Prof. Dr. Astrid S. de Wijn

Country: Netherlands 
Professor of Material Science from 
Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, Norwegian University of Science & Technology (NTNU)

1- When did you realise that you wanted to pursue a career in a science and technology field? What were your motivations to make this decision?

My interest in science started very early on. I really enjoyed arithmetic in primary school, and loved reading books about dinosaurs, fossils, and minerals. My parents are scientists as well and they approach many things in daily life in a scientific way, which I think has instilled in me a scientific way of thinking and an appreciation for understanding the world around us. I only really started thinking seriously about what career to choose later in high school, and by then it was clear that I really enjoyed physics and mathematics.

2-  Give an overview of your professional path.

During my PhD in theoretical physics at Utrecht University I was working on quite fundamental mathematical physics problems in nonequilibrium statistical physics. Then I worked as a postdoc for several years in Germany and the UK, after which I was able to get my first grant to develop my own research in surface science, an NWO Veni fellowship at the Institute for Molecules and Materials, at Radboud University Nijmegen. During this time I drifted more and more towards applied topics, which is how I eventually ended up doing fundamental research on a topic like friction, in an engineering department. I still employ the same types of fundamental statistical physics methods, but now use them to tackle more realistic systems. In fact, I believe that the combination of fundamental and applied research is crucial for the progress of both. After my time in Nijmegen, I got another grant to work more on friction at Stockholm University, and from there I moved to Trondheim, where I am a professor now.

3-  Provide a short overview of your job. What are your main responsibilities?

My main tasks are typical for a university professor: research and teaching. I support the young people in my group by discussing our research with them, coming up with new and interesting ideas to pursue, things to try to understand, and helping them solve technical issues. I teach mostly on surface science or physics-related topics. Then, like most professors, I am always trying to find funding for my research, and always have some administrative problems to fix for my people.

4-  What do you find the most rewarding in your job? What do you find the most challenging in your job?

There are several things that I find very rewarding. I love exploring and discovering something new, figuring something out that nobody has understood before. But now that I have a more senior role in supervising other people in their research, I also get a lot of satisfaction out of supporting younger people and helping them to grow and develop. Most challenging: finding enough time to do research myself.

5- What is your role within the SSLiP project? How do you expect your work in SSLiP project to contribute to your career development?

My group is working on understanding single superlubric contacts as well as how patterned surfaces with superlubric coatings behave. I’m leading one of the work packages, on superlubricious contact networks, which is about collective behaviour of superlubricious contacts. Playing a leading role in a big project like this will probably have a positive impact on my career, but I’m really just trying to do interesting and useful science!

Read more on my group website.