58 lectures, thirty music performances and a proper shooting gallery

PAS Festival on 8 and 9 September


With no fewer than 58 lectures, most of which by Maastricht scientists, there is something for everyone during the PAS (Pleasure, Arts and Science) Festival that will open its doors at the beginning of September. A preview by Observant.

Working towards personalised drugs

“Most drugs don’t work for most people,” said a chairman of a large drug company a couple of years ago. That’s still true, but a future in which there is a solution is coming nearer, says Rachel Cavill, assistant professor at the Department of Data Science and Knowledge Engineering. Her lecture will be about how data science will influence the way doctors prescribe drugs. “At present day, finding the right drug for every patient is often a case of trial and error. Your DNA, the bacteria in your gut – they can all influence the effect drugs have on you. With the developments in data science and medicine, we can collect that data and work towards personalised drugs.”

The first step is giving specific drugs to groups of people who have similarities. “This is already happening in chemotherapy, when we know that a certain treatment works better for people with a certain gene.” The far future is creating a digital generic model of, for instance, the heart. “If we can change the model so that it matches the patient, we could even try the effects of drugs on the model.”

The big question is, will that make drugs cheaper or more expensive? “I’m on the fence on that one. Some people say they will be cheaper, since we can use drugs that have already been developed years ago with small changes. Others feel they will be more expensive, because we’ll have to develop a lot more different sorts of drugs that can only be used by small groups of people. I think both are true, depending on the disease and the drugs already available.”

Painting like Van Gogh

Can a machine create art? A provoking question, grins Jerry Spanakis, assistant professor at the department of Data Science and Knowledge Engineering, when the title of his lecture is mentioned. We know that artificial intelligence has become part and parcel of film productions (where would we be without special effects or 3D), but can a computer also create a painting in the style of Vincent van Gogh? Can a machine learn enough about harmony, composition, and aesthetics? More than that: can it bring out the uniqueness of Van Gogh? Aided by artist Marie van Vollenhoven, who believes that everything comes from logic, even creativity, Spanakis is going to investigate this together with his colleagues. Computers have created paintings before and they have turned out to be far from amateurish works. “In a study in which people were shown paintings by artists and computers - an adapted version of the so called Turing Test - , it appeared that they couldn’t tell who created what.”

Spanakis thinks that eventually everything will be possible, if researchers manage to introduce certain elements (“high-level tasks”) such as emotional and moral considerations, and subsequently link all those tasks to each other. “At the moment, we have self-driving cars. They can only drive, nothing more. Human beings combine thousands of tasks, from easy to difficult and in various fields.” What he wants to say is that it will be a while before we reach that stage.

How rhythm helps Parkinson patients

Just imagine you’re walking down the street and all of a sudden you freeze and can’t walk any further. This is something most Parkinson patients experience regularly. Sonja Kotz, professor of Neuropsychology and Translational Cognitive Neuroscience, and her research team found that listening to a marching rhythm helps such patients start moving again. “And to a certain extent, it also helps them to keep going.” The research started by using with basic tones, later Kotz moved on to experimenting with more complex music. “We let them listen to Bach, but it turned out that as long as the music has a regular beat structure, it works. Some people might prefer techno.”

Kotz wondered if the effect would be lasting. “It turned out that it was. We trained patients for several weeks and six weeks after the training had ended, their walking behaviour was still improved.” It also turned out that the therapy not only helped patients with their walking, but also with perception and cognition. “When someone says something strange, for instance ‘I drink my tea with milk and socks’, our minds tend to correct the mistake. Parkinson patients have trouble doing so, but to a lesser extent when they had just listened to a marching rhythm beforehand.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for everyone. About one third of the patients don’t show any improvement. “Our next step is to find out why. It looks like it has something to do with combining sound and motor behaviour.”

Cleo Freriks, Riki Janssen

PAS Festival 2017

On Friday 8 and Saturday 9 September, the Maastricht Studium Generale will organise the PAS (Pleasure, Arts and Science) Festival for the fourth time in and around the university buildings in the Jekerkwartier, Conservatorium Maastricht, and the Academy of Performing Arts.  With 58 lectures (mostly by Maastricht scientists), ten theatre and dance shows, thirty music performances - but also a proper shooting gallery, exhibitions and locations to eat and drink - the university shows everyone that they are back in town after the summer. Traditionally, the opening session will be on Thursday evening. This time, with the show ‘Ik hoorde dat er geluisterd werd’, a mix of literature (by Armando, read by the author himself), and music by Oleg Lysenko, playing a bayan (a Russian accordion) and a bandoneon. Free entry, everyone is welcome. Language spoken: Dutch and English. For more information: www.pasmaastricht.nl

58 lectures, thirty music performances and a proper shooting gallery