Dra. Bárbara Bellón Lara joined IMDEA Materials Institute in November, 2015. While at the Institute, she completed her PhD titled “Multiscale experimental characterization and modelling validation of microstructure and mechanical properties of engineering alloys” in conjunction with the Technical University of Madrid (UPM). She is currently working at the Max Planck Institute for Iron Research in Düsseldorf, Germany carrying out research in extreme micromechanics.
Question: First of all, thank you very much Bárbara for speaking with IMDEA Materials. You started with IMDEA Materials in 2015, but can you just give us a brief summary of your background before you joined the Institute?
Bárbara: Sure. So, I studied industrial engineering specialising in mechanical engineering at the Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha where I did both my final degree thesis in powder metal injection. Originally, I wanted to stay there to complete my PhD, but there were unfortunately no funding opportunities. However, after I reviewed some offers, there was an opportunity with IMDEA Materials and once (then-Director) Professor Javier Llorca called me, I said yes quite quickly!
Question: Where do you think your interest or your passion for materials science comes from?
Bárbara: During my degree, I had three or four subjects in materials science that I found quite interesting which is why I ended up asking two professors from that area at the university to do my thesis with them. To be honest, I think I would also enjoy other fields of science. I love to know how things work in general, to learn about the features of something and why it behaves the way it does. I was looking at a mix of polymers and powders during my final degree thesis that had some unexpected properties. So, trying to figure those out and hypothesize as to what was happening and why, that’s the kind of thing I really, really enjoy.
Question: You spent more than four years at IMDEA, from 2015 to 2019. How was your experience at the Institute?
Bárbara: At the beginning, it was a little bit difficult for a few different reasons. However, after the first year, we wrote a proposal for a university teacher training grant (FPU) which changed my focus a bit from solidification to micromechanics and from then on things really started to work.
Question: And is there anything that you look back on now that you are particularly proud of from your time at IMDEA Materials?
Bárbara: Yes, I remember that Professor Llorca was always keen for me to do some kind of simulation work which, at first, I wasn’t interested in at all. I was much more focused on the experimental side. However, he was quite insistent! So, I started to add a few simulations to my work with the help of one of the postdoctoral researchers relating to the fine elements of the micropillars that I was compressing. I also did some very small modifications of the crystal plasticity subroutine with Professor Javier Segurado which managed to fit with the experimental work I was doing. So, I was really happy to have achieved that. And, in my current position, I am now continuing with some simulation work.
Both experimental work and simulations really complement each other very well at IMDEA Materials. For example, I remember that we had some results and a hypothesis related to material deformation and it was through simulation work that we were able to demonstrate how certain particles were behaving to back up our hypothesis.
Question: You’re currently working at the Max Planck Institute in Germany which is one of the largest and, I think it’s fair to say, one of the world’s leading research institutes in the field of materials science. What has your experience there been like so far?
Bárbara: One of the best things about working here is just the enormous amount of resources that you have to work with as a researcher. Also, in the Nano-/Micromechanics of Materials group that I am a part of, the other researchers are all really nice and open to help everyone and there’s also a lot of collaboration between different groups.
Question: One thing I wanted to highlight is that you recently received the Acta Student Award 2022 for your paper on the Multiscale Prediction of Microstructure Length Scales in Metallic Alloy Casting which also saw contributions from IMDEA Materials researchers Dr. Damien Tourret and Professor Llorca among others. Firstly, congratulations! Secondly, can you give a brief summary as to the nature of your findings?
Bárbara: In this paper, we developed a multiscale modelling approach to predict local primary dendritic spacings in metals, which establishes a starting point for optimizing the casting processes in a wide range of solidification conditions and alloy compositions. The motivation for this study arose because quantitative predictions of microstructural development during casting are important to optimize processing conditions and design new alloys. Moreover, microstructural development during casting procedures plays a key role in the properties of structural components. Quantitative prediction of primary dendrite arm spacings is possible via phase-field. However, they are limited to thin samples and dilute alloys given the high computational demand of these simulations. To solve this problem, we combined the experimental data of solidification experiments (performed in Purdue university), with Phase-Field (PF) simulations and dendritic needle network (DNN) models.
Question: I wanted to turn back to IMDEA Materials for our final couple of questions. From your own experience, what advice would you give to either a predoctoral or postdoctoral researcher considering taking on a position at the Institute?
Bárbara: If I were going to give one piece of advice, it would really just be to take advantage of everything that IMDEA Materials has to offer. To be able to take advantage of the freedom to use different machines and apply different techniques is something that’s quite hard to find in other places. In my own case, I could do solidification, micromechanics and simulation, which I found very positive and something that is going to add a lot of value to your research.
Question: Finally, as someone who has worked internationally since leaving IMDEA Materials, have you noticed much of a change in how the Institute is seen in the scientific community?
Bárbara: You can really see a huge difference in how IMDEA Materials is recognised now compared to just a few years ago, not just in Spain but internationally. I mean, I’m Spanish and I hadn’t heard of the Institute when I joined (in 2015). But when I joined Max Planck a couple of years ago, I found that a lot of people here were already familiar with the name IMDEA Materials. I think it’s gotten to the point where IMDEA’s reputation is a real plus on researchers’ resumes. Not only that, but if the Institute has grown that much in the past five years, in five years from now one can only imagine how much it will have grown.
Thank you very much, Bárbara for taking the time to speak with us!
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/
You can read our article on Bárbara Bellón Lara based on this interview here: https://materials.imdea.org/outreach/get-to-know-us/