any time their psychological condition.

The programme is built on applied behaviour analysis in conjunction with mirror neurones, giving a fully automated educational environment for autistic children adjusted to the characteristics of each child during the lesson.

Through a wireless recording system in the form of a wristwatch, the appropriate responses are recorded which contribute to the assessment of the child's level of stress during the educational process so the appropriate educational material and procedure can be adjusted.

Teachers have the opportunity to observe the child's performance while parents could be informed of the child's achievements even from their mobile telephone. Moreover, with the help of the programme a tripartite cooperation among children, teachers and parents is initiated creating a dynamic community which improves the education provided to autistic children.

Assistant Professor Leontios Chatzileontiadis, who described the Noesis programme to UWN, said it was directed towards autistic children up to the age of 10, with their teachers and parents creating a complete educational chain.

"Our aim," he said, "is to extend Noesis to a number of users such as special schools, prototype autistic centres and so on so it could be applied in as many educational environments as possible. We hope that if the pilot applications are successful, the programme will be included in the special schools analytical programme."

The Broadband Counter for Electromagnetic Radiation (SMS-K) measures and records the electromagnetic radiation of practically all the telecommunication systems on a 24 hour basis. The SMS-K is based on a computer programme and has a very low cost. It can be used easily by local groups and social organisations to measure and record the electromagnetic radiation from aerials, transmitters, factories and other facilities in their vicinity.

Professor John Sahalos told UWN the SMS-K had been researched and developed by postgraduate and doctoral students and financed by the university's research programmes. It had been shown in many international exhibitions and had received favourable comments and attracted the attention of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.

Although still not complete, the aim was to attract the interest of local authorities, schools and other institutions to test and improve its functions before producing it for public use. "We are resisting the offers of private money in order to develop it," Sahalos said, "because we prefer to complete and manufacture it ourselves."

Aristotle University's Racing Team (ART) managed to build a formula racing car that distinguished itself in last summer's student formula racing meeting Britain's Silverstone track immediately after the formula one racing. The car performed exceedingly well taking 13th place out of 78 entries in acceleration and 20th in the general placement.

Finally, the Antikythira Mechanism is thought to be an ancient Greek stellar computer. It was built between 150-100 BC and was discovered about 100 years ago in the wreck of a ship near Antikythira Island in the Aegean.

Its operation is based on 32 interlocking cogwheels with the help of which the movement of the sun and the moon could be estimated with reasonable accuracy. The research for the decoding and the discovery of the operation and use of the mechanism has led to the production of new knowledge in astronomy, geography, archaeology, mechanics and information technology.

By placing such emphasis on research, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki has not only succeeded in establishing extremely important links with other institutions of equal educational standing and attracting vital additional finance for its research projects, but also in establishing meaningful links with the local community.