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December 1, 2006

Luring new blood to Finland is broadening horizons for native professors, says Mikko Sams

The first academics appointed under a new scheme to attract researchers to Finland's universities and institutes take up their posts next month.

The Finland Distinguished Professor Programme (FiDiPro) is an initiative by the Academy of Finland and the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (Tekes) to recruit professor-level foreign researchers for five years.

Individual scientists made proposals to universities and research institutes, which defined areas of excellence and identified almost 100 scientists they expected to advance research in their fields. The academy and Tekes will spend €17.5 million (£11.7 million) on 24 overseas scientists. The funding will bring new blood into 12 Finnish universities and research institutes. Universities also contribute. For example, Helsinki University of Technology is considering giving an additional €50,000 a year to its FiDiPro professors.

But FiDiPro researchers bring more to Finnish science than world-class brains. My own laboratory will gain access to an excellent primate electrophysiology laboratory, opening up the possibility of conducting parallel human and animal auditory neuroscience. Moreover, new professors join the best Finnish research groups, further boosting their academic reputation. They bring with them new contacts, PhD students, postdocs and knowledge in funding possibilities.

Josef Rauschecker of Georgetown University, Washington DC, is a leading scientist in systems neuroscience. In his FiDiPro project, he will explore key questions in systems neuroscience, including how the senses process objects' features in parallel and unite them to allow fast and effortless recognition, and how the human brain can selectively pay attention to some objects over others.

Other FiDiPro projects address language diversity and multilingualism in Finnish society and the constant fluctuation between co-operation and conflict that characterised transatlantic relations in the decades before 9/11.

Mikko Sams is professor in computational engineering at Helsinki University of Technology.

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