Meet the Skolar Award finalists!

From mitigating climate change to curing cancer, here are the ten ambitious research proposals that proceed to the Skolar Award finals at Slush.

Skolar Award -finalistit_musta

Social sciences

Tommi Ilkka Juhani Himberg, Aalto University

Many of the problems in our society, from the rise of intolerance to raging in social media bubbles, can derive from the lack of empathy. Empathy Engine is a collection of easy “games” based on energy gained from movement, for example dance. The games can be used in schools to improve the students’ empathy skills and to promote social and other cognitive skills. The aim is to develop these games and analyses into a toolkit that students and teachers can use themselves.

Medicine

Olli Kalevi Kärkkäinen, University of Eastern Finland

Let’s stop the destruction of young brains! Our brains develop critically during the ages 12–22. Alcohol is especially harmful to the developing brains, and the global alcohol consumption is rising. Repeated exposure to alcohol causes varying changes in the brain that might affect later life. This research explores among others the possibilities to identify early those young adults more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol and thus in need of more intensive treatment. This is enabled by blood samples, data on young adults’ psychiatric symptoms and a follow-up questionnaire.

Anna Stöckl, Aalto University

The big question at the core of neuroscientific research is: how does the brain work? A crucial step to answer this question is to investigate the intermediate level of organisation, the small building blocks of the brain. The project will develop a novel technique to study up to four neurons at unprecedented physiological detail. The technique will provide data crucially needed to generate more realistic models to understand how information is processed and stored in the brain. This research will fill the gap of knowledge that previous techniques have left open.

Martti Henrik Kaasalainen, University of Turku

The number of people who have diabetes is increasing. Most of those people use injections of insulin, the best-known peptide drug, to take care of the disease. This project aims to develop a user-friendly device that could replace the frequent and invasive injections needed in receiving the necessary peptide dosages. The project would present an array of minuscule nano- or microneedles to enable painless perforation of the protective outer layer of skin.

Ivana Trapani, Telethon Institute of Genetics and Medicine

This research tackles the degenerative Stargardt disease which causes vision loss that leads to legal blindness. Roughly 1 person out of 20 carries some mutation of a gene that causes this disease. This proposal aims to prevent Stargardt disease by editing genome and developing a therapeutic strategy for correcting gene mutations.

Technology

Anand Tatikonda, Aalto University

Mobile phones, computers and other technological devices generate huge quantities of electrical and electronic waste. If E-waste is not disposed of properly, it can have serious effects on the environment and living organisms. This project proposes a new bioprocessing technique for recycling E-waste. The methodology could transform wasted valuable and complex metals into simple usable metals with a minimalistic footprint on nature.

Muhammad Ammad-ud-din, Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland

Personalizing medicine and choosing therapies that maximize effectiveness and minimize harmful side effects for individual patients are currently huge challenges in cancer treatment. The plan here is to use machine learning to solve one of the challenges of personalized treatment. The project will model how the patient’s genome affects the treatment outcome.

Natural sciences

Svante Henriksson, Finnish Meteorological institute

Hurricanes are a highly destructive force of nature. The calmer eye of the storm is often surrounded by a belt of strong winds. The destructiveness could be reduced by shifting momentum from this belt to the outer, calmer areas of the storm. How? By spraying aerosols or water vapor from ships, aircrafts or drones into the hurricane. The hurricane becomes less harmful while maintaining its best properties: removing extra heat from the tropical ocean and bringing rainfall to dry continental areas.

Janne Hakkarainen, Finnish Meteorological institute

As everyone should realize by now, climate change is one of the biggest threats to humanity. The main culprits are atmospheric greenhouse gases, GHGs, that increase the global temperature. The aim of this research is to identify the main man-made areas of greenhouse gases with the help of space-based observations. Those offer a sustainable and cost-efficient tool to estimate the impact of human activities on our environment.

Johan Seijsing, Stockholm University

Without efficient antibiotics small infections can develop into life threatening conditions. The idea of this proposal is to find out whether we can use enzymes found in nature as a novel treatment against bacterial infections. The aim here is to engineer these enzymes to make them more efficient and to help them target specific bacteria. To turn this idea into action researchers will create a large library of different enzyme variants on tiny chips and test their ability to target for example several flesh eating bacteria.