The European Research Council grants 4.57 million euros to TKK researchers


The European Research Council ERC has granted three TKK researchers a 5-year ERC Starting Grants for young researchers, worth a total of EUR 4.57 million. Adjunct Professor Ville Pulkki was granted EUR 1.88 million for the study of technology and psychophysics of spatial sound, Academy Research Fellow Tero Heikkilä of the Low Temperature Laboratory EUR 1.32 million for studying heattronics, and Academy Research Fellow Mika Sillanpää EUR 1.37 million for studying quantum computation.

[Image:Ville Pulkki]

The study of Adjunct Professor Ville Pulkki has been divided into two parts: the technology of spatial sound, and the psychophysics of spatial sound. Spatial sound means acoustics and audio technology. It investigates the perception of spatial attributes, such as the direction and distance of sound sources, and the auditory sense of space.  Its areas of research also include the techniques to record, store, transmit, and reproduce the spatial properties of sound.

The research on spatial sound technology is based on a technology developed earlier by Pulkki and his research team, Directional Audio Coding (DirAC).  The method makes it possible to store audio content in a format which is independent of listening setup, it can be rendered using arbitrary loudspeaker setups or with headphones.  

The second branch of the study, the psychophysics of spatial sound, investigates the capabilities of human listeners to perceive spatial attributes of sound in general. The target is to learn which properties of spatial sound are most important. One target is to map the human capability of perceiving the width and distribution of sound sources. Can a human listener perceive, using only his/hers ears, the length of a shoreline or the location of the piers?

Academy Research Fellow Tero Heikkilä studies heattronics in nanoscale conductors

The research of the Academy Research Fellow of the TKK Low Temperature Laboratory, Tero Heikkilä focuses on heattronics, largely developed by Doc. Heikkilä and his colleagues at the Low Temperature Laboratory, and on its theoretical study. [Image:Tero Heikkilä]

Heattronics studies the distribution of heat and its passing in nanoconductors with dimensions of less than one micrometer (one millionth of a meter). This field aims to connect the quantum mechanical description of nano-conductors to their thermodynamic properties.

Even if the research funded by the now awarded grant is mostly theoretical basic research, it also has many uses in applications. The theoretical work is especially relevant for the development of superconducting radiation sensors, which are developed also in Technical Research Centre of Finland VTT. A heat camera equipped with such sensors can distinguish, for example, the temperature difference between the body of a person and a knife in the person’s pocket. A prototype of this kind of a heat camera developed at VTT will be taken into use in the Helsinki-Vantaa airport later this year. Similar cameras are also used to study cosmic radiation, for instance.

Another application of heattronics developed in the Low Temperature Laboratory is electronic refrigeration based on superconducting nanostructures. One of the aims is to replace part of the present slow and expensive refrigerators based on pumping helium by cheap and fast nanoscale “on-the-spot” coolers.  Such refrigerators could be used in thermal radiation sensors, quantum computing and extremely sensitive force and mass sensors, which all work best at low temperatures.

Academy Research Fellow Mika Sillanpää conducts experiments in quantum computation

Mika Sillanpää, Academy Research Fellow from the Low Temperature Laboratory at the Helsinki University of Technology, investigates quantum information processing using micromechanical resonators which work at very low temperatures close to the absolute zero at -273 degrees Celcius. 

[Image:Mika Sillanpää]

Before any real quantum computers can be built, the theory of quantum mechanics has to be further experimentally tested in larger and more complex systems. Physicists dream of seeing energy quanta on a scale close to that of everyday life, or other counterintuitive phenomena predicted by the quantum theory, such as superposition states, with physical, macroscopic objects situated in two different places at the same time. An old paradox which dates back to the early days of quantum mechanics is the Schrödinger’s cat, which is simultaneously dead and alive.

The research now funded is basic research aiming at testing the basic principles of nature by measuring vibrating micromechanical beams at low temperatures. In Sillanpää’s research, these resonators are being pushed into an unusual quantum state reminiscent of the Schrödinger’s cat. These states are also promising candidates for a sensitive and long-lived quantum bit. These states are also promising candidates for a sensitive and long-lived quantum bit.

As a result of the funded research, micromechanical resonators could in the future be applied as quantum bits in a quantum computer, and superconducting Josephson junctions into which they are connected as a quantum communication network.

Additional information:

Adjunct Professor Ville Pulkki
TKK Faculty of Electronics, Communications and Automation
Department of Signal Processing and Acoustics / Acoustics and Audio Signal Processing
tel. (09) 451 2498, mobile 050 5208392
ville.pulkki [at] tkk [dot] fi

Academy Research Fellow Tero Heikkilä
Low Temperature Lab, Helsinki University of Technology
tel. (09) 451 2396
tero.heikkila [at] tkk [dot] fi

Academy Research Fellow Mika Sillanpää
Low Temperature Laboratory, Helsinki University of Technology
tel. (09) 451 4898
Mika.Sillanpaa [at] iki [dot] fiää

The Low Temperature Laboratory of Helsinki University of Technology is one of the most famous research laboratories in Finland, and it is home to two Centres of Excellence of the Academy of Finland. It is especially renowned for its world records of cold temperatures, and for the research on the properties of superfluid helium and nanoelectronics as well as for its high-quality research on human brain functions at the system level.
Additional information:

Acoustics and Audio Signal Processing is part of the Department of Signal Processing and Acoustics. The department has the best research facilities for studying acoustics in Finland, such as the largest anechoic room and a listening room of international standards.
In the recent years, the strongest areas of research have included the modelling of musical instruments, natural-sounding synthetic music and speech, audio coding and perceptually-based audio processing, multi-channel and 3-D sound reproduction, analysis of speech production and its applications in brain research and medical engineering, and spectral modelling of speech.

Additional information:

The aim of the European Research Council (ERC) is to support basic research by top researchers. Its most important means of funding are the ‘ERC Advanced Grant’ for established researchers and ‘the ERC Starting Grant’ for very promising new researchers, now awarded for the second time.

The European Research Council ERC, http//



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