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Kaoutar RADI, Postdoctoral Researcher at ETH Zürich.

Merci beaucoup d'avoir accepté l'interview.

Can you please describe your student journey until your start of PhD?

After finishing my prepa school in math and physiques in Morocco, I went to Ecole National Superieure des Arts et Metiers in Metz to study mechanical engineering and at the last year I chose to do a double degree by combining mechanical engineering diploma and a masters in materials science. After that, I moved to Grenoble to do my PhD in mechanics of materials. During my studies, I worked on different projects and in different companies, which motivated me to peruse a multi-collaboration PhD.

Can you please briefly describe your PhD thesis work?

I did my PhD in Science et Ingénierie des Matériaux et Procédés (SIMAP) laboratory where I worked on a bioinspired material that was developed by our collaborators in Saint Gobain research center. The material called Nacre-like-alumina was bio-inspired by the nacre in seashells, these materials are made of brittle components but due to their brick-and-mortar structure, they exhibit excellent mechanical and thermal properties such as high toughness and high stiffness. Because they can preserve their high mechanical properties at high temperatures, these materials are ideal for several applications, such as aviation, nuclear reactors and energy applications. Based on this structure we were able to produce nacre-like-alumina with alumina plates as bricks and alumina Nano-particles and a glass phase as mortar. After testing and characterizing the behavior of the material using both simulations and experiments, we were able to demonstrate the effect of the interface or what we call the mortar on crack propagation, and the fracture mode. When testing a regular plate of alumina, and perform a three points bending test we notice a catastrophic failure with a straight crack path, but by adding the glass phase and the Nano-particles we showed that the failure mode change to a ductile behavior with a zig-zag kind of crack path which allow for the energy to dissipate along the tablets preventing it from failing in a catastrophic manner. By the end of the PhD, we were able to find the right geometrical parameters, composition and synthesis process to produce nacre-like alumina materials on a big scale.

What motivated you to do a PhD thesis?

To be honest I never thought I would do a PhD until I was in engineering school, I realized that I like theory development and building experiments and most importantly, I was curious about how the whole process work. During my masters, I did my thesis at the Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique (CEA) in Cadarache on characterizing plasticity in low-enriched Uranium. I really loved the center and the research atmosphere and how people discuss and collaborate about different topics the availability of my supervisors and the experimental equipment made me start thinking about doing more research. I started looking into what I would like to do and realized that I was always materials and structures and their production and usage. I also noticed that when doing research you get to meet many interesting and smart people with whom I learned a lot. After I finished my masters, I received an offer in Grenoble in mechanics of materials and my masters’ professor encouraged me to take it. I looked up SIMAP laboratory and its members as well as pictures from the Alps and decided to take it! Grenoble and its region are so beautiful and the city if very lively and full of students, so if you get the chance to go there, do not hesitate!

Any advice for students who want to do PhD?

Doing a PhD can be very hard to handle, luckily for me, my PhD years were one of the best in my life. The advice that I can give is before deciding to do a PhD, you should think carefully about what you want to do and find the right lab or university for you. It is also important to find balance between the PhD and the personal/social life. The secret is to plan everything and always take a step back when feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Many PhD students come from abroad to a new country and it can be hard sometimes, do not be afraid to ask for help from the colleagues and the different student associations. Take advantage of the campus, try new sports, activities, and attend parties and gatherings. It is also important to be involved in the different student associations and conferences to meet new people and learn from experts. During my PhD I was elected as the PhD students representative, where I participated in the university meetings for decision making. I was also involved in the scientific community of Grenoble Alps region where I worked as a link between students and the different scientific institutions.

It is also important to take advantages of the services offered by the Ecole doctorale and not hesitate to reach out when things are not going well during the PhD. Another important point that helped me a lot was communication with my supervisors and colleagues, keeping regular meeting days and attending seminars to discuss about your research or any issues you have and the earliest is the better is.

Can you briefly describe your career path after PhD?

By the end of my PhD, I got interested in 3D printing and characterization of metamaterials, so I decided to look for a postdoc in this field. At the end, I had two options a postdoc either at Caltech or at ETH Zurich; I decided to go for the second option because of several reasons. The first reason is the topic, the professor and the group. Now in the mechanics and materials lab of Professor Dennis Kochmann, I am working on impact characterization and energy absorption in truss-based metamaterials. These materials exhibit extraordinary mechanical properties due to their lattice based structure. In our lab, we design, print and test our structures to understand their energy absorption capabilities for different applications (i.e Cushioning, protection gear, shoe soles …). We also work with metastable materials for applications in soft robotics and structural actuation. The professor and the group were the second reason that encouraged me to take this position. In addition, Switzerland is such a beautiful country surrounded by mountains and lakes, so it was the perfect choice for me. I am very happy here and grateful for this opportunity. As a PhD graduate, make sure to choose the right job for you, a job that will fulfill you intellectually and personally, after all the hard work you have done before; you deserve to be working in a job that fits you well!


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