In a world that grows more interconnected every day, the spirit of international collaboration is key to fostering advancements in science, technology and innovation. This philosophy is embodied at VTT, where we have proudly hosted a succession of esteemed Fulbright professors from the US. Since January 2023, we've had the privilege of working with Professor William Collins, a civil engineer from the University of Kansas. His time here has not only furthered his own research but has left a significant impact on his research team at VTT.
The Fulbright-VTT Award in Science, Technology and Innovation stands for a meaningful cultural and academic exchange that advances global understanding and collaborative research. For Professor Collins, his journey to Finland and VTT was inspired by his passion for fracture characterization research, originally applied to highway bridge structures in the United States. His path intersected with Sebastian Lindqvist, a Senior Scientist at VTT, leading to a unique opportunity for shared research and mutual learning.
Currently, Professor Collins is part of the Fatigue and Fracture Mechanics team at the VTT Centre for Nuclear Safety. His research is multifaceted, delving into the quantitative methods used to characterise fracture toughness variability, investigating the performance of realistic crack geometries similar to those on in-service components, and evaluating the fracture behavior of welded connections.
“Having the opportunity to work with engineers in the nuclear field has been eye-opening and will allow me to pursue new avenues of applied research when I return to the US,” Professor Collins says.
The implications of Collins' work could have far-reaching effects beyond the academic realm as well. "The work we are doing aligns more realistically with in-service demands faced by components in nuclear reactors. This could allow for continued operation of reactors that would otherwise be taken out of service," he notes.
Learning and living Finnish style
Professor Collins' tenure at VTT helps to establish lasting collaborations between VTT and the University of Kansas, paving the way for future shared research and publications. His fresh perspective, fueled by his civil engineering background, has also positively impacted his research team, fostering a unique outside-in perspective that promotes mutual learning.
“I have witnessed very positive effects on our team’s dynamics during the past months through scientific collaboration and other discussions. This has been a great opportunity for young VTT researchers to demonstrate their skills and learn together with an established scholar,” says Tommi Seppänen, Research Team Leader of the Fatigue and Fracture Mechanics team.
Beyond work, Professor Collins and his family have embraced Finnish culture, relishing everything from traditional Finnish cuisine to adventures in Lapland. In his own words, "It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been a great adventure for all of us!"
The Finnish work culture – the balance between work and personal life, the frequent group lunches and the sense of community – has left a strong impression on the Professor. "Twice a week we get together for lunch in a large group, with smaller groups informally organizing lunch on other days, and people frequently take coffee breaks together. One of my favorite ways that productive relationships are being fostered is through “weekly learning reflections” that many team members post online in a group chat. These reflections have spurred many excellent conversations, and the idea is something I will definitely be taking back to my research group at KU."
Impact beyond borders
For VTT, the Fulbright-VTT Award is more than just an international collaboration. It enables us to elevate our excellence and impact, contributing to our overall mission of serving the Finnish society and industry with cutting-edge scientific information and excellence.
"In our current strategy, North America has been identified as a specific area for growth. The Fulbright grants enable top scientists, such as Professor Collins, to visit VTT and to share their knowledge and networks,” says Petri Kotiluoto, Vice President of Nuclear Energy Research at VTT.
As for the future, this collaboration with Professor Collins has set a high bar. Already, he and Sebastian Lindqvist are planning to pursue jointly funded research projects and are considering ways to create more connections between the University of Kansas and VTT outside of their specific groups.
“I’ve found that different approaches and perspectives result in positive outcomes for many endeavors. I hope to continue working within international collaborations in the future, as I feel it has challenged me to learn and improve,” Professor Collins concludes.
In the picture, Jie Zhang, Fulbright-VTT Awardee from UT Dallas; Antti Vasara, CEO of VTT; William Collins, Fulbright VTT Awardee from University of Kansas; Matti Kokkala, former VTT employee and Fulbright Finland alumnus; Sebastian Lindqvist, Senior Scientist at VTT. Picture: Studio Terho Photography / Fulbright Finland Foundation.