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.

Conference in China

In May 2018, doctoral student Mamata Bhattarai and postdoctoral researcher Fabio Valoppi from the Food Materials Science group, and doctoral student Yaqin Wang and university lecturer Ndegwa Maina from the Cereal Science group participated as speakers at the 14th International Hydrocolloid Conference in Nanchang (China). Mamata and Fabio presented the last findings of our group on the factors governing the formation of spruce galactoglucomannans assemblies in aqueous solutions and the role of spruce galactoglucomannans soluble and insoluble fractions on the physical stability of oil in water emulsions.

The conference had more than 300 participants, more than 100 speakers of which 13 invited. The last day, the participants had the possibility to visit the State Key Laboratory of Food Science and Technology of Nanchang University.

Mamata and Fabio not only had a fruitful time listening to and networking with international experts in the hydrocolloids area but also enjoyed the delicious local food (especially hot pot!).

Summer of emulsions

Food Science student Venla Juntti describes her summer experience: “As a master student I was happy to find out that I was chosen to spend my summer as research assistant for the Food Materials Science Research group. I have learned a lot in a short time about emulsions and different polysaccharides. It feels that my mind is already turning closer to being a researcher (-ish at least) than a student. I was also pleasantly surprised by the great team spirit of this group: you can always find help when needed and enjoy together so much pizza – as cleaning days.

I am interested in the idea of turning waste into valuable raw materials. That is the reason why I feel motivated to work on wood hemicellulose –based emulsion stabilizers. Exploiting the side streams of wood industry in novel products is a huge opportunity in Finland, where we have plenty of forests and a lot of know how in valorizing them. It is one step closer to reusing all our materials and reducing waste as low as possible.”

Italy moves to Helsinki

“Having the possibility to study new techniques and to work with a great group in the charming Helsinki is the best experience I could do”. These are words of Giulia Alt, an Erasmus student from the University of Udine (Italy), performing the experimental work for her master thesis in our laboratory. The thesis is focused on the evaluation of the functionality of surface active molecules from grains and on their characterization in terms of chemical composition and properties. Then the study moves forward with the formation and characterization of emulsions stabilized by these plant-based compounds. We also had a chance to taste and enjoy grains in the form of most delicious Italian pizza prepared by Giulia Alt and Fabio Valoppi!

Visitor from Norway

Doctoral student Ragnhild Aaen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) visits our laboratory to prepare and characterize emulsions as part of the Nordic Forest Research (SNS) –funded WOOD-PRO project. Novel wood-based hydrocolloids may become a future solution for creating structure for food and other life-science applications in a sustainable way. “We are targeting especially the structuring of low-fat food products. If my research is successful, we can develop more healthy and clean-label foods for consumers that prefer natural ingredients”, says Ragnhild.

Networking and collaboration with Luke

Research Scientist, Dr. Petri Kilpeläinen and his colleagues from the Natural Resource Institute Finland (Luke) invited the Food Materials Science Research Group for a visit at Luke’s brand new Bioruukki facilities. We learned how biomass can be extracted in semi-pilot scale using pressurized hot water. Forests, swamps, and industrial side streams are highly interesting sources for valuable components that can be recovered using this method.

After lunch we visited also Luke’s laboratory in Otaniemi, and then had a joint tour at our own facilities in the Viikki Campus. The enjoyable and idea-rich day ended with snacks and networking in our sensory laboratory.

Two interesting events to come:

 “Battle for natural resources” –event @Think Corner

What is the future of our forests, water reserves and minerals? “Battle of natural resources” –event holds three interesting and feisty panel discussion about forest, water, and minerals.

In forest discussion the panellist are Olli Tahvonen, Kirsi Mikkonen, and Anni Arponen. Antti Belinskij, Janne-Markus Rintala, and Suvi Ignatius will discuss water. Anni Huhtala, Kai Kokko, and Petri Peltonen will discuss minerals.

Event will be held at Think Corner at Thursday 19th of April at 5 pm. The event is part of the Hope for Globe event (12.4-25.4).

More information about the event:

The language of the event is Finnish.


Partnerships for sustainable solutions -event @Think Corner

The event will bring researchers and stakeholders together to solve the most instant sustainability challenges through co-creation. The aim is to combine latest academic knowledge to innovations for concrete solutions to sustainability challenges.

In the event Kirsi Mikkonen is pitching about spruce gum and its role of stabilizing food in a sustainable way.

The event is held at Think Corner at Wednesday 16th of May at 2 pm.

Event is in Finnish and registration is needed.

More information about the event:

The event is part of the HELSUS Sustainability Science Days 2018, which will be held as a two-day event from Wednesday to Thursday on 16th-17th May 2018. There are several locations for the event.

Trip to Diamond Light Source Synchrotron

In December 2017, doctoral student Mamata Bhattarai and postdoctoral researcher Fabio Valoppi from the Food Materials Science Group, and postdoctoral researcher Inkeri Kontro from the Department of Physics spent 24 hours at the Diamond Light Source in Oxford (UK).

Diamond Light Source is the UK’s national synchrotron facility comprising more than 30 beamlines for advanced material characterization. The team worked at the B21 beamline under the support of the senior beamline scientist Katsuaki Inoue carrying out small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) analysis on hemicelluloses based emulsions characterizing their interfacial structure.

The team successfully utilized the granted beamtime collecting data from more than 100 scans. The data processing is going on and we expect to obtain crucial information regarding hemicelluloses organization at the oil/water interface. Stay tuned!