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Millennium prize winner Dr. Tuomo Suntola at the Eureka Innovation Fair at the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki, Finland on May 24, 2018. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Aman in a dark suit is tapping his smartphone rapidly at the Finlandia Hall on Wednesday afternoon. His face looks happy but concentrated. The thumb is quick and smooth.

Next to him sits another man, older, also wearing a dark suit. He’s wearing glasses, eyes locked in front, concentrated.

The man next to him continues to browse his phone that seems to obey his every gesture with fast accuracy.

He doesn’t seem to be aware of his surroundings nor about the fact that because of the man in the glasses next to him, he’s able to operate a modern smartphone.

A million euro prize

This man is Dr. Tuomo Suntola, a Finnish physicist, who had on Tuesday been awarded the prestigious Millennium Technology Prize—worth one million euros—for making our lives with high-efficiency smartphones, computers and social media possible. Suntola’s innovation, ALD (atomic layer deposition), is a nanoscale technology in use all over the world.

At the Finlandia Hall, he’s about to step on stage to give a complex lecture on the subject but in a nutshell, the technology allows the building of complex, three-dimensional structures one atomic layer at a time.

“The ALD method is a textbook example of a technology that is hidden from users but is nevertheless vital for visible development.”

The ALD method can be used to improve the efficiency of solar panels, LED lights and lithium batteries for electric cars and its use has also been researched for environmentally friendly packaging materials. ALD-films are used in optical applications, and also on watches and silver jewelry to prevent corrosion.

The technology is big business. The global market of equipment and chemicals used for the manufacture of ALD films is estimated to be about two billion US dollars, and the market value of consumer electronics relying on ALD technology is at least five hundred billion dollars.

“The ALD method is a textbook example of a technology that is hidden from users but is nevertheless vital for visible development. ALD has also made the ownership of information technology more democratic, thereby contributing to the wider access to information and communication,” said Academy Professor Päivi Törmä, who is the chair of the Millennium Technology Prize Selection Committee, in a bulletin.

“World-class ALD expertise has been developed in Finland. I hope that the prize will inspire Finnish researchers and companies to invest in new technological applications,” said Professor Marja Makarow, who is the chair of the Board of Technology Academy Finland.