Interview with Angelos Findikakis, Hydrolink Editor and IAHR Liaison to UN Water
Interviewed by David Ferras, IHE-Delft, the Netherlands, NewsFlash World  Editor

Carly Kowalski

Could you describe in a few words how you got started in your career?

During my undergraduate studies back in Greece I visited the construction site of the hydropower project of a large dam (Kremasta Dam) and I was very impressed by what I saw, I thought that this should be the field to pursue. Coincidentally, when I graduated I came across a position in a Canadian company to carry out feasibility and engineering studies for water resources development in their office in Greece. After some time I realized that my basic knowledge was limited so I decided to come to the USA for graduate studies. What I found there was quite different, the programme I enrolled at Stanford University was emphasizing the environmental aspects of water projects, so it broadened my interests from the strict engineering aspects to the broader environmental issues of water development. Since then I have been involved in the industry supporting water development, and dealing with hydrology and hydraulics problems for different infrastructure projects, but always with an interest on the water management side. In parallel, I also have been an adjunct professor at Stanford University teaching on the topic of water resources management. Nowadays, my interests are mostly in the water related global challenges, as expressed in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Which of your career achievements do you feel most pleased or proud of? 

That is hard to tell. Bringing into practice ideas from research and working together with academics is the aspect of my career I feel more proud of. A good example of that is a study for the environmental restoration study for Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. Being responsible for coordinating the technical aspects of this study I had the challenge of bringing together a number of teams composed of international experts. It was also a very rewarding experience from a technical point of view, as we assessed the environmental aspects and water quality, and their relationship with the hydrodynamics of a very complex system. For this purpose, we worked extensively on field data collection and numerical modelling. Being able to bring to a successful conclusion the technical work of a team that combined international and local expertise made me feel a sense of achievement. 

How has your field of study changed in the time you have been working in it?

There are external changes that we cannot neglect such as the digital revolution in the second half of the twentieth century that led to the information age in which we live now. To appreciate how long we have come in the last fifty years I can tell you that when I started my undergraduate studies in the 1960’s at the National Technical University of Athens we were using slide-rules instead of calculators! The development of powerful computers has had a major impact in our field, making possible the solution of complex equations by means of numerical models. Technology has played a crucial role in accelerating advancements in our field of research, pushing forward and even dragging scientific development. If we take hydraulics as an example, it is not only about the developments that made possible very complex computations, but also about those in sensors and optical methods that enable capturing and measuring flow patterns with high accuracy. Another example is the development and use of drones for hydro-environment projects which enable the data acquisition that was prohibitively expensive and even difficult to imagine ten years ago. Consequently, nowadays professionals working on different aspects of hydro-environment engineering must have knowledge on special topics much beyond the classic hydraulic engineering science. Big data, artificial intelligence, deep learning, remote sensing, photogrammetry, advanced flow sensors and drone technologies are some of these subjects.

Do you think all this modern technology that young professionals are required to be familiar with can be a threat to the preservation (and further development) of the fundamental theoretical background in hydro-environment science?

Absolutely. These are challenging times. On the one side, in order to deal with these modern tools you need very specific qualifications, but on the other side young engineers must be able to keep their critical thinking based on fundamental knowledge. We should be able to continue sitting down with just a pencil and a piece of paper and do reasoning based on fundamental principles to capture and explain the essence of our engineering problems, even though the latter solution may come from the analysis of large datasets, complex methods and algorithms. Young researchers have to keep in mind the “big picture”, i.e. how every problem they are dealing with fits in the larger scheme of things.  This is an advice that I gave in the IAHR World Congress 2019 opening video in Panama.

Thank you, that is great advice! Could you tell us what is the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?

To learn how to listen to other people. When I was younger, in some conversations I tended to press my point, giving little room for response. It is important to pay attention and listen to the others’ standpoints. This advice definitely marked my career. As I mentioned in the opening video, my main contribution in the field is based on bridging the gap between science and industry by bringing people together, for that, listening to all parties is a crucial aspect.

In this line between fundamental and applied research this statement allocates you closer to the latter. Where would you place IAHR as association?

IAHR is definitely somewhere in the middle of fundamental and applied research. On the one hand, there are researchers in IAHR focusing on the fundamentals of fluid mechanics, while on the other hand there are technical committees which are address specific systems, like fluvial hydraulics, coastal and maritime hydraulics, ecohydraulics, etc. Maybe what is missing is communicating to a broader audience the value of our research and the areas of its applicability. This is probably caused by the fact that IAHR members are mainly researchers in academia, professionals from industry are a minority.  IAHR is, essentially, a research association, however I believe we should work on having a better balance between academia and industry in our membership. If you are about to build an engineering project in a natural system you need first to understand that natural system itself to see how it will be impacted by the project and the other way around. This is a two-way and win-win interaction between researchers and practitioners and IAHR provides an excellent framework to make this possible.

What is your vision for Hydrolink ? Bridging science and engineering, bringing together researchers in the field of hydro-environment, dissemination beyond IAHR members?

I think it is all of that. My vision is to showcase how specific research is applied to solve a problem in the field of hydro-environment. IAHR covers a broad range of researchers working in varied fields, from the basics of fluid mechanics to natural systems like rivers, coastal areas, glaciers, etc. Ultimately our research is driven by engineering problems. The role of Hydrolink is to show this connection, highlighting the application of research and advances in hydraulic engineering to the solution of actual problems by describing different cases. There are plenty of examples around the World. Recently we have had three Hydrolink issues on reservoir sedimentation, which is a big problem because of the loss of water storage capacity. We have forthcoming issues on groundwater, coastal infrastructure and hydraulic transients. Taking as example the later, what we try to achieve is to go beyond the specifics of modelling details and focus on what is the importance of the subject and what is the impact of hydraulic transients if they are not properly considered in engineering designs, which can drive to significant failures. An example of this is the 2009 catastrophic accident of the largest hydropower station in Russia, Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant , that resulted in the death of tens of workers and extensive damage to the station, and where hydraulic transients phenomena where at the heart of the cause of the accident.

Coming back to the IAHR World Congress 2019 opening video, you invite early career researchers to reflect about the balance between work, family and “what makes you happy”. What makes you happy?

What makes me feel happy is to spend time with the people I love, especially when I see my wife smile. I also enjoy running; I wake up every morning before sunrise to go jogging, trying to make it to 8 miles.

Dr. Angelos N. Findikakis, Bechtel Fellow, Bechtel Corp., Adjunct Professor, Stanford University, USA. Angelos Findikakis received his first degree in Civil Engineering in 1968 from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece. After working on water resources planning and development studies in Greece he came to Stanford for graduate studies in 1973. Since 1980 he has been working for Bechtel Corporation in San Francisco. Over the years he worked on a broad range of water studies in support of the permitting, design and construction of several industrial projects including civil infrastructure, power, mining, oil and gas, and waste storage facilities. As a Bechtel Fellow since 1998 he advises senior management on questions related to his expertise, participates in strategic planning, and helps disseminate new technical ideas and findings throughout the organization. His interests include water resources management and environmental flow and transport processes. From 2013 until 2017 Angelos was the Member of the IAHR Council and from 2015 to 2017 as IAHR Vice President, he also has been editing the IAHR Hydrolink magazine since 2015. During the 38th IAHR World Congress in Panama Angelos was given the IAHR Honorary Membership for his life-time contributions to the field of groundwater hydraulics and environmental issues and in recognition of his leadership of IAHR contributions to the UN Sustainability Development Goals, his Editorship of Hydrolink, and outstanding service to IAHR Technical Committees, Council and as Vice-President.