University of Helsinki: Researcher of space weather awarded the information dissemination prize

The University of Helsinki has awarded the J. V. Snellman Prize for Dissemination of Information to professor in computational space physics Minna Palmroth. This head of a Centre of Excellence, who has written a science fairy tale and a guide to the northern lights, is dedicated to communication about science.

With its findings, Professor Minna Palmroth’s Centre of Excellence Sustainable Space Science and Technology has revolutionised our notion of inner space. Palmroth and her team have developed the most exact computer model in the world for simulating the effect of solar winds on Earth’s inner space.

The reasoning for the award emphasises the wide extent of Palmroth’s impact. She has been visible in public pondering cross-disciplinary issues, from the hard sciences and research methods to science policy and humans’ place in the world.

The annual prize was publicised during the university’s jubilee week, on 24 March 2022. The prize sum is 6,000 euros.

Courage is necessary
Lately, the general public has learned about the danger of space debris, as well as the new form of northern lights discovered in collaboration with aurora enthusiasts. Palmroth has formed networks within different sectors of society, from media and politicians to aurora enthusiasts and the corporate world, which has made her a popular public speaker and interviewee.

During the past ten years, Minna Palmroth has emerged as a researcher who is not just known as a space expert, but also an innovative leader and an inspiration for girls. She is an easily approachable role model in a traditionally male-dominated field.

With a friend, Palmroth has written a science fairy tale, Prinsessa, leijona ja maailmankaikkeus (The Princess, the Lion, and the Secret of the Universe) to interest girls in science. She is up for organising something like a wizard day for school children and dressing up as a witch to show how physicists can levitate a train.

Courage is the message she wants to send to both children and adults. If we want science to progress, we need the courage to ask questions, attempt the impossible, and fail. We must try things that have not been done before.

Different points of view
Palmroth has categorised her research field into different points of view and invested her time into crystallising her research findings accordingly.

According to Palmroth, interaction is often the most fruitful way to find the viewpoint that the other party is interested in, firstly, and then introduce your own current research problems, which may lead both parties to wholly new realisations. It is a good skill to be able to show the significance of your own research field to another party.

– If the listener does not understand, the fault does not lie with them but with the speaker, Palmroth says.

When policy-makers are to be informed about research findings, Palmroth recommends considering both the policy-makers and the people, whom their policies will concern, and to formulate your message with understanding for both. Palmroth warns against underestimating the intelligence and motivation of the people.

She encourages all researchers to brave the public discourse, even if it is outside their own specialist field, since researchers are educated in critical thinking, considering new viewpoints, recognising flawed arguments, as well as handling criticism.

Responsibility, opportunity and right
In Minna Palmroth’s opinion, the university and society have a working deal; researchers may study the very foundations of the world and map the unknown, as long as they tell society about their findings. Thus, society can renew itself on the basis of the information gained. This means that it is a responsibility to share research findings.

– Though the popularisation of science, communication and influencing may seem easy, they require a conscious long-term investment, Palmroth says.

– However, it is also the source of a lot of inspiration and energy. I can see from the reactions of children or aurora enthusiasts how my work is relevant right at that moment. The interaction develops both my field and me as a person – it also always opens up an opportunity for new findings, she says.

Science communication is also a right. This has dawned on Palmroth this spring, especially after Russia attacked Ukraine and the western world has rallied to defend freedom and democracy.

– Before that, I hadn’t had such a strong feeling of how valuable it is to live in a world where researchers have the basic right to tell others about their findings.

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