When she was recently asked about her proudest career moments to date, our first Colleague-in-the-spotlight for 2021 indicated that:
“Among my proudest moments is the establishment of the spin-off company CerPoTech together with colleagues (Professors Tor Grande and Kjell Wiik) because this creates value for the society and new workplaces are established. I am also very proud each time my students defend their thesis and are awarded the PhD degree”.
This powerful ethos, which embeds the importance of mentoring and celebrating the achievements of future leaders, the power of collaboration in science and the role of science in creating benefits for society, has been a compass guiding the career of Professor Mari-Ann Einarsrud, whose work we feature in this edition of the ISGS Newsletter.
Mari-Ann was born in 1960 and raised on a small farm in Norway, together with her brother and sisters. She realised very early on during her education in her local schools at Grue and Åsnes that she wanted to study chemistry, due to her enthusiasm for natural sciences. She graduated from the engineering program in chemistry (with specialisation in inorganic chemistry) at NTH (Norwegian Institute of Technology; now NTNU, Norwegian University of Science and Technology), Trondheim, Norway. She then commenced her Ph.D. studies in inorganic chemistry (experimental and theoretical studies on the structure of molten salts) and was awarded her Ph.D. degree in 1987.
After finishing her PhD, she was employed as an associate professor at NTH and decided to leave the field of molten salts and begin working in ceramics engineering. She was awarded sabbatical leave by NTH to work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, Boston, USA) to study ceramics engineering. While at MIT, she started to work on wet chemical approaches for producing ceramic materials and this immediately initiated an interest in sol-gel science and technology. During her early career, she was asked by the Research Council of Norway to look into the possibility of preparing silica aerogels by ambient pressure drying, as aerogels were foreseen to be very important for future applications as transparent insulation materials in Norway. She built up a small research group and developed a process for ageing wet gels so they could be sufficiently robust to withstand the drying stresses. This sparked an interest in the synthesis of other materials, as well as further developing wet chemical synthesis approaches. She became a full professor at NTNU in 1997 and has since collaborated with colleagues to build the FACET (Functional Materials and Materials Chemistry) research group within the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at NTNU. She has also maintained an active and ongoing portfolio of undergraduate and graduate teaching throughout her career, using her enthusiasm for how chemistry can be used to prepare new and exciting materials to inspire new generations of materials scientists.
Being raised on a farm in Norway instilled in Mari-Ann a strong sense of the importance of caring for nature and developing environmentally friendly processes. This ethos is embedded in the development of wet chemical synthesis platforms based on the use of water as a solvent (in place of toxic alternatives) and a low energy footprint. Her leading role in wet chemical synthesis has led to several breakthroughs. For example, she has explored several synthesis routes to nanostructured materials for use in energy technology (fuel cells) using aqueous-based processing. These developments have led to the establishment of the spin-off companies Cerpotech AS and Protia AS. She has also developed preparation routes to ferroelectric nanorods and hierarchical structures by exploiting oriented attachment of nanoscale building blocks. This latter work sparked an interest in in-situ synchrotron X-ray-based characterisation methods to explore reaction, nucleation and growth mechanisms. She has developed a characterisation platform for exploring the wet chemical synthesis of oxide films and nanostructures underpinning the preparation of tailored materials, which was presented in a plenary lecture at the XX Sol-Gel Science and Technology Conference in St Petersburg in 2019. Environmentally friendly aqueous chemical solution deposition of ferroelectric oxide films is another important research area where a simple liquid assisted nucleation-and-growth approach has been developed to produce epitaxial films. More recently, she has begun developing in-situ sol-gel techniques to prepare inorganic polymer hybrid materials for optical and energy applications.
Mari-Ann’s achievements in materials science have led to the publication of 250 papers involving more than 160 collaborators from 24 countries (Source: SCOPUS). She is also a named inventor on six patents (Source: SciFinder) covering her early work on porous materials for thermal insulation, materials for applications in energy technology, etc. Her work has been recognised by several Fellowships and awards, and she is an elected member of the Norwegian Academy of Technological Science, the Norwegian Academic of Science and Letters and the Royal Norwegian Society of Science and Letters. Her efforts have also been instrumental in developing bilateral research collaborations in the broad area of inorganic materials between Norway and Japan through KIFEE (Kyoto International Forum for Energy and Environment).
A profile of the achievements of Mari-Ann would not be complete without mentioning her inclusion in the monograph entitled “Successful Women Ceramic and Glass Scientists and Engineers: 100 Inspirational Profiles”, which presents the diverse perspectives of successful, inspirational and progressive women in science and engineering, who were born in the 1920s to 1970s. Mari-Ann’s profile (No. 27) joins those of other extraordinary women, including several who have been previously featured in our Newsletter (Professors Alicia Durán, Lisa Klein, and Maria Zaharescu).
For more information about Mari-Ann, see: