ERC Advanced Grant projects and researchers
13 ongoing projects at the University of Helsinki are funded currently with an Advanced Grant awarded by the European Research Council (ERC). Read about the projects and researchers here.
What are ERC Advanced Grants?

The ERC Advanced Grant is a grant scheme of the European Research Council (ERC) targeted at leading researchers in different fields to pursue groundbreaking and ambitious projects with a potential for an extremely high-level impact.

Advanced Grants can be awarded to active researchers who have a track record of significant research achievements in the past 10 years. The researchers should have exceptional qualifications in terms or research leadership and management as well as research contributions.

Their field of research is not restricted.

A deeper understanding of logician Kurt Gödel’s shorthand notes – Jan von Plato

Jan von Plato’s ERC funded project examines the shorthand notes, which the Princeton logician Kurt Gödel left behind.

Kurt Gödel's incompleteness theorems of 1931 are among the most iconic scientific achievements of the 20th century. Gödel introduced concepts such as formal syntax and algorithmic computability. These concepts were crucial in the invention of computers and the birth of the information society.

The central aim of von Plato’s project is to study Gödel’s unpublished materials, written in archaic German shorthand and make them available to future generations of logicians and philosophers.

Project name and duration

The Gödel Enigma: Unveiling a Hidden Logical Heritage, 2018–2023.

Whatever surprises Gödel’s notebooks may contain, they will be revealed in this project.
Counteracting the brain drain – Kari Alitalo

Kari Alitalo’s ERC- funded project studies the lymphatic vessels, which transport fluid, proteins and waste out from the brain

Alitalo’s project seeks to reassess current concepts about cerebrovascular dynamics, fluid drainage and cellular trafficking in human physiological conditions. The team is studying the role of lymphatic vessels in the repair of brain damage. Even sleep may be regulated by the efficiency of the lymphatic brain drainage pathways.

The project aims to:

  1. study the development and properties of meningeal lymphatics and how they are sustained during aging
  2. analyse the clearance of macromolecules and protein aggregates in Alzheimer’s disease in mice that lack the newly discovered meningeal lymphatic drainage system¨
  3. analyse the role of lymphangiogenic growth factors and lymphatic vessels in brain solute clearance, immune cell trafficking and in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis.

In 2010, 800 billion Euros was spent on brain diseases in Europe and the cost is expected to increase due to the aging population. Alitalo’s project seeks to alleviate this burden.

Project name and duration

Translational implications of the discovery of brain-draining lymphatics, 2017–2022.

Alitalo has worked with ERC Advanced Grant funding earlier as well.

Alitalo also leads an Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence and a research flagship project.

Our research deals with difficult illnesses of great socioeconomic burden, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis.
How a migration 5000 years ago shaped modern Europe – Volker Heyd

Volker Heyd’s ERC funded project examines how the migration of the steppe people called Yamnaya, which started ca 3050 BCE, affected Europe. The impact of the Yamnaya migration is still visible in e.g. the European gene pool, social organization and spread of Indo-European languages.

The project aims to understand:

  1. the Yamnaya migration westward, and how it triggered events that completely changed the cultural, societal and genetic face of much of Europe
  2. how interactions between societies in Europe 3050–2500 BCE were affected by their environment, human culture and human biology
  3. the demographics, population dynamics, the physical appearance of the peoples involved, their mobility, diet and subsistence, occupations, and ways-of-life.

Heyd’s project increases our understanding of the mechanisms of mobility and migration. This project shows that migration, environmental change and diseases are in no way experiences of only the last couple of years. Their impact on European societies is millennia-old, and has affected ordinary people as much then, as it shakes our societies nowadays.

The project is an international collaboration between archeologists and researchers of biological and environmental sciences. It has so far identified unexpected outlier Yamnaya kurgans and burials as far away as in Kosovo and Albania. Heyd’s team has also found that interaction between Yamnaya and locals ranged from near total replacement to barely being touched by events.

Project name and duration

The Yamnaya Impact on Prehistoric Europe (YMPACT), 2019-2024 (prolongation agreed due to Corona).

We are all descendants of migrants, some long-time ago others more recently.
How gases in the atmosphere turn into tiny pollution particles – Markku Kulmala

Markku Kulmala’s ERC-funded project investigates how gases in the atmosphere turn into particles that are smaller than 5 nanometers in size. The project’s focus is on heavily polluted Chinese megacities like Beijing and pristine environments like Siberia and northern parts of the Nordic region.

The main aims of the project are to:

  • point out mechanisms that can effectively reduce secondary air pollution by a factor of 5–10
  • make reliable estimates of global and regional aerosol loads, including anthropogenic and biogenic contributions to these loads

Kulmala’s project provides understanding of how aerosols interact with clouds and solar radiation, which is crucial for more accurate predictions of future climate change. There is also an urgent need to significantly reduce air pollution levels in megacities, which is not possible without a proper understanding of conversion from gas to nano-sized particles.

Previously Kulmala and his team have, among other achievements, predicted the existence of neutral atmospheric clusters and found them. They created the theoretical prediction of size dependent aerosol growth, which has later been observed in a laboratory environment and in the atmosphere. Kulmala’s team also introduced the idea of, quantified and verified the Continental Biosphere-Aerosol-Cloud-Climate feedback loop.

Kulmala has pioneered the SMEAR initiative, which sets up research stations that can measure more than 1,000 different variables in the atmosphere, ecosystems and their interaction.

Project name and duration

Atmospheric Gas-to-Particle Conversion, 2017–2022.

Kulmala has worked with ERC Advanced Grant funding from 2009 to 2013 as well.

Kulmala also leads a research flagship project and the Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research INAR.

Without a deep understanding of atmospheric and environment mechanisms, we cannot understand how climate is changing and furthermore we cannot develop truly sustainable solutions.
Molecular models for atmospheric particle and ice crystal formation – Hanna Vehkamäki

Hanna Vehkamäki’s ERC funded project aims to achieve a comprehensive understanding of how atmospheric nanoclusters and ice crystals form from condensable gases..

The main aims of the project are to:

  1. predict molecular clustering in the atmosphere from first principles
  2. build an accurate model for what happens to atmospheric clusters in currently used instruments
  3. predict ice crystal formation rates on realistic atmospheric particles.

Vehkamäki’s project will lead to improved understanding of molecular clustering in the atmosphere. This will help create more accurate predictions of aerosol concentrations and size distributions. More accurate predictions lead to improved air quality forecasts and more accurate estimates of how aerosols affect the climate and climate change.

Vehkamäki’s group has pioneered the application of accurate quantum chemistry methods to multicomponent atmospheric clusters, and developed efficient conformal sampling protocols for these clusters. They have achieved an impressive match with experiments concerning sulphuric acid-based clustering.

Project name and duration

Simulating Non-Equilibrium Dynamics of Atmospheric Multicomponent Clusters (DAMOCLES) 2017–2021.

Vehkamäki previously worked with ERC Starting Grant funding.

It is very intriguing to study the life of a cluster – what makes it form and grow, how does it change when it enters a measurement instrument?
Prison multiculturalism in former communist countries – Judith Pallot

 

Judith Pallot’s ERC funded project examines how former communist countries deal with multiculturalism in their prisons.

Since the end of communism, these prisons have developed in different ways. This makes them uniquely well suited for examining how different penal regimes address the problems of punishment and rehabilitation.

The project’s main aims are to:

  1. investigate the historical policy and practice of punishment for different national groups in imperial Russia and the Soviet Union
  2. explore the treatments and experiences of convicted offenders in post-Soviet prisons
  3. identify the patterns and consequences of ethnically- or culturally-based different treatment of prisoners in East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Pallot’s project provides insights that can help deal with challenges in today’s penal systems, such as the risk of prisons becoming recruiting grounds for extremist movements.

Pallot has studied the Russian penal system since 2006. She has focused particularly on issues of gender and ethnicity in Soviet and Russian prisons. Pallot has also extensively studied the Russian peasantry in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods.

Project name and duration

Gulag echoes in the multicultural prison: historical and geographical influences on the identity and politics of ethnic prisoners in the former communist states of Russia and Europe, 2018–2023.

Prison is always a site of ethnic identity construction where individuals’ political and ideological views can be transformed, confirmed or suppressed.
Private sector involvement in IGO activities – Jan Klabbers

Jan Klabbers’ ERC funded project investigates the tension between intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and the private sector.

IGOs such as the World Health Organization have always been assumed to work for the public good. Yet, they also engage with the private sector. Some are funded by the private sector or set up public-private partnership. IGOs themselves act and compete in markets. Their operations and standard-setting activities inevitably affect the distribution of benefits between private parties.

Klabbers’ project aims to examine

  1. how widespread private sector involvement in IGOs is
  2. how IGO law responds to private sector involvement
  3. how the underlying framework of IGO law is affected.

Ultimately, Klabbers’ project will change how IGO law and lawyers perceive and understand IGOs. The project also aims to develop the legislation relating to IGOs and build up solid theoretical foundations, mindful of the huge impact of IGOs on our everyday lives.

Project name and duration

Intergovernmental Organizations between Mission and Market: International Institutional Law and the Private Sector - PRIVIGO, 2020–2024.

The legal rules relating to IGOs may be fundamentally irreconcilable with private sector involvement.
Relevance of family background and genes to health inequalities between social groups – Pekka Martikainen

 

Pekka Martikainen’s ERC-funded project investigates the causes of health inequalities between different social groups and related change. Inequalities in health and mortality among population groups have been observed in all countries, and the differences have grown over the past 30 years. Differences in life expectancy between people with a low or high income can be as great as those seen between smokers and non-smokers.

The project aims to understand

  1. The causes of long-term change in health inequalities
  2. The significance of intergenerational effects on the continuity of health inequalities
  3. The combined effect of social and genetic factors on health and health inequalities
  4. The causes of health inequalities in different countries.

Martikainen’s project brings together perspectives and approaches from a number of disciplines, aiming to establish a theoretical and practical framework. The group’s research data comprise an internationally unique mix of population registers and survey datasets that contain genetic and clinical data.

Extensive longitudinal datasets enable research designs that are better equipped to verify causalities compared to traditional social research and epidemiological studies. The research carried out in the project can make it possible to increasingly effectively direct measures aimed at promoting health and reducing health inequalities. Through international comparisons, the research group will also assess the significance of national contexts to health inequalities.

The Population Research Unit headed by Martikainen has been conducting groundbreaking research on health inequalities between social groups for a long time. This work has helped to understand the causes and trends of health and mortality inequalities in Finland, demonstrating particularly the effect of alcohol consumption and smoking on mortality inequalities.

The comparative research conducted by Martikainen's group has demonstrated that health inequalities between population groups in the Nordic welfare states remain considerable in a global comparison.

Name and duration of the project

Social inequalities in population health: integrating evidence from longitudinal, family-based and genetically informed data, 2021–2026.

Inequality in terms of lifespan is the most fundamental inequality; all other inequality is subject to being alive.
Salmon maturation: understanding the molecular processes and ecological consequences – Craig Primmer

Craig Primmer’s ERC funded project aims to uncover the genetic mechanisms that lead to the remarkable diversity of reproductive ages in Atlantic salmon as well as their ecological and evolutionary fitness consequences.

The project includes experiments ranging from analyses of molecular processes in salmon reared in controlled laboratory conditions to studying the reproductive success of wild salmon in remote populations in far north Finland.

The main aims of the project are to:

  1. determine the molecular functions of the genes controlling maturation in salmon and how they affect their individual characteristics
  2. understand how these genes affect salmon survival and reproductive success, and how this may be altered by the environmental characteristics
  3. determine the molecular processes resulting in different maturation ages in male and female salmon

Research in Primmer’s project has diverse applications. Maturation timing is an important factor for salmon aquaculture, where early male salmon maturation results in large financial losses. It is also an important characteristic of wild salmon populations, and variation in maturation timing can help buffer populations against population crashes.

Remarkably, the same gene that controls salmon maturation has been linked with pubertal timing in humans, and with Lupus, a skin disease that occurs more frequent in females than males.

Project name and duration

Age at maturity in Atlantic salmon: molecular and ecological dissection of an adaptive trait (MATURATION) 2017–2022.

The same gene is linked with age at maturation in salmon and humans, and I want to know how it works.
The logic of dependence and independence – Jouko Väänänen

In contrast to facts such as 2+2=4 which could not be otherwise, flipping a fair coin 100 times reveals that you have a roughly equal chance of getting heads as of getting tails. This polarity between absolute certainty and multiplicity is what Jouko Väänänen’s ERC funded project is all about.

Väänänen’s project inserts into the traditional logical picture the concept of a multitude as a new feature. The project develops a logic for the concept of dependence, which is at the core of Quantum Mechanics and Set Theory, among other fields

The most important goals of the project are:

  1. Axiomatizations for different logics based on team semantics, which is the underlying methodology of dependence logic. Such axiomatizations encapsulate the essential properties of dependence logic into rules which can be used to derive new properties.
  2. Applications to the foundations of quantum mechanics. Phenomena such as contextuality, entanglement, and non-locality have raised the question, what is the right logic of quantum phenomena? Väänänen’s project will show that team semantics relates quantum logic to a more general theory of the behavior of dependence and independence concepts.
  3. Solutions to problems in the foundations of mathematics, set theory, in particular, using team semantics. Properties of natural numbers and real numbers are very rigid but when it comes to sets of real numbers, foundational problems arise.

The concepts of dependence and independence occur abundantly throughout society as well as in the sciences and humanities. Väänänen’s project aims at building the foundations of the logic, the rules, that these concepts obey. When such rules are uncovered, they can lead to applications in artificial intelligence, biology, computer science, economics, game theory, logic, mathematics, philosophy, physics, and statistics.

The Helsinki Logic group is famous for its results in model theory, set theory, computer science logic, and foundations of mathematics. The group has particular expertise in using games in logic. A lot of the group’s recent research has been on dependence logic and team semantics, developed by Väänänen in his 2007 monograph.

Väänänen’s work spans a broad range of areas in logic. He is best known for his results on games in logic, on set theoretic methods in model theory, for his work on strong logics, and for the introduction of dependence logic.
 

Project name and duration

Team semantics and dependence, 2021–2026.

Team semantics opens a window into the concept of dependence, a concept which, I claim, can be viewed as a new form of truth.
The statistical similarity of seemingly random structures – Antti Kupiainen

Antti Kupiainen’s ERC funded project studies how mathematical models can describe the statistical similarity and universality of seemingly random structures in different natural phenomena.

Natural systems are rarely isolated from each other. Their environment affects them in random ways. Still, their structures often repeat universally in all scales. For instance, even though individual clouds are all different, they may be statistically identical.

The project develops mathematical methods to study scale invariance and universality in:

  1. the theory of two dimensional random surfaces, so called Liouville Quantum Gravity
  2. the theory of stochastic partial differential equations.

Kupianen’s research has applications with large potential societal impact in various areas. These mathematical theories can be applied for instance when studying aerosols and their motion in the atmosphere or the spread of pollutants in the ground water.

Antti Kupiainen has worked on quantum field theory, phase transitions, dynamical systems and chaos, turbulent advection and random geometry. His past results include proof of phase transition in disordered magnets, intermittency in turbulent transport and ergodicity of two dimensional turbulence.

Project name and duration

Quantum Fields and Probability 1.10.2017-30.9.2022.

The essence of science is to find hidden connections between seemingly different phenomena. The ideas of scaling, self-similarity and renormalization are the mathematical tools serving this purpose.
Towards better management of uterine leiomyoma – Lauri A. Aaltonen

Lauri Aaltonen’s ERC funded project examines benign tumors called uterine leiomyomas and seeks targeted treatments.

Every fourth woman suffers from uterine leiomyomas at some point in premenopausal life. Uterine leiomyomas are benign tumors of the uterine smooth muscle wall. They cause a substantial health burden through symptoms such as excessive uterine bleeding, abdominal pain and infertility. These tumors are the most common cause of hysterectomy.

Aaltonen’s group hypothesizes that uterine leiomyomas can emerge through several distinct mechanisms and anticipate that each mechanism contributes to somewhat different tumor biology, clinicopathological features, and response to treatment.

The main goals of Aaltonen’s project are to:

  1. create multiple layers of high-throughput genomic data types on clinicopathologically characterized uterine leiomyomas
  2. establish the existence and key characteristics of the different uterine leiomyoma subclasses
  3. examine the effect of currently used drugs as well as new lead compounds in response to treatment, stratified per uterine leiomyoma subclass.

This project will provide new insight into how uterine leiomyomas emerge, and will lay the scientific basis of their classification. Aaltonen’s team will develop the tools needed for routine diagnosis of uterine leiomyoma subclasses, and provide clues toward targeted, better treatments.

Aaltonen’s project will be an important step towards non-invasive management of uterine leiomyomas. Reaching this goal would benefit hundreds of millions of women.

Aaltonen is the Director of the Academy of Finland’s Center of Excellence in Tumor Genomics Research. He has contributed to breakthrough findings in hereditary and somatic genetic defects contributing to uterine leiomyomas as well as colorectal cancer.

Project name and duration

Towards prevention, early diagnosis, and non-invasive treatment of uterine leiomyomas through molecular classification (MYCLASS), 2016–2021.

Aaltonen also leads an Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence.

Uterine leiomyoma is a condition affecting millions of women, and any progress in management would be a major step forward for women’s health.
Understanding changes in relations between places in the Mediterranean – Sarah Green

Sarah Green’s ERC funded project Crosslocations investigates changes in the relations between people and places in the Mediterranean region.

Green’s project examines how people’s location still makes a difference, despite the Internet, smart phones and globalised trade.

The ultimate aim of the project is to develop a better way to understand the dynamics of different kinds of relations and separations between places. These include, for example, financial, legal, technological, religious, linguistic and environmental conditions.

Crosslocations will provide tools to help understand the complex social, political and environmental problems that involve cross-border relations in our globalised world. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic’s spread has followed particular paths of connection and disconnection between places. Deeper knowledge about the relations between places can help to understand such complex problems.

Green’s team has identified, among other things, that

  1. increased connections generated by globalisation have also increased divisions and hierarchies between places
  2. relations between places are affected significantly not only by political borders but also e.g. financial, religious, infrastructural and environmental borders.
  3. issues that appear to be very local are almost always affected by transnational connections and disconnections.

Project name and duration

Crosslocations in the Mediterranean: rethinking the socio-cultural dynamics of relative positioning, 2016–2021.

Understanding changes in the significance of location, and particularly how places are connected to and disconnected from each other in the Mediterranean region, has become more important than ever.
Past projects

Kai Kaila: Arginine Vasopressin and Ion Transporters in the Modulation of Brain Excitability During Birth and Birth Asphyxia Seizures, 2014–2019.

Bo Stråth: Between Restoration and Revolution, National Constitutions and Global Law: an Alternative View on the European Century 1815–1914, 2009–2014.

Vladislav Verkhusha: Near-infrared fluorescent probes based on bacterial phytochromes for in vivo imaging, 2014–2019.

Päivi Peltomäki: Epigenome and Cancer Susceptibility, 2009–2014.

Anu Wartiovaara: Metabolic consequences of mitochondrial dysfunction, 2011–2016.

Karri Muinonen: Scattering and absorption of electromagnetic waves in particulate media, 2013–2018.

Ilkka Hanski: Ecological, molecular, and evolutionary spatial dynamics, 2009–2013.

Eero Castrén: Induction of juvenile-like plasticity in the adult brain, 2013–2018.

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