Mika Sipponen named Research Leader of the Future, by the Foundation for Strategic Research!

The Foundation for Strategic Research has appointed at total of 16 Research Leaders of the Future, and one of them is MMK’s own Assistant Professor Mika H. Sipponen, for his research on “Lignin-based functional materials for a sustainable future”

The appointment comes with a 15 million SEK grant over a 5 five-year period along with a leadership training to prepare for a future as a scientific leader for larger constellation than a research group. The program is intended for young researchers with excellent scientific and pedagogical skills to develop into research leaders of the future. The research also has to have impact on society outside of academia

Mika, congratulations on getting this award! 

Thank you! I’m honoured to be on this list of brilliant scientists across disciplines. This wouldn’t have been possible without my group that is committed to cutting-edge research, and altruistic support from senior colleagues in MMK and internationally. I would like to mention Prof. Lennart Bergström and Prof. Orlando Rojas (UBC) for their support and mentorship, but my gratitude extends to all colleagues at MMK and elsewhere for being there and trusting me.

Can you tell a bit more what this grant means to your research?

It’s great to see that SSF and the external reviewers recognized forest materials and especially lignin-based materials as a strategically central research area.

I believe that lignin can be one of the important renewable resources for sustainable materials and that we need to develop new ways to harness this nature’s multifunctional super-material. 

How does this new project help achieving your vision?

My strategy for success is to build on existing and new collaborations that enrich the research carried out in the SUSMATCHEM research group. I’m certain that the networks provided by the FFL program will be highly beneficial in this regard, and also the visibility since we need toin attract talented early-career researchers to MMK.

Tell us a bit about the project you will be focusing on?

The main objective of the SUSLIG project is to develop functional lignin materials for future’s energy-efficient and environmentally friendly solutions. Lignin is the organic polymer that forms the support tissue in most plants.
To achieve these goals, we will develop lignin-based reprocessable polymers and adhesives, foams and coatings for photo-thermal management andimproved energy storageefficiency, and gels for sustainable application of agrochemicals. These materials and applications share the need for innovative processing of lignin to render it applicable to functional materials.
The expected results will provide scientific insight on structure-function relationship of lignin in these novel materials as well as processing and synthesis routes to achieve concept materials for scale-up evaluation. Furthermore, the team trained in the project will be highly looked-after workforce in industry, public sector, and academia.

As part of the program, you will also receive extensive leadership training?

I’m particularly excited about the leadership training within this program, as it is a unique dimension not present in other national grants that typically focus on scientific excellence and training of early-career researchers. Although personally I have benefited enormously by being surrounded by more merited PIs, as a young PI and group leader it sometimes feels like we are dipped into the deep end and left surviving what comes to leadership skills. Thus, receiving the formal training and support and networking from the fellow grantees feels like a safety net that I can rely on. This is extremely important for building my confidence and ability to take responsibility on leading larger scientific entities.

Thanks for taking your time Mika, all of us at MMK are all proud to be your colleague!

Link to SSF announcement


You can read more about the Sipponen groups research in these articles and on the group pages.

New lignin based material to replace fossil plastics and adhesives - Stockholm University Center for Circular and Sustainable Systems

New European network on sustainable use of tree bark for wooden construction - Stockholm University Center for Circular and Sustainable Systems