Digital Life Industry Internship at Seaweed Solutions - Lisa Tietze
I still cannot believe my luck. I am one of the lucky candidates who got selected by Digital Life Norway (DLN) for a three-month industry internship. The internship gives those who are curious about the world outside of academia an opportunity to go into the biotech industry. To get relevant know how and to build a network. And that is exactly what I did.
The company I selected for my internship is Seaweed Solutions, a company that grows seaweed. I am very glad I got to do my internship with Seaweed Solutions because I got to know amazing people and had a truly great time working with them. I enjoyed the varied daily tasks that come up in a small company. It never got boring since they exposed me to a wide variety of tasks.
As a molecular biologist, the work Seaweed Solutions does was distinct from the laboratory work that I do for my PhD. So, I got to learn a whole new set of knowledge and was exposed to new challenges. At the same time, I felt that the soft skills I have acquired throughout my PhD were useful. Namely, being able to take up information quickly and execute new tasks independently after a short amount of time, and having the confidence that even if I do not know something, I can gather relevant information rather quickly from literature.
About the work at Seaweed Solutions
Seaweed Solutions concept is to grow seaweed and sell it to industrial customers. The seaweed can be used in a range of feed and food, for example crackers (picture 1).
Seaweed Solutions grows seaweed through its whole life cycle, beginning with releasing spores from mother plants (picture 2). The spores are tiny and can only be seen under the microscope. The spores are grown in the laboratory to sporophytes (small plants). The sporophytes are transferred to a hatchery where they keep growing and attach to rope (time series in picture 3). The rope will then be deployed at sea a couple of weeks later when the plants are a few centimeters long. Then the plants grow at the deployment site at Frøya and will be harvested and processed some months later.
Since this life cycle takes longer than a 3-months internship, I was involved in the first part of the process until deployment. It was very exciting to release spores that could only be seen in the microscope to then watch them grow into small sized plants within a few weeks. What I found interesting about Seaweed Solutions was that they constantly refine their protocols. They do a lot of research and development to improve their workflow. It was exciting to experience this in an industrial setting.
In conclusion, I cannot word how grateful I am for this incredible opportunity, and I hope that the concept of industry internships will become a substantial part of DLNs catalogue so that many more PhD candidates can share the experience. I also want to thank every single person at seaweed Solutions for making me feel very welcome and integrated from day 1.
Digital Life Industry Internship at Jotun - Florian Weber
Why I wanted to experience research in industry
Close to finishing my PhD project on surface modification of titanium implants, I wanted to know how products are developed in industry. With all the regulations in the commercial sector, surely there must be a difference compared to the freedom we experience in academic research. So, what do industrial coatings have to fulfill? The internship program at Jotun allowed me to dive into a new field of coatings, microbial adhesion and fouling of ships. I thought, “Well, microbial adhesion on implants or on ship hulls are the same, right?” Indeed, biofouling is phenomenon that affects all surfaces and happens in various everyday environments. Hence, I took the chance and headed to Jotun in Sandefjord.
The start of my internship at Jotun
Since I was close to finishing my PhD and the date of the defense was not decided yet, we agreed to schedule the internship after the summer break. This allowed me to physically join Jotun’s team in the new R&D building. Most employees just came back from the Covid-19 caused home-office period or their summer holidays. Thus, the beginning of the internship was quite busy with many meetings and introductory courses. A great first impression and experience was going to a raft in the fjord and inspecting fouling on painted test panels.
Back in the office, my primary task was to research how different marine organism attach to surfaces. Not surprisingly, scientists still do not fully know how to prevent biofouling. The high diversity of organisms and published data on different surfaces complicate a direct comparison. However, scientist came up with some clever ideas to prevent biofouling in the lab. These concepts just need to wait until they can be translated at an industrial scale.
What I learned during the internship
Currently, biofouling is predominantly tackled with self-polishing coatings (SPC), which release biocidal compounds. The release of these different biocides is controversially discussed and regulated for example in the EU via the biocidal product regulations (BPR, Regulation (EU) 528/2012). Thus, the marine industry is nowadays restricted in terms of the type of biocidal compounds and their concentration. Since concerns about potential environmental impacts are rising, these regulations may become even stricter in future. The shipping industry however relies on functional antifouling coatings to prevent the additional fuel consumption due to a fouled ship hull. Hence, it is a balance of protecting marine ecosystems and reducing the exhaust of greenhouse gasses, such as CO2.
The pressure to develop a new biocide free coating with similar performance to current SPCs is rising. I have learned a lot about such alternative coatings, which reduce the adhesion of organisms. Currently, there are coatings available which reduce adhesion of fouling organisms. These are typically biocide free and termed fouling release coatings (FRC). Jotun offers such FRC paints, but in contrast to SPCs they contribute only to about 5% of the antifouling paints applied to vessels.
To get some hands-on experience in the lab, I was allowed to formulate and produce my own FRCs. Working in a lab with flammable and toxic components was not new, but I was surprised by the proper order and organization in the new R&D facilities. This is important for the general safety as we were remembered one tragic day (NRK: the fire at Jotun). In the end, I was proud that I could prepare panels, which were be shipped to Singapore for a field test in the sea. I hope that I will get an update how they perform once they are inspected next year.
Conclusions about the internship program
In summary, the R&D work at Jotun was more similar to academia than I expected. However, it made a more professional impression. Official labels, tidy benches, 5S rules, regulations, patents, and meetings. All these aspects are often handled more laxly in academia. During the three months, I realized I like doing practical work and develop something that becomes a product. Further, a good advice is to maybe look for positions outside the field of the PhD project. There can be good alternatives. In my case, biofouling is not just a problem of implants, but also affects other industries. I hope that I will find a job at a company that values innovative R&D similarly as Jotun does.
Are you interested in the DLN industry internship and would like to apply? Follow this link to apply now.