Where exactly did your curiosity for science start?
“Since my childhood, I have been interested in science. Both my parents are teachers, we used to go to interactive museums where you can play and try things. This really inspired me to learn about nature and physics. I want to know how things work. The most important thing in life is to ask questions, find the answer and ask a new question. I enjoy it and I am lucky because it will never end.”
What is your passion for being a researcher?
“It is all about being passionate about understanding how things work. I want to open the box and to know what is inside; to discover the pieces, put them together and play with them for alternative outcomes. And I love programming, my hobby is my work.”
What has been your career path so far?
“I studied materials engineering - a combination of mathematics, physics and chemistry - at the Politecnico of Milan, Italy. I did my PhD in Milan, where I focused on using DFT methods to characterize the structural and vibrational properties (IR,Raman) of molecular materials - molecules and polymers. During this time, I have applied existing advanced methods but also developed new ones. Moreover, I did an internship at the University of Evry in Paris (group of Professor M. P. Gaigeot) expanding my research field to DFT Molecular dynamics simulations. This kind of simulations are suitable to study the properties of inhomogeneous and/or disordered materials. After my PhD, I continued my work in the Gaigeot group as Postdoc for 3 years, working on the characterization of aqueous interfaces e.g., solid-water interfaces by IR/Raman and SFG spectroscopy. After that I have done a second Postdoc in Berlin (group of Professor J. Sauer) with a Humbolt Fellowship, working on the development of methods to compute free energies from the spectroscopic data. In particular, we have chosen as a test case the adsorption of short alkanes in zeolite (a system relevant for the petrol cracking industry).”
Did you enjoy being and working abroad?
“Yes, I sure did! I think we focus too much on the differences; however, the differences in European countries are really small. We should put more emphasis on mutual aspects. I must admit that moving to and settling in new places also costs time and energy: starting again, finding an apartment, getting to know people and finding your way in the city is challenging. However, bureaucracy is the most difficult part. Overall, I feel at home in most places.”
How did you end up at Radboud University?
“In the group of Marie Pierre Gaigeot I worked together with dr. Anouk Rijs (former researcher at HFML-FELIX). And when there was the job opening at Radboud University I decided to apply for my current position in the Computational Chemistry group at IMM.”
What is your research focus now?
“I will continue developing methods for spectroscopy and free energies. So far I developed two methods; one to analyze the vibrational spectra by graph theory and the other to compute free energies from the vibrational density of the state. Currently, I am able to start applying these methods as I have proof of principle. The model system is in operation, we now want to study what will happen if we apply it to bigger systems. I have in mind applications to test the power of the developed of these methods Self-assembly of bio-polymers and Adsorption of alkane and alcohol in zeolites.”
You have won the Clara Immerwahr Award 2021 which is for high-quality applications from excellent female scientists at the early stage of their careers. You must be very proud.
“Yes, indeed, I am very honoured to receive this award. The joint work with the experts of the UniSysCat will provide new tools to elucidate the molecular mechanism governing multi-component reactions at interfaces. I hope that it will be the start of a long-standing collaboration. I was pleasantly surprised when they called me, I was speechless for a few seconds as I did not expect to win the award. I am really happy my research work is recognized with this prize.”
What are your near future plans with your group?
“We will soon open positions for two PhD employees. However, due to these rather difficult times, we decided to postpone recruiting to be able to accommodate the PhDs in a good way and provide them with all the support they need. I have developed a method to analyze spectra with the aim to expand it, and one of the PhD candidates will work on this project. The other PhD will work on the research on free energies.”
What makes you happy to be in this research group?
“I wanted this position as this is a good place to work for me as a researcher. Surrounded by many scientist colleagues of various disciplines, I am able to work together on many research topics. My work and the research in the group are really complementary, which makes it very interesting. Also, I can make use of innovative techniques and systems at the university. Together we can take our innovative research to a higher level.”
How do you experience IMM?
“So far, I have met most of my colleagues via Zoom meetings. Everybody was welcoming me and very helpful, even in these strange times. I mostly feel for all the new students. It is difficult and challenging for them to follow lectures online and have only a few contacts with other students. I genuinely hope we will go back to a normal situation soon.”
Text: Miriam Heijmerink