Excitement at the BioColour Kick-off – Broad audience launch of the project

The first BioColour broad audience event was held in Helsinki at the Think Corner on 11 November 2019. It marked the open launch of the research project as well as the start of an active dialogue with the broad audience – dialogue that will be evolving and having new forms in the course of the coming years. 

Monday afternoon in mid-November Helsinki was a grey as can be expected, but the atmosphere inside Think Corner, the heart of new thinking and creative energy in University of Helsinki central campus, was thick with anticipation and excitement. BioColour open for all Kick-off event was about to begin and the Think Lounge was full almost up to the last seat with curious audience. Another audience was waiting to follow the launch of the project via streaming.  

Photo by Anja Primetta

After welcoming the audience, the project leader Riikka Räisänen opened the research project’s theme from a very relatable point of view. Colour is a passion to the project’s researchers but so it is to almost every one of us. Colour doesn’t leave us cold, it has a lot to do with emotions, opinions, memories and the way we experience our surroundings. As we really can’t live without colour, we come to the question of how to produce it. This leads to the aim of the BioColour project: The project aims to develop new methods of biocolourants’ large-scale production, characterisation and applications. Consumer aspects are also studied which enable to build up novel processes leading to the variety of sustainable items. All the actions must be safe for the environment and humans for ensuring and building a more sustainable future, without compromising the colourful palette of natural dyes and pigments. The BioColour consortium is multidisciplinary representing scientists from the University of Helsinki, University of Eastern Finland, Aalto University, Häme University of Applied Sciences, Luke Natural Resources Institute Finland, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, North Carolina State University, USA and University of Campinas, Brazil.  BioColour research project is funded by the Strategic Research Council (SRC) at the Academy of Finland and it’s part of the programme ‘Innovative Materials and Services to Promote Resource Wisdom and Sustainable Development (IMPRES)’.


Despite colour being a very familiar subject, it might remain unfamiliar to us as a phenomenon or substance. We might agree that colour plays a huge role in our everyday lives, but what about the essence of colour. What are we really talking about when we talk about colour? Professor Harold S. Freeman from North Carolina State University, who is one of the leading colour researchers and part of the BioColour research team, addressed this core question.  His presentation ‘What is colour and how to produce it’ communicated about colour in the context of organic chemistry also explaining the physical phenomenon of seeing colors. Freeman’s presentation offered participants an interesting introduction to the aspects that are the basis of researching colour.


Evening’s other presentation was given by VTT Research Professor Merja Penttilä, who talked about the fascinating theme of ‘Colourants in the future by synthetic biology’. As the microbal world is naturally colourful and microbes produce pigments, new colourant sources can be studied with biotechnology by genetically engineering microbes.  This possible source of colourants would be sustainable because of the possibility to use renewable raw materials and plant waste fractions.


The atmosphere after the official program was lively and there was intense conversation, laughter and exchanging contacts between participants. Having an impact on society and co-creating new ideas and solutions in a broader community than the BioColour project itself is a big goal for the project. These were the first steps on that road, welcome to follow along on the journey!


Text and photos (unless otherwise noted) by Riikka Alanko, Interaction Coordinator