Innovation award for women goes to professor Heli Jantunen

Paula Risikko, Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, has given the innovation award for women to professor Heli Jantunen for inventing a low-temperature method for producing ceramic components. Jantunen works at the University of Oulu. The prize is worth EUR 110,000.

Professor Heli Jantunen is the first person in the world to introduce the possibility of making co-fired electroceramics in ultra low temperatures. The next-generation multi-purpose electroceramics are a global breakthrough in the field of electroceramics. They enable the use of lower production temperatures, new materials and 3D printing in the production of electroceramics and also allow production to be small-scale, local and energy-efficient. The current market for the technology is estimated to be worth around USD 900 million. Its main product groups are miniature sensor, RF and microwave modules as well as the filters, switches and antennas for telecommunications technology.

Professor Heli Jantunen had a job in the industry but returned to the university in the late 1990s to prepare her doctoral thesis. She intended to go back to industrial work fairly quickly, but this did not happen. Even though she completed her thesis in 2001, her research work continued.

-I noticed that this is a wonderful community, a real vantage point that allows you to do completely new things.

According to Professor Jantunen, her research subject, electroceramics and its applications, are “enormously interesting materials”. For example, they are suitable for telecommunications technology and can be used to make many kinds of sensors for measuring necessary data about people, the environment, traffic and industrial processes, among other things.

-Our research team is developing new kinds of materials for electronics applications. They will appear even as radical applications. Manufacturing the materials must take as little energy as possible, and they must be environmentally-friendly.

New materials, new methods

Lately, the team has been developing electroceramic materials manufactured at room temperature; normally, the manufacturing temperature would need to be at least 850 degrees, commonly up to 1,500 degrees. Electronics will not work without electroceramics, and they appear in countless places in our daily lives – from smoke detectors to mobile phones.

The temperature required by the production of ceramic components has until now been too high for the semiconductors and polymers commonly used in electronics, which has prevented them from being directly integrated with ceramic components. The method developed by Heli Jantunen’s research group has managed to decrease the temperatures required for ceramic component production to under 500 degrees Celsius and even down to room temperature, which enables the direct integration of ceramic components with modern heat-sensitive materials and the development of new applications. The method developed by Jantunen can reduce the need for energy down to 15–30% of the original required amount, which cuts the costs associated with production equipment and makes for an easier process while also being more eco-friendly. The production method has already been used successfully in making products such as a ceramic antenna.

A set designer and bureaucracy stopper

Heli Jantunen describes herself as a curious person who is excited by challenges and as a researcher who wants to work in a team. In her opinion, a research team needs prerequisites that are as good as possible.

-There must also be room for folly and fun, mistakes and shared successes.

The significance of the research team is high for Heli Jantunen. When asked about the achievements in her career that make her the proudest, she replies:

-I’m the proudest about my team. They have developed and grown into experts who are recognised internationally. Our entire unit is internationally known, and sometimes we get self-funded people. This means that researchers already have their own funding when they select us.

During her school years, Heli dreamed of working as a set designer in a theatre. She would have wanted to be the one who arranges a beautiful and practical environment for the performers, not the one who appears in front of the audience and gets all the attention. Leading her own research team, she now feels like a set designer, creating prerequisites for the research work of others. At the same time, she calls herself a “bureaucracy stopper”.

Even though she works in fields where women are a minority, Heli Jantunen thinks that the position of women as researchers is very good and keeps improving. The success of research depends on your enthusiasm and willingness to work, not your gender. Sometimes being in a minority position can even be a benefit. If there are only a few women speakers at a conference, people will remember you more easily. On the other hand, age brings credibility. Even if someone calls you a girl, it does not feel the same as when you were a young master of science.

Strong cooperation in Oulu

Professor Jantunen considers the outlook for her field and research team highly positive, and we can expect significant research results and amazing products. Determined work has been carried out in energy storage and collection, for instance. Sensors produce energy themselves, it can be stored and measurement results can be transferred efficiently. Everything is based on a solid scientific foundation.

-We carry out both basic and applied technical research. I have used the metaphor that basic research is like a pond from which applied research draws water. If the pond does not get new water, it will dry up. We are a unit that is also capable of making components. We have the material specialists, process side, product and component designers as well as those who create the applications. Everyone in the production chain understands the big picture, even though they all concentrate on their own part of it. This brings us strength.

Heli Jantunen hopes that Oulu and Finland will be recognised as the origins of solid scientific results. As a small country, Finland could even have a special position. She thinks that the Oulu phenomenon and the strong cooperation associated with it should also be highlighted in science.

-This place is small enough. We know each other and have a healthy distance from the competitive environment in Southern Finland. We also have a long tradition of conducting research together with the industry.

The innovation award bestowed by Parliament commemorates the anniversary of universal and equal suffrage on 1 June. The prize is worth EUR 110,000 and has been awarded in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The award is given to a woman or a group of women for a scientifically significant innovation in the field of technology or economics. The Technology Academy Finland foundation handled the actual award process. The Parliamentary Office Commission selected the winner from the group of candidates judged to be the best.

Watch the video interview here.

Text: Anna Nieminen

Photos: Juha Sarkkinen


Heli Jantunen received the M. Sc. Degree in Astronomy and Physics, Faculty of Sciences in 1982, the Diploma in education in 1985, and the M. Sc. Degree in Electrical Engineering, Faculty of Technology in 1989, University of Oulu, Finland. After being 10 years in industry as a project managers and managing directors, she joined the Microelectronics and Materials Physics Laboratories, University of Oulu in 1999 and received the Dr. Science (Tech.) degree in Microelectronics (with honours) in 2001.

She is Full Professor with the University of Oulu, Finland, in Technical Physics. Since 2004, she has been also the Head of Electronics Materials, Packaging and Reliability Techniques (EMPART) Research Group of Infotech Oulu, since 2008 Leader of the Microelectronics Research Unit (total amount of staff ~ 50, earlier Microelectronics and Materials Physics laboratories). She has been also the Head of the Department of Electrical Engineering 1.8.2011-31.12.2015 (total amount of staff ~110). The research of her group focuses on electronics fabrication techniques, development of novel ICT electronics, especially RF applications by implementation of advanced microwave and functional materials, structures and nanotechnology into multifunctional micromodules and printed electronics devices. The main interests within the materials research, their characterization and development cover dielectric, ferroelectric and piezoelectric ceramics, polymers and their composites in form of bulk, multilayers structures, printed inks. She is or has been engaged in research projects supported nationally (Finnish Funding Agency of Technology and Innovation, Academy of Finland) and internationally (Nordic Innovation Centre, EU, Matera ERA.Net). In 2012-2019 she is devoted to her ERC (European Research Council) Advanced Grant and two ERC POC projects. She has been invited/keynote speaker, session chair and/or scientific committee member in ~40 international scientific conferences, general chair of the International Conference of Microwave Materials and their Applications in 2006, reviewer of scientific papers and she holds over 70 national and international patents with 2 patent application. She has supervised several Doctoral and Masters’ students and has over 240 scientific journal publications (3739 citations (without self-citations), h-index 32, ISI Web of Science on the 24th of March 2019(Scopus: h-index 33, citations 4633, Google Scholar: h-index 42, citations 6478). Additionally she has been accepted as an Academician to the World Academy of Ceramics (WAC) in its 15th election in 2013. In 2018 she received also Nokia Foundation’s Recognition Award, is Honorary International Chair Professor of National Taipei University of Technology (1.1.2017-31.12.2019), Member of the Academy of Technical Sciences 2014-, amount of members under 65 years old members is limited to 250, Honorary Doctor of the University of Linköping, Sweden, 9.3.2014, and received White Rose of Finland Knight First Class granted in 2013

Prof. Jantunen has been Research Council member for Natural Sciences and Engineering, Academy of Finland (2010-2015), and the General Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of Finnish Defence (Matine, 2013-2018), and steering committee member of research and technology programs and/or strategic planning groups of the Academy of Finland, the Finnish Funding Agency of Technology and Innovation (Tekes). Additionally, she has been member of Joint Programming Board of transnational MNT ERA-NET, Science and Innovation Council of ERA.Net Rus, Representatives Committee of WoodWisdom-Net/ERA-NET Bioenergy, an international evaluator of research applications recommended by the Academy of Finland, member of several industry, research institute and research funding organization delegates to Japan, Russia, UK, Taiwan and France, and vice chair of the steering committee of “Nanotehcnology of Finland” (FinNano) of the TEKES, and chair of the steering committees of FinNano program and Programmable Materials program (Academy of Finland).

Last updated: 22.4.2022