March/2018 The first AEROWOOD doctoral thesis
Abdul Ghafar defended his doctoral thesis 
Novel functional materials from upgraded biopolymers: polysaccharide aerogels on March 2nd. Opponent was Professror Kristiina Oksman from Luleå University of Technology, Sweden. Congratulations Abdul!

March/2017 People behind the project: Abdul Ghafar
Abdul Ghafar is Ph. D. student at the University of Helsinki, who will defend his thesis soon:

What is your task in the project?
I am PhD student at the Department of Food and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki. My task is to develop polysaccharide-based biocomposites aerogels using environmentally friendly functionalization technique and characterization of hydro- and aerogels properties, under the supervision of Prof. Maija Tenkanen and University Lecturer Doc. Kirsi Mikkonen & Kirsti Parikka.

What motivates you to work on the project?
My motivation to work on this project is to utilize my background study knowledge about food technology to develop bio-based functional material from wood-based polysaccharide using ‘green processing technology’ that could be applicable in the food industry.

Tell us about your education and how did you find the project?
I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Food Science & Technology, from National Institute of Food Science and Technology, University of Agriculture Faisalabad Pakistan in 2008 and Master in Food technology from the same institute in 2010 and wrote my thesis on the characterization of high molecular weight gluten protein in Pakistani spring wheat and its role in bread quality.
In the same year, I joined the University of Copenhagen under the Erasmus Mundus Food of life master program, where I studied one year and then moved to University of Helsinki, Finland to write my thesis on the extension of shelf life of pasteurized milk using nitrogen flushing technology. Further to follow the phenotype and genotype study of psychrophilic bacteria responsible for spoilage of pasteurized milk.
I worked as researcher in the Hemicellulose research group, paid by Prof. Maija Tenkanen and continued PhD studies on, ’Novel functional materials from upgraded biopolymers’ on research grant afterwards. Prof. Maija Tenkanen kindly offered me a position in AEROWOOD-project. This appeared to be a great opportunity for me to exploit my research abilities and to interact with other project partners.
All the project partners working on the wood-based raw materials, new functionalization and processing techniques, material characterizations, end use applications for life sciences field. Regular project meetings have been a great source for discussion and knowledge sharing, and obtained feedback from partners on my research work etc. Furthermore, get familiar with new instruments during the laboratory visits of project partner institute hosting the project meetings expanded my knowledge on wood-based novel functional materials and their life sciences applications.

Which person do you most admire?
I admire the people, who always think about other people and put some efforts for them.

What is your greatest extravagance?
My greatest extravagance is to explore the world.

Where do you see yourself after 5 years?
Life of full of challenges. Who knows where I will be? But I am seeing myself after five years as a CEO of my own food processing company.


January/2017 People behind the project: José Martín Ramos-Diaz
We are happy to introduce Dr. José Martín Ramos-Diaz. His interview, and a report on a recent research visit:

What is your task in the project?
I am a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Food and Environmental Sciences of the University of Helsinki, who works on the development of xylan-based hydrogel/aerogels under the supervision of Prof. Maija Tenkanen and University lecturer Doc. Kirsi Mikkonen.

What motivates you to work on the project?   
My scientific motivation is to understand the relationship between wood-derived polysaccharides, as hydrogel/aerogel components, and particular physical characteristics in the resulting composites. A reliable model translates effort into successful technological optimization; this being what encourages me the most, either professionally or academically.

Tell us about your education and how did you find the project?
I completed a Bachelor’s degree in Food Engineering at Federico Villarreal National University (Lima, Peru) in 2006, and travelled to Finland in 2009 to enroll in an International Master’s degree programme in Food Science at University of Helsinki. In 2012, I was admitted to the doctoral programme in Food Chain and Health at University of Helsinki, and worked under the supervision of Dr. Kirsi Jouppila for around 3 years and a half. My doctoral research focused on the development of gluten-free extruded snacks through the application of novel modeling techniques. Pre-processing tools are fundamental to obtain useful information from (apparently) unintelligible set of data. My expertise grew in that direction, and quickly became aware of its importance beyond my small field of study.

Regarding the second question, this project found me. I was kindly offered a post-doc position by Prof. Maija Tenkanen and Doc. Kirsi Mikkonen. I am deeply thankful to them for the opportunity to expand my knowledge in polysaccharides and apply my expertise to the benefit of the project.

Which person do you most admire?
I admire people who stand up against misfortune, persevere and succeed. Frida Khalo has been for many years my inspirational role model. She was courageous enough to go against conventional art form, social rules and life, to become a synonym of Latinamerican genius. Frida’s paintings reflected so vividly her life experiences, and so does my work (at least I try!).

What is your greatest extravagance?
Drinking snake’s soup in China and eating giant ants in the Amazonia. They both were delicious dishes and popular among locals, thus extravagance is in the eye of the beholder.

Where do you see yourself after 5 years?
I see myself in many different ways 5 years from now. I am currently trying my best to obtain funding for my own project on Andean grains at University of Helsinki. Thus, I might be a docent by 2022. If that option is not feasible, I would consider working for an International Organization such as FAO or UNICEF.

At the personal level, I am very interested in photography and I am planning to write a photography blog (text and photos) describing the world’s least known sites and food from a Latin-American perspective. Perhaps in 5 years from now, I could publish my own photography book. Dreaming is free!

José Martín’s visit to CEMEF (Oct-Nov/2016)
Visiting CEMEF (Centre de Mise En Forme de Matériaux, Sophia-Antipolis, France) for two months (October and November 2016) was a wonderful learning experience. The aim of this scientific mission was to understand the interaction among xylan, nanofibrillated cellulose (NFC) and tannic acid upon the formation of hydrogels/aerogels. Viscosity and rheological measurements were conducted, and the structure of aerogels was examined through Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM). Preliminary results showed that tannic acid forms strong bonds with xylan thereby affecting the structural characteristic of hydrogels and aerogels in combination with NFC. This new piece of information shed light on the development of hydrogel/aerogels entirely made of wood derivates. The support of Prof. Tatiana Budtova and colleagues from CEMEF was key to the success of the mission. Besides, the laid-back atmosphere, outstanding cuisine and sunny weather of the French Riviera made my stay memorable.

José Martín at Riviera (Photo: José Martín Ramos-Diaz)


October/2016 PackAge Design Project
PackAge is an interdisciplinary packaging design study module organized by Aalto University (15 credits, March–May 2016). Abdul Ghafar and Kirsi Mikkonen represented the University of Helsinki at PackAge. Kirsi was one of the six responsible teachers at the course and gave lectures on food packaging. Abdul acted as client, and briefed the case to the student group and supervised their work in the laboratory. The student group, entitled the MindPack Team, worked on the case: “(Edible) Aerogels: Future packaging concept”. Check the details and read more of the project!



September/2016 International Seminar on Aerogels
AEROWOOD project partners attended the International Seminar on Aerogels (Sophia Antipolis, France) with several oral presentations and posters.


July/2016 Research visits
Sakeena Quraishi and Youssef Akil visited CEMEF (Centre de Mise En Forme de Matériaux, Sophia-Antipolis, France) in July, and report here their experiences:

Sakeena: It was an exhilarating experience working at the CEMEF with Prof. Budtova. My work involved mainly studying the overlap concentrations of different types of lignin and choosing the best candidate for gel formation. Rheology was also studied for the lignosulfonate-alginate based solutions. Surface area of aerogels was estimated using Nitrogen sorption (BET). With helpful co-workers and an encouraging atmosphere the results obtained paved way for creating better ligno-polyurethane gels. I hope there will be more visits to discuss and execute the nuances of material science – I have already planned for a second visit in September-October 2016.

Sakeena 2

Youssef: During my stay I learned techniques of determining intrinsic viscosity as well as fundamentals of rheology for four hydroxypropylated xylan samples with different degrees of substitution. I was closely advised by Prof. Budtova as well as the engineer of the group – Dr. Romain Castellani. Both were always open to my questions and gave me advice on how to continue my work, for which I am very grateful. I was able to learn several different techniques which I hope to use during my further work in the AERWOOD project. This was possible due to the extensive and sophisticated equipment which was available at CEMEF.

Besides my work in the lab I was able to get to know a little bit about the Côte d’Azur and the lifestyle in this region. Since my trip took place during summer the weather was always very sunny with temperatures above 30 °C. Due to the good connections to Nice and Cannes it was possible to enjoy life after work and in the weekends. I am very thankful that I was allowed to make this experience from which I will most definitely benefit in my further career and life.



June/2016 People behind the project: Dominic Lorenz
Dominic Lorenz works at the University of Hamburg, Germany. We present here his interview:

What is your task in the project?
I’m working as a PhD student at the University of Hamburg. Within the project, I’m mainly concerned with the development of new analytical procedures. The aim is to characterize chemically modified polysaccharides into detail.

What motivates you to work on the project?
The biggest motivation is to develop new methods for the chemical characterization, which makes an essential contribution to push science forward.

Tell us about your education and how did you find the project?
I studied food chemistry in Halle/Saale and finished with my diploma in 2014. The link to carbohydrate based aerogels is quite close, so Prof. Saake offered me a position to work in his team.

Which person do you most admire?
Everyone who works with passion to achieve its goals, yet never acts self-centered and disrespectful.

What is your greatest extravagance?
I like to travel and to discover other regions and countries. I prefer always being active and doing various outdoor activities.

Where do you see yourself after 5 years?
After I’ve finished my doctorate, I’m going to find a job in a company which deals with challenging analytical problems.

Photo web page
Dominic Lorenz giving a talk at EWLP 2016


March/2016 People behind the project: Sakeena Quraishi
We interviewed another PhD student of the project, Sakeena Quraishi. She is working at the Department of Chemistry, Division of Chemistry of Renewable Resources (NAWARO) of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria.

What is your task in the project?
I am a PhD student in the AEROWOOD  project. I am associated with developing and processing both cellulosic and lignin based aerogels. My task is to gather information from literature and process it into ideas for the synthesis and characterization of aerogels.

What motivates you to work on the project?
The perseverance that science is vast and I can always find something new. Also relentless support from my supervisor and peers.

Tell us about your education and how did you find the project?
I finished my Master in Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering. It was during this time that I got interested in aerogels and their multi-faceted properties. I contacted Prof. Liebner for a project on aerogels and he offered me a position with AEROWOOD.

Which person do you most admire?
I admire my father for his hard work and motivation for making me the woman I am today. For going through difficult times and still making sure I was educated.

What is your greatest extravagance?
I am an adventurous spendthrift and a foodie.

Where do you see yourself after 5 years?
I see myself doing something that I love. I wouldn’t settle for something I don’t have a flair for.

Sakeena Quraishi processing the aerogel samples
(Photo: Sakeena Quraishi)


January/2016 People behind the project: Youssef Akil
Youssef Akil is a PhD student in the Department of Wood Science at the University of Hamburg, Germany. Youssef has been working in the AEROWOOD-project from the start with the aim of developing novel materials from xylans.

What is your task in the project?
I am conducting my PhD related to the project: functionalization of xylans from different sources, with the aim of obtaining hydrogels and aerogels. My approach is the usage of cyclic organic carbonates for the hydroxyalkylation of xylans to substitute the currently used epoxides. Epoxides work fine from the technical point of view to obtain well-defined products. However, they have some potential risks that should be overcome. Potential applications of hydroxyalkylated xylans, besides the mentioned gels, could be in the field of packaging materials, biomedical applications and water absorbents.

What motivates you to work on the project?
It is very interesting to work with a material – wood – that has been on earth for ages and still bears a lot of possibilities because of the variety of compounds in the wood. Wood is a raw material source that most likely will be available all the time, so it is the right approach to try to limit the usage of oil-based materials. Furthermore, in a project based on wood, you have a real connection to the material you are working with because you can see it every day.

Tell us about your education and how did you find the project?
I was born in Stade, a city nearby Hamburg in Germany. In 2009 I started studying chemistry in Hamburg and conducted my both my bachelor’s and master’s thesis in University of Hamburg. In my master’s thesis I worked on some pretty theoretical physical concepts evolving around fluorescence spectroscopy, such as carbon nanotubes and quantum dots. It was pretty challenging, but unfortunately it was not possible to get a real connection to the product. Therefore during my PhD thesis I wanted to work on something that is more prominent in everyday life.

Which person do you most admire?
Stefan Raab, a German TV-moderator, who just retired end of 2015.. He always wants to win and never stops before that. I also have to mention Juergen Klopp, just because he is a great guy with a lot of charm.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Pretty much I am a very competitive person, and always want to be the best.

Where do you see yourself after 5 years?
After finishing my PhD I would like to work in a management position in chemical or wood based industry, preferably in Germany.


AEROWOOD-project wishes Happy New Year 2016!



November/2015 People behind the project: Nela Buchtová
Nela Buchtová is a post-doc in Polymers and Composites research unit in Cemef – Mines Paris Tech, France. Nela has been working in the AEROWOOD-project from the start and her post-doc period will finish by 31.12.2015. Here is her short interview.

What is your task in the project?
My task was to prepare and characterize cellulose based porous materials. I used the definition “porous materials” as our aim was to try different drying techniques and to evaluate the influence of the drying technique together with the cellulose molecular weight and concentration on the properties of these materials. Moreover, different cellulose sources were used: microcrystalline commercial cellulose and cotton. Also, our laboratory has the intention to prepare wood-based materials from all wood-components, but this work is carried out by our trainee. We have done already some preliminary promising work.

What motivates you to work on the project?
The project is in the interesting field of biomaterials. It is also in line with my professional experience and competence, which I find very important. I was very curious to prepare something porous, like aerogels, from wood. It was exciting to prepare such materials.

Tell us about your education and how did you find the project?
Originally I am a Czech Republic and did my Bachelor’s degree in physics in Prague. After completing the Bachelor’s degree I moved to France where I completed my Master 1 and Master 2. The first year was in physics and chemistry, and the second year was in nanosciences (nanotechnologies, nanomaterials). I continued with my PhD on hydrogels based on modified cellulose and reinforced with silica nanofibers for cartilage tissue engineering. After finishing my PhD I worked on ionogels (based on ionic liquids) for electrolytes in lithium-sulphur batteries. Then I found this interesting project perfectly in the field I wanted to work on: in biomaterials based on the natural polymers. So I have kept my research topic in the field of gels.

Which person do you most admire?
I don’t have anyone in mind. I think you should not just follow someone, but instead you should do you decisions by yourself.

What is your greatest extravagance?
I am very well organized and that can be maybe a problem for some people: I’m always on time!

Where do you see yourself after 5 years?
I will finish my post-doc soon. Therefore I am looking for another position, preferably in the field of biomaterials. For me this does not mean only biomaterials but materials based on natural materials, e.g. for oils absorption. I do not know yet whether the position will be in the industrial or the academic field. I have no geographical limitations but if I can choose, I prefer the northern areas to the south.


Nela Buchtová working in the lab of Cemef – Mines Paris Tech, France (Photo: Nela Buchtová)


October/2015 Project results presented in EPNOE 2015
The AEROWOOD-project was well displayed in the 4th EPNOE International Polysaccharide Conference in the National Stadium of Warsaw, Poland, 19-22 October. The project members gave in total seven talks and presented one poster.

The beautiful autumn colors of the National Stadium of Warsaw (Photo: Suvi Alakalhunmaa)


October/2015: Poster presentation
Nela Buchtová presented a poster entitled “Cellulose aerogels and cryogels” in Warsaw during the Joint COST/Epnoe meeting on 18th October 2015. The authors of the poster were Nela Buchtová and Tatiana Budtova, Cemef, France.


October/2015: Research visit
Abdul Ghafar from University of Helsinki is visiting Technical University of Harburg-Hamburg (TUHH), Germany during 1.10.–31.12.2015. His aim is to study the tailoring of the morphology of polysaccharide aerogels using supercritical dying with CO2 and the characterization of obtained aerogels for morphology, surface area and mechanical properties.

Abdul preparing samples in TUHH (Photo: Abdul Ghafar)


August/2015: New publication
Strengthening effect of nanofibrillated cellulose is dependent on enzymatically oxidized polysaccharide gel matrices

Galactose oxidase successfully oxidized the guar galactomannan (GM) and tamarind seed galactoxyloglucan (XG) , resulting in cross-linking of these polysaccharides via hemiacetal bonds and formation of elastic hydrogels and enables the formation of aerogels. A novel idea of Nanofibrillated cellulose (NFC) reinforcement into polysaccharide matrices was demonstrated. The reinforcing effect of NFC depended on the type of polysaccharides (GM/XG) and state of the material (hydro- or aerogel).

For more details:


October/2014: Best poster award
Abdul Ghafar from University of Helsinki was awarded with the Best poster presentation award for the poster entitled “Three-dimensional imaging of polysaccharide aerogels by synchrotron radiation microtomography” during International seminar on aerogels, Hamburg, Germany. Oct. 2014.

Abdul_poster presentation
Abdul Ghafar presenting the winning poster (photo: Suvi Alakalhunmaa)