Press release: Julius Upmeier zu Belzen is winner of the Falling Walls Lab Adlershof competition. The master’s student at the BIH Digital Health Center impressed the jury with his work on biomedical AI

“Breaking the Wall of…” is the challenge that the Falling Walls Lab has posed to young scientists and entrepreneurs in about 100 cities around the world. The aim is to promote exceptional ideas and to connect promising scientists and entrepreneurs from all fields on a global level. Participants get the opportunity to present their research work, business model, or innovative ideas to peers and a high-caliber jury in a three-minute pitch. The winners of the local Falling Walls Lab competitions will travel to the Lab Finale in Berlin and can attend the Falling Walls Conference.

Julius Upmeier zu Belzen impressed the Falling Walls Lab Adlershof’s jury members with his presentation on “Breaking the Wall of Black Boxes in Biomedical AI.” In his project, artificial intelligence helps to predict the functions of proteins. “Unfortunately, the rules that the AI uses to make its predictions usually remain a mystery, causing the artificial intelligence to be a black box,” explains Julius Upmeier zu Belzen. “But we discovered a trick to unravel the AI’s secrets.” His team at the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and at Heidelberg University employs a method known as sensitivity analysis, with which the young scientists can figuratively look over the shoulder of the AI as it does its work (see also: https://www.bihealth.org/en/notices/press-release-what-artificial-intelligence-can-teach-us-about-proteins/). “This is quite fortunate, because the computer’s precise knowledge about proteins is highly valuable for the research and development of new agents,” says Professor Roland Eils, founding director of the BIH Digital Health Center and mentor of Julius Upmeier zu Belzen.

Julius Upmeier zu Belzen edged out 13 other presenters, who on September 27 showcased their forward-looking ideas in three-minute pitches. Second place went to Dr. Anna Katharina Pikos from Leibniz University Hannover, with “Breaking the Wall of Gender Gaps,” and third to Benjamin Herzog from the Berlin biotech start-up Solaga, with “Breaking the Wall of Sustainable Air Cleaning.”

By taking first place, Julius Upmeier zu Belzen will now go up against some 100 other Lab winners from around the world in the Falling Walls Lab Finale, which will be held in Berlin on November 8. In addition, he can participate in the Falling Walls Conference on November 9. “That is a really great prize,” says the young biologist in anticipation of the event. Julius Upmeier zu Belzen will also be presenting his work on November 7 at the Future Medicine Conference, which is organized by the BIH and the Tagesspiegel (http://bit.ly/futuremed19).

The north German regional competition was once again hosted by the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) and the Joint Initiative of Non-University Research Institutes Adlershof (IGAFA) on behalf of the Falling Walls Foundation. With some 30 presenters, Falling Walls Lab Adlershof was also in 2019 the most successful Lab competition in Germany.