Research focus areas
The research assessment exercise carried out in 2009 identified the following areas as the key strong points of Aalto:
The Aalto University expertise in computational science and modeling is concentrated particularly in the Departments of Applied Physics, Biomedical Engineering and Computational Science, Information and Computer Science as well as to the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology (HIIT) and the Low Temperature Laboratory. All of the above were assessed as having research of outstanding international level in the research assessment exercise carried out in 2009.
The research groups of the units develop new computation methods and apply them to the needs of other disciplines and industry. Their research fields range from theoretical modeling and nanosciences to various practical applications such as the mechanisms of genetic regulation and telecommunication systems.
At Aalto University, computational science and modeling find new kinds of practical applications and links to other disciplines. This top expertise in the field may be applied, for instance, to traditional engineering sciences and economics.
The wide spectrum of expertise in materials sciences at Aalto University offers extensive opportunities for new kinds of collaboration. Materials science research is carried out in all four schools of technology. The research areas include nanotechnology, microfabrication and biomaterials, as well as advanced functional materials. The Aalto University School of Art and Design focuses on promoting profound understanding of the characteristics of various materials, which is crucial, for instance, for sustainable textile design.
The Otaniemi campus offers an excellent environment for high-quality materials research. It is home to, e.g. the Nanomicroscopy Center and world-class cleanroom facilities, jointly owned by Micronova and VTT.
The Department of Design at the Aalto University School of Art and Design carries out high-quality research comparable to that of the best schools of design in the world. It focuses on usability, user-centered design, user experiences and domestication of design. The research on these fields may be further developed by combining this expertise with high-quality and practice-oriented research. In addition, the multidisciplinary research environment of Aalto University offers brand new opportunities for the interaction of design research and other disciplines.
For instance, combining a user-centered approach to design with technological expertise can offer a fresh approach to, for instance, questions of sustainable development. Adopting a multidisciplinary approach allows the University to produce research findings which contribute to the development of society and the economy in new and innovative ways.
The success story of the Finnish ICT first started at the Helsinki University of Technology, which has a long tradition of research in the field. The four schools of technology at the Aalto University continue the tradition. ICT research examines a wide range of topics from the mathematical methods of computation and of modeling electromagnetic fields to various practical applications in telecommunications, communication, business, and information management.
In addition to the research units of computational science (cf. computation and modeling), ICT research is carried out in the Schools of Science and Electrical Engineering. Together these units make up a strong concentration of ICT expertise, which will gain many new collaboration opportunities in the multidisciplinary research environment of Aalto, e.g. through collaboration with the Media Lab of the School of Art and Design and with the Department of Information and Service Economy of the School of Business.
The combination of theoretical ICT research, user-centered design, content production and business expertise will provide an excellent launch pad for new innovations. For instance, digitalization and social media are topics which may only be profoundly understood from a multidisciplinary viewpoint combining arts, science and technology.
Read more about the projects:
The aivoAALTO (‘brainWAVE’) research project, headed by Academician Riitta Hari, combines the competence of different schools at Aalto University in a unique manner. The project is a study in social interaction and decision-making. It is based on strong expertise in brain imaging and systems neuroscience, added with advanced signal processing, film research and studies in financial decision-making.
The research group uses modern brain research methods such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencelography (MEG). fMRI is used to monitor changes in the oxidation level of the brain, and MEG measures weak magnetic fields related to brain function.
By showing films to test subjects, a fairly natural yet controllable stimulus environment can be created in the brain imaging laboratory. Films can be used to study how similarly different people view their worlds.
“It is fascinating to study the brain events people use to create a shared reality. Which areas of the brain function similarly for different people, and where are the biggest differences? Does the contagion of emotions increase the similarities between the brains of those involved in the interaction?”
Research in brain events related to social interaction is important, because the human mind
cannot be understood without studying the functioning of the brain in relation to other people and social practices.
Researchers of neuroeconomics, on the other hand, seek for a neuronal foundation for decisionmaking with the help of brain imaging. Models for decision-making include, for example, choicemaking in games. Good decisions do not originate from reasoning alone, so scientists are interested in emotion-related brain activations during decision-making.
Brain research deals with big questions, at the core of being human. This is what makes the
work so fascinating.
“The human brain is basically the same it was tens of thousands of years ago, but people and their skills are completely different. Our brains are moulded by our surroundings, culture and tools. Thus, it is important to study the brain in experimental situations that are as naturalistic as possible.”
The aivoAALTO research project (neuro.hut.fi/aivoaalto)
In 2006, the European Community established the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) with the mission of increasing European sustainable growth and competitiveness. The EIT is an incubator for ideas in areas of strategic importance, and it responds to global challenges by facilitating the practical implementation of innovations.
The Institute creates independent Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) to link the higher education, research and business sectors and other stakeholders in selected strategic areas. The aim is a free flow of skills and knowledge both within the communities and between them, or between universities, research institutes and companies. The EIT encompasses top-class education, leading edge research and the entire innovation chain from basic research to businesses.
Up till now, three KICs have been set up: Climate KIC (Climate Change), EIT ICT Labs (Information and Communication Technologies) and KIC InnoEnergy (Sustainable Energy).
EIT ICT Labs, one of whose six nodes is located in Otaniemi, Finland, focuses on the information and communication society of the future. The Finnish partners in the EIT ICT community are Aalto University, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Nokia. The other nodes are based in Berlin, Eindhoven, Paris, Stockholm and Trento.
In its activities the KIC prioritises educational development, infrastructures for the Internet of the future, ICT-based services, user-centred solutions in research and development and creating an open European IT innovation ecosystem.
The aim is to create a dynamic, self-enhancing European ecosystem in the ICT sector to translate research into innovations, products, services and business, thus supporting the transformation of Europe towards a knowledge-intensive society.
ICT will play a key role in enabling the information society of the future. The goals include improving the quality of life for individuals and enabling sustainable economic growth and social wellbeing across Europe. ICT is expected to have a significant impact on such as the following areas of society:
- Health and wellbeing
- Mobility and empowerment of individuals
- Social interaction and cohesion
- Efficient energy use
- Sustainable development
- Developing global business
Direct EU funding to the EIT will amount to EUR 308 million in 2008–2013. The Institute’s strategic leadership and overall direction is entrusted to the EIT Governing Board, which consists of eighteen high-calibre members from the fields of research, higher education and business.
EIT ICT Labs (eitictlabs.eu)
The international research assessment exercise of Aalto University was carried out in 2009, on the brink of the launch of the new University. Its goal was to find out the scientific quality and societal impact of the research at the three merging universities and to identify research with world-class potential.