Faculty of Medicine (Office)
Tukholmankatu 8 B, 5th and 6th floors
00014 UNIVERSITY OF HELSINKI
p. +358 9 1911
f. +358 9 191 26638
med-studentaffairs (at) helsinki.fi
Lauri Kauppila, 27, tried MIT and space science on for size, but the brain and addiction won out.
Maybe I have asked Lauri Kauppila too many times how his parents took his teenage science experiments: mixing rocket fuel in the basement of their house. — Right. So you have some kind of vision of me lurking ominously in a dark basement, Kauppila chuckles.
Fair enough, what parent would not rather have their offspring spend their evenings at home, immersed in science. Even if it meant that the child would be dabbling with forces strong enough to launch objects into space, right there under the living room floor. — My experiments with petrol were among the safest ones I did. I had ideas about combining combustible gases, too, which would have been a far worse idea, Kauppila says.
His fuel experiments won him the EU Contest for Young Scientists in Vienna in 2002. Hosted by a different country each year, the contest is one of the largest events for young scientists in the world.
For his entry, Kauppila empirically and theoretically studied the optimal ratio of two reagents in solid rocket fuel. One of the reagents, ammonium perchlorate, as well as some of the research equipment, was self-produced.
Praise from gurus
Following his success in the science contest and after finishing school, Kauppila returned to Massachusetts in the United States, where his family had lived for four years when he was still at school. This time, the reason was not his father’s job, but to study at the legendary MIT, where he got a degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering.
— MIT was a great place to study, a veritable inventor school. I chose MIT over Cambridge, because I preferred a hands-on approach. That’s what I’ve always liked.
One factor encouraging Kauppila to move abroad was, in fact, the EU Contest for Young Scientists, an experience he cannot praise enough. In addition to meeting other contestants and witnessing their personalities, commitment and work, he was also impressed by how seriously the senior scientists and the highly prestigious jury took the young novices.
— It was very exciting to have the world’s leading scientists intensively discussing your work, to be interviewed by them and receive quite tough criticism from them. I realised that to make it to the top, one really has to work hard.
Kauppila also won a travel award to attend the Nobel Prize Ceremony in Sweden and the science conference that took place in conjunction with it. — It was like winning the lottery!
Now that the contest will at long last be hosted by Finland, Kauppila will follow it closely and hopes to be able to meet the young “geeks” personally.
Future in addiction in Helsinki
Kauppila completed his degree in space aeronautical and astronautical engineering at MIT in 2007, but working in the field, R&D or technology in general proved insufficient to engage Kauppila’s interest for long. He thought long about solar vehicles and other ecological development, but decided against them.
— My priority is to find a field or topic that I can see dedicating myself to for the rest of my life.
Last year Kauppila enrolled at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Helsinki, and it seems that he has found his field in addiction medicine.
— But this is not because my mother is also a doctor, Kauppila points out.
— Addiction medicine is a difficult field, where there’s still a lot of basic knowledge to be discovered.
Kauppila is mostly interested in the neuropharmacological mechanisms of addiction. – So far, no good solutions for treating addictions have been found.
Kauppila enjoys the pace of study at the Faculty of Medicine.
— This is serious, hard work, but there is enough time for contemplation, too. Apart from studying, I read and try to find topics that would be the most relevant to the field – partly with my doctorate in mind. If I come up with a good topic, it is almost like half the work is already done. Contemplating on the matter keeps me interested and I get more out of my studies.
The EU Contest for Young Scientists is being held on 23–28 September in Suvilahti, Helsinki. The doors will be open to the public on 27 September. http://eucys2011.tek.fi/node
Photo: Veikko Somerpuro