University of Oulu to confer 17 new honorary doctorates – among them Marko Ahtisaari, President of Iceland and Nobel Prize-winning researcher

The University of Oulu will confer 17 new honorary doctorates in its Doctoral Conferment Ceremony on 17–19 May 2024. An honorary doctorate is the highest recognition that a university can give to a person.

Honorary doctors are people who are internationally distinguished in the disciplines represented at the University of Oulu. Many of them have contributed to significant research collaborations with researchers from the University of Oulu. In addition, honorary doctorates have been awarded to persons who have other merits, in terms of society and the operations of the University of Oulu.

The 2024 honorary doctors are:

Faculty of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine:

Professor William Kaelin

Professor William G. Kaelin Jr. was awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability. Kaelin’s research has led to new insights into how cells perceive and respond to changes in oxygen. Kaelin’s research into the identification mechanisms of hypoxia has led to the development of new drugs against anaemia and kidney cancer. Since 2006, Kaelin has collaborated with researchers at the University of Oulu.

Professor Seppo Ylä-Herttuala

Professor Seppo Ylä-Herttuala is the internationally best-known Finnish researcher of gene therapy. He has been awarded several times the most prestigious research funding in Finland and Europe. He is currently in charge of the GeneCellNano flagship programme of the University of Oulu, the University of Eastern Finland, the University of Helsinki, Aalto University and the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service. Throughout his career, Ylä-Herttuala has actively promoted the application of research results to clinical practice and was the first in the world to use virus-mediated gene transfer on human blood vessels.

Faculty of Humanities:

President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson

Guðni Th. Jóhannesson has served as President of Iceland since 2016. Prior to his election, he was Professor of History at the University of Iceland. Guðni Th. Jóhannesson’s research has focused on the political history of the 20th century, especially the Cold War, geopolitics and the role of small nations in world politics. He has published prolifically in English and Icelandic. He has also emphasised the importance of democracy, European values and freedom of research in his presentations and speeches.

Professor Eeva Leinonen

Professor of Clinical Linguistics Eeva Leinonen serves as the President of Maynooth University in Ireland. During her highly international career, Leinonen has led university-level education in England, Australia, Ireland, Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong. Leinonen is one of the world’s leading researchers in clinical pragmatics. The core of her research work has focused on children’s pragmatic understanding of language and the difficulties emerging within it. Leinonen is also Docent at University of Oulu.  

Businessman Frederik Paulsen 

Frederik Paulsen, a businessman and explorer living in Switzerland, is the retired Chair of the Board of Directors of Ferring Pharmaceuticals, a biopharmaceutical company. Paulsen is known for his passionate interest in Arctic nature and culture. Paulsen is the Chair of the Board of Directors of UArctic Association, which is registered in Finland. He contributes to several charity projects, such as supporting Arctic cooperation and research. In 2020, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom appointed Paulsen as Knight of the Order of St. John.

Faculty of Education and Psychology:

Professor Geert Kelchtermans 

Professor Geert Kelchtermans is a world-renowned researcher in the field of education sciences and teacher education. His research focuses on topics such as innovation processes in the field of education and the work life of teachers, with an emphasis on organisational, social and material working conditions. Kelchtermans has a long-term connection with the University of Oulu. He has actively collaborated with researchers in the Faculty of Education and Psychology.

Music therapist Russ Palmer

Russ Palmer is known internationally as a researcher and educator of social-haptic communication based on the sense of touch. One of his research areas is related to communication opportunities without visual and auditory sensations. He is a pioneer in developing and researching the interaction of people with limited communication opportunities. The core target group of social-haptic communication is deaf-blind persons or persons who are losing their visual and auditory senses. As a music therapist, Palmer also studies how music can be listened to through the body. 

Professor Emeritus Veli-Matti Värri 

At the centre of the research work of the philosopher Veli-Matti Värri, Professor Emeritus of Education, are the core questions of the philosophy and ethics of education, that is, questions about the conceptions of human and reality in education. Värri’s research is particularly topical and significant because he has looked at these issues in relation to the ecological crisis; how our conseptions of human and reality are connected to both the emergence of the ecological crisis and its possible solution. Värri’s and his research group’s collaboration with the University of Oulu’s research team on education theory and philosophy has been diverse and sustained. 

Oulu Business School:

Professor Henry Chesbrough

Henry Chesbrough is known for his research on open innovation. He introduced the concept of open innovation in 2003 and has since then been actively developing theories related to it. According to the core idea of open innovation, organisations should make better use of external ideas and allow ideas created within the organisation to go beyond their boundaries for the use of others. The concept has been applied in numerous contexts, and the original idea has been developed further in instances such as the Open Innovation research community started by Chesbrough.

Helsinki Festival Artistic Director Marko Ahtisaari

Marko Ahtisaari is the Artistic Director of Helsinki Festival. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation. Ahtisaari’s career is characterised by working at the interfaces and intersections of technology, design, art and philosophy. Ahtisaari worked as Director of Design at Nokia Corporation from 2009 to 2013. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Martti Ahtisaari Institute of Oulu Business School since the founding of the institute and is currently the Chair of the Board. Ahtisaari has played a key role in promoting digital business research and education at the Oulu Business School and especially in building business analytics research and development and degree programmes.

Faculty of Science:

Research Professor Ilpo Kojola

Ilpo Kojola, Research Professor at the Natural Resources Institute Finland, is a well-known expert on the ecology of large carnivores and the ecology of large carnivore conflict. Kojola has played a significant role in developing and implementing research aimed at monitoring large carnivore populations, their genetics and lifestyles. A significant portion of his scientific articles has been published in collaboration with researchers from the University of Oulu. Leinonen is also Docent in Mammal Ecology at the University of Oulu. In addition to his scientific research, Kojola has actively contributed to the popularisation of scientific research by writing in hobby magazines and professional journals, as well as giving public presentations and regularly discussing large carnivore issues with stakeholders and the media. 

Permanent Secretary Juhani Damski

Doctor of Philosophy Juhani Damski has served as the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Environment from June 2020. Before he started his work in the position of Permanent Secretary, Damski worked in various expert and managerial positions, such as Director General of the Finnish Meteorological Institute. He has also served as a member of the Board of Directors of the University of Oulu in 2020–2021 and as the Chair of the Board of Directors in 2022–2023. Damski holds numerous domestic and international positions of trust. He is a member of the Security Committee, a member of the Advisory Committee of the State Treasury and a member of the Committee for EU Affairs.

Faculty of Medicine:

Artificial intelligence researcher Joscha Bach

Joscha Bach is an AI researcher, cognitive scientist and philosopher. He was born in Germany, but now lives in California where he works at the artificial intelligence company LiquidAI. Bach has published prolifically in the field of general artificial intelligence and cognitive architecture. His perspective combines concepts and insights from physics, psychology, neuroscience, AI research and philosophy of mind into a coherent framework. Bach’s research interests focus on the philosophical side of AI: understanding the human mind as a mathematical machine.

Physician Anna Stavdal

Anna Stavdal, a Norwegian general practitioner, has chaired the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA World). She is known around the world for her work as an advocate of family medicine and the continuity and confidence of the patient-physician relationship. Stavdal’s work has had a significant spillover effect in promoting the continuity of the patient-physician relationship, including in Finnish primary health care. Over the past year, many health centres in Northern Finland have introduced a continuity model of care, in which each resident has their own physician as well as a designated nurse and other professionals to support their care.

Faculty of Technology:

Business executive Kaisa Hietala

Kaisa Hietala is a business executive and board professional. Hietala is an advocate and promoter of sustainable business. She is an experienced board professional who has in her work striven to combine solutions to environmental challenges with business operations. Hietala was elected to the Board of Directors of the energy company Exxon Mobil in 2021 with the aim of guiding the oil industry towards change, taking into account the principles of sustainability. In spring 2019, Hietala was elected Chair of the Board of Directors of Tracegrow Oy, a Finnish manufacturer of circular economy fertilisers. The company’s business idea is based on a process developed in cooperation with the University of Oulu, in which new circular economy products are manufactured from used alkaline batteries. The end products include fertiliser trace elements, which reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture. Hietala is also the University of Oulu’s Alumn of the Year 2021.

Professor Tapio Salmi

Professor Tapio Salmi is Professor of Industrial Chemistry and Reaction Engineering at Åbo Akademi University. From 2009 to 2013, he was an Academy Professor appointed by the Research Council of Finland. He was exceptionally reappointed as Academy Professor for the five-year term 2019–2023. Salmi’s research encompasses chemical engineering phenomena from kinetics and catalysis to the intensification of chemical reactions and the design of reactors, as well as the innovative processing of biomass. Salmi has worked in active cooperation with researchers at the University of Oulu.

Faculty of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering:

Master of Science Veijo Kontas

Veijo Kontas is an alumnus of the University of Oulu and has had a long career in the field of electronics and its design. For a long time, Kontas led the mobile phone SoC development at Nokia and was responsible for the introduction of new semiconductor technologies. In recent years, his responsibilities have increased as Nokia has emerged as a technology leader in 5G base station products. Kontas is known both domestically and internationally as a key expert in microelectronics and digital communication solutions.

Last updated: 12.2.2024