Lounasmaa was one of the internationally most recognized scientists in Finland. For decades he was known as a very successful scientist and as a visionary and colorful renewer of Finnish science policy.
Olli Lounasmaa was born in Turku, Finland on August 20th, 1930. He passed his immatriculation examination in Helsingin Normaalilyseo in 1949 and received his masters degree from Helsinki University in 1953. He continued his studies in Oxford, UK where he wrote his doctoral thesis about low temperature physics in 1958. He gained further international experience when he worked as a visiting scientist in Argonne, USA in 1960 - 1964, just before he was appointed a professor in technical physics at Helsinki University of Technology.
Lounasmaa obtained his principal scientific achievements in the Low Temperature Laboratory which he founded at Helsinki University of Technology in 1965 and which he successfully led until his retirement in 1995.
In the beginning the research of the laboratory concentrated on low temperature physics and the laboratory became an international center in the field. The success and competitiveness of the research was supported by new and innovative methods in refrigeration technology and in some areas of research an internationally unique position was created. Most visible became the research in superfluid helium-3 and the investigations on nuclear magnetism. As a byproduct of this activity several world records in low temperature were obtained. The research on superfluid helium-3 was specially mentioned by the Nobel committee in 1996 when also Lounasmaa was a nominee, even though the price finally went to the American discoverers of the helium-3 superfluidity.
In the beginning of the 80s Lounasmaa started neuromagnetic brain research in the Low Temperature Laboratory - as a hobby - in his own words. Under his energetic leadership new magnetometers based on superconducting quantum interference devices - SQUIDs - were built to measure weak magnetic fields generated by the human brain. The development of multichannel devices finally led to the formation of a separate commercial company. Today dozens of brain research groups around the world are using instruments and methods originating from the Low Temperature Laboratory.
Lounasmaa was a forerunner in the postwar science in Finland. From the start he had wide international contacts and his goal was to rise his laboratory to a top position in the world. The laboratory had a modern scientific programme - focus, big issues, and no nonsense was his principle.
Lounasmaa was an avid supporter of basic research, and in the 80s he already wrote many pamphlets on excellence in research and on centers of excellence. He boldly applied multidisciplinarity in the initial stages of the laboratory's brain research. He reformed the graduate education by making it a professional whole-day activity which guaranteed success even in difficult projects thanks to efficient team work and supervision.
The scientific production of Olli Lounasmaa was prolific. He received several international and national awards and honors. Most appreciated by Lounasmaa himself were the Fritz London Award (USA 1984), the Forschungspreis of the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung (Germany 1993) and the Kapitza gold medal (Russia 1995). Lounasmaa was a member of the National Academy of Sciences in USA and a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science. He had honorary doctorates from Helsinki University of Technology, Tampere University of Technology and both from the faculty of medicine and the faculty of philosophy of University of Helsinki.
He was appointed Academician in 1997.
Lounasmaa was an inspiring leader, who energetically helped and supported his students but he also expected industrious enthusiasm from them. His advice to the young researcher's daily curriculum became famous; work for 16 hours, 1 hour for meals, 1 hour for dating the opposite sex, and the rest for sleep. This and other words of wisdom he wrote down in his memoirs, a manuscript of 900 pages, which he delivered to the publisher just before leaving on his vacation to India.
In Olli V. Lounasmaa we miss an excellent scientist, an energetic and efficient laboratory leader, and a long-term friend.