Over €11 million in funding awarded by the Academy of Finland to atmospheric and climate research

The Atmosphere and Climate Competence Center creates solutions for steering the world towards carbon neutrality. Another substantial Flagship Programme grant was awarded to GeneCellNano, a project that also has University of Helsinki researchers contributing.

Climate change and air pollution are among the biggest current threats to the planet. Increasing average temperatures threaten, for example, to raise the sea level and destabilise weather and climate conditions. At the same time, air pollution causes as many as every ninth death globally.

The Atmosphere and Climate Competence Center (ACCC), which is coordinated by the University of Helsinki, is involved in preventing these threats by assessing and measuring Earth’s carbon sinks and other factors influencing climate change, as well as the complex processes associated with the formation of air pollution.

ACCC is one of four competence clusters chosen by the Academy of Finland to receive significant funding under the Academy’s Flagship Programme. The Academy of Finland is prepared to provide €11.25 million in funding to ACCC, of which €6.25 million was awarded for the first three-year period.

A solution-generating innovation ecosystem

The Atmosphere and Climate Competence Center was established by the University of Helsinki, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the University of Eastern Finland and Tampere University. The network of international measuring stations brought together by the centre provides unique long-term data on atmosphere–ecosystem interactions.

ACCC compiles comprehensive observational datasets into, for example, scalable and predictive climate change models for different stakeholders and decision-makers. The centre will also establish an international business cluster based in Finland focused on atmospheric science.

“Already when drawing up the research plan we discussed and agreed on collaboration with 40 businesses, municipalities, research institutes and other partners. This collaboration is at the core of our plan,” says Professor Markku Kulmala from the University of Helsinki, director of ACCC.

Top-level aerosol research in Finland

Aerosols, or extremely small solid or liquid particles suspended in the air, have a significant effect on Earth’s energy budget and, thus, its climate. The quality of air is directly dependent on the quantity and quality of aerosols in the air, as well as their complex mutual reactions.

Finland is at the top level globally of aerosol science, and the funding now awarded will further consolidate this status. Spurred on by the Chernobyl disaster, Professor Markku Kulmala from the University of Helsinki began advancing research in the field in the 1990s. Soon, these efforts were extended to observing how particles are formed by compounds originating in forests.

In recent years, more than 200 individuals have been investigating climate change, air quality and biogeochemical cycles as well as ecosystem processes, from the molecular level to global phenomena, at the University of Helsinki’s Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research (INAR). The institute’s researchers are among the most cited scientists of the field globally.

Therapies for severe chronic diseases

Flagship funding was also awarded to the GeneCellNano competence cluster, which aims to generate novel effective therapies for treating severe chronic diseases. GeneCellNano focuses on innovation and commercial development associated with biological drugs, biomarkers and diagnostics. The Academy of Finland is prepared to provide €10 million in funding to the cluster, of which €5 million was awarded for the first three-year period.

Participating in GeneCellNano are leading Finnish researchers specialised in gene, cell and nanotherapies as well as clinical operators, leading businesses and the third sector. The project is coordinated by the University of Eastern Finland. Contributing to the project from the University of Helsinki's Faculty of Pharmacy is Professor of Biopharmaceutics Marjo Yliperttula.

The competence cluster’s goal is to significantly increase domestic and international funding allocated to gene, cell and nanotechnology, generate new and effective therapies for the treatment of severe chronic diseases as well as create new jobs and businesses in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector.

The other participants of GeneCellNano are the University of Oulu, Aalto University and the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service.


Funding for high-quality and impactful research

The Academy of Finland’s Flagship Programme promotes high-quality research and increases the economic and societal impact emerging from the research.

In this round, funding was awarded to four competence clusters. The funding period is four and a half years, beginning retroactively from 1 July 2020.

Previously, six competence clusters were selected to the Flagship Programme in two application rounds. Of these six, the University of Helsinki is participating in two: the Digital Precision Cancer Medicine Flagship iCAN (University of Helsinki, Helsinki University Hospital), coordinated by the University of Helsinki; and the Finnish Centre for Artificial Intelligence FCAI (Aalto University, University of Helsinki, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland), coordinated by Aalto University.