Nordic Biomaterials with CHEMARTS – Small steps for change are valuable

In the coming years, our material world will change dramatically. The overuse of existing raw materials cannot continue, and global consumption must decrease. Aalto University Summer School’s two-week intensive course Nordic Biomaterials with CHEMARTS teaches students how to combine design, advanced technology and material science to create sustainable materials and cellulose-driven concepts.
Project by Yu Chen & Chia-wen Hsu. Photo: Eeva Suorlahti
Project by Yu Chen & Chia-wen Hsu. Photo: Eeva Suorlahti

We had a chat about the future of renewable materials and new ways of working towards a circular economy with the founders of CHEMARTS and responsible teachers of the course Professor Pirjo Kääriäinen, Department of Design and Professor Tapani Vuorinen, Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems.

What can one do on an individual level to work towards living in a more sustainable material world?

There is a considerable lack of knowledge about where the materials come from and how they are produced. To make a real change, we need to understand what kind of material systems exist today and how they are connected to our consumption habits. 

When we are more informed, we can change our behaviour - even small steps for change are valuable. To change the systems on a big scale, we need collaboration over all possible disciplines and borderlines – it is a joint effort.

How can design and technology pave the way for more sustainable materials?

Technology following the principles of green chemistry (12 Principles of Green Chemistry - American Chemical Society ( enables the development of old and new material-related processes towards sustainability in many ways. Design has excellent tools and methods to include the user’s needs and potential applications already in the very early stage of material research, such as scenario building, explorative prototyping and visual communication. And when we combine these, we can create new ways of working and speed up the slow process of material development.

What does the future look like for renewable materials?

The use of renewable materials has enormous potential. However, we need to have a holistic approach to renewable material sources and their use. The value of nature must always be recognised, and for example, biodiversity has to be taken care of. In addition to using existing raw materials and processes, the potential of underutilized side streams and novel biological processes, including synthetic biology, are broadly researched to find completely new ways to produce materials.

Photo of Professor Pirjo Kääriäinen in a blue shirt looking directly into the camera.
Professor Pirjo Kääriäinen, Department of Design

Could you share some of the previous achievements of the CHEMARTS collaboration?

This year CHEMARTS celebrates ten years of collaboration and experimental material research, and there are plenty of examples of the students’ projects and even one start-up company. In addition to these study projects, several research projects on wood-based materials have been inspired by our design-driven approach. Our main achievements are the young professionals who have got inspired by the experimental way of working and collaboration in CHEMARTS.

Photo of Tapani Vuorinen in a brown blazer looking straight into the camera.
Professor Tapani Vuorinen, Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems

What kind of assignments and practical exercises can the students expect during the course?

During the first lab sessions, participants can try out the material recipes developed by the previous CHEMARTS students, for example, foaming of wood fibres or dyeing with plants. You can download The CHEMARTS Cookbook to familiarise yourself with our projects. The exercises can be adapted according to the student's previous knowledge and completed at different levels. For example, if a student is familiar with scientific material research or has prior knowledge from design processes, those specific skills can be utilised when developing the material concepts.

What are some of the key learning outcomes of this course?

The course aims to enhance the material knowledge and creativity, and cross-disciplinary collaboration skills; those can be used in various contexts.

What do the structure and the format of the course look like?

The course includes a pre-assignment, an on-campus workshop, and a project report delivered after the workshop. The pre-assignment consists of readings and an online laboratory safety exam. The workshop weeks consist of thematic lectures, hands-on working at the CHEMARTS lab, a visit to the Finnish nature and ideation of a material concept for the future individually or in pairs or teams. All CHEMARTS courses are based on the student’s motivation and interest and have a design-driven approach to material research and co-learning.    

For whom would you recommend the course Nordic Biomaterials with CHEMARTS?

The course aims to enable a cross-disciplinary and inspiring learning experience for anyone passionate about materials. Even if you don’t have a background in chemistry or design, you can bring in your skills to enrich the course and its learning outcome. All you need is an open mind and a willingness to explore the potential of renewable raw materials in the context of sustainability.

Read more about Nordic Biomaterials with CHEMARTS and apply before May 31st 2021.

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A woman with red hair and a white lab coat examinating biomaterials in a microscope in a laboratory at Aalto University.

Nordic Biomaterials

The use of materials today is not sustainable for the environment. Learn how to create new concepts for sustainable material development by combining design, technology and natural materials science

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