MSCA Fellow Series: From science in the clouds to Carbon Nanotubes

To the unititiated, the dynamics of cloud formation and the production of high-performance fibres may seem like two wildly unrelated scientific fields. 

But in the world of nanotechnology, the fundamental science behind the study of water droplets and carbon nanotubes (CNTs) shares more in common than one might initially expect. 

And it’s that surprising commonality that led Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) postdoctoral fellow Dr. Miguel Vázquez to IMDEA Materials.

Dr. Vázquez has been an integral component of IMDEA Materials’ advances in the field of CNT technology since joining the institute in September, 2019.

It´s something of a shift for the 36-year-old who, before arriving in Madrid, was working in the Department of Physics of the University of Vienna, building instrumentation to capture the velocity of droplet formation and growth in clouds.

But he said that work had enabled him to bring to the table valuable tools and experience in the development of CNTs.

“I would say that the work I am doing here, while different from an application point of view to what I was doing previously, is actually similar in terms of the scientific fundamentals,” he said. 

“The way I was studying the initial formation of clouds was also at the nanoscale level. So, for example, when you have an incipient droplet and it starts growing, how you measure its interaction with light, and how you conduct those measurements, those abilities are universal for all materials at that scale

“In general, the physics and chemistry that occurs, and the logic behind the measurements, are in many ways the same so I think it has helped a lot.”

IMDEA Materials’ work in ultra-high-strength fibres has been led for more than a decade by the institute’s Multifunctional Nanocomposites group headed by Dr. Juan Jose Vilatela.

Read about Dr. Miguel Vázquez’ fellow MSCA postdoctoral fellows at the following links:

Dr. Lin Xuebao: IMDEA Materials and a new generation of recyclable composites
Dr. Ahad Mohammadzadeh: MSCA fellow and IMDEA Materials scientist Dr. Ahad Mohammadzadeh on the next generation of superalloys
Dr. Sha Liu: IMDEA Materials breaking new ground in phase diagram calculation

While the superior mechanical properties and performance in terms of strength and weight of individual nanotubes is well documented, Dr. Vázquez’s work is dedicated to expanding their potential on a much larger scale.

“There are a lot of exotic applications for this technology,” he said. “Carbon nanotubes are among the strongest known materials. The problem is that they are expensive to produce and we cannot maintain the same properties when we make a lot of them.

“We want to be able to take what we’ve seen on a single nanomaterial level and develop that into multi-component systems that combine a variety of nanomaterials while keeping the same properties”.

The research Vázquez is conducting, meanwhile, would not have been possible without having received an MSCA fellowship, an opportunity he wasn´t about to let slip through his fingers.

The University of Guadalajara graduate noted that he had applied for an MSCA grant several times before ultimately being accepted into the program. But he had no doubts that the effort had more than paid off.

“An MSCA fellowship is one of the best scholarships available for doing this kind of research at a postdoctoral level in Europe,” he said.

“It’s quite a competitive grant and it took me a month of preparation where I was trying to find a project that would provide a breakthrough, not just for my research group but also for Spain and for Europe.

“Applying for a research grant, in general, is not an easy process. But it’s incredibly useful because it really gives you a pathway for what you want to do and how you want to do it, whether you’re successful or not.”

IMDEA Materials is looking for postdoctoral researchers willing to apply for an MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowship in call 2022 and has several hosting offers open. To find out more about them, see here: