Catch up your apple in these different
(difficult) times!

by Slimane Ouakka

But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you, and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you…

Quran 2: 216

When first I was asked to write something about the global crisis and what it is like to be an Early Stage Researcher (ESR) and how is researching during these difficult times.

Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic that the world is leaving is impacting negatively from a different point of view such as health, economical and commercial crisis. At the same time, for other visions see crises like this as potential opportunities such as [1]:

  • reschedule our habits, with the right priorities,

  • becoming more civil and attentive to others,

  • less criminality,

  • right weight to science and scientists,

  • reduction of carbon pollution.

The point reported by Raniero Facchini [1] can be seen as the general influence that this critical situation could have in everyone life, and the weight to science and scientists intend here above is more about people that can help overcome this global pandemic.

Apart from being an aspiring virologist scientist or related figures, everyone needs to start thinking about how to get the best from this situation for ourselves and the community at large scale.

As a researcher, I was advocated by the story of Isaac Newton, that after the temporary closing of the University of Cambridge in 1665 due to the bubonic plague, he had to work from home, and during this time he developed calculus and the theory of gravity. In particular, the story of how Newton sat under the tree, was bonked on the head by an apple and suddenly understood theories of gravity and motion, even if this might be apocryphal, there’s an element of truth according to his assistant John Conduitt [2]. And therefore the importance of being at home at that moment.

Although not all scientists will likely find such a relevant theory, it is important for every scientist search for his/her apple, whether it be big or small.

Before giving my personal view about the particular situation that we are all facing, it is useful to briefly introduce my research. How it may have emerged in part formerly I am a researcher, within the European consortium INSPIRE under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie. INSPIRE is a multi-disciplinary group of 14 Universities and Companies across Europe committed to implementing novel concepts for the efficient protection of structures against earthquakes and other sources of noise and vibration excitations using Metamaterials [3]. In particular as the ESR-13 my research project aims to develop and implement new concepts of mitigation measures dedicated to railway-induced ground vibrations, able to protect people and structures from the low-frequency noise and vibration excitations [4]. These new concepts will be obtained with the help of meta-materials combined and/or substituted to the absorption and isolation concepts already available in the rail industry.

These days, everyone will have heard a different tip on how to work away from the office, to communicate virtually or even how to set up a desktop. Certainly, these pieces of advice are important and helpful (for researchers working in teams the communication is of relevant importance), but for these, the responses of both my institution UMons and the coordinator of the INSPIRE consortium were very prompt.

Therefore, as aforementioned as researchers, it is important to take advantages from the current situation and the different scenario, and not trying to reproduce exactly to reproduce the same view as working from the office. But instead, make an effort trying to combine the benefits of the two to be able for everyone to find his or her apple as Newton found him, this groundwork does not have to be an obsessed search, but just let things follow up by hardworking, eyes open and attentive for new inspirations that we could not have in the office.

In my personal experience with this advice in mind, during the current confinement that is going on. Even if fortunately I do not live in proximity of any railway line and therefore I am not subject to ground-borne vibration and noise coming from them (that are the core topics of my research project), I noticed some issues that can be related to and could be an input for my research. For example, the vibration coming from neighbour’s mower, which in a normal situation I would never have heard and felt because is done during the office hours. Or the more intensified effects of the washing machine, that one might argue it is just possible to do with when one is not sleeping, but now we have other 8 hours that we need quiet, while before my wife and I used to turn it on during the office hours.

Besides of strengthening in me the importance of mitigating vibration effects, these two together with other situations will certainly enrich my vision towards the issue of vibration, and make my way to eventually experiment and/or solution due to resemblance and reciprocity of the ground-borne effect coming from the rail traffic.

So any researcher working or studying from home over the next few weeks (God willing soon we will overcome the pandemic), should be attentive to find his/her apple when it comes across to him or her. Finally, as a researcher, I would call this different time rather than difficult.


[1] R. Facchini. 5 opportunities to be seized,

[2] G. Brockell, During a pandemic, Isaac Newton had to work from home, too. He used the time wisely, The Washington Post, March 12, 2020.

[3] INSPIRE website

[4] S. Ouakka, O. Verlinden and G. Kouroussis, Mitigation Measures Dedicated to Railway-Induced Ground Vibration: an Analysis of Recent Advances, Annual Congress of the International Institute of Acoustics and Vibration, 2020.

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