Highly respected in international circles, Academy Professor Ilkka Hanski is one of the world’s leading researchers in ecology and evolutionary biology. He also engages in wide-ranging studies on the significance of biodiversity and is an active proponent of nature. The multidisciplinarity of Hanski’s research and his overall vision have made the professor a well-liked populariser of science.
President of Finland Sauli Niinistö conferred the honorary title of Academician of Science to Hanski at a presidential session on 4 September 2015. The title, which can be awarded to highly distinguished scientists and scholars, may not be held by more than 16 Finnish researchers at a time.
Research funding is a profitable investment
Like many others, Ilkka Hanski is concerned about the cuts to education and science planned by the Finnish Government – following a sadly common trend.
“Policymakers fail to grasp how important research is to the information society,” he says. “They don’t understand that money allocated to research is, above all, a profitable investment.”
Hanski fears that we may miss the chance to solve many big problems unless research data is taken into account in decision-making. He mentions the energy sector as an example.
“In an ideal situation, the energy sector could uniquely integrate energy policy, economic policy, structural policy, regional policy and research policy. If you ignore research policy, you’re stuck in past solutions.”
Expert in fragmented habitats
Ilkka Hanski is known not only for the multidisciplinary nature of his research but also for its impact.
The foundation for this was laid in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the field of ecology experienced major changes and new research trends emerged at a rapid pace. One of these was the metapopulation theory, boosted by Hanski’s work, which helps researchers estimate the ability of organisms to survive in fragmented habitats. Increasing fragmentation threatens the networks vital to unstable local populations.
Hanski’s research group, established in 1991, has grown into the Metapopulation Research Centre, or MRC, housed on the Viikki Campus. It has been an Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence non-stop since 2000.
The multidisciplinary research facility employs over 70 people in nine research groups. They focus on a wide variety of research topics, including the Glanville fritillary butterfly, plants and powdery mildew, as well as overarching questions such as the links between environmental biodiversity and chronic inflammatory disorders. The groups consist of biologists, but also of experts in other fields such as mathematicians.
Long list of tributes
The Research Centre encourages the independence of its young researchers, which has led to internationally respected results. Over the years, the Centre has received highly competitive ERC funding not only for Hanski’s own research but also on four other occasions. More than once, people have left Viikki to gain international experience and return enriched with good networks.
Ilkka Hanski boasts a long list of awards and tributes. The most important is the 2001 Crafoord Prize, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Science in fields of science not considered for the Nobel Prize. Hanski has also received the International Balzan Prize and the Latsis Prize for biodiversity research.
Academy Professor Hanski is a member of the Royal Society (UK) and the National Academy of Sciences (US). He has received numerous national awards for his scientific work and science education as well as for popularising his field of science.
Hanski will be presented with the honorary title at a ceremony to be held in Helsinki on 17 September 2015.