Since the earliest stages of his scientific career, ex-IMDEA Materials researcher, Dr. Pablo Romero, has been searching for the perfect balance between his twin passions of conducting fundamental research and seeing it applied in the real world.
Romero spent more than four years at IMDEA Materials from 2012 to 2016 while completing his PhD in materials science, focusing on the development of carbon-based nanocomposites thin films.
This involved the synthesis of carbon nanomaterials through chemical vapour deposition and studying the role of low-cost metal catalysts on the synthesis process.
“Because carbon is a biocompatible material, it allows living matter to grow,” Romero explained. “The idea is that, by creating these very thin layers of carbon nanomaterials, you can create biocompatible structures.
“These can be particularly useful for bioapplications and also for things like water treatment or even sensors implanted in the brain because the neurons would be able to grow on the surface of the material that you have introduced.
“The carbon nanomaterials field is huge and there’s no doubt that these technologies are going to conquer a lot of applications in the future.”
Since then, however, the 38-year-old has turned his hand to the project management side of the equation and is currently working as the R&D Project Manager – Advanced Materials and Manufacturing at AIMEN Technological Centre.
“I enjoy doing fundamental research, but given my engineering background, I also like to apply solutions in the real world and solve technical problems,” Romero said.
“During my time at IMDEA Materials, I started to shift towards these large-scale collaborative projects between companies, universities, research centres etc. and bringing them together to create something with a very focused application.”
“With these kinds of projects, it can be really difficult to align the interests of a dozen or more partners so it requires a lot of dynamism and I enjoy developing those soft skills that are required in such situations.”
Since leaving IMDEA Materials seven years ago, Romero has maintained a strong connection with the Institute. Currently, AIMEN and IMDEA Materials are both involved in DOMMINIO, a European Union-funded project to design next-generation, multifunctional airframe parts.
As DOMMINIO’s project manager, Romero maintains responsibility for the smooth collaboration between 14 diverse international partners, among which are the likes of global aerospace giant BAE Systems and research institutions like the French-based Arts et Metiers Institute of Technology.
And he said that technology centres like AIMEN play a crucial role in bridging the gap between the various stages of the materials design process.
“Institutes like IMDEA Materials are obviously providing that pure research focus which generates a lot of knowledge and ideas,” he said. “Then, centres like AIMEN can provide the link between that work and the end companies who are going to be the ones bringing these new technologies to the market.”
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You can read our full interview with Dr. Pablo Romero below.
Dr. Pablo Romero joined IMDEA Materials in 2012 where he completed his PhD in Materials Science and Engineering specialising in carbon nanomaterials in conjunction with the Carlos III University in Madrid. Dr. Romero’s work focused on the development of carbon-based nanocomposites thin films. Since leaving IMDEA in 2016, he has worked as the Business Development Manager at the Technical University of Cataluyna and is currently the R&D Program Manager – Advanced Materials and Manufacturing at AIMEN Technology Centre.
Question: First of all, Pablo, thank you for speaking to IMDEA Materials. You joined IMDEA in 2012. Can you tell us a bit about the research you were carrying out while you were at the Institute?
Pablo: The topic of my research there was the synthesis of carbon nanomaterials using chemical vapour deposition (CVD). My research was focused on the role of low-cost metal catalysts on the synthesis process, how the chemical reaction takes place on the surface, and how to control the CVD to optimise the production of carbon nanomaterials. My tasks were to master the CVD process and then to characterise the materials I obtained.
Question: And what was, or is currently, the application of this research?
Pablo: This work was quite important in the area of hierarchical composites, the strategic reinforcement of composite materials and also for structures with specific surface properties. Because carbon is a biocompatible material, it allows living matter to grow. So, the idea is that by creating these very thin layers of carbon nanomaterials, you can create biocompatible structures. These can be particularly useful for bioapplications and also for things like water treatment or even sensors in the brain because the neurons are able to grow on the surface of the material that you have introduced. The carbon nanomaterials field is huge and there’s no doubt they are going to conquer a lot of applications in the future.
Question: Since you left the Institute in 2016, you’ve taken on roles as a Business Development Manager at the Technical University of Catalunya and most recently as an R&D Program Manager at AIMEN Technology Centre. What led you to make the switch to this kind of project management position from your more research-focused role at IMDEA Materials?
Pablo: Given my engineering background, I like to apply solutions in the real world and solve technical problems, but I also enjoy doing fundamental research. Even before I started at IMDEA, I had my first experience in large scale collaborative projects related to innovative testing solutions for active safety systems in the automotive sector and I found that type of work very interesting. During my time at IMDEA Materials, I started to shift towards these large-scale collaborative projects between companies, universities, research centres etc. and to bring them together to reach objectives with very focused applications. With these kinds of projects, it can be difficult to align the interests of a dozen or more partners so it requires a lot of dynamism and I enjoy developing those soft-skills that are required in such situations.
Question: Tell us a little bit about your current role as an R&D Program Manager.
Pablo: Working at AIMEN had been on my radar for a while before I joined the centre. My main role here is in sourcing funding, primarily from the European Union for projects related to topics like advanced manufacturing, robotics etc. All those things commonly related to Industry 4.0. I enjoy it because leading these kinds of collaborative projects requires providing value from the scientific point of view, but also in terms of management where sometimes you need to take the lead. One thing that we are really trying to do is not just to form links with industry, but to create long-term partnerships with companies so we can provide value over a wider time period, not just on a project-by-project basis.
Question: What has been the biggest challenge for you in this role?
Pablo: The biggest challenge without a doubt is finding the resources required to develop these projects. The ideas and the willingness are there. The problem that exists is the reliance on intermittent funding programs which are both very competitive, and which also often don’t always allow the continuation of research lines after an individual project is completed. What we need is a “bottom up” funding model that funds ideas and initiatives and allows people to work in a way that benefits everyone’s common interests.
Question: And going back to your time at IMDEA, what would you say to others who are considering following a similar path in pursuing a PhD?
Pablo: Doing a PhD is obviously very challenging. But, what it will do is force you to deal with problems that require you to develop certain skills to overcome them. These are going to be really valuable as a researcher. Doing a PhD also forces you to be able to identify the value of your own work which is something quite important.
Question: Finally, what does the future hold for you?
Pablo: One thing I would like to contribute to in the future is to increase the connections between PhD candidates, researchers and research centres with AIMEN. Institutes like IMDEA Materials are obviously providing that pure research focus which generates a lot of knowledge and ideas. Then, centres like AIMEN can provide the link between that work and the end companies who are going to be the ones bringing these new technologies to the market. I’d also like to develop my skills as a project evaluator as I think it’s always a positive to be able to review different types of projects and proposals.