Academician of Science, professor Markku Kulmala Receives the Academy Award 2024

The Finnish Academy of Science and Letters awarded its annual academy award (30,000 euros) on Friday, April 19, 2024. The award was granted to Academician of Science, professor Markku Kulmala for his influential career. The Academy Award is an acknowledgement of lifetime achievement in sciences, and it is the most prominent recognition awarded by the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters.

Academician of Science, professor Markku Kulmala (b. 1958) is a pioneer in the physics and chemistry of atmospheric nanoparticles and one of the leading experts in the field worldwide. Kulmala’s research focuses particularly on atmospheric phenomena, interactions between the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface, as well as climate change and air pollutants. His scientific work has significantly enhanced our understanding of the mechanisms affecting the climate.

“I started working in the forest as a young boy, planting tree seedlings and doing other forest-related work. That was the beginning of a lifelong interest,” Kulmala explains.

Kulmala, originally a physicist, obtained his Ph.D. in physics in 1988. His career as an atmospheric scientist was set on course during his master’s thesis, which addressed the risks associated with new and renewable energy sources:

“I noticed that nothing was known about the risks coming through the atmosphere to human health and nature. That’s what I started to investigate.”

“The Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 had a significant impact on my career. It made us understand how radioactive material travels through the atmosphere to forests, plants, and soil, and how substances move in the environment. A few years after the nuclear accident, we set up the first SMEAR measuring station to observe the interaction between the atmosphere and forests.”

Kulmala’s research group currently operates four SMEAR stations in Finland (Station for Measuring Earth Surface – Atmospheric Relations). The SMEAR II station in Hyytiälä, Southern Finland continuously measures over 1200 variables related to the local atmosphere, soil, and vegetation.

Precise, long-term data

Markku Kulmala serves as a professor of aerosol and environmental physics at the University of Helsinki. He also leads the University’s Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research (INAR), conducting research at both the molecular and global levels. The research is multidisciplinary, based on physics, chemistry, meteorology, forestry, environmental sciences, and social sciences.

Currently, Kulmala also serves as the director of the Finnish Academy’s flagship program Atmosphere and Climate Competence Center (ACCC), a project spanning eight years (2020–2028). The center develops solutions to improve climate and air quality worldwide. Its goal is to increase understanding of climate change and air pollution, provide research data to achieve climate goals, and support decision-makers.

In global atmospheric research, Markku Kulmala plays a key role, particularly as a developer of international research infrastructures. He has been involved in several international research projects and has published numerous scientific articles in top journals throughout his career.

“My dream for the future is that research stations will continue operating in Finland for the next hundred years. We have the world’s longest and most comprehensive series of measurements of atmospheric aerosols, greenhouse gases, and energy flows, and we are the best in the world in this regard unless we stop our activities ourselves.”

“Another dream, of course, is that there would be measurement stations not only in Finland but all around the world. They are significant so that we can respond to global challenges in the future, such as climate change, air quality, and the sufficiency of water and food.”

Markku Kulmala

  • Professor of aerosol and environmental physics at the University of Helsinki
  • World-leading researcher in the physics and chemistry of atmospheric aerosols
  • Member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters since 2004
  • Previously awarded, among others, the Wihuri International Prize (2017) and the Finnish Science Award (2003)

Academy Award of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters 

  • Most prominent recognition of the Academy, first awarded in 1945
  • Awarded to recognize lifetime achievement in sciences 
  • The amount of the award €30 000