Markku Kulmala

Markku Kulmala: Long-term scientific work enables innovation

25 Mar 2021

Expertise is not created overnight. In order to build a strong base of scientific evidence, we need a long-term perspective. Even if the people carrying out scientific work were not to consider their impact in the short or long term, they nevertheless would generate it in many different ways for the benefit of society.

In our field of research on climate and air quality, the use of research data is demonstrated, for example, by the fact that the measurements taken over a long time series allow forest operators to carry out forest management or timber-related measures while taking into account climate considerations. In addition, the use of research data is reflected in climate models that guide decision-makers to make climate-resilient decisions. Measurement and analysis of factors affecting air quality help create solutions that improve air quality and, as a consequence, human health. As research has diverse impacts on society, our understanding of the multidimensional nature and importance of scientific research grows.

It’s a good idea to invest in research. The resources allocated to research (money, skilled people) produce (create) new information that generates new resources (money, knowledge and skills) through innovation, benefiting society in a diverse way. Society, that is, the people who live in it, should choose decision-makers who understand that research needs sufficient resources to keep this wheel spinning, and who are willing to provide the funds for it.

Leading technology companies and technological solutions are based on hard-core scientific work, as the history of the technology company Vaisala shows, for example. Scientific data and the expertise based on the data produce innovations and solutions over a wide range of time spans. And expertise also makes it possible to take advantage of work carried out elsewhere.

At the time, my own interest in research was based purely on my desire to answer scientific questions: how fine particles are formed in the atmosphere and how forest and soil affect this process.

Since then, I have been thinking about how to develop tools, such as new measurement technology, to find answers to these questions. I have also considered how to spend my time educating a new generation of researchers and creating partnerships, as well as how to secure long-term funding for our research.

Global solutions require international cooperation and science diplomacy

Solving climate change requires global cooperation and joint solutions. That’s why it is also the task of the research community and leading scientists to build practices for adopting the latest scientific data and best practices internationally.

My own research team cooperates extensively with others, especially in China and Russia, where we have stations measuring the air quality and, in particular, the chemical cocktails of pollutants in large urban areas. We have measured air quality without interruption for three years in Beijing, and for over ten years in Nanjing. Next, measurements will be recorded in Moscow.

In order to succeed, this type of approach and cooperation requires an internationally recognised level of research and strong scientific street credibility. Science diplomacy is vital in opening the doors and enabling cooperation. If successful, such cooperation will have a great deal of impact: research data will be deployed in a wide range of areas and, at best, new knowledge and understanding will bring about changes ─ for example, in the climate policies of the countries concerned.

Flagship to boost development and strengthen diverse cooperation

Launched at the beginning of this year, our Atmosphere and Climate Competence Center (ACCC) flagship ( is an example of how decades-long, high-level scientific research can be used to create a diverse approach that combines expertise and partners, high-quality research infrastructures and strong international cooperation and influence. The mission of our Finnish Flagship is to improve air quality worldwide and mitigate climate change by increasing carbon sequestration of forests and soil.

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