(Do not) Wait for the Newton Moment

by Fabrizio Aloschi

A few pictures of the University of Trento

We are living a unique moment for our Community. Closed shops and factories at a standstill are causing a great shock to the economy of the countries. There is a chain of events that follow one another starting with the factories that cannot produce and ending with people unable to buy. Such an economic impasse is influencing our life as part of a collectivity and it will reflect on every sector of the State: public health, industry, education. On the other hand, the life of a man as an individual is threatened as well. Cinemas and theatres are not working then affecting our culture and social life. Fear of being infected is only the most evident consequence of the problem. People are getting suspicious and the loudest voice-politician is gaining approval more and more. In this scenario, it is crucial that people do not lose awareness of the importance of their freedom. The State must continue to invest in culture. I think researchers (we “Early-Stage” too) play a key role in that way. Certainly we do not work on medical disciplines and we cannot help in fighting the virus that much. What during this quarantine we can do is keep working hard, try to avoid a further slowdown.

My “lock down-span” began on Friday March 6th when I was traveling from Trento to Zurich. I was going to attend the 1st Training School, but the first of many Covid-19 containment measures was adopted, so I was forced to return to Trento. I knew that things were going to get worse and decided not to go back to Naples, my hometown. My supervisor helped me find the right motivation to keep working hard. Who knows whether I will not live the "Newton moment" in these lock-down days! Although the “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” has already been written by the wise English mathematician, there are still plenty of things to discover and write about meta-materials. Twice a week I work in my office at the University of Trento and meet my supervisor to discuss the progresses of my research. I spend the rest of the time at home to make sure that the above-mentioned progresses are good enough so that my supervisor not be too severe. I am organizing a large scale laboratory test. I would like to construct the experimental frequency-wave number dispersion curve of a periodic structure by estimating the dynamic behaviour of the only unit cell of the structure itself. We know that it is possible to analytically evaluate the dispersion characteristics of an entire periodic chain of masses by solving the eigenvalue problem of the single mass. Once the equations of motion of the single cell have been determined, the eigenvalue problem returns the temporal frequencies of the structure for each corresponding wave number. We aim to test it experimentally. We set up a single cell and excite it with known forces. The cell consists of a main mass plus a resonator. The moment we excite the cell according to the frequencies of the periodic structure, we might be able to get the dynamics of the system, therefore the points of the periodic assembly consisting of an infinite number of masses, even though having applied the forces on a single mass. Unfortunately, in this period I am unable to access the laboratory because of the restrictions. However, I still have much to determine analytically before the test-rig can be assembled. The greatest difficulties arise when dealing with the problem of damping, as happens in many structural dynamics concerns. In the past few days, I have developed an algorithm capable of simulating the laboratory test for the damped case. Still no Newton-insight, though. I do not expect any "Newton-moment" to come. I try not to waste time on operations that might lead me to not achieve results, so I try to carry more activities out in parallel. One of them is an online course on Mathematical methods, Numerical methods and Greedy algorithms that I have been attending for a few days. Another activity I engage constantly in is improving my English skills. However, while I have been studying and practicing before the lock-down, in the past two months I have limited myself to watching English-language movies and TV series! Besides, in July my secondment period at the University of Trento will be over and I will go back to IGF, that is in Erftstadt, Germany. Probably, time has come for me to learn German, although it is not really my cup of tea!

Here is the narrative in brief of my activities and feelings faced in this quarantine. Despite not having the opportunity to go out for a beer with friends, I have to say that my working life has not changed that much, because I am a lucky person. I am lucky to be involved in this relevant and prestigious project while many people throughout Europe are undergoing a moment of great difficulty. With that in mind, I try my best to honour my position and to make a small contribution to our scientific community.

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