A competence centre is a platform for knowledge exchange and joint projects. Here, academia and external parties gather to create new knowledge and innovation. The projects are driven by need, and can be initiated from industry – who have a problem to solve – or from the research community, as new research results have generated solutions that may be applied in industry.
Stronger as one unit
The competence centre GigaHertz focuses on electronics for high frequencies, while ChaseOn focuses on antenna systems and signal processing. They overlap in microwave technology research, which is relevant for communication and health care, as well as defense and space industry. And even if some areas differ between the two centres, numerous points of contact have been developed over the years. The two directors – Jan Grahn, Professor at Microtechnology and Nanoscience, and Erik Ström, Professor at Electrical Engineering – saw that close collaboration would result in obvious advantages. In 2017, the two centres therefore formed a joint consortium, bringing together a large number of national and international companies.
“Formally, we are still two centres, but we have a joint agreement that makes it easy to work together”, says Erik Ström.
“For Chalmers, it is a great strength that we are now able to see the whole picture, beyond departmental boundaries and research groups, and create a broad collaboration with the companies. This is an excellent example of how Chalmers can gather strength as one unit”, says Jan Grahn.
Multiplicity of applications
Technology for heat treatment of cancer, detection of foreign objects in baby food, antenna systems for increased traffic safety, components to improve Google’s quantum computer, 5G technology and amplifiers for the world’s largest radio telescope… The list of things that have sprung from the two competence centres is long. The technical development has, of course, been extreme; in 2007, as GigaHertz and ChaseOn were launched in their current forms, the Iphone hit the market for the very first time. Technology that today is seen as a natural part of everyday life – such as mobile broadband, now almost a necessity alongside electricity and water for most of us – was difficult to access or, at least, not to be taken for granted.
The companies have also changed, which is noticeable in the flora of partners, not least for GigaHertz.
“In the early 2000s, when our predecessor CHACH centre existed, the collaboration with Ericsson was dominant. Today, we collaborate with a much greater diversity of companies. We have seen an entrepreneurial revolution with many small companies, and even though the technology is basically the same, we are now dealing with a multiplicity of applications”, says Jan Grahn.
As technology and applications developed and changed, the points of contact between the two centres grew, and this is also what initiated the merger:
“When we started, in 2007, we were competing centres. The centres developed completely independently of each other, but have now grown into one. The technical convergence could not be ignored, we simply needed to start talking to each other across competence boundaries – which in the beginning was not so easy, even though today we view this as the obvious way forward”, says Erik Ström.
Research to benefit society
The knowledge centres are open organisations, where new partners join and collaborations may also come to an end. Several companies are sometimes involved together in one project. Trust and confidence are important components and take time to build. One ground-rule for activities is the focus on making research useful in society in the not too distant future.
Chalmers Information and Communication Technology Area of Advance can take some of the credit for the successful collaboration between GigaHertz and ChaseOn, according to the awardees.
“Contacts between centres were initiated when I was Director of the Area of Advance”, says Jan Grahn.
“The Areas of Advance show that we can collaborate across departmental boundaries, they point to opportunities that exist when you work together.”
They believe in a bright future
The competence centres are partly financed by Vinnova, who has been nothing but positive about the merger of the two. Coordination means more research for the money; partly through synergy effects and partly by saving on costs in management and administration.
The financed period for both GigaHertz and ChaseOn expires next year. But the two professors are positive, and above all point to the strong support from industry.
“Then, of course, we need a governmental financier, or else we must revise the way we work. I hope that Vinnova gives us the opportunity to continue”, says Erik Ström.
“The industry definitely wants a continuation. But they cannot, and should not, pay for everything. If they were to do so, we would get a completely different type of collaboration. The strength lies in sharing risks in the research activities by everyone contributing funds and, first and foremost, competence”, says Jan Grahn.
Through their way of working, Erik Ström and Jan Grahn have succeeded in renewing and developing collaborations both within and outside Chalmers, attracting new companies and strengthening the position of Gothenburg as an international node for microwave technology. And it is in recognition of their dynamic and holistic leadership, that they now receive the Areas of Advance Award.
“This is incredibly fun, and a credit for the entire centre operation, not just for us”, says Erik Ström.
“Being a centre director is not always a bed of roses. Getting this award is a fantastic recognition, and we feel great hope for the future”, concludes Jan Grahn.
Text: Mia Malmstedt
Photo: Yen Strandqvist
The Areas of Advance Award
With the Areas of Advance Award, Chalmers looks to reward employees who have made outstanding contributions in cross-border collaborations, and who, in the spirit of the Areas of Advance, integrate research, education and utilisation. The collaborations aim to strengthen Chalmers’ ability to meet the major global challenges for a sustainable development.