Kristel Kattel

Professor Tarmo Tamm gives inaugural lecture on sustainable polymers and the future of plastics

On Wednesday, 10 April, at 16:15, Tarmo Tamm, Professor of Materials Engineering at the University of Tartu will give the inaugural lecture "Polymer materials and life: what will follow the plastic age?" in the White Hall of the University of Tartu Museum.

It is no exaggeration to say that everyone uses polymer materials every day. "Very large molecules, an easily deformable structure due to partial crystallinity, and varying physical and chemical properties make polymers a class of materials we cannot do without. For the past 70 years, synthetic polymers have replaced many other materials in our everyday lives," said Tamm.
We are living in the plastic era: in just seven decades, global plastic production has gone from zero to half a billion tonnes a year. Most of us have heard about plastic islands in the oceans, about microplastics in the environment and in our own bodies, and about the European Union's existing and future restrictions on the use of plastic products. "Nowadays, we are increasingly looking for sustainable solutions for the wider use of natural polymers such as cellulose," added the professor.
Polymer materials have been used by humans for millennia while keeping inventing new ones. Some of them conduct electricity and react to the surrounding environment, some decompose quickly and without a trace in nature, and others can withstand quite extreme conditions. Could we manage without polymers? How do we know that some plastics degrade in nature for 300 years and some for 3000 years? How is nature responding to plastic pollution and what can be done to reduce plastic waste?

At the inaugural lecture, Tarmo Tamm will talk about the specificity of polymer materials, their relationship with nature and their current and future applications. Plastic waste is everywhere, he admits, but nature has a huge capacity to adapt. “The first papers describing microorganisms feeding on our typical packaging plastics have been published,” said Tamm.

There are also plastics that make it possible to produce 'living materials' that could enable many future chemical processes to take place in bioreactors – more sustainably and efficiently. "Only a better understanding of the interaction between living organisms and polymers will help us to create environmentally friendly materials," explained the professor.

Tarmo Tamm holds both a bachelor's degree (1996) and a master's degree (1998) in chemistry from the University of Tartu. In 2003, he defended his doctoral thesis "Quantum chemical modelling of polypyrrole". He has received further training at the University of Florida, as well as at various institutes of the University of Tartu and in several Estonian companies, such as Molcode AS and Genecode AS. Since 2007, he has been working at the Institute of Technology of the University of Tartu, where he leads the applied materials engineering research group, focusing on research and development of new materials and technologies for Estonian companies. In addition to his work as an active lecturer, Programme Director for Engineering and Technology, and member of the materials engineering programme council, Tarmo Tamm values the development of materials engineering education at the University of Tartu.

The aim of the inaugural lecture is to give the new professor an opportunity to introduce himself, his specialisation and field of research. At the end of the public lecture, the audience will be able to ask the professor questions. Everyone interested is welcome. A live webcast of the inaugural lecture will be available on UTTV.

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