“I'd love to solve the biggest challenges in materials science”
Anirudh Raju Natarajan, recently appointed as a tenure-track assistant professor at EPFL’s School of Engineering, is passionate about materials. His interests are in using computational methods to design high-performance engineering alloys. In this interview, Prof. Natarajan shares insights into his unbridled curiosity.
Anirudh Raju Natarajan grew up in India but spent several years living and working under the sunny skies of Santa Barbara, California, where he completed his PhD and postdoctoral research in materials science. At just 31 years old, he’s one of the youngest engineers to be appointed as a professor at EPFL’s School of Engineering, having taken up his role as head of the Laboratory of Materials Design and Simulation (MADES) three months ago.
Natarajans’ research group uses computational models to design new metallic alloys and processing techniques. Metals are widely used in aerospace, automotive and consumer electronics applications – and engineers are constantly seeking ways to improve their properties. “I’m interested in developing theoretical techniques that can predict material behavior at elevated temperatures and stresses,” says Natarajan. As part of his research, he’s using machine-learning algorithms to predict how metals respond when deployed in real-world applications. “It’s a huge challenge,” he says. “Our goals are to predict the macroscopic behavior of materials starting from their electronic structure.” He hopes that these methods can also be employed to create new alloys and processing techniques.
Natarajan was drawn to materials science because of its inter-disciplinary nature. Physics, chemistry, mechanics, mathematics, and computer science are all part of his day-to-day work. At EPFL, he plans to collaborate widely and expand his knowledge even further. “I hope to be able to work with scientists and engineers from across the School and Switzerland,” he says. “For me, this is a great opportunity.”
A good cook, too
Although his research takes up much of his time, Natarajan likes to spend his evenings and weekends indulging his favorite pastime: cooking. He particularly enjoys trying out new recipes, drawing on Indian and Asian influences – and tasting his creations. “If I hadn’t gone down the engineering route, I would have wanted to be a professional chef,” he says with a smile. But when asked about his biggest dream, he returns to the subject that fascinates him the most. “I’d love to solve the biggest challenges in materials science – to gain deeper insights into the inner workings of materials and discover how to create new ones that can make our daily life more sustainable and efficient,” he says.
Natarajan also enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for materials science in the classroom and passing his knowledge on to students. “In the classroom, everyone is a learner – including the teacher,” he says. “But I don’t want my students to just understand the subject matter. I also want them to learn to think in new ways.” He’ll start teaching his first Bachelor’s class in January 2023.
Natarajan is still looking for highly motivated Master’s students, PhD students and postdocs to join his team. He’s especially eager to recruit people who can design new materials, are familiar with computational methods, have a solid grounding in the fundamentals of materials science, and are looking for an opportunity to broaden their horizons. You can contact him here.