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Neuroscientist, Academy Professor Riitta Hari new Academician of Science

 26.11.2010

Academy Professor Riitta Hari will become Academician of Science. The President of the Republic Tarja Halonen granted her the honorary title of Academician at the presidential session today, 26 November. The letter of appointment will be presented to the new Academician by the President of the Republic in Helsinki on 29 November 2010.

Academy Professor Riitta Hari will become Academician of Science. The President of the Republic Tarja Halonen granted her the honorary title of Academician at the presidential session today, 26 November. The letter of appointment will be presented to the new Academician by the President of the Republic in Helsinki on 29 November 2010.

Riitta Hari is an internationally recognised and respected neuroscientist. She has developed methods and applications of human brain imaging and thereby contributed decisively to the progress of this branch of science.

Hari’s current focus is on the brain basis of social interaction – and once again she is blazing the trail. Director of the Brain Research Unit of the Low Temperature Laboratory at Aalto University School of Science and Technology (former Helsinki University of Technology, TKK), Riitta Hari and her team are widely known for their long-standing work in developing magnetoencephalography (MEG) and its applications. MEG picks up the weak magnetic fields of the brain, providing information about brain processing with millisecond resolution. The results have multiple applications in basic research, but also in the diagnostics and follow-up of brain diseases.

Hari started to work at the Low Temperature Laboratory back in 1982, at the invitation of Professor Olli V. Lounasmaa, then director of the Laboratory. Lounasmaa was awarded the title of Academician in 1997.  Hari graduated as Doctor of Medical Science from the University of Helsinki in 1980. At the time that she was finalising her doctoral thesis, she got into contact with the cardiomagnetism team of Associate Professor Toivo Katila at Helsinki University of Technology, and started to use their single-channel magnetometer for brain research.

Lounasmaa and Hari had extremely productive collaboration: Hari concentrated on her brain research and Lounasmaa supervised the development of new-generation neuromagnetometers. “Initially our research focused very much on MEG, because all we had was this one method,” Hari says. “We therefore broadened the scope of our investigations so that over time we were able to build up a coherent view of brain function.”

“With the phenomenal advances in measurement techniques and analysis tools, brain imaging laboratories have become meeting places for scientists interested in human brain and mind,” Hari explains. She has led us towards a deeper understanding of the human mind through the use of increasingly real-life-like experimental settings. Her ultimate ambition is “two-person neuroscience”, i.e. the simultaneous examination of two individuals’ brains: this would shed crucial light on the brain basis of social interaction.

“As our brains are very strongly shaped by other people, I’m convinced that this is the direction we should pursue to gain a better understanding of the human mind. The dyad of two people is a more meaningful unit of analysis for the study of the human mind than an isolated individual.”

She describes her work as a challenging, high-risk endeavour with a shaky foundation: it is an ongoing process of simultaneously developing new experimental settings, equipment, concepts and signal analysis. “To make sure we always have some grounding to fall back on, we usually pursue multiple lines of research at the same time: some of our products comprise more traditional research of sensory and motor functions.” 

Active publishing

Hari’s scientific publishing is extensive and internationally highly acknowledged, including a total of 285 scientific articles. She has also been active in supervising a wide range of doctoral dissertations covering disciplines such as clinical neurophysiology, neurology, psychology, psychiatry, neuropaediatrics, audiology, physics, medical physics, neurosurgery and radiology.

Hari has recently started her third five-year term as Academy Professor (2010–2014).  She also directs the Finnish Centre of Excellence on Systems Neuroscience and Neuroimaging Research at Aalto University. The Academy of Finland has granted the Centre some EUR 2.7 million for 2006–2011. Hari is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences since 2004.

Hari has been granted several prestigious awards and recognitions both abroad and in Finland, including an honorary doctorate from the University of Lisbon in 2003, the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine in Switzerland in 2003, the Justine and Yves Sergent Prize for Cognitive Neuroscience in Canada in 2002 and the Award for the Advancement of European Science in Germany in 1987, and the Finnish Science Award in 2009, an honorary doctorate from the University of Kuopio in 2005 and the Matti Äyräpää Award in 2001.

 Twelve Academicians

The President of the Republic may confer the honorary title of Academician of Science to highly distinguished Finnish or foreign scientists or scholars. The title of Academician can be held by no more than twelve Finnish scientists or scholars at a time.

Riitta Hari joins an esteemed group of Academicians comprising Olli Lehto (mathematics, year of appointment 1975), Olavi Granö (geography, 1980), Pekka Jauho (physics, 1987), Erik Allardt (sociology, 1995), Jorma K. Miettinen (radiochemistry, 1995), Albert de la Chapelle (medicine, 1997), Teuvo Kohonen (physics, 2000), Arto Salomaa (mathematics, 2001), Pirjo Mäkelä (medicine, 2003), Päiviö Tommila (history, 2004) and Anna-Leena Siikala (folkloristics, 2009).

For media: Photos from the ceremony 29.11.2010 can be obtained from the picture agency Lehtikuva  . Photos of Academician Hari are available on the Academy’s website at www.aka.fi/en-gb/A/Academy-of-Finland/Media-services/Photo-gallery/ under ‘Akateemikkotilaisuus 29.11.2010’, ‘Riitta Hari’ and ‘Akateemikko’.

More information: Academician Riitta Hari, tel. +358 400 536 440 and Academy of Finland President Markku Mattila, tel. +358 9 7748 8210 and +358 400 736 603.

Academy of Finland Communications
Communications Director Maj-Lis Tanner
tel. +358 9 7748 8347, +358 40 729 6736    

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