Argonne National Laboratory

Giovanni Ramirez

By Justin H.S. BreauxDecember 12, 2016

Giovanni Ramirez is a postdoctoral appointee in the field of tribology within the Energy Systems Division at Argonne National Laboratory.

Originally from Colombia, Ramirez received a Ph.D. in engineering, specializing in thin films/coatings, corrosion and surface engineering, from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. His basic and applied research interests include reducing energy consumption due to friction and understanding the fundamental mechanisms behind the tribological behavior of coatings and lubricants that could have industrial applications.

What kind of work do you do at Argonne? And how does your work support the laboratory's mission?

My work is in materials science and lubrication where we try to modify or understand lubricants and their interaction with different surfaces. We coat steel with thin coatings to see if we can enhance its mechanical properties and make it more durable or reduce friction. Reducing that friction reduces fuel consumption, which could lead to reduced emissions. I've also had the opportunity to have this work published in the journal Nature.

What attracted you to Argonne?

Everything! Here you have high-caliber scientists from nearly every country working in basic and applied sciences on projects ranging from electric car testing to protein characterization. That makes Argonne very attractive for anyone curious about science or engineering. Additionally, it has been an absolute pleasure to work beside Ali Erdemir and Levent Eryilmaz from whom I've learned a great deal about tribology and materials science fields.

I'm a postdoc working with engineers, material scientists and physicists to produce all types of cool things. I work for 40 hours a week and have time to enjoy my friends and family, and even have time to mentor graduate and undergraduate students.

What is it like to be an immigrant at Argonne?

I have been an immigrant for these last nine years. I am from Colombia and that is where I got my undergrad and master's degrees. Next, I moved to Mexico to pursue my Ph.D. But in Mexico, even though you speak the same language, you have to adapt to a totally new culture and learn how to blend in.

Coming to Argonne was my second immigration step. To understand that I am in a different culture was easy because I already had that experience before. When I arrived, I wasn't fluent in English, and I was very lucky to get great help from my coworkers and mentors.

At Argonne, you are an immigrant at a place that has people from almost every nation. You're not just learning about the culture of Chicago or the United States, but you are learning the culture of every single person from Asia to Africa and the Americas. So being an immigrant at Argonne not only shows you the United States, it shows you the world.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

I'm usually working on a half-dozen experiments, so on a typical day I'm collecting and analyzing data, working on project-related reports or trying to find new funding opportunities.

The first thing that I do when I come to work is to check my emails and Argonne Today, the lab's employee news blog, to see all the things that are interesting like colloquia or seminars. Then I check on the experiments and the students running them to see how they are progressing. Oh, and I also purchase the things that we need for our experiments. I guess I do a little bit of everything.

What challenges have you faced and overcome?

Every day comes with a new challenge or opportunity when you work in a research environment. We develop methods and protocols for new processes or products and then optimize them to meet specific application needs. So the biggest challenge would be solving a problem or meeting the goals and milestones of a specific project in a timely manner. 

For example, when we work with industry, one of the ways we can work together is to try to help them solve a specific problem. One of the projects I'm working on now has to do with different types of greases for ball bearing applications. This sounds like a simple test, but there is not much information on how to test this material in the laboratory. First, we had to decide on which machine to use. Then we worked on developing a new set of methods to monitor how the grease changes over time under the specific conditions used by the industrial sponsor.

What sorts of career or professional development opportunities has Argonne provided you with?

The Postdoctoral Program is really nice. They give us the chance to hear about all the opportunities inside and outside of Argonne. Just this year I've attended seminars on how to interview and update my resume. I also had the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. to discuss science policy and learn about the different agencies and how decisions are made in the nation's capital. I also have the opportunity to serve in the Postdoctoral Society at Argonne, acquiring not only scientific knowledge, but some leadership skills when chairing the Annual Research and Career Symposium.

Overall, Argonne is very good at providing opportunities to see different career possibilities and acquire the necessary skills for the future.

Amy Bender »