Seed funding led to a multimillion strategic collaboration between designers and chemists

31.01.2018

ChemArts, which brings together students of biomaterials and design, is already looking into business opportunities and preparing for world domination.

The application period for new seed funding projects is now open and continues until 16 February!

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Tapani Vuorinen and Pirjo Kääriäinen. Photo by Mikko Raskinen

In December 2011, Professor of Wood Chemistry Tapani Vuorinen was very nervous, as Dean Helena Hyvönen from the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture had asked him to talk about a familiar subject to a completely new audience.

'Helena wanted me to come speak about cellulose at the Fashionable Technology seminar. The idea was a scary one. 'I wondered why what I had to say would be of any interest to people in the fashion sector, but the reception was very enthusiastic.'

Vuorinen's courage paid off, as at the seminar he also met Professor of Textile Design Pirjo Kääriäinen, and the two had the idea of bringing together students from the two schools to consider new forms of cooperation.  Outi Krause, who was acting as dean of the School of Chemical Technology, was inspired by the idea and granted EUR 40,000 in seed funding for arranging a summer project for students.

'The seed funding was of tremendous importance: we got a quick start and were able to employ students to consider how cooperation could be carried out in practice,' says Kääriäinen, who is currently working as a professor of design-driven fibre innovations. She emphasised that from its very beginning ChemArts' strength has been its students. They were not given ready problems to solve, but rather, they started from scratch by considering what could be interesting and important.

Over the years, students have for example extracted an antibacterial liquid that prevents the smell of sweat from needles and designed cellulose shoes into the soles of which birch seeds were embedded. When the shoes decompose at the end of their lifecycle, the seeds that end up in the earth will grow into new trees.

' In order to create genuinely new things, it is essential for people from various sectors to work together. This does not mean everyone must know everything. On the contrary, it is extremely important that people have a deep knowledge in their own field,' Kääriäinen says.

Getting rid of plastic

ChemArts has been able to grow and develop without forceful external pressures. The functionality of this cooperation was quickly noted, and in 2013 Design Driven Value Chains in the World of Cellulose a large scale research project inspired by ChemArts received extensive funding from Tekes (DWoC, 2013–2018). In 2015, the European Union funded Trash-2-Cash project (2015–2018), which looks for ways to refine textile wastes into high-quality products was launched. All this work has a common goal - to the promote sustainable development and the development of new bio-based materials.

'It has been fantastic to see how students and researchers are enthusiastic about seeing what others have accomplished and then further work these to make their own things.  The willow research carried out by Tapani's research group for quite some time has been a source of inspiration for new types of disposable dishes, and now Professor Päivi Laaksonen's research group is utilising the willow research in the development of new natural dyes. We have also been able to follow synthetic biology research via the NewSilk project headed by Professor Markus Linder,' Kääriäinen says.

In 2016, ChemArts expanded from a summer school into a minor module open to all Aalto University students, and in spring 2017 it got its own laboratory facilities at the brand new Aalto Bioproduct Center. The laboratory has received guests from around the world, and Kääriäinen reveals that international cooperation has already been discussed.

'In addition to internationalisation, we are now considering means by which ideas born at ChemArts can be refined into new business.'

Seed funding for multidisciplinary cooperation and the promotion of new openings

1) spring application period until 16 February 2018

2) application periods twice a year - in the spring and autumn

3) the application process is simple - only a 2-3-page application

4) good funding opportunities – 30-50% in previous application rounds

More information about the application process here and from Marja-Leena Markkula, marja-leena.markkula@aalto.fi

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Graphics: Helén Marton