The software engineer behind Linux and a scientist who has developed a new method to create stem cells have both won the 2012 Millennium Technology Prize celebrating technological innovation.

It is the first time that the €1.2 million technology prize awarded by Technology Academy Finland, has been shared by two finalists. Linus Torvalds and Dr Shinya Yamanaka were both recently announced as laureates of the 2012 prize and now follow in the footsteps of World Wide Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who won the inaugural award in 2004.

Finnish-American software engineer Linus Torvalds, Chief Architect and Coordinator of the Linux kernel development project, has been recognised for his creation of an open source operating system for computers, which lead to the widely used Linux kernel. The free availability of the software on the Web enabled rapid development of the operating system, equivalent to 73,000 years and the kernel is one of the largest cooperative software projects ever. When it was launched in 1991 by Torvalds, the Linux kernel consisted of about 10,000 lines of code and now has almost 15 million lines.

Today millions of people use Linux to run their computers, smartphones and digital video recorders, demonstrating the impact of Torvald’s software in terms of shared development, networking and the open nature of the web as well as making Linux accessible to so many people.

Dr Yamanaka won the prize in recognition of a new, ethically sustainable method of developing induced pluripotent stem calls for medical research, which crucially does not rely on the controversial use of embryonic stem cells. Scientists all over the world are making progress in medical drug testing and research using Dr Yamanaka’s methods. His work should contribute to the successful growth of implant tissues for clinical surgery and the fighting of diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

The Millennium Technology Prize is awarded by every two years to individuals who have created a technological innovation that significantly improves the quality of human life. The President of the republic of Finland, Sauli Niinistö presented the prize during the ceremony at the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki.

Sir John Parker, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “I am delighted to see that this year’s Millennium Technology Prize is shared between two outstanding individuals who have produced truly life enhancing technological innovations.”

“It is important that awards such as the Millennium Technology Prize and next year’s Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering celebrate remarkable innovations and inspire the engineers and scientists of tomorrow.”

Dr Ainomaija Haarla, President of Technology Academy Finland, said: “Dr Shinya Yamanaka’s work in stem cell research and Linus Torvalds’s work in open source software have transformed their fields and will remain important for generations to come. Dr Shinya Yamanaka’s discovery of a new method to develop pluripotent stem cells for medical research could help combat intractable diseases and Linus Torvalds’s work has kept the web open for the pursuit of knowledge and for the benefit of humanity – not simply for financial interests.”

Notes for editors

  1. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.
  2. Technology Academy Finland is an independent foundation established by Finnish industry in partnership with the Finnish state. The laureates are selected by the Board of the foundation on the basis of recommendations made by the International select committee. Nominations are sought from universities, research institutes and industrial organisations around the world and are assessed by the International Selection Committee, composed of eight scientists from industry and academia. Four criteria are used to assess the significance of each innovation: the innovation’s impact on the quality of life and sustainable development now and in the future, as well as the significance of the resulting technological change.

    Previous winners of the Millennium technology prize include: Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, professor Shuji Nakamura, inventor of coloured LEDs and a blue lazer, professor Robert Langer for developing biomaterials for use in tissue regeneration and Professor Michael Grätzel for his work on dye-sensitised solar cells that provide low cost renewable energy.

For more information please contact

Sarah Griffiths at The Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel. 020 7766 0655