Riikka Puhakka, who studies the effects of nature on the wellbeing and health of young people, and Ville Vuorinen, who studies the physics of air and fluid flows, are the winners of the 2022 Academy of Finland Awards. The Awards are presented in recognition of exceptional scientific courage and creativity and for work to promote the impact of science in society.
The Academy of Finland has selected two distinguished early-career researchers to receive the 2022 Academy of Finland Awards. The winners are Riikka Puhakka, an Academy Research Fellow at the University of Helsinki (Lahti University Campus), for her outstanding research on the interactions between the environment and health, and Ville Vuorinen, Associate Professor of Energy Technology at Aalto University, for his application of computational fluid dynamics to the study of aerosol dispersion during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Both winners have demonstrated their ability to produce high-quality and high-impact research. Puhakka’s and Vuorinen’s research topics and findings have also received extensive international media attention, for example by The Guardian, the BBC and CNN.
Positive experiences of nature increase wellbeing and the desire to take care of the environment
Riikka Puhakka’s research adopts an exceptionally broad approach to the interaction between humans and nature, analysing the interactions especially from the perspective of outdoor recreation and tourism. She has experience of multidisciplinary research collaboration in the fields of environmental social science and geography. Through her societally relevant research topics, Puhakka has successfully highlighted the link between the living environment and human health.
“Combining approaches and methods from different disciplines in a new and creative way is, in my opinion, scientific courage. Despite the uncertainties involved, it may give rise to significant research results that couldn’t be achieved by relying on just one discipline. I’m particularly motivated by qualitative research methods and data. I get to hear young people’s own opinions about what nature means to them and how it affects their wellbeing,” Puhakka says.
According to Puhakka, childhood and adolescence can be seen as particularly important ages for getting out and about in nature and forming a connection with the environment. Children and young people’s connection to nature and their responsible attitude towards the environment are also key issues for the global sustainability crisis and the future of our planet.
“It’s very important to think about how to support and encourage different families to spend time outdoors and how to ensure that young people have equal access to nature and its benefits. It’s also essential that policymakers, professionals and citizens have easy access to the latest research on the interactions between the environment and people.”
In her research, Puhakka has noted that the talk of young people’s alienation from nature only applies to a small proportion of young people. For the majority of young people, nature is an important part of everyday life.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, young people in particular became more active in nature and found new outdoor activities. This shows the potential of the recreational use of nature. But there is much more that could be done to use nature to improve the wellbeing of young people,” Puhakka says.
Riikka Puhakka is Academy Research Fellow at the University of Helsinki Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences on the Lahti University Campus. She took her doctorate at the University of Joensuu in 2007. After her PhD, Puhakka did three years of postdoctoral research at the University of Oulu and then moved to the University of Helsinki. In 2018, the University of Helsinki awarded Puhakka the title of docent in environmental science. Puhakka currently heads the multidisciplinary NATUREWELL project (2019–2024), funded by the Academy of Finland. The project studies the effects of outdoor activities on the health and wellbeing of young people in Finland.
Fundamental research is needed to solve societal problems
Ville Vuorinen and his research team carry out 3D flow simulations on supercomputers. This allows the researchers to obtain precise data on, for example, air flows around a wind turbine or hydrogen combustion concepts and flames. Energy efficiency and zero emissions are at the heart of Vuorinen’s research.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Vuorinen used flow simulations to understand how viruses spread in breathing air along with indoor air flows. A societal need led to a scientifically creative and multidisciplinary research project on the role of aerosol dispersion during the pandemic. The results of the study contributed to the pandemic response in terms of updating mask recommendations and improving ventilation.
“What fascinates me is the link between theory and the real world and the fact that we can quite accurately simulate many of the everyday flows around us. I want to understand the physical explanation for the things I study,” Vuorinen says.
Flow simulations are the subject of Vuorinen’s research because of their versatility. He leads a research team focusing on computational fluid dynamics and energy conversion. The team’s research methods can be applied to a wide range of multidisciplinary applications in society, and they are not limited to energy technology. According to Vuorinen, the scientific community is learning to simulate increasingly challenging flow phenomena, which may also involve chemical reactions or changes in the state of the flowing substance.
“3D flow calculations and molecular-level simulations could make it possible to design more efficient manufacturing processes for green hydrogen and other synthetic fuels, for example. However, this will ultimately require a multidisciplinary approach, high computational capacity and interaction between computational and experimental research.”
Ville Vuorinen has been Assistant Professor of Energy Technology at Aalto University’s School of Engineering since 2014, and was appointed Associate Professor in 2022. Vuorinen obtained his doctorate in technology from Aalto University in 2010. Vuorinen has made research visits to Sweden, the Netherlands and the United States. Between 2013 and 2016, Vuorinen was a Postdoctoral Researcher funded by the Academy of Finland. He has also had Academy Project funding in 2018–2022, 2020–2021 and 2020–2024. In addition, Vuorinen has received funding from Business Finland, and other major contributors to his research have included Andritz, Meyer and Wärtsilä.
Academy of Finland Awards encourage researchers
The Academy of Finland Award is granted to a researcher who has shown exceptional scientific audacity, creativity or innovation in research. The researcher 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. The Award is granted to a researcher whose scientific career is still mostly ahead of them.
This is the twentieth 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
- Riikka Puhakka, Academy Research Fellow, tel. +358 50 319 9363, riikka.puhakka(at)helsinki.fi, Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, Ecosystems and Environment Research Programme, Lahti University Campus
- Ville Vuorinen, Associate Professor of Energy Technology, tel. +358 50 361 1471, ville.vuorinen(at)aalto.fi, School of Engineering, Aalto University
- Professor Johanna Myllyharju, Chair of the Board of the Academy of Finland, tel. +358 294 485 740, johanna.myllyharju(at)oulu.fi
This year’s Academy of Finland Awards will be presented at the Science Forum on 15 June 2023. The biennial Finnish Science Award will also be presented at the same event. Read more about this year’s Science Forum.
- Photos of the winners are available in the Academy of Finland’s materials bank.
- Videos of the winners are available on the Academy of Finland’s YouTube channel.
Academy of Finland Communications
Pekka Rautio, Communications Specialist
tel. +358 295 335 040