2/2014

Miro Erkintalo wants to leave his mark on the world and academia

Miro Erkintalo

Miro Erkintalo graduated from TUT with a doctorate in 2012 and has since joined the University of Auckland to coordinate acclaimed research in laser physics. He continues collaborating with his alma mater within an international team investigating, among other things, the similarities between optics and oceans.

Who? Miro Erkintalo, 28, TUT’s alumni

  • Born and raised in Pori, Finland
  • BSc, MSc and DSc degrees in physics from Tampere University of Technology in March 2009, October 2009 and February 2012, respectively.
  • One of the youngest doctoral graduates in the history of TUT.
  • Joined the University of Auckland, New Zealand, as a post-doctoral research fellow in February 2012.
  • Currently a Lecturer at the University of Auckland.
  • Will spend the year 2015 in Princeton University, USA, as a visiting scholar under the post-doc pool programme of the Finnish Cultural Foundation.
  • His current research interests span a wide range of topics in the areas of nonlinear fibre optics, passive resonators, optical frequency combs and mode-locked fibre lasers.
 

What does optics have to do with oceans?

Rogue waves, also known as freak waves, monster waves or killer waves, are rare, abnormally large waves that can unexpectedly emerge from the sea and potentially cause maritime disasters. These giant walls of water that suddenly appear from nowhere were considered part of maritime folklore for a long time, but now experimental evidence is available. Interestingly, under certain conditions the mathematical models that describe light propagation in an optical fibre and wave group propagation on deep water are similar. What this means is that effects observed in the ocean can have analogous counterparts in fibre optics. Accordingly, it may be possible to observe and study rogue wave – like behaviour simply by shining laser light through an optical fibre.

What do you currently do at the University of Auckland?

I coordinate research activities, write scientific papers and conduct peer-reviews. Doctoral students perform most of the actual research. We have a really strong research group in laser physics. The group explores, among other things, how light interacts with matter when confined into optical fibres or microscopic resonators. We are also developing ultrafast fibre lasers for industrial applications and applying them to shed light on various universal phenomena. In addition to research, I teach courses on the fundamentals of physics and advanced optoelectronics, and also supervise graduate students.

How would you describe TUT and the University of Auckland?

At least research activities in the different fields of engineering are more effectively organized at TUT compared to the University of Auckland. This is mainly because TUT is a technologically-oriented university and can focus exclusively on hard sciences, so collaboration that cuts across departmental and disciplinary boundaries is relatively seamless. Despite Finland being a small country, it is home to an advanced high-tech sector, which means that there are more resources available for researchers. New Zealand’s economy is largely dependent on agriculture.

What motivates you as a researcher?

It keeps me going if students, colleagues and even people outside of the scientific community think that I’m doing a good job. It’s inspiring to see that people keep up to date with our research. Success is also a major driving force, because it shows that at least someone thinks our work is worthwhile.

Have you achieved your current professional goals?

Pretty much. I have a great deal of freedom to influence what my group will be researching, and I’ve had papers published in prestigious journals. The first time I got a paper published in the prestigious Nature Photonics journal in 2013 was a dream come true career-wise. I’m not expecting to achieve my other, bigger dreams quite this early on in my career.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My most important research achievement so far is probably the method developed by our research group for the modelling of microresonator frequency combs. In some sense this work transformed the research field. The method was presented in a paper that has received almost a hundred citations in the last couple of years. Our research group also won the University of Auckland’s 2014 Research Excellence Award given out by the Minister of Tertiary Education. Our research has stirred a great deal of interest across the international scientific community, and I’ve delivered invited presentations in five conferences around the world this year. I’m also happy to say that as a lecturer I’ve received 100 % positive feedback four times in a row for a course that is attended by about 100 students. Maybe the three marathons I’ve completed should be on this list, too.

What are you looking to achieve further along in your career?

I’d like to do something that makes a difference. While I want to focus on research that can ultimately contribute to improving the quality of life for people everywhere, I’ve also noticed that the entire academic system could use some airing. Resources could be more effectively allocated to research that can potentially benefit the entire world. Working to promote this kind of change is something that I might be interested in.

How did your studies at TUT prepare you for an international research career?

Very well. The education offered at TUT meets international standards of excellence. I especially want to acknowledge the support of Associate Professor Göery Genty who supervised my dissertation research. Thanks to him, I was accustomed with the workings of the scientific community before going abroad. International experience is practically indispensable to anyone interested in an academic career. I still pursue active collaboration with Genty. For example, we recently co-authored a review article in Nature photonics as well as an original research article in Nature Communications.

I still keep an eye out for what’s happening in the Department of Physics and the Optics Laboratory at TUT. They’re prolific publishers of first-rate papers. If I ever return to Finland, TUT will definitely be one of my top choices. Tampere is by far the best city in Finland, and TUT is an outstanding university in every respect.

Text: Marjut Kemiläinen
Photo: Matt Hunt

 
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