Water Researcher Bo Olofsson
A man with a philanthropic passion for science
A pixelated Bo pops up on the screen of the zoom-meeting, smiling. Behind him, a digital forest.
After greetings and small talk we begin. Who is Bo?
Quick summary. Bo Olofsson, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sustainable Development, Environmental Science and Engineering, School, of Architecture and the Built Environment, KTH, is a man who has many irons in the fire: teaching, researching, acting as expert for the Environmental Protection Agency, running two companies, the list goes on and on. He also has an extensive academic background which includes geology, chemistry, and law, all before starting at KTH where his interest for water began.
With great enthusiasm, Bo explains a little about his work: “I’ve had a lot of collaborations throughout the years with for instance municipalities around Stockholm... But also different companies, especially when it comes to questions about infrastructure and water. For example methods to collect rainwater. But the topic of water is the strongest driving force in my world. The reason being for humans to have it better. It’s very much about finding solutions, so that water isn’t only researched as a medium of sorts but mainly to try to find solutions to improve the lives of humans.”
When asked if this enthusiasm has always existed he says, “Yes, yes! I’ve always had these ponderings, that driving force. Ever since I was an imaginative child. You ran around and imagined various things. You created your own worlds. This has always existed for me and I think it’s a very important thing... [I]t’s problematic when you don’t get the opportunities to create the world yourself. Computer games for example, the fun games are the ones where you create the world yourself, then your imagination activates in a different way. When others have created the world, then everything’s controlled, you’re a hero or a villain - but perhaps you’re a little bit of both. I believe that imagination and curiosity is the driving force.”
Bo explains how this drive evolved from childhood to career. “What has spoken to me is the curiosity, the reflections. It was this that made me interested in geology to start with. The next question is, why do you enter a specific research area? For me, I had already early on an environmental thinking imprinted. I wanted to save the world, I wanted to do something that means something for others. I could never do weapons research or anything that could possibly lead to something negative for humanity. It’s not about science for the sake of science, but rather science in a context. You want to make it better to live - better society, better for people. That’s an important driving force to decide what area you want to dedicate yourself to.”
I ask Bo whether there is something that he would like to research in the future. He says, “I've actually had the opportunity to research in the directions I want. However, it still hasn’t really been possible to look into more of these solution-based research questions, that I think I’ve missed a little.” He continues by saying that there’s more of this today, but that the science community’s still not there yet. “I’ll say it like this, you don’t stand a chance in the science community if you step forward with something that could be controversial or a little innovative. You don’t stand a chance because you simply don’t have a chance at getting funding. It’s a dilemma actually, the idea that we all have to fit in a mold so to speak. Yes, you have to fit this mold in many cases. And it can be a little boring so to speak.”
“Many scientists only write articles, scientific publications, and in return they receive a lot of credits from the science community. But for me this has never been a driving force, never. I’ve never had any academic ambition. This sounds perhaps odd but I’ve never thought about my career, I’ve not cared about it because I’ve had it quite good. The possibility to research, the possibility to teach within the subjects I love, hoping that the students will understand, that they will become interested in it, and get a better frame of societal reference - that’s what I think is important.” This perfectly sums up my image of Bo: a driven, curious and passionate man, who through any means whether it’s researching or teaching, aims to improve the world.
Image source: https://campi.kth.se/nyheter/akut-situation-for-varldens-vatten-1.625826
Text: Mee-Linn Swartz