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Arri Priimägi wins Academy of Finland Award for scientific courage

Published on 6.2.2019
Tampere University
The Academy of Finland gives out annual awards to honour the achievements of distinguished scientists. Arri Priimägi, Professor and Academy Research Fellow at Tampere University, has received the award in recognition of his scientific courage, which for him means that he continually challenges himself and trusts his team.

Professor and Academy Research Fellow Arri Priimägi and his Smart Photonic Materials (SPM) group explore and develop polymers that can change their shape by having light shined on them. They have developed, for example, a light-controlled optical Venus flytrap, an artificial iris that responds to light like the human eye, and a microrobot that flees light. SPM conducts frontier research that takes courage, creativity and the ability to look beyond the traditional – the very qualities that earned Priimägi the Academy of Finland Award.    

“Arri Priimägi has carved out a unique niche between the boundaries of basic and applied research. His commitment to courageously explore new avenues of research, learn new things and combine expertise across different disciplines, so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, has marked his entire career,” states a press release issued by the Academy of Finland.   

Arri Priimägi finds light a fascinating research topic, as it enables the remote and contactless control of materials. His findings have applications, for example, in photonics and robotics. 

“We are interested in finding out how the properties of materials, such as their colour, shape and hardness can be adjusted and controlled by exposing the materials to light. Besides photonics and robotics, these light-induced changes open up a broad range of opportunities in the field of biomaterials science. For example, we are working together with researchers from BioMediTech to investigate how light-controlled surfaces could be utilised to remotely control the cultivation of cells.” 

“Light-responsive materials have many faces: they may respond to light autonomously, adapt to their surrounding environment or be programmed to react in a certain way. I am also collaborating with Professor Olli Ikkala of Aalto University to examine whether materials are capable of “learning” and what the word means in the context of inanimate objects,” says Priimägi. 

Priimägi’s scientific courage earned him the Academy of Finland Award. He says that he understands scientific courage as a commitment to push oneself, move beyond one's comfort zone and always go beyond the familiar to explore uncharted territory.  

“The award may be given out to me personally but I would not have received it without my excellent team. Maybe one element of courage is that I am not afraid to ask stupid questions from my team members. They all outsmart me in their special area of expertise and each and every one has something to teach me.” 

The Academy of Finland has appointed Arri Priimägi as Academy Research Fellow for the term running from 2014 to 2019. In addition to receiving a fiercely competitive ERC Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for the years 2016–2021, Priimägi has been awarded ERC Proof of Concept funding to explore the potential applications of his research results.

The second award recipient is Mari Pihlatie, Academy Research Fellow at the University of Helsinki. She received the award in recognition of the social impact of her research. Pihlatie studies methane emissions from trees and her research brings together soil biochemistry, chemistry, physics and microbiology, plant biochemistry and physiology, and atmospheric chemistry and physics. 

The Academy of Finland has given out annual Academy of Finland Awards 16 times. The recipients must be Academy Research Fellows or work as Academy-funded Postdoctoral Researchers. Nominations are submitted by the Academy’s research councils to the Academy Board, which makes the final award decisions

Academy Research Fellow Arri Priimägi, Tampere University, tel. +358 44 515 0300, arri.priimagi [at]

The University of Tampere and Tampere University of Technology were merged to create the new foundation-based Tampere University on 1 January 2019. Read more about the optical flytrap developed by Arri Priimägi’s Smart Photonic Materials Group in the Science Magazine Interface that was published by Tampere University of Technology.