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FAN Award

Heart Defects, the World of Work, and Algorithms

Melanie Ehrler, Simon Walo and Regina Weder are being honored with this year’s FAN Awards in recognition of their outstanding research work. Their three topics of research are the development of children with heart defects, the future of work, and the legal conditions for the use of AI in public administration.
UZH Communications; English translation by Caitlin Stephens
This year's winners of the FAN Award: Melanie Ehrler, Simon Walo and Regina Weder (Photo: Nicolas Zonvi)

Originality, quality and relevance of research combined with persuasiveness and the potential for future innovations are the criteria for selecting the FAN Award winners. The outstanding work of up-and-coming junior researchers Melanie Ehrler, Simon Walo and Regina Weder entirely fits these descriptors, making the three wunderkinder worthy recipients of this year’s award. The award was presented during the first "Sparkling Research" networking event. 

The prize is awarded annually by the UZH Alumni-supported Research Talent Development Fund (Fonds zur Förderung des akademischen Nachwuchses, FAN). The faculties may nominate three junior researchers in the areas of medicine and natural sciences, arts and social sciences, and law and economics. A jury organized by the Graduate Campus selects the winners.

Melanie Ehrler
Melanie Ehrler, Postdoctoral researcher in developmental pediatrics
FAN Award for the Faculty of Medicine and Natural Sciences

Development of children with heart defects

One in 100 children is born with a heart defect, many of whom require life-saving treatment as newborns. But how do these children and their families fare later on? That is the research topic of Melanie Ehrler, postdoc in the Department of Developmental Pediatrics at the University Children’s Hospital Zurich, on which she has published several scientific papers. She was able to show that a considerable proportion of children with heart defects have a higher risk of developmental problems such as attention deficits or learning difficulties in comparison with healthy children of the same age. This can lead to difficulties at school and behavioral problems in everyday life. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scans of the brain), Melanie Ehrler has shown that developmental problems are often caused by changes in certain regions of the brain. A further significant finding from her work is that many parents of sick children carry a long-term emotional burden which can also have a negative impact on the child’s development. According to Ehrler’s findings, assistance needs to be provided for the whole family, and the children’s development should be monitored and supported long-term as an essential part of their medical care. 

simon walo
Simon Walo, Research assistant at the Institute of Sociology
FAN Award for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Future of work

In his doctoral thesis on the future of work, consisting of three individual studies, sociologist Simon Walo has come up with new significant and socially relevant insights.

In his first study, he investigated how automation affects various professions in different ways. He found that contradictory results in the existing literature were due to differences in the methodology used to measure automation possibilities. He also demonstrated that the effects of technological progress on the labor market must be considered in combination with social factors. In the second study, Walo used survey data from the USA to analyze why people perceive their jobs as socially useless. His findings support David Graeber’s “bullshit jobs” theory. This could indicate that certain types of work really don’t benefit society and may therefore not be needed in the future. His third study revealed, through an AI-supported evaluation of the entire Google Books dataset in English, that the social significance and value of work has changed over time – a process that is likely to continue in the future.

Regina Weder
Regina Weder, PhD student at the Center for Democracy, Aarau
FAN Award for the Faculty of Law and Economics

Algorithms in public administration

In the area of public administration, there is an open question regarding the legality of using algorithmic systems, whether for decision-making processes or routine tasks. In her doctoral thesis, Regina Weder developed a proposal for clear guidelines on the use of algorithms, as well as for transparency rules regarding the further development of existing guidelines. As a member of the academic staff at the Centre for Democracy Studies Aarau, she is researching the current legal requirements for transparency of algorithms used by public authorities and examining how certain transparency rules can help monitor the risk of discrimination by algorithm. She draws on discussions from informatics and critical data and algorithm studies looking at the normative aspects of algorithm design. Namely, the functionality and risks of an algorithm always depend on its regulatory context and the people involved. In her research work, Weder combines basic principles and findings from informatics with the legal regulatory issues to look at the whole picture.

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