Olli Vapalahti and Tarja Sironen receive the J.V. Snellman Award

The University of Helsinki has bestowed this year’s J.V. Snellman Public Information Award exceptionally on two researchers, Professor Olli Vapalahti and Associate Professor Tarja Sironen, for their outstanding efforts to disseminate scholarly knowledge.

The University of Helsinki has presented the J.V. Snellman Award since 1981 to a member of the University community for outstanding efforts to disseminate scholarly knowledge.

Olli Vapalahti, professor of zoonotic virology, conducts research on viral diseases transmitted by animals to humans, such as tick-borne encephalitis, the Zika virus, SARS, Ebola as well as viruses that are not fully known and have not previously been described.

Tarja Sironen, associate professor of emerging infectious diseases, investigates mutating microbes that cause diseases in humans or animals. She examines, for example, diseases borne by rodents and bats as well as infectious diseases in production animals, striving to produce research-based information that can help us prepare for infectious threats in a changing environment.

Vapalahti and Sironen have long cooperated with each other in the same research unit. Since spring 2020, they have both concentrated on coronavirus research.

The two researchers have made their expertise available to the media, while exploring the virus and cooperating with the authorities. Finding themselves at the centre of a media whirlwind over the past year, they have taken the opportunity to carry out the University’s mission of public engagement by making their research available for the good of society and the benefit of us all.

The need for accurate information has made both researchers quite willing to participate in disseminating information and give their time for interviews.

“The uncertainty brought about by the pandemic has highlighted the need for reliable information. When information is uncertain and scattered, people need a concise overview and even educated estimates. The provision of basic education has helped popularise research,” Vapalahti notes.

“Scholars must have a visible presence in our society and advocate for research-based knowledge. If we do not do it, no one else will,” adds Sironen.

The University of Helsinki presents the annual J. V. Snellman Public Information Award to a member of the University community for outstanding efforts to disseminate scholarly knowledge. In the selection, special emphasis is given to activities that have significantly contributed to raising public awareness of the scholarly work conducted at the University as well as of the objectives of strategic importance for the University. The award sum is €6,000. This year’s award will be presented during the anniversary week of the University of Helsinki on 25 March.