Meet the new director of OtaNano

Anna Rissanen, the new director of OtaNano, tells us about her role in developing OtaNano for the future
Kuva: Anna Rissanen.
Photo: Anna Rissanen.

OtaNano is a national research infrastructure for fabrication, characterization and measurements needed in modern micro- and nanotechnologies. This open access infrastructure is operated by Aalto University and VTT in collaboration. OtaNano plays an important role both in enabling top-level Finnish research and in launching new technologies and businesses. About half of the funding received by Aalto University from the European Research Council has been connected with OtaNano. Anna Rissanen, who has recently started working as Director of OtaNano, has a special role in shaping the plan for strategic and long-term development, financing and investment.

Kuva: Anna Rissanen.
Photo: Anna Rissanen.

1. What is your role as Director of OtaNano?

OtaNano's national infrastructure includes the Micronova cleanroom, the Low Temperature Laboratory and the Nanomicroscopy Centre. I am responsible for this infrastructure as a whole, and my tasks involve networking, funding, and developing OtaNano’s future. Aim is to enable researchers to achieve excellent results, while also creating wider societal impact in the OtaNano ecosystem through innovations, business and know-how.

2. How did you become Director of OtaNano?

For me, the societal significance of the organisation’s infrastructure was what sparked my interest in the role. Among other things, OtaNano’s research leads to the creation of new business opportunities and jobs. OtaNano has a wide impact.

All my previous experience over the last couple of decades relates in some way to the OtaNano infrastructure, both through research activities and industrial collaboration. I’ve gained valuable insight from past work with various companies which have developed business from technologies based on the expertise stemming from this infrastructure.

3. What have been the highlights of your career so far?

I came to Aalto from a start-up called Outsight, where I led the technology team. The company is developing LiDAR technology for self-driving cars, and my role was to lead the MEMS beam steering activities. With LiDAR technology, a self-driving car can map out its surroundings using short laser light pulses, forming a three-dimensional point cloud.

At VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, I led a research team for several years. We developed hyperspectral cameras in collaboration with various companies in order to commercialize the technology for different applications, for example to detect skin cancer or agricultural crop monitoring from drones. Spectral cameras have also been utilised in the nanosatellite of the Aalto-1 project. Microspectrometers are small, palm-sized analysis devices which can also be used to identify drugs and counterfeits.

I started my studies at the Helsinki University of Technology in 1999. I worked at the laboratory of measurement technology and started working on my master's thesis at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland in 2003. I defended my doctoral dissertation at Aalto University in 2012. The main subject of my studies and postgraduate studies was microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), from which optical sensors can be made. My studies and work have always been connected with OtaNano's infrastructure and especially with the Micronova clean room.

4. What is the most important character trait for your role?

OtaNano has a range of user groups, from researchers to companies. It is important to be able to understand different stakeholders and their needs in order to be able to make wise strategic decisions. Openness and curiosity are also important.

5. What are your expectations for the future?

OtaNano is underpinned by decades of work in producing excellent research results, technologies and companies. I hope we will strengthen this reputation and increase our international visibility.

Large infrastructures are always expensive investments, and it is important that OtaNano remains dynamic and viable. It is good that a number of different technologies are involved at different stages of the life cycle, from basic research to the companies' own prototypes that are nearly ready for production. Having different kinds of actors in the same ecosystem is at the same time both a challenge and also a hugely helpful resource.

Aalto University is already familiar to me, but at the same time it is also something new. I was once studying at Aalto University, and now I am here as an employee. I get to work in an overarching role and to view the work of a wide variety of research groups.

OtaNano is a successful infrastructure that serves universities, research institutes and dozens of companies. The Centre of Excellence in Quantum Technology is one of OtaNano’s many users, and the new flagship projects of FinnCERES and PREIN make ample use of OtaNano in their development of novel materials and photonics applications.  OtaNano is an important enabler for dozens of start-ups, as building their own infrastructure would be very expensive for them. OtaNano has been part of the Academy of Finland's roadmap activities since the beginning in 2009.

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