The 3rd Aquaphotomics European Conference

The 3rd Aquaphotomics European Conference, was this year organized collaboratively by the Italian Society of near-infrared Spectroscopy (SISNIR  https://www.sisnir.org/ ) and The Aquaphotomics International Society and it took place in the majestic and timeless city of Rome, Italy.

Founded in Lodi on December 13, 2006, SISNIR today counts over 100 members. As one of the largest and most active NIR societies globally, its objectives include promoting scientific knowledge of NIRS, organizing events such as the biennial NIRITALIA Symposium, and supporting the active participation of young researchers in international conferences to enhance Italy’s contribution to the scientific community.

Figure 1. The 3rd Aquaphotomics European Conference, this year was held in Rome, Italy.

With the support of the Italian NIR community, the 3rd Aquaphotomics European Conference was a wonderful opportunity to reunite after enduring an extended period of travel restrictions and limited chances to meet. This gathering allowed us to reconnect with old friends and engage with the emerging generations of aquaphotomics researchers. Together, we embarked on a journey to appreciate the timeless beauty of the Roman city while indulging in the world’s finest pizza, savoring the most exquisite gelato, and engaging in delightful conversations over cups of a strong espresso.

The Conference extended for a duration of four days, commencing with the Summer School on Aquaphotomics held on September 1st and 2nd. This specialized training program was designed to acquaint researchers (most of them) in the field of NIR spectroscopy and chemometrics and some other fields with the fundamental aspects of this “omics” discipline.

The first day of school was opened by Prof. Dr Zoltan Kovacs, from Hungarian University of Agriculture and Life Sciences (MATE) in Budapest, Hungary. Prof. Kovacs began by delving into the current global and European developments in aquaphotomics, tracing its evolution since its inception by Prof. Dr Roumiana Tsenkova in Japan. He also shed light on its current fourth-generation advancements and discussed the manifold applications of aquaphotomics.

Figure 2. The 3rd Aquaphotomics European Conference was held at Casa la Salle, a historic former monastery nestled in the heart of Rome, from September 1st to 4th. The conference attracted 50 participants from approximately 10 different countries.

The central theme of the first day revolved around aquaphotomics applications, further expounded upon by Assistant Prof. Cristina Malegori from DIFAR University in Genoa, Italy. Her presentation, titled “Applications – Water is Everywhere,” unveiled numerous practical opportunities and imparted essential know-how in this field. Concluding the application-focused lectures, Dr John-Lewis Zinia Zakuu, Lecturer from Department of Food Science and Technology, Faculty of BioSciences, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, delivered a presentation on “Aquaphotomics in the Agro/Food Field.” Dr Zakuu exemplifies the “third generation” of aquaphotomics researchers, having pursued aquaphotomics during his doctoral studies under the guidance of Prof. Kovacs in Hungary, who himself was a post-doctoral fellow of Prof. R. Tsenkova. Dr. Zakuu returned to Ghana after completing his PhD and assumed the roles of Chairman of the Laboratory Committee and Assistant Exams Officer at the Department of Food Science and Technology, while simultaneously establishing his own aquaphotomics research group in Ghana.

Figure 3. The first session of the Aquaphotomics Summer School featured prominent figures in the field: Prof. Dr Zoltan Kovacs, Associate Prof. Cristina Malegori, and Lecturer Dr John-Lewis Zinia Zakuu.  They provided invaluable insights into the current state of the art in the field of aquaphotomics and shared their rich experiences spanning a multitude of applications.

The second day of the workshop delved deeper into the chemistry and physics of water, focusing, also, on practical aspects related to experimental improvement and data analysis. Dr Antonella De Ninno, representing the ENEA (Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy, and Sustainable Economic Development), started the second day of the event with a lecture on the chemistry of water and water vibrational spectroscopy. Subsequently, Associate Prof. Jelena Muncan, from the Aquaphotomics Research Department in Kobe, Japan, provided insights into near-infrared spectroscopy and its pivotal role in the development of aquaphotomics. She offered practical guidance, drawing from her own experiences, including instrument selection, signal quality assessment, experimental procedures, and data analysis techniques tailored to aquaphotomics.

The subsequent two lectures built upon this foundation. Prof. Dr Federico Marini, a renowned expert from La Sapienza University in Rome, specializing in chemometrics and spectral data analysis, elucidated various data preprocessing strategies essential for aquaphotomics. He underscored the significance of recently developed preprocessing techniques designed specifically for addressing data analysis challenges in the field of aquaphotomics. The school concluded with a lecture by Bernhard Pollner MD, Consultant and Data Analyst, who introduced the ‘aquap2’ package, a specialized tool that he developed together with Prof. Kovacs at Kobe University for aquaphotomics data analysis within the R software environment. He effectively demonstrated the package’s capabilities with numerous examples and practical guides, emphasizing its customized features that not only accelerate the entire analysis process but also make it a pivotal tool in supporting the education of the aquaphotomics discipline.

Figure 4. Snippets from the second day of the Aquaphotomics Summer School. From left to right: Dr Antonella de Ninno, Assoc. Prof. Dr Jelena Muncan, Prof. Dr Federico Marini and Bernhard Pollner, MD, Consultant.

That same day, in the evening The Conference was officially opened by a lecture of Prof. Dr Roumiana Tsenkova. The lecture titled “Aquaphotomics – New Integrative Science, Technology and Educational Platform” spoke about her vision of aquaphotomics being a common platform for three important directions of development that include fundamental research aimed at discovering and explaining the phenomena related to water-light interaction, technological development that naturally is a consequences of harnessing the newly acquired knowledge, and lastly – a necessary and fundamental need to share this new knowledge not only within the scientific community, but making it available to everyone and hopefully exert the influence on the societal values and future social trends.

She also shared some intriguing new insights that have recently captured her attention, exploring the fascinating intersection of quantum phenomena and the role of water in consciousness. She highlighted the emergence of “laser-like” and “hologram-like” phenomena arising from the unique properties of water and within microtubules as an example. Prof. Tsenkova emphasized that aquaphotomics extends beyond being merely a field of science, technology, and education—it’s more of a “way of living.” She introduced her Japanese translation of the name “Aquaphotomics” as “Mi-Kou-Do,” where “Mi” means water, “Kou” means light and “Do” means the Way which roughly translates to “The road of Water and Light”.

Figure 5. Official opening of the Conference by a lecture of the aquaphotomics founder Prof. Dr Roumiana Tsenkova.

Over the next two days, the conference featured two keynote lectures, ten oral presentations and a poster session.

The first keynote lecture was delivered by Dr Tiziana Cattaneo, from CREA in Italy, a Research Center for Engineering and Food Transformation, the Department in Milan. Dr Cattaneo is widely regarded as a pioneer and veteran in the field of aquaphotomics. During her presentation, she eloquently traced her research journey, starting from her earliest experiences with aquaphotomics and highlighting numerous developmental milestones that her research group has contributed to over the years.

Figure 6. Faces of aquaphotomics – snippets of speakers at the 3rd European Aquaphotomics Conference

She is an exemplary aquaphotomics researcher who has made significant contributions to the field, not only advancing aquaphotomics as a science and technology with profound implications for food production and quality control practices, but also serving as a dedicated educator. Her unwavering efforts over the years have played a pivotal role in shaping the minds and honing the skills of new generations of researchers in Italy.

Among her recent accomplishments is her doctoral thesis titled “Non-destructive Spectroscopic Technology Applied to Sustainable Food Transformation Processes for Monitoring the Horticultural Supply Chain.” In this thesis, she demonstrated the integration of aquaphotomics with cloud services, resulting in the creation of an innovative “Aquacontrol” platform—a cloud-based database that empowers users to assess and monitor the quality of food products efficiently.

The second keynote lecture was delivered by Dr Livio Giuliani, representing the European Cancer and Environment Research Center in Brussels. His lecture, titled “Exposure of iPSC-Cardiomyocytes to Ca2+-ICR Modulates Gene Expression According to Maturation Pathways,” presented compelling evidence of the up and down-regulation of genes in response to cyclotronic resonance of calcium. Dr Giuliani provided a groundbreaking explanation for this phenomenon, based on the concept of “non-ionizing” radiation effectively ionizing water. This ionization process leads to the formation of coherent water domains with the requisite energy to drive biochemical reactions within cells.

The conference featured also presentations by Assoc. Prof. Dr Jelena Muncan from Japan and Prof. Dr Stefka Atanassova from Bulgaria, both of which could be called long-time experts in aquaphotomics. Prof. Muncan talked about her work on Aquaphotome mapping – a systematic endeavor spanning over two decades aimed at synthesizing the knowledge amassed in the discovery of water absorbance bands in the near-infrared region. She highlighted significant progress, particularly in the first overtone region, where the work is nearing completion. Prof. Muncan underscored the importance of not only assigning specific bands but also elucidating water functionality described by its absorbance at those bands, in terms of the energy available for particular molecular structures to fulfill specific roles within aqueous systems.

On the other hand, Prof. Atanassova discussed her research on diagnosing water stress in maize plants. Notably, her experimental approach involved two distinct maize lines: one exhibiting normal resistance to water stress and the other, a mutant inbred line characterized by exceptionally high drought tolerance. Her findings provided valuable insights into the water species responsible for plants’ ability to combat water stress, marking a significant contribution to our understanding of maize plants in this context.

The conference saw the inclusion of several newcomers to the field of aquaphotomics research, contributing to both practical and fundamental research aspects. Dr Ermal Nikollari from Sapienza University in Rome presented intriguing findings regarding the two-fluid behavior of water. This phenomenon was observed through the dielectric response of liquid water and four types of ionic-aqueous solutions. Dr Nikollari’s research combined THz-data with ATR-FTIR spectroscopy, and one of the highlights of his presentation was the “two-population model” for liquid water. This model departed from the conventional “two states” concept, emphasizing the diverse range of water species within these two populations.

Another newcomer to the aquaphotomics emerged from Slovenia: Associate Prof. Cerar Janez, from the University of Ljubljana. Prof. Janez’s recent exploration of aquaphotomics, in collaboration with Prof. Kovacs from Hungary, centered on gaining a deeper understanding of aqueous solutions of inorganic ions and polyelectrolytes. His lecture pointed out numerous unresolved issues within such systems, with a particular focus on the behavior of the isosbestic point. Prof. Janez proposed solutions through the application of water content correction factors, showcasing a fresh approach with promising insights and solutions.

A relatively new researcher from Keio University, Japan, brought forth an intriguing topic: the application of aquaphotomics to investigate and understand the mechanism of action of glutathione, a vital antioxidant in living systems. His research delved into the differences between GSH and GSSG, the reduced and oxidized forms of glutathione, whose ratio serves as a key indicator of oxidative stress and cellular health. His findings highlighted the distinct water spectral pattern associated with the antioxidant properties of reduced glutathione (GSH), marked by the presence of water hydration shells—the type of water interacting with charged species. This suggested that these water species might carry the functionality of antioxidant properties.

An intriguing and encouraging highlight of this year’s European Conference was the substantial involvement of young researchers. Remarkably, half of the ten oral presentations were delivered by these budding scholars, highlighting the robust growth of the next generation of aquaphotomics researchers in Italy and Hungary. Despite their youth, these presenters exhibited exceptional maturity, robust research capabilities, curiosity, and a willingness to address complex and challenging topics head-on.

Silvia Grassi, from the University of Milan, conducted a pioneering exploration of aquaphotomics in the context of monitoring ice formation in meat super-chilling—a previously uncharted domain. Her talk revealed that aquaphotomics can serve as a non-destructive tool for observing phase transitions. This feature holds particular promise not only for the food industry but also for the pharmaceutical and medical fields. The non-destructive nature of this approach presents a substantial potential to replace traditional thermal methods like differential scanning calorimetry. Furthermore, it offers a deeper understanding of the molecular structure of water during such processes. Another outstanding young researcher, from the University of Genoa, Italy, Sara Gariglio, showcased her pioneering work in employing NIR hyperspectral imaging and aquaphotomics to study nonvascular epiphytic communities during dehydration. Sara’s research shed light on the intriguing dehydration and water-holding behaviors of lichens and bryophytes, organisms with significant implications for microclimates. Her focus on the study of dehydration and drought-resistant organisms, capable of anhydrobiosis, emerged as a robust research direction within the aquaphotomics field. Both Silvia and Sara made a lasting impact on the audience through their exceptional strong presence and communication skills, innovative thinking, enthusiasm, and unwavering determination to address significant challenges in their research endeavors.

Flora Vitalis, from MATE in Hungary, emerged as another promising young researcher, captivating the audience with her lecture on monitoring the fermentation process using aquaphotomics. Her presentation showcased the remarkable progress she made in aquaphotomics, reflecting the insights gained during her two-months visit to Aquaphotomics Research Department in Japan, last year. This added layer highlighted her unique experience and solidified her role as one more bridge between Japanese and Hungarian groups, integrating the knowledge gained from both contexts. What set Flora’s presentation apart was her emphasis on a contemporary and innovative system: probiotic fruit juices—an emerging frontier in probiotic carriers. Her presentation not only garnered considerable attention for its scientific content but also stood out for its remarkable creativity and the high-quality delivery of her material, captivating the audience with each slide and ensuring an engaging and informative session.

Figure 7. Young generations of aquaphotomics researchers from Italy and Hungary: Silvia Grassi (top left), Sara Gaglio (top right), Balkis Aouadi (bottom left) and Flora Vitalis (bottom right). Future of aquaphotomics seems to be in hands of young extraordinary women.

Balkis Aoudi, also from the same university, delivered an equally compelling lecture on the drying-induced alterations of phytochemical content and water spectral patterns in selected herbs, specifically rosemary, oregano, and thyme. This research represents a fresh and vital frontier within aquaphotomics. Balkis highlighted the varying effects of different drying methods, shedding light on the ability to predict total polyphenol content and explore antioxidant capacity. Her work underscores the significance of delving into novel areas within aquaphotomics and promises valuable insights into preserving phytochemicals in herbs during the drying process.

Another young researcher, Alexander Stoilov, delivered a compelling presentation on the potential applications of aquaphotomics in classifying different types of soil. Coming from the Yunosato Aquaphotomics Lab in Japan, the world’s first industrial and private aquaphotomics laboratory, Alexander investigated how variations in soil moisture percentages and water molecular structure affect the accuracy of soil type classification.

The conference also featured two special sessions: The Roundtable and the Assembly of the European Aquaphotomics Society, aimed at exploring the current state of the art of aquaphotomics both in Europe and worldwide. Attendees actively participated, sharing their opinions, research directions, identifying current gaps, and discussing requirements for further advancement. The collective outcomes of both events revealed that aquaphotomics’ primary area of development, from its inception, has been in the application of food quality and inflammation diagnostics. However, a particularly robust and emerging trend revolves around researching drought stress in various organisms, diagnosing stress in plants, and comprehending the mechanisms of stress resistance. Exciting results are accumulating, demonstrating a connection between genetic modifications and stress resistance, ultimately affecting an organism’s ability to regulate water structure in its cells and tissues.

Additionally, there are noteworthy emerging trends, primarily originating from Italy, involving the use of near-infrared spectral imaging. This approach introduces another crucial spatial dimension to aquaphotomics investigations. Substantial contributions to aquaphotomics development are also arising in the areas of data preprocessing and the exploration of novel data analysis methods. Moreover, there is a strong emphasis on nurturing and supporting the next generation of researchers in the field, ensuring its continued growth and innovation.

Figure 8. Assoc. Prof. Cristina Malegori and Prof. Zoltan Kovacs leading discussions during the Assembly of the European Aquaphotomics Society

Within this context, it became abundantly clear that an aquaphotomics research group led by Prof. Kovacs is emerging as a potent force in Europe. Prof. Kovacs, who also serves as the Head of Research Strategy at MATE and International Affairs Advisor of the Institute of Food Science and Technology and has played a pivotal role in shaping the strategy of the digitalization of Hungary’s food industry, is passionately dedicated to fostering international relationships and collaboration in the field of Aquaphotomics, too.

Figure 9. The “Hungarian aquaphotomics research group” led by Prof. Dr Zoltan Kovacs. From left to right: Tomoko MataHari Miura, the chairperson of Tsuki no Shizuku Foundation (https://www.tsukinoshizuku.org/), Dr John-Lewis Zinia Zakuu, Flora Vitalis, Prof. Dr Zoltan Kovacs, Balkis Aouadi, Matyas Lukacs, Mercy Mukite Barasa, Redeemer Cofi Agbolegbe, Assoc. Prof. Dr Zoltan Gillay

Thanks to the Stipendium Hungaricum scholarship program offered by the Hungarian government for pursuing PhD studies in Hungary, Prof. Kovacs has assembled a robust and highly talented team of international researchers, each pursuing unique research directions. Notably, some of these researchers, like Dr John Lewis, have gone on to establish their own research groups, as exemplified by his work in Ghana. The potential for further expansion is evident, with discussions circulating about the possibility of creating a new chapter akin to those seen in Japan, China, and Europe—an African chapter—in the coming years.

The conference also featured an engaging poster session, offering young researchers a valuable platform to present their work and receive feedback from their colleagues and experienced researchers. The topics were very versatile and included non-destructive differentiation of fresh and frozen-thawed meat and fish (Bulgaria), estrus detection in pigs using urine (Hungary), monitoring effects of ultrasound-assisted soaking of red kidney beans (Hungary), characterization of deep-sea water used for production of cosmetics (Japan), revealing ochratoxin contamination in wine (Hungary), measurement of absorbed irradiation dose in mice (Japan) and characterization and classification of soil (Japan).

Figure 10. The Conference featured a poster session, where around 10 posters were presented by young aquaphotomics researchers

There were some very novel topics as well, such as exploring novel water correction method for presentation of water spectral patterns of ionic aqueous solutions on aquagrams (interesting and novel collaboration between Slovenia and Hungary), automatic estimation of dielectric properties of human tissues using microwave band (Italy) and exploration of the effects of electromagnetic dynamization on water (United Kingdom).

The conference received generous sponsorship from VIAVI Solutions and the Tsuki no Shizuku Foundation, both of which have played pivotal roles in supporting the development of aquaphotomics. VIAVI Solutions, known for its widely-used microNIR portable instruments within the aquaphotomics community, also delivered a brief presentation highlighting the capabilities and features of these instruments.

Tomoko MataHari Miula, the chairperson of the Tsuki no Shizuku Foundation (https://www.tsukinoshizuku.org/), presented a comprehensive report detailing how the foundation’s funds have been strategically invested. These investments encompassed the provision of equipment, funding for travel expenses for young researchers attending conferences, participation in educational courses, and the publication of scientific works, reflecting the foundation’s significant contributions to the advancement of aquaphotomics research.

As the European chapter of this journey concluded, the prevailing sentiment was one of remarkable progress, particularly evident among the younger generation of aquaphotomics researchers. The excitement lies in the prospect that each new advocate of this science can educate and inspire others, fostering its growth and dissemination.

Looking ahead, the path of aquaphotomics continues with The Fifth Aquaphotomics International Conference. Announced in Rome, this prestigious event is set to return to its birthplace in Kobe, Japan, in November 2024. Anticipation is high for the continued evolution of aquaphotomics, as researchers from around the world prepare to gather and further illuminate the intricate world of water.

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