Ascending Investigator Grant from Novo Nordisk Foundation awarded to Maria Sammalkorpi for computational biosynthetic materials research

Senior Scientist Maria Sammalkorpi has been awarded the highly competed Ascending Investigator 2022 Grant from Novo Nordisk Foundation for a total of ca 9 million DKK (1.2M€).
A portrait of Maria Sammalkorpi.
Dr. Maria Sammalkorpi models computationally biosynthetic materials. Simulation visualizations: Maisa Vuorte, Soft Materials Modelling Group, Aalto University.

The Ascending Investigator Grants are part of Novo Nordisk Foundation’s Research Leader Programme that provides proven research leaders the opportunity to pursue ambitious and innovative projects and strengthen their research groups. The five-year duration and the substantial research resources by the grant allow focusing on major research challenges that bear significant advancement potential in the field.

Sammalkorpi uses computational modelling to design self-organizing synthetic protein materials with advanced materials properties and functionalities. While living cells readily produce biological protein structural materials with fascinating and versatile properties, as evident when comparing e.g. silk fibers, reptilian scales and shells, squid beaks, or epidermal skin or leather, achieving advanced properties in biosynthetic materials remains a challenge. Even more fascinating is when synthetic materials obtain characteristics of living systems. Examples include animate materials with dynamic structural reorganization, programmable assembly, and adaptation of the material to environment.

Sammalkorpi’s project uses computational means, connected with related experimental characterization, to design proteins, map materials assembly conditions, and resolve protein-assembly condition dependencies, that lead to desired properties and response in biosynthetic materials.

“Computational modelling offers a largely untapped potential in advancing biosynthetic materials. We model the proteins and their interactions aiming at capturing e.g., the influence of chemical gradients, mass flows, and external fields on the materials formation in biosynthetic protein materials. Such non-equilibrium assembly conditions in living cells give rise to materials with advanced functionalities”, says Maria Sammalkorpi.

An illustration of biosynthetic protein materials
Biosynthetic protein materials can be modelled computationally at multiple different length scales. Examples shown for coarse-grained bead and atomistic detail modelling of the same silk-like protein forming assemblies in water solution.

Simulation visualizations in the picture above: Alberto Scacchi and Piotr Batys, Soft Materials Modelling Group, Aalto University.

Further information

Senior Scientist Maria Sammalkorpi, firstname.lastname (at)
Departments of Chemistry and Materials Science and Bioproducts and Biosystems,
Soft Materials Modelling group 
Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in Life-Inspired Hybrid Materials (LIBER)
Aalto University, Finland

About the Novo Nordisk Foundation

The Novo Nordisk Foundation is a Danish commercial foundation that operates independently. 
The vision of the Novo Nordisk Foundation is to improve people’s health and the sustainability of society and the plan is to contribute significantly to research and development that improves the lives of people and the sustainability of society. Through its grant-awarding and commercial activities, the Foundation contributes to society by e.g., promoting excellent research and innovation, fostering the development of talent across different life stages and scientific fields, and developing new medicines, patient care approaches and sustainable approaches. Read more at

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