Portrait: Like an eternity, a universe to marvel

- Studying sophisticated materials structures in a microscope and exploring the correlation between structure and properties, even reaching the precision of individual atoms, it's like an eternity, a universe to marvel, Eva reflects.

 For Eva Olsson there is such a fascination and joy in the research that she spontaneously keeps on exploring.
For Eva Olsson, Head of division Eva Olsson group at the Department of Applied Physics, it all started with her high school physics and mathematics teacher. He was absolutely fantastic and planted the idea that everything is possible. Thanks to him dreams came true. Eva explored different options with internships at companies and labs. Her first choice for university studies was Engineering Physics at Chalmers.

- The Engineering Physics education leaves you with generic skills and a knowledge that prepares you for any challenge. All doors are open once you graduate and that is something I like, Eva says, smiling.

Eva Olsson wrote her PhD thesis with Gordon Dunlop as her supervisor and examiner. The thesis was a collaboration with ABB in Ludvika and she received a personal grant on the day of her thesis defence. She then made a trip around the world to different research labs to spread the news about the research findings. This was another dream come true which established many international contacts that are still active today.

The following year, Eva accepted a position as a post doc at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in New York, after having considered a number of different offers. There she worked for slightly more than two years before she returned to Chalmers, This time as an Assistant Professor and thereafter as an Associate Professor. She spent four years as Professor in Uppsala, Ångström-laboratoriet, followed by an appointment as Professor at Chalmers. For Eva, Chalmers has always been close to heart and a place to meet challenges.

Her own way
Eva has always explored new paths, with huge support from her parents and mentors who never doubted her, but instead gave her confidence and a feeling that she would succeed in everything she did.

One thing always leads to the next for Eva. She can’t recall ever having come to a dead end where she needed to take a step back, but instead perhaps a step to the side. An insight and a new piece of knowledge has always enabled her to take the next step.

- What I am doing at the moment is always so fascinating. I don’t think I've ever wondered what it would have been like if I had chosen another path, Eva says

Microscopy and Spectroscopy
The research being carried out within Eva’s reseach group is briefly about understanding the relationship between structure, properties and fabrication where her focus is the use of microscopy and spectroscopy and also in situ experiments in order to make correlations between structure, properties and microstructural evolution. The research ranges from basic to applied research. In many cases, the research is a collaboration between several researchers, where they have complementary activities and specializations.

Eva, with her research group, combine expertise in different materials and experimental techniques of imaging, diffraction and spectroscopy. Together they formulate the strategies to address crucial questions concerning the role of atoms in determining the function and dynamics of the most advanced material structures.

The actual research is like detective work, Eva says. It is observing, searching for clues, understanding the context and building a knowledge base that makes it possible to develop ideas and concepts further. That is what is exciting and the driving force, she says.

- For me, time doesn’t matter. It is never like I close the door at five o'clock, and don’t think about it until the following day. If something needs to be done, so it needs to be done. For me there is such a fascination and joy in the actual research that I just spontaneously keep on working.

- What is most important and fascinating about the research is that it helps making our society more sustainable and environmentally friendly, Eva says. We answer questions about how we can improve materials and make them intelligent with multitasking capabilities.

Eva's ambition is to gather PhD students and post docs from around the world with exceptional skills and complementary expertise. The aim is to promote them and incorporate them in networks, building an international platform for the research, which takes place both locally but also in collaboration with various research groups.

- I want to make sure that we don’t constantly follow one single thought, the same idea, the same approach. I always want to ensure that there is a development, that we create a dynamic environment. This we do through contact with the students, and with young researchers who come here and work with us, by organizing workshops and by inviting the world's leading researchers to come here, but also by visiting other groups all over the world. All this allows us to build a research environment that is stimulating and beneficial to us all.

What inspires you?
- Discussions, collaborations, sunshine and a good cup of coffee, Eva says, smiling as she continues. I love art and design too, there is an endless fascination - it never ends, it just develops.

Discussions and interaction with people are very important to Eva. An experience may be of even greater value in the discussion with others, she says.

- It is a privilege to have a few very close friends where it is possible to examine anything from many different point of views to find a way forward. To have the opportunity to address multifaceted phenomena with colleagues and friends with detailed knowledge in different fields and the fact that there is a respect for each other and an interest to exchange ideas and views, regardless of research team or whatever it may be, it is incredibly important and rewarding, she says.

Microscopy is often performed in a dark and quiet room and where it is like entering another dimension and space.

- Studying sophisticated materials structures in a microscope and exploring the correlation between structure and properties, even reaching the precision of individual atoms – it’s like an eternity, a universe to marvel, Eva says.

Colors are another passion. Working with colors and design is something that exists in her research but also in her activities at free times.

- To reveal a secret, structures and patterns that appear in my research within microscopy can be quite fascinating and these impressions I make use of when I design unique pieces of clothes and accessories, often with pearls and sequins. The process of designing and continuously developing the shapes while working with colours and materials is a relaxed way to let the mind process observations and impressions. It is a constant concentration on the design and on how it takes shape, but at the same time, during this work when I am slowly, slowly sewing sequins, it is suddenly as if things fall into place even with my research.

The result of her creation is more often than not a unique evening gown admired at the Nobel banquet.

Eva about the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
After having followed the Nobel festivities each year, listened to several of the Nobel laureates who visited Chalmers, she was assigned the great honor, to be a part of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which meant that one of her big dreams was fulfilled.

- That Friday in January 2011 is one of those moments in my life that will always be there. It's much like getting the Nobel Prize. You can never count on it but you can dream about it. I have always had my focus set on the core activities of my position at Chalmers which are research, teaching, interaction with and support of society and coaching of my group members. I find it all fascinating and important. Then somehow, I have believed that other things will simply fall into place eventually - and so they do.

Most exciting challenges ahead?
What is most exciting right now in Eva’s research field is soft microscopy, because it opens up new possibilities in materials research and materials physics.

- It is clear from the many collaboration projects and interaction with colleagues in academia and industry that there is a growing interest in soft organic materials in parallel to further advancing inorganic materials. We have taken the challenge to establish new approaches to widen our abilities to develop intelligent hybrid materials structures, Eva explains

- Building Chalmers is also a challenge. To ensure that Chalmers develops its position internationally. Because I actually believe that we have an opportunity to contribute to the development of the materials for tomorrow and to a society in constant change where we provide the knowledge that enables smart and sustainable solutions, and it's fun - a real challenge.


Text: Sabina Johansson
Photo: Henrik Sandsjö

Page manager Published: Fri 29 Jan 2016.