Skip to main content

Arri Priimägi receives major ERC grant to explore materials inspired by biological sensory-motor interactions

Published on 30.11.2022
Tampere University
“If all goes well, materials may become smarter thanks to this project. For instance, developing robotic materials to sense the colour or humidity level of the objects they touch makes them more interactive,” Arri Priimägi says. Photo: Jonne Renvall / Tampere University
Arri Priimägi, a professor of chemistry at Tampere University, has received the European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator grant of EUR 2 million to study life-like materials that are inspired by biological sensory-motor interactions. In his MULTIMODAL project, Priimägi will develop chemistry-based approaches to explore how biological sensory-motor interactions can help to develop robotic materials.

In his Multimodal Sensory-Motorized Material Systems research project, Arri Priimägi examines soft materials from a new perspective. With his group, Priimägi combines sophisticated chemistry with soft robotics concepts to produce advanced materials that adapt to their environment, can be trained to do specific tasks, and are able to make simplistic decisions – like living organisms.

“Synthetic materials that can be deemed life-like are developed by both chemists and roboticists. My premise is that life-like materials of the future should lie somewhere in between the two approaches,” he says. 

The MULTIMODAL research group is trying to answer the following questions: What can sensory motorisation mean in the context of materials? How can we mimic sensory-motor interactions? How does understanding these interactions help in developing advanced materials?

In the long run, life-like materials can have a wide range of applications. Self-healing materials can reduce material consumption in the built environment and smart implants that interact with their environment are useful in biomedicine. It is easy to see potential for clothing that responds to changes in temperature or humidity.

“However, those applications are far away. Now, this is still a basic research project,” Priimägi states.

MULTIMODAL offers job and training opportunities

Arri Priimägi is widely known as a productive and active researcher who always has one or three ongoing projects. The original idea for the current ERC project was inspired by a discipline that has nothing to do with chemistry or materials engineering. Priimägi got the idea while talking with his wife who works as an occupational therapist among children with sensory dysfunctions.

“One subclass of occupational therapy is sensory integration therapy. I started thinking about what sensory integration could mean in the context of synthetic materials, which eventually evolved into this proposal. The term sensory integration is one work package in my proposal,” Priimägi mentions.

Priimägi says that the project falls into a bigger research context of developing life-like or life-inspired materials. The topical area is also at the focus of the Aalto University-led Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence LIBER that also involves Priimägi’s Smart Photonic Materials group.

Priimägi will use a major part of the grant to recruit experts to the MULTIMODAL group. He says there is room for researchers at all career stages, from experienced scientists and postdocs to PhD students. Many of his current team members will also be involved in the new project.

“An important aspect of the project will also be training the next generation, and there will be several opportunities for BSc and MSc students to get involved in the project”, he hints.

ERC Consolidator Grant is for advanced researchers

The five-year project is funded by the European Research Council, which grants funding to top researchers for high-level frontier research. In its funding decisions, the scientific quality of the application is the only assessment criterion. ERC Consolidator Funding is for researchers who have worked for 7–12 years since their PhD. At Tampere University, ERC funding has been granted to 14 researchers since 2015.

Priimägi received an ERC Starting grant in 2016 for a project called PHOTUNE in which he developed light-driven tunable photonic elements as well as bioinspired, small-scale soft-robotic constructs.

He has also received two ERC Proof of Concept grants, one in 2017 for optical humidity sensing, and one in 2021 for developing light-reconfigurable cell culture platforms.

He wants to thank his colleagues Hao Zeng, Hongshuang Guo, and Zixuan Deng for their help in the ERC application process as well as Tampere University’s research support staff and the Faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences.

Further information

Arri Priimägi
+358 44 515 0300
arri.priimagi [at]


Text: Anna Aatinen
Photo: Jonne Renvall