João Rocha
Full Professor
CICECO - Aveiro Institute of Materials
Universidade de Aveiro
Campus Universitário de Santiago
 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal
Tel: +351 234370730


1. What are your personal perspectives as a researcher?
It is an enormous privilege to do what one likes while being paid for that. This is how I picture my research. I was 7 years old when I saw men walking on the moon. Mesmerized by this event I decided to be a scientist, an unlikely endeavour being in a poor country estranged from Europe. I took a degree in Physics and Chemistry that included a lot of maths, philosophy, psychology and sociology as it was aimed at high-school teachers. This was a blessing because it gave me a room with a very broad view over the World. Eventually, in 1985, I got a position at the Chemistry Department, University of Aveiro, and started giving lab classes and tutorials. Those days, there were no lab facilities to do decent research towards a Ph.D. (in Aveiro or almost anywhere else in the country). This is how, in 1988 by the hand of Prof. Júlio Pedrosa, I turned out in the University of Cambridge (UK) to meet Jacek Klinowski my Ph.D. mentor and life’s personal trainer. Nothing would be the same after, for me. Coming down from Cambridge I was committed to show that excellent research might be done even in obscure places. I was successful enough in getting a European project to finance my group and the solid-state NMR spectrometer Aveiro had bought in the frame of CIENCIA programme. In 1994, I co-authored a Nature paper and came out of obscurity. Until 2002 it was just hard work and the sheer pleasure of doing research, day after day, building up my group. But for some reason this did not seem enough to me. I wanted to put Aveiro on the map of Science and for that I needed to gain critical mass. This is when my group and others in Aveiro came together and started a Materials Science and Engineering institute known as CICECO, initially with over two hundred people (now four hundred). We got the special status of ‘Associated Laboratory’ and could hire researchers, buy equipment and start spinning our wheels. Twelve years have passed and CICECO is now one of the main European institutes of its kind.
In summary, the small step for a man on the moon lead to my personal giant leap of creating CICECO. However, what really excites me is doing research and learning. I used to be a chemist or a physicist but now I do not know anymore what I am as so many other fields attract my attention. This, in the end, is the joy of Science.

2. In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges in your area of research?
Here are some of the challenges of my present research. As I often turn to nature (particularly minerals) to conceive new solids, can I make materials that outperform natural ones, and how? Can understanding of how water clusters form (and their nature) in simple solids provide clues as to how clusters of water molecules influence the reactivity of proteins or enzymes? How do we engineer light-emitting metal centres (lanthanides) in order to obtain efficient materials, for example, for optical communications or for sensing temperature, pH and molecules?  How do we engineer nanosystems capable of (simultaneously) working as contrast agents for magnetic resonance, optics and thermal imaging? The structure and dynamics of some very important materials are difficult to characterise because of poor crystallinity, disorder and defects. How do we combine various experimental tools (NMR, diffractions) with computer modelling in order to accomplish that?

3. Where are the strengths of the UA in your opinion?
Very low bureaucracy, swift action, easy flow of information and a pragmatic attitude to solving problems, mixed with a vision for the future, have been the main strengths of UA. These assets are not for ever and we must be vigilant not to kill the chicken and loose to our competitors. Particularly in times of crisis, it is very tempting to find (cold) comfort in the greasy hands of bureaucracy. I am afraid some among us are giving in.

4. Could you give one idea to improve research in the UA?
There is only one way of improving UA’s research: hire the best possible people; and because we are not rich, hire the most promising young people around. Give them some seeding money and a lot of freedom to act. Assess their work after a decent period of time (4-5 years) and keep the best. We already do this, to a certain extent, but we are not doing nearly enough and our agenda must be clearer and bolder. This is not easy. What really matters is never easy.

última atualização a 01-10-2014

About me

João Rocha (born 1962) is a member of the European Academy of Sciences and of the Lisbon Academy of Sciences (created in 1779 and restricted to 13 Chemists) and Director of the University of Aveiro Institute of Materials (CICECO, ca. 400 people), the largest Materials Science Institute in Portugal. He got his Ph.D. in 1990 from the Department of Chemistry, Cambridge University, UK, working on solid-state NMR of clay materials, under the supervision of J. Klinowski. This was followed by a one year post-doc in the same group working on solid-state NMR of zeolite-type materials. In 1999 he became Full Professor of Inorganic and Materials Chemistry at University of Aveiro. He was Invited Professor at Oviedo University, Spain, in 2010.

He has published over 430 SCI papers (h-index 50) with 10000 citations, and 3 patent applications. He has given over one hundred talks at conferences, supervised 30 post-docs and 20 Ph.D. students, coordinated over two dozen projects (6 European) and organized many national and international scientific events. In 2004 he received the Portuguese National Science Foundation prize for Scientific Excellence.

He is a member of the Portuguese Science and Technology Council (advising the Prime Minister). He chairs the ‘Commission on Inorganic and Mineral Structures’ and is consultant for the ‘Commission on NMR Crystallography and Related Methods’ of the International Union of Crystallography, member of the editorial boards of Chemistry – a European Journal, ‘Solid State NMR’, and is Royal Society of Chemistry Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Book Series Editor; he was chairman of the ‘European Journal of Inorganic Chemistry’. He has been a member of assessment committees all over Europe, including the European Research Council Advanced and Starting Grants, and IBM prize Portugal. He is a member of the Portuguese and American Chemical Societies and Materials Research Society.

His present main research interests encompass light emitting lanthanide-bearing microporous and mesoporous materials, and Metal Organic Frameworks for sensing applications; nanosystems for multimodal (magnetic resonance, optical and thermometry) imaging and small molecules drug delivery; solid-state NMR and X-ray diffraction.

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