Biological and soft matter physics
Olli Ikkala’s (b. 1953) research approach is considered highly innovative in the field of materials science. In the future it is expected that his work will pave the way to the manufacture of completely new type of biomimetic materials.
After graduating from Helsinki University of Technology (TKK), Ikkala joined the Finnish chemical company Neste as a researcher and later became a director. From Neste, he returned to TKK as Senior Research Fellow and was then appointed Professor of Technical Physics and Professor of Applied Physics. In 1998, he was appointed Adjunct Professor of Polymer Chemistry at the University of Helsinki. In 2002–2005, Ikkala was in charge of the Centre for New Materials at Helsinki University of Technology, and since 2005 he has been Technical Director at the Centre. Olli Ikkala served as Academy Professor in 2005–2010.
Professor Ikkala’s research interests are in self-organised biological nanometre scale structures and functions. His aim is to create new biomimetic materials and to integrate new functionalities into materials, including electroactive, magnetic, absorption and even biological properties.
During his Academy Professorship, Olli Ikkala plans initially to start researching strong natural materials, such as silk and mother-of-pearl, with a view to developing high-tensile and lightweight biomimetic materials. These materials have application in data communications technology and energy-saving vehicles, for example. Another potential application is in human spare parts, to which the materials under investigation offer an interesting new approach. In the second part of Professor Ikkala’s research plan, the focus switches to mimicking and utilising biological processes, such as membrane selectivity. These kinds of selective biological membranes can be used to convert chemical energy into other forms and in this way to create ‘soft machines’.
Another area of interest in Professor Ikkala’s project is to investigate the possibility of manufacturing these materials on a large scale. The combination of expertise in the areas of biochemistry, materials structures, physics, chemistry and electronics by means of biomimetics can pave the way to important scientific breakthroughs. The prospects of achieving these goals and breakthroughs are considered very good.