New professors 2019
Twenty-five new professors will be inaugurated at Uppsala University on 15 November 2019 in the grand inauguration ceremony. Here they present their research.
New professors at the Faculty of Arts
Torbjörn Gustafsson Chorell, history of science and ideas
The branch of research within the history of ideas that I mainly focus on is theory of history. It starts from the point of view that history is an important political institution in which societies invest large resources. As a research programme, theory of history critically examines the problems that the institution of history is assumed to address. They often include the idea that history is a way of coping with change and that the connection between past and present helps to determine our identity. By creating distance and connection with the past, history also gives meaning to life processes and events. At the same time, the relationship to the past determines the degree of freedom and dependence that current generations have to what has happened. This is a dilemma that is concentrated in the idea of historical heritage. Theory of history has the task of analysing the origin, design and consequences of such ideas for individuals and societies. It concerns the role history plays in our self-understanding and in our way of looking at the world.
Thomas Karlsohn, history of science and ideas
My research originally had a philosophical-historical orientation. In my doctoral thesis I explored trend-setting philosophical interpretations of digital technology and its social and cultural significance. I subsequently mainly have conducted research on educational institutions’ past, focusing in a first phase on the school system and subsequently on higher education.
One interesting area is the question of how the higher education institutions and their self-understanding have been shaped by the various informatics that predominate at different times. What has oral communication meant for academic life in the past, and what role does it play today? What impression has the printing press and eventually the breakthrough of written culture had on higher education? What effects has the breakthrough of digital technology had?
In another project, I have examined the ways in which people in history have connected emotionally with higher education institutions. In particular, I have been interested in how the love and longing for a university and life within the institution have been embodied in the past. Why have we seen such pronounced variations in the presence and expression of these feelings over a period of time? How can we understand the nostalgia and melancholy that often surrounds academic life? My most recent research addresses the relationship between the institutional life of society and secularisation as a historical process. Again, higher education institutions are the focal point of my interest.
Patricia Mindus, practical philosophy
Practical philosophy, a subject that has existed since the founding of Uppsala University, encompasses several branches, including philosophy of law, the area in which I, as the first female professor in the subject at this university, have mainly conducted research. Practical philosophy aims to answer the question of how we should live, including the question of who we should live with. It follows that I am interested in citizenship, migration, democracy and the rule of law in the research projects I have headed in recent years. Citizenship has become a topical issue. But what is it really? Despite the extensive discussions on the subject, disagreements prevail. One purpose of my research has been to clarify the question of what citizenship means and how we should understand the concept. I believe that citizenship is a key mechanism for understanding both participation and exclusion in society, and in my research I have developed the functional theory of citizenship inspired by Aristotle. In brief, it argues that what a citizen is determines who is eligible for citizenship. Research like this has helped to show how one can resolve the question of who we should live with in a more sensible way than has previously been the case. The theory also invites us to think about how regulation of migration affects who will become citizens tomorrow, which in turn affects the political community. This represents an often neglected source of information about the constitutional identity of the state. Governments often decide who becomes a citizen without regard to what long-term effects this will have on people. Philosophy can provide creative solutions to difficult normative problems in this regard.
New professors at the Faculty of Languages
David Håkansson, Scandinavian languages
The Scandinavian languages, like all human languages, both vary and change. My research deals precisely with this – how language varies and changes. My doctoral thesis revolved around a classic problem in Swedish language history: the emergence of the subject requirement. The dissertation also dealt with the grammatical process of change and its causes on a more general level, and my research has continued to focus on such issues.
In addition to grammatical changes – that is, how changes in the language system occur and spread – I have been interested in changes in language usage. With a colleague at Lund University, I have conducted a diachronic study of word comprehension during the first decade of the 21st century. With colleagues at Uppsala University, I also recently completed a project using digital methods to clarify older Swedish fiction based on various aspects – for my part, with regard to language changes.
In addition to my studies of changes in language systems and language usage, I have tried to apply a meta-perspective on linguistic research, especially regarding questions about linguistic theories and knowledge interests.
New professors at the Faculty of Medicine
Cecilia Ekéus, reproductive health
As a midwife and public health professional, I conduct research focusing specifically on complicated pregnancies and childbirths. My previous studies have included injuries to the lower abdomen of women in labour, pain relief during childbirth and the health of immigrant women.
In Sweden more than 7,000 children are born annually using a vacuum extractor to accelerate the termination of vaginal delivery when there are signs of impending oxygen deficiency or when the expulsion stage is protracted. As with other types of intervention, benefits need to be weighed against risks as use of a vacuum extractor increases the risk of injury. Since 2010 I have been heading a research project on vacuum extractors during labour. The project aims to create more detailed knowledge of how the handling and technology of vacuum extractor delivery impact the health of women and children in the short and long term. The results will be used to improve care during these deliveries and to prevent complications for women and children.
Tove Fall, molecular epidemiology
Cardiovascular disease and diabetes rank among the greatest global public health problems. In my research I try to understand the processes that lead to these diseases with the goal of improving prevention and treatment. As a molecular epidemiologist, I and my research team analyse vast amounts of data from molecular analyses of samples collected in large-scale research projects in combination with our Swedish health and population registers. Studying the causal relationship between risk factors and diseases requires sophisticated study designs and analytical methods. I have used a method called Mendelian randomization in a number of notable studies, which have improved understanding of how obesity and lipoprotein levels affect our health. In a new large research project, we will use these methods to study how intestinal flora affects cardiovascular health. I have also been interested in how pets affect the health of their owners. My undergraduate studies and previous experience as a veterinarian have proven very useful in these interdisciplinary projects.
Arja Harila-Saari, pediatrics
Every year about 350 children are diagnosed with cancer in Sweden. Childhood cancer care in Sweden is world-class, and with modern treatment, 85 per cent of patients can be cured. Despite this, 15 per cent of children die from their cancer or treatment-related complications. In addition, the majority suffer serious side effects during and after cancer treatment. My research aims to optimise treatment so that more people can be cured with fewer side effects and to optimise treatment for those who suffer from complications. I mainly focus on acute leukaemia, the most common form of childhood cancer, and treatment complications in the brain and skeleton. My research consists of intervention studies and clinical, epidemiological and genetic studies of various risk factors and mechanisms causing relapse and complications.
Taija Mäkinen, lymphatic vessel biology
The lymphatic system exists alongside blood vessels and plays a crucial role in maintaining the body’s fluid balance. Recently it has been found that lymphatic vessels also affect many other processes in the body and have a significant effect on common diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases. At the same time, knowledge about the lymphatic system’s biology currently is limited. My research aims to understand the mechanisms by which functional lymphatic vessels form, both at the molecular level and in the living organism. The goal is to increase understanding of disease mechanisms involved when the lymphatic system is not functioning. The results can also improve understanding of what causes several major diseases and pave the way for new treatment methods.
Ulrika Winblad, health services research
Health services research includes studies of how organisational structures and processes, social factors, economic systems, medical technology and behaviours affect health and medical care accessibility, quality, costs and outcomes. My research in the discipline has mainly focused on how health care is organised and managed, particularly regarding the market reforms of recent decades, such as the introduction of competition and freedom of choice and an increased focus on measuring results in management. Above all, I have examined how market reforms have influenced important values such as accessibility, quality and equality.
My results show that health care and medical services are increasingly characterised by a mixture of public and private providers, new forms of collaboration and a change in the dividing lines among different organisational and administrative levels, such as the region and the municipality. This greatly affects the possibilities of managing health care and medical services. My research also contributes to the growing literature on the role of the professions in society, the mechanisms of democracy and the implementation of reforms for a successful outcome. In general, my research shows that healthcare management is difficult and that political decisions and reforms do not automatically translate into practical activities that benefit patients. This means that health care decision makers should pay close attention to how reforms are designed and policy instruments developed to achieve the intended effects in clinical and practical operations.
New professors at the Faculty of Pharmacy
Mikael Hedeland, analytical pharmaceutical chemistry
Analytical chemistry involves studies of methods for determining which substances and how many of them are present in a sample. My subject, analytical pharmaceutical chemistry, can be described as analytical chemistry specialising in pharmaceuticals.
My research is based mainly on the liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry analytical technique. I participate in several interdisciplinary projects with researchers in the pharmaceutical field and with other veterinary and human medicine disciplines. Refined chemical analysis methods are very important in these contexts, since scientific conclusions are in many cases based on analytical results that might concern pharmaceutical substances, endogenous substances or toxins. One specialisation is metabolomics, which includes the simultaneous determination of how a large number of endogenous substances are affected by things like illness or treatment. To ascertain the environmental impact of pharmaceuticals, I also run a project on analytical methods for environmental samples.
I also work with improved analytical methods within doping controls. This includes studying how the body metabolises, or transforms, pharmaceuticals and abused substances to gain knowledge about which substances new control methods should be directed towards.
New professors at the Faculty of Science and Technology
Erik Johansson, physical chemistry
The global warming resulting mainly from the burning of coal and oil is, and will remain, one of humanity’s greatest challenges. This underscores the importance of finding and using other fossil-free energy sources. Solar cells convert sunlight into electricity and have the potential to greatly contribute to a renewable energy system, thereby reducing emissions of gases that result in global warming.
I am conducting research on new types of solar cells and new uses for solar cells. In my research I explore new materials that can capture sunlight of different wavelengths and convert it into electricity. In particular, I am investigating materials based on metal-halide perovskites and materials based on nanometre-sized particles, known as quantum dots, which have different optical properties than larger crystals of the same material. Solar cells made of metal halide perovskites and quantum dots of various semiconductors have proven very promising and could in the future provide solar cells with higher efficiency than those currently available. Solar cells with the new materials can also be made flexible, semi-transparent and extremely lightweight.
I use different methods to understand how the new materials are constructed and what happens when the sunlight is absorbed and when electric charges produce an electric current and an electric voltage. I am also investigating how the new solar cells can be used on buildings or on vehicles, among other things.
Ken Mattsson, scientific computing
Our natural surroundings contain many interesting phenomena, which can often be described by advanced mathematical models, known as partial differential equations. Examples of phenomena that have particularly interested me are volcanoes, sea ice, solitons and black holes. Understanding these and similar phenomena requires an intricate interaction between accurate observations and reliable calculations of the underlying mathematical models. By combining observations and calculations, for example, one can make predictions of impending volcanic eruptions or determine the condition of the massive sea ice around the South Pole, which now is in danger of melting as the climate warms.
Solving the underlying mathematical models requires reliable and efficient numerical methods. The numerical method needs to provide an accurate solution using the limited computer systems that are normally available. This is at the heart of my own research. The numerical method I have chosen to specialise in is called the finite difference method. This has the potential to be the most effective numerical method for the phenomena I have chosen to focus on, provided the method can be made stable. This is one of the biggest challenges, and I have chosen to devote most of my ongoing research work to it.
Martin Häggblad Sahlberg, materials chemistry specialising in high-temperature synthesis
Materials are perhaps the most important cornerstone in the evolution of civilization, and it is no coincidence that several eras are named after the materials that humans could master at that time. New materials are an essential part of my research, but they also play a key role in medical implants, information technology and so on. I conduct research on metallic materials for applications in energy storage and energy transfer. For example, they can be applied in generators for wind turbines or for storing hydrogen in fuel cell applications.
In my research I work on synthesising and investigating new materials. The analytical methods I use include neutron scattering, which can provide information on how these materials are constructed and how they are affected during use. Neutron scattering has several unique properties. Among other things, it enables us to understand the atomic and the magnetic crystal structure of the materials studied. These possibilities will be further strengthened when the European Spallation Source (ESS) now under construction in Lund opens in 2025.
ESS will become the world’s most powerful neutron source, enabling ground-breaking advances in materials research. In my research I work on educating the next generation of Swedish researchers about these possibilities and also on developing new instruments that will be used at ESS for new types of measurements under realistic conditions when actually using the material.
Robin Strand, computer-assisted image analysis
Collecting and sharing digital images has become a natural part of our everyday lives. The tsunami of digital image data available today has paved the way for a new type of image analysis that can efficiently analyse large amounts of image data. Computer-assisted image analysis is a field of research that is changing quickly, and methods based on finding patterns in large amounts of data today outperform humans in the majority of limited and well-defined image analysis tasks.
Hospitals are rapidly collecting more and more high-resolution image data with imaging equipment in continuous development. This unprecedented increase in image data requires computer-assisted analysis. My research develops image analysis methods that complement the human expertise of radiologists. Among other things, these methods can be used to detect previously unknown associations among image data and other types of medical data and to quantify pathologies for follow-up therapy.
Philippe Wernet, photon science specialising in molecular and condensed matter physics
My research is based on the question of how sunlight can supply the earth with energy. Sunlight can be converted in various ways into numerous types of useful energy, including photovoltaics, which transforms light into electricity. I have enhanced my research on the processes that convert sunlight into chemical energy. Photosynthesis is an example from nature of how sunlight along with water and carbon dioxide can be converted into oxygen and energy-rich carbohydrates. When processes using visible light to create new molecules in nature and in industry are examined in close-ups at the atomic level, we often find that metal atoms are involved. The metal atoms often are linked to molecules in strange and unusual ways. I want to understand these compositions of metal atoms and molecules and learn how to form new ways of creating molecules. To do this, I develop and use new methods that enable sequential imaging of bonds on atomically relevant scales: Ångström and femtoseconds. Understanding these unusual configurations can give rise to new designs of catalytic materials and create the potential for new ideas regarding efficient conversion of photon energy to chemical energy.
Joakim Widén, construction engineering
Construction engineering is a broad research domain that deals with how we design, construct and maintain our buildings, facilities and infrastructure in an economical, resource-efficient and sustainable way. This area includes everything from building components and installations to entire cities and their infrastructure systems.
Architecture is an ancient art that has been gradually developed and refined. Today there is a shift towards increased use and development of digital tools. Both research and industry use mathematical modelling, computer simulation and sensor technology to a greater extent to design buildings and better monitor their performance.
In my research I have used digital models to study how buildings and cities can be more energy efficient and use renewable energy to a greater extent than today. In particular, I have developed simulation models to study and evaluate the energy performance of entire cities and districts, taking into account complex parameters such as solar radiation variations and mobility and activity patterns of urban residents.
Through continued research and development in this area, we can better plan and develop buildings and their technical systems based on various future scenarios and objectives.
Zhen Zhang, solid state electronics specialising in component and semiconductor technology
Silicon-based integrated circuit technology is the foundation of the modern information society. The dramatic evolution of silicon chip technology over the past half century has been mainly driven by the rapid reduction in component size to achieve faster components and higher integration density. Because miniaturisation will soon reach the basic physical limit of a functional component, new technologies are needed, providing the impetus for technological innovations and new ideas that utilise established nanofabrication and component technology.
Our research involves developing advanced nanometre-sized silicon components that are suitable for use in new types of sensors. The large surface-to-volume ratio of the nanocomponents gives rise to an unprecedented sensitivity to changes in charge, power, light and mass. In addition, the nanocomponents themselves can be used as smart sensors instead of only as components in the supporting electronics in traditional sensing equipment. This is of great importance for a wide range of applications, from the Internet-of-Things to precision medicine. As a result, we will develop advanced processes for the production of new types of nanocomponents, build a deep understanding of component-analysis interactions that are important for signal generation and noise reduction, and design new test procedures for the characterisation of new sensors. The interdisciplinary nature of our research requires collaboration with researchers in several fields, from both academia and industry and at both national and international levels.
New professors at the Faculty of Social Sciences
Anna Bengtson, business studies
My research is founded on a long tradition of Uppsala-based business studies research in industrial marketing. Research on companies' long-term business relations, and the networks of relationships that they create, has been conducted at the department since the 1960s. In my studies, I use these insights as a basis for studying different aspects of market dynamics. My research focuses on processen nature and addresses questions such as: Why are markets so slow moving despite the fact that legislation can change the conditions overnight? How do other actors in the network, such as customers and suppliers, behave when a company goes bankrupt? How do technological innovations affect old and well-established market structures?
A distinct track in my research, which captures the market dynamics in a tangible way, is about planning and implementing large projects. In a previous study we asked why companies often return to similar constellations from one project to another. In two ongoing studies, we analyse the interaction between actors involved in major infrastructure projects. In one study, the question concerns how stability interacts with change in project goal creation, while in the second study we try to gain a better understanding of how value is co-created by various actors, such as companies, political entities and research bodies.
Karin Brocki, psychology
The ability to self-regulate through conscious control of thoughts, feelings and actions has proven to be one of the most crucial human factors for academic success, careers, health and prosperity in life. On the other hand, lack of self-regulation is strongly associated with commonly occurring mental illness, especially attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Despite these empirically established relationships, science currently knows little about the factors that shape development of these significant individual differences in self-regulatory ability. In developmental psychological research, we have a unique opportunity to change this knowledge deficiency. Through longitudinal studies, in which individuals are followed from infancy through important periods of development, I try in my research to identify important factors, both environmental and constitutional, influencing the development of self-regulation and its relation to the onset of subsequent behavioural problems. Through my research I hope to generate new knowledge of theoretical and clinical relevance about risk and protective factors in the development of self-regulation.
Owen Eriksson, computer and systems science specialising in the social sciences
Digitisation refers to the sweeping social transformation taking place through the increasing use of digital services. These services provided by digital infrastructures are changing important sectors of society, such as transport, social insurance and finance. The development of digital infrastructure is crucial for the development of society from both a national and an international perspective. Digitisation aims to automate and streamline processes and make it possible to offer innovative services, regardless of time and place. My research involves developing digital infrastructures and using digital services. I study the transition to digital processes that enable transactions such as digital money, legal registration, transport and travel documents, pharmaceutical prescriptions and grant decisions. These institutional data representing rights and obligations are symbolic in nature, but in practice they have a definite function and control society and our everyday lives.
Terje Falck-Ytter, psychology
About one per cent of the population has autism, a pervasive disability whose symptoms appear during childhood. Autism is defined by limitations in social interaction and communication combined with repetitive behaviours and narrow interests. I believe that an important key to moving forward in research on autism is to focus on early development, even before manifestation of the symptoms. In my research I study infants with an increased likelihood of having autism to clarify what physiological and psychological processes foreshadow later diagnosis. By studying the brain’s development and the behaviour of children in detail, we obtain a clearer picture of the course of development associated with autism, which we hope will lead to better support and new treatment methods in the future.
Darek Haftor, information systems
The use of computers, mobile phones, the internet and other forms of digital technology affects people’s lives, the functioning of organisations and the development of societies. My initial research focused on understanding the procedures shaping the way technology functions. I developed work methods aimed at creating conditions under which digital technology would offer users the right kind of functionality.
My current research seeks to understand the economic results that the use of digital technology can engender. The question is: under what circumstances does the use of digital technology activate specific business mechanisms in a way that creates economic value? This knowledge can guide Swedish companies and public organisations to increased prosperity through better health care, for example, or by increasing the competitiveness of industry.
Emily Holmes, psychology
I focus on how we think and store memories as images (mental imagery). By understanding how mental images work, how can we better treat mental illness? Mental images produce stronger emotional experiences than thinking in words. Traditional psychological treatments mainly use verbal methods. My research shows the importance of mental images on emotions and in cases of mental illness. Intrusive remembered images of trauma cause both discomfort and impaired functioning, such as in post-traumatic stress syndrome. My research team is developing interventions that reduce the incidence of these memories. Our research has also provided new insights and methods regarding depression and bipolar disorder. We have coined the term Mental Health Science as an element in changing and developing basic research and clinical application.
Lance McCracken, psychology
The physical health problems that currently affect the highest number of people, that cause the most suffering and that cost the most are what we call “chronic” conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and respiratory diseases. These chronic conditions often have a significant impact on life. Among those that have the greatest impact are the conditions that give rise to symptoms that are difficult to control and cause anxiety, such as pain.
States of chronic pain are of interest because they are complex and include psychosocial factors. Their actual impact depends largely on how they affect what we think, what we feel and, in particular, what we do. They change how we live our daily lives. They make us take a step back from things we want to do, from those we want to do things with, and they change the way we do things, even who we want to be.
As a psychologist, I study how health problems are not only problems in the body, but also problems that affect, and are affected by, how we confront them. The research I do aims to identify psychosocial processes that give rise to increased suffering and then benefit from knowledge gained in creating psychological treatment that can enhance health and quality of life, especially in individuals with chronic health problems.
Sofia Näsström, political science
I conduct research on basic ideas concerning politics. As a political theorist, I have focused on how concepts such as the state, people and representation arise, are used and are developed. A recurring theme is democracy. Can a democracy disintegrate? What does it need to be able to reproduce and renew itself? Today we see how central democratic institutions are being challenged by populists and elites and how a new faith in authority has taken root in many countries. This gives us reasons to return to the basic issues of democracy. One issue I have dealt with concerns how to determine who belongs to the “people” in a representative government. Can this be decided in a democratic way? Another issue concerns the increased individualisation of responsibility in welfare. Is this compatible with the idea of political equality? In my latest project I am developing a theoretical framework to evaluate the crisis of democracy. Montesquieu’s classic A Commentary on the Spirit of the Laws shows that different political forms of government require a certain spirit among the population to survive. A republic requires love of country, a monarchy requires striving for fame and distinction and despotism requires fear. The question I ask in my research is what societal spirit modern democracy needs. The question is important because democracy is not created through laws and free elections alone. It is also created on a more everyday basis through education, work and citizenship.