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The winner of the Ekman medal is driven by new questions

During the Ekman Days event in January 2017 Tomas Larsson was awarded an Ekman medal for his research. The Ekman Medal is awarded by SPCI and has been awarded to 45 individuals since its introduction 1929. Tomas’ research has resulted in new knowledge and insights within the field of cellulose structure.

“New knowledge is not just new knowledge for me personally; it is new knowledge not yet known to anyone,” says Tomas. 

Part of the reason why Tomas was awarded the medal is that his research provided new knowledge and insights. During his work he has met many other researchers, given presentations, published articles and rapidly identified his research area. All the contacts and meetings are part of the quality control process for research, and, according to Tomas, were an important reason for him receiving this reward.

“I am really delighted and honoured. The award was not a foregone conclusion in any way, so it was fantastic news.” 

Tomas has developed new understanding of the internal structure of cellulose that was not previously available. SPCI’s board believes that the new cellulose fibre knowledge is essential to be able to replace other raw materials and to adapt cellulose materials for future uses.

When Tomas comes across a problem, it is important to him to understand how he should tackle it. Like the rest of the world, there is no book of answers for research, so researchers like Tomas must break problems down into scientific questions and deduce how reliable answers to such questions can be reached. The process is not straightforward, and a phenomenon that is used regularly today was discovered along the way. That phenomenon relates to the restructuring of cellulose, which takes place in a fibre wall, for instance, when wood fibres are exposed to cooking chemicals, and is called cellulose aggregation.

Much of this work involved development of new measurement techniques that made it possible to measure key properties of the material: “those that were present”, although he also wants to see “those that were not present”. This led in turn to new questions in order to work out how much “cavity” there was in the fibre wall of a pulp fibre. Combining the measurement methods developed with other measurement methods brought other information to light. It was by combining measurement methods that Tomas was also able to resolve this question. Then he also started to investigate whether it is possible to control the chemical properties of the cellulose by changing the structure of the material. And it was.

If we should be able to exploit cellulose even better than we currently do, it is essential to gain a better understanding of how the inner structure of cellulose affects its chemical properties and its strength properties in cellulose-based materials. In this respect, a number of important and unanswered questions remain. Naturally, we cannot explain everything, but our advances so far shows that the inner structure of cellulose seems to be of importance, sometimes even vital importance, in contexts where it previously has not received much attention,” Tomas says. 

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Tomas Larsson
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