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Micronova – 10 years of Finnish research in micro- and nanotechnology

18.12.2012

The joint research centre of Aalto University and VTT for micro- and nanotechnology, Micronova, celebrated its tenth anniversary 14 December. By hosting and facilitating activities of Aalto University research groups, VTT and numerous companies, Micronova has given rise to both excellent research and successful start-up businesses.

Micronova has received the status of a National Research Infrastructure, and with its clean room laboratory facilities it has in ten years become indispensable for its many collaborators. Next year the last dividing wall in the large clean room will be torn down, and the whole laboratory will open for cooperation. The culture of networking that has evolved in the centre has supported the work of university researchers and company clients alike.

– Micronova covers the entire the value chain from basic research and applied sciences to product development, building prototypes and even to production. This way of operating in such a tight package is quite unique – the agile Finnish way perhaps, describes VTT Vice President Jussi Tuovinen.

– Several small companies have their roots in the research conducted in Micronova. They have outgrown us and became successful and still nowadays work in close cooperation with us. This is precisely the kind of scientific activity we strive to nurture, confirms Veli-Matti Airaksinen, Director of Aalto Nanofab.

Program Director of Nanotechnology Centre of Expertise and Culminatum InnovationMika Koskenvuori estimates that Micronova hosts at least a fifth of all research on micro- and nanotechnology conducted in Finland.

A nest for inventors, experimenters and start-ups

Pasi Kostamo started as a research assistant in physics at Micronova in 2002. After graduating he moved on into projects of the European Space Agency, and in 2008 he was asked to join a start-up company developing and manufacturing ultra-thin X-ray windows. Already in 2011 the first deliveries were made to customers, and now HS Foils is the technology leader at the top of its field.

– Micronova has provided me with training time in the clean room laboratory worth several hundreds of thousands of euros. If one wishes to make the best products, one will need to spend a bit more extra hours working, always looking a bit deeper. Without Micronova, the products of HS Foils would not exist, grants Kostamo.

Aspiring companies working in micro- and nanotechnology need the space, time and tools to work and extensively experiment on alternative processes. Product development requires agility and the possibility for constant reiteration.

– In the start-up phase it is not feasible to invest in the manufacturing facilities and processing equipment. Micronova is also outstanding as an innovation environment: the atmosphere encourages experts to network and supports product development and entrepreneurship, Kostamo compliments.

An equally satisfied client is Professor Jukka Pekola of O.V. Lounasmaa Laboratory in Aalto University School of Science.

– As a research facilitator Micronova has indeed been pivotal: we have been able to have our say in the acquisition of instruments and received processing equipment, which would have been out of reach for our research funding, Pekola points out.

– I only hope that the costs of maintaining and using such a high quality clean room facility will not increase to such an extent that basic research – the inventors and experimenters – will fall short of it.

Researchers in Micronova do not collaborate in joint projects as such, but the culture of networking has sparked other forms of cooperation in research and business.

– Starting from basic research, many achievements and results have found their way to VTT and became businesses. In my own field of low temperature physics we have developed, for example, a variety of sensors, which have found application and commercialisation in very different fields. For instance the SQUID sensors used in magnetic imaging of the brain have initially been developed in basic research in low temperature quantum physics.

– Now that the final remaining wall in the large clean room laboratory between the facilities of Aalto University and VTT will be taken down, chances for cooperation will only increase. The synergy provided by the shared research facilities and equipment will prove to be a huge advantage, trusts Pekola.

Picture: Pasi Kostamo and Veli-Matti Airaksinen

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