A mosquito net that doubles as a trap, a mental health toolkit and 18 other solutions fight in the Helsinki Challenge

Researchers can help us find solutions to the world's most important concerns. The Helsinki Challenge, the competition that helps turn research into solutions, wants to share this with the world.

Launched by the University of Helsinki, the Helsinki Challenge is much more than a science competition. It provides more than 150 researchers with support and new skills to help them promote their research and ideas, and create new contacts. In addition, the Helsinki Challenge presents the academic world to companies, organisations, experts in the public sector, the media and politicians.

By bringing together all these groups, the competition hopes to create new solutions to respond to the UN’s sustainable development goals. Current major problems focus on the Earth's carrying capacity, equality, education, health and an urban future.

Ira Leväaho, project manager for the Helsinki Challenge, believes that the competition can help researchers to gain the visibility they deserve and to be heard. This will help us find solutions for the challenges facing the world and humanity, and put them into practice.

 “Finnish researchers know how to produce excellent research. I hope that we will be able to help them broadcast their competence in completely new ways, for example, to funders and other audiences beyond the academic community.”

The competition is heating up everywhere in Finland

This is the second Helsinki Challenge to be organised, and this time, all universities in Finland were invited. A total of 110 teams submitted applications, and the leaders of the 20 shortlisted teams represent seven different universities.

To ensure cooperation between universities and disciplines, the competition requires each team to feature researchers from no fewer than two different universities. Seven teams from the University of Helsinki are participating in the competition.

Seppo Meri, professor of immunology, leads Team ELMO. It has two competition solutions relating to malaria, and one of them has progressed quite far in its development.

“We are working on a mosquito net which lets mosquitoes fly through, but only in one direction. If set up on the frame of an open window, for example, the twin-layered net creates a mosquito trap with the humans inside the room as bait.”

In Finland, mosquitoes are a summertime nuisance, but in the tropics, they spread deadly diseases. According to WHO, malaria alone causes the death of more than 400,000 people every year.

In addition to ELMO, there are 19 other interesting and thought-provoking competition proposals. For example, the Parental Box team wants to distribute a mental health toolkit to all parents. This is important, claims the team, as the psychological wellbeing of parents keeps decreasing in spite of increasing material wealth.

A total of 110 teams applied to the competition, and 20 were selected for the semifinal round. The winner of the competition will be announced in November 2017. The award sum, intended to implement the competition idea, is €375,000.

The competeiton is part of the Finland 100 jubilee year’s programme.