High quality optics and optoelectronics research has created a totally new industry in the Tampere Region. An ecosystem of research and business activities based on a high level of expertise has developed through long-term cooperation between a university of technology, businesses, project funding and programmatic tools. Behind the story of development is a group of pioneers who have been in the right place at the right time when promoting a new discipline. A parent university encouraging commercialisation, business-oriented and innovative researchers and continued supporting seeds from all funding organisations have been essential for the success.
The long tradition of research activity in the field dates to the end of the 1970s. At that time, the thin-film research started at the TUT. This led to light-emitting diodes and semiconductor lasers long before anyone spoke of nanotechnology as a separate field of technology or science. The first research and development programmes on microelectronics at the national level began at the end of the 1980s, when the first clean room for processing semiconductor components was built in TUT. The development of semiconductor technology took a huge leap forward when the first MBE reactor was acquired with assistance from Tekes. The development of know-how in laser technology gave rise to the first spin-offs from the university in the 1990s, when Tutcore (later Coherent Finland) and Dekati were started. A cluster of start-ups emerged at the beginning of the 2000s when Modulight, Liekki, EpiCrystals, Corelase, RefleKron and Cavitar, among others, started business activities. One factor behind the commercialisation of research know-how was the start of the Optoelectornics Research Centre, ORC’s operations in 2000.
ORC at the TUT is the leading nanophotonics research centre in Finland. The surface science laboratory was incorporated in ORC in 2011 to support its multidisciplinary strengths. Among other things, the surface science laboratory specialises in improving the surface properties of metallic materials. It cooperates with actors such as FIMECC and BioMediTech. The other main research groups in ORC are in semiconductor technology, in ultrafast and intense optics and in nanophotonics. Research topics cover a broad spectrum ranging from basic research in the properties of new materials to development work on new light sources and solar cells, and on to commercially applicable technologies. The most recent achievements of the research include an efficient yellow laser for artificial star applications and a high-efficiency multi-junction solar cell for space applications. The research institution operates at the interface of advanced manufacturing companies, producing innovations and expertise for their use.
Nowadays the importance of multidisciplinary cooperation has increased. The trend is also visible in the field of nanotechnology, although the interdisciplinary application possibilities of nanotechnology have always been recognised very widely. New innovations are created with, for example, developers in life science (BioMediTech), the ICT sector, space materials and mechanical engineering. When different fields of research are made to collide, something entirely new often emerges. In this case, the expectations of commercialisation are seldom met as quickly or certainly as when predefined product development is aimed at. When successful, interdisciplinary cooperation between key research units creates highly innovative end results, and it is to this that the present nanotechnology ecosystem in the Tampere region aspires.