Schemes are afoot to increase the mobility of researchers and to support advanced study for those in industry, says Maunu Häyrynen
Few research and development staff in industry hold PhDs even though industry funds most research. But the public sector alone cannot afford to train the numbers of researchers required. The Academy of Finland is attempting to address this problem by creating flexible research collaborations between universities, research institutes and industry that also help to train researchers.
The short-term goals are to bolster co-operation between sectors, to transfer knowledge and people and to speed up implementation of new ideas. Universities and research institutes are encouraged to exploit research results and companies are expected to make greater use of research and to encourage their R&D staff to become better qualified.
The academy funds a scheme to support doctoral studies undertaken by people in work and an initiative to increase the mobility of researchers. Both aim to lower the barriers between higher education and industry. So far, however, it has proved difficult to interest businesses, and the number of industrial applicants has been modest.
The academy pays for a portion of the doctoral studies undertaken by employed people. The rest of the funding comes from a company, research institute or public body. Applicants continue working while studying part time.
The support for researcher mobility encourages mobility between academia, business and public administration. The objective is to support the placement of PhD-level researchers from industry in universities or research institutes, and vice versa.
Aspects of industry-academia co-operation are to be found in other academy funding instruments, especially in the research programmes, the Centres of Excellence and the Finland Distinguished Professor Programme. All these may comprise industry research and funding partners. The recently created strategic centres for science, technology and innovation will unite privately and publicly funded research. There is a growing commitment to co-operation of this type. Even Finland's forestry sector is tapping in to research to retain its competitive edge.
Maunu Häyrynen is a senior adviser at the Academy of Finland.
Keen and green Finnish academics are getting to the root of the environmental and social challenges facing the country's forestry industry.
Surveys conducted by the Future Forum on Forests, led by academics at the University of Joensuu, identified the sector's key challenges as globalisation, an ageing population, climate change, biodiversity and sustainable energy production.
The forum's aim is to study the long-term sustainability of forest-based livelihoods and to support related political decision-making, says its director, Anssi Niskanen.
He believes that globalisation will shift investment to countries with better comparative advantage, such as Russia and some in Asia. To avoid dramatic drops in production, research should help Finland's industry become more efficient and competitive, he says.
The forum will evaluate measures to encourage conservation in private woodlands to help improve biodiversity. It will also study the use of forestry byproducts for biofuel production.
"The overall challenge for forest research is to move on these new fronts with decreasing resources," Niskanen says.
Paivi Torma last year received a European Young Investigator Award for her work on molecular electronics and a theory of ultra-cold quantum gases.
Along with colleagues at the Helsinki University of Technology, she draws on the self-assembly and electrical properties of DNA and other molecules, with the aim of making electronics at the level of a single molecule.
Self-assembled nanomaterials rely on novel principles. "At the moment, size is determined by silicon-chip technology, but we hope to use carbon nanotubes and other similar molecules to overcome this limitation and store lots of memory inexpensively," Torma says.
She enjoys nanoscience because it can be applied across disciplines. "It is a combination of biology, chemistry and physics."
Ultra-cold quantum gases allow scientists to study an elusive form of matter in which particles that normally repel each other pair up and flow together.
This sheds light on high-temperature superconductivity and systems as diverse and exotic as neutron stars or atomic nuclei.
Optoelectronics is a fast-moving field, and the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Tampere is at the forefront.
Markus Pessa, director of the centre, which accommodates 60 scientists, says: "This is the main centre for optoelectronics in Finland. Last year, it generated revenue of €4.5 million (£3 million). We will probably hit £5 million in 2007."
The science investigates how electronic devices interact with light, especially its mechanical effects on semiconducting materials, usually in the presence of an electrical field. Optoelectronics is everywhere, from bar code scanners to devices such as compact disc players.
One application that could bear fruit soon is the use of light-emitting diodes to provide light in nearly all offices and for traffic signals, Pessa says. They are more energy and cost-efficient than incandescent bulbs.
Optoelectronics has grown rapidly. Pessa says: "In Finland, there were a handful of electronics companies in 2000. Now 50 companies develop LEDs and lasers. Last year, total revenue in this field hit €330 million."
Sea of life
Novel collaborative approaches to research on the Baltic Sea are throwing light on pressing scientific challenges.
Recently, the emphasis has been on interdisciplinary research, including ecological and socioeconomic considerations of the sustainability of the Baltic.
This approach is internationally young. The Baltic Sea states have for three years worked on the Bonus initiative, supported by the European Union. This Era-Net project for Baltic Sea research was set up to establish a jointly funded research programme.
In a general sense, it links science and policy. But its five key themes address the most important environmental issues. The most novel is described as "integrating ecosystem and society", which looks at how humans use the ecosystem's resources and forecasts its development under various scenarios. The programme also aims to identify society's values and to improve governance structures.
Kaisa Kononen is programme manager for Bonus Era-Net at the Academy of Finland.