German luminary Gumbsch: “Swimming like physics requires great attention to detail”
Materials science teaches us how to better understand the world around us; it is an ever-evolving science that blends with the art of experimenting, mixing and testing new things.
Peter Gumbsch, an award-winning German physicist with a life between laboratories and academies, but also a great passion for water and the desire to give himself a unique memory by taking part in the European masters in Rome, knows something about this. "Two days ago, when I entered this pool, I had a fantastic feeling. There is an Olympic atmosphere here, it is simply splendid," he says. "I turned 60 in January, so I wanted to treat myself to something special. So I thought that taking part in an international competition would be a nice way to celebrate.”
Gumbsch began his academic career with a degree in physics and a doctorate at the University of Stuttgart. His research took him around the world between the United States of America, Great Britain, becoming an international luminary in materials science with professorships at the 'Karlsruhe Institute of Technology KIT' and the 'Fraunhofer Institute IWM'. "I have two positions, that of university professor and director of the Fraunhofer Institute of Technology, which is a German research centre for applied sciences. It's a bit like being a swimming coach. You first have to try to execute the things you want to teach your students or colleagues. If you want precision, you have to be precise. And then surely the most important advice is to be open. Over the last 10 years, I have moved from advising students directly to training young scientists who have already graduated and are now approaching an academic career,” he explains.
Professor Gumbsch also manages to find similarities between his work and the aquatic world: "I think there is a kind of relationship between a university career and sporting activity. In both cases, it is a competition, one for physical strength, the other for good ideas. Careful execution is present in both; there are parallels between the academic part, especially in the engineering disciplines where I work, and swimming. Both require attention to detail and the importance of exactness and precision.”
In his career as a materials scientist, over the years he has received many honours from the international scientific community and has become a member of the US National Academy of Engineering and the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina: "It's hard to say which is the most important award for me, I think the Leibniz Prize. Winning it means receiving a lot of money for research and gives you the freedom to be able to design your own research programmes independently. You don't have to write a project proposal, you can use the research money to do whatever you want in 5-6-7 years. In terms of prestige, I am a member of various academies and this is a kind of recognition for good work. It is not so much the value of the award, but more to be recognised by the German Academy of Sciences and the US Academy of Engineering. It's a good feeling.”
When he is not testing materials, doing load tests or leading a team of researchers, Gumbsch is swimming in the Masters Gundelfinger TS 1976, a German sports club from Freiburg. "I started swimming again six or seven years ago. I swam as a child until I was 15-16 years old, then stopped and started again six years ago when my three children left home and when my youngest daughter turned 13. She was a competitive swimmer so I followed her until her coach convinced me to start swimming again.”
At the European Masters in Rome, he competed in the men’s 200m IM, the 50m backstroke and the 50m freestyle. Although he did not achieve any victories in the pool, his successes as a researcher continue thanks to swimming: "The good thing is that I can do it in the evening, for an hour, an hour and a half, I leave everything to do with work behind because it's all about counting laps and it relaxes me.