Mika Prunnila appointed Research Professor in electronic sensors

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Mika Prunnila D.Sc.(Tech) has taken up the position of Research Professor in electronic sensors at VTT. He is responsible for a research field that extends from sensor manufacturing technology to measuring technology and applications. The goal is to develop new sensor solutions for instance for industrial applications and for the growing market of IoT devices.

“VTT has been at the cutting edge of sensor development, and we would like to keep it that way. We have the capability for designing and manufacturing sensor elements based on micro, nano and quantum technologies and to realize sensors for highly demanding environments such as space. Mika’s extensive experience in the development and application of new technologies brings a substantial boost to our ‘From silicon to cloud’ strategy,” says Tauno Vähä-Heikkilä, Vice President of Microelectronics Research Area.

Being an experienced and versatile developer of micro and nano electronics, Prunnila is well versed in sensor technology, and as leader of the VTT nanoelectronics team he also learned to examine the entire value chain for electronic components.

“It is a really remarkable thing that VTT has in-house expertise in the entire value chain, from manufacturing to the system level. If, for example, machine learning skills are required, an expert is available close at hand. Our R&D is also enhanced by the fact that we can develop sensor production and perform small and medium scale device production at VTT’s own labs, such as the Micronova clean room,” says Prunnila.

As Research Professor, Prunnila aims to pick up on those research topics that he considers particularly promising and suitable for VTT. Radiation sensors are a case in point. The best-known of these is probably the camera found in every mobile phone these days, where a sensor chip recognizes the wavelengths of visible light and converts them into electronic signals. However, Prunnila is particularly looking forward to advancements in other wavelength bands. Radiation sensors embedded in mobile devices are expected to replace lab tests for instance in the analysis of gases and materials.

VTT has a long history of successfully developing high-performance sensor solutions, for instance for the medical sector and the security industry.

“We must continue to nurture this important sub-area and expertise. I believe that quantum technology will provide new solutions and highly interesting challenges too.” 

Sensor platforms and energy

Research topics considered important by Prunnila include also sensor platforms, which can improve sensor performance. One approach to improvements is to lower the temperature of the sensor. Sometimes it is even necessary to go down to near absolute zero, and in this Prunnila and his team have already shattered records.

“The management of sensor energy and sensor system energy is also an important topic. When our entire environment is full of smart technology and a huge number of sensors, energy has to be obtained from the environment of the sensor system and stored temporarily.” Prunnila and his team have developed an energy storage technology integrated into a microchip for precisely this need.

Prunnila completed his D.Sc.(Tech) degree in electronics and semiconductor physics at Aalto University. He has been at VTT since 1999. He has participated in several Finnish and international collaboration projects as a scientist and as a manager. He currently leads the EFINED project focusing on thermal sensors in the EU H2020 programme and the RaPtor consortium for detector technologies funded by Business Finland. In the course of his career, Prunnila has published nearly 80 scientific articles, and he is named as an inventor in 15 patents. He has been a visiting researcher at the University of Tokyo and a visiting professor at INSA Lyon.