The long, cold, clear nights of winter have instilled a long tradition of astronomy in Finland. Accordingly, it should come as no surprise that optics and photonics technology in this northern country likely grew deep roots from this fascination with the night sky.
"In Finland, astronomy is a very popular hobby and I think that our interest in optics and photonics comes from there," said Jari Turunen, professor of physics at the University of Joensuu. "Therefore, I think that people get interested in optical phenomena and then are ready to study them."
Indeed, Yrjö Väisälä, founder of the Tuorla Observatory, was considered a superb optician who used the tunnel under the hill of the observatory, where interference measurements were made, to produce optics of the highest quality.1
"The optics and photonics industry in Finland is mostly application oriented and is therefore embedded as an enabler in the country's other industrial areas," explained Jorma Lammasniemi, executive vice president of Strategic Research at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
One of those industries is paper. Finland is the second largest paper exporter in the world, and optical measurement technologies help keep the paper quality in line.
"These technologies offer a surprisingly wide application range, maybe because the optical properties of paper are key quality indicators," said Lammasniemi. "Perhaps the most sophisticated sensor is the IQInsight moisture profiler by Metso Automation. It is an imaging spectrometer capable of measuring in real time across the over 10-m wide paper web while it is moving with a full speed of 30 m/s. The IQInsight sensor was developed in cooperation with the research center at VTT."
VTT's operations began in 1942 when President Risto Ryti enacted the Technical Research Centre of Finland. VTT, operated directly under the auspices of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, was "to engage in technical research for the benefit of science and society." VTT was required to test materials and structures at the request of the authorities, private citizens, companies, and other organizations, but it could also engage in commercial research work.
Today, VTT is a nonprofit research organization still under the domain of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and it partners with universities and businesses to further the Finnish competitive edge.
VTT established the Center for Printed Intelligence in 2006. One of the key projects for the center is to introduce innovations and market initiatives between the traditional Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and paper industries by combining IT, electronics, and printing technologies. In doing so, it hopes to commercialize and globally promote new businesses and products.
While methods for mass-producing bioactive paper are being explored, the enormous potential for applications and products simmers. Capitalizing on the use of biomolecular
interactions of enzymes and antibodies, potential applications of bioactive paper loaded with tiny sensors and indicators range from environmental, food, and water safety to personal-health diagnostics. The benefits are expected to be in their cost-effective production and their biodegradable nature.2
Going hand in hand with an innovative paper industry is printable optics and electronics, or printed intelligence, also a multidisciplinary field that combines materials, information-processing technologies, and paper or plastics as a base material. Intelligent printing also enables cost-efficient mass manufacturing of electronics and other functionalities on large, flexible substrates like plastic, paper, and fabrics.
"As this field quite naturally combines the present strengths of Finnish industry," Lammasniemi said, "it has been selected to be a new priority field of research. VTT now has 70 researchers working in this area."
The term 'printed intelligence' is used to describe the wide scope of the technology and business. "Electronic, bio, chemical, and optic and optoelectronic functionalities are created using a variety of different devices. Printed resistors, capacitors, inductors, flexible printed circuit boards, antennas, optical gratings, light guides, and optical read-only memory are examples of passive electrical and optical components," he said.
With printed intelligence, printed items will become more active, self-sensing, and self- controlling, according to a paper on printed intelligence written by a research group at VTT headed by Harri Kopola (below), director of the Center for Printed Intelligence.3
Printed products are already becoming more integrated into the smart environments and information systems around us, the researchers found. They are helping us access and use digital content and services. With these new intelligent features, the consumer's experience with printed products will become increasingly engaging, entertaining, informative, and easy to use.
A cornerstone of this business is termed "printable inks," which includes materials such as conductive polymers, organic semiconductors, nanoparticulate materials, and bioactive materials. The variety of these materials and their numerous application possibilities introduce opportunities far beyond those offered by traditional silicon-based electronics. Another cornerstone is the high throughput, cost-efficient manufacturing methods like continuously running roll-to-roll printing, hot embossing, coating, laser processing, and their combinations, Kopola's research group said.
The third important capability is the integration of those multifunctional components, circuits, and systems on web, sheet, or foil presses. The capabilities of these processes, new advanced manufacturing equipment, and automated production lines are the key to developing and commercializing products where new intelligent functionalities are embedded to high-throughput large-area surfaces.3
The research and development activity in this area is increasing rapidly and market researchers are forecasting rapid market growth for various printed devices. Frost & Sullivan predicts that the volume of printed electronics will penetrate the market between 2007 and 2010, resulting in a market worth hundreds of billions of dollars by 2015. High-volume sales of printed electronics, the Frost & Sullivan analysis said, will most likely take place in the retail and supply-chain management industries.4
Finland's competitiveness doesn't stop at printed intelligence. Nanotechnology is another competitive field throughout the world and Finland is a major player in this arena. Ranking third in business competitiveness, according to the 2007-'08 Global Competitiveness Report,5 Finland has more than doubled the number of companies active in nanotechnology in two years. Of 134 nanotechnology companies, 40 currently have commercial products on the market.6
This is owing to the commitment Finland has made by investing more than 120 million euros in its nanoscience and nanotechnology research and development from 2005 to 2010. FinNano, as the program is called, is designed to take industry input to the laboratory, where researchers are finding innovations in the electronics, forest, and biotechnology sectors. General themes of processes and materials, instruments and tools, and safety and standardization are also being researched across all industry sectors.5
By all appearances, the current success with nanotechnology developed in Finland is a natural development. The first Finnish nanotechnology was discovered in the 1970s by Tuomo Suntola, who developed atomic-layer deposition (ALD). ALD is used to grow thin films on large surfaces one atomic layer at a time, which allows for precise control of the coating material's thickness and its good adaptability to surface roughness.7
Almost 30 years later, the Nanomaterials Group at the Laboratory of Physics and Center for New Materials at Helsinki University of Technology led by Professor Esko I. Kauppinen has been working on the manufacturing process for carbon nanotubes, which are very difficult to mass produce. While developing a new way to manufacture these allotropes of carbon, researchers discovered a hybrid carbon nanotube that seems to sprout fullerenes. They call this new material "nanobuds."7
The manufacturing method of nanobuds is a unique variant of chemical-vapor deposition, where catalyst particles are vaporized directly from an iron wire into a gas flow of carbon monoxide. This helps to control the size and number of particles in the gas flow, making it possible to regulate the types of carbon nanotubes created; small particles make single-walled nanotubes (SWNT) and large particles make multiwalled nanotubes.
The nanobud is a single-walled carbon nanotube with fullerene attached. (Image courtesy of Esko Kauppinen.)
The process produces clean tubes and allows control over their properties, such as length and degree of bundling.8
"Both fullerenes and single-walled carbon nanotubes exhibit many advantageous properties," Kauppinen said. "But despite their similarities, there have been very few attempts to physically merge them. The novel hybrid material we discovered merges the two into a single structure, in which the fullerenes are covalently bonded to the nanotubes.
"Nanobuds could have many applications," he added. "They may find use as memory devices and quantum dots or cold electron field emitters--materials that emit electrons at room temperature under a high applied electric field--due to the fullerenes' many curved surfaces, which make for better emitters than flat surfaces. Cold-electron field emission is the key to many technologies, including flat-panel displays and electron microscopes."
Kauppinen and his research group from Helsinki University of Technology spun off a company, Canatu Oy, in 2004 to market the nanobud and to apply it commercially. This is not unusual for the Finnish business model. Finland is an open society whose large corporations, subject matter experts, and academia participate in a type of knowledge cooperative. This stimulates opportunities to turn emerging technologies into novel business opportunities.
"Today the two top players in instrumentation for the paper industry, Metso Automation and Honeywell, have substantial sensor development departments in Finland where they both can benefit from the active research community in the field," said Lammasniemi.
This spirit of cooperation and long-term investments in research and development will keep Finland's international presence in the forefront. Finnish tradition is only a launching pad for their future, which is sparkling like northern lights in the night sky.
Finland: A Committed Country
Finland spends about 3.5% of its gross domestic product on R&D. That is more than the EU-prescribed 3%, and Finland intends to increase that amount to 4% over the next few years.
Tekes is the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, operating under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, promoting competitive industry and creating new business opportunities and jobs. Responsible for planning, launching, and funding long-term national technology programs, Tekes has funded, among others, FinNano.
Also supporting FinNano is the Academy of Finland, which operates under the Ministry of Education. The Academy of Finland funnels euros to research conducted by universities, research institutes, research posts, and education.
Industry Competitive In Finland
Finland ranks sixth overall in the 2007-2008 Global Competitive Index (behind the United States, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany, in that order), according to The Global Competitiveness Report.
In business competitiveness, innovation, and the quality of the national business environment, Finland ranks third in the comprehensive annual survey conducted by the World Economic Forum.
Fascinating and Fun Finnish Facts
- Finns call the Aurora Borealis "revontulet," which translates to "fox fires." This derives from folklore where the Arctic fox started fires or sprayed the snow up to the sky with its brush-like tail. The winter darkness is known as "kaamos."
- Santa Claus lives in Rovaniemi, Finland, in the Arctic Circle, and reindeer are indigenous to the country.
- Mämmi is a unique and traditional Finnish food. It is made with water, rye flour, rye malt, molasses, and Seville orange peel. It is served with cream and sugar. After it's baked in the oven and stored in the refrigerator for several days, small quantities of alcohol often result within the pudding-like condiment. This is not considered to be a bad thing.
- Saunas are a Finnish tradition, enjoyed at 70-100 degrees Celsius (160-210 degrees Fahrenheit) while completely naked. Silver birch boughs are used to gently flog oneself to relax muscles and ease mosquito bites. Once the body temperature reaches an uncomfortable level, a dip in a lake, the sea, a swimming pool, or a hole cut into ice is in order.
3. Kopola, H., et al., "Printed intelligence: opportunity for innovations and new business," VTT (2007).
5. Global Competitiveness Report 2007-2008, World Economic Forum (2007).
7. "Small and Huge: Nanotech Finland," http://www.tekes.fi (2007).
8. Nasibulin, A.G., P.V. Pikhitsa, H. Jiang, D.P. Brown, A.V. Krasheninnikov, A.S. Anisimov, et al. "A novel hybrid nanomaterial," Nature Nanotechnology 2(3), 156-161 (2007) see also: http://www.fyslab.hut.fi/nanomat/ .