Small is big and the invisible world of atoms hides surprising secrets
Minnamari Vippola’s microscope reveals the basic building blocks of materials and brings the invisible world of atoms to life.
Associate Professor Minnamari Vippola specializes in materials characterization that provides insight into the structure and composition of materials at the scale of one millionth of a millimetre.
“Even the tiniest details are important, because they help us uncover the secrets of the invisible world of atoms,” she says.
Vippola leads the Materials Characterization Group that supports research in the Department of Materials Science and throughout the University. The group applies electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction to the analysis and imaging of the structure of materials. They are also involved in non-destructive testing, or NDT.
Associate Professor Minnamari Vippola
- Associate Professor, the third rank for faculty on TUT’s tenure track designed to lead to permanent tenure
- MSc degree in 1995, Licentiate in 1998, Doctor of Science in Technology in 2002.
- Dissertation titled “Microstructural Study of Aluminum Phosphate Sealed Plasma Sprayed Alumina and Chromia Coatings”
- Vippola’s initial interest in microscopy was sparked while working as a visiting researcher in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the late 1990s
“One of the NDT techniques we use is the Barkhausen noise method, whereby residual stresses and microstructural changes within metal samples are determined based on the hissing sounds emitted by the samples when they are magnetized. We are currently using NDT techniques to test the integrity of railway tracks in a project conducted at the Department of Civil Engineering.”
TUT invests a million in a microscope
It is not possible to explore phenomena at the nanometre scale without sophisticated microscopes. Minnamari Vippola says that TUT offers a good range of equipment and facilities for materials research. If researchers need access to more specialist equipment, they turn to other Finnish or Nordic universities.
“A state-of-the-art microscope may cost several millions of euros, so high-value equipment is often shared between universities,” Vippola says.
TUT will soon add a new FIB-SEM scanning electron microscope to its equipment portfolio. The device costs close to a million euros and was jointly acquired by the Department of Materials Science and the Optoelectronics Research Centre at TUT.
The powerful microscope is equipped with focused ion beam technology and is the third of its kind in Finland.
“The microscope allows us to prepare samples of materials for TEM (transmission electron microscopy) analysis at the nanoscale and investigate the structure and composition of materials using 3D models. It’s a real time saver and offers exciting new avenues for our future research,” explains Vippola.
FIB-SEM enables researchers to peer deeper and deeper into materials, even down to the atomic level. It will provide increasingly accurate and reliable data that will benefit several industries, such as the electronics sector.
Environmental perspective at the forefront
Vippola’s group has special expertise in multi-component hybrid materials as well as catalysts, which they have studied for a long time in collaboration with Aalto University and the University of Oulu.
“Lightweight hybrid materials are needed for modern machines and equipment. They are as strong as steel but have a considerably smaller environmental footprint.”
Vippola’s research interests also include nanomaterials. For years, she has served as an expert consultant on a project administered by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health that seeks to understand the potential health effects of nanomaterials.
“Nanomaterials are a relatively new area of study and their structure and properties remain only partially understood.”
“Nanomaterials are sometimes dubbed “the new asbestos”, but so far researchers have found no real cause for alarm. However, we have as yet only limited knowledge of their long-term effects,” she says.