Dr. Mauro Mugnai

Posted in ISM Stories

Mauro standing in front of greenery, smiling.
Dr. Mauro Mugnai

Dr. Mauro Mugnai is a recent addition to the Georgetown ISMSM community. He started in April under a new position, a post-doctoral researcher as an ISMSM-NIST fellow. For his job, he proposes projects and looks for collaboration with researchers at both Georgetown and NIST. Most of Mauro’s work focuses on molecular dynamics simulations. He designs and runs simulations based on the idea of describing every component of a system, such as atoms or molecules, and studying dynamics of motion as a function of time using various equations of motion. From this data and trajectory of motion, he can extract information about the structures and properties of the system. In the past, Mauro has worked with fluid systems and proteins, and now at Georgetown, Mauro is currently running simulations of polymer melts, and plans to work on many more projects!

Mauro began his academic journey at the Sapienza University of Rome, where he studied physics as an undergraduate and then went on to earn his master’s degree in physics, focusing his studies and work on liquid systems. His master’s thesis involved carrying out molecular dynamics simulations of the formation of conductive patterns in a two-dimensional fluid. Mauro went on to earn his PhD at The University of Texas at Austin in chemistry, applying molecular dynamics to biology-inspired systems such as proteins and amino acids, as well as fluid mixtures. There, his learning and research became more interdisciplinary as he took classes in biology to expand on his physics base. Next, Mauro moved on to do a postdoc first at the University of Maryland, College Park, then back the The University of Texas at Austin, where he worked on a variety of problems, but with primary focus on molecular motors and intrinsically disordered proteins.

Mauro was drawn to soft matter because it is ubiquitous in nature and technology, because he is fascinated by the scope and scale of the problems involving soft matter, and because he appreciates the role that computation has in bridging the gap between experiments and theory. He feels there are a number of interesting problems in the field of soft matter that he can apply his experience using simple models to capture complicated phenomena, including phase separation, self-assembly, gels, and weld formation in 3D printing.

Mauro Mugnai (left) and Jackie Conye (right) sitting down for an interview outside on Georgetown’s campus

Although Mauro has enjoyed all his past research projects, he always finds himself enjoying what he’s doing at present the most. However, he is particularly proud of an extremely complicated study he did a few years ago involving molecular motors, where he was able to work out the equations and get a relatively simple answer. In addition, he will always appreciate his first project and his first time running simulations, as it set him on his path for the rest of his research.

Mauro enjoys science because it involves extracting a way of thinking about a potentially complicated problem using simple models. In research, he finds the process of being able to ask a question, find answers, and then try to make sense of it, to be fun and exciting. Understanding something fundamental or general, even if applied to a very particular concept, can be very rewarding and Mauro appreciates being able to constantly learn something new.

Mauro chose to come to Georgetown because he saw it as a great research opportunity. He appreciates the independence of his position and being able to focus on a lot of research. He enjoys the problems soft matter poses and continues to gain appreciation for the research and people of the ISM. As for where he sees himself continuing his career, Mauro explains that his eventual goal is to be a professor. He has enjoyed teaching in the past as a teaching assistant, and similarly to his appreciation for learning driving his interest in research, he feels that teaching is a way to keep learning and extend a love of learning to others. He wants the opportunity to share what he has learned and help students be just as excited as he is!