O.V. Lounasmaa Laboratory (OVLL), previously known as Low Temperature Laboratory, of Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) was established by Prof. Olli V. Lounasmaa in 1965 as a research group within the Department of Technical Physics. In 1973 the Laboratory became an independent unit, directly under the central administration of the University. In 2012 the laboratory was named after it's establisher and it started as an independent institute of the Aalto University School of Science.
O.V. Lounasmaa Laboratory (OVLL) is one of the flagships in Aalto University’s research efforts. Its research and education are centered on physics from 1 Kelvin down to the very lowest temperatures (Low Temperature Laboratory, LTL) and on noninvasive studies of human brain function (Brain Research Unit, BRU). Today, roughly half of OVLL’s personnel is occupied with nanophysics and low-temperature research while the other half with neuroscience and brain imaging.
The LTL holds the world record of the lowest temperature measured in solid materials, namely 100 picoKelvin recorded for the nuclear spin system in rhodium metal in 2000.
In 1994 Academy of Finland recognized the achievements of OVLL by naming it one of the 12 national Centers of Excellence (CoE). Since then OVLL has coordinated another two CoEs, one in low temperature physics and one in brain research. Today OVLL is coordinating one CoE in low temperature physics.
Since 1994 OVLL has served as a European Large Scale Facility (LSF) in both low temperature and brain research. The first LSF contracts were ULTI and BIRCH. During their operation, over 100 European scientists worked in the OVLL for more than 200 months.
Training Scientists and Engineers of Tomorrow
The OVLL has a productive history in graduate and post-graduate education. During its first 45 years, over 100 students have earned their PhD degree working in our laboratory, mainly on physics problems but also on mathematics, neurosciences, medicine, and on psychology. About 40% of our PhDs are now employed by the private sector, most of them by medical instrumentation and telecommunications industry. The rest of them work in hospitals or in government research laboratories. Twelve of our PhDs have held professorships in Finnish universities and three in the United States of America.
From Basic Research to Spinoff Companies
In basic and applied research the progress of OVLL is the result of new technology: New experimental approaches, based on homemade innovative instruments to bridge some critical gap, have provided the central starting point. Combining nuclear cooling devices are examples of innovations which have provided the competitive scientific edge. Similarly, pioneering development work on SQUID arrays, covering the whole human head, has resulted in successful neuromagnetic brain research in OVLL and elsewhere. The spin-off companies of OVLL, e.g, in the field of modern refrigeration, low temperature instrumentation, and human brain imaging have shown competitiveness all over the world.
Meeting Challenges of the Future
The dedicated experimental and theoretical efforts in the laboratory translate most OVLL’s research lines to a commanding position in their specialty. However, it is difficult to identify narrow and upcoming topics with sufficiently important scientific implications. This is a process which requires vision, expertise, and a certain amount of continuity.
New and fundamentally important discoveries are still expected in ultralow temperature physics. The field is dominated by intriguing quantum phenomena, leading to extraordinary behavior and to novel properties of matter. The discoveries will enrich our understanding of superfluidity, superconductivity, macroscopic quantum tunneling, and perhaps even elucidate the Big Bang at the beginning of the Universe.
The grand challenges of brain research lay in better understanding of both healthy and diseased human brains, studied in both well-controlled and in increasingly complex experimental environments, also including social interaction.