Writing retreat in Tvärminne 19.-21.10.2022

The writing retreat has been an annual event, organized by the Food Materials Science Research Group since 2018, with the intent of setting aside the experimental work and shifting the focus to scientific writing activities. This year, we embarked on a journey to a different location and experienced three fruitful days at the Tvärminne zoological station of the University of Helsinki.

During our retreat in Tvärminne, a beautiful rural area in southern Finland, the members of our group, along with our group leader, Kirsi Mikkonen, got the chance to get together and be productive in a breathtaking place by the sea. We spent most of our time in the classroom, reserved for quiet working, which helped us productively engage in writing, some of us commencing new applications, others finishing old, nearly forgotten publications. Group meetings and fertile scientific discussions were held outside of the classroom. In addition to the hard-working time, everyone enjoyed the delicious meals and desserts during lunch and dinner. The group members sat together chatting, while admiring the amazing sea views. This gave us the opportunity to talk about each other’s work, and get to know new and old lab members better.

Following lunch, some chose to take a walk, enjoy the serene environment and admire wild berries and mushrooms. To reward ourselves after a long day of work, we indulged in going to the sauna and swimming in the cold waters, amongst some friendly jellyfish. After the sauna, we all got together to eat, play games and sing karaoke.

Overall, it was a unique experience, as we had the ability to work productively and share thoughts and ideas with our colleagues.

Writing retreat in Lammi 11.-13.10.2021

The Food Materials Science Research Group, reinforced with Prof. Maija Tenkanen and her Carbohydrate Enzymology and Chemistry Group, spent three days at the Lammi Biological Station of the University of Helsinki.

The classroom was reserved for quiet and calm working, where a good flow was achieved with a number of new articles, grants, and reports developed. Many interactive scientific discussions were held outside of the classroom, whether that be in the sauna, over lunch and dinner, or into the evening. Our team was fed with delicious meals: breakfast, lunch, coffee, and dinners. The food was again wonderful, and we could focus all of our energy on writing and data handling.

We picked mushrooms in the Evo forest area and our master mushroom cook, Hongbo fried these up with plenty of vegan margarine over a live fire as an evening snack. Evening sauna and swimming in the fresh cold water in the Pääjärvi lake was very relaxing. Our trip was most enjoyable, after this heavy covid-closure period, as we readjusted to sitting together and having long evening discussions about science and more with real, living people.

A couple of highlights:

In the writing retreat of 2019, Fabio introduced to the group a modern idea about writing an article together in 24 hours. Unbelievably, the outcome was not quite as easy and fast. Thanks to Fabio’s ongoing dedication to the 24-hour paper, now, after 24 months, we finally celebrated publishing our review article:

Valoppi, F., Agustin, M., Abik, F., Morais de Carvalho, D., Sithole, J., Bhattarai, M., Varis, JJ, Arzami, A., Pulkkinen, EE, & Mikkonen, KS. Insight on current advances in food science and technology for feeding the world population. Frontiers in sustainable food systems.

We got also joyful news from other accepted articles:

Kuribayashi, T., Lankinen, P., Hietala, S., Mikkonen, K.S. Dense and continuous networks of aerial hyphae improve flexibility and shape retention of mycelium composite in the wet state. Composites Part A, accepted.

Hagel, S., Lüssenhop, P., Walk, S., Kirjoranta, S., Ritter, A., Bastidas Jurado, C., Mikkonen, K.S., Tenkanen, M., Körner, I., Saake, B. Valorization of urban street tree pruning residues in biorefineries by steam refining: conversion into fibers, emulsifiers and biogas. Frontiers in Chemistry, accepted.

Mushroom foraging in Sipoonkorpi National Park

Hunting for mushrooms in Finnish forests is a peaceful and unique pastime. Food Materials Science Research Group, along with family members and research collaborators experienced a wonderful day in Sipoonkorpi National Park. We were joined by Milla Koponen who is a self-taught mushroom identifier and has been fascinated by the world of fungus since she was a teenager. A major part of her youth was spent living in a little village in Eastern Finland, so the forest and the many mushrooms hiding within have played a great role in her life.

Walking through the damp forest, our eye catches a glimpse of white, golden yellow, and brownish mushrooms at the foot of an old birch. There is no general rule on how to recognize edible mushrooms from the poisonous ones, and to classify them requires extensive knowledge and experience about mushrooms. Therefore, we decided to pick samples of almost all the mushrooms, with the exception of the smallest of mushrooms, we encountered on our trek. After two hours of foraging, we gathered together at a campfire to enjoy grilled sausages (and mustard) while listening to music served by a professional musician, Riku Turpeinen. During this time, Ms. Koponen taught many of us to identify specific edible mushrooms, and how to cook them.

No matter what types of mushrooms and how many mushrooms we picked, the hunted mushrooms were so precious to us as it was the first time for many of us to have the opportunity to pick mushrooms in this foragers paradise. A big thank you to Jutta Varis who organized the trip, we had such a nice time enjoying Finnish nature, learning how to identify mushrooms, and particularly the delicious mushroom meals we created with the edible species we returned home with.

Picture from left to right:

Relaxing time at the campfire site with grilled sausage and music served by Riku Turpeinen after two hours foraging for mushrooms in the forest.

The identification and classification of hunted mushrooms with the help by Milla Koponen.

The tasty edible mushrooms including porcini mushrooms, several types of brittlegill mushrooms, and common puffball mushrooms. Findings also included salmon coral mushrooms which were not edible but a fun discovery as it indeed looks like coral.

Okay, this is remote work!

COVID-19 forced the FoMSci research group to work remotely.  We rapidly took use of versatile online tools and Kirsi started to host weekly group meetings. Staying home made us realize how important human interactions are in working life, and hence we also opened remote coffee breaks. A video call over a cup of morning coffee makes things seem more normal again. 

While we do not have access to laboratories, otherwise moving to remote working was an easy step. It also proves to be an incredibly efficient way to advance writing publications or planning new project proposals. FoMSci has been very productive already! 

Yet, we cannot deny how much we miss working in the laboratories and the hands on work.  

During regular working days, one can easily reach a daily goal of 10K steps of walking. In remote working, UniSport video exercises help us keep in shape, and many of us has given a try to various workouts. A daily routine of stretching and getting fresh air is good for the mood!

FoMSci thanks the University of Helsinki for an excellent job during the corona crisis. The university offers to co-operate with hospitals and help authorities with their facilities and laboratory equipment. The administration and IT helpdesk are working brilliantly by clear communication and instructions, which has made these exceptional times and the digital leap much easier for teachers and researchers. We are working together for a better future. #WeAreHelsinkiuni

FreshPack – new business from research ideas

We are excited to start our new research and commercialization project “FreshPack” since the beginning of September 2019. The project aims to identify the market potential and create new business from the research idea developed by the Food Materials Science Research Group. Assist. Prof. Kirsi Mikkonen leads this project and other members of the team are Project Planner Emmi Korjus, Doctoral Student Jaison Sithole, Commercialization Officer Petri Junttila, Prof. Maija Tenkanen, Postdoctoral Researcher Elina Jääskeläinen, and Prof. Johanna Björkroth.

Almost half of the global fruit and vegetable production is lost as food waste. FreshPack fights this problem with a novel active packaging component that maintains the quality, microbial safety, and freshness of plant-based products and therefore improves their shelf-life. We have started the further development of our active component along with testing it as part of the existing distribution chain. The component is bio-based and works well in both open and sealed packages.

In September, Emmi and Petri participated in the Smart Packaging Conference in Hamburg, Germany, which was a great kick-off for the project. The conference brought together other active and intelligent technology developers, brand owners, packaging producers, and processing experts to discuss new opportunities and applications for intelligent and active packaging. Among many good presentations, there were speakers from some companies targeting to solve similar problems as FreshPack. It was fruitful to explore the field and see different approaches and solutions to the same challenge.

Follow us for updates along the way from a great invention towards even greater commercial product!


Source of the fruit picture: Uni Material Bank

Writing retreat in Lammi 7.-9.10.2019

Our previous writing and networking retreat in October 2018 was such an excellently productive and positive experience that again in October 2019, the Food Materials Science Research Group, reinforced with Vice Dean of Research, Prof. Maija Tenkanen and her Carbohydrate Enzymology and Chemistry Group, and the Aalto Protein Team, led by Prof. Emma Master, spent three days at the Lammi Biological Station of the University of Helsinki.

The classroom was reserved for quiet working, where we reached an amazing flow experience for writing. Group meetings, face-to-face or via Skype, and many scientific discussions were held outside of the classroom. Fabio introduced us a modern idea about writing together an article in 24 hours, which we experimented. We enjoyed lively conversations, did a hiking trip to the nearby Evo forest area, picked mushrooms, and tasted them as an evening snack. Of course we enjoyed also delicious meals at breakfast, lunch, coffee breaks and dinner. The food was wonderful, and we could focus all our energy in writing. Evening sauna by the Pääjärvi lake was relaxing, and swimming in the fresh cold water kept our minds clear and sharp.

HEMISURFing in HELsinki

Well Hello Helsinki and Viikki Campus!

August 15ht, 2019 brought upon an exciting opportunity for the first face-to-face meeting within the SNS Nordic Forest Research project HEMISURF (https://nordicforestresearch.org/sns-127/). Thanks to the immaculate hosting by Kirsi and Mamata, the project got a flying start accompanied by many, many plans on Nordic hemicelluloses. There will be more to come from the consortium: Kirsi Mikkonen, Bjørge Westereng and Tiina Nypelö. Next stop: Gothenburg 2020.

Refreshing summer trip in Suomenlinna

The Food Materials Science Research Group and the Carbohydrate Chemistry and Enzymology Group spent a refreshing recreational day at Suomenlinna World Heritage Site in Helsinki. On the way to the Suomenlinna ferry at the Market Square, the groups visited some of the University of Helsinki City Center Campus facilities, such as the beautiful main library and inspirational Think Corner. At Suomenlinna sea fortress, the groups attended a guided tour to learn about the complex and vivid history of the venue. After the exciting tour, we headed for a lovely three-course dinner and drinks at a local bistro. Lively conversations continued about Finnish history and grammar amongst other relaxed subjects.

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.