Lund put its best foot forward when 250 European nano researchers gathered at Myfab's fourth user meeting in April. Enthralling speakers such as entrepreneur Lennart Ramberg and Danish professor Peter Böggild from the Technical University of Denmark took turns speaking in the student union's lecture hall. Participants networked, listened to presentations and took part in a mini expo and poster exhibit.
Planning for the user meeting has been under way for almost a year under the leadership of Anneli Löfgren and Ivan Maximov from Lund NanoLab.
Myfab's director Thomas Swahn and Kay Gastinger, who is the director of Norwegian counterpart NorFab, welcomed everyone and presented their organisations. The user meeting was a joint event by the two organisations. For the first time this year, Denmark's counterpart DTU Danchip also took part.
"We are well on the way to achieving a joint Nordic user meeting. This makes the meetings even better, and the increasing number of participants helps develop the network. We are on our way to an 'OurFab'," said Thomas Swahn in his welcome address.
Myfab and NorFab had their first joint user meeting in Uppsala in 2013.
"That is when we formed Nordic Nanolab Expert Network, NNEN, which consists of nano researchers from all of the Nordic countries except for Iceland," explained Kay Gastinger.
Opening speech by "Mr Nano"
Nano pioneer Lars Samuelson, who has a background from Chalmers, was the first main speaker. He was a professor of semiconductor physics at the university in the 1980s.
However, he was soon summoned home to Lund again where he founded Nanometer Structure Consortium (nmC) at Lund University back in 1988 – at a time when no one was talking about nanotechnology, as Kay Gastinger pointed out in his introduction. He helped found Materials Center in 1990, which was the precursor of today's Lund Nanolab.
The title of Professor Samuelson's lecture was "From 1st Lund Nano Lab 1990 to world-leading nano-research and promising spin-out companies". He went through his impressive life journey at breakneck speed with nano research as the hub.
"You could actually say that we started in the Stone Age. I have tried to keep an open mind to what is known as 'blue skies research' (curiosity-driven research) to see what it might lead to, both scientifically and in terms of technical applications. It has been fun," said Lars Samuelson. He quoted the Norwegian entrepreneur and inventor Fred Kavli who said "there is on the one hand applied research – and on the other hand not yet applied research".
Samuelson has sometimes been referred to as "Mr Nano", and he has founded several companies based on his own research over the years – QuMat Technologies, QuNano, Sol Voltaics and Glo.
Entrepreneur and author Lennart Ramberg gave an inspiring lecture entitled "My billion dollar clean-room experiences". Ramberg has written two suspense novels set in the world of research – Kyoto och fjärilarna and Einsteins arvingar. However, he is perhaps most well known as one of the founders of Altitun, a laser development company, which was sold in the U.S for close to SEK 8 billion.
"It was a beautiful day in May 2000 – a day very much like today. We were rather well paid... Could it happen again, or was it merely an expression of the craziness of the times," pondered Lennart Ramberg.
He told an entertaining story about how Altitun started at the Electrum laboratory in Kista in a space that was basically just a room with no windows, and how they managed to save their first order that enabled them to begin marketing the company. The company's debut was at a trade expo in San José.
"I especially remember one very sceptical visitor who approached our booth. First he looked at the product, then at me, then at the product again. He narrowed his eyes and said to me, 'Don't quit your regular job for a while'," said Lennart Ramberg.
However, interest had been aroused and Altitun's brochure rack was completely empty by the end of the expo. Altitun opened an office in the U.S. shortly thereafter – at the home of the first salesperson to be hired...
"Our product was designated the industry's holy grail. Suddenly everyone was making a pilgrimage to Stockholm to visit us. And offers began arriving," says Ramberg.
There were many meetings and dinners with prospective Altitun buyers. However, Ramberg and his colleagues kept a cool head and had the courage to turn down offers while waiting for the astronomical final offer of SEK 8 billion.
Lennart Ramberg also took the opportunity to give his opinion of and to praise Myfab's concept:
"Altitun wouldn't have stood a chance without Myfab, and the same holds true for many other companies."
Parallel theme seminars
Many of the participants held presentations during the parallel theme seminars. Topics included, for example, thin film technology, etching and characterisation, with speakers from several countries.
Participants were also invited to take guided tours of Lund Nano Lab, MAX laboratory and MAX IV.
Lecture on nano safety
Helinor Johnston from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and Peter Böggild from DTU Nanotech in Copenhagen were the main speakers the second day.
Helinor Johnston's lecture concerned nano safety and was entitled "Approaches used to assess the safety of nanoparticles". She has been performing research in the field for many years, and is the deputy director of the NanoSafety Research Group at Heriot-Watt University.
"Our work concerns assessing the risk of nanomaterials. We try to find the relationship between the material's physical chemical qualities and the degree of their danger – how we should best approach hazards to ensure risks are minimised," said Helinor Johnston.
Peter Böggild spoke about the challenges involved with the super-material graphene in a lecture entitled "Challenges in large area graphene fabrication and characterisation". Professor Böggild has played a significant role in establishing Danish graphene activities.
"The past few years we have seen how heavy industry is starting to invest in graphene, but the material will have difficulty beating out established technologies such as OLED and MOSFET transistors; these technologies work and are more flexible than you might imagine. Anything else would be a lie. They are flexible and have excellent conductive qualities," said Peter Böggild.
Competition from companies in the U.S and Asia is another challenge, and Böggild said that graphene's thinness can be both a blessing and a curse.
"Graphene has new and powerful qualities – but where are the new and powerful applications," he asked.
Invitation to Norway 2017
Thomas Swahn and Kay Gastinger summarised the user meeting before the participants were divided into groups for the final tours:
"We hope you are taking something useful away from the user meeting and that you are more aware of the new opportunities afforded by our large network. Make sure you use your newfound knowledge and dare try out new processes and tools," said the two directors.
They also took the opportunity to forward an invitation to the next user meeting, which is planned to take place in 2017 in Oslo or Trondheim. Finnish Micronova will also be an active part of the network at the user meeting.
Text and photo: Michael Nystås