Ten Finnish researchers receive ERC funding


Ten young Finnish researchers have been granted substantial funding from the European Research Council (ERC) within its call for Starting Grants. The maximum amount of funding granted for a project is EUR 2 million for five years. The funding is targeted to individual researchers for setting up a research team to carry out the proposed research project. This year, Finland was more successful than in 2010, when five researchers working in Finland received ERC Starting Grant funding.

Within the 2011 call, a total of 480 projects received funding, worth EUR 670 million. The call attracted applications from more than 4,000 researchers representing all scientific disciplines. Comparing the success of the Nordic countries, Finland came second after Sweden. Sweden received ERC funding to 13, Denmark to nine and Norway to four researchers.

The Finnish ERC Starting Grant winners are: Ville Hietakangas (University of Helsinki), Iiris Hovatta (University of Helsinki), Tuomas Hytönen (University of Helsinki), Rami Korhonen (University of Eastern Finland), Anna-Liisa Laine (University of Helsinki), Jukka Leppänen (University of Tampere), Peter Liljeroth (Aalto University), Mikko Möttönen (Aalto University), Mikko Niemi (University of Helsinki) and Ilona Riipinen, who will transfer from the University of Helsinki to Stockholm to carry out her research project.

Eight of the Finnish ERC grant winners have had, or currently have, a research post as Academy Research Fellow, and several of them are working within Finnish Centres of Excellence appointed by the Academy of Finland. Nine of the researchers attended the interview training arranged by the Academy for Finnish ERC applicants in spring.

Funding to all disciplines

The Finnish researchers who now received ERC funding represent a wide spectrum of research.

Ville Hietakangas investigates nutrient sensing mechanisms, in other words, those factors that signal to an organism about its own nutritional status. The research team studies, in particular, communication within an organism regarding its nutritional status. The ERC-funded research project focuses on glucose sensing and the related gene regulation. The aim is to find new gene regulators that contribute to glucose metabolism.

Iiris Hovatta studies the genetic background of anxiety disorders. The ERC-funded project opens a new phase in her research: the aim is to identify gene networks involved in the regulation of anxiety, in addition to individual susceptibility genes. The study involves mapping the anxiety-regulating brain areas in order to find those gene networks that are altered by anxiety, and investigating the significance of these gene regulatory networks in terms of predisposition to anxiety in humans. The team also examines the molecule-level mechanisms linking these networks with the regulation of anxiety.

Tuomas Hytönen’s research in the field of harmonic analysis aims at applying randomness and probability to problems of traditional mathematical analysis, thus extending the theory of so-called singular integrals to cover situations unapproachable by current methods. In mathematical analysis and applications, singular integrals are central objects, which exhibit strong mutual cancellation between their positive and negative parts.

Rami Korhonen’s project aims at developing a computerised model for assessing the progression of degenerative osteoarthritis in individual patients. The model can be utilised in planning a suitable treatment for each patient to prevent osteoarthritis or decelerate its progress.

Anna-Liisa Laine investigates the complex interaction between Plantago lanceolata, a ribwort plantain growing in the meadows of the Aland Islands, and powdery mildew (Podosphaera plantaginis), a fungal pathogen infecting it. The natural model system formed by a plantain plant and the fungi that suck nutrients from its cells will serve as a source of information regarding the behaviour of plant diseases in general. The research results will shed light on the factors behind plant diseases and the variation in their infection ability.

Jukka Leppänen studies perception in infants and, in particular, the development of an infant’s ability to recognise emotional signals in a human face. Recognising emotional signals is crucial for normal social interaction. The project focuses on examining the relations between various genetic factors and the early development of this skill, and the individual variability in the development of skills and possible deviations.

Peter Liljeroth received ERC funding for the development of atomic-sized electronics. New microprocessors are packed with billions of transistors. The miniaturisation of silicon chips, however, is reaching its physical limits. The project investigates defined atomic structures and possibilities to couple single-molecule electronic components to each other. Liljeroth and his team are developing a production method for atomic-sized electronics. Instead of silicon, they use a new material, graphene, as a building material for components.

Mikko Möttönen carries out research in the field of circuit quantum electrodynamics. The project explores the strong properties of microwave photons outside cavities and utilises photons in quantum information applications. The aim is to construct a sensor for detecting single microwave photons, thus facilitating the real-time measurement of the photonic state of waveguides in the same way as the commercial photon detectors do in optical quantum computing.

Mikko Niemi examines the impact of the genetic variation of cell-membrane transporter proteins on the efficacy and safety of pharmaceuticals. Human cell membranes have hundreds of different transporter proteins that convey chemicals in and out of cells. Recently, Niemi and his team found, in a liver transporter protein, a common genetic mutation which predisposes its bearer to a muscular adverse effect caused by statins, which are used as cholesterol medication. The ERC funding enables Niemi to expand his research to cover systematically several pharmaceutical transportation proteins.

The ERC awards two types of grants: ERC Starting Independent Researcher Grants, aimed at supporting researchers who intend to establish an independent research team, and ERC Advanced Investigator Grants, intended for established research leaders.

The ERC funds researcher-driven, cutting-edge scientific research. The projects to be funded are selected on the basis of their scientific quality. The aim of the ERC funding scheme is to further improve the quality of European research and to increase Europe’s global competitiveness.

More information:
Science Adviser Maiju Gyran, Academy of Finland, tel. +358 40 196 2729, maiju.gyran(at)

Academy of Finland Communications
Communications Manager Riitta Tirronen
tel. +358 9 7748 8369, +358 40 828 1724


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