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Young Researcher of the Year develops multifunctional materials

The Finnish Foundation for Technology Promotion has named Assistant Professor Jaana Vapaavuori as Young Researcher of the Year for 2020.
Jaana Vapaavuori
Jaana Vapaavuori heads the Multifunctional Materials Design research group. Photo: Glen Forde

The Finnish Foundation for Technology Promotion chose Assistant Professor Jaana Vapaavuori as the recipient of the Young Researcher of the Year award for 2020. The award is worth EUR 10,000.

Doctor of Science (Technology) Jaana Vapaavuori heads the Multifunctional Materials Design research group at Aalto University. The group's goal is to create new multifunctional materials – that is, to combine several different functionalities in a single material.

For example, it will be possible in the future to manufacture multifunctional support structures for solar panels and other optoelectronic devices, such as LED lights. The structures make the device lighter, more efficient, and flexible. In addition, they can help make the surfaces of a device water-repellent.

The research group is also studying questions such as how light can alter the structure and characteristics of materials. The research has plenty of potential applications. It can be utilised in the manufacture of extremely small microcircuits, for example.

Vapaavuori's work is guided by design thinking and the optimal utilisation of resources. In producing multifunctional materials, the entire life cycle of the final product must be taken into consideration. The production should not involve excessive use of energy or unsustainable raw materials.

‘If we can add a feature to the materials that makes the final product more efficient, it is worth implementing. On the other hand, it would not make sense to add new features that consume more energy than the final product would deserve’, Vapaavuori says.

Born in 1985, Vapaavuori has achieved considerable scientific breakthroughs. For example, in 2015 she developed a brand-new method for measuring the effects of light on certain types of polymer materials. The phenomenon was not well understood before, for which reason the method developed by Vapaavuori is of international significance.

‘The young researchers awarded by our foundation each year are excellent scientists, and Jaana Vapaavuori is no exception. Vapaavuori's special achievement is that she is the coming director of the Aalto University Multidisciplinary Materials platform. To solve challenging problems we need platforms like these that utilise the skills and knowledge of researchers of different fields’, says Johanna Lamminen, chair of the board of the Finnish Foundation for Technology Promotion, explaining the foundation's choice for this year's Young Researcher of the Year.

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Jan Deska, Jaana Vapaavuori, kuva: Jaakko Kahilaniemi
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