TU/e postdoc goes to MIT with Rubicon grant

Ivana Abramovic, postdoc of the department of Applied Physics, has received Rubicon funding: a form of financial support from the Dutch organisation for scientific research (NWO) for up-and-coming scientists who are going to conduct research abroad. Abramovic got the grant for her research into nuclear fusion as an energy source.

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Abramovic, originally from Serbia, is currently conducting research in the Science and Technology of Nuclear Fusion research group at the department of Applied Physics. She is very happy with the grant for her proposal. “It even feels a bit surreal. Of course, when you write and submit a proposal you tell yourself that you will get it, but when you really do, it still feels like a surprise, followed by a rush of adrenalin: partly because it is difficult to get such a grant, but also because it is life-changing.”


And we should take that literally: she has to move to use the Rubicon grant. It is intended to give promising young scientists the opportunity to gain international research experience. For many scientists, this experience abroad is an important step in their career. This funding makes it possible for the young researchers to conduct their research at top institutes like Stanford and Harvard. Abramovic will go to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States. There she will conduct research at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center for 24 months.

Originated over a plate of pasta

To get the award, she had to find a research group that does something new and interesting. That was not very difficult, she says, “because there is actually no project on fusion comparable to that of the research group at MIT. But then I still had to come up with a good research proposal that the group supports and I want to pursue as well. That was a bit more challenging, but I think the most important moment in the formulation of the proposal happened at Eindhoven central station. I brainstormed with my good friend and colleague Josefine over a pasta at Julia's before I went home. That’s where the core of my research proposal originated.”

The very short version of her proposal as stated in the NWO award list: 'MIT has designed a new reactor concept based on revolutionary superconducting magnets at a high temperature so that nuclear fusion can be used as an energy source. This research will focus on the effect of fuel turbulence in this reactor.'

Tony Stark

For a layman, ‘fusion as an energy source’ is perhaps quite an abstract concept. So Cursor asked Abramovic: how would you explain your research to a ten-year-old? She was creative with her answer: “The first thing I would ask him/her is whether he/she knows Iron Man. If yes, explaining will be a lot easier and will probably go like this: do you know that blue device Tony Stark has on his chest and uses to power the Iron Man suit? Well, I'm working on that. This would of course be a very rough description, although the fusion device that I will be working on thanks to my Rubicon grant has the same name: ARC reactor. The name was, I guess, inspired partly by the Marvel comic, but it's about producing as much power as possible in the smallest possible device.”

She is looking forward to her stay in Boston. “I always get an energy and motivation boost when I switch my work environment. Everything is new, has to be rediscovered and that means making new connections and getting creative ideas. My project is scheduled to start on September 1st. That is quite some time from now, so everything is still on schedule. But I do take into account some delay given the corona situation.”

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