It is important to do work that can serve society
When asked for advice for young professors, Sixta emphasises how important it is to work on subjects that serve society. Specifically, the change from a crude oil economy into a bioeconomy needs to be facilitated.
“We need to join forces to really enable the shift to a bioeconomy. We are currently witnessing this dependency on crude oil also due to the war in Ukraine. We could have seen it earlier, but it was cheaper to turn a blind eye to the problem. The time is now to develop better products from sustainable raw materials like wood or other lignocellulosic materials, such as wastes”, Sixta says.
Sixta also believes that we need to support the industry so that new sustainable processes can be implemented in time, and not decades later. Research projects in the bioeconomy are often not targeted enough, too fragmented or designed past the needs of our society, so that the innovation density is too low to develop sustainable, economically relevant processes to market maturity.
This is also an appeal to funding institutions to pay more attention to ensuring that research proposals are coherent in terms of sustainability and economic relevance and are oriented towards the needs of our society. Of course, this also means that longer development periods must be funded for projects that meet these requirements.
“All my graduates have received excellent jobs, because this knowledge in textile chemistry has become rare. If you understand the chemistry of wood, especially that of the polymeric components, you at least have the basis for developing processes to convert lignocellulose into chemical products in general. This knowledge was available in Finland and Sweden for many years, but was lost through short-sighted decisions by companies when, for example, the viscose industry in these countries was shut down and at the same time this basic knowledge was not further promoted in research, so that the basis for the successful development of new processes was lost", Sixta says.
The textile industry is currently the second-largest polluter in the world, right after the oil industry. It is therefore crucial that we develop new sustainable processes. This need is reflected in the popularity of Ioncell.
“Ioncell seems to be very attractive to young researchers. I get applications all the time from scientists all over the world who wish to work in our team. This is because they see that we are working on something that could be useful to society.”
Young professors should learn about the industry
Sixta also thinks young professors should learn how to interact with companies. This is especially vital for researchers at technical universities.
“The younger professors who come strictly from academia and may not know what to expect from companies. This is something I often tell my young colleagues – please go work in the industry for half a year and do some work with companies. It is very important to get to know them, to understand their needs, and learn how to collaborate in the best possible way.”
In retirement, Sixta becomes a professor emeritus at Aalto. He intends to take on an active role.
“One of the main reasons why I want to stay at Aalto as an emeritus professor is that I want to be reachable by students, so they can contact me and we can have discussions, I can visit them in the lab, give them advice, and support them within my possibilities. The most important task of a professor is to educate young people, to help them build their career.”
Sixta encourages students to expand their horizons, to not restrict themselves in their life. It is a necessity to stay open to learning new things.
“You have to explore and enjoy different areas, not only your closest neighbourhood. It is also important to not be afraid to contact people that you think can offer you useful input. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions! That is my general advice to students: keep your eyes open.”