Olben Falcó

Dr. Olben Falcó Salcines joined IMDEA Materials Institute in 2014 having previously completed his PhD in the ´Analysis of Process-Induced Defects on Steered-Fibre Panels for Aeronautical Applications´ at the University of Girona. While at IMDEA Materials, Falcó Salcines worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the design and simulation of variable stiffness laminates manufactured by means of automated fibre placement for aeronautical applications. Most recently, he has been working as a research associate on impact engineering with composite materials for aerospace applications in the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford.

Question: Olben, you were at IMDEA Materials Institute for three and half years from 2014-2017. How did you come to join the Institute?

Olben: I am originally from Cuba which, according to Christopher Columbus is the most beautiful island in the Caribbean Sea. However, I came to Spain in 2009 as part of a collaboration between my university (the University of Holguín) and the University of Girona. I spent about four years in Girona which is where I completed my PhD. At the time, (then-IMDEA Materials senior researcher) Dr. Cláudio Lopes was one of my supervisors and, at one point, he suggested the idea of working more closely with him at IMDEA Materials which was an opportunity that really appealed to me.

Question: And tell me a bit about your time here at the Institute.

Olben: It’s interesting because, initially, I was only going to be there for a very short time. My family were still in Girona when I joined and I had travelled down to Madrid alone. However, after about six months there was an amazing opportunity to join a new project in collaboration with Fokker Aerostructures. The project involved developing a novel, multiscale simulation strategy to predict the mechanical behaviour of aeronautical composite laminate structures under static and low-velocity impact loads. The idea was that this would lead to a significant reduction in the number of physical tests required for material certification and would shorten the time necessary to design new aerospace structural components at Fokker. That gave me the chance to work in a very strong simulation group led by Cláudio and also Professor Carlos González. So that was my starting point for my three-and-a-half years at IMDEA Materials.

Question: I understand that your involvement with IMDEA Materials has also been something of a family affair? Tell me a bit more about that.

Olben: Yes, my son was working at the Institute recently with (Specialist Laboratory Technician) Miguel de la Cruz and the team in the machine laboratory. I tried to encourage him to get experience, not only with computers, but also using the machines. Obviously, I know the environment there so I was so happy. I was joking with him that he was working in such a great place that I wanted to be working with him there as well in the near future, but who knows! Also, during my time at IMDEA Materials, my wife was doing her PhD at the University of Girona and she was able to spend a short time working at the Institute as well. Having the opportunity to work alongside her, even though it was only for a short time, was a lovely experience also.”

Question: After your time at IMDEA Materials, did you continue in academia or move into industry?

Olben: After I left IMDEA I moved into the private sector, which was a completely new experience for me as my professional career up to that point had been almost entirely in academia. I started working in the dental sector, using additive manufacturing for biomedical applications. However, after a couple of years, I started to miss working with composite materials. A colleague of mine sent me a link to an open position in the Impact Engineering Laboratory at the University of Oxford which I applied for and, to my surprise, I was accepted.

Question: And how was your experience at the University of Oxford?

Olben: Without doubt, Oxford is amazing. The history is incredible. It really makes an impact when you are standing in front of the building named after the father of elasticity (British scientist Robert Hooke) for example. The number of great scientists who have worked there over the years, and who are working there today, is very special. I have been working as a researcher in impact engineering with composite materials for aerospace applications. This has included being responsible for the execution of experiments and/or the development of deterministic and/or probabilistic integrated experimental and numerical simulation techniques aimed at predictive modelling of the response of materials subjected to impact loading, such as those imposed during fan blade containment and the development of supporting experimental techniques.

Question: Relating specifically to your work with composite materials and the aeronautical industry moving forward. What do you see as the main areas of interest or research lines in the next few years?

Olben: That’s a really interesting question. For example, right now we are working with (aircraft engine manufacturer) Rolls-Royce on their new UltraFan turbofan demonstrator project and what we have realized is that there are still a lot of challenges when you’re dealing with larger structures. Even when you can use high-powered computational resources, it’s quite difficult to simulate the full structure due to the size of the model. A lot of people are working on this now at a multi-scale level; to be able to analyse these large structures while, ‘on-the-fly’, being able to use sub-models to be able to study much smaller individual elements of the whole structure at a very detailed level. Another big challenge relating to simulation is not only how to perform these simulations accurately, but also in a timely manner. Because, if you need to wait a week for example to get your results back, this is a big problem.

I think as well, relating to the composite materials, how to be better able to reuse those materials. A lot of these materials are not environmentally friendly at all. So, finding ways to make these materials more sustainable is another area that requires a lot more research over the next few years.

Question: Finally, Olben, do you see yourself collaborating with IMDEA Materials Institute in the future?

Olben: Of course! If any projects appear, it would be really interesting. I think we’ve seen over the past couple of years with all of the greater possibilities for remote work that now exist, that there are a lot of different types of global collaborations that are more possible than ever before. I’m definitely keeping an eye on IMDEA Materials and any opportunities that might come up in the near future.

Thank you for speaking with us today, Olben!

Are you interested in joining the IMDEA Materials team as a predoctoral or postdoctoral researcher? Check our job offers here: https://jobs.materials.imdea.org/

You can read our article on Olben Falcó (en Español) based on this interview here: https://materiales.imdea.org/alumni-en-el-punto-de-mira-olben-falco/