The 2nd IIES Graduate Students Forum at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

As a partner in the International Institute for Environmental Studies (IIES), the students of the University of Eastern Finland were given an opportunity to participate in the 2nd IIES Graduate Students Forum in Hong Kong. Our PhD student Timo participated in this forum that was held November 2-3, 2018 at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). The forum was conveniently scheduled right after the 11th Sino-French International Workshop on Contaminated Soil Remediation in Guangzhou, where Timo and another PhD student in our group, Bhabhishya participated at the end of October.

The topic of the Graduate Student Forum was water and soil contamination and remediation. For two days, graduate students from all over the world presented their research. Talks and discussions were also organized on the topics of writing a good scientific paper, how to get along with one’s supervisor and how to manage time during graduate studies and research.

Timo after receiving an award for his presentation performance

Timo represented our Ecotox group at the forum and gave a talk about his research topic “Environmental risks of chemicals in effluents discharged from municipal wastewater treatment plants”. Students who performed well in the forum were given awards for different achievements and Timo was awarded for his presentation skills in the forum!

The HKUST campus provided an outstanding arena for the forum. Located at Clear Water Bay, the surrounding landscape is one of the most beautiful in all of Hong Kong. The facilities at the university were also excellent. It is already a great privilege to get to participate to activities like the Graduate Student Forum but to have this kind of event in such an excellent location is truly a dream come true.

HKUST campus is a sight to behold

Timo was extremely happy with the experience of participating to the forum. Getting to know new people in our field, hearing different views from students around the world on graduate studies and getting to listen to the diversity of student presentation subjects, what more can a graduate student hope for! Our Ecotox group has been involved in many IIES activities before and Timo certainly hopes that more opportunities like this will arise in the future.

Text and photos: Timo Ilo

Agromining for contaminated soil remediation – the 11th Sino-French workshop

The University of Eastern Finland is one of the 17 partner universities of International Institute for Environmental Studies (IIES). Our Aquatic Ecotoxicology group has been involved in most of the scientific conferences organised/partnered by IIES. This time two of our PhD students (me and Timo) participated in LIA Ecoland Workshop 2018 held in Guangzhou, China from 29th October to 2nd November. The workshop, 11th Sino-French International Workshop on Contaminated Soil Remediation, was held at SunYat-sen University by ECOLAND. The joint lab ECOLAND, created in December 2015, is the outcome of a fruitful cooperation between two laboratories, the LSE of the University Of Lorraine (UL) and INRA and the LEPCRT of Sun Yat-sen University (SYSU), around pollution issues and remediation of soil and water. The LIA ECOLAND project is to help restore value to territories marked by persistent pollution, and to support the development of ecosystem services through the implementation of appropriate strategies for the management of polluted sites and soils. IIES covered the travel expenses plus the visa fee whereas the food and accommodation in Guangzhou was covered by SYSU.

Bhabishya and Timo at the workshop

The main objective of the workshop was to develop innovation for circular economy for abandoned secondary resources such as polluted soils, wastes and sediments. One of the focus was on Agromining and/or Phytomining. The main aim is to identify flora that can grow on polluted or abandoned mining sites for recovering the heavy metals from such sites. The heavy metals are then recovered from the biomass by bio-refinery. It was interesting to know about the use of plants for soil remediation as well as for metal mining. The workshop had 2 days of scientific exchange (presentations, posters) and 2 days of field trip. Unfortunately, none of our students had any poster or oral presentation for the workshop. However, it was nice for both of us to participate in such conference (This being first for both of our PhD students) and interact with researchers from other universities and research facilities. The participants were mostly Chinese and French (Obviously!) with few more from Europe, Asia and North America.

Apart from the presentations, the workshop also had 2 days of field trip. The first day of the field visit was to nearby city of Dongguan. There the participants visited a municipal waste treatment center operated by Canvest Environ Group Co. Ltd. An exhibition building next to the treatment plant had things made out of waste material for exhibition. On the second day of the visit, we were supposed to visit food waste treatment plant in Schenzen, China. However, there was a last minute change of plans and we went instead to China National Gene Bank close to Schenzen. Timo, however, had to go to Hong Kong on the same day to attend The 2nd Graduate Students Forum. So, he could not join us for the second day of the field visit (and he did not miss much). After the visit to the gene bank, we headed to a Hakka Museum nearby. Hakka are the subgroup of Han Chinese who migrated from North China to South and settled in Guangdong (where we were) and neighboring areas.

Municipal waste treatment plant operated by Canvest Environ Group Co. Ltd

Besides the workshop, there was not much to do as most of our time during the day was taken up by the workshop. However, I managed to have some free time on the last day of the trip and go to few places in Guangzhou. When in China, you have to eat and shop. Things are so cheap there. But the only problem was of the language. And, since everybody thought I was a Chinese (Because I am of Asian ethnicity from Nepal) my first words were “Not Chinese” in all the places I went for the whole week. The food was especially good (and no Potatoes for a week).

In all, the trip was a fruitful one. Hope we will have something to present in our next conference and maybe we will have some interested students in future working in agromining at our research group.

Bhabishya with horse made up of waste products

Text and photos: Bhabishya Gurung

Reflections from the new field course ”Northern Ecosystems in a Changing Climate”

University of Eastern Finland offered a new field course at the Oulanka Research Station in Kuusamo this September in collaboration with University of Oulu. Timo, a new graduate student in our research group, took part in this week-long Northern Ecosystems in a Changing Climate – course.

The course aims to combine latest knowledge of the climate change to the special features of Northern ecosystems. The course was held at the Oulanka Research Station situated in the Oulanka National Park. Oulanka is a very special place as it is a hotspot of biodiversity in the region.

The research station provided excellent facilities for the course. Several lecturers from both universities gave interesting talks on different topics related to the focus of the course. Field portion of the course included a full day trip to Riisitunturi national park and several smaller outings to sites close to the research station. Both Oulanka and Riisitunturi national parks boast extremely beautiful scenery which cannot be fully appreciated through the camera-phone pictures Timo took during the course, although they do give a hint on what a visitor to these places can expect to see.

Downstream view from Kiutaköngäs waterfall at Oulanka National Park

From the ecotoxicological point of view the course was very inspiring. Learning about the special features of our ecosystems gives so much for understanding how different types of pollution can affect the nature. It is also always nice to hear what experts of their own fields have to say about the state of the environment from their viewpoint. This kind of knowledge can complement ecotoxicological research greatly!

Text and photos: Timo Ilo


Total weight loss 13 kilos! Follow-up for our fitness test.

Who remembers our blog post from last September about Fitness test truck and body composition measurements? If you have forgotten, you can refresh your memory HERE. Nine months passed, and our motivated and scientifically oriented test group was finally ready for a second measurement, this time in Kuopio. We prepared well for the measurement process: avoiding extra salt and carbohydrates to get rid of the excess of body liquids, wearing light clothes (as light as possible), and leaving from home early in the morning so that we could survive without eating until lunch hour.

On our way to Kuopio! Surprisingly happy even without the breakfast.

The results were good. Our test member Kaisa had probably the biggest work to do in achieving the ideal weight and body composition, but of course, we all wanted to get good results and have some improvement compared to last autumn’s test results. It was very rewarding to see that healthy lifestyle with lots of aerobic exercise, muscle training, and proper diet, finally results in weight loss, muscle gain and reduced fat percentage. In Kaisa’s case, the fat content of the body had reduced by 7.5 kg, visceral fat had decreased by 30%, and the overall health and fitness index had improved remarkably. The Body Mass Index had reduced by almost three units, and all measurements were within the normal limits, finally.

So many good changes seen in the Inbody measurements, when compared to the previous time.

During the winter, also Kukka and Kristiina had been working on improving their fitness – with varying success.

For Krista, the results were well in line with the lifestyle. She lost some weight (3.2 kg of fat and unfortunately, 1.4 kg of muscle tissue). Well, she had eaten less and done lots of sports. However, besides the regular dancing and badminton, Krista did not find time for gym. It shows in the results! During the summer, she’ll be planning to go to gym at least twice a week, hoping that that will have some kind of effect. Then to the other results: Visceral fat was reduced by 20%, which was great. Also, the maximal oxygen uptake has increased 20% (from average to very good). Overall, her health seems to be quite good and there is no need to lose any more weight. The Fitness test truck shall come again to Joensuu after four months. It will be interesting to see, what kind of results we get during the summer (and holiday).

What happened to Kukka? “Need to increase weight by raising a bit of muscles and a even more fat” was said in the previous evaluation. Well, the muscle and bone mass had increased, which is a good thing. With increasing the fat, she was not so successful. ”I’m not sure if I really want to carry recommended 15 box of butter”… Anyway, we think that living at countryside by doing things like digging, carting, lifting, running and so on keeps whoever in a good condition.

We were so happy about the results that we directed ourselves for a pizza buffet lunch and continued analyzing our results there. We combined this day with a trip to countryside, where we had an opportunity to pet the cute horses and dogs. Kaisa had a bunch of energy left, so she continued with the sports theme!

After all the hard work, it’s time for pizza. Note, we took also some salad.
A stopover in countryside. It was the first summer day for this year!


Photos by Kaisa Figueiredo and Kukka Pakarinen

Schooling lab assistants – a new perspective to lab work

This fall we have two lab trainees, Risto and Päivi, working in our group. They are studying in North Karelia Adult Education Centre to become laboratory technicians. The education includes both lessons in the college and practical training in work places. Students have to pass altogether six working exams; in laboratory field this means exams in basic lab work, organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, and bioanalytics, and two optional exams among own interests and possibilities in workplace. Our lab offers training in basic lab work, analytical and environmental chemistry, and biotechnical applications as well.

During their training period, students are working as a part of our group doing everyday lab works learning new methods and deepen their occupational skills. On the other side, they bring new sights and ideas enriching the workplace. Another benefit is that supervising forces you to think your work thoroughly: how and why different stages in the work are done. It is observing your own manages by another’s eyes. In the best case, interaction with students produce new and practical methods. I hope that those moments are great for students, too.

Our old, rather shaky and bulky experiment system (left), and new, compact setup (right) developed by Risto.
Our old, rather shaky and bulky experiment system (left), and new, compact setup (right) developed by Risto.

An important goal for students is to pass work exams during the practical training. Thus, we need to plan “work-packages” for chosen exams. This is a bit difficult part, because many criteria set by the college must be fulfilled for each exam, and the work must be included in the everyday lab work at the same time. In the best situation in exam, students just do their daily work under appraisers’ observing, and then their performance is evaluated.

In the exam, there are three appraisers representing both college and workplace. They observe student’s work and ask questions, and finally have a meeting to decide the grade; exciting and interesting event overall.

We have already organized Risto’s exams. Everything went great! Let pictures tell more:

1) Artificial freshwater for Kristiina’s experiment is under preparing, 2) Risto was asked to calculate some concentrations, 3-4) Doing toxicity test is painstaking job, 5) Centrifuging and telling about the equipment, 6) Observations are booked through the exam day, 7) Going to the evaluation meeting, 8) Finally it’s over!
1) Artificial freshwater for Kristiina’s experiment is under preparing, 2) Risto was asked to calculate some concentrations, 3-4) Doing toxicity test is painstaking job, 5) Centrifuging and telling about the equipment, 6) Observations are booked through the exam day, 7) Going to the evaluation meeting, 8) Finally it’s over!

Congratulations for Risto for his great work!

Text and pictures by Kukka Pakarinen

Mentoring – towards great success

Last spring, my labor union (LAL, the Finnish Union of Experts in Science) was looking for people to participate in their mentoring program. Since I am going to finish my PhD in the near future, this seemed like an opportunity I shouldn’t pass. I made the application, took the Skype interview and was finally selected. Yay! ( BTW, how weird it is to see yourself in a webcam, my hands were flying around constantly)

The next step was to find a suitable mentor and contact him/her. This was really challenging: what kind of mentor am I looking for? Suitable degree? Interesting experience? Career in academia, or maybe in private sector? Age? Working experience in years? Does the sex matter? Where do I find the perfect person?

I ended up with few good options, chose the one I thought would suit me best and send an email. Quite soon, I got a positive answer and we talked on the phone. Final solution, I have a mentor! My mentor, Anneli Tuomainen is working as Senior Advisor in business development and innovation environments in Kuopio Innovation. She has a combination of education in natural science (PhD, docent) and work experience in research institutes and companies (R&D&I).

We met few times to get to know each other before the official program kick-off. I was relieved: when it comes to expertise, she is hard as rock. Otherwise, she is really approachable and easy to talk to. I believe we are going to have many fruitful discussion during the upcoming year.

Meeting my mentor in the beautiful city of Kuopio.
Meeting my mentor in the beautiful city of Kuopio.

This week, we had the first meeting with all the participants in the program, approximately 16 actors with their mentors. We had many group discussions and we used a lot of time to clarify our goals and motivations. How would you describe work life using the pictures below? One person in our group had a great thought: There are two roads for you to choose from… but you may also end up in the middle of the field.

Hard work in the first group meeting.
Hard work in the first group meeting.

The day was long, but rewarding. Besides the actual program, it takes time to travel between Joensuu and Helsinki. Everything was organized extremely well. You could see the trainers were not doing this for the first time. The mentoring program is organized in co-operation between several unions.

Now I’ll continue figuring out my strengths, skills and weaknesses. Next meeting, we’ll give an elevator pitch. What a challenging, but important task!

Building a mind map of my skills.
Building a mind map of my skills.

Text and pictures by Kristiina Väänänen

Towards a greener Greenland?

Altogether 28 students and 12 teachers & assistants challenged this topic among others in Greenland and Iceland in July, 2016. Arctic Summer School, concerning effects of climate change on arctic ecosystems and societies, was organized by ABS (Nordic Master’s Degree Programme in Atmosphere-Biosphere Studies), and I was lucky to participate on this course together with four other students from the University of Eastern Finland.

Our group consisted of students from five countries and 13 nationalities: all natural scientists from different fields, and all interested and motivated to learn more about climate change. The principal aim of this course was to enhance students’ understanding of research-society linkages and to increase their capabilities to communicate research findings to different stakeholders. The aim of this period was also to widen the perspective of students within natural science by presenting changes of the cryosphere in the Arctic, research on this topic and its effects on the local societies. In other words, the students in natural science were introduced also to social science methodology. Highly interesting and relevant, I would say!

A PhD student from UEF at the backyard of the university campus in Nuuk, Greenland.
A PhD student from UEF at the backyard of the university campus in Nuuk, Greenland.

The setup of the course was interesting: five days in Greenland and seven days in Iceland, long days and hard work. The students were divided into small groups with each one dealing with different data sets in Iceland and making interviews with different organizations in Nuuk, Greenland. The students conducted small projects interviewing local communities, working with data obtained from Arctic and sub-Arctic research stations, visit measurement sites, and learn specific research methodologies in both social and natural sciences. My group contributed to the social aspects by visiting the Inuit Circumpolar Council in Nuuk and revising data on carbon dioxide fluxes in Icelandic and Finnish forest ecosystems, on a comparative approach. Other institutions visited by the groups were the national oil company Nunaoil, Greenlandic labour Union (SIK), National museum of Greenland, Ministry of fisheries, hunting and agriculture, and local fishermen – all providing very different aspects and insights into the changing climate and its possible opportunities, threats and impacts in general. The results from the interviews were presented and discussed in a short seminar and many of the thoughts can be read in climate change teaching in Greenland blog (link available at the end of this post).

Scenery from our daily walk from Nuuk downtown to the University of Greenland.
Scenery from our daily walk from Nuuk downtown to the University of Greenland.

The change due to global warming in the Arctic is more profound than in other areas. The impacts can be both positive and negative, and they are already visible in many different ways throughout the nature, culture and society itself. For Greenlandic people, especially for the indigenous Inuit that live on hunting and fishing, the warming climate has set up new problems and challenges in their daily life. Fishermen also find difficulties in seal hunting because of thinning of the ice – whether it is too thin for going on a sledge or by foot, or still too thick to go by boat. Polar bears are facing the same problem and approach villages, therefore causing danger to the people living there. On the other hand, the warming climate will also give new possibilities pointed out by the locals. Fisheries benefit from climate change through growing fish stocks. Warming climate also makes it easier to introduce new forms of agriculture, new crops and new types of cattle into the Greenlandic landscape, although along with the melting ice and growing water flow from the glaciers, summer droughts have appeared making agriculture initiatives more difficult. Nevertheless, the change will lead to changes in living conditions: for example changes in wildlife will have direct consequences to hunting, and changes in sea ice cover will have effects on fisheries.

Early morning in Kobbefjord field measurement station close to Nuuk, Greenland.
Early morning in Kobbefjord field measurement station close to Nuuk, Greenland.

The most important factor in dealing with a greener Arctic for the society will be the adaptation to a changed environment. Greenlanders are used to dealing with the nature and its unpredictable change. Thus they see climate change as a natural variation of their environment, not only as a new threat, where they will adapt in any case and probably faster than in the other parts of the world.

A “groupie” in excursion to a field measurement station in Hveragerði, Iceland. Picture by Bjarni D. Sigurdsson.
A “groupie” in excursion to a field measurement station in Hveragerði, Iceland. Picture by Bjarni D. Sigurdsson.

The course was be held in Nuuk and Reykjavík between 3 and 14 of July, 2016, and it was a joint activity of University of Helsinki, ICOS ERIC, Agricultural University of Iceland, University of Aarhus, Lund University, Estonian University of Life Sciences, University of Eastern Finland, University of Greenland, and Greenland Climate Research Centre.

As outcome of the course, the students prepared blog posts that can be read here:

More interesting links to the topic:

Text and pictures by: Kaisa Figueiredo


Excursion to Kennedy Space Center

Hello! My name is Timo and I’m working on my thesis in the research group. Last September I was enrolled to a two-semester collaborative course called Epic Challenge Joensuu, a course that was offered by UEF, Karelia University of Applied Sciences and the science high school Norssi. The course was about finding solutions for the problems of colonizing Mars and learning to use good problem solving methods and tools. Originally, we had no idea that a trip to visit NASA would be a possibility, so we were quite surprised when the teachers announced that a trip might be the finale of the course! The US trip was confirmed in the spring and we could finally give in to the excitement and start planning and negotiating. Karelia and UEF were kind to offer a scholarship for the trip, without it I probably couldn’t have afforded the expenses.

Our field trip began in the middle of May when we flew to Florida, where we spent the week. Our target was the famous Kennedy Space Center in Orlando where the Apollo lunar missions were launched from, among many other space missions. Kennedy Space Center has a Visitor Complex, which boasts numerous attractions, such as different kinds of simulators and old space rockets. My personal favorite in the Visitor Complex was definitely the space shuttle Atlantis. A bus tour to the launching pads and the VAB (vehicle assembly building) was also very nice and informative. We also got to meet astronaut Jack Lousma and to present him the concepts we came up with during the course.

Our visit to the Space Center coincided with NASA’s robotic mining competition, where 46 teams from US colleges competed with the robots they built. Some of the criteria for getting points where the ease of controlling, the amount of material mined and the extent of automation in the robots. High extent of automation was appreciated highly, since a constant control by a human could be difficult if a robot is working hundreds of millions of kilometers away. The competition was very interesting to see

One of the robots in the mining competition. Photo by Timo Ilo
One of the robots in the mining competition. Photo by Timo Ilo

The Visitor Complex is open for everyone but we also got ourselves a little private tour, held by NASA’s top biologist Dr. Ray Wheeler. He kindly showed us around the Space Life Sciences Lab, where he and many other scientists are working on creating a bioregenerative life support system for space use. This kind of system would be crucial for sustained human life in space or on others planets, such as Mars. We got to see what kind of experiments they are doing and we asked a lot of questions, Dr. Wheeler really made us feel welcome! Among others, we saw experiments related to plant growth under different wavelengths of light and the effects of microgravity to animal development.

Overall, the trip was a great experience! At the end of the week we had some spare time, so we went kayaking to a beautiful wetland. I didn’t manage to see any alligators but I heard one of our team members saw a huge one. I was happy to see turtles and cranes!

Krista, Timo and Jesse of the BioMars team of Epic Challenge. Photo by Timo Ilo.
Krista, Timo and Jesse of the BioMars team of Epic Challenge. Photo by Timo Ilo.


Photos by Timo Ilo and Krista Holappa