Spotlight on Professor Angelos Michaelides
24 April 2019
Angelos Michaelides is a Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Co-Director of the Thomas Young Centre.
What is your role and what does it involve?
I am a Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. In my research I develop and apply computer simulation approaches to better understand materials and their surfaces, with the most important substance of all, water, being a particular focus of my research.
Other roles at UCL include being a Co-Director of the Thomas Young Centre (TYC): The London Centre for the Theory and Simulation of Materials. This TYC is an intercollegiate alliance of research groups from across London involved in addressing challenges of society and industry through the theory and simulation of materials. I am also the founding Director of the Materials and Molecular Modelling (MMM) Hub; the UK’s national supercomputer centre for materials and molecular modelling.
How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I’ve been at UCL since 2006. Prior to that I worked in the Fritz-Haber Institute, Berlin, and the University of Cambridge. I studied at Queen’s University Belfast, near to where I grew up in the northwest of Ireland.
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
What gives me the greatest satisfaction and sense of pride is seeing the students and post-docs in my group develop as individuals, flourish, and go off to lead their own successful independent careers. I am also proud of the science I have done with them. In particular our work to develop theoretical models to understand the structure of water and ice at surfaces and models to understand and predict the performance of catalysts. Aside from this, I am also proud of the work I have done (along with many others) to help build the Thomas Young Centre and the Materials and Molecular Modelling Hub. Through these two initiatives large communities of researchers with world-leading expertise in the theory and simulation of materials have been brought together.
Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?
There are lots of interesting and exciting scientific questions high up on my to-do list. For example, we recently made a significant breakthrough in understanding how ice crystals form (doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1817135116) and in how to do highly accurate quantum mechanical simulations of materials (doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1715434115). Both of these lines of research look very promising and we have lots of new ideas about how to move forward in these areas.
However, one “project” that has been high up on my to-do list for the last few months is a, frankly ridiculous, attempt to set a new world record for the "fastest marathon dressed as a scientist (male)". This will be an official Guinness World Records sanctioned attempt at this year’s London Marathon and requires me to wear a lab coat, safety glasses, lab gloves, trousers, and to carry a piece of scientific equipment. I’m doing this to raise sponsorship for WaterAid; an international charity that brings clean water and sanitation to people all over the world. To learn more and to support me in my efforts see: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ice-at-ucl
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
These vary over time. Recently I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan’s Desire and re-watching Rocky movies. The only fiction I read these days is pitched at people 4 years old and younger. Particular current favourites include “Three Little Monkeys” and “That’s not my puppy”.
What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
My 4-year old daughter came home from school recently with her first ever joke. It went something like “Q: Why did the cow become as astronaut? A: So that she could go to the moooooon”.
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
I once had dinner with Stephen Hawking. He told me that the French thought the term “black hole” was rude!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t try to forge the headmaster’s signature and expect to get away with it!
What would it surprise people to know about you?
Have I mentioned that I’m trying to set a world record? See: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ice-at-ucl
What is your favourite place?
I grew up by the sea in the northwest of Ireland, so pretty much anywhere by the sea.