Aalto University: School of Science researchers now involved in five Centres of Excellence

Academy of Finland has selected 11 new Centres of Excellence, and School of Science researchers are involved in three of them: Life-Inspired Hybrid materials, Randomness and structures, and Virtual laboratory for molecular level atmospheric transformations. The new units were selected to the 2022–2029 programme.

Life-Inspired Hybrid Materials

The Centre of Excellence in Life-Inspired Hybrid Materials, led by Professor Markus Linder, presents ground-breaking future material concepts, by providing new life-inspired adaptable and dynamic soft matter hybrid materials.

‘Recently, we have seen huge progress in understanding of biological systems. We aim to bring it to materials science and to create novel functional materials with tools that evolution has implemented for billions of years’, says Professor Markus Linder who is the coordinator of theCenter of Excellence.

‘We believe there will be new types of artificially intelligent materials in the future. Simple intelligent operations can be chemically programmed into these materials, and they can make simple decisions. These materials adapt to new types of conditions, can adjust their operations, and begin to communicate with each other. This can be useful, for example, in medical applications, albeit in a very long time in the future,’ says Professor Olli Ikkala.

In addition to Markus Linder and Olli Ikkala, the consortium includes several experts from Aalto: Mauri Kostiainen, Robin Ras, Maria Sammalkorpi and Jaakko Timonen, as well as Merja Penttilä (VTT) and Arri Priimägi (Tampere University).

Randomness and structures

The Centre of Excellence in Randomness and structures is coordinated by Professor Eero Saksman from the University of Helsinki. The Centre of Excellence brings together leading Finnish mathematicians and world-class experts representing the new generation. The Centre of Excellence aims to advance mathematical research at the interfaces between probabilistic methods, quantum and conformal field theories, geometric and harmonic analysis, partial differential equations, and analytical number theory.

‘In the 20th century, the biggest breakthroughs in physics were related to the theory of relativity, quantum field theories and renormalisation groups. The latter two, in particular, did not yet establish a mathematically satisfactory foundation in the previous century’, says Professor Kalle Kytölä.

An essential part of the research consists of creating applications for the latest breakthroughs in mathematics in the fields of both physics and statistics.

“One of the goals in our Centre of Excellence is to develop methods for analysing functional observations. Examples of functional observations include growth curves, temperature curves and, for instance, continuous measurements of water levels. Also, some of the research teams in our Centre of Excellence have applications related to topics such as geothermal energy, the atmosphere and epidemiology’, says Professor Pauliina Ilmonen.

Atmospheric science

The research area of the third new Centre of Excellence is atmospheric science and it is led by Professor Hanna Vehkamäki from the University of Helsinki.

“We will be doing research into molecular processes in the atmosphere. Specifically, we will be researching how aerosols form in the atmosphere”, says Professor Patrick Rinke.

Aerosols evolve from organic and inorganic molecules that are emitted by vegetation, oceans, volcanoes or human processes. Through complex processes these molecules may condense into clusters and the clusters can grow into particles. Such particles then affect the climate and can lead to air pollution.

“My role will be to develop artificial intelligence and data science methods, and to integrate them into the virtual laboratory. These methods, combined with computational modeling and instrument development, will be applied to predict the stability of atmospherically relevant molecular clusters and to minimize biases inherent in spectrometric methods for cluster detection”, Rinke says.

A Centre of Excellence is a research community that is already at or striving for the international cutting edge of research in its field.

In addition to the three new units, two Centre of Excellence units were earlier selected to the 2018-2025 programme. Aalto University Professor Jukka Pekola coordinates the Centre of Excellence in Quantum Technology. Other School of Science researchers involved are Tapio Ala-Nissilä, Christian Flindt, Pertti Hakonen, Mikko Möttönen, Sorin Paraoanu and Mika Sillanpää. And Nuutti Hyvönen is involved in the Centre of Excellence of Inverse Modelling and Imaging.

‘Competition for the Academy of Finland’s Centers of Excellence has become increasingly fierce. At the School of Science, research is broad and at a high level, otherwise we would not be able to be involved in this many Centers of Excellence’, say Vice Dean for Research, Professor Matti Kaivola.