On Thursday 26 November 2015 in Helsinki, the Academy of Finland will present the 2015 Academy of Finland Awards to two distinguished researchers. The Award for Scientific Courage will be presented to Academy Research Fellow Tuuli Lähdesmäki from the University of Jyväskylä and the Award for Social Impact to Academy Research Fellow Lauri Nummenmaa from the University of Turku and Aalto University.
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 goes to a researcher of European cultural heritage and identity
The Academy of Finland Award for Scientific Courage will be presented to Academy Research Fellow and docent Tuuli Lähdesmäki (b. 1976), PhD. Lähdesmäki has studied the role of culture in the representation and formation of different identities. Her current research focus is on the European Union’s activities in the realm of culture. In her latest research project, Lähdesmäki is exploring the creation of a common European cultural heritage and the building of European identities with that cultural heritage.
From the vantage point of critical culture studies, Lähdesmäki has studied cultural heritage initiatives launched by the EU and the EU’s heritage politics. She has looked at how the EU is conceptualising the idea of a common European value base, past and cultural heritage, and how the EU’s initiatives are designed to promote stronger cultural affinity and adhesion in Europe and the EU. Furthermore, Lähdesmäki focuses on local cultural actors in Europe and on their goals and tactics in legitimating culture and cultural heritage as European.
Cultural heritage, as Lähdesmäki defines it, is an emotional and politicised concept easily instrumentalised for use in identity-building. Understanding and researching cultural heritage processes and politics is important, because cultural heritage can strengthen the positive emotions associated with a sense of community and togetherness. Cultural heritage can also be used to create boundaries and both shut out and bring attention to unilateral, politically charged interpretations of the past.
“In recent years, the EU has launched a number of projects aiming at highlighting and remembering the past and fostering European cultural heritage,” says Lähdesmäki. “The idea of a shared European cultural heritage doesn’t come without its problems, though. Europe is and always has been culturally diverse, and Europeans interpret Europe’s past and cultural traits very differently. No one thing, object or site automatically becomes part of the European cultural heritage.”
Lähdesmäki says that the objective of her research is to increase the transparency of heritage policies in the EU.
Lähdesmäki’s research is characterised as ambitious and bold, with ample potential to bring more clarity to current conceptual paradigms in the field. Her multidisciplinary research combines perspectives from both EU studies and cultural heritage studies.
Lähdesmäki has received funding from both the Academy of Finland and the European Research Council (ERC).
Neuroscientist receives Academy of Finland Award for Social Impact
Academy Research Fellow and Professor Lauri Nummenmaa (b. 1977) is an internationally recognised brain researcher who combines medical imaging, psychology and computer science in pioneering ways. His team studies the molecular brain mechanisms and functional neural networks that guide emotions and social behaviour. The team explores the emotion systems that act as defence mechanisms in the human and animal brain, providing protection against external threats and challenges. This also involves modelling the neuromolecular and functional mechanisms that support maintenance of long-term, protective interpersonal relationships. To study these functional and neurochemical mechanisms, Nummenmaa’s team uses state-of-the-art brain imaging technology.
Another of Nummenmaa’s key research interests lies in the neural basis of obesity and overeating. His team researches the molecular and structural changes in the brain that may predispose to, or are caused by, obesity. The results have indicated that obesity markedly influences human neurotransmission in the opioid-based system. People suffering from obesity may gain less pleasure from eating, and consequently compensate this by overeating. Obesity thus involves profound brain-level changes, in addition to its well-known metabolic effects.
Nummenmaa’s innovative studies and the knowledge on the brain basis of emotions are critical for understanding various psychiatric disorders and their pharmacological and behavioural treatment. With better insights into the brain mechanisms underlying obesity, researchers can also help plan new forms of obesity treatment based on behaviour and changes in brain activity.
“The brain controls all human behaviour. If we understand how the brain works, we understand how the mind works. Emotions are an important defence mechanism in nearly all species. For humans, emotions are so important, in fact, that disorders in emotion systems are typically associated with severe mental disorders,” says Nummenmaa.
“The more we understand about how emotions work, the better we can prevent and treat prevalent mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders.”
Not only have Nummenmaa’s research results been published in many esteemed scientific journals, but they have also been featured in public media both in Finland and abroad. Nummenmaa has authored several books and he is frequently invited to appear in the media and at seminars.
Nummenmaa wants to emphasise one thing in particular: the objective of research is to improve human wellbeing, so it is crucial that research findings are communicated to end-users as quickly as possible. “We want our research to be relevant. Only by understanding how nature works can we develop technologies and medical practices that improve the quality of human life.”
Nummenmaa received a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) in 2012.
Encouragement through awards
This is the thirteenth 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.
Vice President for Administration Ossi Malmberg, Academy of Finland, tel. +358 295 335 003, firstname.lastname(at)aka.fi
- Academy Research Fellow Tuuli Lähdesmäki, University of Jyväskylä, tel. +358 40 805 3839, tuuli.lahdesmaki(at)jyu.fi; read more about Lähdesmäki’s ERC-funded project at https://www.jyu.fi/hum/laitokset/taiku/en/euroherit
- Academy Research Fellow Lauri Nummenmaa, Aalto University, University of Turku, tel. +358 50 4319 931, lauri.nummenmaa(at)aalto.fi, http://emotion.becs.aalto.fi
Photos and videos:
- Photos of the winners are available on the Academy’s website at http://mediabank.aka.fi. To find the photos, go to the photo gallery and search with the winners’ names.
- Videos (with subtitles) of the winners will be available (as of 27 Nov) at www.aka.fi/en/about-us/scientists-behind-the-research/academy-of-finland-awards and on our YouTube channel.
Academy of Finland Communications
Riitta Tirronen, Director of Communications
tel. +358 295 335 118