Predicting properties of composite materials

Ali Gooneie simulates on his computer what holds the world together right at its very core: atoms, molecules, molecular chains and bundles – then lumps and fibers, which emerge thereof. With his calculations, the Empa researcher can also explain properties we can feel with our fingertips: smooth and rough surfaces, flexible and rigid materials, heat-conductive substances and insulators.

Many of these properties have their origin deep inside the materials. Metal or wood, plastic or ceramics, stone or gel – all of these have been examined many times before. However, what about composite materials? How do the properties of such materials come about and how can they be altered in a desired way? A tedious trial-and-error approach in the lab is no longer sufficient in today’s fast-paced research; nowadays, you need computer-assisted predictions to be able to decide quickly which experimental path you will have to take.

Gooneie is one of many computer simulation experts who work in various research labs at Empa. He studied polymer technology at Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran and did his doctorate at the University of Leoben in Austria. “Although after my engineering degree I immersed myself ever deeper in the world of physics formulae, I never lost touch with the real world,” he says. “For me, simulations are not an end in themselves. I use them to explain the effects we observe in materials.”

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