Three University of Helsinki researchers receive prestigious ERC funding

The projects, which were awarded millions of euros in funding, focus on inverse problems, the culture of improving conditions in 18th century Sweden and indicators that are used to measure value.

Lauri Oksanen from the Faculty of Science, Ere Nokkala from the Faculty of Arts and Matti Eräsaari from the Faculty of Social Sciences have each been awarded an esteemed Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council (ERC). The total sum of each grant is approximately €2 million.

Mathematics of indirect measurements

Lauri Oksanen’s ERC-funded research project entitled Lorentzian Calderon problem: visibility and invisibility considers the mathematical theory of inverse problems. A typical inverse problem is to find the structure of a body by performing measurements outside it. Such problems arise in many applied fields, including medical imaging.

The traditional theory of inverse problems provides tools to determine immobile media. Thanks to this theory, we know, for example, the structure of Earth. Oksanen’s project focuses on the Lorentzian Calderon problem, the solving of which may help us in understanding spacetime better in the future.

Growth, wealth and welfare in the Swedish Empire

Ere Nokkala’s research project entitled De-Centering Eighteenth-Century Political Economy: Rethinking Growth, Wealth and Welfare in the Swedish Empire is aimed at changing the way in which the history of political economy is written.

Instead of focusing on the precursors to modern day economic methods, models and principles, this project radically historicises and contextualises eighteenth-century political economy.

The project focuses on the culture of improving conditions in Sweden in the 18th century. Nokkala investigates the depth and significance of the culture of improvement through discussions, debates and negotiations held at the Swedish Diet, universities, administration and colonial administration.

Research also provides tools for interpreting current political discourse, in which the economy and politics are often intertwined and where support for one’s own arguments is sought from the past. This project introduces a new interpretation of the rise of economic arguments to dominance in the 18th century; how happiness and a good quality of life came to be the primary goals of human life.

What indicators are used to measure value?

Matti Eräsaari’s ERC-funded project entitled Properties of Units and Standards investigates the measurement of value from the perspective of the units of measurement used. What kind of characteristics do the indicators used to quantify various values point to, what kind of figures are formed on their basis, and what will follow when indicators cease to be indicators and turn into goals for human activity?

The focus of the ethnographic project is on the Southern Pacific, where a broad spectrum of value measurement systems is in use, from traditional number systems to units of self-sufficiency and measurements systems used by market sellers.

From these, by way of land surveying, taxation and other regional or governmental measuring systems, the focus turns to global systems for measuring value such as carbon emissions, debt or happiness.

The latter illustrates the key goals of the research project: alongside Finland, Fiji and Vanuatu in the Pacific are considered to be among the happiest countries in the world, but on different scales. What kind of worlds are built on happiness measurements?

The ERC Consolidator Grant is available to distinguished researchers who have conducted research for 7 to 12 years after their doctoral graduation. Their field of research is not restricted. The funding is intended for consolidating the recipient’s research group and establishing an impactful career in Europe.


Read about ERC-funded research conducted at the University of Helsinki.