Low Temperature Laboratory
Helsinki University of Technology
by Fernando Lopes da Silva, May 2004
This evaluation corresponds to the period 2002 - 2004 and it is the second mid-term evaluation since the meeting of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) in 2000, the first mid-term evaluation having taken place in 2002.
The main new acquisition of the BRU in this evaluation period is the 3-Tesla MRl facility that was already recommended by the SAB in 1997, was ordered in 1999 and was finally installed at the beginning of 2002. This facility was placed in the Advanced Magnetic Imaging (AMI) Centre located in the Department of Electrical Engineering and is run by a consortium headed by BRU with Riitta Hari as the first Director. In its current Activity Report the BRU reports that it uses about 45 % of the MRI facility. 1 share, however, the concern of the BRU that the increase of research in functional MRI (fMRI) has taken place at the cost of the MEG research potential. In my opinion this should be corrected, since the fMRI new facility should be considered an important extension of the brain research potential of the BRU without endangering its leading position in the MEG research field.
The BRU has an excellent core of researchers who fulfil a leading role in the world community of brain research, mainly in the MEG field and, more general, in the field of Cognitive Neurosciences. Nevertheless I agree with the statement in the Activity Report that the BRU suffers from a lack of resident senior scientists. This is especially evident after the acquisition of the AMI fMRl facility. In addition the well-known expert in MEG methodology Matti Hämäläinen left the group for a prestigious position at Harvard University. In this way the important handicap of the BRU concerning resident senior scientists became even more difficult to ignore. In my opinion the Academy should consider ways of redressing this situation with high priority, in order to reinforce the meagre resident senior staff, notwithstanding the excellent quality of the present senior scientists. In this context a useful suggestion made in the Activity Report is to create positions of visiting professorships for periods of 3 years. 1 suggest that this could possibly be a joint venture of the Helsinki Technical University (HUT) and the Academy, that would certainly yield valuable scientific dividends in a relatively short time.
Research groups such as BRU, that are characterised by having a multi- and interdisciplinary character, have often difficulty in being fully recognised by funding institutions that are traditionally organised along rather rigid compartments that correspond to c1assic research fields. This is also the cage of the Academy of Finland. In my experience in the Netherlands a similar situation existed but it has evolved in recent years to allow the growing flexibility of novel lines of research. For example two years ago an inter-/ multidisciplinary program on Cognition was created in order to stimulate this emergent new field of research, that cuts across the c1assic Research Councils. In my opinion the Academy should realize that the research of BRU needs to have a special position that runs horizontally across the 4 Research Councils, since the BRU involves activities covered by a1l 4 Councils: Biosciences, Culture and Society (Psychology), Natural Sciences and Engineering and Health.
The new AMI Centre carries a heavy financial responsibility since the operational costs involved are substantial. The estimate of a cost of 350 euro/hour is in line with what is used in similar facilities in other countries, although about 25% higher than in our facility in Amsterdam. The problem, however, is that most research groups do not have sufficient funds to cover such expenses. Therefore it is necessary that the supporting organizations, such as the HUT and/or the Academy cover port of these running costs through the introduction of a <Measuring Fund>, the support of which may be requested by the researchers of the approved projects.
In my previous report I gave a positive reply to the question posed above. I am glad to acknowledge that the performance of the BRU since 2002 only reinforces this conclusion. Several objective arguments support this statement:
(i) The publication list of BRU consists of a most valuable and large series of papers published in Journals with a high impact. The largest number of papers have appeared in NeuroImage (IF ~6, 16 papers), while papers in Journals with even higher Impact factors (IF) have also appeared, such as Neuron (2), PNAS (2), Current Opinion Neurobiology (1), J. Neuroscience (2), Annals Neurology (2), Current Biology (1), Brain (3), J. Cognitive Neuroscience (5), Cerebral Cortex (1). Furthermore I am happy to note that the number of papers published in Journals with high impact is much larger than that published in Journals with relatively low impact.
(ii) An analysis of the citation scores of the senior scientists, particularly Riitta Hari (RH), Riitta Salmelin (RS), Nina Forss (NF), shows strong past profiles, that are much higher than the average (mean Impact factor ~6, sd ~3.5) within the scientific field characterised by the 18 Journals where they have been publishing. This can be objectively illustrated by examining the citation scores (number of citations per paper per year) of the 5 most cited papers of these 3 scientists (data taken from the ISI Web of Science):
RH - 61.3, 19.8, 18, 12.1, 8; RS - 18, 18, 15, 13, 10; NF - 14, 12, 11, 9, 6.
(iii) The international recognition for Riitta Hari has reached a remarkable level of excellence, since she was one of the recipients of the most prestigious Louis-Jeantet Prize of Medicine in 2003, was elected foreign associate of the National Academy of the USA in 2004, was awarded a honorary Doctor's degree of the University of Lisbon in 2003, and was elected the Physiologist of the Year by the Society of Physiology of Finland in 2003. Also Riitta Salmelin was distinguished by being awarded the Philips Nordic Prize for her work on dyslexia. In addition these senior scientists have given an impressive large number of prestigious lectures around the world.
In the face of the impressive list of honours received by Riitta Hari I consider strange that her appointment as Academy Professor was discontinued. I strongly support that this decision of the Academy should be revised, and consider that she is eligible for a long-term appointment as Academy Professor.
As stated in the previous report there are strong co-operations between the different researchers at various levels. I was very positively impressed by the fact that the BRU has extended its range of methodologies to include dynamical imaging of coherent sources of brain activity, temporal processing of brain signals, the merging of MEG and fMRI data and some clinical applications. In addition to those indicated previously, there are new forms of collaboration between the MEG and the AMI laboratories. This has led already to a number of interesting joint studies such as those aiming at finding the cortical routes of action and object naming, the characterization of human visual areas, the representation of pain in the brain and the functional organization of language systems. In the presentation of the results, and probably because the BRU and AMI are separate units, the description of these joint projects is spread over both reports in a way that does not give sufficient evidence to the intimate links between the MEG and fMRI studies. In this respect the site-visit gave, fortunately, a more comprehensive view of what is going on, than the written report. In a future report of activities it would be advisable to order the research projects by themes, regardless of which technique is used.
The BRU has bright perspectives given the excellent research being carried out. However, the BRU has been living on the edge of financial equilibrium. The suspension of the position of Riitta Hari as Academic Professor represents a substantial decrease of income for the BRU. As stated above this decision was unfortunate and difficult to understand in view of the widespread international recognition of the excellence of the scientific work of Riitta Hari and her collaborators.
The situation of the AMI should be carefully evaluated by all the partners involved. I suggest that HUT, The Academy and the other partners should make a long-term business plan for running AMI in a stable way. It would be most appropriate to transform AMI in a National Facility with a Chief Executive that would have the administrative responsibilities, and an Independent Selection Panel for the evaluation and allocation of time to different projects.
Amsterdam, May 17, 2004 Fernando Lopes da Silva , M.D., Ph.D.