ERC Starting Grant projects and researchers

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

The ERC Starting Grant is a grant scheme by the European Research Council, targeted at promising research directors in the early stages of their careers. The grant is intended for establishing a research group and launching independent research activities in Europe.

Starting Grants can be awarded to researchers who have worked for no more than seven years after graduating with a doctoral degree. In addition, grant recipients are required to have a scientific track record that shows great promise and an excellent research proposal.

Their field of research is not restricted.

Agency in Law – Visa Kurki

Visa Kurki’s ERC funded project examines what legal agency is all about.

Agents can legally decide their own affairs, enter into contracts and be held responsible for their actions. Traditionally, children or some persons with disabilities, for example, cannot act as agents. However, the legal understanding of agency is changing: international treaties mandate that children and persons with disabilities be treated as actors. The development of artificial intelligence raises similar questions, and animal ethicists have explored the idea of treating animals as agents.

The project will develop a general theory of legal agency capable of explaining what legal agency is in the wake of these changes. It will also provide an historical account of the development of the paradigmatic understanding of agency. The project will produce a theory of legal agency that can help both courts and legislators understand the evolving concept of agency.

The project leader, Visa Kurki, is an Associate Professor of Jurisprudence, who has previously studied, among other things, the notion of legal personhood. His research has been cited in several American lawsuits involving animal rights. Kurki is also the director of the Helsinki Animal Law Centre.

Project name and duration

Agency in Law, 2024–2028.

Agency is changing, and legal scholars must keep up.
ALS and Parkinson’s disease: A new non-invasive disease-modifying treatment – Merja Voutilainen

Merja Voutilainen’s ERC-funded project examines a new treatment for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and Parkinson’s disease. Voutilainen has discovered a new CDNF fragment that has already proven to have neurorestorative effects in animal models of ALS and Parkinson’s.

The main goals of Voutilainen’s project are to understand

  • how CDNF fragment works in hiPSC-derived human motoneurons and dopamine neurons
  • therapeutic effects of CDNF fragment in animal models of ALS and Parkinson’s.

As populations grow older, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and ALS affect more and more people. There are currently no treatments for ALS or Parkinson’s that could halt the progression or cure the disease. Voutilainen’s research could provide one.

Neurotrophic factors (NTFs) are promising candidates for treating neurodegenerative diseases since they regulate the survival of neurons, neurite growth, and branching, and also protect neurons from injury and toxins. Currently, since NTFs cannot penetrate through the blood brain barrier (BBB), they are administered directly either into the brain or intrathecal space in ALS patients or the brain of PD patients.

CDNF fragment is an exceptionally powerful new drug candidate for Parkinson’s and ALS. CDNF fragment can cross through the BBB and can thus be safely administered peripherally. It is also easier and cheaper to produce than current drugs. CDNF fragment has the potential to be more effective than current NTF treatment. It could revolutionise the treatment of ALS and Parkinson’s.

Project name and duration

Elucidating therapeutic effects and mode of action of future trophic factors in ALS and Parkinson’s disease, FutureTrophicFactors, 2019–2024.

Proof of concept: REGENERA MS

Merja Voutilainen has received also ERC Proof of Concept funding for Regenera MS. Previously Voutilainen has also received POC-funding for assessing the feasibility of using MANF variant in the treatment of ALS. REGENERA MS will assess the technical and commercial feasibility of a novel MANF (Mesencephalic Astrocyte-derived Neurotrophic Factor) peptide variant as a superior treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS). A hallmark of MS is the impaired ability of the CNS to repair itself after attacks by body’s own immune system. 

Voutilainen has discovered a novel MANF peptide variant which is neuroprotective and restorative, is transported to the brain after peripheral injection, and can be subcutaneously administered. Based on highly promising results by PhD candidate Tapani Koppinen from Voutilainen group, MANF variant treatment reduced clinical symptoms in animal models of MS and improved remyelination both in MS animals and in brain organotypic cultures. 

Successful commercialisation of MANF variant could provide an early-therapy option to delay disease progression and thus extend and improve the patients’ lives and provide the pharmaceutical industry with a novel therapeutic that can potentially be used for other neurodegenerative diseases.

There are no drugs that can stop the progression or cure ALS and Parkinson’s disease. I’m dedicated to finding a cure.
Books of medieval parish churches – Jaakko Tahkokallio

Jaakko Tahkokallio’s ERC funded project examines the liturgical books of parish churches in the Kingdom of Sweden ca 1150–1500, and how the books were manufactured. The project also sheds light on the international networks of medieval book production.

Tahkokallio’s source material consists of medieval parchment fragments. These fragments are pages torn from medieval books and reused as record covers by the tax officials in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The project has two main goals:

  1. Establish a general understanding of the book selection of parish churches and its development in the medieval Kingdom of Sweden. A prerequisite for this is to understand the mechanism of book recycling in the 16th and 17th centuries.
  2. Use case studies to gain information about how and in what circumstances the books of the parish churches were manufactured. Were the manufacturers clergymen or craftsmen? Where were books imported from? How local was book manufacturing?

This research project helps understand a medieval advancement, which profoundly shaped European society: the commercialisation of the book and its transformation into a part of everyday life. Understanding the history of the book is especially important now, as we are living in the midst of the greatest transformation of information technology since the invention of printing.

Project name and duration

Books of the Medieval Parish Church, 2021–2025.

Understanding the history of the book is especially important now, as we live in the middle of the greatest transformation of information technology since the invention of printing.
Chasing pre-industrial aerosols – Federico Bianchi

Federico Bianchi’s ERC funded project examines the aerosol makeup of our atmosphere as it would have been before industrialisation. We know a lot about the atmosphere today, but very little about the atmosphere 300 years ago.

Bianchi studies pre-industrial aerosols by organising intensive measurements in remote, preindustrial-like environments like the Arctic and Siberia. Bianchi’s team will combine data from the field campaigns with laboratory experiments to provide ground-breaking, new understanding of the impact of present and future aerosol on climate.

The main goals of the project are to:

  1. identify the mechanism that drives formation of aerosol particles in remote and pristine areas with little or no human activity
  2. understand and quantify the effect of the particle formation process in the pre-industrial era.

Bianchi’s project will deepen our understanding of historical climate change. This in turn will provide tools for more accurate estimates of natural aerosol formation, and more accurate climate models.

Project name and duration

Chasing pre-industrial aerosols, 2020–2025.

I try to get a glimpse of the past atmosphere to understand the future.
Development and health effects of the gut microbiota in children – Katri Korpela

Katri Korpela’s ERC-funded project investigates the intestinal microbiota of children by combining methods of population ecology with analyses in molecular biology. The project collects and analyses faecal samples and food diaries from children. The samples are analysed for microbial DNA, RNA and metabolites.

The project aims to determine precisely which factors affect the functioning and composition of the gut microbiota in small children, and how the microbiota affects children’s health. The goal is to learn to modify the gut microbiota in a health-promoting direction.

The results will make it possible to accurately determine the role of each individual microbe in the infant gut and how various factors affect the infant gut microbiota as an ecosystem. This knowledge will enable the design of methods that can be used to detect and fix potential defects in the development of the gut microbiota. One of the most typical factors that disturb the development of the microbiota in children is antibiotic courses given to the majority of children during their first years of life. 

Project name and duration

MICROECO, 2023–2027.

Factors that disturb the microbiota have a long-term effect on children’s health, which is why supporting the natural development of the microbiota is an important part of their healthcare.
The effect of cell size on stem cell function – Jette Lengefeld

Jette Lengefeld’s ERC-funded project will investigate a new concept in cell biology: The effect of cellular size on cellular function.

Despite the essential role of stem cells in regenerating tissues, we still have an insufficient understanding of how they fail to maintain their functions during aging and disease. Accumulating observations indicate a causal connection between the size of a stem cell and its function. However, how cellular size impacts the function of stem cells and its physiological importance remains unsolved.

Using hematopoietic stem cells of mouse models, this project will focus on three primary goals:

  • identifying how enlargement promotes stem cell dysfunction
  • assessing the effects of size modulation on stem cell rejuvenation
  • illuminating the effects of stem cell size on cancer

The anticipated discoveries will reveal a new aspect of stem cell biology, provide new cellular aging mechanisms and have the potential to reveal a new cancer driver. Furthermore, these results are likely evolutionarily conserved across eukaryotes providing implications for researchers across all disciplines in cell biology.

Project name and duration

StemCellSize, 2024-2029.


We will investigate a fundamental aspect of how stem cells work by revealing the impact of cell size on stem cell function.
Extreme plasma physics of neutron stars – Joonas Nättilä

Joonas Nättilä's ERC-funded project studies the physics of the most extreme and energetic cosmic events in our Universe: bursts, flares, and sparks generated in neutron star magnetospheres. Neutron stars are superdense, supermagnetized stellar remnants that are frequently observed to generate bursts of radio waves and flashes of X-rays; however, we do not know what causes this emission.

The main aims of Nättilä's project are to

  • understand how plasma (hot ionized gas) and electromagnetic radiation interact with each other,
  • develop a state-of-the-art, open-source simulation code for modeling the extreme plasma dynamics of neutron-star magnetospheres, and
  • compare the new model predictions to radio and X-ray observations of neutron stars.

The theoretical and numerical tools developed in this project open a new window into the functionality of neutron stars and black holes. The extreme plasma dynamics studied in this project is also relevant for interpreting the Earthly high-intensity laser-plasma experiments---and, eventually, for the stabilization of plasmas found in magnetic-confinement fusion reactors.

Nättilä has a long history of studying the astrophysics of neutron stars and black holes. He has demonstrated with supercomputer simulations how the interaction of magnetic waves can heat the surroundings of black holes and neutron stars, and derived new analytical formulae for how neutron stars actually look in the curved and twisted spacetimes.

Project name and duration

Illuminating neutron stars with radiative plasma physics (ILLUMINATOR), 2024-2029.

The science of extreme plasma physics opens a new window into the functionality of neutron stars.
Green tax reform for a just climate transition – Lassi Ahlvik

Lassi Ahlvik’s ERC-funded project investigates the effects of climate policy on various social groups.

Ambitious climate policy generates winners and losers in society. The project analyses the effects of climate policy on various societal groups, investigates people’s notions of fairness and strives to understand how harmful effects can be mitigated through taxation. The study combines information economics, which aims to make the tax system as effective as possible while relying on incomplete information, with Finnish registers of individuals and businesses.

The goal of the project is to combine the models for pricing externalities and the theory of optimal taxation so that policies favourable to the climate and income distribution can be presented with the help of empirically estimated variables. These variables will be estimated using Finnish registry datasets and the energy price shock caused by the energy crisis of 2022. Another goal is to understand, through surveys, what kind of burden-sharing Finns perceive as fair and acceptable.

There is growing concern regarding the implementation of climate policy that costs, instead of being evenly distributed, will put the most strain on the most vulnerable individuals in society. The project supports the devising of a green transition in Finland and Europe that is considered socially fair.

Project name and duration

Green tax reform for a just climate transition, 2024–2028.

With a carefully planned tax reform and data, the green transition can be carried out fairly.
How do nanoplastics affect the environment? – Monica Passananti

Monica Passananti’s ERC funded project examines the occurrence of nanoplastics in the environment, their reactivity in surface waters and in the atmosphere, and how nanoplastics may disrupt ecosystems.

The project’s main aim is to develop a method to sample and analyse nanoplastics in the environment. Until now, such methodologies don’t existent.

Passananti’s research findings can in the long run be used to take informed decisions on regulation of the use of plastics. Plastic pollution is a global problem, as small pieces of plastic have been found even in the most remote areas of the Earth.

Project name and duration

NaPuE – Impact of Nanoplastics Pollution on aquatic and atmospheric Environments, 2021–2025.

Small pieces of plastic have been found in the most remote areas of the Earth. And still, the problem of plastic pollution is underestimated.
How do we want to be governed with AI? - Daria Gritsenko

Daria Gritsenko’s ERC funded project examines why algorithmic governance is perceived as less legitimate compared to governance that involves humans.

In our digitalising world, algorithmic systems are widely used in public governance. Examples range from parking enforcement to criminal sentencing. Despite well-known deficiencies and biases in human decision-making, perceived legitimacy of algorithmic governance increases when humans are present in some capacity (so-called 'human-in-the-loop' systems).

Project aims to

  • Explain why ‘humans-in-the-loop’ matter for governance to be considered legitimate;
  • Understand how legitimacy perceptions are shaped and changed in the minds of individuals.

Project will allow Gritsenko to specify and validate a new model for cognition of legitimacy. If the research can reveal cognitive processes underpinning legitimation of AI, it will help to gain a fundamentally new insight into the mechanisms underlying the construction of social order.

Daria Gritsenko is a political scientist exploring the transformation of political governance in response to the changing natural and technological environments. Her current research interests include the role of technology and algorithms in managing governance problems and the conditions for legitimate governance with AI.

Project name and duration

Algorithmic Governance - A Public Perspective, 2024-2028.

Though bureaucrats are often criticized, it seems like humans give governance 'something’ that automated algorithmic systems cannot provide.
How much biological drug eventually make the journey into the cells? An evaluation tool from a chemist’s perspective – Shiqi Wang

Shiqi Wang’s ERC funded project aims to increase information about how biotherapeutics are delivered into cells.

Biotherapeutics (including proteins and genes) provide great opportunities for future medicine development and new treatments of previously incurable diseases. However, pharmaceutical formulation development for these biotherapeutics is challenging, due to the insufficient understanding of how biotherapeutics are delivered into cells (intracellular delivery) and the technical difficulties in effective dosage quantification in the cell.

The project aims to develop a simple and accurate method to quantify intracellular delivery by an unconventional approach - bioorthogonal reactions.

This project will provide critical insights for future nanomedicine efficacy evaluations and formulations. The high sensitivity and low background make it an appealing tool for medical researchers to study fundamental mechanisms of diseases and for pharmaceutical scientists to develop potent next-generation nanomedicine.

Dr. Shiqi Wang has been working on intracellular delivery nanomaterials development since PhD, and now she will start her research group at the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Helsinki.

Project name and duration

Quantitative analysis of endosomal escape and intracellular delivery via bioorthogonal luminescent reaction (BioLure) 2024-2028.

Our research will lead to a better understanding of nanomedicine and biological drugs inside cells, and eventually contribute to the development of new drug formulations in the future.”
The impact of mental disorders on social networks – Christian Hakulinen

Christian Hakulinen’s ERC-funded project investigates the effects of mental disorders on social networks. 

Hakulinen’s focus is particularly on how mental disorders affect the wellbeing and socioeconomic resources of family members and friends. Hakulinen will also investigate the temporal duration of these effects. 

The project’s primary goals are to

  1. Investigate how mental disorders in children affect their parents’ wellbeing and socioeconomic resources
  2. Examine the effect of mental disorders on the wellbeing and socioeconomic resources of the spouse throughout their life span
  3. Study the effects of mental disorders on social networks, and their duration.

Hakulinen’s ERC-funded project is based on comprehensive Finnish registry datasets that encompass all people who have lived in Finland since 1994. It has the potential to considerably expand knowledge on the broader effects of mental disorders on social networks. In his prior studies, Hakulinen has demonstrated how mental disorders that require hospital care experienced in adolescence and early adulthood are connected with low income, poor education and unemployment over the life span of individuals.


Project name and duration

Effects of mental disorders on the wellbeing and prosperity of family members and friends, 2022–2027.

The research project enables us to determine how people close to individuals with mental disorders are affected by these disorders.
Increasing the accuracy of DNA sequencing - Alexandru Tomescu

Alexandru Tomescu’s ERC-funded project studies the modelling of real-world problems with computational methods. Such modelling often utilises incomplete data, which results in a large number of potential solutions.

Choosing a single correct solution from among the multitude of possibilities poses a problem. Tomescu’s aim is to establish a technique which would help in identifying all of the sub-solutions that are definitely part of the correct solution.

Results of the project can be utilized e.g in bioinformatics where reassembling DNA sequencing data back into the original DNA sequence is among the key problems. Transferring technology based on sequencing from research laboratories to hospitals requires accuracy from the sequences.

Project name and duration

Computational solutions for biological problems, SAFEBIO, 2020-2025.

Investigating international wildlife trade using digital data and AI – Enrico Di Minin

Enrico Di Minin’s ERC funded project investigates the international trade in wildlife. Di Minin’s group uses digital data sources, such as social media data, in combination with machine learning and natural language processing and market analyses.

Di Minin’s project aims to mobilize new data to investigate the global patterns and trends of the international trade in wildlife. Information about these is currently largely missing.

The main objectives are to:

  1. automate digital media content analysis about species and products involved in the international trade in wildlife
  2. identify areas of high pressure on biodiversity caused by the international trade in wildlife
  3. understand the patterns of supply and demand and the flow of goods along the supply chain of wildlife trade
  4. assess how market forces shape the international trade in wildlife

Trade in wildlife is booming online. By using Big Data mined from digital platforms, Di Minin’s project aims to identify which species and wildlife products are traded and why. Di Minin’s project also tries to identify the global hotspots for wildlife trade and understand how market forces shape the trade. This information can then be used to inform conservation decision-making both globally and locally.

Project name and duration

Quantifying the global patterns and trends of the illegal wildlife trade: from artificial intelligence to financial market analysis (WILDTRADE), 2019–2024.

Automated content analysis of digital media data can provide new insights that can help save species from extinction.
Maternal health and congenital heart defects – Emmi Helle

Emmi Helle’s ERC-funded project investigates the effects of maternal diseases and genetics on the development of the heart of the embryo and foetus during early pregnancy.

Congenital heart defects are the most common structural abnormalities in newborns, occurring in roughly one in 100 individuals. Congenital heart defects are known to be partly hereditary, but their inheritance is complex. The events associated with the early development of the heart that result in heart defects are still fairly poorly known.

The main goals of Helle’s project are to:

  • Produce more information on how the genes and diseases of the expectant mother alter intrauterine conditions in high-risk pregnancies and how these conditions result in structural abnormalities of the offspring’s heart
  • Determine whether mothers with cardiovascular diseases have an increased risk of having offspring with congenital heart defects
  • Find ways to reduce the risk of heart defects in the offspring as well as to improve the long-term health of both the expectant mother and the foetus

The research dataset is composed of national registry data, Finnish biobank samples and data from the FinnGen project.

Helle has assembled a team with diverse expertise in registry-based studies, genetic research as well as cell and molecular biology. The ERC-funded project combines this expertise with Finland’s globally unique registry, biobank and genetic data.

Emmi Helle is currently working as clinical researcher funded by the Academy of Finland.

Project name and duration:

FINNPEDHEART: Unraveling the etiology of congenital heart defects – the role of maternal genetics and cardiovascular disease as a risk factor, 2023–2028.

The events associated with the early development of the heart that result in structural heart defects are still fairly poorly known.
Medical electricity and experiential knowledge in 18th-century Europe and the Atlantic World - Soile Ylivuori

Soile Ylivuori’s ERC-funded project investigates the construction of scientific knowledge in 18th-century Europe and the Atlantic World, employing as a case study the experiences of patients in the utilisation of electricity in medicine.

The source material for the study is composed of patients’ personal descriptions as well as scholarly and popular texts on electrotherapies. These will be investigated to establish the role of embodied experiences – a topic which has thus far received little scholarly attention – in the production of scientific knowledge, as well as how gender, class and other intersecting categories of distinction affect the process of constructing experiential knowledge.

The project has three primary goals:

  1. Establishing a general understanding of the transnational history of medical electricity (with London, Paris, Berlin and New York as case studies).
  2. Studying patients’ embodied experiences of medical electricity and examining how, among other factors, the gender, class, age and racial identity of patients affected on the one hand their experiences of electrotherapy and, on the other, the transition of these experiences into scientific knowledge
  3. Comparing popular and scholarly epistemological notions on the interaction between electricity and the human body. How were the nature of electricity and its effects on the body explained?

Through these goals, the research project aims to expand the international study of the history of science and knowledge towards embodied and experiential types of knowledge by utilising methods of historical research as well as approaches from phenomenology and cognitive science. The project provides an important historical perspective on how knowledge we today often consider objective is constructed according to biased, often white, middle-class, educated and male perspectives.

Project name and duration

Medical Electricity, Embodied Experiences, and Knowledge Construction in Europe and the Atlantic World, c. 1740–1840 (ELBOW), 1 September 2022–1 September 2027.

Research in the history of knowledge is particularly important in today’s ‘post-truth’ world, where the significance of knowledge has been deliberately made relativistic.
Music, ageing and rehabilitation – Teppo Särkämö

Teppo Särkämö’s ERC funded project explores how the human brain processes music, especially singing, and how normal ageing and age-related neurological disorders, such as aphasia and Alzheimer’s disease, affect this.

Särkämö’s project uses modern behavioural and neuroimaging methods to deepen our understanding of music in the ageing, recovering, and degenerating brain. Särkämö’s team seeks to optimize the therapeutic use of music in supporting healthy ageing and enhancing wellbeing and functioning in aphasia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The project has three main aims:

  1. Explore how the neural networks that govern the processing of speech, music, and singing change during normal ageing as well as after neural damage and neurodegeneration.
  2. Explain which mechanisms drive the preservation of singing ability in aphasia and of music-evoked emotions and memories in Alzheimer’s disease.
  3. Determine if choir singing can have long-term positive effects in normal ageing and in aphasia rehabilitation.

Särkämö’s project will provide new systems-level understanding of the structural and functional relationship between singing, speech and music in the ageing brain. The project helps explain why music has such therapeutic power, and why it promotes well-being in both a normal ageing brain and a brain with common age-related neurological disorders. This can lead to the development of novel music-based rehabilitation methods, which are motivating, cost-effective, and widely applicable.

Project name and duration

Preservation and Efficacy of Music and Singing in Ageing, Aphasia, and Alzheimer’s Disease (PREMUS), 2019–2023.

Uncovering how different elements of music are processed in the human brain is essential for understanding why music works as a rehabilitation tool – and how its therapeutic use can be optimized.
Precision immunotherapies for ovarian cancer – Anniina Färkkilä

Anniina Färkkilä’s ERC-funded project investigates how ovarian cancer cells manage to hide from the body’s immune system and how these mechanisms can be utilised in the development of new, increasingly effective therapies.

The project examines how gene mutations, the location of individual cells and cell–cell interaction, as well as the expression of genes in different parts of tumours affect the prognosis and the treatment responses in ovarian cancer. Research findings can be used to develop new immuno- and combination therapies for epithelial ovarian cancer, a common and the most lethal gynaecologic cancer.

The project’s primary goals are to

  • Investigate how tumour genetic mutations modify the mechanisms for hiding from the immune system
  • Determine, through spatial single-cell analyses carried out on tissue specimens, how the location of cells and their mutual interaction affect the immune system
  • Reveal how these mechanisms can be targeted with new drug combinations using micro-tumours, or organoids, derived from the patient’s tumours.

According to the previous findings of Färkkilä’s research group, ovarian cancer can be accurately classified on the basis of gene mutations. These mutations also dictate how the immune system detects the cancer cells. Consequently, certain immunotherapies are more effective in some patients with ovarian cancer than in others.

In the ERC-funded project, researchers have the opportunity to study individual ovarian cancer cells and their functioning with an unprecedented precision. The findings can be used to identify new immunotherapies as well as improve the treatment and prognosis of ovarian cancer patients. The findings will also make it possible to target the new therapies to those patients who will benefit the most from them.

Färkkilä is currently working as clinical researcher funded by the Academy of Finland.

Project name and duration

Precision oncology of spatial immune escape mechanisms in ovarian cancer (SPACE), 2023–2027.

The findings may revolutionise immunotherapies for cancer, with the potential to cure ovarian cancer in the future.
Predicting cardiometabolic diseases with AI – Andrea Ganna

Andrea Ganna’s ERC funded project studies how to provide personalised risk assessment of cardiovascular diseases using artificial intelligence. Ganna and his team will integrate health data and genetic information on a nationwide scale to achieve their goal.

The main goals of the project are to:

  1. create new artificial intelligence approaches that revolutionize the existing approaches to primary prevention of cardiovascular diseases
  2. perform a clinical study of their new approach in 2 800 individuals to test if it works.

Ganna’s project seeks to create an approach to provide risk assessment of cardiovascular diseases before an individual even steps into the doctor’s office. Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in Europe. Current prediction models have major limitations, e.g. requiring time-consuming clinical measurements.

Project name and duration

A nationwide artificial intelligence assessment of cardiometabolic risk, 2020–2025.

Finland is one of the few countries in the world where this project can be done.
Significance of visual content in the societal participation of young people – Eeva Luhtakallio

Eeva Luhtakallio’s ERC-funded project investigates how European young people utilise images as tools of societal participation.

Luhtakallio’s project analyses the images shared by young people on social media, as well as their practices of photography, sharing images and commenting in four European countries: Finland, Germany, France and Portugal. The project examines what kind of ways of politicisation and influencing are encompassed and produced by increasing visuality. The project combines ethnography with AI-assisted mining of image data.

The project’s primary goals are

  1. Conceptualising visual politicisation
  2. Methodologically combining ethnography and data mining
  3. Producing comparative observations on current – and emerging – ways of political influencing and themes among the young in different European contexts

Research conducted under Luhtakallio’s project will advance our understanding of what political participation and influencing will be like in future European democracies. The results can also help identify solutions to crises of democracy.

Name and duration of the project

Imagi(ni)ng Democracy: European Youth Becoming Citizens by Visual Participation (ImagiDem), 2019–2024.

If we cannot perceive the significance of political influencing realised through images we cannot understand what future democracy will look like.
Temperature adaptation in bacteria – Jarno Mäkelä

Jarno Mäkelä’s ERC funded project studies how bacteria can withstand severe temperature changes. We still don’t know how bacteria can grow across large temperature ranges. While many multi-cellular organisms maintain constant internal temperature, microbes lack homeothermic regulation which subjects them to fluctuations in environmental temperature.

To understand these processes, the project utilizes super-resolution microscopy that allows direct visualization of the activity of thousands of individual proteins inside individual living cells.

The main goals of the project are to:

  • Measure how intracellular dynamics and organization changes with temperatures
  • Investigate how bacteria growing at extreme temperatures differ from mesophilic organisms growing at moderate temperatures 
  • Uncover the mechanisms how bacteria overcome the detrimental effects of temperature fluctuations

The project will contribute to our understanding how environmental changes affect microbes, which is essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future. We can also use these new insights to develop more energy-efficient, environment-friendly biotechnological processes.

Project name and duration

Single-molecule visualization of temperature adaptation in sub-cellular dynamics and organization across bacteria (TEMPADAPT), 2023–2028.

This research helps us to understand how different microorganisms adapt to temperatures and what the limits of cellular life are.
Why is irritation important to us - Anni Kajanus

Anni Kajanus' ERC-funded project IRRITATION combines methods from anthropology and psychology, to study irritation across 5 cultural contexts (Finland, Brazil, China, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka), in relation to two fundamental features of human sociality: cooperation and morality. Irritation is a pervasive feature of the human experience. We may find ourselves irritated by strangers, but perhaps ever more so, by those with whom we are close, including our spouses, colleagues and siblings. Irritation is a mild emotion and it might thus be seen of secondary importance by comparison with love, fear, hate, disgust, etc. And yet, the repetitive everydayness of irritation can make it a powerful thing. It might be felt that irritation is a threat to our close relationships but its pervasiveness also suggests something else: that in some sense we may need irritation.

The project aims to answer the following questions

  • What kind of emotion is irritation and how does is vary across cultures?
  • Why is irritation such a common feature of our lives?
  • What role does irritation play in maintaining and dismantling human cooperation?

The project helps to understand what is needed for humans to cooperate, and what happens when cooperation falls apart. It deepens the understanding of human sociality by putting unpleasant emotions at the centre of it. It broadens our understanding of how emotional experience is shaped by cultural environment. 

Kajanus’ work brings together an in-depth understanding of people’s cultural worlds and a systematic study of cognitive and psychological processes, to learn more about how humans cooperate and make moral judgements. Her prior work has investigated topics such as competitive motivation, conflict resolution, fairness norms, helping behaviours, and dominance and prestige hierarchies. 

Project name and duration

Irritation and Human Sociality (IRRITATION), 2022-2027.

Past projects

In her ERC-funded project, Maria Vartiainen investigated the structure of the cell nucleus and particularly the functioning of the actin protein as part of cell metabolism.

Project name and duration

Actin as the Master Organiser of Nuclear Structure and Function, 2012–2018.

Atte Moilanen has developed methods for analysing datasets to support land-use planning founded on conservation and ecology.

One of Moilanen’s most significant achievements is the development of the Zonation software. In a balanced manner, Zonation takes into account even large numbers in analysing different geoinformation layers related to biodiversity, prioritising various areas by their natural value.

Analyses produced by the program can be applied to planning conservation area networks and avoiding negative biological effects, as well as in support of zoning and targeting ecological compensation.

Project name and duration

Global Environmental Decision Analysis, 2011–2015.

Kaius Sinnemäki’s ERC-funded project investigates how languages change in various social environments.

Sinnemäki’s project utilises datasets from 150 different languages, which makes it possible to compare how different types of languages have evolved in different circumstances. The project’s hypothesis is that language structure changes and develops partially according to its social environment.

Social environment can mean, for example, how large and multilingual the community using the language is, and the usual age of language learners.

The project has two primary goals:

  • To develop new methods which can be used to compare contexts of language use and the structures of languages with each other.
  • To determine whether substantially different languages change in similar ways when similar changes occur in the environments where they are used. For instance, if many adults learn a particular language as their second language, does inflection tend to become increasingly simplified in the language?

The methods developed in Sinnemäki’s project will enable a new kind of research on language adaptation and variation. The project promotes linguistic equality and increases our understanding of how much people living in different societies around the world have in common with one another.

“I hope that our work increases awareness of minority languages, which are often spoken by people who have been marginalised in society." -Kaius Sinnemäki”

Read more about Sinnemäki's research group on the Linguistic adaptation group's website.

Project name and duration

Linguistic Adaptation: Typological and Sociolinguistic Perspectives to Language Variation, 2019–2023.

Hannes Lohi investigates human diseases by modelling them in dogs. Thanks to breeding, mutations that result in diseases in pure-bred dogs are easier to monitor than human diseases.

With his ERC grant, Lohi investigated neuropsychiatric diseases in dogs and how they can be used to model human diseases.

Among other things, Lohi’s research group has discovered new gene loci associated with hip dysplasia, a variant of the regulatory element of a gene associated with joint development that may protect against hip dysplasia, the reason for a predisposition to epilepsy in Rhodesian Ridgebacks as well as common factors underlying human mental health problems and canine fearfulness.

Project name and duration

Canine models of human psychiatric disease: identifying novel anxiety genes with the help of man's best friend, 2010–2015.

Otso Ovaskainen investigates the ecological, genetic and evolutionary consequences of habitat fragmentation.

In the project funded by an ERC Starting Grant, Ovaskainen’s group delved into the dynamics of natural populations.

Project name and duration

Spatial ecology: bringing mathematical theory and data together, 2008–2013.

Subsequently, Ovaskainen has been conducting research with a Synergy Grant awarded by the ERC.

Akseli Hemminki develops novel forms of cancer therapy. His group focuses particularly on gene therapy and oncolytic viruses.

Project name and duration

Oncolytic adenoviruses expressing monoclonal antibody trastuzumab for treatment of Her-2+ cancer, 2008–2014.

Marja Vierros’ ERC funded project studies how the Greek language was used and how it changed in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, based on the surviving corpus of documentary papyri.

Vierros’ project focuses on turning the exceptional body of written Greek that survives from Ancient Egypt into a digital corpus that serves linguistic studies far into the future. The material consists of large amount of texts that include both everyday and administrational language. Studying this material will shed new light on how Ancient Greek developed as a language in the postclassical era (ca. 300 BCE to 700 CE), and how it varied regionally and in different social contexts.

The project’s main aims are to:

  1. provide new, more exact analyses on the phonological, morphological and syntactic developments of Greek in Egypt.
  2. make possible for scholars to use the texts written on papyri and potsherds dynamically for quantitative linguistic studies in digital form. In turn, the searches and their results build up towards a new descriptive grammar of postclassical Greek.

The results of Vierros’ project will enhance our understanding of how languages function and shape the communication practices in a multilingual community, where the language groups are unequal in size and the languages have different social statuses. The project’s methodology on how to bring fragmentary corpus of an ancient language into a form that can be studied with several computer linguistic methods is expected to be of interest also to many language specialists.

"An innocent letter written by a random child to their parents in Egypt 2000 years ago can give researchers important clues on how language developed in an ancient multilingual society." -Marja Vierros

Read more about Vierros' research project on the Digital grammar of Greek papyri project's website.

Project name and duration

Digital Grammar of Greek Documentary Papyri (PapyGreek), 2018–2023.

Mikko Sipilä’s ERC-funded project investigates how the gases present in the atmosphere form new aerosol particles which affect cloud properties and, consequently, the climate.

Previously, particle formation has been investigated with appropriate accuracy only in laboratory conditions. Sipilä’s group looked into the phenomenon on the Atlantic coast, but evidence from other areas in the world is lacking.

The main goal of the project is to develop new techniques for detecting and measuring

  • Particle precursor vapours
  • Oxidants
  • Newly formed clusters.

Sipilä’s research findings help to understand the impact of human activity on the climate. With new measuring techniques and equipment, researchers will be able to produce increasingly accurate climate models and predictions.

“Our research will improve our ability to understand, in an increasingly comprehensive manner, the effects humanity has on the Earth’s climate system.” - Mikko Sipilä

Read more about Sipilä's research group on the Polar and arctic atmospheric research group's website.

Project name and duration

Molecular steps of gas-to-particle conversion: From oxidation to precursors, clusters and secondary aerosol particles, 2017–2022.

Mikko Niemi investigates mutations associated with the efficacy and adverse effects of cholesterol medication.

Project name and duration

Transporter pharmacogenomics – the contribution of transporters to variability in drug response, 2012–2017.

Subsequently, Niemi has been conducting research with a Consolidator Grant awarded by the ERC.

Anna-Liisa Laine investigates the evolution of resistance. Her focus is on plants, but the disease and resistance mechanisms are very similar in other species.

In her project, which was awarded a Starting Grant by the ERC, Laine investigated how plants as well as individuals and populations in general survive and develop their resistance under the simultaneous attack of several pathogens.

Project name and duration

Linking Pathogen Evolution and Epidemiology, 2011–2016.

Subsequently, Laine has been conducting research with a Consolidator Grant awarded by the ERC.

Pekka Katajisto’s ERC funded project aimes to understand how organelle quality, determined by organelle age, affects cell fate for example via cellular metabolism. The team also addresses whether asymmetric segregation of organelles is a general property of tissue stem cells in mammals.

The ultimate aim of the project is to discover new ways to enhance stem cell self-renewal, by modulating cellular functions influenced by the inheritance of qualitatively different organelles.

Katajisto has developed strategies to follow how organelles, the internal “organs” of single cells, are inherited between the two new cells resulting from a cell division. His team studies this in stem cells, which are responsible for the renewal of our tissues. The team recently discovered that when they divide, some stem cells allocate old organelles selectively between the two daughter cells. However, the reasons behind such age-discrimination of cellular components are not understood.

Aging is associated with decline of tissue function due to the inability of stem cells to self-renew and produce new cells to replace damaged ones. Discoveries from the project may open new possibilities to target aging associated functional decline. Such treatments could promote overall functionality among elders by restoring tissue function, or aid in situations where the slow recovery rate of old patients poses a challenge.

Project name and duration

Age-Selective Segregation of Organelles, 2016-2021.

Josephine Hoegaerts’ ERC funded project examines the history of political speech and the issue of “voice” in 19th-century politics.

Hoegaerts’ project focuses on the role sound has played in making and breaking political careers, in political decision making, and in the exchange of knowledge and information between the colony and the metropole in the 19th century.

The project has two main aims:

  1. Research and explain how physical and learned vocal characteristics – such as pitch, timbre and accent – helped or hindered a speaker in influencing political decisions. What made someone a good, convincing speaker?
  2. Examine how colonial contact and exchange changed cultural practices in both the "metropole" and the colony. E.g. how the discussion and debating cultures of Bengali and Muslim communities influenced British and French political voices and vice versa.

Hoegaerts’ project will provide new understanding of how political speech, debate and reporting have developed over time. This in turn gives us unique insight into how modern democracies work or collapse.

"Understanding how political speech has developed gives us unique insight into how modern democracies work." -Josephine Hoegaerts

Read more about Hoegaerts' research project on the Vocal articulations of parliamentary identity and empire project's website.

Project name and duration

Vocal Articulations of Parliamentary Identity and Empire (CALLIOPE), 2018–2023.

In her ERC-funded project, Tiina Sikanen developed a technical solution to simplify drug testing. Sikanen received a commercialisation grant from the ERC for progressing the rapid test for hepatic enzyme activity that she had developed to a marketable form.

Sikanen has also contributed to a research project focused on solving environmental threats related to the manufacturing, consumption and disposal of drugs.

Project name and duration

Customized Micro Total Analysis Systems to Study Human Phase I Metabolism, 2013–2019.

In Jukka Corander’s ERC-funded project, mathematical methods were developed for matching statistical models with extremely challenging datasets.

The statistical models developed by Corander’s group produce new information on bacterial distribution, behaviour and resistance to antibiotics.

Project name and duration

Intelligent Stochastic Computation Methods for Complex Statistical Model Learning, 2009–2014.

Mari Pihlatie’s ERC funded project studies the nature of methane emissions from trees.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that significantly contributes to climate change. Recent discoveries demonstrate that trees emit methane and by doing so they affect the methane budget of forests. As forests cover ca 30% of the global land area, understanding this newly discovered source of methane is crucial for a better understanding of the global methane cycle.

The main aims of the project are to:

  1. create unique continuous data series of how the methane fluxes from tree canopies and stems vary during different times of year and times of day
  2. build and use a unique automated chamber systems in controlled conditions to reveal processes and drivers of aerobic methane emissions from boreal trees
  3. utilize the newly established process understanding of methane emission from trees to build a process-based soil-tree-atmosphere methane model.

Pihlatie’s research can revolutionize our understanding of the methane cycling in forests today and in the future. Understanding of the role of trees in methane exchange of forests will help creating more accurate climate models, and decrease the uncertainties in global methane budget.

"We are studying almost completely unknown mechanisms of aerobic methane emissions from tree canopies. Knowing that all the data we produce gives insight to something new and undiscovered is intriguing." -Mari Pihlatie

Read more about Pihlatie's research group on the Methane and Nitrous Oxide Cycles in Forests group's website.

Project name and duration

From processes to modelling of methane emissions from trees (MEMETRE), 2018–2023.

In their ERC-funded project, Hélder A. Santos and his research group designed microscopically small drug carriers, which deliver the pharmaceutical agent precisely to the intended location in the human body and also release it at precisely the right time.

Santos has also received funding from the ERC for commercialising nanovaccines.

Project name and duration

Multistage-Multifunctional Porous Silicon Nanovectors for Directed Theranostics, 2013–2017

Tuomas Hytönen investigates harmonic analysis. In his ERC-funded project, he utilised probabilistic tools and random constructions to identify answers to questions of traditional mathematical analysis.

Project name and duration

Analytic-probabilistic methods for borderline singular integrals, 2011–2016.

Sanna Lehtonen specialises in diabetes and diabetic nephropathy.

With their ERC grant, Lehtonen’s group focused particularly on the initial phase of the disease.

Subsequently, Lehtonen has discovered a mechanism underlying metformin, a commonly used diabetes drug, which can both expand its uses and break ground for the development of new drugs.

In both cell cultures and an animal model, Lehtonen demonstrated that metformin binds to the lipid phosphatase SHIP2, reducing its activity. The reduction in SHIP2 activity increases glucose uptake in muscle cells and decreased cell death in podocytes, or glomerular epithelial cells.

Project name and duration

Insulin resistance and diabetic nephropathy – development of novel in vivo models for drug discovery, 2009–2014.

Kaius Tuori’s research focuses on Europe. In their project funded by a Starting Grant awarded by the ERC, Tuori and his research group surveyed legal tradition and political intellectual history in Europe.

Project name and duration

Reinventing the Foundations of European Legal Culture 1934–1964, 2013–2018

Tuori has subsequently carried out research with a Consolidator Grant awarded by the ERC and has headed an Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence.

Ville Hietakangas investigates the body’s signals related to nutrition.

With a grant awarded by the ERC, Hietakangas’s group focused on the transmission of information pertaining to the nutritional state, utilising fruit flies in their studies and determining how glucose is sensed.

Hietakangas’s group has observed that the ability to use glucose as nourishment varies considerably between closely related fruit fly species. The research also lays the ground for investigating the variation in glucose tolerance in different human populations.

Project name and duration

Transcriptional networks in glucose sensing, 2012–2017.

Hanna Vehkamäki investigates atmospheric particles and the particle clusters formed by them.

Project name and duration

Role of Molecular Clusters in Atmospheric Particle Formation, 2011–2016.

Subsequently, Vehkamäki has been conducting research with an Advanced Grant awarded by the ERC.

Henna Tyynismaa's ERC-funded project examined tissue-spesific mitochondrial signalling and adaptations which are caused by the disturbances in mitochondrial protein synthesis.

Project name and duration

Tissue-specific mitochondrial signalling and adaptations to mistranslation, 2015-2020.

Samu Niskanen’s ERC funded project studies what it meant to publish new literary works in the Middle Ages, before the introduction of print in Europe.

Niskanen’s project examines how Latin authors published their original works during the Middle Ages, c.1000–1500. The project’s hypothesis is that publication strategies were not a constant but were liable to change, and that different social, literary, institutional, and technical environments fostered different approaches to publishing.

The main aims of the project are to:

  • Establish what was involved in the process of publishing in the Middle Ages, and whether the process varied depending on the environment and situation in which new literary works were released for publication.
  • Investigate what authors and their networks did to prepare for circulating their writings, in a culture where books were copied slowly and singly by hand.
  • Niskanen’s project contributes to our perception of medieval Latin literature and of the dynamics of medieval networking. The project deepens our understanding of how learned topics such as theology, philosophy, medicine, science and history have been communicated through time.

“The act of publishing completes the authorial process. If we don’t understand that act, our understanding of literature from any period is incomplete.” - Samu Niskanen

Read more about Niskanen’s research project on the Medieval Publishing project’s website.

Project name and duration

Medieval Publishing from c.1000 to 1500 (MedPub), 2017–2022.

Iiris Hovatta, professor of behavioural genetics, investigates anxiety, its different forms and the effect of genes on it.

With her ERC grant, Hovatta studied how anxiety functions in different species, and what takes place in the animal and human brain in connection with anxiety.

Project name and duration

A cross-species neurogenomics approach to anxiety, 2012–2017.

In her ERC-funded project, Maria Lasonen-Aarnio investigates epistemology and normativity: what makes beliefs, actions and choices good? How should beliefs be assessed in the first place?

Lasonen-Aarnio is developing a new epistemological based on distinguishing between successful and competent beliefs. Success is knowing, while competence, in terms of knowledge, denotes positive tendencies and customs of forming and shaping beliefs. Competence does not always lead to knowledge, but neither does knowledge always stem from competence.

The framework presented in the project carries on the externalist tradition: the goodness of beliefs is not about reconciling them with internal mental phenomena. Instead, competence too is perceived through knowledge founded on an appropriate relationship between the mind and the external world. One of the project’s main goals is to demonstrate how this framework will solve a number of problems central to epistemology.

Although the development of the epistemological framework is the primary objective, another goal is to apply it to societally topical phenomena, such as epistemic bubbles, structures that produce distorted evidence and the way in which our attention shapes our mental state.

Read more about Lasonen's research project on the Competence and success in epistemology and beyond project's website.

Name and duration of the project

Competence and Success in Epistemology and Beyond, 2018–2022.

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