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Humboldt Research Award winner and guest researcher at the Institute of Materials Simulations

When he is not researching, Prof. Dr. Zapperi likes to spend time with his family or to go to the theatre. (Image: Francesc Font Clos)
Francesc Font Clos

Prof. Dr. Zapperi is professor for theoretical physics of condensed matter and coordinator of the Center for Complexity & Biosystems (CC&B) at the University of Milan, Italy. He studied physics at the University La Sapienza in Rome before he took a doctoral degree in physics at Boston University. His further career took him from the École supérieure de physique et de chimie industrial de la ville de Paris to the National Institute of Materials Physics (INFM) at the University of Rome and the Institute for Energetics and Interphases (CNR-IENI) in Milan.

Prof. Zapperi is an expert in statistical physics of complex systems and researches in the fields of materials science, biophysics and systems biology. Among his most notable contributions is the theory of the Barkhausen noise in magnets, the statistical physics of plasticity and fracture, as well as recent work on the physics of cancer and protein aggregation.

As a guest researcher, he does research on mechanical metamaterials at the Institute of Materials Simulations.

Doing research is a fantastic job because it is always new and different. It is a privilege to spend time trying to find answers to open scientific questions, with the hope to discover something that might have an impact on society.

Prof. Dr. Zapperi, you do research on mechanical metamaterials. What are those and what exactly sparked your interest in their research?

Metamaterials derive their mechanical properties from their geometrical architecture rather than their chemical composition. Recent advances in 3D printing allow the design of a wide variety of new structures with increasingly complex functionalities that can sometimes be inspired by biological systems or derive from human ingenuity. I was always interested in how internal microstructural pattern affect the macroscopic response of materials, so the study of metamaterials is a natural evolution of my research path.

Could you give us a short description of your research project at FAU?

Here at FAU, I plan to merge artificial intelligence with materials science to achieve two general goals: the first idea is to devise new tools for non-destructive evaluation of materials or, in simpler words, to be able to predict in advance when a material will break. The second idea is to use AI to design new materials or metamaterials with desired multifunctional properties. The general idea is to exploit recent advances in algorithms and data science to promote a new way of looking at materials design and device monitoring problems.

What do you and Prof. Dr. Zaiser, your host at FAU, hope to achieve with your research?

The research plan we are putting in place is likely to extend well beyond the period I will spend at FAU, but ambitious goals require time. I have to thank the Alexander von Humboldt foundation for providing me with the incredible opportunity of devoting an entire year to research in this stimulating setting. Without being encumbered by the daily routine, I will have the chance to tackle long-term fundamental problems.

What were your reasons for choosing FAU as your host institution for a research stay abroad?

I have known Prof. Dr. Zaiser for 20 years and together we have already worked on a number of interesting problems, blending our complementary expertise in statistical physics and materials science. Hence, FAU appeared to be a natural place for a sabbatical stay.

I would like to share a personal detail: My mother was actually born in Nürnberg, although she did not live there for long, since my grandparents rapidly moved to Düsseldorf after her birth. I am thus particularly happy to spend time in an area that is connected to my family history.

How well known is FAU internationally in your field of research?

FAU is very strong in materials science and engineering. Beside Prof. Dr. Zaiser, I also know several other people who made tremendous contributions to computational materials science, such as Prof. Dr. Erik Bitzek. In the past, I also had the chance to meet with FAU researchers working in biophysics, such as Prof. Dr. Ben Fabry and Prof. Dr. Ana‐Sunčana Smith. I hope to have a chance to interact with them as well.

How do you find the interaction between researchers at FAU?

So far, the interactions have been extremely pleasant. The atmosphere in the group is great and I am having interesting conversations. I also have the chance to discuss again with one of my former and most brilliant students: Dr. Paolo Moretti, who is now part of the academic staff at FAU.

What motivates you to continue researching?

Doing research is a fantastic job because it is always new and different. It is a privilege to spend time trying to find answers to open scientific questions, with the hope to discover something that might have an impact on society.

What interests do you have besides research? Do you have a hobby?

Outside of research, I like to spend time with my family, read and, when possible, listen to a music concert or watch a good play at the theater.

You visited the Michaeliskirchweih in Fürth, one of the oldest and biggest fairs in Franconia. How did you like it?

We had very good seats, so we had a great view on the parade. It was an interesting cultural experience. Too bad there was no sun. However,  I did not come to Germany to look for the sun.

Prof. Dr. Stefano Zapperi (right) and his family visited the Michaeliskirchweih in Fürth together with Prof. Dr. Zaiser (left). (Image: FAU/Christina Dworak)

How do you like Erlangen and/or Nuremberg and the region surrounding those cities?

The region is extremely nice and interesting to explore. We plan to visit all the neighbouring cities in the coming months, and we are particularly looking forward to the Christmas markets!

Is there anything else you would like to mention?

I would like to share a personal detail: My mother was actually born in Nürnberg, although she did not live there for long, since my grandparents rapidly moved to Düsseldorf after her birth. I am thus particularly happy to spend time in an area that is connected to my family history.

Thank you for the interview, Prof. Dr. Zapperi.

 

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