The Finnish Academy of Science and Letters prize for mathematics and life sciences to Professor Otso Ovaskainen

22.10.2018
The Finnish Academy of Science and Letters has awarded the prize for mathematics and life sciences to Professor Otso Ovaskainen. The prize of 15.000 euros is for active, established researchers.

Otso Ovaskainen has been professor of mathematical ecology at the University of Helsinki since 2009. Ovaskainen’s research group is part of the Research Centre for Ecological Change.

In his research, Professor Ovaskainen has creatively combined his diverse mathematical skills with several biological fields of research, from animal movement and metapopulation biology to community ecology. Virtually every discipline can benefit from mathematical and statistical modelling. ”I have always had an interest in both mathematics and nature. Only after my dissertation did I realize that I could combine my interests and study mathematical and statistical ecology.” This same brave attitude and multidisciplinary skillset has been characteristic of his work ever since. His novel multidisciplinary approach has been widely noted: in 2009 Ovaskainen received the Academy of Finland award for scientific courage.

Otso Ovaskainen (b. 1970) received his PhD in mathematics from the Helsinki University of Technology in 1998. ”After my dissertation I was pretty lost as to what I wanted to next. By chance I heard of Ilkka Hanski’s research at just the right time, and was lucky enough to almost immediately join his group as a postdoctoral researcher”, Ovaskainen describes his decision to move to the Metapopulation Research Group at the University of Helsinki. He considers this the biggest turning point in his career.

After spending the academic year of 2001–2002 at Cambridge University Ovaskainen returned to the University of Helsinki, where he started a mathematical biology research group within the Metapopulation Reseach Group. ”The level of research in Finland is very high in my field, which affected my decision to stay and develop my career in here”, Ovaskainen says. In 2008 he received the European Research Council (ERC) starting grant for young researchers in its first funding year. 

Bringing together mathematics and biology has brought Ovaskainen more than just scientific achievements: ”Besides modelling, field work has been another provider of highlights in my career. While I was working on my PhD, I couldn’t have imagined that mathematics would open up opportunities to take part in expeditions to Madagascan rainforests, Greenland and many other locations with nature I had always been fascinated with.” Professor Ovaskainen’s research projects have developed new globally applicable methods in field research and statistical analysis for ecological research and monitoring.