"We must find a solution somehow”
Eva Malmström Jonsson is the new director of the Wallenberg Wood Science Center
Professor Eva Malmström Jonsson is starting her new job as director of the Wallenberg Wood Science Center, WWSC, by having to manage lab operations from home.
“In times of a pandemic we need to find new ways of working and a new kind of working life,” she says.
This year, it will be 34 years since Eva Malmström Jonsson first arrived at KTH, as a student in 1986. Other than one year as a postdoc at Stanford University and IBM in the USA, she has been faithful to KTH ever since, and served as a deputy president from 2008–2016.
And now, just when the current coronavirus pandemic is restricting physical meetings, she has been tasked with bringing together research teams from Chalmers, Linköping University and KTH in major future projects via WWSC, the Wallenberg Wood Science Center .
“The Science Center has had an incredibly successful eleven-year period under the direction of my predecessor Lars Berglund, and we now aim to build on the excellence of the nodes and further develop synergies to be able to continue to make big scientific strides in the future,” she says.
Some 80 researchers from KTH, Chalmers and Linköping University, LiU, are involved in WWSC, along with another 40 doctoral students at the WWSC Academy.
“Now we need to put even more faith in researchers and research groups and offer bigger incentives for them to be able to further develop together. When you scale up an operation, it’s not always easy for everyone to keep up,” she says.
How do you ensure everyone comes onboard?
“We are going to really focus on discussing and interacting with each other in the time we actually meet, to pave the way for us to research new angles and pose questions that lead to new knowledge.”
However, she admits that the current social situation in the coronavirus pandemic means this enterprise won’t exactly be able to get off to a flying start.
To help keep the scientific exchange ball rolling, WWSC and Treesearch have launched a series of virtual seminars. The annual “winter school” organised by the WWSC Academy is being done online via Zoom. And planned visits to Linköping University and Chalmers have had to be put on hold.
In parallel with her post at the WWSC, Malmström Jonsson is continuing as Head of Department at the School of Engineering Sciences in Chemistry, Biotechnology and Health, where she has just recently sent out instructions on how to work from home.
“But as we perform experiments in labs, doctoral students and researchers still need to check their instruments and be allowed at least to complete ongoing syntheses and analyses,” she says.
“We need to be pragmatic and find a solution somehow. A pandemic can entail shutting down for several months, we have to accept that it can last for three months or at worst, even six months. I really feel this situation will be a wake-up call for society.”
What do you mean by this?
“Perhaps the way we work during the pandemic can lead to a recalibration of our high work tempo in the future. Hopefully, the end result will be a more sustainable work load, and for researchers it could bring time for more creativity, reflection and thinking.”
What do you see as the most exciting thing about WWSC moving forward?
“That researchers from Linköping University will be adding a new area for the center – organic electronics. They take raw materials from woodland and make components out of them. Imagine how exciting it would be to be able to build a whole computer out of forestry materials.”
What is your vision for the future WWSC?
“I would like to see research at the center exploring in greater depths and enrich the researchers and the three universities involved.”
“I want to build confidence and trust between the enterprises, and I am looking forward to working with a fantastic group of people, not least helping to train a large group of PhDs who will gain totally unique know-how.”
Where do you want to be in ten years?
“I would like to continue to be active in Swedish research, and hope that research at WWSC remains strong and vigorous. I expect to still be a faithful servant of KTH.”