Get to know us: Assistant Professor Ville Miikkulainen

Miikkulainen received his doctorate from the University of Joensuu in 2008. After his defence, he has worked as a researcher at the Universities of Oslo and Helsinki, as a specialist and manager in industry, and most recently as University Lecturer at Aalto University.
Ville Miikkulainen
Assistant Professor Ville Miikkulainen

Who are you and how did you become a researcher?

My name is Ville Miikkulainen, and I started in January as an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Materials Science, focusing on energy materials and thin films. My research group Atomically Controlled Materials Engineering develops and applies thin films by atomic layer deposition (ALD) to enhance and modify energy materials.

I've always been interested in natural sciences and technology, wanting to understand observed phenomena and the functions of various machines. When I was in high school in Lappeenranta, the University of Joensuu had just launched a new chemistry researcher study program, and I received a promotional letter from them. It seemed very interesting, so I applied during my final year of high school. As I began studying chemistry, I hadn't firmly decided to become a chemistry researcher; I also considered medicine, engineering, and physics. However, my studies in chemistry progressed rapidly, and chemistry began to feel like the right field for me—I never applied to study anything else.

Upon graduating with my master's degree, I was offered a challenging and interesting project on ALD and proceeded directly to doctoral studies. I've enjoyed working with ALD throughout my career, both as a researcher in academia and as an expert in industry. This combination of chemistry and fascinating equipment development is clearly suitable for me!

What do you research and why?

To make batteries, fuel cells, and photocatalysts work efficiently, it's crucial to control the movement of electrons, ions, and atoms within their materials, especially on surfaces and interfaces. ALD is the only method to deposit materials 'atom by atom' onto surfaces, precisely targeting desired areas using controlled chemical reactions.

Our research group focuses on developing ALD processes for energy applications and understanding the underlying chemical reactions. This is essential for creating improved energy materials required for the green transition. At our department, we've already demonstrated that ALD coatings on electrodes significantly enhance the lifespan and performance of lithium-ion batteries!

From a chemist's perspective, ALD is very interesting because chemistry defines the entire material. Although ALD films are very thin, typically only nanometers or tens of nanometers thick, they are often visible. The outcome of the process is immediate, providing direct and immediate feedback for the researcher. Yet there are still challenges and work to be done for ALD researchers. Some important materials lack processes entirely, and existing processes need improvement to be utilized to their fullest potential. Additionally, the potential applications of ALD make development work exciting. It's widely used in microelectronics manufacturing, but there are also applications that have yet to be explored.

How did you end up at Aalto?

After obtaining my doctorate from Joensuu, I worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki and the University of Oslo, as well as in industry as a project manager at Picosun and a product manager at Beneq. At the University of Helsinki, I got involved in many interesting research projects and served as the coordinator for the ALD Center of Excellence. In Oslo, I developed ALD processes for lithium-ion battery materials, which was important experience for my current role at Aalto. Working in industry provided me with valuable experience in leading product development projects and exposed me to various applications of ALD.

I ended up at Aalto when there was an open substitute lecturer position due to a sabbatical leave. It was an excellent opportunity to get into teaching. After the substitution, I was selected for a lecturer career path position, gaining more experience in teaching and its development. Last year, I applied for this tenure track position, opening up another new and interesting opportunity for me to develop and contribute to a timely and important research topic. Aalto is a unique community in its internationalism, diversity, and interdisciplinary nature. Our campus in Otaniemi offers many exciting opportunities for research and industry collaboration.

What have been the highlights of your career?

In Oslo, studying processes for lithium-ion battery materials was challenging because lithium ion is mobile not only within the battery but also during the ALD process, causing deviations. Investigating the causes and mechanisms of these deviations led us to turn initially challenging processes into novel ways of making materials. At the University of Helsinki, studying photo-assisted ALD was a very challenging project with many difficulties initially, but we generated interesting new research avenues. I aim to leverage these experiences and ideas in my tenure track role at Aalto and continue pushing the boundaries.

What would you tell a high school student about your field?

Technological progress and the urgently needed solutions in energy require advanced materials. Chemistry and chemical engineering are essential for manufacturing, modifying, and recycling materials. Chemistry plays a central role in many areas of society and industry. For instance, the development of batteries or microelectronics would not be even possible without chemistry and ALD. By studying chemistry, you gain understanding on molecular structures and resulting material properties, and further apply your knowledge to important applications. Graduates from Aalto's School of Chemical Engineering find excellent employment in interesting and impactful roles in Finnish and international companies. ALD is a strong and growing field in Finland, crucial for addressing critical challenges in energy and other important applications.

Atomically Controlled Materials Engineering

Research group led by Professor Ville Miikkulainen

Ville Miikkulainen's research group
Photo-ALD copper film on patterned tantalum oxide
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