1.    What are your personal perspectives as a researcher?

Essentially, research is all about curiosity. From a young age, it was never enough for me to know just that “something works”, I wanted to know why, and how. Someone can have a great mind for learning or understanding, but if you don’t have that basic curiosity to know why, and maybe then make it better, then research is not for you. Which is why the best students at passing exams are not always the best at doing research.... I am very glad that I have a job where I actually enjoy what I do, and I generally find it extremely rewarding intellectually, creatively and emotionally (definitely not financially!), although all jobs also have their frustrations and downsides, of course. Problem solving is also an important part of research, and often the solutions lead to further problems, or occasionally a different approach completely has to be found. I also hope that in some way my research may eventually make the world a slightly better place, and I like addressing issues that I care about politically and personally in my research, as well as being those that are relevant and have potentially useful and valuable applications in the real world.

2.    In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges in your area of research?

From the science point of view, I work in Materials Science, and I feel that sustainability and recycling / re-use of materials is a key element, of both our society and our technology, which we cannot afford to continue ignoring. Regarding recycling and re-use, we must really begin obtaining more raw materials from used products and wastes, instead of having a ridiculous system where we are damaging our environment and incurring ever increasing costs extracting raw materials from nature, while we are just throwing away those same raw materials, burying them or burning them. We are already seeing the value in “land-fill mining”, where we can extract what we threw away in the past, but the real secret is to build in recyclability and have a full recycling/re-use infrastructure in place from the beginning.

The other important aspect is sustainability, which means not damaging the prospects of future generations for short-term gain in the present. Obviously, this means minimising pollution and harmful side effects of our technology on human health and the environment, such as using less toxic reactions and solvents to produce materials, or developing new processes and technologies with less harmful emissions. But this also means minimising waste, encouraging energy and materials efficiency in all stages of production and all levels of society, and exploiting sustainable natural products and resources, which can be easily replaced or recovered. Nanotechnology is one area in particular where these issues are currently ignored, and for nanotech to become viable for everyday use in simple applications, it must become affordable, easy and where possible based on aqueous processes. For this reason, I focus on Sustainable Chemistry (SusChem) and Green Nanosynthesis methods. We need to combat pollution and wastes at present, but the real goal should be to reduce these to the absolute minimum levels possible, while maintaining an economically and technologically viable society. These goals are not mutually exclusive, but they represent a very real, and important, challenge for our generation and society.

One major challenge, and assuredly not just in my area, is the ever increasing competition for funding. More and more of my time is spent writing proposals to try to get funding for myself, for post-docs and PhD students, for equipment and chemicals, with maybe a 5% chance of success for EU and FCT funding… When I tell someone in industry how much time we spend chasing relatively small amounts of money, they are amazed at how unproductive the whole system is, and say that for a big company the cost of the time spent doing this would make it instantly uneconomic and unfeasible. I do not have a magic answer, but I feel there must be a better system of applying for and giving out funding fairly.

3.    Where are the strengths of the UA in your opinion?

UA is a top university, especially in my area of Materials Science, where it is the only one of the top 25 in Europe which is in the south, and not in the upper north-western corner. It is also one of the best Universities under 50 years old in the world. It has really good analysis facilities for my area of research, and personally I have had a great deal of support from the Department, CICECO and the Research Office. We also have really capable, efficient and charming secretarial/admin staff and scientific technicians, which makes a massive difference, and contrasts greatly with some of my former institutions.

It may not be a good thing for the country overall, but the fact that Portugal is a relatively poor EU country makes us more competitive financially and able to supply better value for money for the same level of funding compared to many richer countries. For example, with the 105% overheads and “internal markets” which exist in many UK universities, the cost of employing a post-doc on a project here is about 1/3 of what it costs in the UK, even though the salaries are not that much less in Portugal. I really hope that the government and FCT do not counteract this by imposing increasing costs for personnel on projects, as that will be counterproductive in the end, and would remove a large advantage that UA has over universities of equivalent quality in other parts of Europe.

4.    Could you give one idea to improve research in the UA?

I feel that the lack of any clear career progression for researchers in UA is a problem, as in the rest of Portugal. There are almost no new professor posts that open, so that avenue seems non-existent, and yet there are also very few equivalent Researcher positions with any degree of long term prospects beyond a five year contract. It seems that the national bureaucracy and antiquated regulations make it impossible to create teaching or senior researcher positions, and there is very little flexibility on the part of individual institutions. I fear that the recent decisions to change post-doc contracts, along with the end of the excellent Investigador programme, will only make this worse, especially because at the moment nobody seems to know exactly what will happen. A clear, realistic and accessible career structure is required.

 

Contact:

Dr Rob Pullar

Dept. Engenharia de Materiais e Cerâmica

Universidade de Aveiro

Campus Universitário de Santiago

3810-193 Aveiro

Portugal

Tel:   +351 234 370 041

email:  rpullar@ua.pt

http://www.ciceco.ua.pt/RobPullar


última atualização a 26-10-2016

Rob Pullar was born and raised in the UK, where he obtained a BSc (Hons) in Chemistry from the University of Leicester, MSc by research in Inorganic Chemistry from the University of Wales, Bangor, and PhD in Materials Engineering from the University of Warwick. For his PhD he produced the first ever ceramic fibres of hexagonal ferrites, and also studied aqueous sol-gel synthesis and radar and microwave adsorbing materials (RAM). He has continued to work on these magnetic hexaferrite ceramics, alongside many other projects, ever since.

He was a Research Fellow, Senior Research Fellow and Research Associate at London South Bank University and Imperial College London. He worked on dielectric microwave ceramics for wireless and satellite telecommunications, ferroelectric and piezoelectric ceramics, multiferroic & magnetoelectric ceramics and composites, and combinatorial and high-throughput materials synthesis and characterisation. After a brief Marie Curie Fellowship on the self-assembly of magnetic oxide nanoparticles at FORTH in Heraklion, Crete, Greece, he moved to the Department of Engineering of Materials and Ceramics and CICECO – Aveiro Institute of Materials, at the University of Aveiro, in 2009, as an Investigador. He is now an Investigador Principal, and works on sustainable materials and wastes valorisation, green nanosynthesis, photocatalysis and photo-optically active materials, solar energy materials for hydrogen production, biomimetic and cork-based materials, biomaterials and bioceramics, and magnetic and magnetoelectric ceramics and composites, as well as continuing his interests in dielectric / ferroelectric materials and combinatorial synthesis.

He recently gained two FCT projects, on cork-derived ceramics for water splitting under solar energy (H2CORK) and bio-coatings to protect statues from environmental pollution (BIONANOSCULP), and is currently part of a major EU project on sustainable buildings materials and photocatalysts (ECOSEE), and an FCT industrial collaboration project with Recer Ceramics (CERU4).

He has published >110 papers, being first author, lead writer and principal contributor on 48 of them, and last author on another 7 articles. 67 of these papers are published in JCR SCI journals in the top quartile in their areas, and 31 are in journals in the top 3 of their areas. He has a large number of citations (>2350), an h index of 25 (Scopus), an h2 index of 8, and a g index of 45. His most cited research paper, on cobalt ferrite nanoparticles, has >200 citations, and he has seven other research papers with >60 citations, which are becoming major publications in the fields of hexaferrites, titania, niobates and dielectric ceramics. He has published three book chapters, and has also co-authored a further two.

In 2012 he published a major invited review on hexaferrites in Progress in Materials Science (vol 57, p.1191-1334), the third most cited journal in materials after Nature Materials and Nano, with an impact factor of 31. This was their 9th most downloaded article in 2012, and is now the 7th most cited PMS article of the last 5 years with >19,000 views. It has already been cited more than >350 times, and is ranked as a Highly Cited Paper from Essential Science Indicators on Web of Science. It is the 16th most cited Portuguese Materials Science paper on Scopus, the 2nd most cited published since 2010, and is now the most cited hexaferrites publication of the last 50 years. He is also an expert on columbite niobate ceramics, and produced a review on these for the Journal of the American Ceramic Society in 2009 (vol 92, p.563-77).

He has presented at over 55 conferences on five continents (>40 oral, >20 invited), and has given 21 invited lectures in the UK, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Turkey, Morocco, USA, Brazil, Dubai and India. He was Publications Chair for the 21st International Symposium on Applications of Ferroelectrics  (ISAF-ECAPD-PFM-2012), and is also Publications Chair for the upcoming Materiais2017 international conference in Aveiro in 2017 (http://materiais2017.web.ua.pt/). He is a Visiting Fellow at Imperial College London, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC).

Research Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Robert_Pullar
Orcid: http://orcid.org/0000-0001-6844-4482

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