Academy of Finland Awards go to Emmi Helle and Eliisa Lotsari

10 May 2022

Emmi Helle, who has studied congenital heart defects in newborns, and Eliisa Lotsari, who has studied changes in water systems, have been awarded for their exceptional scientific audacity and creativity and for their work to advance the societal impact of science.

The Academy of Finland has awarded two distinguished early-career researchers. The 2021 Academy of Finland Awards will be presented to Emmi Helle, who works as a Clinical Researcher at the University of Helsinki, for linking basic medical research to practical health objectives, and to Academy Research Fellow Eliisa Lotsari, who works Assistant Professor of water engineering at Aalto University, for an excellent multidisciplinary approach to understanding changes in water systems.

“New information on risk factors of neonatal congenital heart defects”

Emmi Helle’s clinical research focuses on investigating the birth mechanisms of structural congenital heart defects in children. Her research has led to significant progress on the subject. In addition to her research, Helle is a specialist at the New Children’s Hospital and the Meilahti Heart and Lung Center.

According to Helle, research on newborn children is important from both a medical and a health economic perspective. “I like working with newborns because they are new human beings, with whom we start from square one, so to speak. In my doctoral dissertation on the cost effectiveness of premature care, it was noted that the funds reserved for the treatment of babies born very prematurely are efficiently targeted because the future quality of life of is quite good for premature babies,” Helle says.

Helle’s current research has provided more information on the factors contributing to heart defects, such as the mother’s blood sugar balance and the effect of different gene variants in the development of the defect. The research group has identified a new candidate gene, which is currently being investigated as a cause for heart defects.

”The prenatal development of the heart is a complex process. In my own research, I strive to identify genetic and environmental risk factors that contribute to heart defects. Heart defects mainly develop in the early stages of pregnancy, when the expecting mother may not even know that she’s pregnant. Knowing the factors that contribute to heart defects is helpful for those who are planning to get pregnant. By monitoring high-risk pregnancies more closely, heart defects can be identified during pregnancy, which allows us to direct these deliveries to the New Children’s Hospital, which is best equipped to treat them immediately,” Helle says.

Emmi Helle has a Licentiate of Medicine from Linköping University in Sweden from 2009. She defended her doctorate in medicine at the University of Turku in 2010. In 2019, she received a specialist qualification in paediatrics and has just completed her specialist qualification in paediatric cardiology. She was granted the title of docent by the University of Helsinki in January 2022. Helle is also a Master of Science (Economics and Business Administration). Between 2015 and 2017, Helle worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University in the United States.

“Finnish waters are at the centre of climate change”

Eliisa Lotsari’s study on the impact of climate change on water systems combines spatial data, natural geography, physical sciences and engineering sciences.

In her research, Lotsari sees the impacts of climate change and natural engineering by humans in close proximity.

”Understanding the current state of water systems and the changes that are underway is of paramount importance to societies. Authorities such as municipalities need up-to-date information on the status of water systems in order to be able to prepare for floods in their areas. Understanding the state of water systems facilitates the preparedness of municipalities and supports decision-making,” Lotsari says.

Lotsari’s research focuses above all on cold northern conditions.

”Cold northern conditions haven’t been sufficiently studied. Finland is at the very centre of the change, as northern regions are the planet’s fastest-warming areas, but the impacts of climate change on frozen river environments in winter aren’t well understood,” Lotsari adds.

Lotsari sees a particular importance in ensuring that as much information as possible is acquired right now and that knowledge is shared as efficiently as possible.

”We still have an opportunity to gain information about water systems before it’s too late. We must also digitise the information and make sure that it’s available to everyone,” she says.

For a young researcher, Lotsari has a good amount of international research and networking under her belt. In her field, she is an excellent example of young women’s success in natural and engineering sciences.

Eliisa Lotsari completed her doctoral degree at the University of Turku in 2012. Between 2013 and 2016, she had Postdoctoral Researcher funding from the Academy of Finland. She received the title of docent from the University of Turku in 2016. Between 2016 and 2021, Lotsari worked as a university lecturer in geoinformatics at the University of Eastern Finland.

Academy of Finland Awards encourage researchers

The Academy of Finland presents awards to researchers who have demonstrated exceptional scientific audacity, creativity or open-mindedness in their work or have significantly promoted scientific research or the work of a researcher, increased the public’s interest in science, contributed to public debate in society or otherwise promoted the significance, utilisation and impact of research in society, and whose scientific careers are still mostly ahead of them.

This is the nineteenth time that the Academy of Finland Awards are presented. The candidates must be Academy Research Fellows or work as Academy-funded Postdoctoral Researchers or Clinical Researchers or as principal investigators of an Academy Project. 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 glass ornament, “The Moment”, designed by Miia Liesegang.

Inquiries and more information

  • Emmi Helle, Specialist, Clinical Researcher, tel. +358 40 567 1023, emmi.helle(at), University of Helsinki
  • Eliisa Lotsari, Assistant Professor in Water Engineering, Academy Research Fellow, +358 40 721 2495, eliisa.lotsari(at), Aalto University
  • Professor Johanna Myllyharju, Chair of the Board of the Academy of Finland, tel. +358 294 485 740, johanna.myllyharju(at)
  • Anne Heinänen, Counsellor of Science, Academy of Finland, tel. +358 295 335 021, firstname.lastname(at)

Material: Photos and videos of the winners are available in the Academy of Finland’s mediabank.

Academy of Finland
Riitta Tirronen, Director of Communications
tel. +358 295 335 118

Do you have questions or feedback for us?