Crystal formation (from molecules in solution) and solid deposition (from particulate in suspension) are very intriguing topics at a fundamental level, and at the same time they have a concrete impact on the most diverse aspects of every-day life. For instance, kidney stones are formed via crystallization and solid deposition of soot affects the performance of combustion engines in cars. From a more industrial perspective, crystallization/solid formation in reactors may induce clogging and shutdown of the production process. [1,2]
The underlying physico-chemical pathways (e.g. nucleation, growth, aggregation, breakage, deposition, re-suspension) regulate the rates and types of solids/crystals formed. These mechanisms are strongly affected by the environmental conditions, e.g. temperature, solvent, flow patterns as well as by particulate-specific properties, such as size of the primary particles/crystallites and surface charge. In this frame, I am employing a combination of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and population balance equations (PBE), to gain a deeper fundamental understanding on the impact of flow on the mechanisms regulating the solid formation kinetics. The modeling tools being developed allow at the same time to safely guide (micro)reactor and process design, a topic of great interest to both the chemical and pharmaceutical industry.
During my PhD at ETH Zurich in the group of Prof. Massimo Morbidelli, I worked on several projects in the fields of polymers and colloids, combining experimental and modeling techniques to gain a phenomenological wide-angle view on the processes under investigation. In particular, I developed a significant experience in the field of PBE (both mono- and multidimensional) solved with different techniques. This allowed me to approach problems such as the formation of multi-active polymer chains, the interplay between aggregation and coalescence of colloidal particles, as well as the aggregation and breakage of protein fibrils. After winning a post-doctoral fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation, I joined the group of Prof. Klavs Jensen at the MIT. Currently I am investigating the crystal formation, aggregation and the resulting clogging in microreactors by employing PBE and CFD.
Long term plan
After consolidating my experience with CFD, I plan to approach further problems in crystallization and solid formation. In particular, I would like to contribute in developing modeling tools able to describe crystallization in flow in a general way, deepening microreactor clogging while tackling also other types of problems, such as kidney stones formation. Ideally, I would like to combine my passion for science with the one I have for teaching in a professorship position. The years spent between my PhD and Post-doc allowed me to appreciate the perks of studying (and learning) a new topic, while transmitting knowledge to others. Being teaching assistant for 3 years (ETH master course of “Polymer Reaction and Colloid Engineering”), supervising 4 grad and 1 undergrad students, and collaborating with colleagues from different countries and backgrounds was an amazing experience, which strongly motivated me in pursuing an academic career.
 Rimer J.D.; An, Z.; Zhu Z.; Lee M.H.; Goldfarb D.S.; Wesson J.A.; Ward, M.D.,Science 2010, 330, 6002
 Henry C., Minier JP, Lefèvre G., Adv. Colloid Interface Sci., 2012, 185-186, 34-76
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