Professor Aerospace Structures and Computational Mechanics
What is your favourite pastime?
‘Swimming! I’ve been swimming my whole life. When I was young, I did synchronised swimming. I am also a swimming instructor. I also like skiing, reading and listening to classical music – particularly opera. I like travelling as well. China is one of my favourite destinations.
What has been the highlight of your career?
‘I’ve had the honour of receiving several prizes and fellowships, including an Amelia Earhart Fellowship, a Marie Curie Fellowship, a Fulbright Grant and an Erasmus Mundus Fellowship. Anytime you achieve something special, it is memorable. Then I’d like to mention the European project DAEDALOS that I coordinated over three and half years. The project involved parties from industry, universities and research centres from throughout Europe. Other highlights include my appointment as a professor at the University of California San Diego and, obviously, my appointment here.’
Your career in brief?
‘At the end of high school, I was interested in three different Faculties: mathematics, aeronautical engineering and Asian languages. My study choice was for aerospace engineering, and I have never regretted it for one minute. Even better: along the way, the subject became even more interesting, and this is still the case. I earned my Master’s degree and PhD at the Politecnico di Milano, where I subsequently became an assistant and associate professor in aerospace structures. In 2006-2007 I was a Visiting Associate Professor at MIT and, in 2012, I was appointed as a full professor in California. In January 2015, I moved to TU Delft.’
What is your greatest challenge at the moment?
‘Realising my chair in Aerospace Structures and Computational Mechanics at TU Delft. This is all new to me: the department, the people and the projects, as well as the Dutch culture, the country and the language. All things considered, it’s quite a challenge.’
What do you enjoy most about your work?
‘The contact and the interaction with students. I can share a great deal of knowledge with these young people, but I can also learn a lot from them. For example, their enthusiasm is inspiring. It’s also satisfying to see students enjoying what they are doing.’
‘I’ve already changed jobs a few times, all over the world. It has never been because I wasn’t happy in a particular position, but purely because a new challenge had presented itself. For example, I had a great position at the University of California San Diego, when I received the opportunity to come to Delft. The position that TU Delft offered me was so challenging, with so many opportunities and possibilities that I just had to accept. Moreover, Delft has a long history and outstanding reputation with regard to my field. My first impression here is really positive.’
What is your best character trait?
‘It’s hard for me to say it about myself, but I think it’s my curiosity. I’m curious in the broadest sense of the word: with regard to my job (new projects, tests), as well as in other areas. I find it exciting to meet new people, as I often do working in international projects, and to discover new places. I am fond of the unknown.’
What is your worst character trait?
‘I’m somewhat impatient, both with students and with colleagues. This can also have a positive effect, because it means that I want to realise everything in a short time. At times, however, it’s necessary to practise patience. Other people sometimes just need more time and space.’
What subject do you think should be high on the political agenda?
‘Education! I’m not yet familiar with the situation here in the Netherlands. From a European perspective and based on what I know from the US, however, I know that additional attention to education is needed. It is crucial to increase interest in technology and mathematics amongst young people. The world is changing rapidly, due to technology. Unfortunately, there are not enough young people who understand everything that is involved in that technology. It’s a fascinating world that offers fabulous jobs. The Western world is particularly hungry for engineers and scientists. This is not only true for men, but for women as well.’
Your source of inspiration?
‘As a child, I became intrigued with Archimedes. That was because of my swimming instructor, who explained that the Law of Archimedes was the reason I stayed afloat in the water. That was so interesting to me that I started reading everything I could about Archimedes. In high school, Marie Curie was a source of inspiration to me. I read a book about her, and I was deeply impressed by her scientific career as a chemist and physicist. When I was awarded the Amelia Earhart Fellowship, I wanted to learn everything there was to know about this woman. In 1932, she became the first woman pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean. I have also met so many inspiring people in my life, both personal and professional. If I had to name one, it would be my PhD supervisor in Milan, the engineer and professor Vittorio Giavotto.’
Your life philosophy?
‘I have a lot of them, and they change according to my age and circumstances. Right now, “Keep Calm and Fight On” is the most appropriate – I even have a button with that on it. What I mean by it is that we have to fight for our dreams. If we want to achieve something, there’s going to be a cost! But nothing is going to go as we expect – at least it hasn’t in my life.’