“I grew up in northern Italy in a seaside town called Finale Ligure. It’s a special place because you have the Alps coming close to the Mediterranean, so you can go skiing or go to the beach. I studied physics nearby in Genoa and I became very interested in materials and how to manipulate their properties to try to make them do something useful.
That brought me to Geneva, Switzerland where I did a PhD. During that time, I was lucky because I stumbled onto a very interesting discovery. Within the first year of my PhD, we discovered that when you place two materials on top of each other, two materials that do not conduct electricity at all, the system would automatically create a layer between the materials where electricity is conducted perfectly with no losses. I spent the rest of my PhD trying to understand this system and how this happens.
After that I moved to Germany to learn a new technique to manipulate materials using laser beams. It was a very new, fresh way of thinking about the problem of manipulating materials, using a short burst of light that triggers a transformation in the material properties. This can create some states of matter that you could not access otherwise.
Then I started at TU Delft as a tenure tracker and I set up a series of labs to start an area that was not pursued before on the study of materials and their control. I look at materials that have great potential as a future energy and information storage. For example, I am interested in magnetic materials that can be used to store information in the most efficient way possible and am interested in some superconductors.
‘Interacting with students keeps your mind fresh’
I think green ICT is an important goal, something that we should all try to strive for. I think there’s the potential to do things in a much more subtle and efficient way than we are doing now. We’re trying to solve some material issues that have a positive influence on more applied problems.
I also like teaching very much. I teach quantum mechanics to bachelor’s students and I teach solid state physics to master’s students. The students here are very good. There was a time when I could have pursued a career at a research institute, but instead I chose the university route because I really appreciate the interaction with the students. It keeps me fresh; it keeps me interested in the fundamentals and being able to explain more complex things in a simpler language.”
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