I am an Italian Engineer, born in Venezuela about 34 years ago and moved to Italy when I was about two years old. I grew up in a small village in Abruzzo, called Ripattoni, and obtained my bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering in L'Aquila in 2009. I then moved to the University of Florence for my Master's degree in Energy Engineering (graduated with 110/110 cum laude). During my master's, I have spent the academic year 2010/2011 at the University of Sevilla, in Spain, in the framework of an Erasmus program.
This experience triggered my interest in working in an international and cross-cultural environment. While searching for an additional Erasmus placement program at the University of Florence, I discovered the VKI. I joined the von Karman Institute (VKI) in February 2012 as a Short Training Program (STP) student to work on my master thesis. During my STP project, I worked on the dynamics of bubbly flows with Professor Buchlin, and I had the chance to combine theoretical, numerical, and experimental work. After spending some time on the blackboard, I had the freedom to work and develop a fascinating idea: reconstruct optically the 3D shape of an air bubble rising in water.
The idea was inspired by a TV documentary on the making of the animated comedy "Shrek". The documentary showed how to "digitalize" an object by taking many pictures of it. The technique, known as visual hull, required tens of images from different angles and software to locate the position of the camera in each image, reconstruct the 3D space around the object, and finally retrieve its 3D shape by intersecting the cones formed by the silhouette of the object in each image and the camera position. Easy, right?
We thought that if this could work for a complicated shape such as the funny green ogre, it had to work also for a bubble. Since it was not possible to set tens of cameras to visualize the bubble from different positions, we decided to use mirrors. I first tested this at home, after
an "accident" broke the mirror of my bath into pieces. A picture of the first set up for testing the idea is in Figure 1. The set up consisted of a hanging piece of dough (remaining from the home-made pizza of the day before) simulating the bubble, three pieces of broken mirror, two lamps for illumination and a black umbrella for the background.
The result was not perfect but proved the concept. The following month, together with the endless support of Ir. Delsipee, we designed a facility to do the reconstruction of a bubble, and the rest of the story is my STP report. This experience was not only one of the most formative ones of my life. It was a life turning point: it showed me that the VKI is a unique environment for boosting the growth of enthusiastic engineers and in which every challenge that is technically possible can be successfully tackled. This was the beginning of my love story with the VKI.
Figure 1: Top: Picture of the set up for the first visual hull experiment; Bottom: the result of the 3D reconstruction from the images.
After my STP, I continued working in the EA department as a Research Master student (graduated with honors and the von Karman prize), a Post Research-Master, an Advanced Research Orientation (ARO) student, as a PhD student, as a post-doctoral fellow and as of 1 May
2019, to my highest honor, as an Assistant Professor. In these years, I have worked on many challenging experimental projects. One of the funniest ones consisted of high-speed flow visualization and Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) on a jet of straw - a means to feed cows in cattle barns. A picture of the set-up and the straw jet is in Fig.2. The experimental data were used to derive a theoretical model for this complex particle-laden flow, later implemented in a software package commissioned by the "Centre Technique des Industries Mecaniques" (CETIM).
Figure 2 Top: That's me adjusting the camera before a high-speed PIV experiment on a straw jet; Bottom: a picture of the straw jet under investigation
During my Ph.D. thesis, I worked on the experimental, theoretical and numerical analysis of the jet wiping process, a coating technique that uses an impinging gas jet to control the liquid thickness on a moving substrate.
My work, commissioned by Arcelor-Mittal, aimed at identifying and controlling different unstable mechanisms in the interaction between the impinging jet and the liquid film. I have worked on four experimental facilities, developing various optical techniques and involving in my work 22 students as STP or RM. During my post-doctoral activities, I worked on the nonlinear stability analysis of the wiping process, developing a dedicated CFD software package called BLEW (Boundary Layer Wiping). I took part in projects related to wire coating stability (BEKAERT), micro-gravity (64th ESA Parabolic Flight) and image-based velocimetry in two-phase flows (Horizon 2020/Clean Sky).
Besides experimental fluid mechanics and engineering modeling of fluid flows, my main research activities include advanced data processing, model order reduction, machine learning, and flow control. During my PhD , I have published 9 journal articles (plus 3 in preparation), 18 articles
in conference proceedings, and three technical notes. One of my articles, in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics (10 July 2019, vol 870, pp. 988-1036), has triggered several important international collaborations on modal analysis and machine learning. Among these, I am proud to recall the joint laboratory VKI-Dantec Dynamics on post-processing of PIV data and the new VKI Lecture series titled "Machine Learning in Fluid Mechanics: Analysis, Modeling Control and Closures", together with Prof. B. Noack (LIMSI-CNRS), Prof. A. Ianiro (Univ. Carlos III) and Prof. S. Brunton (Univ. of Washington). I am also a member of the Scientific Committee of the European Coating Symposium (ECS) and organizer of the next edition, the ECS2021, which will be held at the von Karman Institute.
As of March 2019, I am an Assistant Professor at the VKI, where I have the honor to teach Fundamentals of Fluid Dynamics (FFD), Signal Processing (SP) , Tools for Scientific Computing (TSC), Measurement Techniques (IMT) and Data-Driven Fluid Mechanics and Machine Learning (DDFM). More information about my courses is available in the 'Teaching' page.
Besides continuing to expand my research expertise, I look forward to keeping on mentoring and learning from the next generation of VKI students. If doing research is currently my passion it is mostly thanks to the mentoring and guidance that I have received in these years at the VKI and that I am eager to offer back.
Figure 3: Top, from left to right: Me, Th. von Karman and my colleague Laura Peveroni (Research Master in 2012) during the 64th ESA parabolic flight; Bottom, That's me during a Time-Resolved PIV campaign in the VKI Ondule laboratory; these tests were conducted with a very high seeding density.