Five from Finland
Many women scientists in Finland have made significant contributions across diverse fields.Julia Helminen
Female scientists in Finland have been consistently pushing the boundaries of knowledge, innovation and technology.
As Finland continues to prioritise education and innovation, as well as makes progress in achieving gender parity, more and more women here choose science as their career focus and make remarkable strides in various scientific disciplines.
Here are five recent examples of how women in Finland have risen to the forefront of problem solving through research and innovation.
According to researcher Lotta Isosaari, “if you want to model tissues realistically, it is really important to include neural and vascular networks in the models”.Jonne Renvall / Tampere University
Last summer, researchers at Tampere University completed a study recognised as an important step towards more complex tissue models that mimic human organs. The researchers managed to keep an artificial three-dimensional vasculature network alive in micro-sized tissue chips for two weeks using nerve cells. This is reportedly much longer than ever achieved internationally.
The nerve cells used in the study utilised the induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology, in which cells that are easily isolated from the patient, such as blood cells, get reprogrammed into stem cells and further differentiated into nerve cells with the help of biomolecules.
“The research is significant, for example, for brain tissue modelling,” explained Lotta Isosaari, researcher at the Centre of Excellence in Body
-on-Chip Research (CoEBoC).
“Next, we aim to prolong the survivability of vasculature and at the same time complicate the tissue model by adding cells typical of tissues,” she added.
VTT is one of the drivers behind the DataMust project that aims to develop new data market concepts and technologies to facilitate urban carbon neutrality.Jussi Hellsten / City of Helsinki
Last spring saw the launch of a new project focusing on carbon neutrality in urban environments, DataMust. Bringing together several companies and research organisations, the project seeks to accelerate the green transition of cities with the help of an innovative data market concept.
“In practice, we use the funding to develop solutions that improve the energy efficiency of the built environment and data processing,” said Maija Federley, senior scientist and project leader at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
“Urban carbon neutrality goals require more extensive sharing and utilisation of data,” she added. “The energy consumption of digital infrastructure will be reduced by using data locally without transferring it to cloud services. Both goals are based on the concept of a decentralised and local data marketplace and the related data processing services.”
The researchers at Aalto University believe that geopolymers have untapped potential in different fields, including studio ceramics.Mikko Raskinen / Aalto University
Renowned for its groundbreaking research and innovation across a wide spectrum of disciplines, Aalto University established in 2022 the Radical Ceramics research group to investigate how natural substances like clays could be used as geopolymers and alkali-activated materials. The researchers claim that geopolymers could serve as a greener alternative to construction concrete and studio ceramics.
“We've already been able to make small-scale geopolymers that are the perfect shape – mainly cubes,” enthused professor of design Maarit Mäkelä, who is the leader of the research group.
The paper on the initial findings was published by the group in June this year. Among the benefits of geopolymers, the researchers highlighted lower energy consumption and reduced emissions: whereas traditional ceramics need to be fired at temperatures of up to 1 300 degrees Celsius, the geopolymer mixes used by the team were cured at just 80 degrees Celsius.
VTT aims to create more environmentally friendly meat alternatives using sunflower press cakes as a key protein ingredient.Zszen John / Pexels
About a year ago, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and its partners embarked on a project to develop sustainable meat alternatives to reduce meat consumption and increase protein self-sufficiency amid growing threats to food security.
Understanding the importance to utilise existing plant-based side streams efficiently as high-value protein ingredients for food, the researchers give centre stage to sunflower press cake, a by-product of sunflower oil production.
“[The] Taste2Meat project contributes to [a] zero-waste and sustainable food system by upcycling sunflower press cake as protein ingredient and designing both hybrid (meat and plant protein) and solely plant protein-based tasty meat alternatives to European consumers,” outlined Nesli Sözer, research professor at VTT.
The project also includes consumer studies to assess consumer attitudes and perceptions of meat substitutes.
The BioDesign project has brought together scientists from molecular and synthetic biology, as well as machine learning and computer science.Matti Ahlgren / Aalto University
Last spring, scientists at Aalto University and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland launched a joint project, BioDesign, seeking to create new enzymes with the help of machine learning and accelerate the transition towards a circular bioeconomy.
According to Merja Penttilä, research professor at VTT and adjunct professor at Aalto University, intelligent bioengineering can contribute to the transition by replacing many existing processes that are based on fossil raw materials.
“We can design and engineer novel cells to produce basically any useful product, and enzymes are key players to make this happen,” she said.
“Our goal is to create totally new enzymes that are capable of transcending natural evolutionary principles and maximising their industrial utility. If we succeed, we will revolutionise possibilities to transition from a fossil-based economy to a circular bioeconomy.”