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Academy of Finland selects eight new Academy Professors

22 Jun 2016

The Academy of Finland has decided to fund eight new research posts as Academy Professor. The new Academy Professors are Eero Castrén (University of Helsinki), Sara Heinämaa (University of Jyväskylä), Markku Kulmala (University of Helsinki), Matti Latva-aho (University of Oulu), Craig Primmer (University of Turku), Hannu Salmi (University of Turku), Päivi Törmä (Aalto University) and Anu Wartiovaara (University of Helsinki). Their five-year terms commence on 1 January 2017.

The Academy Professors represent the disciplines of neuroscience, philosophy, aerosol and environmental physics, ecology and evolutionary biology, data communications technology, history, theoretical physics and clinical medicine.

A research post as Academy Professor is intended to give cutting-edge scientists and researchers the opportunity to engage in research full-time. Academy Professors are expected to significantly advance research in their field and to develop creative research environments. The Academy currently provides funding for 40 five-year Academy Professorships over a range of disciplines. Two of these professorships – the Minna Canth Academy Professorship and the Martti Ahtisaari Academy Professorship – are targeted posts and open for application once every five years.

New Academy Professors

Eero Castrén (University of Helsinki) is a neuroscientist interested in the molecular effects of antidepressant drugs in the adult brain. He has earlier shown how the molecular actions of antidepressants enhance plasticity in the adult brain. Neuroplasticity is very limited after the critical period of development, and these results have opened important avenues for studies of brain functions and the treatment of related diseases. An understanding of how brain plasticity can be induced in adults will pave the way to new therapies for brain function rehabilitation in patients suffering from psychiatric disorders, brain haemorrhage, or chronic pain. During his term as Academy Professor, Eero Castrén will investigate neuronal plasticity in the adult brain from a new perspective. He will be concentrating on the mechanisms of action of widely used antidepressant drugs and their interactions with neurotrophins and serotonin, integrating the methods of cellular and molecular biology in a novel and unique way. The possibility to restore and shape plasticity in the adult brain opens up the potential for important new applications in the detection and treatment of psychiatric disorders. The new research evidence will help to improve the diagnosis and treatment of neuropsychiatric diseases.

Sara Heinämaa (University of Jyväskylä) is working to develop a philosophical approach to studying social marginalisation and exclusion. Her thinking is grounded in the idea that experiences of normality and abnormality have a decisive role in all social processes in which individual and community differences become polarised and in which these differences and antagonisms are resolved through marginalisation and exclusion. Heinämaa’s creative and interdisciplinary approach opens up a new research perspective on normality and abnormality. She is one of Europe’s leading scholars of corporeal phenomenology, and she has authored award-winning publications.

Markku Kulmala (University of Helsinki) is investigating the impact of human activity and natural processes on air quality and the climate. Air quality and climate interactions are varied and highly complex. Polluted air may change the local and even global climate, and the climate affects air quality in many ways. However, the interactions and feedback mechanisms between air quality and climate are still poorly understood. Professor Kulmala’s aim is to shed more light on this interaction and to understand the phenomena around impurity generation, dynamics and feedback mechanisms. The research offers significant environmental, social and economic benefits. Markku Kulmala is the world’s leading expert in the physics and chemistry of atmospheric aerosols. He also served as Academy Professor in 2004–2009 and 2011–2015.

Matti Latva-aho (University of Oulu) is active in research on wireless radio data communications. Wireless data communications systems and networks are already central to the effective functioning of society, and their significance is continuing to increase. The capacity of wireless communications networks is ultimately constrained by limited spectrum availability. Under current plans, new spectrum allocations for mobile data communications will only be made at much higher frequency bands than those used at present. This will bring major changes to how future wireless radio systems should be planned and optimised. Latva-aho’s research will help to improve understanding of how the design criteria for future wireless systems will change and what kind of transmission technologies and transmitter/receiver architectures they should use. His work will address and resolve challenges whose existence has been recognised but not seriously tackled in earlier research. It is expected to generate significant new information in the field of data communications technology. The project will create a basic understanding of millimetre wave technologies and design an ultra-high-capacity data communications network architecture for the future.

Craig Primmer (University of Turku) is interested in studying the relationship of phenotype to genotype at the molecular level as well as the genetic architecture of age at maturity, a life-history trait with important implications for adaptation in natural populations. This is a globally unique research project that is largely based on a study published in Nature magazine in 2015, in which Primmer and his team reported that a single gene (VGLL3) explained 40 per cent of the variation in sea-age at maturity in the Atlantic salmon. This was a surprising result, since it was previously thought that life-history traits are regulated by several genes. Primmer’s Academy Professor project will involve a pioneering combination of modelling and experimental work in an attempt to predict the impact of environmental change on the life-history traits of salmon. This research will provide important insights and information for fisheries management, and yield fundamental information about how the reduction in age at maturity in response to fishing can be prevented. Reduced age at maturity leads to declining fish sizes, smaller catches and lower catch values. The results are also important for puberty research in that the VGLL3 gene also affects age at maturity in humans. Craig Primmer also served as Academy Professor in 2011–2015.

Hannu Salmi (University of Turku) is interested to research questions of cultural virality in the early nineteenth century, a period of central importance to the birth of modern Europe. The European boundaries were redrawn after the French Revolution, and at the same time cross-border movement gathered momentum in the wake of technological change. The growing influence of the press from the 1820s onwards contributed to advancing the development.  Salmi uses methods of text mining to trace forms of cultural contagion and virality in digital newspaper archives. Ultimately, his aim is to offer a reinterpretation of the whole concept of culture. His research will shed new light on the phenomenon of information and communications by developing a methodologically and conceptually innovative approach to a period that is quite well known in historical research.

Päivi Törmä (Aalto University) is a theoretical physicist whose research interests are in the area of long-range coherence phenomena. The aims of her research project include the theoretical determination of the limits of superconductivity. The results are expected to pave the way to the development of room temperature superconductors. The second stage of the project will involve the experimental realisation of low-energy and nanoscale coherent light sources based on new plasmonic nanoparticle arrays. Törmä effectively integrates computational and experimental research methods. Her project includes new innovative research ideas that will significantly advance the discipline and ultimately open up new technological opportunities.

Anu Wartiovaara (University of Helsinki) is a clinical scientist who specialises in mitochondrial research. Mitochondrial diseases are a heterogeneous group of rare disorders caused by dysfunctions in mitochondria, the energy-producing organelles of cells. These dysfunctions produce different clinical symptoms in different patients, ranging from early-onset multiorgan autoimmune diseases to adult-onset neurodegeneration, diabetes or deafness. Mitochondrial dysfunction also affects major public health problems such as cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, musculoskeletal diseases and heart diseases. Anu Wartiovaara’s research is focused on studying a particular subcategory of mitochondrial diseases, where mutations in certain genes threaten the intactness of mitochondrial DNA. In children, the disease causes serious brain and liver damage, and in adults muscle diseases. During her Academy Professorship, Wartiovaara’s main focus will be on mechanisms of communication within cells and mitochondria and their interactions in different tissues on a larger scale. The project has the potential to take research in this field in a whole new direction away from the mainstream, and it can also open significant opportunities for the treatment and diagnosis of mitochondrial diseases.

List of Academy Professors funded by the Academy of Finland

More information

  • Executive Director Riitta Maijala, Academy of Finland, tel. +358 295 335 114, firstname.lastname(at)aka.fi
  • Biosciences and Environment Research Unit:Director Laura Raaska, tel. +358 295 335 094, and Science Adviser Timo Sareneva, tel. +358 295 335 106, firstname.lastname(at)aka.fi
  • Culture and Society Research Unit: Director Liisa Savunen, tel. +358 295 335 122, and Senior Science Adviser Hannele Kurki, tel. +358 295 335 052, firstname.lastname(at)aka.fi
  • Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Unit: Director Susan Linko, tel. +358 295 335 066, and Senior Science Adviser Ritva Taurio, tel. +358 295 335 115. firstname.lastname(at)aka.fi
  • Health Research Unit: Director Jarmo Wahlfors, tel. +358 295 335 126, and Science Adviser Sara Illman, tel. +358 295 335 119, firstname.lastname(at)aka.fi

Academy of Finland Communications
Riitta Tirronen, Director of Communications
tel. +358 295 335 118
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Last modified 22 Jun 2016
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