Frans Emil SIllanpää received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1939. He originally wished to become a medical doctor and studied at the University of Helsinki in 1908 – 1913. He never graduated but published instead his first novel in 1916. His best known works include “Hurskas kurjuus” (The devout misery) 1919, “The Maid Silja” and “People in the Summer Night”.
Artturi Ilmari Virtanen (1895–1973) was a biochemistry pioneer who received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1945 for his inventions in agricultural and nutrition chemistry. A.I.Virtanen developed in 1928 together with his colleague Henning Karström the AIV fodder that significantly improved the preservation of fodder and the quality of milk. Virtanen served as professor of chemistry at the University of Helsinki from 1939 to 1948.
Professor of Physiology Ragnar Granit (1900–1991) received in 1967 the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology for his research on physiology of vision and color vision. He took his M.D. in 1927 at the Helsinki university where he continued his studies in physiology. In 1940 Granit relocated permanently to Sweden. He still spent all his summers in Korpo, Finland.
University of Helsinki alumnus Bengt Holmström (b.1949) was granted Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2016 together with Oliver Hart (b. 1948) for their work on contract theory. Holmström received his MA at the Helsinki university in 1972 and his doctorate at the Stanford university in 1978. In 1994 he was named the Paul A. Samuelson professor in ecomics at the MIT.
Mathematician Lars Ahlfors (1907–1996) proved the Denjoy conjecture, which had long remained unsolved, at the age of only 21. Ahlfors served as professor of mathematics at the University of Helsinki from 1938 to 1945 and was a proponent of the theory of functions. In 1936 he received the Fields Medal. Ahlfors worked for decades at Harvard University as a professor.
Geologist Pentti Eskola (1883–1964) achieved international recognition in 1915 for his theory on the formation of the metamorphic facies of rocks, which is part of the basics of geology and mineralogy. In 1964 Eskola received the Vetlesen Prize, which is the highest scientific distinction in his field. Pentti Eskola was a professor of geology and mineralogy at the University of Helsinki from 1924 to 1953.
Linus Torvalds (born 1969) began to study computer science at the University of Helsinki in 1988. While still a student, he designed a version of Unix on his home computer. This version later evolved into the Linux operating system and launched the development of open-source software. Torvalds has received honorary doctorates in philosophy from the universities of Helsinki and Stockholm.