Emulsions from Norway spruce started the HEMISURF project

The Nordic Forest Research (SNS) –funded HEMISURF project had an excellent kick start, when master student Mari Brusletten from NMBU, Norway, visited the University of Helsinki in March 2019. Mari says:

“I was really happy that I got the opportunity to visit the Food Materials Science Research Group and to learn from their expertise on emulsions. This was a new field for me since I am working mainly on fermentation and downstream processing of yeast. During my stay at the University of Helsinki, I used mannans from spruce that I brought with me from Norway, and made emulsions with these. I observed and analyzed the emulsions over time using different instruments to find out their stability. Thank you to Mamata Bhattarai for helping me with the experiments, I learned a lot! I also got to see the city of Helsinki, a city that I had never visited before. Good food, nice buildings and attractions, and a lot of shopping facilities. I enjoyed my stay. Thank you.”

What if paints could be fully bio-based?

In aqueous paints, alkyd binders are already largely bio-based. The next step towards more sustainable paints is to use bio-based stabilizers to emulsify alkyds, so that they can be applied in spreadable and flowable paints and coatings. Within the former Tekes (currently Business Finland) -funded “Novel biomass-based solutions for technical emulsions (BITE)” project (2016−2018), we tested wood hemicelluloses (spruce gum and birch gum) as alkyd emulsifiers with promising results. Please read our full text open access article here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.indcrop.2019.03.017.

Ava Mikkonen, at age 9, kindly tested our paint prototypes, which only consisted of water, alkyds, hemicelluloses, and pigments, without any other additives such as drying control agents. Her beautiful painting illustrates a landscape with two mountain peaks.

Festive celebration for the Tandem Forest Values projects

The Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry (KSLA) organized their annual Commemorative Meeting at the magnificent City Hall of Stockholm on 28.1.2019. Her Royal Highness, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden delivered the Academy Awards, including diplomas for the Tandem Forest Values bilateral projects between Sweden and Finland. Assistant Professor Kirsi Mikkonen was happy to represent the ROCK project at this impressive ceremony, which ended with a festive dinner at the splendid golden banquet hall.

Patent application

The first patent application from the Food Materials Science Research Group was submitted to the Finnish Patent and Registration Office, with application number 20185908. Our innovation will enhance the shelf-life of fresh plant-based food products during transportation and storage, and reduce food waste along the distribution chain.

German-Finnish collaboration and nanoparticle interactions

Doctoral student Verena Wiedenmann from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and Max Rubner-Institut in Germany visits the Food Materials Science Research Group from August until mid-December 2018:

‘I am super happy that I had the opportunity to visit the gorgeous city of Helsinki along with learning from the expertise of the Food Materials Science Research Group and meeting all those nice people. I am a PhD-student from Germany and work on the interactions of solid lipid nanoparticles with protein and their influence on protein gel properties. At the University of Helsinki, I produced protein films with incorporated lipid nanoparticles and emulsifiers. I characterized these films regarding their barrier and mechanical properties. During my stay, I learned a lot about the different characterization methods and benefited from the knowledge the people have here. I also got a glimpse of the work of the other group members, as it was very interesting to see what they do in their research. I had the luck to spend 3 ‘writing days’ in Lammi, where I experienced the Finnish sauna and cold-lake-swimming together with a great working ambience. I am really enjoying my time here!’

We will ROCK!

“We are excited to start our new collaborative project ROCK (Role of lignin Carbohydrate complexes as Key to stable emulsions) together with Assoc. Prof. Martin Lawoko from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, and the new group member, postdoctoral researcher Danila Morais de Carvalho. We are looking for excellent synergy and highly interesting results! The project is funded by Tandem Forest Values, a bilateral research program, which was a gift to 100-year-old Finland in 2017. Vi tackar Sverige för den fina gåvan!”

FoMSci Group Leader, Assist. Prof. Kirsi Mikkonen and University Lecturer Maarit Lahtinen visited KTH, Stockholm, in October 2018 for the kick-off meeting of the ROCK project.

Writing retreat in Lammi 10.-12.10.2018

Food Materials Science Research Group, reinforced with Vice Dean of Research, Prof. Maija Tenkanen, and Aalto Protein Team, led by Prof. Emma Master, spent an excellently productive three days writing and networking retreat at the Lammi Biological Station of the University of Helsinki. In the classroom reserved for quiet working, you could only hear breathing and computer tapping. Many fruitful scientific discussions and group meetings were held outside of the writing room. We also enjoyed delicious breakfast, lunch, coffee breaks, dinner, and evening snack, with lively
conversations about food, carbohydrates, cellulose, molecular structures, chemical bonding, enzymes, mushrooms, etc. etc. etc.

For refreshment, we had a sauna by the Pääjärvi lake, and some used the opportunity to swim in the fresh water, with sauna and also without, in both mornings at sunrise. We also made a hiking trip to the nearby Evo forest area and picked mushrooms.

Group leader makes a research visit

The FoMSci Group Leader, Assist. Prof. Kirsi Mikkonen made a research visit of three weeks to the University of Toronto (UofT), Canada. The purpose of the visit was networking with UofT researchers, building up collaboration, and developing new research ideas. UofT warmly welcomed the visitor and provided great facilities, including an office with a wonderful view to the famous landmark of Toronto, the high rising CN Tower. Together with the host researchers, Kirsi made preliminary experiments in the laboratory and exchanged ideas with experts in various scientific fields. The best ideas are born when they are viewed from different perspectives! The visit was pleasant, efficient, and fruitful – we wish to encourage all researchers to make exchange visits if possible.

Human senses and wood hemicelluloses

In some cases human senses are the best tool to study complex taste and odor properties of samples. A trained panel of ten persons gathered together to look for aromas and flavors of wood hemicellulose samples in the sensory lab of University of Helsinki, Viikki Campus.

The panelists evaluated properties of water solutions and product prototypes containing wood hemicelluloses. Panelists evaluated the color, odor, mouthfeel and taste of the samples. The study was very interesting because it was the first time that sensory properties of wood hemicelluloses were systematically characterized. The panelists said that this was a nice experience, although the task was not easy in the case of complex product prototypes.

In the researcher’s point of view, the sensory study is a completely new area which requires very good planning and a lot of work, but it provides invaluable information about the samples and is something that could be nice to continue working on in the future as well.

New Academy of Finland Postdoctoral research project

At the end of May 2018, good news arrived in our group! Fabio Valoppi obtained the Academy of Finland postdoctoral research funding with the project entitled “Acoustic waves as a new tailoring tool for lipid-based oleogels (NEW-WAVE)”. The project is about the development of a new technology able to finely modify the structure of oleogels (hydrogenated and saturated fat substitutes). This project brings in close collaboration the Food Materials Science group, the Food Chemistry research group, the Electronics Research Laboratory, and the Helsinki X-ray Laboratory, as well as establishes new collaborations with the ETH Zurich. More details will come during the next year, after Fabio will start the project (1.9.2018).

The Academy of Finland is an agency within the administrative branch of the Finnish Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, that every year fund high-quality scientific research. In the last Academy of Finland postdoctoral call, a total of 132 proposals were submitted to the Research Council for Biosciences and Environment, of which only 16 were funded.

We wish good luck to Fabio and look forward to touching with our hands the new piece of equipment he will develop.