Excellence in Research
The University of Turku is a scientifically strong, multidisciplinary university where new research possibilities are sought especially in disciplinary interfaces and interdisciplinary research. This page features Academicians and Academy Professors at the University of Turku.
Academicians of Science of the University of Turku
Based on nominations made by the Academy of Finland, the President of the Republic of Finland may confer the honorary title of Academician (of Science) to highly distinguished Finnish or foreign scientists and scholars. The title of Academician can be held by no more than sixteen Finnish scientists and scholars at a time.
Eva-Mari Aro is a pioneer of plant molecular biology research in Finland. She has introduced a whole new area of strength of photosynthesis research into the Finnish scientific landscape. At the same time, her laboratory has grown into one of the world’s premier centres of photosynthesis research. In recent years, Aro and her team have focused their efforts on studying how photosynthesis can be harnessed to produce compounds beneficial to humankind following the principles of sustainable development. Aro’s research applies methods of synthetic biology to the efficient production of chemicals and energy using photosynthetic organisms, mainly cyanobacteria.
Sirpa Jalkanen is one of the world’s leading researchers of the migration mechanisms of immune cells. Among her key accomplishments are the discovery and characterisation of trafficking molecules that regulate inflammatory diseases and the spread of cancer. Together with her research team, she has produced a number of groundbreaking results and innovative observations that have turned previously held conceptions about immunology and vascular biology on their heads. She conducts high-risk, high-gain research with potential to yield significant results to advance the treatment of severe inflammatory diseases and prevent the spread of cancer.
Arto Salomaa concentrates on mathematical logic in his research, with the focus on formal languages and automata theory. Among other things, he is one of the creators of the theory of DNA calculation. In the 1960s, Salomaa became interested in the mathematical challenges posed by computers. His field of research is the mathematical theory of computer science, where he has focused on creating a theory for cryptography and DNA calculation. He is one of the most important developers of the theories for automation and formal languages. Salomaa was a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Turku in 1966–1998.
Academy Professors of the University of Turku
Proficient researchers, who can be regarded as contributing to the progress of research within their own field, can be appointed as Academy Professors. Research posts as Academy Professor are intended for fixed-term, full-time research work. Academy Professors carry out their own research plan, supervise their own research team and provide guidance to junior researchers.
Eva-Mari Aro (Academy Professorship 2014–2018) works in the Department of Biology, University of Turku. She is a professor in Plant Physiology and Molecular biology. Aro's research interest is focused on light reactions of photosynthesis, particularly Photosystem II (PSII) that functions in water splitting reactions in the thylakoid membrane and evolves oxygen to the atmosphere. Besides this basic function of PSII, it also participates in signalling cascades leading to acclimation of plants to changed environmental conditions. Although light is an absolute requirements for the function of photosynthesis, light also damages the components of PSII.
Johanna Ivaska's (Academy Professorship 2015–2020) research focus is on the changes that occur in cells with the development of cancer metastases. Integrins are important cell adhesion receptors that regulate the division of cells and their movement in tissue. Changes in cell adhesion properties are a key factor in the formation of cancer metastases. The aim of Professor Ivaska’s research is to reach a fundamentally new mechanical understanding of how integrins work in cancer cells and to produce a roadmap of integrin receptor operation and communication chains.
Sirpa Jalkanen (Academy Professorship 2014–2018) is a professor whose research specialisation is in the fields of biomedical and clinical medicine. Professor Jalkanen is one of the world’s leading researchers in the area of lymphocyte migration in the human immune defence system. It is expected that her team will achieve pioneering results in this critical area of biomedicine, particularly in the treatment of autoimmune diseases and in preventing the spread of cancer.
Riitta Lahesmaa (Academy Professorship 2016–2020) studies the development and functions of T cells. T cells play a crucial role in protecting the body against pathogens and cancer. Lahesmaa aims to study the mechanisms that lead to the differentiation of human T cells and why disturbances in this process may lead to diseases. The research will utilise comprehensive genome-wide analysis methods, cutting-edge computational data analysis and biobanks. The aim is to increase our understanding of the mechanisms underlying immunological diseases and find new, improved methods of therapeutic intervention.
Virpi Lummaa (Academy Professorship 2016–2020) studies natural selection in contemporary human populations. During her term as Academy Professor, Lummaa will investigate how the modern environment itself fuels human evolution and how demographic shifts to low birth and death rates affect the opportunity for selection or specific trait selection. She will use longitudinal demographic data from Finland spanning 350 years and more than twelve generations to look at how the strength and direction of selection on key fitness traits may have changed with the modernisation of societies.
Johanna Niemi's (Academy Professorship 2015–2020) research combines attention to methodological questions of jurisprudence with the reconciliation of work and the family, criminal policy and crime investigation. She is keen to understand how changes in notions of gender are reflected in justice and in studies of law, and on the other hand how gender is involved in the traditionally male-dominated field of criminal investigation.
Olli Raitakari (Academy Professorship 2019–2023) studies whether ancestral exposure may cause intergenerational effects on obesity-related phenotypes, cognitive function and psychological well-being. The studied exposures are tobacco smoke, persistent organic pollutants and accumulation of psychosocial adversities. Raitakari performs a large field study across three generations: the participants from the national Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study and their parents and offspring. The aim is to test ancestral exposures that may cause intergenerational effects on obesity-related phenotypes, cognitive function and psychological well-being. The project collects serum, blood and semen samples for epigenetic marker analysis to provide understanding of the mechanisms of intergenerational transmission in humans. These links have thus far not been verified in humans. Raitakari has also served as Academy Professor in 2012–2016.
Hannu Salmi (Academy Professorship 2017–2021) is interested in research questions of cultural virality in the early nineteenth century, a period of central importance to the birth of modern Europe. The European boundaries were redrawn after the French Revolution, and at the same time cross-border movement gathered momentum in the wake of technological change. The growing influence of the press from the 1820s onwards contributed to advancing the development. Salmi uses methods of text mining to trace forms of cultural contagion and virality in digital newspaper archives. Ultimately, his aim is to offer a reinterpretation of the whole concept of culture. His research will shed new light on the phenomenon of information and communications by developing a methodologically and conceptually innovative approach to a period that is quite well known in historical research.
Centres of Excellence in Research
The Academy of Finland's Centres of Excellence (CoE) are the flagships of Finnish research. They are close to or at the very cutting edge of science in their fields, carving out new avenues for research, developing creative research environments and training new talented researchers for the Finnish research system and Finnish business and industry.
The University of Turku is part of three Centres of Excellence of the Academy of Finland during the period of 2018–2025.
The University of Turku coordinates two Academy of Finland’s Centres of Excellence in the period of 2014–2019.
The Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology of Primary Producers is led by Professor of Molecular Plant Biology Eva-Mari Aro. In addition to the University of Turku, the University of Helsinki is part of the CoE.
The Centre of Excellence in Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease, led by the Director of the Turku PET Centre, Professor Juhani Knuuti. In addition to the University of Turku, the University of Eastern Finland is part of the CoE. Academy Professor Riitta Lahesmaa from the University of Turku is the primary investigator in one of the research groups of the CoE.
In addition, the University of Turku is part of a Centre of Excellence coordinated by the University of Helsinki.
The University of Turku is part of the Centre of Excellence in Translational Cancer Biology coordinated by the University of Helsinki. Group leaders at the University of Turku are Academician Sirpa Jalkanen and Professor Johanna Ivaska.
In addition to the Academy of Finland’s Centres of Excellence, the University of Turku also coordinates a Nordic Centre of Excellence funded by NordFrosk.