What’s one surefire way of creating science that benefits society? Develop an entire new generation of scientists that benefit society. This is precisely what Professor Doros Theodorou, winner of the DSM Lifetime Achievement Award 2018 for Materials Sciences, has been doing for the past 35 years through his groundbreaking study of the molecular modeling of polymers. Subsequently his work has helped reduce the time, cost and resources needed to bring new performance materials from concept to application in everything from medical devices to consumer goods…
Once upon a time if you wanted to see how a potential new polymer really performed, you had to first create it in a lab; and then you subjected it to all manner of tests based on the time-honoured scientific principle of trial and error… but not anymore.
Today, a 20-strong team of researchers can be found in the sun-kissed Greek capital of Athens throwing shapes into space and helping the world of materials science literally see into the future. And it’s all thanks to the extraordinary work of Doros Theodorou, Professor in Materials Science and Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens and the winner of the DSM Lifetime Achievement Award 2018.
“We believe it is our responsibility to nurture and develop bright science to create brighter lives for people today and for generations to come,” says Dr Marcus Remmers, Chief technology Officer of Royal DSM NV. “Our awards show our commitment to promoting pioneering scientific research that leads to products or applications that enhance people’s quality of life and are intended to ensure we all continue to benefit from bright science.”
The 2018 award was bestowed for the Professor’s work in the molecular and meso-scale modeling of polymers – which started way back in 1985 with the publication of his influential PhD papers on the topic of predicting the structure and mechanical properties of glassy amorphous polymers.
Professor Doros Theodorou says, “Computational modelling of materials is a complex field but essentially what we are doing is using modern computers to predict how material building blocks arrange themselves in space, how they will move and interact with each other – and what properties they have. Are they stiff and strong? Are they waterproof? Are they permeable? Do they have good flow for manufacturing purposes? Can they be tolerated inside the body?”
By using computational science to answer the thousands of ‘what if’ questions surrounding potential new materials, Professor Theodorou and his team are enabling science companies like DSM to bring game-changing (often life-changing) innovations – like biomedical devices, for example – to market faster and more efficiently.
Rob Janssen, Scientist at the DSM Materials Science Centre, is one of many with first-hand knowledge of his work. “Thanks to his very open way of working, Doros has educated a whole generation of researchers and made it easy for them to build on his findings,” says Rob. “For example, one of my younger colleagues at DSM is now directly applying Doros’ work in statistical mechanics to our own projects – and it’s this that might actually be his biggest value to society.”
While computation modeling might seem like a recent phenomenon, the first molecular simulations happened way back in the 1950s. “There have been many great scientists that preceded me in this work, not least my own tutor and mentor at MIT, Dr. Suter,” says Professor Theodorou. “I just see myself as continuing this work. The big difference now is of course the immense computational power we have at our disposal. It doubles roughly every 18 months, so, coupled with new methods and algorithms we are developing, it gives rise to endless possibilities!”
Next on the Professor’s list is stepping up research into coarse graining – the study of computational polymer modeling beyond the nano-level. For now, he can enjoy the latest in a very long list of industry accolades.
“It is truly a career highlight for me to win this lifetime award because I respect the work of DSM in materials science so much,” says Professor Theodorou. “I’ve been involved with the company since the 1990s and hope to continue doing so in future.”
And what advice does Professor Theodorou have for the next generation of researchers and scientists coming through? “The most important thing is to master the fundamental principles of your chosen field,” he says. “Also, have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish; and keep an open mind.
“In my experience, minds are like parachutes. They function best when they are open!’”
Marcus Remmers, Chief Technology Officer at Royal DSM, Urmonderbaan 22, 6167 RD, Geleen, The Netherlands.
T: +31 46 4770 123
About the award
Open to scientists worldwide, DSM grants this award every two years in recognition of outstanding scientific work by an established scientist who has significantly contributed to advancing the materials sciences. Award candidates can be put forward by nomination only. The Lifetime Achievement Awards carry a cash prize of 50,000 Euros. An overview of previous winners can be found online.