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Profile areas at Stockholm University

Stockholm University has identified sixteen profile areas: eight in the human sciences and eight in the natural sciences. Each area has many researchers, research environments and approaches, including a range of education programmes. Taken together, these research areas demonstrate the University’s overarching commitment to independent basic research.

Forskare vid Psykologiska institutionen.
Forskare vid Psykologiska institutionen. Foto: Jens Olof Lasthein

Within the human sciences there are eight of the university's profile areas.

Cultural Heritage & Historical Processes 

This profile area studies how both material and immaterial remnants of the past are preserved and given meaning in interactions between people over time. Key actors include nations, states and their institutions, as well as international organisations and, to an increasing degree, local and regional entrepreneurs. The area studies how conservation processes include both trading and reinterpretation, and how the designation of cultural heritage is a fundamentally political process that is often linked to issues of identity and recognition. In addition, it studies the underlying mechanisms of societal development trends and progression patterns. The proximity to national archives, museums and other institutions in the region provides access to empirical data and opportunities for extensive collaboration with the surrounding community.

Internationalisation & Migration 

This profile area studies the economic, cultural, linguistic, social and environmental consequences of global flows of individuals, goods and information, as well as the infrastructure and networks that are created as a result of internationalisation and globalisation. Subsequently, it studies changes that result from migration, both in the present and historically, as well as multilingualism as a consequence of migration.  The research explores how the world is affected by and changes through international flows, contacts and exchanges of ideas and services. The area is involved in outreach activities on a regular basis, and collaboration takes place with several national and international organisations.

Language & Learning 

Language is a tool for thinking, communication, learning and identity formation, as well as for various aesthetic and cultural expressions. Stockholm University conducts research and education in more than thirty languages. The profile area focuses on issues relating to language acquisition, multilingualism, language history, language philosophy, language education, language development and linguistic changes in different stages of life. Language is central to, for example, law, literature, media and various aesthetic processes, which means that the area includes research that focuses on both the instrumental functions of languages and their cultural and representative expressions.  Contact between languages, in the form of translation and other multilingual practices, is also explored. The area’s researchers move between thousand-year-old written artefacts and the problems and opportunities of the digital age.

Norms, Laws & Ethics 

This profile area reflects on and analyses norms, laws and regulations, as well as boundaries of norms and possibilities and limitations of normativity. Research and education in this area include ethical issues relating to human and social attitudes. Research on crime and punishment is conducted in a wide range of disciplines. The profile area covers issues relating to human rights, international conflict management and norm-critical perspectives. Researchers in the profile area engage in extensive outreach activities by acting as experts, communicating knowledge through the media, and writing consultation responses on legislative matters.

Power, Democracy & Welfare 

This profile area studies power, democracy and welfare, as well as their interactions with each other. The research encompasses societal challenges including climate change, migration, globalisation, digitalisation, a reformed education system, an ageing population and a changing media landscape. Moreover, the research studies how these challenges influence, and are influenced by, management and governance at different levels, as well as by democratic institutions. The proximity to government agencies and national politics nourishes the area, and both research and education are conducted in close collaboration with public and private actors at the local, national and international levels.

Society, Organisations & Individuals 

Society’s institutions are created by individuals with both common and conflicting desires. The challenges faced by human societies change over time and are subject to continuous analysis and discussion. Research and education in the area focus on the well-being, attitudes, values and actions of individuals, both individually and in social contexts. This profile area studies various goals and forms of governance within nations, regions, companies and other organisations, as well as the media. Collaboration with government agencies and international organisations is well established and well developed.

Visual Representations & Interfaces 

Research and education in Human Science works increasingly with various types of images and visualisations in order to explain, highlight, interpret or illustrate complex phenomena and contexts. Examples include graphs, charts, diagrams, illustrations, aesthetic expressions and, to an increasing extent, different types of digital interfaces. In addition, research is conducted on how people relate to, interact with and create visual representations. All of this places great demands on the continuous development of methods and theories. In addition, it creates opportunities for new types of interdisciplinary meeting places within the University, as well as between the University and various external actors – everything from cultural and research institutions to companies and government agencies.

Worlds & conditions of children and youth 

This profile area includes studies of children and youth as active participants in school, peer life and family life, as well as their ideas, rights and vulnerability. Learning, communication and identification are studied from the perspective of children and adolescents. In addition, the area studies children’s culture: literature, music, film and theatre productions aimed at children, as well as the portrayal of children and young people in various artistic expressions, including style and fashion. Practice-oriented collaboration with schools in Stockholm County is extensive, and a continually running series of open seminars is organised with participants from academia and the community.

Within the natural sciences there are eight of the university's profile areas.

Astrophysics, Cosmology and Particle Physics

The research in particle physics and astronomy at Stockholm University covers a wide area: from the smallest building blocks of the universe to the formation and evolution of galaxies over billions of years. How do particles get their mass, and will the Higgs boson provide the final answer? Why is there more matter than antimatter in the universe – is this related to hypothetical axions or the processes that are responsible for neutrinos mass? What happens when compact stars – such as neutron stars and black holes – merge, and how are the gravitational waves that are generated by this process linked to other signals of light and neutrinos? How can energetic particles that reach the Earth provide us with information about processes in distant galaxies? How are galaxies and stars formed? What is the dark matter and the dark energy that dominates the universe? Research at the Departments of Astronomy and Physics seeks to answer these and related questions. The research area includes theoretical research as well as large-scale experiments and observations.

Atomic, Molecular and Complex Quantum System Physics 

This profile area covers a wide range of research: from studies on the properties of isolated atoms, molecules and dynamic processes when such systems interact with photons or each other, to studies of entangled photon and particle states, quantum encryption, quantum information, cold atomic gases and topological quantum materials. In addition, the profile area includes studies of clusters, the properties of liquids – especially water – and catalytic reactions on surfaces. The research is pursued with development of new theoretical and experimental methods, in the latter case often with strong elements of instrument development. Atoms, molecules and clusters are studied and manipulated using ion traps and ion storage rings; laser radiation is used to control the properties of individual photons, and the time structure of the radiation is used to study ionisation dynamics and achieve intertwined photon states and the teleportation of quantum states, as well as manipulate quantum materials out of equilibrium on ultra-fast time scales. Free-electron lasers and synchrotron light facilities are crucial for catalysis studies, studies on new properties of water in various forms, as well as studies of other materials. Using ion storage rings, ion-ion collisions are studied with new powerful methods – including applications in astrophysics.   

Biological Membranes 

Cell membranes have a central function in biochemical processes inside the cell. Stockholm University conducts unique research on the proteins that constitute a large part of the cell membranes. Many central processes in the cell are dependent on membrane proteins, and a majority of future pharmaceutical drugs are expected to target these proteins. Cellular processes are closely tied to the function of membranes to regulate what substances pass in and out of the cell. Membrane proteins, which control these processes, are thus the focus of many research groups, both in Sweden and internationally. What makes the research at Stockholm University unique is its breadth. There are more than twenty research groups that use both experimental and theoretical methods within areas such as biochemistry, biophysics, cell biology, molecular biology, bioinformatics and biotechnology. Studies include how membrane proteins are structured, how they are produced inside the cell, how they move, and what role they play in the cell's energy metabolism.

Catalysis in Organic Chemistry 

Stockholm University conducts successful research on new, selective synthetic methodology. Reactions that are of interest to, for example, the production of pharmaceuticals are developed using different catalysts. The research covers the development of catalysts based on organic and organometallic compounds, as well as on metallic nanoparticles. Novel synthetic methods are developed for precise control over what chemical substances are created. Modelling with theoretical chemistry is an important component to predict which reactions may occur, thus facilitating the modification of the catalysts.

Climate, Seas and Environment 

Studies of Earth's natural climate and ecological systems and how they are affected by human activities are key to s, this profile area. The broad research being conducted at Stockholm University comprises specialised studies and interdisciplinary approaches to advance our understanding of these complex systems. Much of the research is carried out at centres and in major interdisciplinary programmes: the University’s Bolin Centre, which is an important forum for climate science and organized in collaboration with SMHI and KTH, now also includes research addressing the effects of climate and land use changes on biodiversity and ecosystem services; the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) focusses on sustainable development and human impact on natural resources and ecosystems; eutrophication and the effects of toxic pollutants in the Baltic Sea are important questions for the Baltic Sea Centre, the Baltic Eye and the Baltic Nest Institute and provide a basis for political decisions that will contribute to a sustainable management of the Baltic Sea.

The impacts of climate change on Arctic regions, pollutions, environmental chemistry, and toxic effects on humans and animals are other important fields of research within the profile area.

Gene-Environment Interactions 

The interaction between genetic heritage and the environment affects all life, both at population and individual levels. Environmentally-induced selective pressure causes changes in genetic frequencies, resulting in geographic variation in individual characteristics and the emergence of new species. Different organs in an individual communicate their status with each other and adapt the individual’s physiology and behaviour to local variations in the environment, such as after a meal, during stress, or at different temperatures. Environmental variation can cause rapid changes in genetic expressions by modifying regulatory proteins and non-coding RNA, but it can also cause global and more long-term changes. The latter include changes in the genome and its packaging through so-called “epigenetic mechanisms”, in addition to the evolution of plastic traits that adapt the individual to expected environmental variation through natural selection.  At Stockholm University, interactions between genes and the environment are studied extensively, including populations adapting to their surroundings and cellular responses to environmental change at the mechanistic level. How the environment and genes interact is a central issue for all life on Earth, not least when it comes to our own health.

Materials Chemistry 

In the field of materials chemistry at Stockholm University, important research is conducted with the aim to produce and study materials with unique properties. The results are important for sustainable systems and reduced energy use, as well as for the environment and health. Hybrid materials based on naturally occurring polymers, carbon or minerals are key, and are developed for applications in, for example, chemical and architectural engineering. Porous materials are studied for applications in, for example, catalysis and the separation of carbon dioxide from flue gas. Nanomaterials are tailored to have new and improved functions, including catalytic, mechanical, thermal, magnetic and optical properties. Ion liquids are studied in relation to the sustainable chemical synthesis of materials. Understanding the structure of a material is crucial in order to explain its properties and to optimise it for specific applications. Electron microscopy, diffraction, NMR spectroscopy and diffraction studies using synchrotron light or neutrons are examples of important methods used to characterise the structure of the materials.

Mathematical Theory Development and Modelling 

Mathematical structures are a cornerstone of many scientific theories. In physics, mathematical theories and models are absolutely central tools is very extensive and, in addition, new important mathematics has developed from ideas originating  from physics. In astronomy, chemistry and Earth science, mathematical modelling is becoming more and more important, and in some areas, such as quantum chemistry and meteorology, it is a fundamental tool. A new and important development is that mathematical modelling is becoming increasingly important in life science and in the social sciences. There is reason to believe that mathematical theories will become even more important than today in both the natural sciences and in other fields. This means that mathematical tools will need to be developed in collaboration with other researchers to a greater extent. This includes numerical aspects and needs identified when analysing new types of high-dimensional data. Such  cross-fertalization means that new advanced mathematics, and mathematical intuition, will become useful in other scientific areas. In turn, questions in these areas will inspire mathematicians to formulate, and gain insight into, new mathematical concepts and structures. Stockholm University has strong theoretical research in many scientific disciplines, and the links between these disciplines and mathematics are becoming more important with time.

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