Renewable and with potential: Dr. Katja Heise develops bio-based membranes and sensors

Portrait of guest researcher Katja Heise in front of a brown background
With a postdoctoral fellowship from the Academy of Finland, Dr. Katja Heise as a visiting scientist at the Institute for Electronics and Sensor Materials (IESM) of TU Bergakademie Freiberg develops innovative materials made of nanocellulose and nanochitin.

“I am a networker. I enjoy working with colleagues across countries and disciplines on new scientific approaches. Networking is essential for researchers in the early stage of their careers”, says the young scientist, who normally researches at Aalto University in Finland. Until March 2022, she would like to transfer her knowledge on biopolymers from renewable raw materials to Freiberg and, together with the team around Prof. Yvonne Joseph, develop new membranes and sensors made from cellulose and chitin.

Bio-based materials for a wide range of applications

“The contact came through my doctoral supervisor Prof. Steffen Fischer at TU Dresden”, says the food chemist. Since her time as a graduate student, she has been interested in the question of how wood and plant components can be used as starting materials for industrial applications. To do this, she specifically changes the chemical structures and properties of the bionanomaterials creating innovative materials with tailored properties. The water-binding cellulose becomes, for example, a sensor that can display moisture even at low concentrations. "The surface conductivity of modified nanocellulose can be used specifically in sensor technology. The mechanisms behind are currently a very popular topic internationally!” says Dr. Katja Heise. In the future, bio-based materials could reduce the proportion of mineral raw materials in sensor applications or replace them completely. Due to their flexibility, biopolymers are also used in portable sensors or energy generators, so-called "electronic skins" or "wearables".

"Unleash your full potential"

Dr. Katja Heise has brought the building blocks for the design of the new bio-based materials from Finland to Germany. "At Aalto University, my colleagues and I produce nanomaterials from wood or plant components in the laboratory. Here at the IESM, the materials meet the expertise in sensor and membrane technology as well as great measurement techniques and can, thus, develop their full potential," says the visiting scientist. "Together with the team, we integrate the bionanomaterials into material applications - with interdisciplinary and innovative concepts."

Together with her host in Freiberg, Dr. Katja Heise is planning further joint projects and hopes for an extension of the guest stay at TU Bergakademie Freiberg. "For example, we are currently applying for a junior research group on smart, bio-based membrane systems," reveals Prof. Yvonne Joseph. "I have found a strong mentor in my host, so that the stay is already very enriching for me, both scientifically and personally," reports Dr. Katja Heise. She particularly appreciates the integrative collaboration with researchers from all over the world at her home university in Finland. "Here in Freiberg, I was directly fascinated by the open and interdisciplinary approach to current research issues."

Fragen beantwortet / Contact: 
Prof. Yvonne Joseph, yvonne.joseph@esm.tu-freiberg.de