ERC Starting Grants at the University of Helsinki

ERC Starting Grants are a form of funding aimed at supporting promising research leaders, who are in the early stages of their careers, in establishing a research group and launching independent work in Europe. Get to know our ERC-funded researchers and projects on this page!

ERC Starting Grants are for researchers of any nationality with 2–7 years of experience since completion of PhD. Starting Grants may be awarded up to € 1.5 million for a period of 5 years.

Associate professor Federico Bianchi studies the fine particles found in the atmosphere that have an effect on the climate. A number of uncertainties are still associated with the overall effect of such particles.

Bianchi’s particular ERC research focus is the original formation of atmospheric fine particles from gas molecules emitted into the atmosphere. The research involves field observations in pristine and extreme environments, such as the Arctic, Siberia, mountain ranges and oceans.

Pro­ject name and dur­a­tion

Chasing pre-industrial aerosols, 2019–2024.

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Cory Dunn and his group are studying the consequences of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) damage at the cellular level. Nearly one in 5000 people inherit mtDNA mutations that can cause diseases. Others are afflicted with mtDNA-associated diseases after long-term treatment with anti-viral or anti-cancer agents. Throughout their lifespan, humans accumulate damage to their mtDNA, also raising the possibility that mtDNA damage promotes aging.

In the long term, Dunn's team is using the ERC-funding to find genetic and pharmacological methods by which we can increase the fitness of human cells with impaired mitochondria. Dunn and his team expect to identify new avenues toward the treatment of mitochondrial diseases.

Project name and duration

Deciphering and reversing the consequences of mitochondrial DNA damage, 2015–2020.

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Associate professor Mikael Ehn studies different compounds that can produce particles that cool down the climate.

Determining the distribution of different evaporation rates is the key goal of Ehn's ERC funded project. Previously this would have been impossible, as the required measuring equipment did not exist.

Ehn's group will first apply the measurement results to chemical process models, then to regional models and finally to models on the global scale. A regional model can be a simulation of reactions occurring over a conifer forest, for example.

Project name and duration

Comprehensive molecular characterization of secondary organic aerosol formation in the atmosphere, 2015–2020.

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Associate professor Josephine Hoegaerts studies the political landscape of the 19th century as well as the impact of political rhetoric in European countries and their colonies. Her ERC-funded project focuses on how vocal performances in parliament have influenced the course of political careers and political decision making in the 19th century.

Pro­ject name and dur­a­tion

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

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Associate professor Pekka Katajisto studies the renewal of tissue, and what the significance of stem cells is in renewal and aging. Katajisto studies the aging process from a straightforward angle: he looks past the symptoms of aging and focuses on stem cells.

In his ERC funded research, Katajisto studies the age selective segregation of organelles.

Katajisto has discovered how the regenerative capacity of intestinal epithelium declines when we age. He has shown that targeting an enzyme that inhibits stem cell maintaining signaling rejuvenates the regenerative potential of an aged intestine. Katajisto's finding may open ways to alleviate age-related gastrointestinal problems, reduce side-effects of cancer treatments, and reduce healthcare costs in the ageing society by promoting recovery.

Project name and duration

Age-Selective Segregation of Organelles, 2016–2021.

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Pekka Katajisto: Age selective segregation of organelles | University of Helsinki

Associate professor Maria Lasonen-Aarnio is formulating and defending a novel approach in epistemology. Her hypothesis is, that for a wide range of key evaluative notions, competence is neither necessary nor sufficient for success.

The main objectives of Lasonen-Aarnio's ERC-funded research project are to

  1. develop the theoretical foundations for her novel approach
  2. demonstrate how recognizing both cases of competent failure and incompetent success solves highly current problems and puzzles
  3. investigate and ultimately reject as theoretically important the notion of structural rationality as well as offer an alternative, competence-based explanation
  4. explore generalizations of the results of the previous parts of the project to the practical and moral domains

Pro­ject name and dur­a­tion

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

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Associate professor Enrico Di Minin studies conservation and poaching. In his work, Di Minin takes a multidisciplinary approach, combining biology, geosciences, computer science, social sciences and economics.

Di Minin is using his ERC Starting Grant to investigate poaching and trafficking of endangered animals in social media. Social media is one of the centres of trafficking. IDi inin's research group aims to develop tools to better uncover the trafficking process from among the data mass of social media.

Ultimately, Di Minin wants to provide functional tools also to authorities that are pursuing traffickers.

Project name and duration

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

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Associate professor Samu Niskanen studies medieval texts, how the texts were distributed and how they were received. Niskanen's research has focused on letters, monastic theology and the crusades.

In his ERC funded project, Niskanen focuses on book publishing between the 11th and 16th centuries. He is especially interested in medieval publishers' publishing strategies, i.e. how to find an audience for their books.

Pro­ject name and dur­a­tion

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

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Professor of philosophy José Filipe Pereira da Silva studies the history of philosophy, in particular medieval philosophy.

In his ERC funded project RiP, Pereira da Silva and his team aim to provide a new interpretation of late medieval theories of mind and cognition by focusing on the influence higher cognitive (rational) powers exert on lower (sensory) ones in the neglected tradition of Augustinian philosophy of perception. The project is led by the research hypothesis of whether the development of a unified view of the mind is associated with an active account of perception.

Project name and duration

Rationality in Perception: Transformations of Mind and Cognition 1250–1550, 2015–2020.

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Associate professor Mari Pihlatie studies the role of trees in the production of methane. Atmospheric concentration of methane is rising at an increased rate every year. We know that trees can emit methane, but we do not yet know how much. Pihlatie's group is performing novel laboratory and field experiments to raise the process-based understanding of methane exchange in boreal and temperate forests.

With her ERC-funding, Pihlatie is constructing a process model for the soil-tree-atmosphere methane exchange. Pihlatie's group aims to revolutionize our understanding of methane flux dynamics in forest ecosystems. It will significantly increase our knowledge of how boreal and temperate forests contribute to the global methane budget. 

Pro­jec­t name and duration

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

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Associate professor Marjo Saastamoinen studies the processes and the underlying genetic mechanisms that shape intraspecific life history variation in the wild. Her main study system is the Glanville fritillary butterfly (Melitaea cinxia) metapopulation in the Åland Islands.

In her ERC-funded project, Saastamoinen focuses on caterpillars living in difficult conditions, especially on the mysteries of their intestines, and how environmental change causes stress in animals in the wild.

Project name and duration

Unravelling life-history responses and underlying mechanisms to environmental stress in wild populations, 2015–2020.

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Associate professor Kaius Sinnemäki studies structures of languages with databases. 

In his ERC funded project, Sinnemäki investigates how the structure of language adapts to the social structures of the speech community, for example, the size of the community, and how much a language is learnt as a second language. His data comprises 150 different languages.

Project name and duration

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

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Assistant professor Mikko Sipilä got ERC Starting Grant in 2016. With it Sipilä is studying the details of how atmospheric gases generate new particulates which change the properties of clouds and, consequently, the climate. Read more about the research

While the creation processes of particles have been studied for decades, they have only been examined with sufficient precision in laboratory conditions, in the CLOUD experiment at CERN. Sipilä has been actively involved in CLOUD since its inception.

The only study thus far capable of measuring the creation of particles directly from the atmosphere is also one of Sipilä’s.

Pro­ject name and dur­a­tion

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

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Associate professor Teppo Särkämö's ERC project determines the neural basis of singing, music-evoked emotions and memories, and explicit and implicit musical learning across normal ageing, in aphasia, and in different stages of AD.

The applied goal is to uncover the rehabilitative potential of social musical activities by exploring the long-term efficacy of choir singing on neurocognitive, emotional, and social functioning in normal ageing and mild cognitive impairment and determining the rehabilitative efficacy of a novel intervention that utilizes adapted choir singing, melodic intonation therapy, and computer-based singing training on verbal, cognitive, emotional, and social functioning in aphasia, together with uncovering the structural and functional neuroplasticity changes underlying the effects of the singing interventions.

Project name and duration

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

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Teppo Särkämö's University of Helsinki profile and contact details

Jing Tang’s ERC project utilises computational systems medicine approaches, and aims to develop new ways to identify personalised drug combinations that are more effective against cancer. Despite the great progress in cancer research in recent years, the clinical treatment of cancer patients is still challenged by the great molecular variability between patients with seemingly similar cancers.

Associate professor Jing Tang, from the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), is tackling this problem with data integration approaches. He is developing mathematical and computational tools, and is applying them to the rational selection of cancer drug combinations that can be used to provide personalised and more effective therapeutic strategies.

Pro­ject name and dur­a­tion

Informatics approaches for the rational selection of personalized cancer drug combinations,

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Computer scientist Alexandru Tomescu 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.

Pro­ject name and dur­a­tion

Safe and Complete Algorithms for Bioinformatics, 2019–2024

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Associate Professor Henna Tyynismaa leads a research group in the Faculty of Medicine’s research programme in molecular neurology. The group has interests in molecular genetics and mechanisms of neurological diseases, as well as in mitochondrial involvement in disease pathogenesis and in the cellular protein homeostasis.

With ERC funding Tyynismaa and her group investigates key questions in understanding differential tissue involvement in metabolic defects, and will provide new directions for utilization of tissue-specific adaptations in finding interventions for mitochondrial diseases.

Pro­ject name and dur­a­tion

Tissue-specific mitochondrial signaling and adaptations to mistranslation, 2015–2020

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Linguist Marja Vierros is working on a new Digital Grammar of Greek Documentary Papyri. The corpus she is using, ranging from ca. 300 BCE to 700 CE, in contrast with literature, preserves the language as the ancient writer composed it and lead us close to the colloquial contemporary language. The nonstandard variation in documentary texts is where language change can first be detected, making the papyrological corpus an important source for diachronic study of Greek. The new Grammar of Greek papyri will answer such questions as how much bilingualism affected Greek in Egypt and when and where it was a dominant feature of the society.

With the help of her ERC-funding, Vierros will partly treat the papyri as big data; the whole corpus will be morphologically tagged. This will enable e.g. phonological analyses to be performed in greater accuracy than has been possible before through eliminating the confusion between inflectional morphology and phonological variation. As a result, the Digital Grammar will bring the language used in the Greek papyri openly available to the scholarly community in an unforeseen manner. It will include new, more exact analyses of the phonology and morphology of Greek in Egypt, as well as a possibility to search both phonological and morphological forms, in combination or in separation, in the whole corpus.

Project name and duration

Digital Grammar of Greek Documentary Papyri, 2018–2023

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Pharmacologist and neuroscientist Merja Voutilainen's research focuses on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson's disease, with the aim of finding neurorestorative treatments that promote functional recovery from these diseases.

Project name and duration

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

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Tiina Sikanen: Customized Micro Total Analysis Systems to Study Human Phase I Metabolism, 2013–2019

Academy researcher Tiina Sikanen develops inexpensive, high-throughput technology to screen the thus far unexplored metabolic interactions between environmental and household chemicals and clinically relevant drugs. Sikanen has received an ERC Proof of Concept Grant to commercialise her quick test of liver enzyme activity.

Sikanen is also part of a research project, which aims to solve environmental problems associated with drug manufacturing, consumption and disposal.

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

Professor Kaius Tuori studies the European crisis of the 1930s, which led to the rise of Nazism, fascism and communism.

In his ERC Starting Grant funded research, Tuori demonstrated that even in Europe the rights tradition is a conscious construction by a group of legal scholars reacting to contemporary events. The study is about a group of innovators who are forced to reinvent themselves and their science abroad after being exiled by Nazi Germany. This reinvention meant that they had to first rethink all that they had previously done and then to address a new audience in a new language, simultaneously trying to make sense of the catastrophe.

Tuori currently works with ERC Consolidator Grant funding.

Maria Vartiainen: Actin as the Master Organizer of Nuclear Structure and Function, 2012–2018

Research Director Maria Vartiainen studies how actin regulates gene expression. In the cytoplasm, actin has a well-established role as a component of the cytoskeleton, and plays important roles for example in cell motility and morphology. Nuclear actin has been linked to many processes related to gene expression, such as RNA polymerase function and chromatin remodeling. In addition, actin regulates the activity of specific transcription factors, including SRF.

With their ERC funding, Vartiainen and her group studied the nucleus which is a compartmentalized organelle. Vartiainen thinks that the true potential of nuclear actin has not been fully appreciated and the key questions concerning it could be studied by manipulating actin specifically in the nucleus, and by identifying nuclear actin binding partners, respectively.

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Hélder A. Santos: Multistage-Multifunctional Porous Silicon Nanovectors for Directed Theranostics, 2013–2017

Associate professor Hélder A. Santos develops microscopically small drug carriers, which can deliver medicine to precisely the right place in the body to be released at precisely the right time.

Santos has also received ERC Proof of Concept funding to commercialise his nanovaccine discovery.

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Ville Hietakangas: Transcriptional networks in glucose sensing, 2012–2017

Professor Ville Hietakangas studies the body's messages about nutritional.

In his ERC funded project he and his team studied the messages that the organism of a fruit fly sends about its nutritional status. Among other things, the team has discovered a genetic mutation in a fly that severely disturbs glucose metabolism.

Hietakangas' group has discovered that protein PWP1 acts as a critical link between cellular nutrient sensing and ribosome biogenesis. They have also found that the ability to use sugar as food varies strongly between closely related species and identified the genetic basis of this variation. The study also provides a starting point for an investigation into whether human populations with different dietary histories respond differently to modern sugar-rich diets.

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Iiris Hovatta: A cross-species neurogenomics approach to anxiety, 2012–2017

Professor of behavioural genetics Iiris Hovatta studies anxiety. Hovatta specializes in Anxiety disorders which are the most common mental disorders within the EU and cause considerable disability due to high prevalence, early-onset and chronic nature. The major questions in anxiety disorders are which molecular events lead to and maintain pathological anxiety, and how this pathology can be normalized.

In her ERC funded project, Hovatta studied which gene networks are involved in the regulation of anxiety, in addition to identifying individual susceptibility genes.

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Mikko Niemi: Transporter pharmacogenomics – the contribution of transporters to variability in drug response, 2012–2017

Professor Mikko Niemi studies gene mutations linked to the response to cholesterol medicine and its side effects.

Niemi currently works with ERC Consolidator Grant funding.

Anna-Liisa Laine: Linking Pathogen Evolution and Epidemiology, 2011–2016

Professor Anna-Liisa Laine studies the development of disease resistance. Her ERC funded research focuses on plants, but the mechanisms of diseases and immunity are very similar in other species as well.

Laine currently works with ERC Consolidator Grant funding.

Tuomas Hytönen: Analytic-probabilistic methods for borderline singular integrals, 2011–2016

Professor of Mathematics Tuomas Hytönen studies harmonic analysis. In his ERC funded project, Hytönen advanced the understanding of singular integral operators of Harmonic Analysis in various situations on the borderline of the existing theory.

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    Hanna Vehkamäki: Role of Molecular Clusters in Atmospheric Particle Formation, 2011–2016

    Professor Hanna Vehkamäki seeks to achieve a comprehensive understanding of atmospheric nanocluster and ice crystal formation based on fundamental physico-chemical principles.

    Vehkamäki currently works with ERC Advanced Grant funding.

    Atte Moilanen: Global Environmental Decision Analysis, 2011–2015

    Research director Atte Moilanen studies the concepts, methods, theory and application of spatial ecology and conservation. He has developed ecologically based, operational computational methods for conservation resource allocation.

    In the ERC funded research project Moilanen and his group focused on global environmental decision analysis. Their aim was to respond to growing environmental challenges with a project that provides improved conservation-oriented analytical methods and tools to underpin knowledge-based land-use planning and associated political decision making.

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

    Professor of molecular genetics Hannes Lohi studies human disease by the development of canine models of human complex diseases.Canine purebreeding has resulted in highly uniform genomes within each breed, in which the “noise” of background genetic variation is reduced making it easier to detect genetic “signals” that contribute to disease. With his ERC grant, Lohi studied canine neuropsychiatric diseases.

    The research findings of Lohi's research group include, among others, the reason why many Rhodesian ridgebacks suffer from epilepsy, as well as a set of common denominators for dogs' fearfulness and human mental disorders.

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    Jukka Corander: Intelligent Stochastic Computation Methods for Complex Statistical Model Learning, 2009–2014

    Professor Jukka Corander studies statistical machine learning, inference for intractable models and on evolutionary epidemiology using genomics.

    Corander's ERC Strating Grant funded project focused on stochastic computational and modeling strategies. The research group developed methods that overcame problems associated with the analysis of highly complex data sets.

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

    Professor of translational metabolism Sanna Lehtonen studies diabetes and diabetic nephropathy. In her ERC funded project, Lehtonen's group focused on the first stages of the disease.

    Since then, Lehtonen has discovered a mechanism of action underlying the widely used diabetes drug metformin, which may expand its indications for use, as well as open new inroads in pharmaceutical development. Lehtonen demonstrated in cell cultures and in an animal model that metformin directly binds to the lipid phosphatase SHIP2, reducing its activity. The reduction in SHIP2 activity increased glucose uptake in muscle cells and decreased cell death in podocytes, or glomerular epithelial cells.

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

    Professor of Oncology Akseli Hemminki develops new treatments for cancer. Hemminki's group focuses especially on gene therapy and oncolytic viruses.

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

    Professor of mathematical ecology Otso Ovaskainen mathematical theory, statistical methods, and empirical research. Ovaskainen's emphasis is on linking theory to observational and experimental environmental data. In his ERC Starting Grant funded research Ovaskainen and his group study natural population dynamics.

    Ovaskainen currently works with ERC Synergy Grant funding.