Geographical information systems to help in erasing poverty

Researchers of the University of Turku help Tanzanians in the development of their country by sharing their expertise in the use of geographical information systems.

Niina Käyhkö (left.) and Joni Koskinen (3rd on the right) teach Andrew Ferdinands (2nd on the left), Mohammed Badruddin Mussa, Zahor K Zahor, Masoud S. Hemed, Faraja D. Namkesa and Pilly Silvano to utilise geographical information systems. Vesa Arki, a student of geography, is leaving for a three-month internship in Tanzania, where he can use his expertise in geographical information systems in local urban and regional planning.

Now Zahor and the five other Tanzanians, who are all been part of development projects funded by Finland, are in Turku to learn more about the use of geographical information systems (GIS).

Niina Käyhkö describes in a few sentences why geographical information system education and research are necessary. In the 1980s, GIS was only available for few experts such as land surveyors. The field started to quickly digitalise in the 90s and now the open data has provided an access to GIS for the researchers and the citizens. The number of businesses in the field is growing and an increasing amount of operations are based on real time geographical information – from mobile applications to planning the placement of new schools or a quickest route for an ambulance.

– GIS education is clearly growing globally. More and more software interfaces are based on maps and people have to know how to use and develop them. Our goal is that GIS and geospatial analysis would become one of the University’s methodological areas of strength, says Käyhkö, who is working as a Senior Lecturer in Geoinformatics at the University of Turku.

One step towards this goal is strong international co-operation. The Department of Geography of the University of Turku and Tanzanian researchers and government started their collaboration in 2003. At first, the Finnish researchers mainly worked in Zanzibar, but later on the co-operation has expanded to the Tanzanian mainland and become more reciprocal.

In Tanzania, the GIS applications are still new but their significance is well understood. One example is the new SUSLAND research project, led by Niinä Käyhkö, which researches the sustainability and structure-function-benefit chains in the landscape systems of the Tanzanian Southern Highlands. The area is mapped with GIS and with the help and involvement of the locals.

The goal of the development project is to create a better living environment to the Tanzanian Southern Highlands by utilising geographical information systems.

– The area is very poor and we strive to develop the conditions by planting forest and with better planning for the land use. So that we can avoid situations where one person plants a tree and the next day someone digs it up saying this is a field, we have to draw up a plan for the area, describes GIS expert Andrew Ferdinands, who is working in the project.

Text and photo: Erja Hyytiäinen
Translation: Mari Ratia


KiVa program is becoming a European-wide phenomenon

The KiVa anti-bullying program that was first put into operation in most Finnish schools is becoming increasingly popular internationally.

​KiVa is a research-based anti-bullying program that has been developed in the University of Turku and aims at reducing bullying in primary and secondary schools. The KiVa program involves both universal and indicated actions to prevent bullying and to tackle cases of bullying that come to teachers’ attention.

In the KiVa program, bullying is discussed with the whole group, not just with the bully and the victim. Each member of the school community can somehow participate in preventing bullying.

The KiVa program has been extremely popular in Finland and now it is being exported abroad. The program is becoming increasingly known internationally and teachers from all over Europe visit the University of Turku to learn more about it.

KiVa abbreviation comes from the Finnish words “kiusaamisen vastainen”, against bullying, and the program aims at reducing bullying by organising training for teachers and offering teaching materials for handling situations where someone is being bullied.

The program started in 2006 and was developed cooperatively by the Department of Psychology and the Centre of Learning Research at the University of Turku. Nowadays, it is used in over 90 percent of Finnish schools. In addition, KiVa has been launched in many schools around Europe.

–The effectiveness of KiVa has been researched in many countries. We will spread the program widely from now on in co-operation with our international partners. For example, we train educators, who will in turn support the users of the program in different countries, says Professor Christina Salmivalli, the director of the program.

The program is effective

The KiVa program is based on research information and has been very well received in schools. The results of the program have been excellent: in all the schools that are part of the KiVa program, bullying has reduced significantly each year.

The effectiveness of KiVa has also been noted abroad.

–I don’t just believe, I really know that KiVa works. Children love the games that are part of the program, says School Psychologist Herie de Vries from Schola Europaea in Luxembourg.

de Vries says that KiVa works better than other anti-bullying programs.

–I have tried many other programs that aim at reducing bullying, but KiVa is the first one that actually works, continues de Vries.

Text: Matilda Herjanto
Photos: KiVa School, Matilda Herjanto
Translation: Mari Ratia


Nobel Prize winner: without the University of Turku, I would have given up science

Honorary doctor of the University of Turku, Stefan W. Hell, was one of the Nobel Prize winners in chemistry in 2014. The Nobel was awarded to the inventors of super resolution microscopy.

In 2014, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to Eric Betzig, William E. Moerner and Stefan W. Hell. The three scientists have conducted pioneering research when developing super resolution microscopy.

Stefan W. Hell, who comes from Germany, was conferred as the honorary doctor of the Faculty of Medicine in 2009. On his honorary doctor lecture in May 2009, Hell described how the development of the microscopes has revolutionised the research in biosciences.

– You could say – and this is not an exaggeration – that the development of the resolution began in Turku, at the Department of Medical Physics in 1993, said Hell.

Professor Pekka Hänninen from the Faculty of Medicine is delighted that his long-term partner in co-operation received the prize. Hänninen reveals that Hell’s inventions from 1994 and 1995 mentioned in the Nobel Committee’s press release were made in the University of Turku, where Hell was working as a post doc researcher at the time.

– The fundamental publications and innovations of the Nobel Prize winning research were made in Turku, sums Hänninen.

Hänninen met Hell at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg from where Hell came to Turku. He received funding from the Academy of Finland for his research, the premise of which was doubted by several large funding countries.

– Super resolution microscopy was largely invented in Turku. In the 90s, Stefan W. Hell led the research group at the University of Turku, which developed the principle of super resolution microscopy, describes Hänninen.

For its part, Hell’s research created a base for the Turku Bioimaging research infrastructure which was established in 2007.

Hell stated to the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper in March 2014:

– Without the University of Turku, I would have given up science.

Text: Tuomas Koivula
Photo: Hanna Oksanen
Translation: Mari Ratia


The Top of Evolution as an Adversary

The goal of Sirpa Jalkanen, Johanna Ivaska, Klaus Elenius and Jukka Westermarck is not an easy one to achieve. They are aiming at besting the cell that has climbed to the top of evolution – the cancer cell.

– Cancer is a disease that kills. When I started my studies in the 1970s, 35-year-old men with coronary thrombosis were admitted to the hospital. Now, those suffering from the same disease are 70. However, today we get 20, 30 and 40-year-old patients who are dying of cancer, says Academy Professor Sirpa Jalkanen.

She is striving with her research group to find out how the human body’s own defence mechanisms operate when they are trying to kill the cancer cells.

– The normal cells are on the losing side of the battle. The cancer spreads and the metastases kill the person. We are studying how the cancer cells move, says Jalkanen.

Professor of Medical Biochemistry Klaus Elenius is looking for a targeted drug that could affect the signalling of the growth factors of cancer.

– At the moment, no one can treat widespread cancer. That is why the treatment is targeted on the primary cancer. We hope that we can find a way to prevent the development of metastases, describes Elenius the group’s efforts to stop the metastases from occurring.

Professor of Molecular Cell Biology Johanna Ivaska focuses on breast cancer and its integrins, i.e. cell adhesion receptors, which control the cell division and movement in the tissue. Changes in the cell adhesion receptors are central in the development of metastases. Ivaska’s goal is to find a new kind of insight into how the integrins operate and to produce a description of their message chains.

Research Director of Turku Centre for Biotechnology and the Professor of Cancer Biology Jukka Westermarck concentrates now on brain cancer and studies signal transmission within the cell. The goal is to cut off the signalling in the cancer cell.

The four researchers all have their own perspective into to the fight against cancer and they use a car as a point of comparison to the layman. Elenius describes that he researches the accelerator that speeds the cancer up, Westermarck studies the breaks, Ivaska the winter tires that keep up the speed and Jalkanen the final stop.

Text: Erja Hyytiäinen
Photo: Robert Seger
Translation: Mari Ratia