Olli Varis is an internationally distinguished and recognised researcher in water and environmental issues, specialising in water resources as well as the interactions between development, environment and the sustainable use of natural resources.
Aalto University President Ilkka Niemelä extolled Varis’s scientific merits and societal impact as he announced the appointment at Aalto Day One, the opening ceremony of the academic year, on 3 September 2019.
‘Professor Varis is especially renowned for his research in the area of growth economies in Asia. The Aalto University Water and Development Research Group, which he founded and leads, is also highly respected worldwide’, Niemelä stated.
'Water is one of the oldest realms of engineering. Sustainable water management in the built environment as well as nature has not diminished in significance, but grown. Water is the lifeblood of our planet. If water is contaminated, the ecosystems in the water suffer. When the water cycle is disturbed as a result of unsustainable land use or climate change, the results are far-reaching. Functioning water systems in the built environment are a cornerstone of a sustainable society', said Professor Varis in his speech at the Aalto University opening ceremony.
'Everyone needs water and products made with the help of water, such as food. The pressures on the water resources of our planet are intensifying at a rapid rate. Water experts are needed all around the world and they need a wide-ranging, multidisciplinary and solution-oriented approach in order to solve problems. Those who become water engineers at Aalto University not only have a strong scientific background but also an ability to find solutions to difficult and complex problems', he added.
Olli Varis leads a career of significant social impact. He has been an active participant in solving global water challenges as a member of numerous United Nations bodies, such as UNESCO. He holds many positions of trust in leading Asian universities, such as the University of Hong Kong and the Southern University of Science and Technology in China. Varis has also been honoured with the title of Distinguished Adjunct Professor by the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand.
In Finland, his work has also had a strong impact outside the scientific community as he has served, among other duties, as an environmental expert counsellor at the Supreme Administrational Court of Finland during 2006–2015.
Olli Varis received his doctorate from Helsinki University of Technology in 1991. He has worked at Aalto University and its predecessor, Helsinki University of Technology, since 1983; first as a researcher and since 2008 as a professor in the field of water resources management. In 2015, Varis was appointed to the Matti Pursula Professorship by Aalto University. During 2013–2018, he served as a Vice Dean for Research and Innovation at the Aalto University School of Engineering.
Professor Varis has published over 120 scientific peer-reviewed articles and his publications have been cited around 3 000 times. His work has been published in 14 different languages. He is also a distinguished teacher; he has supervised 10 doctoral theses and has been leading Aalto University’s Sustainable Global Technologies Programme since 2007.