From nanoparticles to airborne viruses – A lifelong journey with air quality
Janette Mäkipää, the Product Development Director of Lifa Air, had the chance of getting familiar with air quality issues from the very beginning of her life. First from her parents who founded the listed company Lifa Air, known for their air purification solutions, and then with her studies in Finland and Germany.
How can someone have such a lifelong interest in air quality?
"I've been thinking that if I didn't have such family background I probably would've been interested in something else. This whole world of air quality would have been lost, and that would have been a shame. I've had so much from this field. I also know how important it is what I do – how big of a meaning air quality has. Though in Finland you actively don't think about it."
Lifa Air has 30 years of experience in the field of indoor air solutions. That's why it was very natural for them to participate in the E3 co-innovation project, where solutions are developed to combat pandemics, airborne diseases and pollution.
"I remember being young and our parents came home with new gas masks bought for the company: "Let's film a short promo video. These masks are very easy to use. Put them on and try to blow this candle on top of the cake while wearing the mask", Mäkipää reminiscences.
Mäkipää studied first in Finland and graduated as an engineer in biotechnology and chemical engineering.
"It was a great basic engineering degree. After that, I worked for Lifa Air for a while and started wondering whether I should still study some more."
Air quality and many other things among it were appealing to Mäkipää. Then she found the
Master of Science: air quality control, solid waste and wastewater process engineering program in Stuttgart, Germany, and she knew she wanted to go there.
During a couple of years of studies in Stuttgart, Mäkipää specialized in air quality research and waste burning.
The studies were quite international. Mäkipää's fellow students from China and Columbia were wondering why a Finnish person was interested in air quality as Finnish air is one of the cleanest on earth.
"We do have challenges here too, especially in the indoor air, though the outdoor air is quite clean", Mäkipää ponders.
In Stuttgart, Mäkipää was able to learn a lot of new things about air quality and she was able to participate in several air quality researches at the university.
"We had, among other things, a large helium-filled balloon there, with which we measured the air quality from very high in the sky and looked at how the air quality varies at ground level compared to up to about 500 meters at different heights."
"Studying in Stuttgart gave me a good understanding of how things are measured and also why things are measured. And what can be done about these pollutants and where they come from."
Master's thesis brought Mäkipää back to Finland
When it was time for Mäkipää to make her Master's thesis she noticed that there was a company specified in nanoparticles in Finland. That's how she found Airmodus.
"I was in contact with Airmodus and we found a way to work together. So I made my Master's thesis for them about the nanoparticle emissions of waste incineration."
During her thesis work, Mäkipää got to meet top experts and researchers from different parts of the world at European conferences. She also made some air quality measurements with Airmodus, the data of which has later been utilized in various nanoparticle conferences and air quality related events.
"From Airmodus I got the latest knowledge about the very smallest particles and the whole field of air quality opened up to me in a brand new way."
After graduating, Mäkipää returned to Lifa Air, taking with her a great deal of the latest knowledge she had learned. She has also been able to look at Lifa Air's products and product development from a new angle and bring a new perspective to the marketing of the products as well.
Mäkipää feels that she has been involved in great projects in her work and studies, one of which is of course the E3 project.
"It's been so great to be part of the E3. Every once in a while something new comes into the conversations within the project and I notice that during my studies I've taken a course on that subject too, but I didn't know that such cool things could be done with it. I'm glad that I have a basic understanding of air quality issues and I'm able to follow all these experts and their incredible amount of knowledge and know-how."
Lifa Air is involved in kindergarten research and the E3 international pilot
In the E3 project, Lifa Air is currently participating concretely in the on-going kindergarten study of early childhood education of the city of Helsinki, as well as in the project's international pilot, where some indoor air interventions are done at the Matei Bals Hospital for Infectious Diseases in Romania.
For the pilot in Romania, the first air purifiers from a some E3 companies have just been installed in the hospital facilities at Matei Bals. Lifa Air's air purifiers will be installed on site in the fall of 2023. As for the kindergarten study, Lifa Air's air purifiers are already in use at the kindergarten premises.
"My little one just started kindergarten and it was ironic that on the same day when I went to install Lifa Air's purifiers in the kindergarten, I had to get a babysitter because my child was sick. So I know that I'm doing important work," says Mäkipää.
Even before the E3 project, Mäkipää has been changing the filters of the air purifiers in other kindergartens and she has seen with her own eyes that the new filters are white and the ones that have been in the purifier for a few months are pitch black or dark gray.
"I thought at the time that all that dirt would otherwise be in the children's lungs, and not in the filters. Small children's lungs are still so small."
In Mäkipää's opinion, cleaning the air is not limited only to pandemics or the threat of a pandemic. According to her, in Lifa Air's agenda is that everyone benefits from the fact that the air they breathe is of better quality.
"Of course, I wouldn't want to create a sterile bubble of no impurities or microbes, but when there are minimal small particles in the air and those particles go into the lungs of people, the cells there are in a constant state of stress. That stress exposes the body to diseases."
Lifa Air is happy to be part of the E3 project
The people in Lifa Air think it's great to be involved in the E3 project. The discussions with E3 experts have already brought a lot of new value to the company.
"This has been a really great project, and it's wonderful that we have been able to get such a huge project off the ground in cooperation. We are also grateful to Business Finland", Mäkipää says.
"Even though we are competitors with many of the companies involved in the project, we are able to cooperate well and at the same time bring out and utilize everyone's strengths. We would love to be involved in helping Finland and the whole world in the E3 project with our own experience."
E3 Pandemic Response and Enterprise Solutions is a 2,5-year joint development project financed by Business Finland and the participating companies, the goal of which is to study the routes of spread of viruses and how the various functions of society can be kept functional despite pandemics.
A total of 22 Finnish companies and seven research institutes are involved in the multidisciplinary project jointly built by CleverHealth Network and IAQe indoor air ecosystems and is coordinated by Tamlink and Spinverse.