Students use their imagination to design smart, sustainable products from forest materials

By Lina Varg and Christina Ottander, Umeå University

The MULTIPLIERS partners from Umeå, Sweden, are working with the theme Forest use vs forest protection, which includes a great deal of complexities, and involves different stakeholders’ perspectives. Forests contribute to society in a multitude of ways. In Sweden, apart from providing a space for recreation, reindeer herding, and ecosystem services, they are also used for wood and other useful products. In an attempt to address the issue of forest use, Umeå University engaged in a project with the science center Exploratoriet, the cooperative of forest industries Mera Skog, and Sweden’s research institute and innovation partner RISE, to involve students in sustainable forest product design. The project was named „Skogssnilleblixten“, which roughly translates as a combination of the terms forest and stroke of genius.

Three classes of students (aged 12-13) and their teachers attended an inspirational half-day session at Exploratoriet, followed by two weeks of work on inventing forest products and preparing presentations of those. During the two weeks, the classes were visited by a representative from a local network for inventors and innovators who further helped encourage and inspire the students. In October 2023, the collaborators organized a fair at Campus Skellefteå, where students presented their inventions to family members, the public and a jury consisting of six members from the collaborators Umeå University, the innovation center, and RISE.

Students produced prototypes of, for example, antiseptic bandages of viscose fibers and a Spaghnum-moss, refill make-up containers made of wood, and energy and vitamin drinks using tree needles. The jury decided on three winning contributions under the three categories: Best idea presentation, Most creative innovation, and Most environmentally sustainable idea. Winners were awarded with diplomas in a concluding forum. In addition to this event, the students visited three research laboratories at Campus Skellefteå which focus on developing and testing forest products.

Most students reported that they enjoyed participating in Skogssnilleblixten even though they had limited time devoted to the project. The students were also asked to reflect on their visit to the wood research laboratories at RISE. Several students wrote that they thought these visits were the most interesting part of the project.