Forest bioeconomy disruption constantly opens new research avenues for Tekla Tammelin

Tekla Tammelin

The five-year research professor period of Tekla Tammelin was tenured on December 1st, 2023. As a research professor and an active member of the scientific community Tammelin not only gets to solve complex research challenges. She is also able to communicate the research results and their societal impacts to a broader audience.

At VTT research is done on a broad scale, ranging from company contracts to fundamental research projects spanning several years. Professor Tekla Tammelin’s work is typically closer to the latter. “I have always wanted to be a researcher. I get motivated by complex challenges calling for time and resources”, tells Tammelin of her job as a research professor.

“My career at VTT started in 2008. That was a time when paper industry started to truly call for new innovations. I had finished my doctoral studies at Aalto University just a couple of years earlier. I specialized in forest products chemistry, focusing on surface interactions in pulp and paper production. So it was convenient for me to start following this path. I consider myself lucky because I have had chance to take part in this forest industry renewal, which is still ongoing”, describes Tammelin her career at VTT.

Tammelin has managed a vast amount of research projects and programs at VTT. Her focus on fundamental research has enabled her to work with PhD students during her career, also before her research professorship. She enjoys collaborating with graduate students and stresses that it also contributes to her own work.

Practicing as a research professor has brought new challenges and opportunities

Tammelin’s five-year professorship started in December 2018. By the end of 2023 it was tenured. “Tenuring did not exactly change anything in the work substance, but it did bring certain reassurance and trust in what you do. You get more experienced and that brings you status in the scientific community. This, in turn, opens doors to new forums. For me personally, for example presence in the The Finnish Forest Bioeconomy Science Panel is a great opportunity.”

Tammelin has worked for more than a year in the science panel which was appointed by the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and the Ministry of Labor and Economy. Starting 2024 she was nominated as a deputy chair of the panel. The panel brings together professionals from several disciplines and it functions as an effective channel to communicate forest bioeconomy challenges and opportunities also to a broader audience.

The time spans of business and academia do not always match. Companies want to quickly bring new products and services to market, whereas research often needs longer-term investments. “The nanocellulosic materials research at VTT started around 2008 and is still going on. Even though some commercial launches already exist, there is still a lot to investigate and promote”, tells Tammelin about her research methods, then smiles and continues: “These days also the corporate world knows that I don’t offer quick wins but instead thorough and focused research. I often get approached with tough challenges and novel ideas.”

When asked about the most significant highlights of her career, Tammelin ponders for a while and ends up in choosing two examples from her long list. As the first one she mentions operating in the FinnCERES flagship program. FinnCERES is a multidisciplinary competence center jointly operated by VTT and Aalto University, funded by the Research Council of Finland. “I took part in preparing this flagship program since day one, but then ended up as VTT’s scientific principal investigator in it. This happened around the same time in 2018 when my five-year professorship at VTT began.”

Another peak achievement has to do with winning a FetOPEN funding in 2020 with the FuturoLEAF project. “The success rate of FetOPEN projects was only around 1,5 percent. Securing that funding gave us faith in our knowledge and ways of working. I believe that we are on the right track and will score similar bullseyes also in the future!”

Tekla Tammelin
Tekla Tammelin
Research Professor
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