HY:n vuoden työelämäpalkinto 2023

The Working Life Act of the year puts physics into work

The award, which was presented for the first time, went to the Electronics Research Laboratory (ETLA) in Kumpula and its leading physics professor duo Edward Haeggström and Ari Salmi as the winners. The award was presented at the last UH Career Forum meeting, which also provided information and inspiration for alumni cooperation. The lab’s development of employment promoting practices and their strategic and long-term integration into degree structures were seen as particularly commendable.

“In addition, the laboratory’s activities responsibly support students’ career planning and quality employment and directly serve the surrounding society,” says Anna Storgårds from the Forum’s coordination team.

Haeggström and Salmi received the award at the Career Forum’s springtime celebration in early May. Haeggström, who has been at the University of Helsinki for 35 years, concluded his award speech with a reference to history.

”We are very grateful, a little surprised and remember: 35 years ago, activities like ours were tolerated but considered an oddity.”

Putting physics into work and sending startups to the world

ETLA currently has a total of more than twenty undergraduate students, doctoral researchers and postdoctoral researchers studying and working at the lab. The teaching and research – which Haeggström describes as “very applied” – focuses not only on electronics but also on ultrasound, optics, metamaterials and FEM-modelling.

The laboratory’s history stretches back more than half a century to 1972, when professor Mauri Luukkala started the work.

“Already then, the focus was on putting physics into work. We have always thought that we are training science officers: people who are not too fancy to put on a camouflage suit and do a job themselves, i.e. with a PhD thesis in one hand and a work glove in the other. Mauri was my mentor, and I have tried to carry that lesson forward. Ari is now the next professor,” says Haeggström, describing the continuum.

Ari Salmi joined the lab in Haeggström’s footsteps as a second-year physics student 19 years ago.

Thanks to its hands-on approach, ETLA has already launched seven research-based start-ups. One of them is Nanoform, a pharmaceutical nanotechnology company based in Viikki, which is now listed on the stock exchange and employs around 150 people. As CEO, Haeggström has also recruited several of his own students to Nanoform and other companies.

“I have asked them what is worth teaching at the university. I have asked myself this as a teacher, and I answer it as an employer: keep the deadline, be able to deal with stress and ambiguity and be able to push things forward. We have hired dozens and dozens of people, and quite rarely they do exactly what they studied. I think this is very important.”

Original news in FLAMMA: https://flamma.helsinki.fi/en/group/ajankohtaista/news/-/uutinen/vuoden-tyoelamateko-panee-fysiikan-toihin/32685615