University of Lincoln, UK

My Journey to Barcelona

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My journey starts in the famous John Lennon’s airport the 19th of May 2013. I walk along the corridors of this airport, where some pieces of Lennon’s lyrics are written against the walls. I see so many tourists eating their subway sandwich, right in front of Lennon’s and McCartney suits, with no concern or whatsoever. I wonder if they had imagined that this could one day happen.

Leaving Liverpool on a sunny and unusually bright day, I finally arrive in Barcelona welcomed by this strong heavy Mediterranean rain. This journey starts taking a metaphorical scale.

I take a cab, as I do not know where my accommodation exactly is. I then decide to start experimenting my Spanish language skills with the driver. Surprisingly I do not encounter any difficulty. I finally arrive at the university of Barcelona, where a nice lady gives me my room keys.

The following day is bank-holiday in Spain. I decide to take the underground to go to Las Ramblas, one of the most important streets of this city. So many people walk around me and my motion is restricted: it reminds me the seminar given by Prof. A. V. Zvelindovsky on active matter; all the people, including me, have somehow a fluid-like motion except for those who are at the boundaries.

I call a friend of mine, Sean, who is an old school mate from France, currently studying in Barcelona. While having lunch with him I casually run into my older brother Giovanni, who was in Barcelona for work. We are both happy and surprised to see each other. We then take a coffee. Later on I go back to Sean’s place where I meet with another old classmate, Gregorio, who studies Economy in Barcelona. While discussing with him I discover that one of the fathers of Micro-economy is actually Catalan, which is the reason why he is doing his master there. It’s funny how much we actually learn when discussing with people who are abroad: topics of interest can differ so much from a place to another.

On Tuesday I finally go to work at the university, “Universitat de Barcelona”. I first get lost in this big university: in the end a Spanish student kindly offers himself to bring me to the Department of Theoretical Physics. The universities over there are way bigger than the ones we have in the UK: they really are impressive.
One PhD Student, Paolo Malgaretti, welcomes me. He gives me the keys of the office where he works and a desk with a computer. I visit the rest of the university, as Prof. Ignacio Pagonabarraga is traveling for work.

All his PhD students work on different projects in biophysics, softmatter and active matter. I ask them to tell me a bit more details about their work, as I am interested to understand exactly what kind of research they are doing here. I discover that most of them are working on the same things we do at the university of Central Lancashire, even though a lot of them are focusing on active matter.

The following day I meet Ignacio. I hand him my Master thesis, which he reads carefully. We discuss a bout the outcomes of my work and start making an action plan. The results that I found, when modeling my system made of a diblock copolymer with colloidal nanoparticles, of two distinct radii, are very interesting, but some of them are incredibly strange. Therefore we decide that we should run more simulations in order to better explain exactly why the system is behaving in such a manner.

During the rest of the week I run all these simulations. However I encounter some difficulties due to technical problems with the use of the ITs. I finally use the local cluster of the university of Barcelona in order to execute all my work.

Along the week I also take time to visit some of the most important touristic places and monuments like the Sagrada Familia, Parc Guel, La Catedral del Mar and so on.

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The second week I keep working on some other simulations. Ignacio and I are both puzzled as we cannot find a way to explain the nanoparticles’ clustering, observed in some of my simulations, as well as the formation of the green neutral region between the copolymers. I then decide that we should discuss about our issues with Dr M. Pinna, during a skype conference.

In the end we find that the green zone formation was unfortunately created by a numerical artifact.

On the other hand we manage to understand that the clustering of small particles is created by the only presence of large particles, as they form small high density zones where particles are trapped, due to their affinity.

Ignacio and I make a new action plan to understand all the simulations where the numerical artifact was created: in order to avoid this issue, we decrease the time step we had used so far.

During the third and last week I manage to obtain simulations that make sense. I have finally understood why the particles aggregate in some simulations and why there is this green zone formation. Unfortunately the time step I was using was too large and this created a numerical
artifact responsible for the green zone formation. On the other hand I find that only the large particles are responsible of these shaded high density regions, which entraps smaller particles, forcing them to aggregate.

Ignacio and I make then an action plan for the future work I need to do when I am back in Preston, in order to be able to publish the results obtained.

I leave Barcelona on an unusual rainy Saturday and arrive in Liverpool on a also unusual sunny day.

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I wish to thank the University of Central Lancashire for awarding me the UCLan travel bursary, which made all this possible.

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