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Risto Nieminen and Irma Thesleff receive honorary title of Academician of Science

(14 Feb 2014)

Professor Risto Nieminen (Aalto University) and Professor Irma Thesleff (University of Helsinki) have been awarded the honorary title of Academician of Science. President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö granted the titles at a presidential session today, 14 February 2014.

The letters of appointment will be presented to the new Academicians at a ceremony to be held at the House of the Estates in Helsinki on 18 February 2014. Based on nominations made by the Academy of Finland, the President of the Republic of Finland may confer the honorary title of Academician of Science to highly distinguished Finnish or foreign scientists and scholars. The title can be held by no more than twelve Finnish scientists and scholars at a time. There are no restrictions on the number of foreign title holders.

Academician Risto Nieminen, a trailblazer and pioneer in nanoscience and materials physics

Risto Nieminen (b. 1948) is currently Dean of the Aalto University School of Science, a member of the Aalto University Management Team and Aalto Distinguished Professor, an appointment made by Aalto University in recognition of a faculty member’s exceptional academic merits. Nieminen is widely hailed as a trailblazer and pioneer in the application of nanoscience and materials physics within scientific research. He has acquired versatile expertise in computational material physics.

Nieminen has held a number of significant scientific positions at key universities and research centres both in Finland and abroad, including Helsinki University of Technology, now Aalto University, CSC – the IT Center for Science, the University of Jyväskylä, the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics (Nordita) in Denmark and Sweden, Cornell University in the US and the University of Cambridge in the UK. He defended his DSc thesis in 1975.

Between 2000 and 2013, Nieminen headed the Academy of Finland’s Centre of Excellence in Computational Nanoscience at Aalto University. The CoE is focused on researching and exploring phenomena, structures and systems at the atomic and molecular level from the point of view of materials physics. The results of nanoscience research are also applied in, for instance, microelectronics and chemical catalysis. Between 1997 and 2008, Nieminen served as Academy Professor with funding from the Academy of Finland.

Nieminen has an extensive scientific publication record and his research papers are often cited by other researchers. According to the Web of Science database, Nieminen has an h-index of 70. He has also received an honorary prize by the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation as an acknowledgement for his remarkable merits in scientific research and contributions to Finnish science. He was named Professor of the Year in 2003 by the Finnish Union of University Professors (FUUP).

For Nieminen, being a world-class researcher was not among his ultimate motives when he, as a Master’s student back in the 1970s, decided to start pursuing a postgraduate degree. “A childlike fascination with physics and research, and a natural curiosity – these are the things that have largely shaped my career. Physicists tend to have a strong desire to understand the world around them,” says Nieminen. “It’s an unbelievable feeling when you finally figure out something, and later see others applying your ideas. I like to think of it as a form of creative work, where researchers are emotionally invested in their own research.”

Academician Irma Thesleff, Finland’s internationally best-known developmental biologist

Irma Thesleff (b. 1948) is an internationally recognised scientist with a research interest in the mechanisms of embryonic organ development. Although she is best known for her work on tooth development, she has also studied other ectodermal organs such as hairs and glands as well as cranial bones. For example, she has developed a mammalian tooth model that has allowed for an in-depth examination of both embryonic and evolutionary development.

Thesleff’s goal is to unravel the complexities of intercellular communication during cell development. Intercellular interactions are among the key mechanisms guiding the development. Finnish developmental biologists have studied these interactions ever since the 1930s, for example, leading figures such as Professor Sulo Toivonen and Professor Lauri Saxén (who supervised Thesleff’s doctoral thesis).

Irma Thesleff obtained her PhD in Dental Science in 1975. She has spent most of her career at the University of Helsinki, except for a postdoctoral stint at the National Institute of Dental Research in Bethesda, USA. Currently, she heads a cutting-edge team of developmental biologists at the University of Helsinki’s Institute of Biotechnology. She has an extensive scientific publication record consisting of more than 300 well-cited scientific papers and other publications. She has an h-index of 76 in the Web of Science database.

Thesleff served as Academy Professor with funding from the Academy of Finland between 1998 and 2003, and headed the Academy’s Centre of Excellence in Developmental Biology from 2002 to 2007. She has received honorary doctorates from McGill University in Canada, KU Leuven in Belgium, the University of Debrecen in Hungary, the University of Gothenburg and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, the University of Oslo in Norway and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Thesleff has also been invited as a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She has received a number of prestigious prizes and awards, including the Anders Jahre Senior Medical Prize in 1999, the Isaac Schour Memorial Award in 2008 and the Finnish Dental Society’s Apollonia Award in 2009. In 2004, she was named Professor of the Year by the Finnish Union of University Professors (FUUP).

“I’m of course very humbled and honoured to receive this recognition. It’s a complete surprise. Though, I have to admit that it’s a bit terrifying to be among such esteemed company. I hope that the title of Academician will give me an opportunity to influence important issues in science and society,” Thesleff says.

More information:

  • Risto Nieminen, risto.nieminen(at)aalto.fi, tel. +358 50 350 0900
  • Irma Thesleff, irma.thesleff(at)helsinki.fi, tel. +358 50 301 6897 and +358 9 191 59401 (except on 14 Feb 2014 at 11.00–12.30)
  • Heikki Mannila, President of the Academy of Finland, tel. +358 295 335 001

Additional material:

  • Photos of the new Academicians are available at http://mediabank.aka.fi
  • The CVs for the new Academicians and a comprehensive list of all Academicians are available on the Academy’s website at www.aka.fi/eng > About us > Who we are > Academicians. 

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