Per Magnus Kristiansen supports SNI success through his involvement in the Nano Argovia program

2016-05-160503115332-DSC04315_FotorOne of the most active scientists in the Nano Argovia program in recent years is Professor Per Magnus Kristiansen. The Swede, who grew up in Switzerland, has been a professor of polymer nanotechnology at the School of Engineering at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland in Windisch since 2009. Since 2011, he is deputy head of the Institute of Polymer Nanotechnology. His specialist field is the micro- and nanostructuring of polymer surfaces. The possible applications of such functional surface structures are manifold, as reflected not least by the eight different Argovia projects in which he has been involved so far.

Golden combination
Per Magnus Kristiansen became interested in science and math as a teenager in Kilchberg, Zurich. As he approached the end of his schooling, it therefore seemed an obvious choice to consider these subjects when shortlisting possible degree programs. The reason he gives for deciding to study materials science is that it was the “golden combination” of his interests at that time. At ETH Zurich, he acquired a broad education and gained his first practical experience of polymers as a student assistant at the Institute of Polymer Technology. After completing his degree in 2000, he decided to remain true to research and pursue a doctorate in the field of polymer technology. As chance would have it, an application-oriented project at the Institute of Polymer Technology of ETH Zurich in cooperation with the University of Bayreuth and Ciba Specialty Chemicals was waiting for a creative mind. His four-year doctoral studies on the clarification of polypropylene delivered not only scientific insights that have since found their way into textbooks, but also a new Ciba product (clarifiers on the basis of supramolecular trisamides). Six months before he had actually completed his dissertation, Ciba offered Magnus Kristiansen a job in order to guarantee the transfer of know-how and to continue the successful research into this new substance class within the company. Before embarking on working life, however, he and his wife found time for a three-month break in Australia.

Dream job in Windisch
After two years of intensive applied research in supramolecular trisamides, Magnus Kristiansen switched to application technology in 2006, dealing with classic additives (light stabilizers, antioxidants, flame retardants) and effect additives (e.g. scratch-resistant coatings) for the automotive industry. Even before Ciba Speciality Chemicals was taken over by BASF, it became clear to him that it was time for a new challenge. The position of “professor of polymer nanotechnology” advertised by the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) came just at the right time and seemed tailormade for him. Just under a year later, in the fall of 2009, he took up his dream job at the FHNW School of Engineering.

Diverse tasks and projects
“In Windisch, there was a whole collection of tasks waiting for me,” Magnus Kristiansen recalls. Holding lectures, supervising course assignments and projects, initiating research projects, and above all exploring external funding opportunities – the variety of duties was multifaceted from the offset. In addition to this, it was necessary for Magnus Kristiansen and his team to continue developing the necessary tools and replication technologies for structuring polymer surfaces continuously and with foresight. Anyone who enters his laboratory at the Institute of Polymer Nanotechnology (INKA) will clearly see the broad and varied range of research questions being tackled. It is immediately apparent from the eight different Argovia projects in which Magnus Kristiansen has so far been involved, the range of fascinating applications enabled by structured and functionalized polymer surfaces.

Security features can be created on ID cards (Ghost Image), for example, or indoor air filters optimized by making the fibers electrostatically active and enable to filter finer particles (Filtrelec). The surface of bone plates used in cranial and maxillofacial surgery can be structured in such a way that the body is better able to accept the polymer implants (Patcell). Research into new kinds of nano-additives for polymers used in insulation (NAPOHIC) has been on Magnus Kristiansen’s agenda for the past few years, as have new lithographic methods for producing semiconductor chips (VERSALITH) or the use of electron beam emitters to modify surfaces chemically so that they repel different kinds of liquids (RepAll). Magnus Kristiansen welcomes the opportunity to be involved in the SNI Nano Argovia program in addition to other projects: “The Argovia projects are a good supplement to industry-based and CTI projects and to projects financed by the Aargau research fund as they have a strong research character and really allow us to strike out new paths.”

Publication not always easy
Most of the research projects in Magnus Kristiansen’s team are conducted in close collaboration with industry. Unlike the Nano Argovia program, which is included in the SNI Annual Report every year, it is sometimes not easy to publish the findings from completed projects. For example, together with his colleagues, Magnus Kristiansen developed a microfluidic chip that permits various analyses with very small sample sizes. The research was funded directly by the client and is still subject to strict confidentiality obligations until the end of June 2016 – even though this chip has been produced and sold for 3 years now. Of course, this hampers the possibility to use successful projects to open the door to new collaborations; you need a great deal of patience and sometimes perseverance, too. “The real art is being able to place scientific questions in the specific context of a project and to extract the results in such a way that they can be published without violating confidentiality,” Magnus Kristiansen observes.

Being critical and open to new ideas
Magnus Kristiansen would apply for his current position again any time. “My work is never boring. We break new ground to a certain extent with every project and are constantly learning new things,” he comments. He also enjoys encouraging his students to be critical, to question things, and to have the courage to try new approaches. In recent years, he and his colleagues have managed to spread knowledge of INKA, which is headed by himself and Professor Jens Gobrecht, beyond the Swiss borders. They have also contributed to the institute’s general overall strong reputation through successful applied projects with industry and scientific publications on their research into structured molding. Magnus Kristiansen now believes the time has come to participate in EU projects. “The funding program Horizon 2020 is very application-oriented and therefore suits the universities of applied sciences,” he comments, hoping to find further sources of funding for his research.

Despite his commitment to and enthusiasm for the different applications of structured polymers, Magnus Kristiansen also has a fulfilling private life. He enjoys spending time with his three small children, aged between four and six. And although he no longer has enough time to train four times per week, his regular Shaolin Kung Fu training and the Chinese meditation technique Qigong provide him with a perfect balance.