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Finnish nanotech physicist wins Millennium Technology Prize

Dr. Tuomo Suntola received the one-million-euro prize for work that "made our lives with high efficiency smartphones, computers and social media possible."

Tuomo Suntola
Finnish physicist Tuomo Suntola received the million-euro Millennium Technology Prize, also known as 'Finland’s Nobel’ on Tuesday in Helsinki. Image: Jyrki Ojala / Yle

Physicist Dr. Tuomo Suntola was awarded this year's Millennium Technology Prize for his innovations in nanoscale technology, which utilises ultra-thin material layers for microprocessors and digital memory devices.

President Sauli Niinistö presented Suntola the award, often referred to as 'Finland’s Nobel,' in Helsinki on Tuesday.

Suntola's tech enables engineers to build complex, three-dimensional structures - one atomic layer at a time.

"Suntola’s innovation is one of the key factors in the continuation of the famous Moore’s Law that has kept its validity to this day: the efficiency of microchips has doubled at approximately two-year intervals while their price has decreased," Technology Academy Finland (TAF), the organisation behind the award, said in a press release issued Tuesday.

Suntola said he thinks his breakthrough in electronics tech was his greatest achievement.

“When the semiconductor sector came to understand the significance of ALD technology in the early 2000s, its use exploded,” Suntola said.

“Being awarded the Millennium Technology Prize is a great honour for me, especially because the innovation has proved useful in so many applications that improve the quality of life for humanity.”

Suntola's tech worth billions

Globally, the market of equipment and chemicals involved in ALD film production is worth estimated 1.7 billion euros, while the market value of consumer electronic goods that use the technology amounts to at least 426 billion euros, according to TAF.

Suntola's atomic layer deposition (ALD) technology shrinks complex devices, such as the conducting films needed in microprocessors and computer memory devices. The ALD process has enabled high efficiency smartphones, computers and social media possible, according to TAF.

ALD can also be used to improve efficiency of solar panels, LED lights and lithium batteries for electric cars and its use has also been researched for environmentally-friendly packaging materials.

The super-thin films are used in optical applications, and also on watches and silver jewellery to prevent corrosion, TAF said in the release.

The biennial prize is awarded for pioneering technological innovation that improves people’s quality of life and promotes sustainable development, and this year marks the eighth time it has handed out the award.

Previous winners of the prize include Linus Torvalds, Japanese physician and stem cell researcher Shinya Yamanaka, and Tim Berners-Lee, who is largely credited for inventing the World Wide Web in 1991.

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