Scientific excellence at InnoRenew CoE awarded with European Research Council grant

Dr. Anna Sandak is the first woman in Slovenia to attain a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant. Dr. Sandak and her team will use the €1.99 million award to develop engineered living materials that interact, adapt and respond to environmental changes.

24
Photo: InnoRenew CoE

Dr. Anna Sandak is the first woman in Slovenia to successfully attain a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant. An InnoRenew CoE research group leader and associate professor at the University of Primorska, Dr. Sandak is dedicated to the science of renewable materials and biomimetic solutions for new materials design. Her research promotes the knowledge-based use of bio-inspired materials in modern sustainable buildings.

The awarded project, Bioinspired living skin for architecture (ARCHI-SKIN), will use the €1.99 million ERC funding to develop a protective biofilm made from engineered living materials. Recognised as one of the most stable biological systems on earth, most biofilm studies focus on preventing their formation. The beneficial use of biofilms for protection has largely been unexplored. Dr. Sandak and her team aim to change this during the five-year ARCHI-SKIN project.

ARCHI-SKIN researchers will explore the design principles underlying fungal biofilm to advance knowledge about the biological system’s chemistry-structure-properties. Mechanisms of biofilm formation, structure, function and performance will be studied. The ARCHI-SKIN project will use cutting-edge tools in life cell imaging, data science and machine learning. The idea is to develop a bioactive protective coating system that works in harmony with nature and benefits from the synergetic efforts of living fungal cells, bio-based ingredients, and bioinspired concepts for materials design.

Dr. Sandak will develop a biofilm that protects biomaterial, concrete, plastic, and metal surfaces. One remarkable functionality will be its natural self-healing property. ARCHI-SKIN’s novel approach to materials protection will advance the development of engineered living materials that can interact, adapt, and respond to environmental changes. The project will provide a new dimension that has not existed for materials—life—and change how we perceive, experience, understand, design, use and transform materials.

Fungal cells research will be key in ARCHI-SKIN project. Photo: InnoRenew CoE

Dr. Sandak has a doctorate in wood science and a master’s in biology. She was born in Poland, but her professional career took her to Japan for five years. She then moved to Italy, where she worked at the National Research Council – Trees and Timber Institute (CNR-IVALSA). In 2017, she moved to Slovenia, where she currently leads the Wood Modification research group InnoRenew CoE. She is also an associate professor at the University of Primorska, Faculty of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Information Technologies.

InnoRenew CoE and the University of Primorska are proud to have an ambitious and dedicated international team aiming at scientific excellence. Obtaining this prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant from competitive EU funding will support scientific and research activities that enable breakthroughs in green solutions for a sustainable society.

The European Research Council (ERC), established by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organization for frontier research. The ERC funds creative researchers of any nationality and age on projects across Europe. The ERC is part of Horizon Europe, and in this round of funding, 313 projects, for a total of €632 million, were supported.