Portrait of Professor Heikki Tenhu unveiled in Chemicum

A portrait of Heikki Tenhu, professor in polymer chemistry, was unveiled on Tuesday, 28th November 2023. The photograph was taken by Veikko Somerpuro.

When the ushers pulled back the curtain covering the portrait, a straightforward photograph of Heikki Tenhu sitting by a table was revealed and there was a stack of books on the table. Protocol dictates that Chancellor Kaarle Hämeri must inspect the portrait before accepting it into the university’s collection. This collection is the largest portrait collection in Finland and is administered by the Helsinki University Museum.

Hämeri studied the spines of the books set in the front of the photograph for a long time.

We heard more about the books when Heikki Tenhu, soon to retire, told us about milestones in the field of polymer chemistry and about his own career.

The field emerged and took off in spite of the long time its instigator Hermann Staudinger had to spend proving that macro-molecules exist. Staudinger’s article published in 1920 caused some debate, but this developer of polymer chemistry was finally awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1953.  During the second world war, everything was in short supply, and artificial materials were very welcome. Imports of natural rubber from South America and Asia had stopped, so artificial rubber was needed. The nylon stocking was the revolution of its time. Principles of Polymer Chemistry (Cornell University Press, 1953) by another chemistry Nobelist, Paul Flory, is front and centre in the portrait of Tenhu.

The CEO of Neste, Jaakko Ihamuotila, visited the university in 1990 and gave a talk at a conference for Nordic polymer researchers. At that time, Chemical industries made a donation, which was used to establish an assistant professorship in polymer chemistry. Heikki Tenhu was appointed to the post in 1992.  Since 1998, he has held the post of professor in polymer chemistry.

Dean Sasu Tarkoma and the Head of the Department of Chemistry Ilkka Kilpeläinen also spoke at the unveiling, thanking Tenhu for his cooperation and his work for the shared concerns of the university, as he has worked as head of the Department of Chemistry and vice-dean in charge of research. Tenhu was described as someone who is critical, positive and always remembers the students' point of view. We also heard that Tenhu is planning new projects and will continue to work in chemistry research.

Photographer Veikko Somerpuro talked about the creation of a portrait and mentioned that he himself started studying chemistry in 1989, although he eventually pursued a career as a photographer. This was not the first time he photographed Tenhu. Somerpuro's photographs have illustrated, among other things, the Chemistry Department's annual publication, "Kemiauutiset/Chemistrynews" magazine.