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Pioneers in open-source software and stem cell research

Linus Torvalds, the man behind the Linux operating system, and the Japanese stem cell researcher, Shinya Yamanaka, are the two latest innovators to receive the Millennium Technology Grand Prize in recognition of their groundbreaking work.

Following in the footsteps of researchers instrumental in things such as the creation of the World Wide Web, LEDs, and controlled drug release, the two latest laureates of the Millennium Technology Grand Prize received their awards in June 2012 for the valuable contribution that they have made to two very different fields. Born in Finland and now based in the US, Linus Torvalds is the man responsible for the creation of the kernel underpinning the Linux open-source operating system. His early work triggered on-going software development that has involved literally tens of thousands of man-years of coding and resulted in a freely distributable operating system that is used by millions of computers, smartphones, servers, and digital video recorders – and benefits probably billions of people worldwide. Torvalds’ work, and the open-source software concept, has had a major impact on software development, networking, and the openness of today’s Internet.

The research carried out by Japan’s Dr. Shinya Yamanaka has also had a major impact on medical and biotechnological research.

Using Yamanaka’s discovery of a new method for developing induced pluripotent stem cells for medical research from ordinary cell tissue – rather than using embryonic stem cells – scientists have been able to make major strides in medical drug testing and biotechnology. Many of these could one day lead to the successful growth of implant tissues for clinical surgery and the ability to combat currently intractable diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. Eliminating researchers’ previous reliance on embryonic stem cells represents an important step forward in the adoption of more ethically sustainable techniques.

The 2012 Millennium Technology Grand Prize went to Dr. Shinya Yamanaka (left) and Linus Torvalds. Photo: Aki-Pekka Sinikoski

Recognising innovation with a human face

The Millennium Technology Prize is awarded every second year for a technological innovation that significantly improves the quality of human life. The prize is awarded by Technology Academy Finland (TAF), an independent foundation established by Finnish industry, in partnership with the Finnish state. In addition to the bi-annual Millennium Technology Prize, TAF runs associated events such as the annual Millennium Youth Camp and promotes Finland as a high-tech country by participating in a variety of global networks.

The first Millennium Technology Prize was awarded in 2004 and went to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. He was followed, in 2006, by Professor Shuji Nakamura, the inventor of bright blue, green, and white LEDs, and a blue laser. Professor Robert Langer won the Grand Prize in 2008 for his innovative work in controlled drug release and for developing innovative biomaterials for use in tissue regeneration; while the fourth Grand Prize went to Professor Michael Gr├Ątzel in 2010 for his innovative work on dye-sensitised solar cells.

(Published in HighTech Finland 2013)