IMDEA Materials Institute Interview – Rocío Muñoz Moreno

Rocío Muñoz Moreno finished her joint PhD (IMDEA Materials and UCM III) in 2014. Then she joined the Cambridge University’s Rolls-Royce UTC (University Technology Centre) as postdoc and currently, she is working in the HP 3D printing team in Barcelona as an R&D Materials System Integration Engineer.

Starting this interview, can you tell us a little bit about you and what you did at IMDEA Materials?

I am originally from Cádiz and later I moved to Madrid were I did my bachelor in Physics at the Complutense University of Madrid. After that I carried out my PhD under the supervision of Dr. Teresa Pérez Prado and Dr. Elisa Ruiz Navas in a project in collaboration between the IMDEA Materials Institute and Carlos III University. Moreover, this project was developed in close collaboration with the company ITP (Industria de Turbo Propulsores).
The PhD objective was the in situ analysis of the deformation and fracture mechanisms of gamma titanium aluminide (γ-TiAl) alloys. This is a novel high performance light alloy which aim is to substitute the older and heavier Ni-based superalloys currently used in the low pressure turbine blades in order to obtain lower airplane weights and so reduction of fuel cost consumption.
In particular, these studies were accomplished by the in situ observations in a scanning electron microscope at 700 ºC during creep testing. At that moment, this was a very novel technique and IMDEA Materials Institute was the first research institute which used this for the characterization of γ-TiAl alloys. These studies were carried out thanks to the support and supervision of the Prof. Carl Boehlert, who is internationally recognized as an expert of the technique.
The material used in this project was processed by centrifugal casting and powder metallurgy. Moreover, an advanced powder metallurgy route was developed for the thesis investigations, Field Assisted Hot Pressing.

What did you do you value most about your PhD stage at IMDEA Materials?

The PhD at IMDEA Materials Institute allowed me to start and later growth in my professional life in a great academic atmosphere, full of opportunities and outstanding support from their researchers.
In general, the PhD is a unique stage in life that gives you the opportunity to fully combine the learnings from the masters with the development of your own professional career. In particular, the fact of focusing in a specific topic is very helpful for this growth and so the topic selection is key.
IMDEA Materials Institute gave me the opportunity to work in a very attractive topic under the supervision of excellent experts in the area. Moreover, this was carried out along with very enriching activities such as assisting to high level forums in Materials Science or the collaboration through research activities with other institutions.

What did you do after you finished your PhD at IMDEA Materials?

After I finished my PhD in 2014, I joined the Cambridge University at the Rolls-Royce UTC (University Technology Centre) as postdoc in a European Project between the University of Cambridge and the companies Rolls-Royce plc and Material Solutions.
If during my PhD the most novel aspect were the γ-TiAl alloys developed and the used characterization techniques but with materials processed by more conventional techniques, my postdoc turned sides and I worked with conventional Ni-based alloys but with a very novel processing technique: Additive Manufacturing, more precisely Selective Laser Melting (SLM).

However, there were important links between these two steps and these were the powder metallurgy, complex microstructural characterization and the aerospace industry, all of them great learnings from my PhD experience that allowed me to jump into the postdoc.
In the postdoc,  Ni-based superalloys SLM parts were characterized with the future aim of 3D print the very complex geometries of the combustion chamber of airplane turbines. These are currently processed by conventional techniques, but the singularity of 3D printing easiness with complex part shapes would significantly help in their processing. In particular, my work was focused in the characterization of the novel microstructures and microtextures of conventional and new developed Ni-based superalloys processed by SLM.
Later, from 2016 until the date, I joined Hewlett-Packard 3D printing team in Barcelona as an R&D Materials Systems Integration engineer. This position is focused in the integration of different polymeric materials in the form of powder in the HP Multijet Fusion printer and the posterior characterization of the printed parts. Even though it involved an important change of topic from metals to polymers, there has been still significant Materials Science expertise from my previous
professional experience that helped me again in the jump to new professional challenges. This comprises the main basics of the relationships between the processing, microstructure and part properties.

How valuable are for your current position the skills you obtained during your PhD and which other ones you feel missing now that you have some perspective about it?

The skills learned and developed during the PhD are of extraordinary value for improving the industry projects effectiveness. In particular, a selected review of the state of the art, a smart design of experiments, advanced criteria capabilities for analyzing results and describing conclusions or the ability of synthesis and knowledge transfer are examples of very helpful methodologies for all type of industrial projects. Moreover, previous skills combined with specific technical background in the Materials Science area acquired during the PhD allowed me to accelerate my professional progress in the industry. However, there are other type of skills that I feel missing such as the more specific clients driven research design, the acceleration of delivery times and the ability of giving solutions with a not fully ended research assuming responsible risks.

How different do you think it is working in the industry with respect to doing academic research?

I feel that working on academic research you have higher pressure on the long term, which allows you to have time to look deeper into the problems you face daily but outstanding results are expected. However, in the industry the working pace doesn’t allow you to get such perspective and more standard solutions are valid but for much shorter answer times. My experience showed me that virtue is on middle ground, so balancing times and research intensity levels should be always
optimized. In summary, I think that you acquire a lot of useful skills in both academic and industrials worlds which allows you to have many career opportunities in both sides.