30 APRIL 2022
A lighter path to exercise
Breaking bodily boundaries
Revealing the brain’s fingerprint
Learning through touch
Maarit Hohteri Seven-year-old Nelson made huge leaps on a virtualassisted trampoline and nearly outplayed his big sister. Read about the kids’ exercise adventure starting on page 24.
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Dear reader, this issue’s content plan was completed and its articles written in early 2022, before the Ukrainian crisis came to a head. At the time, we were cautiously looking forward to a brighter spring and a return to campus, not knowing that the gradually recovering post-pandemic world was about to meet another tragedy. We hope that the theme of this issue —the limits of the body—and its stories from exploring it from various perspectives can bring new information, comfort and perhaps even faith in the possibility of finding solutions to the most crushing problems. Science, arts, research and education will play a part in building any such solution.
Jaakko Salavuo, Editor-in-chief Aalto University Communications Director Aalto University condemns Russia’s XXx and gives its support military aggression to Ukraine and the country’s academic community. News about university's actions related to the war in Ukraine will be posted to aalto.fi/en/aalto-university/ukraine-war
Artificial intelligence assists the brain Farewell to the stethoscope Playful exercise A little more to touch
5 Openings _ Antti Ahlava and the return to campus. 6 Now _ Bits of news, big issues. 10 Oops! _ Jussi Impiö and the surprisingly popular vacancy.
OUR THEME Bodily boundaries 12 18 22 24 32
36 38 40 43 44 47 48 50 52 54
Theme _ Researchers explore the secrets of the brain. Who _ Lincoln Kayiwa designs at a cultural crossroad. Theme _ Vital Signs is developing a new kind of stethoscope. On the go _ Virtual games encourage children to exercise. Theme_ Why you should stick your hands in dirt.
On science _ Science news in brief. In-house _ PhotoRobot archives objects three-dimensionally. Dialogue _ Marjo-Riitta Diehl and Miisa Mink know women’s networks. Partnership _ Machine learning models speed up pharmaceutical development. On science _ Teuvo Kohonen's legacy in AI research. On science _ The Breaking Ground exhibition shows what comes of long-term research. Wow! _ Little Finlandia is a temporary building designed to live long. Doctoral theses _ Sneha Das and speech recognition; Sergei Tugin and brain research; Maarit Kalmakurki and costume design in animated movies. Everyday choices _ Ayush Bharti analyses obstacles to wireless network connections. Visiting _ Jürgen Mlynek receives an honorary doctorate.
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ON THE JOB
Even though illustration is largely thought work, it quite clearly also involves physical labour. My restive right hand forces the left to pound CMD+Z and redo an arch that simply refuses to settle like my brain is telling it to. My body is no printer, and I prefer it that way. For the closer I get to the image summoned by my brain, the more lifeless it becomes. A freely fumbling hand will breach the boundaries of intelligence and introduce emotion to the picture—if I’m lucky.
I’m out on a shoot. The model and the lighting are good, but the background is off. I squat down, no improvement. I take a step back, still no good. I climb up a ladder and now the background is good, but the angle isn’t, and the lighting is worse, too. I come down, move a metre to the right. Just need to get a bit higher, a stool would be nice. The shoot location, light, technical camera choices, my own and the model’s physical and psychological characteristics and limitations determine the end result. There’s a certain amount of variables you need to get right in a shoot, photography is problem solving.
PUBLISHER Aalto University, Communications EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Communications Director Jaakko Salavuo EDITORS Paula Haikarainen, Annika Artimo, Katrina Jurva LAYOUT & PHOTO EDITOR Dog Design
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N SWA ECO LA
Jaakko Kahilaniemi, Aleksandr Kakinen, Kalle Kataila, Roope Kiviranta, Hanne Kokkegaard, Susanna Kokkinen, Tuomas Kärkkäinen, Lasse Lecklin, Diana Luganski, Edel O’Reilly, Tatu Pohjola, Tiiu Pohjolainen, Aleksi Poutanen, Marjukka Puolakka, Alessandro Rampazzo, Mikko Raskinen, Panu Räty, Sedeer el-Showk, Joanna Sinclair, Eeva Sivula, Elsa Snellman, Minna Tiainen, Nita Vera, Yujie Zhou TRANSLATION Ned Kelly Coogan, Miisa Pulkkinen ADDRESS PO Box 18 000, FI-00076 Aalto TELEPHONE 09 470 01 ONLINE aalto.fi/magazine EMAIL email@example.com CHANGE OF ADDRESS firstname.lastname@example.org PRINTING PunaMusta, 2022 PAPER MaxiOffset 190 g/m2 (covers), Berga Classic Preprint 90 g/m2 (pages) PRINT RUN 3 500 (English edition) & 29 500 (Finnish edition) SOURCE OF ADDRESSES Aalto University CRM Partnership and alumni data management PRIVACY NOTICES aalto.fi/services/privacy-notices PEFC/02-31-151 ISSN 2489-6772 print ISSN 2489-6780 online
COVER Maarit Hohteri CONTRIBUTORS IN THIS ISSUE Amanda Alvarez, James Cochrane, Riikka Haikarainen, Maarit Hohteri, Minna Hölttä, Prasad Jayathurathnage,
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Campus inspires and brings us together We asked our architecture students about their experiences of remote studying over the past two years of the pandemic. Their replies revealed an undercurrent of many problematic issues, such as difficulties in concentrating and a loss of sense in the meaningfullness of studying, at times almost reaching Oblomovian, or apathetic and lethargic, attitudes. Campus life was sorely missed, there was a longing for discussions and deeper interaction with others. These feelings are no doubt also familiar to our staff. Although they did adjust rapidly to “remoting”, being physically separate from the community and your workmates is not always easy. The establishment and upkeep of relationships, opportunities for consultation and creative ideation are often much better on campus than they are on screen. Actual meetings make it
Physical encounters communicate shared norms, increase trust, spur collaboration, and enhance interpersonal ties.
easier to get to know one another and gain understanding as well as build networks and togetherness. One of the fundamental tasks of a campus is, in fact, to uphold a sense of community and reduce loneliness. It is difficult to succeed in your studies or professional career with no social capital, which is created through encounters. Meeting people at campus events and facilities is of great significance especially to integrating foreign students and employees to our community. Physical encounters communicate shared norms, increase trust, spur collaboration and enhance interpersonal ties and commitment. Physically proximate networks involving reciprocal cooperation transform into collective action much more easily than remoting, and this applies also between people representing different fields. We want to invest in this by providing access to our premises, infrastructure and services to our partners and even the general public. The university is supporting its own community’s return to office work by scrutinising its workspaces and working practices with fresh eyes and ideas. At the same time, we’re also developing means for enabling successful hybrid work, as some members of the community are quite happy to keep remoting going forward as well. Electronic communications channels like Zoom, Teams, Skype and Slack are now part of our everyday lives, even though they are not to the liking of everyone. But no one can deny their speed and effectiveness. Is it possible to make more efficient use of them in including the entire community? And also recognise that how they are used can be as important as what is said through them.
Antti Ahlava Aalto University Associate Vice President, Campus Development
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Extensive funding for change raised by Aalto alumni and spinouts Data gathered by Dutch data platform Dealroom.co shows that during the last decade, Aalto University has not only grown into one of the most prominent startup ecosystems in Europe but is also a close competitor to institutions such as Cambridge and ETH Zurich in terms of deeptech funding and alumni companies. Almost 100 companies are founded every year in Aalto University’s ecosystem, which amounts to a full 50% of start-ups originating from Finnish universities annually. Within the last decade, Aalto alumni and spinout companies have raised a total of more than €1.1bn. At the moment, approximately 30 tech transfers—technology transferred from Aalto University to another person or organization—are completed each year; 275 tech transfers have happened since 2013. One of these tech transfers was IQM, a spinout from Aalto University
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and VTT Technical Research Centre which is building Finland’s first commercial quantum computer. ICEYE, a spinout originated from the university’s nanosatellite group Aalto-1, is another recent success story. Aalto University also hosts Europe's largest and most active student-run entrepreneurship community, with thousands of students actively participating through various societies. Through courses organised by the Aalto Ventures Program, over 9 000 students have familiarised themselves with entrepreneurship and an entrepreneurial mindset. This unique student body is also behind Slush, one of the world’s largest technology conferences. The event was originally organised by Aaltoes (Aalto Entrepreneurship Society) and typically brings together over 20 000 investors, entrepreneurs, media and volunteers from over 50 countries.
At Slush 2021, Aalto University featured 12 research-driven startups.
of OMXH CEOs in Finland are Aalto alumni
How should we talk about climate change? How does the circular economy work? How can students and companies solve climate and sustainability challenges together? The Finnish network of higher education institutions called Climate University tries to answer these questions. The courses provided by the Climate University are open to everyone, and they are geared towards students, teachers, and anyone already in the labour market. Coordinated by the University of Helsinki, there are altogether 18 partnering universities in Finland, and the courses are made in multidisciplinary collaboration. Aalto University has been involved in the network since its establishment in 2018 and has been a key player in the implementation of the SystemsChange.now course. The materials of the courses are freely available online and can be studied independently. If students want credits for the courses, they must register for the Climate University courses organised by one of the higher education institutions included in the network or by the Open University.
Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust / National Geographic
Free online courses on sustainability transition
Sir Ernest Shackleton's ship's taffrail and wheel at the bottom of the Wendell Sea.
Wreck of Endurance found in Antarctica Ice scientist, Professor Jukka Tuhkuri took part in the seven-week Endurance22 expedition to Antarctica. He is studying how climate change alters sea ice, and how those changes would affect ice loads encountered by ships. Finnish-built research vessel S.A. Agulhas II was equipped with sensors for measuring the interactions between the ship and ice. The main objectives for the international expedition were to locate, survey and film the wreck of Endurance ship of Ernest Shackleton. The ship sank in November 1915 and the wreck was found in March 2022, at a depth of 3 008 metres in the Wendell Sea. Jukka Tuhkuri was on hand to witness this historic moment.
Finland's first professor of ownership appointed Professor Samuli Knüpfer, DSc (Econ), has been appointed professor of ownership at the Aalto University School of Business. He started in his new position in March 2022. The aim of the professorship established with donated funds is to add ownership as an integral part of academic research and teaching, to strengthen Finnish culture of ownership and ownership expertise, and to produce high-quality research data to support societal discussion and decisions. The professorship is the only one of its kind in Finland. Samuel Knüpfer transferred to Aalto from BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, where he worked as a Professor of Finance. Before his years in Oslo, Knüpfer worked at the London Business School and as a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley. He defended his doctoral dissertation at the Helsinki School of Economics in 2007. Already some 100 donors, including foundations, companies and individuals, have supported the professorship and it is still open for new donations.
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DESIGNERS’ NEST 2022 AWARD GOES TO BORAM YOO
James Cochrane / Designers’ Nest
Recent MA graduate of fashion design Boram Yoo’s collection examined the history of an outfit worn by Korean forced labourers. Flower-patterned trousers are one of the basic items of clothing worn by elderly ladies in Korea. Originally, these trousers were black, as were the other clothes assigned to forced labourers during colonial times. After the war, the joyful flower pattern was adopted as part of an effort to overcome the horrible past and imagine a brighter future. From Boram Yoo’s collection Absolute Ambivalence.
SPATIAL ARTWORKS designed by Aalto Alessandro Rampazzo
University students were on display at the Stockmann department store in Helsinki city centre. The works were mostly made from the department store’s own recycled materials and used products. The Art Round exhibition formed part of the programme marking Stockmann’s 160th year of operation. Amadeo Martines, Vertti Virasjoki, Emil Lyytikkä: Stonehange.
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Aalto ARTS Books
AALTO ARTS BOOKS is the publishing
The exhibition takes a peek at the world of the publishing house and the 500 books it has published.
From the series Four Women by Yujie Zhou, 2019.
house of Aalto University’s School of Arts, Design and Architecture. It publishes literature relevant to the School’s areas of specialisation. Its works are known for their high-quality graphic design and they have received numerous recognitions in industry competitions. Aalto ARTS Books published its 500th title this spring and an exhibition is being arranged to celebrate this milestone. 500 books in a visual world on display at the V1 Gallery in Otaniemi, address Otaniementie 14, Espoo, from 20 to 27 May 2022. All Aalto ARTS Books still in print can be purchased online from shop.aalto.fi
THE WONDER(FUL) VIRTUAL EXHIBITION
showcases works by six photography Master’s students connected to the theme of wonder. The pieces dive into questions of existence, scrutinise personal family histories or focus on exploring the creator’s innermost world. virtualexhibitions.aalto.fi/en/ exhibitions/wonderful
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What a job posting! Jussi Impiö started work as Head of Sustainable Solutions at Aalto University in summer 2021. In 2009, however, he had positions to fill in Kenya.
‘I was working at the Nokia research centre in Nairobi arranging a major innovation conference. Ministers from 50 African nations were coming to this event and we had been preparing diligently for six months, but just a few days prior to the opening, we realised that we’d need five more drivers. I placed an ad in the Daily Nation, the main daily newspaper, as there were no electronic job search channels in Kenya, nor did people have email addresses, let alone personal devices for accessing services. Well, the paper was an effective channel: in two days, we received 5 687 applications by letter, and another similar batch trickled in later as well. It was immediately obvious that there was no point in opening those envelopes—it would have been impossible to choose fairly from such a huge number of applications. I’d been working in Africa for more than a decade by then, and I should have known better. No Kenyan would have made such a blunder, they’d have simply phoned a pal. Just like I wound up asking a familiar driver if he could conjure up five drivers for me —and five calls later it was sorted. But the situation remained on my mind. Was this the best way, considering that jobs were scarce and the markets full of people with little education? It turned out, for example, that in Nigeria, where civil service jobs are considered very desirable, a single vacancy can attract up to two million applications. The only conclusion to draw from this was that the system didn’t work. It also spurred unhealthy practices like nepotism and corruption. When the Nokia research centre was eventually shut down, my colleague Jussi Hinkkanen and I set up a company to tackle this massive issue in labour market matching. Fuzu is a free, AI-based mobile service that helps users develop job-search skills and, through testing, helps them understand their personal strengths. At the same time, it matches them with corporate demand: large volumes are screened for employees with potential, freeing employers to make the final selection without going through a laborious application process. The service also anonymises applicants with respect to age, gender or ethnic background. We started in 2013, and Fuzu is now the fastestgrowing employment search service in Africa. I myself stepped away from its day-to-day operations when I moved back to Finland with my family. People in Africa are super-efficient and creative users of mobile services. They’ve leapfrogged over many intermediate stages of technological development and recognised that the efficiency of the labour market increases when a person’s background factors no longer serve as the most significant determinant in recruitment.’ Text Paula Haikarainen Portrait Nita Vera Illustration Tuomas Kärkkäinen
THEME 12 Theme _ Artificial intelligence assisting the brain.
22 Theme _ Vital Signs is developing a new kind of stethoscope.
32 Theme _ Why you should stick your hands in dirt.
18 Who _ Lincoln Kayiwa designs at a cultural crossroads.
In our lives we’re surrounded by technology and comfort, yet we remain imprisoned in our fragile bodies. What happens when we exceed the limits of the body? 24 On the go _ Virtual games help kids get moving.
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THEME Bodily boundaries Neuroscience and neurotechnology are gaining a fresh ally in the form of artificial intelligence. AI can assess dementia risk by analysing brain waves and can enhance the effectiveness of magnetic stimulation therapies for depression treatments. Text Minna Hölttä Illustration Eeva Sivula
Artificial intelligence to assist the brain
he human brain consists of some 86 billion neurons, nerve cells that process and convey information through electrical nerve impulses. That’s why measuring neural electrical activity is often the best way to study the brain, says Hanna Renvall. She is Aalto University and HUS Helsinki University Hospital Assistant Professor in Translational Brain Imaging and heads the HUS BioMag Laboratory. Electroencephalography, or EEG, is the most used brain imaging technique in the world. Renvall's favourite, however, is magnetoencephalography or MEG, which measures the magnetic fields generated by the brain’s electrical activity. MEG signals are easier to interpret than EEG because the skull and other tissues don’t distort magnetic fields as much. This is precisely what makes the technique so great, Renvall explains. ‘MEG can locate the active part of the brain with much greater accuracy, at times achieving millimetrescale precision.’ An MEG device looks a lot like bonnet hairdryers found in hair salons. The SQUID sensors that perform
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THEME Bodily boundaries
‘The machine learned to distinguish individuals perfectly based on just the graphs, irrespective of whether the imaging had been performed with the test subject’s eyes open or closed.’
the measurements are concealed and effectively insulated inside the bonnet because they only function at truly freezing temperatures, close to absolute zero. The world's first whole-head MEG device was built by a company that emerged from Helsinki University of Technology’s Low Temperature Laboratory—and is now the leading equipment manufacturer in this field. MEG plays a major role in the European Union’s new AI-Mind project, whose Finnish contributors are Aalto and HUS. The goal of the €14-million project is to learn ways to identify those patients, whose dementia could be delayed or even prevented. For this to happen, neuroscience and neurotechnology need help from artificial intelligence experts. Fingerprinting the brain Dementia is a broad-reaching neural function disorder that significantly erodes the sufferer’s ability to cope with everyday life. Some 10 million people are afflicted in Europe, and as the population ages this number is growing. The most common illness that causes dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which is diagnosed in 70–80% of dementia patients. Researchers believe that communication between neurons begins to deteriorate well before the initial clinical symptoms of dementia present themselves. This can be seen in MEG data—if you know what to look for. MEG is at its strongest when measuring the brain’s response to stimuli like speech and touch that occur at specific moments and are repetitive. Interpreting resting-state measurements is considerably more complex. That’s why the AI-Mind project uses a tool referred to as the fingerprint of the brain. It was created when Renvall and Professor Riitta Salmelin and her colleagues began to investigate whether MEG measurements could detect a person’s genotype. More than 100 sibling pairs took part in the study that sat subjects in an MEG, first for a couple of minutes with their eyes closed and then for a couple of minutes with their eyes open. They also submitted blood samples for a simple genetic analysis. When researchers compared the graphs and genetic markers, they noticed that, even though there was substantial variance between individuals, siblings’ graphs were similar.
Next, Aalto University Artificial Intelligence Professor Samuel Kaski’s group tested whether a computer could learn to identify graph sections that were as similar as possible between siblings while also being maximally different when compared to other test subjects. The machine did it—and more, surprisingly. ‘It learned to distinguish the individual perfectly based on just the graphs, irrespective of whether the imaging had been performed with the test subject’s eyes open or closed,’ Hanna Renvall says. ‘For humans, graphs taken with eyes closed or open look very different, but the machine could identify their individual features. We’re extremely excited about this brain fingerprinting and are now thinking about how we could teach the machine to recognise neural network deterioration in a similar manner.’ Risk screening in one week A large share of dementia patients are diagnosed only after the disorder has already progressed, which explains why treatments tend to focus on managing late-stage symptoms. Earlier research has, however, demonstrated that many patients experience cognitive deterioration, such as memory and thought disorders, for years before their diagnosis. One objective of the AI-Mind project is to learn ways to screen individuals with a significantly higher risk of developing memory disorders in the next few years from the larger group of those suffering from mild cognitive deterioration. Researchers plan to image 1 000 people from around Europe who are deemed at risk of developing memory disorders and analyse how their neural signals differ from people free from cognitive deterioration. AI will then couple their brain imaging data with cognitive test results and genetic biomarkers. Researchers believe this method could identify a heightened dementia risk in as little as a week. ‘If people know about their risk in time, it can have a dramatic motivating effect,’ says Renvall, who has years of experience of treating patients as a neurologist. Lifestyle changes like a healthier diet, exercise, treating cardiovascular diseases and cognitive rehabilitation can significantly slow the progression of memory disorders. Better managing risk factors can give the patient many more good years, which is tremendously meaningful for individuals, their loved ones and society, as well, Renvall says. Identifying at-risk individuals will also be key when the first drugs that slow disease progression come on the market, perhaps in the next few years. Renvall says it will be a momentous event, as the medicinal treatment of memory disorders has not seen any substantial progress in the last two decades. The new pharmaceuticals will not suit everybody, however. ‘These drugs are quite powerful, as are their side effects—that’s why we need to identify the people who can benefit from them the most,’ Renvall emphasises. 15 / AALTO UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE 30
THEME Bodily boundaries Zapping the brain Brain activity involves electric currents, which generate magnetic fields that can be measured from outside the skull. The process also works in the other direction, the principle on which transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is based. In TMS treatments, a coil is placed on the head to produce a powerful magnetic field that reaches the brain through skin and bone, without losing strength. The magnetic field pulse causes a short, weak electric field in the brain that affects neuron activity. It sounds wild, but it’s completely safe, says Professor of Applied Physics Risto Ilmoniemi, who has been developing and using TMS for decades. ‘The strength of the electric field is comparable to the brain’s own electric fields. The patient feels the stimulation, which is delivered in pulses, as light taps on their skin.’ Magnetic stimulation is used to treat severe depression and neuropathic pain. At least 200 million people around the world suffer from severe depression, while neuropathic pain is prevalent among spinal injury patients, diabetics and multiple sclerosis sufferers. Pharmaceuticals provide adequate relief to only half of all depression patients; this share is just 30% in the case of neuropathic pain sufferers. How frequently pulses are given is based on the illness being treated. For depression, inter-neuron communication is stimulated with high-frequency pulse series, while less frequent pulses calm patient’s neurons for neuropathic pain relief. Stimulation is administered to the part of the brain where, according to the latest medical science, the neurons tied to the illness being treated are located. About half of treated patients receive significant relief from magnetic stimulation. Ilmoniemi believes this could be much higher—with more coils and the help of algorithms. One-note clanger to concert virtuoso In 2018, the ConnectToBrain research project headed by Ilmoniemi was granted €10 million in European
Research Council Synergy funding, the first time that synergy funds were awarded to a project steered by a Finnish university. Top experts in the field from Germany and Italy are also involved. The goal of the project is to radically improve magnetic stimulation in two ways: by building a magnetic stimulation device with up to 50 coils and by developing algorithms to automatically control the stimulation in real time, based on EEG feedback. Ilmoniemi looks to the world of music for a comparison. ‘The difference between the new technology and the old is analogous to a concert pianist playing twohanded, continuously fine-tuning their performance based on what they hear, rather than hitting a single key while wearing hearing protection.’ Researchers have already used a two-coil device to demonstrate that an algorithm can steer stimulation in the right direction ten times faster than even the most experienced expert. This is just the beginning. A five-coil device completed last year covers an area of ten square centimetres of cortex at a time. A 50-coil system would cover both cerebral hemispheres. Building this kind of device involves many technical challenges. Getting all these coils to fit around the head is no easy task, nor is safely producing the strong currents required. Even once these issues are resolved, the hardest question remains: how can we treat the brain in the best possible way? ‘What kind of information does the algorithm need? What data should instruct its learning? It is an enormous challenge for us and our collaborators,’ Ilmoniemi says thoughtfully. The project aims to build one magnetic stimulation device for Aalto, another for the University of Tübingen in Germany and a third for the University of Chieti-Pescara in Italy. The researchers hope that, in the future, there will be thousands of such devices in operation around the world. ‘The more patient data is accumulated, the better the algorithms can learn and the more effective the treatments will become.’
Quantum optics sensors could revolutionise how we read neural signals Professor Lauri Parkkonen’s working group is developing a new kind of MEG device that adapts to head size and shape and utilises sensors based on quantum optics. Unlike the SQUID sensors currently employed in MEG, they do not need to be encased in a thick layer of insulation, enabling measurements to be taken closer to the scalp surface. This makes it easier to perform precise measurements on children and babies especially. The work has progressed at a brisk pace and yielded promising results: measurements made with optical sensors are already approaching the spatial accuracy of measurements made inside the cranium. Parkkonen believes that a MEG system based on optical sensors could also be somewhat cheaper and more compact and thus easier to place than traditional devices; such a MEG system could utilize a ‘person-sized’ magnetic shield instead of a large shielded room as the conventional MEG systems do. ‘This would bring it into reach of more researchers and hospitals.’
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WHO Bodily boundaries
Thinking outside the box while looking in Lincoln Kayiwa brings a different perspective to Finnish design.
Text Sedeer el-Showk Photos Aleksi Poutanen A calling was stirring in his soul, but the 8-year old boy sitting on his boarding school bunk bed in Uganda’s capital Kampala didn’t know it at the time. Young Lincoln Kayiwa was fiddling with a string, a bean, a bottle top, and a twig. He wanted to combine them to make something functional. ‘I didn't even know there was a word for what I felt,’ he says. Today, Kayiwa is a designer whose projects are shaped by his bicultural background. He has now lived in Finland for 19 years—nearly as long as he lived in Uganda—and his work draws on those combined experiences. ‘I’ve been here long enough now to know how Finnish design culture and Finnish society work, but I’m also outside the box looking in,’ Kayiwa says. That unique perspective is the fruit of a chain of happy coincidences. What is this country? Though Kayiwa had artistic leanings as a youth, it wasn’t clear he would become a designer. Many Ugandans of older generations hoped to see their children pursue careers in fields they regarded as prestigious, and his parents were no exception. His father, who was an architect, had hoped that he would become an engineer. Kayiwa was still a secondary school student with a passion for visual art, especially drawing, when his father passed away. ‘He might have understood my
choice, but unfortunately he didn’t get a chance to,’ says Kayiwa. Fortunately, his mother accepted his claim that he would be better off continuing at a performance arts school rather than the traditional, missionarybuilt academic school, which focused more on the sciences. After continuing studying art at Makerere University in Kampala, Kayiwa attended a lecture by visiting professor David Stairs from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ‘The majority of the slides were of Finnish designers, and I was astounded by that,’ he says. Finland was already on the young man’s mind. He knew that the then-ubiquitous Nokia phones were Finnish products, and his father had also been fond of rally driving, a motorsport in which the country is known to excel. ‘I had encountered Finland in so many different circumstances, so all of a sudden I was wondering, "What is this country?" It seemed a bit like fate or destiny,’ he says. Researching the country, he learned about its female president and 188 000 lakes. ‘It felt like a fairy tale, and I just had to experience it for myself.’ Fusion of art and design This was around the time Kayiwa was supposed to do a work placement or exchange studies. He applied as an exchange student to the University of Art and
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WHO Bodily boundaries
Rather than aiming to have a new product ready for each season, designers should work to create heirlooms.
Design Helsinki (TAIK), one of the institutes that later merged to form Aalto. Impressed by the experience, he continued at TAIK as a Master of Arts student. Kayiwa took advantage of the unparalleled freedom he had to study different topics. He used the opportunity to experiment with the many tools and techniques available at the school. ‘I studied photography and took courses in the graphics design department and other departments. I had this thirst and hunger to learn because I hadn’t had facilities like that where I had come from, so I wasn’t taking the opportunity for granted,’ he says. That breadth of experience is reflected in his work today. ‘In a way, that defines my practice. It’s not 100% design—it’s a fusion of art and design,’ he explains. He says that the freedom to explore during his studies has led him to design not only furniture but also homeware such as candleholders, chopsticks, and glassware. He also works with a range of materials, such as ceramic, wood, glass, and granite. ‘In general, I’ve never been one for definitions or for being boxed in. I want to leave things open to interpretation, appreciation, and critique. That’s also my approach with design. It’s not a concrete process —I just have a sense of it and it’s in flux all the time.’ The country he had been drawn to also lived up to its appeal; he stayed after finishing his studies, opening an eponymous design studio in 2007 and becoming a naturalized citizen.
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Driven by a different sense of value Currently, he’s working with artisans in Kenya to use waste as a raw material, upcycling waste plastic, glass, rubber or metal into furniture or other useful objects. ‘I provide the design concepts, and they iterate on them using the handicrafts and know-how they’ve gathered over years,’ he says. ‘The main objective is to show the artisans that they can use the crafts and techniques that they already know to make something functional instead of just decorative items for tourists.’ The project fits well with Kayiwa’s overall commitment to sustainable design, a theme that’s built into the structure of his business. ‘I want to stop using virgin raw material in my studio. Everything should be made with 90–100% recycled materials.’ He says designers and manufacturers need to adopt an approach that’s driven by a different sense of value. The goal should be to make only what we need, design those things beautifully, and build them to last. Rather than aiming to have a new product ready for each season, designers should work to create heirlooms. ‘I want my designs to make the user happy, but I also want them to be exactly as I intended without any compromises,’ says Kayiwa. The story behind the dinosaur-inspired clothes rack he designed offers an example of his principles and persistence. When he first conceived the design, 3D printers weren’t big enough to print the elements. They could have been made with plastic extrusion, but the resulting seams would reduce the similarity to dinosaur bones which was the heart of the design. By using 3D printers instead of making molds for plastic extrusion, Kayiwa fulfill another goal of his designs: avoiding waste and producing just enough to meet demand. Well-designed that are crafted to purpose rather than mass produced offer a way to use fewer resources and live more sustainably, he says. ‘We humans should open our eyes to what we buy and how we consume. We need to curate the things that we live with and surround ourselves with.’ With that ethos in mind, Kayiwa calls the items he designs ‘collectibles’ rather than ‘products’ and prefers to think of ‘users’ rather than ‘consumers’. Instead, Kayiwa waited, and eventually 3D printers had beds big enough to produce each hanger in a single print. ‘I’m happy that I didn’t compromise myself as a designer. It’s done exactly the way it was meant to be.’ Those goals inform everything done at his studio. All of the items are customizable and made just to order. ‘They’re made the way they’re supposed to be made and with the best of materials,’ he says. ‘You know they’re going to be used and eventually passed on.’
Graduated with a Master of Arts from the University of Art and Design Helsinki, now Aalto University, in 2007.
Someone who enjoys solitude as much as company: ‘I enjoy the duality, and Finland offers that. I feel like I was Finnish before I knew I was Finnish.’
Received support from the Tekes (now Business Finland) Designium TULI program to commercialise his graduation project. Is founder and CEO of KAYIWA, a studio selling custom furniture and houseware to clients in the US and around the world.
A collector of contemporary Finnish art: ‘I love art, and I’ve been to more art exhibitions than design events. It helps to get inspiration from elsewhere.’ Pushing for a better world: ‘I want to stop using virgin raw material in my studio. Everything should be made with 90–100% recycled materials.’
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THEME Bodily boundaries
Farewell to stethoscopes
A medical aid for the new age could revolutionise routine examinations at the doctor’s office.
Text Elsa Snellman Photos Nita Vera
hat are the first thoughts that spring to mind when thinking about physicians? Probably white coats and a doctor’s most trusty tool, the stethoscope. Now more than 200 years old, this examination aid remains one of the most important tools of the physician, even though the device itself has hardly developed since the 1960s. An innovation being developed at Aalto University may change this. With the aid of AI, the novel device analyses numerous bodily functions, produces a probable diagnosis and then proposes most appropriate follow-up examinations to the physician. Researchers believe the device could replace the stethoscope and enable faster, more accurate diagnoses. It is being developed by the Vital Signs research group. Everyday hospital life viewed through fresh eyes Development of the device got started as part of Aalto University’s Biodesign programme, the concept of which originates from Stanford University. The idea is that a multidisciplinary team settles into a hospital environment to observe their needs and then comes up with technological innovations as solutions. The research group behind Vital Signs participated in the project in 2019, spending four weeks at the HUS Cardiac Unit. ‘Our team consisted of a physician, an engineer and an economist, and the task was to observe the state of affairs at the hospital through outsider eyes and think of ways in which our specific expertise could help solve problems,’ says Alexis Kouros, the physician in charge of the Vital Signs research group. One thing became clear immediately amidst the daily hustle and bustle of the hospital: the time a physician has to spend with an individual patient is short. In that brief moment, they must perform numerous examinations and measurements, such as listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope. 22 / AALTO UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE 30
‘The stethoscope is “dumb”, analogue and pretty old-fashioned. Our team aimed to turn it into something smart and network-capable. We wanted to achieve this by making the stethoscope more effective and by automating other routine examinations,’ Kouros recounts. The device developed by Vital Signs answers several examination needs of physicians simultaneously. Kouros compares the relationship between stethoscopes and the new device to the difference between landline phones and smartphones. The real beauty of the new concept is, however, that the examination situation still feels familiar from the perspective of doctor and patient alike, it’s largely unchanged, says Kouros. Enabling remote consultations The Vital Signs device records lung and heart sounds as an audio file, which is then analysed by AI. In addition, it measures the patient’s body temperature, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure and electrocardiogram. All this is recorded directly in the patient’s digital documents; the physician doesn’t need to dictate a thing. The system suggests diagnoses using these kinds of observations in addition to, for example, personal medical information on laboratory tests and prescribed medication. The physician listens, compares and can also consult a colleague by forwarding the recording—to, say, a top expert on the other side of the world. ‘Physicians don’t need to perform any data entries or other new work stages to use the device. This is such a progressive change to a physician’s traditional workflow that talk of just an improved stethoscope does our invention a real injustice,’ Kouros says. The new device is now undergoing clinical testing and about a hundred people have already been examined with it. The goal is to launch it on the most significant European markets by the end of 2023.
‘This is such a progressive change to a physician’s workflow that talk of just an improved stethoscope does our invention a real injustice.’
The Vital Signs device was successfully tested in a pilot clinical trial of 100 patients, comparing measurements to a state-of-the-art patient monitor. Team leader Alexis Kouros demonstrates the use of the device with a stand-in patient, AI developer Eetu Vilkki, and engineer Aki Laakso who is examining the measurements.
‘We have a working prototype and a clear development path. We hope that our device will be in general use within 5–10 years. This would represent the start of a new era in clinical patient examination. Improving the accuracy of diagnosis reduces the need for follow-up examinations, freeing up time for other things.’ From hospital environment to Slush stage A company is being established around the invention and the team has networked with both investors and medical equipment contract manufacturers at technology events. At the 2021 Slush gathering, Vital Signs made the top 20 in the pitch competition. ‘Slush was good practise for us; it spurred us into preparing sales pitches and marketing materials. We got a lot of positive feedback and made invaluable contacts.’ The team aims to develop their device in a way that enables its use also in telemedicine. A mobile application, which forwards the examination data gathered by a patient’s device to a physician, is already in use. This provides physicians with valuable informa-
tion and direct measurement results to complement patient interviews. Plans for the future include a solar-powered device for use in countries with weak health care systems. This would be useful in, for example, developing countries where pneumonia is the leading cause of death for children under five years old. The device’s algorithm can diagnose pneumonia in its early stages. Kouros hopes that the device can be made available to physicians at as low a cost as possible—users could, for example, only pay for the analysis it performs. ‘We want the device to be widely used all over the world. This would enable us to collect data, which can in turn help us develop the data-analysing AI further.’ Over the long term, the company could become a big data and analysis firm instead of being just a developer of devices. ‘Technical equipment is easy to copy, but collecting data takes time. When this data is eventually coupled with other available sources, such as patient records, examination results, earlier diagnoses and pharmaceutical prescriptions, you gain extremely valuable and useful knowledge. And this can further our ability to predict future symptoms or illnesses.’ 23 / AALTO UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE 30
MUKANA MATKASSA Kehon rajat ON THE GO Bodily boundaries
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A lighter path to exercise Text Sedeer el-Showk Photos Maarit Hohteri
The psychology of motivation coupled with mixed reality games can get kids moving.
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ON THE GO Bodily boundaries
little digital magic. That’s how Norah and Nelson Thottungal are getting a taste of what it’s like to have superpowers. The siblings are trying out the mixed reality trampoline games developed by Valo Motion, a company founded in 2016 to commercialise research at Aalto University on mixed reality exercise games. Although mixed reality sounds like something complicated, the kids need no explanation of how the system works, immediately finding the right bounces to select a game from the onscreen menu. Nine-year old Norah, big sister to Nelson, says the game feels different because, instead of using a controller, she is the remote control. ‘I can decide what to do using my body,’ she says. No ordinary trampoline The trampoline the young Helsinkians are using is integrated with a computer vision system that tracks a person’s movement as they jump. Those movements picked up by the system control their avatar—a representation of the user—on a nearby screen. The combination of the real-world gymnastics equipment with this kind of technology creates a unique interface for a range of custom video games. What the kids see on the screen as they jump, however, isn’t necessarily a direct reflection of what
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Nelson enjoyed seeing how high he could jump and the tricks he could do on the trampoline. In this trampoline game, the computer projects both kids’ movements onto a screen so they can battle against each other while staying safely on their own trampoline.
they’re doing; the software driving the system exaggerates the player’s movements. That might be one reason why the kids felt like there was something different about this trampoline. ‘You go higher than on other trampolines I’ve tried,’ says Norah. Her brother, seven-year-old Nelson, felt the same way, saying that ‘it was fun to see how high you can jump.’ It turns out that exaggerated motion is an important part of the experience, amplifying the boost given by the trampoline. Perttu Hämäläinen, the Aalto professor of computer games whose research led to Valo Motion, says that the trampolines actually have less bounce because of the dense fabric they use, making them behave more like a consumer trampoline than the bouncier gymnastics trampolines sometimes found at activity parks. ‘I’ve noticed that at least some users start to believe in the exaggerated versions of themselves they see on the screen, although I haven’t done a study focused on it,’ he says.
‘The lack of motivation for physical activity is a big societal problem, so it’s been worthwhile to work on,’ Perttu Hämäläinen says.
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ON THE GO Bodily boundaries
Get your game on Hämäläinen’s research revolves around linking physical and digital experiences to promote physical activity. ‘The lack of motivation for physical activity is a big societal problem, so it’s been worthwhile to work on,’ he says. He explains that a sense of competence is one of the strongest predictors of whether or not someone sticks with exercise over the long term. One of the benefits of mixed reality exercise games is that challenges can be tuned to match a player’s competence. For example, bouldering and wall climbing rely heavily on finger strength; a lack of finger strength blocks progress and stops many people from continuing after their initial try at the sport. ‘With digital augmentation, we can create different types of challenges because people like different things. We can give them more options to choose from,’ explains Hämäläinen. If finger strength is an issue, challenges based on timing or coordination provide the success needed to build confidence, and elements like character
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advancement or new levels offer an alternative path for progression. ‘The games give a chance for virtual development if your real strength is developing slowly,’ he says. Offering players different ways to develop and progress enhances not only their sense of competence but also of autonomy. Competence, autonomy, and social connection are three central psychological needs underlying motivation, according to self-determination theory, which Hämäläinen draws on in his recent work. While he wasn’t consciously thinking in these theoretical terms during his earlier projects, such as Kick Ass Kung-Fu, the sense of empowerment in those games addresses some of the same concerns. The game’s the thing Smash. Ping. The kids clamber on an augmented climbing wall, working together to knock down roving bats or trying to bounce a ball past their sibling.
With mixed reality exercise games, the challenges can be tuned to match a player’s competence as they progress.
For Nelson and Norah, the feedback and inter action of the mixed reality wall turned climbing into a game instead of a sport. The games appeal to the siblings’ competitiveness. In this trampoline game, each kid tries to bounce the ball past the other.
From the sidelines, the projections make the climbing wall look like a giant video game. For Norah, the digital enhancements guide her play and make her part of the game, setting the experience apart from a normal climbing wall. On a normal wall, she says, she climbs without any particular direction or goal, but the games provided her with a direction and a target. As Hämäläinen creates a simple climbing course for them, he explains that letting players design routes isn’t just a cool add-on; it supports both player autonomy and the social dimension of the game, since friends often design routes for each other. It also draws on a long tradition user-generated content in video games, known as modding, which helps boost a sense of community and provides a long-term source of novelty — another important component of motivation. Watching the kids, it’s clear that digital augmentation offers new ways to interact on a climbing wall; on the other hand, traditional climbing already offers many ways to socialise. Trampolines, however, aren’t normally a safe way to play together. By linking two trampolines so that both players appear on both
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ON THE GO Bodily boundaries
The computer amplified Norah’s movements on the screen, making her feel like the trampoline was giving her a bigger boost than others she’s tried.
screens, the digital tools make two-player trampoline games possible—and fun. The social element was an important motivator for the kids, explains their mother Pia Mikander. ‘The fact that it was a game made it important for them to beat each other. There was some competitive element there.’ Expressive interactions While Valo Motion continues developing mixed reality exercise games—including a version of the trampoline games set on an air track, an inflatable mat that offers a different range of movements—Hämäläinen’s research goes on. One of his goals is to address an outstanding challenge in integrating physical activity with digital experiences: how to make natural, largescale movement possible in a virtual reality (VR) experience, where players usually have limited space for real-world movement. At the moment, movement in VR experiences involves either teleportation, which breaks the flow of interaction, or joystick-driven smooth motion, which many find nauseating because of the mismatch between what they see and what they feel. ‘I’d like to make it more expres-
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sive,’ says Hämäläinen, ‘so players can run around and perform other dynamic physical activity, such as swinging on ropes, with no motion sickness.’ These elements all come together in a project Hämäläinen is involved in with Aalto’s Elisa Mekler, a professor of games and human-computer interaction, to explore the use of virtual reality for dancing. ‘Particularly with the pandemic, virtual activities and telepresence are important to help people feel a social connection,’ says Hämäläinen, ‘and dancing is an activity that many people find sort of embarrassing.’ Technology could help bridge the gap: in a virtual reality dance setting, users could select different avatars or visualisations, and digital augmentation could enhance their movement, reducing the barriers to participation and progression in the same way as the augmented climbing wall. ‘We’re also testing a new way to teach dancing in virtual reality, a visualisation that we hope will make it easier to learn,’ says Hämäläinen. Norah and Nelson say they’d be happy to come back for more, especially on the trampolines. Asked what could make it better, Norah replies simply, ‘There could be more games.’
Valo Motion Valo Motion was founded in 2016 to commercialise the augmented climbing wall developed in Perttu Hämäläinen’s research group at Aalto University. The technology was originally developed by Raine Kajastila (who became CEO of Valo Motion) and Perttu Hämäläinen. Great feedback to research results lead to commercialisation project where Joni Vähämäki, Leo Holsti, Janne Karsisto, Sami Pekkola, Jani Lindblad, and Riku Erkkilä joined in to make exercise more enjoyable and promote physical activity and a healthy lifestyle. The company’s core technology is ValoVision, a computer vision system that can track players automatically without the use of wearables or controllers. This makes it possible to effectively turn a climbing wall into a giant touch screen, turning climbers into players. Applying the technology to other equipment, such as trampolines, opens up a range of new physical and digital interactions that can be used to motivate players and even help teach them movement skills. Valo Motion’s mixed reality climbing walls and trampolines have proven enormously popular, with hundreds of installations at entertainment parks in over 60 countries. The company has also created a mixed reality e-sports league so players around the world can compete on the augmented climbing wall and trampoline. The company continues to release new games for the wall and trampoline, but they are also developing new products to stay ahead in a competitive, fast-paced business. A new six-player mixed reality gaming attraction, Valo Arena, will be launched in September 2022.
At the moment, movement in VR experiences involves either teleportation, which breaks the flow of interaction, or joystick-driven smooth motion, which many find nauseating because of the mismatch between what they see and what they feel.
To design experiences like these, you have to listen to your body and understand how different movements feel in it, says Perttu Hämäläinen.
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THEME Bodily boundaries
A bit more to touch You can do almost everything in our digitised world with the help of a machine. So why should you reach out and feel the material in front of you? What benefits can you reap from sticking your hands in dirt? Text Tiiu Pohjolainen Illustration Tuomas Kärkkäinen
efore we even begin our interview, Department of Design Postdoctoral Researcher and lecturer, designer Bilge Merve Aktaș puts an enormous amount of sheep wool on the table. She spreads carded wool, felted wool and individual tufts across the table. A few loose hairs waft over the tabletop carried by the flowing air. Aktaș hands me a pile of untreated wool, telling me it came from Finnish sheep. The wool is still unwashed, dirty. ‘Touch it. How does it feel?’ This first thing I notice is the greasiness of the wool. There’s something familiar about it, my hands are covered by a sticky film, but I immediately find myself sniffing the tuft: its smell trans-
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ports me to the countryside, to a summer day surrounded by hay. My reaction is by no means unique. When the students attending the Human-Material Interaction course steered by Aktaș and Camilla Groth reflected on their encounters with various materials, almost all of them commented on scent. The smell of a natural material cannot be ignored. Just think about raw timber. Furthermore, almost every student compared the sensations the materials brought about to some everyday matter relevant to their own life. For one, working with clay brought to mind days on the beach, while wool reminded others of their grandparents. Materials give rise to memories of earlier life, prior learning, in all of us.
Touching all students In Aktaș’ and Groth’s course, participants have focused on working with clay and sheep wool. As the course is aimed at all Aalto University students, it has instructed business administration, chemistry and IT students alike to grab materials with their bare hands and experiment freely. The majority of participants have, due to their educational background, a positivist approach to research—end results must be achieved through utilisation of a strict scientific method. ‘In the beginning, the students usually want to know what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and towards what end result. They ask what tangible benefit will this course yield them,’ Aktaș says.
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THEME Bodily boundaries
As an educator, she strives to shake up preconceptions. In the course, chemists do not examine clay with a microscope. ‘I often say: don’t think about the end result. Concentrate on what the material is telling you. Feel it and follow it.’ And thus a Lithuanian exchange student’s coursework turned into rolling a small tuft of wool between their hands. The material led them to pause in a near-meditative moment. Another participant refused to felt the wool; for them, uncarded wool was such a wild element that they refused to felt it, it would have been too much like subjugating the material. One student from the Department of Media would have preferred to only 34 / AALTO UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE 30
hug the wool—but did eventually make an enormous, blanket-like outfit that covers the entire body. ‘Often when a person approaches a specific material, their mind already holds knowledge and many preconceptions. In the case of wool, I might consider its lanolin content or sheep as farm animals. Thus it can easily happen that you fail to notice all of the tactile, touch-derived information the material is giving away.’ Materials have an impact everywhere But why on earth should you actually stick your hands in the dirt? Why is it so important to touch materials? Bilge Aktaș pauses to think before replying.
‘Materials, and especially the experiences we gain through touch, can be shared with everyone. There’s lots of potential for communication and shared experiences there. You yourself are currently in touch with the clothes you’re wearing,’ she nods from across the table. Aktaș also thinks that the experiences derived from touch provide an excellent avenue for opening a discussion. ‘Even though I myself might not be able to talk about information technology, an IT expert can experiment with and talk about what touching wool feels like. Working with your hands, the information touch and other sense yield opens up possibilities for a new kind of dialogue with your own self as
‘Don’t think about the end result. Concentrate on what the material is telling you. Feel it and follow it.’
A meditative, multisensory experience
Bilge Aktaș has also studied industrial design. ‘I assert that designers who work in close contact with their materials understand and observe them very differently from designers who do everything on computers. Touching a material with your own hands yields a huge amount of information.’ So, what knowledge do we gain from rolling the wool on the table in our hands? ‘Some researchers talk of muscle memory, but to me, touching a material is something much more than that. It is a multisensorial and multidimensional experience packed full of information.’ Touching wool might bring to mind the earlier times you did so. This is accompanied by smell, and sound— rubbing wool produces a sound. Your mind may wander to places where you have used wool, or you might recall that childhood sweater that itched so annoyingly. ‘Or you may start to think of the specific sheep from which the wool was sheared. Among the very wool on the table right now you can spot some straws,’ says Aktaș. ‘Wool is a part of a sheep’s history, a memory of the meadow on which the animal once roamed.’ English has an expression about sticking your hands in the dirt. In this case, my hands dive into light-grey sheep wool, and examining it reveals that each hair is one of a kind. ‘Every sheep grows unique hair. One’s hair is thicker, another’s thin.’ Working with material manually is slow. And it requires repetition, which makes the process even calmer. ‘The material requires attention, it forces you to slow down and focus on the moment.’ Bilge Aktaș recounts another example from her own life. One stress-
ful research project had her working on a loom. ‘Repeating the same movement over and over calmed me down. Since the materials were catching all my attention and I was letting myself be with the material. I started to think about other things in pace with the weaving, more peacefully than before.’
Bilge Merve Aktaș
well as with materials, other people and the whole world.’ As an example, Bilge Aktaș tells me about a student who had a strong background in materials research. Even though they had, as part of their basic studies, worked in a lab researching and precisely measuring materials, their experience of processing a material manually was minimal. The student worked with clay on the course and noticed that pottery always requires water as well. But what about the looming global shortage of clean water? The student started developing a hybrid liquid that would enable the working of clay also when there was no clean water. ‘This is an excellent example of how a student’s prior knowledge started to engage the material at hand in a dialogue.’ In her doctoral thesis Entangled Fibres: an examination of humanmaterial interaction (2020), Aktaș examined materials as an inseparable aspect of humanity’s everyday experience. Approaching the subject through sheep wool and felting, Aktaș found drawing diagrams and charts via a software to depict the research process sufficiently well as a particularly difficult part of the dissertation process. She solved this conundrum by felting. ‘I created my visual material out of wool. Once this was done, I drafted new diagrams. Clarifying the matter to myself through felting opened up a fresh perspective on my study, even to myself.’ Aktaș says working with wool forces you to think differently than when working with a pen, for example. You can’t draw straight lines when felting. ‘Different kinds of materials and working them by hand can, in a sense, provide the maker with a new language. We get to express things that are beyond the reach of words.’
Bilge Merve Aktaş Doctor of Arts Bilge Merve Aktaş is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher and teacher at the School of Arts, Design and Architecture. She is a member of the multidisciplinary Empirica research group, whose topics include art, design and culture. The group approaches research with the attitude that making, acting and engaging play important roles.
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ON SCIENCE BRIEFLY
Compiled by Annika Artimo
New technology provides freedom for wireless charging
Prasad Jayathurathnage / Aalto University
The basics of wireless power transfer have been in place for some time, but existing systems can only charge devices that are placed near to the charging point. Researchers at Aalto University have tackled these problems, developing a power transfer technology that works regardless of the position and orientation of the transmitter and receiver. Warehouse robots, kitchen appliances, and even phones can receive power anywhere over the charging area. Because the power transfer continues even while the device is in motion, this technology could one day power electric vehicles while they’re on the go. The key idea in this new power transfer is to arrange the transmitters in a grid with the current in neighbouring transmitters running in opposite directions—for example, a clockwise loop in one transmitter and counter-clockwise loops in its neighbours. This creates a chessboard-like grid of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ transmitting coils with a magnetic flux between them. A receiver above the grid of transmitters captures the magnetic flux, which generates an electric current to charge the device. The technology has been tested with commercial warehouse robots in cooperation with the Finnish firm Solteq Robotics.
Virtual reality game to assess children's ADHD symptoms Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects about six percent of children globally. Interviews and questionnaires are part of the evaluation of symptoms, but the current most reliable objective method to tap attentional problems in ADHD is the Continuous Performance Task (CPT) test. It measures sustained and selective attention by requiring participants to keep watching a sequence of letters appearing on screen and pressing a key each time the letter is other than ‘X’. In the recent research the team evaluated how well the EPELI game could detect symptoms of ADHD.
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Using a head-mounted display and a hand controller, the participants moved around in a virtual apartment to perform sets of everyday tasks. The children needed to plan ahead and remember the instructed tasks and avoid getting distracted by irrelevant events. The children with ADHD made noticeably more mistakes and irrelevant actions in the task than the control group. The results of the game also correlated well with the everyday challenges identified in the parent-rated questionnaires. The accuracy of the game is already comparable to that of CPT, even though it’s still in early development. In the future, EPELI could more objectively define a child's cognitive symptoms and behaviour in everyday life before the doctor’s appointment. The researchers plan to develop EPELI further so that it can also be used to monitor and treat ADHD.
Peili Vision Oy
Wireless charging of a retail robot at a test site.
Using a head-mounted display and a hand controller, the participants moved around in a virtual apartment to perform sets of everyday tasks.
High fashion from old hand towels and workwear
From 2023, all textile waste in Finland must be collected separately and recycled. Reaching this target will require change at many levels in the textile and clothing industry. It also requires change from the consumers who wear the clothes. To achieve large-scale system-level change, a lot of multidisciplinary research, life-cycle assessment, transparency across the supply chain and new business thinking are needed. We also need bold experiments and examples of how we design, manufacture, use and recycle textiles and clothing. The FINIX research project on the future of sustainable textiles and clothing has outlined what the clothes of the future could look like. The collection aims to inspire and encourage change in the textile and fashion industry. The prototype design experiment aims to show how the life of textiles can be extended by cleverly designing and reconstructing old clothes into new ones or recycling textile waste into new fibres, yarns and garments. The collection was designed by Aalto University Master's student Elina Onkinen and alumna Kasia Gorniak.
A new microwave source boosts the scale-up of quantum computers Researchers in Finland have developed a circuit that produces the high-quality microwave signals required to control quantum computers while operating at temperatures near absolute zero. This is a key step towards moving the control system closer to the quantum processor, which may make it possible to greatly increase the number of qubits in the processor. The new microwave source is an on-chip device that can be integrated with a quantum processor. Less than a millimetre in size, it potentially removes the need for high-frequency control cables connecting different temperatures. With this low-power, low-temperature microwave source, it may be possible to use smaller cryostats while still increasing the number of qubits in a processor. This new device produces one hundred times more power than previous versions, which is enough to control qubits and carry out quantum logic operations.
The fashion collection prototypes were made from Ioncell yarn and old hand towels and workwear from the textile service company Lindström.
Artistic impression of an on-chip microwave source controlling qubits.
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Third archival dimension Text Paula Haikarainen Photo Kalle Kataila How can you transfer a ceramic object onto a computer screen three-dimensionally? By photographing it all over from a 360-degree angle and digitising its shape. This work can be performed by the PhotoRobot, a multi-camera system for 360 spins and 3D, which snaps away at Aalto University’s new Space 21 facility. The digitisation effort has focused on a large collection of student art exercise works. Legendary ceramicist and Professor Kyllikki Salmenhaara began to grow a collection of student works in the 1960s and it now consists of some 6 000 objects. One thousand of these have already been digitised and more than 300 can be examined as three-dimensional archival objects. This provides researchers and others who value the archive’s treasures a fresh dimension to scrutinise. Giving physical access to fragile ceramic pieces would be problematic, but photographs alone can’t always provide a full picture of the objects. A side-benefit of the archive project is the creation of an efficient self-service process for digitising objects and making more use of the PhotoRobot. The device is now available for use by students and staff.
Jason Selvarajan handles bookings for using the PhotoRobot at the Space 21 project space on Otaniemi campus.
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MARJO-RIITTA DIEHL Diehl (Ph.D. econ.) has worked as a researcher in Switzerland, the UK and Germany. She was appointed associate professor at Aalto University’s department of Management Studies in August 2021. Diehl’s research focuses on organisational behavior, such as justice and fairness in organisations.
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Women’s networks boost careers
Networks can give you new ideas and inspiration for work and peer support, and help you land a new job.
Text Joanna Sinclair Photo Jaakko Kahilaniemi Mothers in Business, The Women Entrepreneurs of Finland, Aalto Women in Business—there is no shortage of women’s networks focusing on professional success. Professor MarjoRiitta Diehl from Aalto University’s Department of Management Studies, and the founder of the Driven Woman network, entrepreneur Miisa Mink would like to see networking become even more common. ‘Finnish women are used to getting things done without complaining. Up here in the North you need to be brave and persistently push through—even if you are knee-deep in snow,’ Mink says. ‘Sure, you need persistence, but women also need room for creativity and peer support. Networks that have a strong feminine energy,’ Mink underlines. Women’s organisations have a long history in Finland. The umbrella organisation for women’s networks that promote gender equality—The National Council of Women of Fin-
land—was founded in 1911. It includes 71 organisations and about 400 000 members. Some of its member organisations are traditional women’s networks like the Martha Organisation, but it also has many women’s networks that are focused on work life. ‘Women’s networks concentrating on work life issues are being founded all the time. Women have been particularly good at networking online and during the corona pandemic this trend has strengthened even more,’ Diehl points out.
MIISA MINK Mink (M.Sc. econ) has built an international career in design and branding. She is the founder of the Driven Woman network. Mink resides in London but still has strong influence in Finland. The people’s movement 'Saimaa without mines' founded by Mink has over 29 000 participants.
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DIALOGUE Support and advice from networks Women’s work life networking has been studied a lot since the early 2000s. Many studies emphasize that women don’t reap as much benefit from networking as men do. ‘Studies show that women benefit less than men from networking, if benefits are measured as career advancement, increases in pay, and invitations to important events. Researchers have pondered whether the scarcity of women leaders can be attributed to the different ways that women and men network,’ Marjo-Riitta Diehl says. ‘Of course, you can criticize the way that benefits are defined. Women say that above all, networks offer them emotional support and advice. Many women also say that this is exactly what they are looking for from networks,’ Diehl adds. Miisa Mink, who founded the Driven Woman network in 2013, accentuates that women often look at life as a whole, not separate silos. They see their career as important, but it is still just one aspect of life. ‘In women’s networks, you hear about other women’s struggles and accomplishments. Hearing the success story of someone similar to you often creates a domino effect: I too am going to ask for new challenges at work, and a raise,’ Mink describes. Diehl and Mink emphasize that many kinds of networks are needed in work environments: networks that are open to all, women’s networks, men’s networks, networks for sexual minorities, networks focused on eliminating ageism, networks for immigrants. There is room and a need for all. ‘Fostering women’s networks is one important way that we can advance gender equality in work life. Networks offer a space where women can share their experiences without being interrupted—and without being challenged to prioritize some other group’s needs,’ Mink highlights. Clear themes are appealing Many women’s networks or their meetings concentrate on clear themes, such as technical skills, investing, presentations skills, how to handle conflicts, or some current issue. ‘Research shows that women commit more to networks built around specific themes. Women often feel that networking just for the sake of networking is uncomfortable. It is more gratifying to 42 / AALTO UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE 30
‘You waste talent if women don’t advance in their careers.’
participate in a network that focuses on a specific theme, where the networking comes as a by-product,’ Diehl remarks. Diehl says that many women appreciate networking opportunities that are arranged during the workday. ‘I was recently speaking to a German women’s network. They said that they always arrange their meetings during lunchtime, so family obligations would not prevent women from participating,’ Diehl mentions. ‘This is precisely what our corporate clients request from us as well,’ Mink concurs. ‘Many women want meetings in the middle of the workday. A women’s network meeting held at the end of the workday won’t work.’ ‘Many women also want networks that are meant solely for women, where there will be no masculine energy judging them,’ Mink adds. Women in the mid-stages of their work careers would benefit most from networks that could help them boost their professional advancement. ‘Women who have just entered work life have not yet hit the glass ceiling, and they don’t find work life particularly unequal. For example, several large consulting firms often have more women than men entering the company in junior positions. But after a certain amount of career development, women disappear from many organsational charts: they are not chosen for leadership positions,’ Diehl says. ‘Exactly. One study conducted in the US revealed that about 50 percent of those women who entered work life with ambition to reach top management say that their ambition and selfesteem plummeted after just two years in work life,’ Mink affirms. We need more in-house women’s networks Many organisations have been facilitating in-house women’s networks for a long time. However, Diehl and Mink note that they are often not given suf-
ficient resources, or their importance is not recognized. Encouraging women should be seen as an investment. ‘You waste talent if women don’t advance in their careers. Either they remain stuck in positions that they are overqualified for, or they simply leave the organisation. The corona pandemic has increased resignation plans. I work in the UK, where over 60% of professional women are planning a major career change. That’s a staggering figure,’ Mink says. ‘Companies these days don’t have money problems, they have talent problems. Now is the time for companies to wake up and start supporting the career development of all their talent, if they don’t already do so,’ Diehl asserts. Much needs to be done. According to the Finnish Business and Policy Forum EVA’s Glass Ceiling index, in 2020, the percentage of women leaders in Finland was 37.5%. ‘In top management, the percentage goes down. In 2020 women held 29 percent of all board positions of large Finnish companies. The situation is remarkably better than in 2012, when the percentage was 12, but you cannot call the current situation equal. Furthermore, gender pay gaps are still clear here in Finland,’ Diehl says. ‘Globally, equal pay remains a distant dream. The World Economic Forum estimates that closing the gender pay gap worldwide will take 257 years, if we advance at current speed,’ Diehl adds. Mink reminds that injustices are corrected only if they are discussed openly and often: ‘The Me Too movement put sexual harassment center stage. Giving more resources to in-house women’s networks is one way to reduce gender inequality. Things change when women have room to share their experiences and the opportunity to build career paths that suit their needs. Fortunately, companies are recognizing that wasting women’s talent is bad business. A value shift is clearly happening.’
A virtual control group for helping clinical drug research Text Marjukka Puolakka Illustration Tuomas Kärkkäinen
Drug development is laborious, expensive and time-consuming. Artificial intelligence may help speed up the work. Developing a new drug takes ten years on average, with the share of clinical research amounting to even seven years. The development of a prescription drug takes an average of two billion euros. Clinical drug trials may also involve some ethical issues, as one group invited to trials receives a new drug and the other a placebo. Artificial intelligence (AI) is being explored as a means to improve the safety and efficiency of the trials, as AI may analyse and utilise health databases. ‘The solution could be a virtual control group shaped based on medical databases using artificial intelligence. This way, the control group does not need to recruit patients,’ says Professor Harri Lähdesmäki from Aalto University and the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence (FCAI). AI methods may also improve the quality and reliability of clinical trials. ‘The goal is to have AI-based algorithms identify even rare signals related to the adverse effects of drugs with increased sensitivity. We are also looking for possibilities to reduce the number of patients needed for clinical trials while ensuring the safety and reliability of the trials,’ says Jussi Leinonen, Principal Clinical Data Scientist at Bayer. Finland as number one in health databases The international Future Clinical Trials project utilizes AI in clinical drug research. The project is led by Bayer and the project consortium includes FCAI and HUS Helsinki University Hospital, among others. The three-year project is supported by Business Finland. Clinical research has been advanced on a relatively small scale in the Nordics, Jussi Leinonen says. ‘Especially Finland has faced the challenge of having a small population. Increasing the utilisation of health data with the help of algorithms and AI solutions would make up for this and mark a significant victory for research. Finland has high-quality health data and leading practices in sharing it.’
As part of FCAI, Aalto University develops statistical machine learning models in Future Clinical Trials project to model health data collected about patients during different periods. The problem with analysing the patient group and control group consisting of health data is the comparability of the measurement data. The data may overlap only partially and have different measured variables. ‘The statistical harmonisation of different datasets requires a new probabilistic machine learning machinery that enables reliable comparison of the efficiency of a new drug between datasets,’ Harri Lähdesmäki says. Many techniques with AI applications are known to work when supported by massive measurement datasets. Yet measurement datasets related to health and medicine are often limited. ‘Artificial intelligence methods must be developed so that they offer reliable conclusions, also in analyses made on limited patient numbers. On the other hand, artificial intelligence methods should be able to tell a user if they are no longer reliable,’ Lähdesmäki continues. Open publication at the core The starting point for clinical research is openness. All of the processes must be possible to audit and verify. ‘Aalto’s top expertise is exemplified by prestigious scientific publications. Open publication and the openness of algorithms’ software implementations guarantee reliable research also from both the patients' and citizens' perspectives. The research community’s first publications related to AI methods have already been submitted for publication,’ Leinonen says. In the joint project of Bayer, Aalto and HUS, new AI methods and algorithms are applied to the patient data of HUS. ‘Combining the real-world data and clinical research data is laborious. With AI, it can be done much faster, more efficiently and also more reliably. A tripartite, AI focused research partnership between a pharmaceutical company, university and hospital is unique, even on a global scale,’ Leinonen notes. 43 / AALTO UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE 30
A pioneer in artificial intelligence At the beginning of the 1980s, Teuvo Kohonen started thinking about how the human brain processes information—and came up with a significant advance in artificial intelligence studies: the self-organising map. Text Panu Räty
rtificial intelligence applications have become part of everyday life also here in Finland. AI solutions are utilised in customer service, marketing, medical research and industrial processes alike. But each step forward in AI needs to be backed by extensive research. In addition to strong ongoing research, Finland’s advantage in the building of better artificial intelligences includes an exceptional history. One of the world’s key pioneers in AI research was none other than Helsinki University of Technology Professor Teuvo Kohonen (1934–2021). Represented as two-dimensional maps The January 1982 issue of Biological Cybernetics marked a turning point in the history of Finnish research. The scientific journal, which focuses on research in self-steering systems, published an article titled Self-Organized Formation of Topologically Correct Feature Maps by Professor Kohonen. Kohonen’s paper described a novel method for organising complex material into a twodimensional map in a way that groups sets containing similar features close to one another. The similarities and differences contained in the material are shown as distances between points on the map. 44 / AALTO UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE 30
Kohonen referred to his algorithm as a selforganising map (SOM) and his 11-page paper went on to become one of the most significant and cited Finnish research articles of its time. A former student of Kohonen and a member of his research group, Professor Emeritus of Computer Science Erkki Oja, describes the map as a great invention that opened up a key field of neural computation research. ‘Today, it serves as a typical example of research in unsupervised learning,’ Oja says. Inspired by the human brain When Kohonen penned his article for Biological Cybernetics, the research community was divided into two competing factions on the question of modelling thought processes computationally. Supporters of what is called classical symbolic AI believed that mental operations could be best modelled by using logical rules and relations created for the system. The neural computation camp, which Kohonen belonged to, held the view that the problem should be approached through collaborative action between computational units referred to as neurons. Oja says that Kohonen was inspired by how the human brain processed information and at first
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Exploratory data analysis by the self-organising map: Structures of welfare and poverty in the world. The original chart by Samuel Kaski and Teuvo Kohonen was published in 1996. The image has been processed.
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considered the associative memory model, which refers to the capacity to recognize the dataset being searched based on its constituent parts and resembles human memory. Kohonen soon found a more effective direction in a categorisation method referred to as pattern recognition. ‘Kohonen realised that memory does not work like a computer. It’s an impossible idea because of the technology in a computer,’ Oja says. Using real-life materials A self-organising map starts off with a dataset, which is fed into the system in numerical form. Artificial neurons learn through repetition of an algorithm to independently classify the input’s different properties without knowing the correct answer beforehand. Oja remembers how Kohonen emphasised that the algorithms should be tested as realistically as possible, using authentic materials. The first practical applications of the self-organising map focused on speech recognition. Sound spectre recordings of speech some ten milliseconds long were used as input. Helsinki University of Technology’s Neural Network Research Centre, which was led by Kohonen, also developed the WebSom method that utilises the idea of the self-organising map for the purposes of organising and searching digital texts. It creates a visual representation from text material in which texts that are similar in terms of content are placed in each other’s proximity. ‘WebSom did a lot to make Kohonen a recognised name. It was one of the first really big neural network applications.’
Serious about the work Over time, the self-organising map accumulated thousands of research citations as well as a large selection of practical applications. Kohonen’s invention was applied to analysing large data volumes in fields ranging from chemistry to communications technology and from medical science to the process industry. Oja says Kohonen realised quite early that the global volume of data was about to undergo explosive growth. This was still a novel idea in the computer science of the early 1980s. 46 / AALTO UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE 30
‘Neural networks are popular precisely because they make the handling of massive datasets possible.’ Oja remembers Kohonen as not only a brilliant researcher, but also a demanding personality who took scientific work very seriously indeed. His point of departure was that the research problem should always be on your mind. ‘If you’re engaged in scientific work, then do it seriously, Kohonen emphasised. Think about it all day, even in your sleep,’ Oja says. Kohonen also observed these principles in his own life. He published his final textbook, which is crammed with scientific and technical calculation examples written in the MATLAB language, in 2014, the year he turned 80. The book focuses on using the self-organising map in the MATLAB computing environment. Impact still felt Deep learning neural networks and other AI methods surpassed Kohonen’s map after the turn of the millennium, but the SOM still pops up from time to time as a data organising and visualisation tool in research papers from a variety of fields. The mark left by Kohonen is still felt in domestic science circles, says Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence Director, Professor Samuel Kaski, who studied the self-organising map in his doctoral thesis. First and foremost, Kaski characterises Kohonen as a scientific innovator who had strong faith in his own views. At the same time, he demonstrated that Finland can produce pioneering research in the field of artificial intelligence as well. ‘This is precisely what I myself found enticing. I wanted to learn from a person who was engaged in pioneering work,’ Kaski says. Retrospectively, it is easy to say that the success of Kohonen played a part in cementing the strong role of AI as a research field at Finnish universities. ‘Finland is now home to very significant AI research, also on the global scale.’ The significant work of Teuvo Kohonen is also reckoned in the Aalto University’s Breaking Ground exhibition.
As late as the early 1980s, most experts didn’t expect the global volume of data to significantly grow.
Academician Teuvo Kohonen Academician, Doctor of Technology Teuvo Kohonen (1934–2021) was a pioneer of computer science research and education. Kohonen is one of the best-known neural network researchers internationally. He was awarded the title of Academician in 2000.
Photos: Aalto University Archives
The Breaking Ground exhibition: 8 ways research shaped our world
In 1980, technology student Risto Ilmoniemi (current Professor of Applied Physics) was testing an early prototype brain imaging device on the head of Auvo Penttinen, Doctor of Science (Techn.).
This exhibition leads visitors through the intriguing and winding paths of long-term research being conducted at Aalto University. It showcases the turning points and present state of eight fields of research. The world’s finest cruise ships, ecotextiles of the future, AI assistants to humanity and much much more—these paths have already taken us so far. But you need the right tools to break ground effectively, and the exhibition also provides an introduction to a few of them, ranging from super-freezers to brain imaging devices and echoless rooms to ice pools. Exhibition on display at the Dipoli gallery (Otakaari 24, Espoo) until 20 June 2022 as well as online at virtualexhibitions.aalto.fi
Another archive photo from the exhibition depicts work at the The Low Temperature Laboratory. The lab specialises in the physics of ultra-low temperatures and has set many cold temperature records. A temperature of two nanokelvins, i.e. two billionths of a kelvin above absolute zero, was achieved inside the large metal ‘thermos flask’ in the centre of the picture. From the left: doctors of science Shi Yin and Pertti Hakonen, and Olli Lounasmaa, professor.
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A pine idea The building to temporarily host Finlandia Hall’s functions during its renovation is like a forest in the centre of Helsinki. Text Annika Artimo Photo Mikko Raskinen Illustrations Jaakko Torvinen The modular wood structure and its pine pillars are an impressive sight, covering an area of 2 700 square metres. The building stretches from Töölö Bay Park all the way to the shore of the bay in front of its parent structure, Finlandia Hall. Its planning got started in the form of a student project arranged in 2019 during a joint wood construction and building design Master’s level course with the City of Helsinki acting as developer. The international course had each of its 18 students design a proposal on their own, with four of these designs selected for further development as group projects. One of the chosen proposals was Jaakko Torvinen’s Finlandia Forest. The design was refined further by Jaakko Torvinen, Elli Wendelin and Havu Järvelä, and their work made the final pick for construction. The course was instructed by Professors Pirjo Sanaksenaho and Pekka Heikkinen. The student team continued working on the project as architects in cooperation with Pekka Heikkinen and the firm Arkkitehdit NTR Oy until the building’s completion. Construction commenced in April 2021 and the building was taken into use in February 2022. It will remain in place for the duration of the Finlandia Hall renovation, which is scheduled for completion in 2025. From a Loviisa forest to pillars of pine in leafy Töölö One of the most impressive features and a key design element of Little Finlandia is its 95 pine pillars, all of which were carefully chosen by the architects themselves for various structural support points both inside and outside the building. ‘The pine trees were selected according to what was most impressive,’ Jaakko Torvinen says. But construction issues were also considered, with the original set of 120 candidates eventually whittled down to 95 of the most suitable individuals. The trees were logged in Loviisa and processed to specifications by local firm Timberpoint Oy. Branches are typically shunned in wood construction, but they form an important detail in Little Finlandia’s design. 48 / AALTO UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE 30
Once Torvinen had, with help from the loggers, selected the most suitable trees, they were cut down and gently de-barked in a way that didn’t damage the wood surface. ‘The outer and inner bark were removed with a pressure washer, leaving the tree’s smooth surface intact.’ Some of the pine pillars were delivered to the site pre-attached to large building modules and the rest came as ten lorry loads carefully wrapped in an airy gauze covering to prevent condensation from harming the wood surface. Materials of nature and industrial elements in perfect harmony In parts of the building, thick branches extruding from the pine pillars spread over the technologyconcealing roof panels like a jungle canopy. Torvinen thinks this is a fine example of the harmonious utilisation of organic materials and industrially manufactured components: even though it was not possible to measure the trees to millimetre-scale precision, their shapes fit into the surroundings well. ‘Thanks to diligent planning, placing the pillars was surprisingly painless,’ Torvinen recalls. Different kinds of wood materials have been used extensively in the building. Its walls are made of crosslaminated timber, the interior walls are covered with spruce panels and the flooring is made out of cork. The building is designed to be adaptable. Constructed from wooden modules, it can be dismantled and relocated to serve in another capacity, most likely as a school or daycare centre. Its useful life is expected to be 20–30 years. The future of Little Finlandia is clear, but the just-graduated architect’s own plans remain open for now. ‘Continuing with wood construction is my dream. First-stage design is often limited by consideration of whether or not something can be realised. I want to turn this thinking around. Let’s start with unlimited ideas and then think of ways to realise them in practice.’ Like it was with Little Finlandia—it all started with a pine idea.
Little Finlandia has 95 pine pillars, carefully placed by the architects at various structural support points both inside and outside the building.
The building is designed to be adaptable. It can be dismantled and relocated to serve in another capacity, most likely as a school or daycare centre.
In this location we'll have the largest terrace of Helsinki in summer, says Jaakko Torvinen.
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Speech is becoming a natural way to communicate with technology It is increasingly common to control the devices around us with voice commands. New speech and audio coding methods are needed for devices with speech interfaces that form connected networks. Texts Marjukka Puolakka
Many everyday devices, such as smartwatches, coffee machines and smart-TVs, already have a speech interface, which is enabled by their embedded microphones. However, conventional speech interfaces and voice commands require the user to be in the vicinity of the device. This can get cumbersome when the number of voice-controlled devices around us increases. ‘If I’m in my bedroom and would like to get Amazon Alexa to switch off the lights from the kitchen two rooms away, my voice will not reach the kitchen. But by creating a network of devices, I could give the speech command to my phone, and it could transmit it to Alexa in the kitchen,’ says Sneha Das, whose doctoral thesis concentrated on multimicrophone networks. In her thesis of electrical engineering, Das developed methods for speech coding and speech enhancement to be used in distributed microphone networks. If the developed postfilters are based completely in the receiver end, there is no need to transmit any additional information or inter-microphone communication. The findings take us one step closer to user-centric modes of human-computer interaction, where the devices adapt to the needs of the user. Privacy issues are relevant ‘Speech interfaces are becoming a default. In a few years it will be easier to get a TV with a speech interface than without it.’ With the increasing use of devices that are listening to us all the time, user privacy becomes a big issue. ‘In order to understand what privacy means in human-to-computer communication, we started investigating the
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meaning of privacy in human-to-human communication. We conducted experiments with individuals having conversations in different acoustic environments.’ The results indicate that, in speech communication, individuals have an intuitive understanding of privacy, which is dependent on the acoustic environment, among other things. One of the long-term goals in multimicrophone settings is to instil each device with an implicit understanding of the sensitivity of the information, i.e., when it should keep the information with itself and when and with whom it is allowed to share information. ‘User privacy needs to be considered at an early stage, ideally when designing the systems and not as an after-thought. The goal is to ensure that people come before technology.’ Speech technology in clinical psychology Das is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Technical University of Denmark. She continues to focus on speech processing, but now from the perspective of clinical psychology. ‘We are working with, for instance, children who have been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Because speech is a rich marker for emotions, we are exploring the use of speech signals to understand the emotional state of a child, and the interaction quality between the parent, child, and therapists in therapy sessions. This understanding can aid in the treatment of OCD.’
Sneha Das 26.11.2021: Robust and efficient methods for distributed speech processing – Perspectives on coding, enhancement and privacy
Costume design as a storytelling aspect in animation
More than 250 doctors of technology, business, arts and philosophy graduate from Aalto University each year. The largest number of doctorates is completed in the technological fields, especially technical physics, computer science and mechanical engineering. Aalto University's doctoral programmes are designed to be completed in four years when studying full time or in eight years if studying part time.
A doctoral thesis by Maarit Kalmakurki, MA, highlights the significance of costumes in the design of computer-animated feature film characters. Traditionally, animators have played a central role in character design and have also handled costume design. Kalmakurki’s thesis presents the costume design processes of six animation movies. The material for her study was gathered primarily in Los Angeles, where she interviewed costume designers as well as other film-makers, such as art directors and screenwriters. She also familiarised herself with the making of animation films at the DreamWorks studio. During the screenwriting phase, costume designers can introduce ideas related to character movement or dialogue that improve storytelling. Costume designers also enhance character visuality through colours, textures and costume shapes. Even though the costumes are made with animation software, knowledge of authentic fabrics and clothes is beneficial when looking for the right kind of texture, fabric weight or clothing shape for characters. In post-production, costume designers are very helpful in the consideration of costume details like wear and tear or dirt. Such details add depth to the costume, character and entire story. The study is unique in the field of animation and demonstrates quite concretely that costume design is in fact a significant aspect of character design. Research findings can be utilised in national and international animation productions and in teaching related to the sector.
In the artistic programmes, the doctoral thesis may also include an artistic component, such as an exhibition, film or performance. Some 3 000 doctoral students are active at Aalto, with over half of them engaged in full-time studies. These doctoral students represent 95 different nationalities. Aalto University doctoral theses are available online at aaltodoc.aalto.fi and shop.aalto.fi.
Novel methods for studying brain dynamics
Sergei Tugin 4.2.2022: TMS and EEG in the study of human brain dynamics
Maarit Kalmakurki 10.12.2021: Digital character costume design in computer-animated feature films
Cellular-level processes in the brain predetermine nearly all human behaviour and functions such as emotions, memory, and locomotor movements. Although research has already been conducted for centuries applying the most progressive technologies, we are still far away from a comprehensive understanding of the neural processes that underlay fundamental activities. In his doctoral thesis in the field of neuroscience and biomedical engineering, Sergei Tugin, M.Sc., used the most innovative noninvasive techniques, such as advanced transcranial magnetic stimulation (mTMS), combined with electroencephalography (EEG), to stimulate and record responses from the human brain. The primary goal was to investigate the mechanisms of the brain during the processing of rare visual signals and to estimate the sensitivity of different neuronal populations to the orientation of the electric field that stimulates them. The thesis reveals the role of ongoing brain oscillation during the processing of rare and unpredicted visual stimuli. Additionally, Tugin demonstrated the impact of the electric field orientation during singleand paired-pulse TMS on the activation of different neuronal populations in the brain. The results demonstrate that the novel methods and instrumentation used can elucidate new aspects of brain functioning. The results are not limited to scientific interest but can also be used in clinical practice.
Illustration from the doctoral thesis: character costumes from Shrek, screengrab from movie scene.
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Ayush Bharti, can AI fix a dropped Wi-Fi connection? This postdoctoral researcher boosts wireless communications with signal interaction models.
Text Amanda Alvarez Photo Nita Vera What are you, a computer scientist, a data scientist or a statistician? I’m an engineer by background and did my PhD in wireless communications at Aalborg University. Through my PhD, I gravitated to machine learning, especially the maths and statistics behind the methods that we use, rather than applications. Now at the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence, FCAI, I’m changing fields towards artificial intelligence and machine learning. So, I have one foot in signal processing and one in computer science. You research simulator-based inference. Can you unpack what that means? Think of the Wi-Fi router at the office or your home. It’s talking to a phone or laptop that is receiving signals. The environment where this communication happens, be it a small room or a big hall, affects how the signal travels. You may have noticed that GPS is less accurate between buildings compared to open spaces. If the receiver, like your phone, doesn’t account for environmental obstacles, you will get dropped calls or a poor signal. So, what communication engineers do is model, or simulate, how the environment affects signals. On an old radio, you would turn a knob to get better reception. Simi-
larly, we tune a model to simulate the real world as closely as possible, only we have a lot more knobs. The inference part is getting to know these knobs, which we call parameters. As simulators tend to be complex, it is not possible to tune their parameters with traditional techniques. This is why I develop methods that can help tune simulator parameters to achieve good signal strength in any environment, with any device. AI can assist in this tuning process. So precise simulation of rooms or environments is the key to better Wi-Fi? Yes and no. Some models need to know where every table and chair is placed, but they are difficult to apply to different environments quickly. Wireless communication works well, from the cordless mouse in your office to Mars rovers, so obviously we don’t need to know exactly how each environment is structured. In these cases, the models operate on randomness, and that’s also the kind of model I use. My methods aren’t even specific to wireless communications; they actually come from population genetics and evolution studies, where they want to simulate how populations shrink and grow, for example. In every field, you try to make models, because you can’t collect data on all environments. And in the case of wireless signals,
your laptop and phone have tech built on these models, telling them how to recover information that was sent. Unfortunately, signal interference still happens due to reasons other than environmental obstacles! Switching gears from research: on the day of our conversation, it is extremely snowy. Which do you prefer, the Nordic climate or that of your native India? Not India’s, with the sweaty feeling! I’ve spent six-and-a-half years in Denmark and Finland, so I’m used to the winter. Slush and freezing ice, that is annoying. But in India, you have summer nine months of the year, you go outside and get tired just from sweating. In India, it’s so hot all the time, we don’t associate summer with a lot of excitement. In Europe, all the plans revolve around summer. When you see the sun for only two months a year, it feels special. There is this fascination with sun here that does not happen in India. So even though I am happy when the sun comes out here, I still can't simulate the same excitement for it as most Europeans do.
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Jürgen Mlynek to receive honorary doctorate German physicist Jürgen Mlynek leads one of the most determined research and innovation initiatives of the European Union: the Quantum Flagship. Mlynek is widely acknowledged for his groundbreaking research in atom optics, quantum optics and molecular physics. Text Panu Räty Photo Falling Walls Foundation
You have made an exceptional contribution in the field of quantum physics, and now you will be awarded an honorary doctorate from Aalto University. What would you consider your most valued accomplishment in your career? My main accomplishment in science is probably my work in atom optics and building the first atom interferometer. Atom interferometers can be used to measure gravitation and to monitor sea level changes. They can also be used for ground exploration, finding new gas resources, oil resources, and so forth. For me, this is a wonderful example, where basic research and applications can come together for the benefit of society. The other aspect of my scientific life is the education of young people. More than thirty of my former students have become professors all over the world and are working in leading positions in science management and the industry. It is just wonderful to see, how these young people, that I’ve helped to find their way, developed to be better than I am. Quantum technology is no longer in the realm of science fiction. How would you describe the potential impact of quantum devices and applications on our daily lives? I must say, I’ve been surprised by the momentum, that quantum technology has had over the last 5 to 10 years. In respect to the first experiments, it wasn’t clear that it might lead to some real technology. And now we have companies, that create quantum cryptography systems, quantum key distribution devices, and so on. So, we’ve stepped from labs to startups and even aroused the interests of big companies like Google, Microsoft, Intel, and IBM. I think the real game-changer in quantum technologies is quantum computing with quantum communication. Quantum computing is a paradigm shift, 54 / AALTO UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE 30
and that’s why companies and states are investing heavily in that. How long will it take for these technologies to reach widespread adoption? I would say 5 to 10 years. There are many use cases around, but the problem now is to set up hardware systems that can do it. The challenge is to set up systems that can be used for solving problems in materials research, chemistry or drug development. However, there are startups in all these areas that are heavily backed by venture capital—and that’s fantastic. Progress in quantum technology and related technologies has seen a significant acceleration in terms of research and development. What might be the next big scientific breakthrough or a major milestone? I believe that in the next decade quantum computing will be applied with high-performance computing and neuromorphic computing. The other aspect is people. If you look at the billions of euros that are invested in quantum technology right now, a lot of that money will go into hiring scientists. It means, that we must develop new curricula for quantum engineering and train people, who are then able to support the industry. What might be the competitive advantage of Finland in the research and development of quantum technology? I’ve always said that science in Finland is done in a very pragmatic, hands-on way. This is your strength. From what I’ve seen of the startup activities and contributions in scientific journals, Finland is performing very well.
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Aalto University will celebrate two Ceremonial Conferments in 2022. The School of Business’ Conferment on 12–14 May will confer ten new honorary doctors. The schools of technology will hold their Conferment on 17 June with another ten new honorary doctors, one of whom is Jürgen Mlynek.
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