How Stockholm prof won top research prize

The prestigious Humboldt Research Award for materials science only went to one person this year, Bo Sundman, a professor in Computational Thermodynamics. The award is granted to researchers in recognition of significant and fundamental discoveries within their disciplines.

How Stockholm prof won top research prize

Sundman is based at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm, and has a long-standing relationship with the university. Graduating as a physics engineer in 1974, and then earning a PhD in physical metallurgy, he progressed through the academic ranks to become a professor in 2000.

The professor is “trying to make better materials” by developing databases and software that models their thermodynamic properties. In his long career he has published over 140 papers on the subject and co-written a book, “Computational Thermodynamics, the Calphad Method.”

“The broad nature of my field means that I work within many different areas. In Sweden I mainly work with the steel and other metal industries, though other non metallic industries, like ceramics, electronic materials and superconductors also employ CT – even products such as ice cream,” says Sundman.

“KTH is a great environment for researchers to work in, especially as it is so internationally recognised. This was very important to me, because it has given me the opportunity to combine work locally as well as further afield, and I have spent long periods abroad.”

Research into Computational Thermodynamics, like many fields, is a long-term process putting particular demand on those directly involved and the educational establishments behind them.

“A lot of what I am doing is still in the developmental stage, and there are many possibilities that have still not been explored as yet. Maybe they could still take another 50 years to be realized.”

“One of the problems is that to develop the necessarily deep database takes a very long time, but that is the job of an engineer – to solve problems.”

Researchers have always been highly valued at KTH, allowing the institution to cement its formidable reputation and appeal to the next generation of students.

Individuals or groups usually complete research projects but sometimes the University collaborates with external companies. These co-operations are referred to as competence centers, each with a board of representatives from the trade, business and society sectors.

The institute has also been awarded funding in 11 Strategic Research Areas (SRAs). KTH manages five of them itself; Information and communication technology (ICT), Molecular Bio-science, Transport, Production and e-Science.

Further financial support partly comes from the energy sector, as KTH is heavily involved in the European institute of Innovation and technology (EIT), which aims to make the continent a global leader in ICT and sustainable energy. The institute is also a major partner in the consortium “KIC InnoEnergy,” where Sweden, through KTH and Uppsala University, will be responsible for a smart electricity network and electrical energy storage. The collaboration with outside companies, in this case ABB and Vattenfall, is key to the success of the projects.

About one-third of the institute’s activities are supported by grants, with the remainder coming from external funding. KTH aims to support a new wave of researchers and establish fresh research environments so that the next Humboldt Award winners and groundbreaking discoveries come from Sweden.

Article sponsored by Study in Sweden

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