Anna-Liisa Laine and Mari Sandell receive 2012 Academy of Finland Awards

The Academy of Finland recognised two distinguished researchers in Helsinki on Friday 9 November 2012. The Academy of Finland Awards were presented to Academy Research Fellow, Docent Anna-Liisa Laine from the University of Helsinki, and Academy Research Fellow, Docent Mari Sandell from the University of Turku.

Evolutionary biologist receives award for scientific courage

Academy Research Fellow, Docent Anna-Liisa Laine is without question one of the leading evolutionary biologists in Finland. In her research, she has shown an admirable lack of prejudice and considerable scientific courage. While still a young doctoral student, Anna-Liisa Laine showed exceptional determination to develop and pursue her own line of inquiry. During her career in research, she has sought active collaboration with leading international colleagues. She was recently awarded a highly competitive ERC Starting Grant, which will allow her to further pursue her unique research vision. Laine sets an important example to young women who are considering an ecologist’s and scientist’s career. As well as a successful scientist, Anna-Liisa is also a mother. By her own example she has shown that it is indeed possible to have both a successful career and family life at the same time.

Based at the University of Helsinki Department of Biosciences, Laine is interested to learn more about why plant diseases occur where they do and why the degree of harm caused to their hosts varies so much as it does: “It’s important to understand this not only because of serious diseases threatening human health, but also because in agriculture plant diseases cause significant crop loss each year. I myself am studying the subject from a basic research vantage-point, focusing on the interaction between ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) growing in the meadows of the Åland Islands and the powdery mildew fungus (Podosphaera plantaginis) that infects the plant”, Laine explains.

In her work, Laine combines ecological experimentation with genetics and mathematical modelling. “One of our major challenges right now is to learn to understand the winter hibernation of plant diseases. Most disease epidemics in the world are characterised by seasonal variation, which means that disease populations collapse at the end of each growing season. We don’t yet understand the factors that regulate this process – and yet it is this very process that determines where and how the epidemic begins to unfold at the start of the next season. Our latest result suggests that in powdery mildew lines, for instance, there are marked genetic differences in how they survive the winter.”

The Academy of Finland Award for scientific courage is granted to researchers who have shown exceptional scientific audacity, creativity or innovation in their work. The award can be granted for a novel or original research idea, for forward-looking work that crosses scientific boundaries or for a willingness to take risks in research.

Taste researcher recognised for social impact

Academy Research Fellow, Docent Mari Sandell has contributed significantly to increasing public awareness and knowledge about taste research and to increasing public interest in eating behaviour. She has received particular acclaim for her transdisciplinary and international collaboration. Sandell is a popular speaker who also contributes actively to public debate in society. She is frequently invited to deliver lectures to experts and the general public, and she writes about her science in an accessible way. She works constantly to improve her own expertise and to this end has worked as visiting researcher at the US Monell Chemical Senses Center, for example. Furthermore, she has had great success as a mentor of young scientists.

Mari Sandell is a food chemist who works at the University of Turku Department of Biochemistry and Food Chemistry and Functional Foods Forum. Her innovative research project on bitter taste reception and eating behaviour addresses an interesting new area of research concerned with food choices and eating. This allows Sandell to combine her expertise in food sciences with behavioural sciences and genetics: “Even though it’s important to understand different food flavours at molecular level, people can still react to them in different ways. Eating behaviour is often controlled by factors impacting the sensory quality of food coupled with individual taste preferences.”

Sandell says food is a fascinating research topic: “I’m really excited about the psychogenomics of food, i.e. how our genetic makeup affects the way our sense of taste works, the way we experience food and our diet and eating habits. My research has shown that we live in individual taste worlds and that we experience the properties of food in very different ways. This is reflected in our very different everyday choices of food. Most of us like to eat what tastes good, but good taste is an individual thing. I’m interested to find out the reasons behind this and to see how it affects our lives. I’m delighted that as a scientist, I can tell people about the great complexity of experiencing food and the possibilities of food education.”

The Academy of Finland Award for social impact is granted to researchers who have significantly contributed to increasing public awareness of scientific research or the researcher’s job, inspired interest in science, actively contributed to public debate in society, or otherwise strengthened the role, application and impact of science and research in society.

Academy of Finland Awards are encouragement for researchers

This was the tenth time that the awards were announced. Recipients of the Academy of Finland Awards shall have a research post as Academy Research Fellow or work as an Academy-funded Postdoctoral Researcher. Nominations are submitted by the Academy’s Research Councils to the Academy Board, who makes the final decision. The purpose of the awards is to recognise and encourage outstanding researchers with dynamic career prospects and to highlight goals and objectives the Academy considers important. The recipients are presented with a mouth-blown ornament, entitled “The Moment”, by Miia Liesegang.

More information:
- Vice President for Administration Ossi Malmberg, Academy of Finland, tel. +358 29 533 5003, ossi.malmberg(at)
- Anna-Liisa Laine, University of Helsinki, tel. +358 40 7374 226, anna-liisa.laine(at)
- Mari Sandell, University of Turku, tel. +358 400 742 408, masaarim(at)

Photos and introductory videos:
- Photos of Anna-Liisa Laine and Mari Sandell are available on 9 November at 6 pm on the Academy’s website at To find photos, go to photo gallery and search with the winners’ names.

- Introductory videos (with English subtitles) on the winners are available on 9 November on the Academy’s Youtube channel:


Academy of Finland Communications
Communications Specialist Terhi Loukiainen
tel. +358 29 533 5068


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