Get to know us: Associate Professor Ari Jokilaakso

In this interview we got to know more about Ari Jokilaakso. His work as an associate professor entails a lot of contact with students, stakeholders and activities in committees. What's the most memorable thing that he has been asked to do at work? Let's hear more!
Ari Jokilaakso, photo by Anni Hanen
Photo: Anni Hanen

What does an associate professor do? 

My work consists of teaching, supervising, and advising BSc, MSc, and doctoral students in their thesis work. A major part of my time is taken up by writing project proposals to different financiers, like Academy of Finland, Business Finland, or EU. Another task taking a lot of my time is to participate in scientific article writing, mostly as coauthor, meaning reading, editing, correcting and commenting on the manuscripts. Also, one of my responsibilities is to serve in the academic community as a member of different committees and steering groups. 

What do you like most about your work now? 

Research work! From investigating samples with a scanning electron microscope to chemical analyses, trying to conclude what and why has happened in the lab furnace. In supervising doctoral students, I very much like the joint thinking and the possibility to help them to develop themselves. 

Did you always want to become an associate professor?  

When I did my doctoral studies in 1980s and 90s, I got very interested in scientific research work and continued in several academic positions in TKK (today’s Aalto University). I started to build my career so that I would eventually become a professor in metallurgy. However, towards the end of 1990s, the research in metals and materials turned strongly to new materials and metallurgy started to vanish from universities all over the world, also in Otaniemi, and the professorship in applied process metallurgy that I was aiming at, was redefined and focusing on new materials and thus, out of my reach.  

During my post-graduate studies, Outokumpu had been asking me to join their research center in Pori, but I wanted to finish my doctoral degree before even considering a move to industry. When the professorship was redefined, the time was ripe for me to go to the industry, and so I joined Outokumpu Technology (today’s Outotec). I started as research metallurgist in Espoo, and soon moved forward as product development manager, and manager in process engineering. Then, after some interesting coincidences, I started in a new job as the Vice President in Human Resources. How that was possible is a long story, but they chose me because of my background as the research group leader in TKK and the manager in the process engineering group. 

After around 10 years as the head of the global HR function in Outotec, I moved on and took responsibility of the Outotec Research Center in Pori, and after that I assumed the role of Technology Director in Beneficiation business line of Outotec

Meanwhile, the professorship in Metallurgy became vacant and I felt the old desire of becoming a professor, so I applied and got selected and started in Aalto University in September 2016 as the associate professor in metallurgy (or pyrometallurgy). Quite exceptional career path, but it gives an example of the many possibilities there are out there. 

What part of your academic career have you liked the most? 

When I grew my first research group or, actually two, in 1990s, one for experimental work and the other for computer simulation. We grew fast and found new results together with experts from the industry. It was a very good spirited team and we had a lot of fun together. 

What got you interested in metallurgy? 

When I was thinking about where to study for MSc degree, I found the option of metals production to be most interesting for some reason. Metals as a material are in a way very “worthy” and interesting, so the option of learning how to make them was quite intriguing.   

What do you think is the greatest obstacle that the metal industry is facing today? 

It is difficult to find one obstacle, but there are a couple of challenges that the metal industry is facing. One is the difficulty to attract future employees, because of the locations of the production plants in one hand, and on the other hand, because of the polluting and not-that-environmentally-friendly image of the industry. Also, common people might not realize the importance of metals in today’s society or were we get metals from.  

Another group of challenges is the sustainability aspects. How can we secure metals for the future? Metals must be produced from lower and lower grade ores and they must be pure. At the same time, the non-valuable parts must be separated more and more completely without any waste generation. Circular economy is a must, so that all metals can be returned to metal production. This increasingly brings new elements into the processes – such elements that are not present in the metal ores and minerals. This leads to increasing need of basic scientific research, for developing the processes to be adaptive for increasingly complex feed material mixtures. 

All of this requires new students for the research work and new professionals to metal producers. So that in the future we can produce metals in a sustainable manner, in large enough quantities, from poorer and more complex raw materials and with no emissions and waste. We want to motivate more students in the future to choose this field!

What is the weirdest or most memorable thing that you have been able to do while working at Aalto? 

I guess it was the case when I was asked to dismantle an iPhone. Helsingin Sanomat journal published an interview with pictures and video clips. The story was also later published by Yle. This brought along a lot of interview and expert statement requests.

This interview is conducted by Mikaela Kumlin who has been working during the summer at the School of Chemical Engineering. 

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