Hannes Jónsson joins the Multiscale Statistical Physics Group as FiDiPro professor
Professor Hannes Jónsson from the University of Iceland joined the Aalto University Multiscale Statistical Physics research group in January.
The group is part of the Computational Nanoscience Center of Excellence at the Department of Applied Physics, Aalto School of Science. Jónsson is a physical chemist and one of the world’s leading scientists in the field of theoretical and computational materials research. His research work in Finland is part of the Finland Distinguished Professor Programme, FiDiPro, led and funded by the Academy of Finland and Tekes.
Jónsson’s cooperation with Aalto University actually goes back a few years. He first came to Aalto as an opponent for a doctoral dissertation defence, and in 2011–2012 he worked as guest professor at the School of Science.
“We wanted to take the cooperation to a higher level, and that led to the application to the FiDiPro programme”, said Jónsson.
Workings of the world revealed at atomic scales
The Multiscale Statistical Physics Group uses computer simulations to predict the properties of materials as well as the evolution of materials with time. Research at the atomic scale helps to understand the macroscopic world. This multiscale nature of the research applies not only to size but to time as well: slow macroscale processes can be understood better with the help of atomic level simulations.
“We are working to develop techniques for nanoparticle-facilitated catalysis in solar cells. These techniques could be used to reduce carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to form fuel, methane or methanol to be precise. They could also be used to reduce nitrogen from the air to form fertilizer”, says Hannes Jónsson.
“These possibilities have already been demonstrated in the laboratory but we need to make the technology more efficient. That is why we are developing new methodology, for example computer algorithms and software that can be used in simulations of the basic processes involved. Predicting the rate of chemical reactions with computer simulations helps identify the best catalysts and the optimal materials for the various components of the solar cells”, explains Jónsson.
Two countries, two research groups
Jónsson started the programme in January and will spend half of the time in Finland for the next four years. Although he divides his time between Finland and Iceland, work with his two research groups goes on uninterrupted via email and Skype.
“I want to keep a close contact with both research groups. Their work is connected, and we will have student and postdoctoral researcher exchange going both directions”, says Jónsson.
“It is sometimes complicated to live and work in two countries but it can also be quite refreshing. The academic community in Iceland is small, there are fewer colleagues, and resources are more limited, so it is very valuable for me to spend part of my time in Helsinki.”
“Furthermore, I have collaborative ties with universities in St. Petersburg and would like to help build collaboration between them and Aalto. The close proximity to St. Petersburg makes it quite convenient”, Jónsson adds.
Saving the world with physics and chemistry
Finding new ways to develop fertilizers is and will continue to be an important research field in the future, as the growing population of the planet needs to be fed. Reducing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere can help tackle climate change, or at least slow it down. New fuels will help reduce our dependency on the dwindling oil supplies. These are solutions sorely needed in our fast-changing world.
“Many scientists and research groups around the world are working on these problems. It is a vast field that will continue to offer more challenges for research and development for years to come”, says Hannes Jónsson.
One of professor Jónsson’s central interests is the further development of simulation methodology, as it will benefit many other fields as well. He is also interested in magnetic materials especially in combination with nanotechnology. But Jónsson finds it difficult to predict what kinds of challenges will occupy his mind in the future. Work can, after all, lead to unexpected paths and places – like Finland.
Text: Anu Jussila