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New Vice President to focus on research quality

Published Dec 18, 2013

Arne Johansson, Professor of Mechanics, will become KTH’s new Vice-President of Research. The issues that touch on research quality are especially close to his heart. He wishes to see a more clearly focused strategy to attract more of the major research funding providers to invest in KTH.

Arne Johansson will draw on his extensive experience to make KTH more successful in attracting investments from external funding bodies. (Photo: Marc Femenia)

One of my most important tasks will be to see how we can achieve the desired research quality through more external partnerships and collaborative arrangements,” Johansson says.

Johansson’s entire academic career has been spent at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. In the last 20 years he has carried out pioneering research within fluid mechanics. At the same time, he is one of Sweden’s most qualified scientists in questions relating to research strategies and research funding.

Ideas must be able to grow up from below.

Rewards for researchers who can take bold initiatives

To take the step up to Vice-President of Research at KTH was nothing that he had planned. But Johansson feels honoured to have been given the assignment.

“There are exciting times ahead. I look forward to discussing research strategies and external funding with the rest of the management here. It feels like a natural continuation of the involvement I have had over many years.”

Johansson has indeed occupied leading positions with several of the largest research funding bodies. These include the Wallenberg Foundations, the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research and the Swedish Research Council (VR). He has been actively engaged with the Swedish Research Council ever since 2001; for six years there he was Secretary General of Natural and Engineering Sciences.

Fostering a climate that gets researchers to collaborate

Johansson took an active role as co-ordinator for research funding bodies in connection with the Swedish government’s major focus on strategic research, just a few years ago. He has also been involved in different international contexts providing scrutiny of research quality and assessments of applications for research funding.

Now he intends to use the experience he has gained to make KTH more successful in attracting investments from external funding bodies. Primarily, this work involves acting as a catalyst in the formation of powerful constellations to successfully fight to secure the research funding of the future, he points out.

Even within applied research the quality level needs to be raised

“We still have some way to go. One key issue is how we organise ourselves in the whole application process. But it is also essential that KTH fosters a climate that gets researchers within different fields to collaborate with one another.”

While KTH needs to sharpen its strategic focus so as to raise the profile of strong research fields, it is also vital to give the research activities the scope they need to develop unhindered, he believes.

“There are dangers inherent in steering the direction of research activities. Ideas must be able to grow up from below. We face a great challenge in encouraging researchers to take bold initiatives, to make the leap themselves that may lead into wholly new research fields.”

Pioneering wind tunnel

Johansson hopes that KTH can move further up the international ranking lists. The good ranking points that KTH has secured within categories relating to its reputation, and its collaboration with industry, now need to be followed up with even higher points for the overall academic quality, in his opinion.

“We ought to be able to achieve even better results within scientific publishing and to strengthen the quality level in several research fields. Even within applied research the quality level needs to be raised, not least to enable us to provide industry with top quality.”

His own research field is Fluid Mechanics with the focus on turbulence modelling and research. The applications for this research are to be found in such areas as the automobile industry and the energy sector.

Arne Johansson begins in his new position on January 1.

In the 1990’s, together with the KTH professor Henrik Alfredsson, he built a wind tunnel that attracted great international attention. An experimental laboratory of that type was unique for its time. Today the tunnel is housed in the newly opened Odqvist laboratory for experimental mechanics.

The research milieu that Johansson was involved in building up is still a world leader in its field. Now, however, the focus of his activities lies outside the experimental sphere. Large-scale computer simulations of fluid flows have been made possible through the enormous calculation powers of the super computers that KTH, amongst others, has invested in. Most of the research is carried out within the Linné Flow Center which is under the supervision of Johansson.

In recent years, Johansson has received several notable forms of recognition for his research career. In November he was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society. Earlier this year he received the King’s Medal of 8th size for “significant contributions to Swedish scientific research and Swedish university affairs.”

Johansson takes over from the current Vice-President for Research, Björn Birgisson, on 1 January 2014. Björn Birgisson will return to his former post of Professor in the Division of Highway and Railway Engineering.

Text: Christer Gummeson

Background: Arne Johansson

KTH : Professor in Mechanics since 1991. Doctorate in 1983. Master of Science in Engineering Physics in 1977. 

External activities: Served two terms on the University Board: 1997-2000 and 2010-2012. Prefect of the Department of Mechanics from 1992 to 2004. Principal Secretary in the Swedish Research Council from 2004 to 2010. Director of the Linné Flow Centre. Interests: (outside of research) chess and especially chess history. Johansson plays in the chess club Rockaden, but at a fairly modest level, he says. Additionally, he is chairman of the chess Schackets Kulturhistoriska Sällskap (Chess Culture History Society). He has made ​​more than 300 chess history features in a TV program that recently aired on public access television in Stockholm (and also available online). He exercises and enjoys playing tennis with his daughter when the opportunity arises. Family: wife, a daughter and a dog. Lives: In Hägerstensvägen.  Read more about Arne Johansson