2018 Academy of Finland Awards presented to Arri Priimägi and Mari Pihlatie

6 Feb 2019

The Academy of Finland presents awards each year to two outstanding and distinguished researchers. The 2018 Award for Scientific Courage goes to Academy Research Fellow Arri Priimägi, Tampere University, and the Award for Social Impact goes to Academy Research Fellow Mari Pihlatie, University of Helsinki. Priimägi studies light and how light interacts with different materials. Pihlatie studies interactions between the soil, plants and the atmosphere. The award ceremony will take place on Wednesday 6 February at the Academy of Finland 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 Academy of Finland Award for Social Impact is granted to a researcher who has significantly contributed to increasing public awareness of scientific research, actively contributed to public debate in society, or strengthened the application of science and research in society.

Award for Scientific Courage presented to scientist studying light-controllable materials

The Academy of Finland Award for Scientific Courage is presented to Academy Research Fellow Arri Priimägi (b. 1980). Priimägi makes use of physics and chemistry in the study of nanomaterials. He heads the Smart Photonic Materials research team at Tampere University. The team studies materials whose molecular order and properties can be influenced with light.

“We’re interested in how material properties such as colour, hardness and shape may be manipulated and controlled with light. There are many opportunities to be seized in these light-controllable properties,” Priimägi says. “For instance, we can create light-controlled microrobots that either move themselves or are able to move objects with the power of light. Or, light-controlled surfaces that can be used to remotely manipulate cell growth.”

Light is a fascinating topic to study, he says, above all because it enables remote control of materials, without physical contact. The results of Priimägi’s research can be transferred to applications in photonics and robotics, for example. His recent results, an artificial iris (Adv. Mater. 2017) and a light-driven flytrap (Nature Comm. 2017), have sparked interest also outside academia.

In his work, Priimägi boldly moves between basic and applied research. His career is characterised by an open-mindedness in changing fields, learning new things and fearlessly combining transdisciplinary expertise so that the resulting whole is much more significant than the sum of its parts.

Priimägi has funding for a research post as Academy Research Fellow for the 2014–2019 term. He has received an ERC Starting Grant (2016–2021) and also an ERC Proof of Concept, which is the first step towards turning research outputs into commercial applications.

Environmental researcher wins Award for Social Impact

The Academy of Finland Award for Social Impact goes to Academy Research Fellow Mari Pihlatie (b. 1975). At present, Pihlatie’s most important and most visible research topic concerns the role of forests as producers of methane. It is a multidisciplinary work package that incorporates soil biochemistry, chemistry, physics and microbiology, plant biochemistry and physiology, and atmospheric physics and chemistry.

“We’re interested in the role of boreal forests as both a sink and a source of greenhouse gases. Forests as a source of methane represents a new field of research. Previously, it was thought that methane would only be produced in anaerobic conditions, such as in boreal peatlands. However, my team discovered that all boreal trees produce methane,” Pihlatie says.

Various climate feedback mechanisms feature heavily in Pihlatie’s research. Plants influence soil processes, the soil influences plant activity, and the atmosphere influences soil–plant interactions. By observing the composition of the atmosphere and, for example, changes in greenhouse gas concentrations, researchers can analyse soil and plant activity, such as carbon capture and capture or emission of greenhouse gases.

Pihlatie has developed reliable and more comparable measurement techniques for greenhouse gas assessment. Her work has been internationally significant. For example, she has actively participated in working on the measurement protocols of the Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS), which is currently developing an international standard for the observation of greenhouse gases.

Pihlatie has been very successful in communicating her results: she has written many popular articles and given interviews about the effects of climate change on wetlands, peatlands and forests. She has funding for a research post as Academy Research Fellow for the 2015–2020 term, and an ERC Starting Grant for 2018–2023.

Encouragement through awards

This is the sixteenth time that the Academy of Finland Awards are presented. The 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 award decisions. The winners are presented with a mouth-blown ornament entitled “The Moment”, designed by Miia Liesegang.

More information and inquiries

  • Academy Research Fellow Arri Priimägi, tel. +358 44 515 0300, arri.priimagi(at)tuni.fi
  • Academy Research Fellow Mari Pihlatie, tel. +358 50 415 4748, mari.pihlatie(at)helsinki.fi
  • Vice President for Research Riitta Maijala, Academy of Finland, tel. +358 295 335 002, firstname.lastname(at)aka.fi

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