The University

New professors 2017

Some 24 new professors will be installed at Uppsala University on 17 November 2017 in the grand inauguration ceremony. Here they present their research.

Research presentations

Contents: 

Rose-Marie Amini, Hematopathology 

Today, there are nearly one hundred different sub-groups of malignant lymphoma and leukaemia. They are classified in different categories depending, among other things, on the stage of development at which the cell deviated and what genetic changes were the driving factors. Making a specific lymphoma or leukaemia diagnosis now requires extensive and careful examinations. My research in hematopathology aims to further characterise these diseases. The goal is to understand which different processes can go wrong and where it went wrong when the normal lymphocyte became a tumour cell. I study various factors and markers that are of significance to the diagnostics and prognosis of the disease, which may ultimately mean that different kinds of treatment will be administered depending on the type of tumour. Furthermore, I investigate what roles the other cells in the immune system play in the inception of lymphoma in immediate proximity to lymphoma cells in the micro environment and how the lymphoma disease is reflected in the blood of those affected.

Örjan Carlborg, Calculation-based genomics

I look for genes in the gene pool that cause individuals in a species to differ. In each cell of the body, there is a complete set of our genetic materials – our genome. It is divided into a number of chromosomes – DNA molecules – that contain around 25,000 genes. The individuals within a species often differ at millions of points in the genome. There are therefore almost infinite ways that they can together influence such aspects as the risk of a certain individual becoming sick. Large-scale experiments are needed for mapping the genes’ contributions to various characteristics and the statistical analyses are demanding. I develop new statistical methods to understand how genetic differences together contribute to various characteristics. This work means that we can better use the vast amounts of genetic data gathered today and that we in the future will be able to obtain genetic information in better ways in medicine.

Jens Johansson, Practical philosophy

My primary research interests concern our – mankind’s – status as mortal creature, in both ethical and metaphysical respects. A natural thought is that death is among the worst things that can happen to a person, especially if it strikes a happy and somewhat young individual. At the same time, it is surprisingly difficult to defend this thought – and even more difficult to explain why it is true if indeed it is. In contrast to other tragedies, my death for example does not mean that I am worse off at some point in time than I otherwise would have been: “When we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not” as the philosopher of antiquity Epikuros expressed it. My death also exhibits striking similarities to the apparently harmless period of non-existence that preceded my birth. An important task when it comes to addressing these and related problems is to determine what it means in purely general terms that something harms or is bad for an individual, a question I have been spending an increasing amount of time on in recent years. I have also been interested in personal identity, among other things, especially the so-called “animalistic” thesis that we people are animals – a seemingly trivial and hardly mentionable perception, which upon closer inspection proves to conflict with some of the most fundamental ideas we have about ourselves.

Lynn Kamerlin, Biology, especially structural biology

Enzymes are “nature’s catalysts”. They increase the speed of chemical reactions that are necessary for living systems from taking billions of years to being done in a fraction of a second. Enzymes have been used biotechnically for thousands of years, and are used more and more today. Their incredible catalytic ability and re-usability also make them extremely attractive as catalysts for industrial processes for chemical synthesis and production of new biofuels. In the body, the enzyme function is regulated in minute detail, and mistakes in this complex order cause many diseases. In my research, I have used various calculation methods to better understand how enzymes work through theoretical calculations; how their molecular structure dictates their biological function, and how this has developed over time. This also includes how they can be manipulated to catalyse entirely new reactions, even such reactions that never previously occurred naturally. I have also developed new methods for predicting how enzymes can be developed using computer predictions. These methods have also made extensive models possible as to how ancient enzymes learned new functions. Altogether, this will be of major importance to our understanding of the function of enzymes both on a biological level and for the development of new biocatalysts.

László Károly, Turkic languages

Turkic languages make up their own language family that is spoken across widespread areas from the Balkan Peninsula through Central Asia all the way to north-eastern Siberia. There are around 20 Turkic languages with a standardised alphabet and a significant literary tradition, of which Turkish, Tatar, Kazak, Uyghur, Khakas, Chuvash and Yakut are some examples. In my research, I am mainly involved in philological and linguistic studies of both older and more modern Turkic languages, which include Old Turkic and Middle Turkic written languages. Turkic nomadic peoples on the vast Eurasian steppe first developed their own system of writing as early as 700 A.D. Due to its similarity with the Scandinavian rune alphabet, the letters often go under the name of “runes” in the scientific literature. This area is an important part of my research and I have developed a database (available online at www.runiform.lingfil.uu.se) which is intended to document all Turkic runic inscriptions discovered to date. A special group of these inscriptions belongs in Eastern Europe and has not yet been adequately interpreted. Using computer linguistic methods, I am studying the possibilities of interpreting this group of runic inscriptions and my hope is that we will gain new knowledge not only about linguistic phenomena, but also about history, culture and religion among the peoples who spoke these languages. I am also especially interested in medical history among Turkic peoples, especially medical writings that originate from Central Asia and arose under the influence of the Greco-Muslim medical sciences.  

Andrei Malinovschi, Clinical physiology

Two of the most common chronic diseases in Sweden are asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Despite new treatments and higher treatment costs, disease control is only achieved in some of the patients with these diseases. The early and accurate identification of patients who run the risk of deteriorating – and adequately treating them – can save both suffering and money. I previously studied how different kinds of lung function effects, such as diffusion disruptions in COPD patients or the effect on small airways in asthma, can provide information about prognosis and disease severity. To be able to provide adequate treatment, one must also understand what inflammation mechanisms are involved. In my research, I have studied how a simple marker in exhaled air, exhaled nitric oxide, can be used to predict responses to asthma treatment. I have shown that the information from this marker can advantageously be combined with another simple marker, the amount of a certain kind of blood cells (eosinophil granulocytes), to study the connection with the burden of disease in patients with asthma.
More in-depth knowledge in these areas can help us understand disease mechanisms better and thereby individualise follow-up and treatment of patients with lung diseases. The development and evaluation of simple methods for characterising lung function effects, and better understanding of what blood tests and exhalation tests should be used in patient follow-up, are two important steps on the way there.

Miguel A. Martínez, Sociology, especially housing and urban sociology

Urban sociology is the main discipline I have mostly focused on in my academic career. I have taught and conducted empirical research on such topics as participatory processes in urban planning, housing policy, socio-spatial segregation, use of public spaces and local governance. The origin of these phenomena in cities in Spain, Portugal and Colombia initially caught my attention. After this, I continued to explore other American, European and Asian contexts. Over the years, I have specialised in studies of urban movements, meaning when the citizens rally their forces as a response to specific complaints, organise themselves and protest in various ways to achieve their goals. They can use institutional channels, but the authorities do not always react in a satisfactory way. Many activists choose direct actions instead. Some movements also choose to work extra-institutionally from the very beginning, to challenge the dominating status quo and the cultural values, power structures and economic inequalities that are closely interwoven with urban life. Urban gardening, protests against gentrification and social displacement are examples of such urban movements, often with a progressive focus. My research focus is about the assessment of the movements’ impact on the cities’ formation, mainly in terms of democratic governance and social justice. I investigate the social, political and spatial aspects of the on-going conflicts, their development over time and the significant contexts that influence them. A large part of my research is about squatter movements, how they interact with authorities, what cultural practices they develop, and how they differ in different cities.

Helene Martinsson-Wallin, Archaeology

Origin, identity and how people have populated the world are fundamental issues that concern all of mankind. Archaeological remains are time documents that tell a multitude of stories about how people lived and worked in ages past, but also reflect modern values about issues of origin and identity. The purpose of my research is to understand people’s past and present relationships with each other, the growth of various cultures and their relationships to their surroundings through material remains. My research focuses on analysing and interpreting archaeological monumental remains on various islands in the Pacific Ocean, mainly Samoa and Rapa Nui (Easter Island), but also islands in the Baltic Sea region. I have shown that the use and re-use of the monuments are often dynamic and closely related to the contact points, relationships and networks created and re-created within and outside the own social sphere. My research on the monuments’ biography also shows that certain themes and values linked to ritual practices can live on for a long time in a society.

Åsa Melhus, Clinical bacteriology

Our Earth is believed to have existed for 4.6 billion years. After less than one billion years, the first life arose in the form of bacteria-like cells. Bacteria have since succeeded in spreading around the entire world, even in the most extreme environments, and adapted to a number of toxic substances like few other organisms. In the 20th century, people began using antibiotics to fight bacterial infections. An adaptation occurred here as well, and at present, there is no commercially available antibiotic that bacteria have not developed a resistance to. In my research, I have studied how resistant bacteria are spread in healthcare and in society, and what methods can be used to determine that an outbreak exists. I have also studied how various chemical substances with an antibacterial effect may possibly affect the resistance situation and constitute a contributing factor in the spread of genes that code for antibiotic resistance. Multiresistant bacteria have today become one of the greatest threats to our health. In Europe alone, around 25,000 people die every year from infections caused by multiresistant bacteria. More in-depth knowledge in the area is needed to find new forms of treatment and prevent the spread of infection and a return to the situation that existed before we had access to antibiotics.

Johannes Messinger, Molecular biomimetics

Photosynthesis takes place in every flower and tree, but also in algae and cyanobacteria in lakes and seas. By capturing and converting solar energy, these organisms have the fantastic ability to form complex molecules from just water and the carbon dioxide in the air. My research is biophysical and focuses on the light-driven reaction, where water is oxidised into oxygen gas, protons and electrons. Molecular understanding of this process makes it easier for us to develop catalysts for effective production of solar fuels, such as hydrogen gas. The goal is for solar fuels to replace, on a large scale, fossil fuels, which are the largest cause of global warming.

Don Mitchell, Human Geography

I have four main areas in my research: (1) the political-economic processes and the social struggle that contributes to the geographic landscape and instils them with social and political significance; (2) the creation, use and governance of urban public spaces; (3) the development of cultural theory in human geography; and (4) the history of human geographic knowledge. Within the first area of research, I have investigated the long history of struggle among migrant workers, agricultural stakeholders and the agents of the government in the development of California’s “agribusiness landscape”. In the second area, I have studied the handling of the homeless in the public space, the use of public spaces for political expression and protest, and the practices and strategies used by the police authorities for monitoring and governing public spaces in liberal democracies. In the third area, my main focus has been the relationship between political economy and cultural customs in and across geographic spaces. In the fourth area, I have – often together with my wife, environmental researcher Susan Millar – studied how geographic knowledge has been produced through spectacular plans for rapid environmental transformations, such as the use of nuclear weapons to, through so-called geoengineering, instantaneously create ports, canals and the like. What links all four of these areas together is a lasting desire to understand the historical-geographical conditions that prevent – or possibly can realise – a more just world.

Sven Oskarsson, Political science

Studying how we people function as political creatures is of central importance in political science. Why are some people more politically involved and interested than others? What explanations exist for people having different political and ideological opinions? These questions are fundamental for several reasons. First, politics and political action are something that in a deeper sense characterises us as people. This means that an understanding of how we think and act in political contexts is an important part of our self-understanding. Second, it is often asserted that the core of politics, and thereby also the core of the study of politics and political behaviours, is power and power relationships. From this perspective, it is of course important to understand what explains differences in political opinions between people or why some citizens are more politically active than others. A better understanding of the grounds of how we think and act in the political sphere is a prerequisite for creating a more equal society. In light of this, in my research, I have concentrated on improving the knowledge of how people’s political opinions are formed in the interaction between heredity and environment. In a number of studies, together with colleagues, I have shown that the tendency to vote in and stand for election, what party one votes for, what political opinions one has, the extent to which one is tolerant of other people and the confidence one has in both political institutions and one’s fellow human beings are characteristics that are partially genetically determined.

Josef Pallas, Business administration, especially organisation

How we as individuals and collectives understand and relate to our surroundings is in many ways conveyed through various media – both traditional media (such as TV and radio) and new media (such as various digital platforms and networks). Our values, notions and consequently also our actions are affected by how we perceive what these media report about and the manner in which this reporting takes place. We call the media’s significance and influence on individuals, organisations and the whole society medialisation. In my research, I seek to describe and understand how ideas about the media’s significance and work affect organisations in various parts of our society – mainly in the public sector. In this context, I focus on changes and consequences that medialisation entails for governance, organisation and implementation of welfare services. What happens, for example, at our authorities and universities when they begin to prioritise issues around visibility, brand building or the desire to influence public opinion? And what consequences do these changes have for the quality and scope of our administration and education?

Christian Rohner, Computer engineering

Wireless communication is about the transmission of information between two or more units without using electric wires. The freedom from wires makes the units more mobile and allows more things to be able to be connected with each other. In the future, every person in the Western World will probably be surrounded by several hundred wireless units that he or she interacts with daily. I conduct research on information distribution, security and energy efficiency of wireless networks, where individuals and machines communicate with a large number of units in both time and space. The goal is for individuals and organisations to be able to rely on the security of their units, that correct and protected information reaches the right recipients on time, without unwieldy logins. At the same time, energy-efficiency shall be so efficient that a battery does not need to be replaced in the unit’s lifetime.

Tobias Sjöblom, Tumour genetics

One third of all Swedes are struck by cancer sometime in life. A common factor for cancer diseases is that they are primarily caused by acquired genetic damage that activates or disables important systems that control the growth of our cells. Today, this genetic damage is the target of targeted and immune-system-activating cancer treatments that are used in cancer care.
In my research, I have mapped mutations that cause colon cancer and breast cancer. By using cell model systems, I have studied the mechanisms for how mutations control the tumour’s growth and spread in the body. Based on the disease-causing mutations, I develop new methods for diagnostics and pharmaceutical treatment of cancer. An especially important future area of application for this knowledge is early discovery of cancer. I have therefore driven the build-up of large sample collections from cancer patients to enable the leap from research results to clinically usable tools.

Jan Sundberg, Electricity, especially ecological aspects

Renewable energy is a solution for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and meeting a greater global need for energy. Our use of “older” renewable energy sources, such as biofuels and hydroelectric power, has however shown that there are negative side-effects and the work of mitigating these is still under way. But even the “new” renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and wave power, already have or will lead to environmental burdens once they become increasingly large scale. The knowledge of these effects, how and if they can be resolved, is very limited, however. In my research, through an interdisciplinary approach, I have worked with the implementation of various renewable energy sources in society, mainly from a nature conservation and ecologically sustainable perspective. The goal has been to solve the problems that arise in permit processes. For example, what effects do wind and wave power have on the surrounding natural environment, which animals are affected and in what way, how is the local society affected and – not least – how are negative effects minimised?

Isak Svensson, Peace and conflict research

Conflicts within countries are the most common form of armed conflicts in the world. In my research, I focus on conflict resolution and non-violence in intrastate conflicts. Several of my studies are about the efforts of mediators in armed conflicts and what makes them successful. I have taken a special interest in whether it is partial or impartial mediators who are most effective in negotiating peace treaties. Another area of research is what role religion plays in armed conflicts. In my research, I have studied how religious issues can impede conflict resolution and how religiously defined conflicts can nonetheless be resolved. In addition, I have conducted research on non-violent uprisings and why some are successful while others fail. Through empirical research, I want to contribute to greater knowledge and understanding of how conflicts can be handled without violence.

Hedvig Söderlund, Psychology with a focus on human memory

When people speak about memory in everyday life, most think about the memory of personal events, known as episodic memory. Thanks to this kind of memory, we know what we have experienced in life, and who we are. To be able to remember such complex things as personal events, many parts of the brain are involved, but a brain structure that is central is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a hippopotamus-shaped structure in the middle of the brain, which among other things has the task of linking the parts that a memory may be comprised of (such as sensory impressions, smells and emotions), and keeping track of where in the brain they are stored. The hippocampus also plays an important role in so-called spatial memory, a kind of memory that is expressed in a sense of direction. Spatial memory is also a part of episodic memory as we often remember where a particular event took place.  In general, my research aims to understand how memory works and is organised in the brain and hippocampus. One theme is how episodic and spatial memory are organised in the hippocampus. I investigate, for example, if there is a difference between front and back, left and right, and other sub-regions of the hippocampus in terms of their role in episodic and spatial memory. Another theme is how episodic and/or spatial memory and the hippocampus and rest of the brain are affected by various factors, such as ageing, alcohol, depression and various genes, including APOE, which has ties to Alzheimer’s disease. A third theme is possible gender differences in episodic and spatial memory, and how they are expressed in the hippocampus and the rest of the brain.

Claes Wadelius, Medical genetics

The risk of being struck by common diseases is affected by the gene variants we happened to inherit and the environment we live in and make for ourselves. The genetic risk variants usually sit in control elements that like a dimmer increase or decrease the activity of genes. We have developed methods to, on a large scale, find such elements and apply this to metabolic diseases, primarily in the liver. We also study the effects it has in tissue samples through large-scale analyses of metabolism and gene activity. The goal is to understand the details of the disease processes to know how we can best influence the disease risk, such as with diet or newly developed targeted pharmaceuticals. The hope is to reduce the consequences of disrupted lipids and diabetes. 

Mia Wadelius, Clinical pharmacogenetics

We humans all react differently to medication and some experience side-effects. How we react is affected by heredity and environment, but in most cases there is no good way to predict who will be struck by severe side-effects. Within clinical pharmacogenetics, we study if hereditary factors affect the risk of pharmaceutical side-effects. We gather people who have been struck in a national biobank, Swedegene. We investigate if genes in these people differ from genes in control persons who can handle treatment. With more in-depth knowledge of pharmaceutical side-effects, we can explain mechanisms and develop gene tests for optimised treatment. The goal is that these tests will be introduced into healthcare on a large scale so that severe, life-threatening side-effects can be avoided.

Linda Wedlin, Business administration, especially organisation

Universities have existed for several hundreds of years. As organisations, they are both special and similar to other organisations. They organise academic activities, which are often considered to follow their own principles and practices. At the same time, they are largely subject to the same requirements and expectations as other organisations, both public and private, to be effective and manageable. In the current public debate about universities, there are also high expectations of what the universities should deliver in the form of new knowledge, innovations and solutions to large and current social issues. In my research, I try to understand how universities are organised and governed, and how the activities are affected by external attempts at governance and the requirements set on the universities through, for example, government reforms, financing systems, evaluations and audits, and ranking systems. I have devoted particular attention to understanding how governance interacts with status and status competition in the sciences, and what significance this has for academic activities and organisation.

Sanna Wolk, Civil law

I am a professor of civil law with a special focus on intellectual property rights at the Department of Law at Uppsala University. I am more specifically specialised in copyright law. I am currently conducting research in copyright agreements for the digital European market. I previously studied the copyright and patent law protection of computer programs. In my research, I have also touched on copyright aspects in e-learning and education in digital environments. I actively work in various intellectual property law associations and, among other things, am the President of AIPPI Sweden within the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (AIPPI) and the Vice Chair of AIPPI’s international copyright committee. I am also the Chair of the Swedish Advertising Ombudsman’s academic advisory board, a board member in the Swedish Anti-Counterfeiting Group (SACG) and am also a member of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) reference groups in intellectual property law, market law and arbitration. I am also appointed by the European Commission as an expert in copyright law and a member of the European Commission’s reference group IP in the Digital World within the Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights at EUIPO.  In 2012, I founded the Institute of Intellectual Property, Marketing and Competition Law (IMK) at the Department of Law at Uppsala University. IMK’s mission is to promote academic study of intellectual property rights, marketing law and competition law. This takes place, among other things, through research, seminars and conferences, university education and documentation and publication activities. Through IMK’s activities, there is a platform for researchers, practitioners and judges, among others, to discuss current issues. This should benefit academic creativity and make the research more relevant to society. 

Agneta Yngve, Dietary science, especially mealtime research

Dietary science is a very broad and complicated field of research that combines classical science nutrition research with social science aspects and public health aspects. My own research has largely been about strengthening the evidence base by developing methods to measure eating habits, lifestyle and health. I have had the benefit of being involved in the development of recommendations, dietary advice and policy at an international and national level. What I at the moment have the opportunity to develop is a multidisciplinary approach in terms of mealtime socialisation. UNESCO’s description of Mediterranean food includes references to the positive significance of mealtime socialisation and this is also the case in a few countries’ dietary recommendations. There is some research that indicates the significance of the common mealtime from a health perspective and I hope to be able to further develop this knowledge and in my role as a university professor stimulate innovative studies in the area.

Ann Öhrberg, Literary studies

What did women authors write in times past? What possibilities did people have in the 18th century to express their own faiths? How did the modern concept of publicity arise? These are some of the questions I have worked with. In my research, I have mainly investigated literature from a rhetoric and gender perspective. It has often concerned various forms of texts from the 18th century that have been overlooked in literary history research: poems written for special occasions (like weddings and funerals), political and religious texts. By mapping women authors in the 18th century and the literature of the religious revival and its members, I have shown that even if these authors and this literature are forgotten today, they played a major role in their contemporary period. In recent years, I have studied the evolution of modern publicity in the 18th century, as well as how publicity works today, by for example studying the communication and the media that characterised early publicity, or how authors with mental functional variations write about their experiences today. A common denominator for my studies is that they touch on issues of power and literature where the literature is put in social, cultural and historical contexts.