Hjärnäpplet - an innovation prize with many dimensions


The ”Hjärnäpplet” prize sculpture which has the geometric shape of a truncated octahedron.
The Innovation Prize “Hjärnäpplet” has evolved from being a prize for material researchers at the Ångström Laboratory to being an innovation prize for the entire University. The prize sculpture itself has a very special story to tell. At the same time, it is an exciting piece of art in its own right, with depth in several dimensions.

The “Hjärnäpplet” Innovation Prize was first developed to reward materials researchers with sustainable business ideas. Now it rewards all kinds of innovation at Uppsala University, and does so with plenty of built-in symbolism. Former researcher Richard Karmhag is responsible for the design.

Once a year, “Hjärnäpplet” is awarded to researchers who have laid the foundation for innovations with the potential to create major societal benefits. To date, the prize has been awarded 14 times to a total of 18 researchers, most recently to Professors Rolf Larsson and Peter Nygren and Associate Professor Joachim Gullbo for their joint work on better drug treatment for cancer.

Hjärnäpplet originated as a prize strictly for materials researchers at the Ångström Laboratory. But since 2013, the sculpture has become a symbol for all innovation that starts within the University's walls.

“As a researcher, you often do not get much recognition for your work. So, you need support. That’s why the prize grew into an award for the whole University,” says Richard Karmhag, former solid state physics researcher and the man responsible for the idea and design behind Hjärnäpplet.

The structure ideas need

With Hjärnäpplet, he wants to not only encompass the ideas that are the basis of every innovation, but also the structure they need to become a reality.

“After all, innovation is the fruit of a seed of thought. A research idea requires so much more than the idea itself to bring it to market. Without the right support, such as funding, the idea can be lost. Hjärnäpplet contains all the elements needed to take your idea all the way,” says Richard Karmhag.

As a result, the sculpture is not just a solid piece weighing 3.6 kg, but consists of a total of ten parts, each with its own special significance.  Lifting the sculpture's “lid” reveals the illuminated glass bead at the very centre, which represents the seed of thought. It is surrounded by copper ridges that symbolise the University itself and its functions – the support the seed needs to be able to germinate and grow.

Meaningful combination

But the external form is also significant. Made of iron and copper, the sculpture has been given the geometric shape of a truncated octahedron. If you go down to the atomic level of the two materials, you can see that the smallest unit describing the materials forms that very structure. In the physical form of iron, it is formed by the distance between the individual atoms, whereas in the mathematical description of copper it is formed by the distance between the frequencies at which the atomic pattern is repeated.

“So in a way, the materials are connected, because the combination of the materials shows the importance of both theoretical knowledge and physical practical experience in research,” says Richard Karmhag.

Material choices full of symbolism

Copper, a soft metal, and iron, a hard metal, may also symbolise the interplay between the hard and soft values necessary for both a successful research project and a successful innovation project – funding and competition on the one hand, and empathy and respect for the subject and the people working with it on the other.

But the choice of materials can also be linked symbolically to the exciting results that can be achieved when materials are mixed – and by extension, the cross-border encounter between people, cultures and fields of knowledge. Richard Karmhag:

“Materials, in their smallest components, can be described as energy and something that can be applied to all fields of research. After all, it is the very driving energy of researchers that we want to honour by giving them this prize.”


It’s time to nominate for the Uppsala University innovation prize Hjärnäpplet. All employees are invited to nominate suitable candidates, so take the opportunity to nominate a colleague who has generated research results or new knowledge that has resulted in an innovation - new or improved ways of working, methods, services or products that create value for people and society.

Nominate your candidates between 24 March and 24 April 2022.

Learn more about Hjärnäpplet in the Staff Portal

Nominate via this online form

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Last modified: 2023-12-01