A Science & Design Initiative showcasing the research and development of microbial materials.

On Display

  1. The Kaj Franck Design Prize Exhibition of 2019 Design Museum Helsinki

The world’s most beautiful headphones are here, and they’re made of fungus.

Fast Company

These ‘microbe-grown’ headphones could be the future of sustainable electronics.

  1. Dezeen
  2. Fastcompany
  3. Engadget
  4. The Guardian
  5. Business Insider
  6. Techcrunch
  7. Q Daily
  8. Designboom

The Initiative

Korvaa is applying fresh-from-the-lab findings on everyday objects as a way of highlighting the research of novel, biologically engineered materials. The initiative brings together a mix of unique and surprising talent who all share a wish to jumpstart the development of these new, bio-based materials into future-proof, commercially viable products.

There is a global interest towards new, bio-based materials and their various applications. Earned media coverage around the initiative’s first project, a pair of Korvaa headphones, has reached a world-wide audience of over 350 million people.

“The imminent need to replace fossil and animal based materials has brought the team together.”

The Headset

Chosen as the initiative's first object for the combination of materials it comprises, and their properties: soft, hard, foamy and leather-like, the headset is also a highly relatable consumer product.

The headphones showcase the result of several different microbial processes used to create sustainable materials. Some of the materials produced and applied in the headphones have never before been used in industrial design objects.


Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology enables the design and engineering of new biological organisms, and the re-design of existing biological systems, for new purposes. Led by Professor Merja Penttilä and Dr. Géza Szilvay, the team of scientists in the Korvaa initiative have decades of experience working with microbial materials.

Engineered microbes can produce a variety of desired chemicals, materials, medicine or fuels from renewable raw materials, waste fractions and CO₂. This technology will have a paramount role in the transition from a fossil-based economy to a sustainable, circular bioeconomy.

“Engineered microbes can produce a variety of desired chemicals, materials, medicine or fuels.”

The Design

From a design viewpoint, a headset combines various material properties in compact size and three-dimensional form, which made it an ideal first project to showcase bio-engineered materials.

For the team at multi-disciplinary design studio Aivan, working in an initiative that mixes applied sciences and industrial design also offered a glimpse into rapidly developing technologies, new ways of producing materials and the future of so-called living factories.

“A headset combines various material properties in compact size and three-dimensional form, which made it an ideal first project to showcase bio-engineered materials.”

Meet the Team

For the synbio scientists, industrial designers, artists and filmmakers in the Korvaa initiative, the process of working together has offered valuable insight into the implications of how these materials can be used across various industries.

  1. Géza Szilvay

    Research Scientist
  2. Saku Sysiö

    Head of Product Design
  3. Merja Penttilä

    Research Professor
  4. Thomas Tallqvist

    Product Designer
  5. Pezhman Mohammadi

    Research Scientist
  6. Robert Pylkkänen

    Doctoral Student
    Aalto University
  7. Manuel Arias Barrantes

    Material Designer
    Aalto University / VTT
  8. Nina Pulkkis

    Science Journalist
    Fotoni Film & Communications
  9. Anniina Suhonen


Media Coverage