Eminent ERC Consolidator Grants awarded to three scholars at the University of Helsinki

The recipients of the 2 million euro funding study the effect of animals on the identity of hunter-gatherers, the saving of human lives from the shipwrecks of the 19th century and the combination of materials with the help of particles produced with lignin and hemicellulose.

Three researchers working at the University of Helsinki have been awarded the Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council. The funding was granted to Kristiina Mannermaa, Henning Trüper and Kirsi Mikkonen.

Kristiina Mannermaa is a docent of archaeology specialised in zooarchaeology, whose work focuses on the relationships between animals and humans.

The ERC-funded research project entitled ‘Animals Make Identities. The Social Bioarchaeology of Late Mesolithic and Early Neolithic Cemeteries in North-East Europe’ examines how animals affected the identity of Stone Age hunter-gatherers. Among the techniques employed in the project are methods of bioarchaeology and geographic information software.

Prehistoric hunter-gatherers not only felt a close kinship with animals, but also believed they had the ability to transform into animals and converse with them. Mannermaa is looking into how these customs of coexisting with animals are reflected on and stand out in the burial material of prehistoric hunter-gatherers. The project helps understand our own society and our relationship with nature, as well as our identity, which has evolved through these two factors.

Mannermaa is working as a researcher at the Department of Cultures of the Faculty of Arts and is currently serving as a visiting professor at the University of Tartu.

Saving lives from shipwreck

Henning Trüper’s ERC project is about the history of saving lives from shipwreck in Europe since around 1800. It aims to develop a novel understanding of the history of humanitarian morality.

From the 1820s onward, a set of loosely interconnected social movements emerged in various countries to institute nationwide associations for aiding the victims of coastal shipping disaster. Within a few decades, urban-bourgeois activists persuaded coastal populations to embrace a universal and unconditional imperative to attempt the rescue of the shipwrecked almost regardless of risk to the rescuers.

The ERC project asks why and how this novel imperative emerged, and how it was stabilized and sustained. The analysis will make it possible to develop a new theoretical understanding of the contingent organization of moral norms around “single issues.” This will help to explain why the overall landscape of humanitarian movements remains archipelagic, i.e. structured by insular relief efforts for selected kinds of suffering. In this way, the historical research will also help better understand many present-day concerns, sentiments, and conflicts.

Henning Trüper has worked at the University of Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies for 3 years. He currently works in Leibniz Center for Literary and Cultural Studies and will transfer to the Department of Phlosophy, History and Art Studies at the University of Helsinki.

Building blocks for food, drugs and chemicals

Assistant Professor Kirsi Mikkonen from the Department of Food and Nutrition at the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry has studied spruce gum and birch gum, i.e.  hemicelluloses from trees. They can be used to stabilise emulsions, or compounds of two mutually insoluble liquids. Mikkonen has also previously developed a more effective method of producing nanoparticles from lignin.

With the ERC grant, Mikkonen will develop a pioneering technique, with which double-sided Janus particles will be produced from lignin and hemicellulose. These structures, derived from natural raw materials, can in the future be used as ingredients in food, pharmaceutical agents, chemicals and building materials. The particles bind firmly to surfaces, stabilising them or forming organised structures.

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


The ERC Consolidator Grant

The European Research Council funds top-level basic research in all fields of science. The 2 million ERC Consolidator Grant is available to distinguished researchers who have conducted research for 7 to 12 years after earning their doctorate. The recipients’ home universities must be located in Europe.

So far, 79 applications submitted by the University of Helsinki have been successful in gaining ERC funding.