Three Greek Scientists Under 30 On Forbes List

For the past decade, Forbes has regularly published a list of 30 young people under the age of 30 who are successful in various fields such as art, culture or technology. And over the past six years, the list has been acquired by a European publication, which this year has noted 300 young people who are successful in their fields, including four Greeks.

Three of them, marked in the Science and Health category, tell “K” about his course, plans and Greece.

Yannis Assael, 29, grew up in Thessaloniki. Graduated from Anatolian College in 2008, then studied Applied Computer Science at the University of Macedonia. In graduate school, he received a State Endowment Fellowship at Oxford University, where he excelled and ranked best that year, continuing his postgraduate education with a second master’s degree at Imperial College London. In 2016, he returned to Oxford to study for a doctorate in artificial intelligence, which he completed with his Ph.D. in 2019 while working at DeepMind, Google’s arm of artificial intelligence.

“I try to solve problems that have not yet been resolved,” he told K, emphasizing that he wants his work to have a positive social impact. One of his projects at Oxford was a model for lip reading and audiovisual voice recognition, and research on how this could be applied to tracheostomy patients. Now he is working on artificial intelligence and its application in culture, revealing the lost fragments of ancient Greek inscriptions. It all started with friendship in Oxford – a historian and friend of Mr. Assel told him about the problems faced by epigraphists, about the problem of restoring damaged texts.

Gradually, they had an idea, and Mr. Assael built a whole piece of machine learning, an artificial intelligence piece of a mathematical model of neural networks, inspired by the neural networks of the human brain that can study correlations and possibly discover others using massive amounts of data. In this case, the model predicts, by allowing different versions, fragments of text that have been destroyed, possibly revealing the continuation of inscriptions that were previously lost in history. “It is impossible for one person to memorize 200,000 inscriptions at a time and look for them as a sample, so I think we can restore many beautiful inscriptions.

“There are industries that have not yet been impacted by artificial intelligence. The revolution that our generation will see is unthinkable, ”he said. Seeing his name on the Forbes list earlier this week, he felt “great honor and pride as a Greek.” Although he has lived abroad for many years, or rather, in England, Assael is obliged to give something to the country, for example, to spread knowledge through university lectures.

But would he like to return to Greece forever? “Given the right conditions, every Greek abroad would like to return. The problem is for the Greek side to work to create these conditions, because at the moment he is not here, ”said Mr. Assael, stressing that there are many examples of brilliant Greek scientists working in Greece and abroad. However, he believes that the situation in universities can be improved, and notes that only in the last two years have we seen research centers come to the country.

“I think advances in AI research,” Assel says, “are partnerships between universities and private research centers. One has the know-how, the other has the resources. “

Music and medicine

Marianna Kapsetaki, 29, was inspired by her pioneering work on the memory of stroke patients for the pioneering idea behind her study of the memory of stroke patients. The ambiguous relationship between these two fields, music and medicine, defines Ms. Kapsetaki’s life. She grew up in Kokkini Hani, a coastal settlement in Crete, and studied at the Heraklion Music School. She learned to play the piano and guitar in addition to other musical instruments and was also well versed in subjects such as mathematics. After leaving school, she was accepted to study in London. “There was a big difference with a small village here in Crete, where I live, and my parents were afraid to leave me there alone,” said Mrs Kapsetaki, whose mother is English. She decided to study medicine in Crete, while twice a month she and her twin sister took the ferry and went to Athens to play the piano with a professor who had previously taught at the famous Juilliard School in New York. She had a degree in piano from the age of 17, but she was not interested in teaching. “I wanted to play the piano,” she says. By that time, she graduated from medical school and began looking for graduate school abroad. In London, she found a way to combine art and science, two of her great loves.

“The path to excellence is not alone”

The title of the postgraduate course that Ms Kapsetaki took at University College London was Performing Medicine. “You’ll learn about all the medical problems that the performing arts have,” she tells K. During her graduate studies at UCL, Ms. Kapsetaki took piano lessons from a professor at the Royal Academy of Music. Her master’s thesis focused on the eating disorders that musicians suffer from. After collecting data from 300 musicians, she discovered a possible correlation between their increased stress and their propensity for eating disorders.

However, in the exploratory part of her life, the escalation came when she received her Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience from Imperial College London, where she received a scholarship. “I have always loved memories,” says Ms. Kapsetaki. – At concerts they ask me: “How can you memorize so many things, all the notes, all the rhythms?” I’ve always wondered how the brain can remember so many things, ”he notes.

For her doctoral dissertation, she conducted one of the largest studies of spatial memory in stroke patients ever conducted. “By studying these patients (112 stroke patients at Charing Cross Hospital), you can understand which brain area is most important for memory and, in particular, for spatial memory,” she says.

The idea that came to her while playing the piano was to explore not only spatial memory, but also chronological order. She was preparing to play some of the works of Beethoven and Chopin on the piano for a world competition. And as she played, she thought that if there was no timeline, if we didn’t remember which note followed the other, the music would not make sense. “It’s like inspiring each other,” she says of music and medicine. “When I need an idea, I play the piano.” Now she is thinking about her next steps in terms of specialty, research. She wants to focus on how the brain works. Will she return to Greece? She worries that research is not well supported there.

Constantine Teofanopoulou, 28, grew up in Athens, studied at Arsakeia Ekali and Psychiko. What interested her was how people talk and how we communicate versus how animals communicate. But her journey to explore this problem had a very different starting point than her subsequent observations. She studied philology, choosing the direction of linguistics, but soon realized that she would have to do more brain work, and so she went to Barcelona, ​​where she enrolled in graduate school in the neurobiology of language.

Later, during her doctoral studies, she began an intercollegiate study of the mechanisms of the hormone oxytocin in human speech and vocal communication in birds, which led her to Rockefeller University in New York. “To fully understand the role of a gene in a system like language, we need to understand well its evolution,” she notes. To further explore the quality of oxytocin, she began a thorough study of genomes, finding that scientists often use different names for the same. Now she wants to create a single name for all genes in all vertebrates.

Thus, she came close to the European ERGA program, which is aimed at sequencing the genomes of European biodiversity, and together with a colleague, they represent the Greek team ERGA, which prioritizes the sequencing of the genomes of Greece as endangered species. “My participation in the Greek ERGA team gives me great optimism for the future and I think that at some point I will be able to return,” says Ms Teofanopoulou, but like Mr Assael and Ms Kapsetaki She is concerned that research resources in Greece are very limited compared to America or other European countries.

As for the neurobiological part of language, she approaches it through laboratory research at Rockefeller, trying to clarify the brain circuits that support vocal communication in humans and other animals, with a focus on birds. Her place on the Forbes list brought joy that she can share with loved ones. “This journey led me to this award,” says Ms. Teofanopoulou.

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