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2016 Academy of Finland Awards go to Kaisa Matomäki and Hélder A. Santos

21 Nov 2016

The Academy of Finland presents awards each year to two outstanding and distinguished researchers. The 2016 Award for Scientific Courage will be presented to Academy Research Fellow Kaisa Matomäki from the University of Turku, and the Award for Social Impact to Academy Research Fellow Hélder A. Santos from the University of Helsinki. The awards presentation ceremony will be held on Thursday 24 November in Helsinki.

The Academy of Finland Award for Scientific Courage is granted to a researcher who has shown exceptional scientific audacity, creativity or innovation in research. The award can be granted for a novel or original research idea, for forward-looking work that cuts across scientific boundaries, or for a willingness to take risks in research.

The Academy of Finland Award for Social Impact is granted to a researcher who has 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.

Award for Scientific Courage given to analytic number theorist

The Academy of Finland Award for Scientific Courage will be presented to Academy Research Fellow, Adjunct Professor Kaisa Matomäki (b. 1985). She is one of the world’s leading analytic number theorists. Analytic number theory, and prime number research in particular, has a long history and a number of classic unsolved problems. On the other hand, several recent breakthroughs, some of which are closely related to the research that Matomäki is doing, have attracted much current attention. Matomäki specialises, for instance, in the study of prime numbers, which may be described as the building blocks of all natural numbers.

“The distribution of prime numbers is one unsolved, complex problem,” Matomäki says. “For instance, does there exist an infinite number of twin primes, pairs of prime numbers that differ by two? Examples of such pairs of prime numbers are 11 and 13, and 17 and 19. The famous twin prime conjecture says that there are an infinite number of such pairs – but no one had actually been able to prove it.”

Another unsolved prime-number problem that has preoccupied Matomäki is the so-called Goldbach conjecture, which states that every integer greater than 5 is the sum of two or three primes.

“The work I do is pure basic research. Prime numbers are sometimes used in cryptography, for instance, but my own research is not directly related to encryption methods. It’s possible though that sometime in the future my research will have application in that context as well.”

Matomäki has shown great determination in pursuing her research and achieved a tremendous amount for her young age. She has a very high publishing profile, both in terms of quantity and quality: her 30-odd publications have all been extremely well received and contributed to advancing the work of many respected number theorists. She is bold in her choice of subjects and uses unconventional methods to tackle them.

Recently, Matomäki has been working closely with Maksym Radziwill and Fields medallist Terence Tao. This collaboration has yielded significant results in the theory of multiplicative functions. Matomäki and Radziwill recently announced a major breakthrough in their work on multiplicative functions in short intervals. In December, Matomäki and Radziwill will be awarded the prestigious SASTRA Ramanujan prize.

Award for Social Impact given to developer of targeted nanomedicines

Academy Research Fellow, Adjunct Professor Hélder A. Santos (b. 1981) is a talented and internationally renowned researcher in the field of pharmaceutical nanotechnology and nanomedicines. The multicultural research team under his direction is one of the European pioneers in developing targeted nanomedicines made of porous silicon (PSi) biomaterials. The team’s work has opened up new vistas for the use of nanomaterials in biomedicine and for their application in the treatment of different diseases.

Santos and his team are exploring ways in which to modify nanodrugs so that they can reach their targets in sick tissue or in sick cells as effectively as possible. Team members are combining microfluidics and other methods in exceptional ways in order to advance the development of innovative nanodrugs for the treatment of cancer, diabetes and heart diseases. The technique they have developed has potentially highly significant social impact. The targeted delivery of drugs can help save human lives, improve the quality of life of large numbers of people, and reduce the costs of treatments.

“Our role is to engineer small, porous nanoparticles that can deliver drugs to different parts of the body at the exact right place and at the exact right time – and then disappear once they have done their job.”

Made from biodegradable porous silicon, these nanoparticles are like sugar cubes, Santos says: the medicine is put inside the nanomaterial, and then it dissolves and vanishes from the body once the medicine has been delivered.

Traditional, existing drugs today will usually spread throughout the body, so a drug intended to treat a liver disease, for instance, will also affect other organs or cells. This may cause side effects or reduce the efficacy of the drug. If the drug could be delivered exclusively to its primary target, it would be possible to use smaller amounts of new and more effective medicines. The targeted delivery within the body of not only medical substances but also tracers has major significance for medical imaging: the results would be more accurate, costs would be reduced, patient comfort improved and potential adverse side effects would decrease. This would be particularly beneficial in the treatment of cancer as imaging and medication could be directly targeted at the tumour tissue.

“This is very much a multidisciplinary effort in that we need material scientists to develop a nanomaterial that is porous and soluble; we need pharmacists to develop the actual medicine; and we need engineers who can integrate these two worlds.”

Santos received European Research Council Starting Grant funding for his research in 2013.

Encouragement through awards

This is the fourteenth time that the Academy of Finland Awards will be presented. Recipients must be Academy Research Fellows or work as Academy-funded Postdoctoral Researchers. Nominations are submitted by the Academy’s research councils to the Academy Board, which makes the final decisions. 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”, designed by Miia Liesegang.

More information

  • Riitta Maijala, Vice President for Research, Academy of Finland, tel. +358 295 335 002, riitta.maijala(at)aka.fi
  • Academy Research Fellow Kaisa Matomäki, University of Turku, tel. +358 50 492 7450, kaisa.matomaki(at)utu.fi
  • Academy Research Fellow Hélder A. Santos, University of Helsinki, tel. +358 294 159 661, helder.santos(at)helsinki.fi

Photos and introductory video clips

Press contact

Academy of Finland Communications
Terhi Loukiainen
Communications Specialist
tel. +358 29 533 5068
firstname.lastname(at)aka.fi

Last modified 21 Nov 2016
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