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A whole working life at Electrum - now Nils Nordell is retiring

Nils Nordell, Director of the Electrum Laboratory retires.
Published Feb 23, 2024

Throughout his working life, Nils Nordell, Director of the Electrum Laboratory, has worked at Electrum in Kista. In April, he will be retiring and looking forward to new adventures.

Even when Electrum was new, a young Nils Nordell began his first career steps in the building. He started working as a newly Master of Science in Engineering graduate at the Institute of Microelectronics.

"I would start working in the new field of information technology, making technical components for systems. For me, this meant fast transistors for mobile phones and lasers for fibre communication," he says. 

At that time, KTH had one department in the building, and they had a small part of the current Electrum Laboratory as a training and research laboratory. During the early 1990s, Nils's institute was reorganised, and a large part was moved to KTH.

"During that period, I continued to work at the institute, and what began to emerge more and more was the investment in silicon carbide. ABB had big plans and dreams for the new material, but silicon carbide was an immature technology at that time. They worked hard to increase knowledge, and I was one of the researchers in the field," he says.

Research in IT and power electronics

Nils Nordell's research has been in IT and power electronics, making crystals the basic material for semiconductor components. He worked in a technique called epitaxy, where crystals are grown by stacking the atoms in the correct order. Everything is done in a chemical process.

"Developing epitaxial processes for silicon carbide was a huge step. The challenge was that we had to reach high temperatures with few stable materials. We had to find good technical solutions."

Towards the end of the 1990s, Nils realised the progress was happening slower than ABB had hoped. Then, an opportunity opened up at KTH as head of the laboratory, a job that Nils took. Since 2001, he has worked as director of the Electrum Laboratory.

"Today, we can see that what ABB dreamed of then is becoming reality. It takes a very long time to go from research into a new semiconductor material that works," he says.

Fun to follow research projects

He has been passionate about moving from research to production throughout his career, something he has seen emerge during his time as director.

"It has been fun to follow and see how research projects are turned into companies and continue to grow. One specific example that started here in the Electrum Laboratory is Silex Microsystems, which works with a technology called MEMS that integrates electronic and moving parts."

He is also particularly proud that the Electrum Laboratory has become known as a technology incubator and that companies from outside are contacting him and wanting to work in the environment. An important part has been to certify the management system in ISO 9001, something that was driven by the companies working in the laboratory.

"When we wanted to introduce the certification, there was some resistance among the researchers, but today, everyone working in this environment is happy that we have processes that can be trusted. It also means a lot for education and research at KTH and for the companies collaborating with us.

KTH is undergoing a significant reorganisation, and an investigation into the Electrum Laboratory will be appointed. What do you think about that?

"It's a difficult period, but I hope it will pass. We see investments in the semiconductor industry in Europe with ChipsAct, and we need support from KTH's management to continue using this fantastic infrastructure. I hope that the Electrum Laboratory will continue to supply expertise in the form of trained students and researchers and more research projects," he says.

Wants to write a book and travel

As he approaches retirement, Nils realises the years at KTH have passed quickly. Now he is looking forward to a retirement with travelling, reading and perhaps also new language skills. He also wants to write a book.

"It will be about the development of Hässelby Villastad. I grew up there and have many photographs from when the neighbourhood was rebuilt from a gardener's community to a modern suburb. Today, the forests I used to play in as a child are gone; the concrete has been a big change in the area."

Facts about Nils Nordell

Age: 61 years old on 30 April.

Family: Wife and three children; the youngest will graduate this year.

Interests: Loves travelling. Been to many countries, but has a lot left to see. Likes to travel freely and learn about nature, culture and the conditions of people's lives in the places he visits. His first trip as a pensioner will be a train ride in Europe. The art treasures of Italy are in his sights.

Emelie Smedslund