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Solving global challenges through technological innovation

Today more than ever, the world needs scientific and technological innovations to help us solve the global challenges that we are facing. The Millennium Technology Prize, awarded by Technology Academy Finland, recognises innovations that sustainably enhance people’s quality of life around the globe. The next Prize will be awarded in 2012.

Millions of people live without access to clean water and beyond the reach of even the most basic medical care. While those and other people’s justifiable ambition for a better life requires new sources of energy, we cannot allow such developments to destroy the environment we all depend on. Which is where the work done by Technology Academy Finland comes in.

Technology Academy Finland has taken the challenge of enhancing people’s quality of life by promoting scientific research and innovation based on humane values and encouraging the development of new technological solutions as its underlying mission.

Awarded by Technology Academy Finland, the Millennium Technology Prize is the world’s largest technology award and celebrates innovations that have a positive impact on the wellbeing of both people and the planet and enrich people’s everyday lives today and into the future.

The search for the winner of the 2012 Millennium Technology Prize is under way, and the call for nominations will last until July 31, 2011. Representatives of academies, universities, research institutions, and industrial communities worldwide can make nominations covering any field of technology.

The President of the Republic of Finland, Tarja Halonen, handed the €800,000 Grand Prize of the 2010 Millennium Technology Prize to Professor Grätzel in June 2010. The DSC technology that Professor Grätzel has developed shows great promise as a cheaper alternative to costly silicon solar cells and as an attractive candidate for generating low-cost renewable energy.

Opening up the way to cheap solar power

One of mankind’s greatest challenges is to reduce our dependence on the world’s diminishing supply of fossil fuels. The most obvious source we can turn to is the sun, the origin of most of the energy found on earth.

The dye-sensitised solar cell (DSC) technology developed by the winner of the 2010Millennium Technology Prize – Professor Michael Grätzel, Director of the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) – represents an exciting response to this challenge.

Grätzel’s dye-sensitised solar cells are third-generation photovoltaics and offer a very promising alternative to standard silicon photovoltaics, thanks to the ‘artificial photosynthesis’ they embody. They are also capable of generating electricity in even low light conditions.

DSC units are made of low-cost materials and do not require sophisticated manufacturing equipment. Compared to conventional siliconbased photovoltaics, DSC panels are flexible and lightweight and can be directly incorporated into building materials. As they can be manufactured in transparent form, they can be used in glass facades to generate electric power for buildings.

Grätzel cells have recently made their debut in consumer products. The next major step in their large-scale commercialisation could take place in the construction industry, where they could replace conventional materials in roofs, skylights, or walls.

Tackling the challenges of increasing energy consumption

The two other 2010 Millennium Laureates – whose innovations addresses some of the other challenges posed by the need for a more sustainable future – were each awarded prizes of €150,000.

The Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) developed by Professor Sir Richard Friend, Cavendish Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge, have been a crucial milestone in polymer electronics. Electronic paper, cheap organic solar cells, and illuminating wallpaper are just a few examples of the revolutionary future products that his work has made possible.

Stephen Furber, Professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Manchester, is the principal designer of the ARM 32-bit RISC microprocessor, an innovation that has revolutionised mobile electronics. This ingenious processor has played a central role in making the development of cheap, yet powerful handheld devices possible; and close to 20 billion ARM-based chips have been manufactured in the past 25 years.

Millennium Youth Camp

Today’s young people will have a key role in resolving tomorrow’s global challenges – and the goal of Technology Academy Finland’s international Millennium Youth Camp (MY Camp) is to encourage young people interested in mathematics, natural sciences, and technology and help them on their way to starting a career in these fields.

MY Camp is designed to offer young people aged between 16 and 19 an inspirational overview of Finnish expertise and top-level research in the natural sciences, mathematics, and technology. As part of the programme, students have the chance to network with each other and people in Finnish companies and organisations, as well as top scientists.

During the one-week-camp, participants are introduced to a number of Finnish companies and higher educational institutions. In addition to lectures, workshops, and visits to MY Camp partners, the programme includes project work supervised by experts and carried out in small multinational groups.

The first MY Camp was organised in June 2010 and the next one will be held in June 2011.

Participants at the first MY Camp, held in June 2010, had the chance to network with each other and people in Finnish companies and organisations, as well as top scientists.
> Jaana Kymäläinen
(Published in HighTech Finland 2011)