Millennium Technology Grand Prize winner Linus Torvalds believes in open science

Technology Academy Finland decided to divide the 2012 Millennium Technology Grand Prize evenly between two winners. Computer expert Linus Torvalds and stem cell researcher Shinya Yamanaka were granted EUR 600,000 each.

Millennium Technology Grand Prize winner Linus Torvalds believes in open science

“This makes me feel loved,” says Linus Torvalds. “Although I would be working on Linux in any case, it is important to know that people think I’m doing something that has changed the world.”

The two winners believe in open science. Shinya Yamanaka, who succeeded in creating induced pluripotent stem cells from human skin cells in 2007, has made some of his research material available to the entire scientific community.

Yamanaka’s breakthrough has enabled researchers to make great strides in recent years. It is hoped that the new technology will facilitate the treatment of cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, to name just a few examples. The technology may also solve ethical issues related to stem cell research: embryos will no longer be needed when stem cells can be created from the skin cells of adults.

Torvalds has devoted his life to developing the kernel of the Linux open source operating system.

“The operating model for Linux is copied from the world of science. Open science is a much older principle than open source code,” says Torvalds.

Torvalds has been awarded an honorary doctorate by the Faculty of Philosophy and made honorary alumnus of the Faculty of Science of the University of Helsinki. Back in 1991, when he began developing a new operating system for his personal computer, he was a twenty-something student of computer science at the university who invited other enthusiasts to improve his code.

Today, Linux – created by thousands of people – is used in millions of computers and mobile phones. Moreover, this streamlined and efficient operating system dominates the world of Internet servers, and nine out of ten super computers run on Linux. Torvalds still contributes to the development of its kernel.

Linux is becoming much more than just a favourite for small groups of enthusiasts. The Android operating system has brought Linux to consumer smartphones.

Torvalds finds this amusing. He says he left Finland because he could not stand mobile phones. In the 1990s, all of his friends seemed to end up working for Nokia, but Torvalds wanted something else.

“Mobile phones are quite horrible. Then again, today, a mobile phone is a way of reading e-mail, and I love e-mail.”

For Torvalds – who lives in Portland, Oregon, with his family – the Millennium Technology Grand Prize means peace of mind. Life is expensive in the United States, and his children are growing up fast.

“If all of my three children want to go to Stanford, I can now afford that, owing to the prize money. I don’t have to tell them that only one of them can go, eeny meeny miney mo.”

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Text: Hanna Nikkanen
Photo: Millennium Technology Prize
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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