Antoine Jerusalem admits it was a gamble joining a fledgling IMDEA Materials Institute back in 2008, but there’s no doubt in his mind that the bold bet more than paid off.
Jerusalem, currently a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Oxford, was one of the earliest researchers to take up a position with IMDEA Materials following its founding in 2007.
At the time he joined the nascent research institute, he was one of a team of just seven people, a far cry from the 130 researchers plus administrative staff employed today.
“No question we were taking a risk,” Jerusalem says. “The handful of us who were involved at the time were really just trusting that we were going to make it work.
“Honestly it was a bet but we fed on that, the fact that we were being asked to try new things and the freedom that we had. From the perspective of a young academic, the appeal was the endless possibilities that it offered.
“At the same time, we had to work incredibly hard. We wanted to make a name for ourselves on the international scene so there was a lot of outreach and just going around and showing what we were made of.”
A majority of Jerusalem’s colleagues at the time, including senior researchers Jon Molina and Maria Teresa Perez Prado remain with IMDEA Materials to this day.
During his time at the Institute, the French-born academic was leader of the Computational Mechanics of Materials Group, with a focus on the modelling of a wide range of metals and composite materials.
Even then, however, his principal interests lay in the fields of biomaterials and biomedical research, areas in which IMDEA Materials at the time was not heavily involved in.
“Back then, IMDEA Materials was really focused on building its reputation in metals and composite materials and they had a lot of very strong people working in those areas,” Jerusalem recalls.
“So, when I was offered a position at Oxford University and the opportunity to work with some of the best research hospitals in the world, it would have been very difficult to say no. It certainly wasn’t that I wanted to leave IMDEA, more that it just felt like the natural next step for me career-wise.”
Since joining the prestigious British university, Jerusalem, who is also codirector of the International Brain Mechanics and Trauma Lab, has continued to work in the wider field of Computational Mechanics, while also leveraging the clinical environment that Oxford offers to dedicate a considerable amount of his research to studying brain multiphysics.
That, the 42-year-old explains, means trying to understand how the brain works by focusing on its electrophysiological, biochemical and biomechanical properties together, and the important clinical consequences thereof.
“On the clinical side of things, it’s about coming up with innovative methods to understand how the brain works, heals or is damaged and how we can provide solutions for some of these pathologies.
“Talking about traumatic brain injuries, what happens to the brain if you suffer from a trauma? And what actually is a trauma? How do you define it, predict it? For example, one of the projects we have now is with the Welsh Football Association to investigate whether multiple headers over the period of a football player’s career could potentially lead to long-term brain injuries.”
“At the moment it’s something that people really don’t understand. There is regulation that restricts kids from practicing headers, but realistically, nobody understands what level of risk we are talking about, if any, and how to mitigate it.”
Jerusalem’s work on the project began in 2021 and will remain ongoing over the course of several years. It focuses on computational prediction utilizing a mix of coupled mechanistic and artificial intelligence simulation, and also functional imaging through EEG (electroencephalogram) analysis.
Another of the MIT graduate’s current lines of investigation involves studying the intense levels of compression suffered by the brain during vaginal labour and how it comes through such a process unscathed.
And while Jerusalem’s scientific career has gone from strength to strength since heading across the channel a decade ago, he has maintained a more than passing interest in his former workplace.
“Our collaborations have dwindled a bit lately given my current line of research but I have published quite a few papers with my ex-IMDEA colleagues since I left,” he said.
“I am definitely still keeping an eye on what people are doing. I always check the website and am regularly impressed at the work that is ongoing there.”
You can find out more about Professor Antoine Jerusalem’s current work here: http://jerugroup.eng.ox.ac.uk/
Are you interested in joining the IMDEA Materials team as a predoctoral or postdoctoral researcher? Check our job offers here: https://jobs.materials.imdea.org/