A multifaceted explorer with a barrier breaking mind
Luigia Brandimarte – who is she and why did she become a water researcher? This is what I set out to get some answers on as I begin an interesting conversation with Luigia which reveals a creative and sharp minded scientist with an unconventional way of thinking.
Luigia Brandimarte is an Associate Professor in Hydraulic Engineering at the Sustainable Development, Environmental Sciences and Engineering department (SEED). Born and educated in Italy, she studied humanities in high school. “I am not one of those who say I was born with an interest, no!”, she laughingly says. Needing a new, fresh challenge she took a turn towards hydraulic engineering during university. Interested in the environment, she did her master’s in Bologna on flooding, which led her to PhD studies in Milan. During her studies Luigia investigated the effect of flowing water around bridge piers in relation to bridge collapse. Over the years, her interest has developed from this small-scale hydraulic engineering topic into a broader focus combined with an interest in socioeconomic environmental aspects and contexts of living and society that international field projects opened her mind to. Like when she participated in a field experiment in Haiti on flood risk management or the research project in the Jamuna River, Bangladesh, where she learned about the two-way relationship between flooding and living contexts. Her continued explorations eventually led her into sociohydrology. “There is a whole new field of research that is called sociohydrology, that studies the interaction between the human system and the natural system. So if there is a flooding, society will respond maybe by building levies or by settling away from the flood plain. But that action has a reaction in turn on the hydrology of the area, so the next flood will be affected by the decision made by the society”, explains Luigia.
I comment that she seems driven by curiosity. “Otherwise I get bored”, she replies. There are colleagues who spend their entire career working on the same research question, and we need people that are so devoted to one aspect of science, but that doesn’t fit my personality. I need to refresh my interests. I need to be exposed to different options in research and in life in general, so I tend to be multifaceted.”
When asked about her views on knowledge, she replies that the building of knowledge has been fast within sociohydrology, partly because it is a new research field. The next step, she says, would be to build models and try to simulate these dynamics between flooding and society. Luigia describes sociohydrology as a potentially very multi- and interdisciplinary research field, where at least social scientists, economic scientists, engineers, and modellers should sit together. “That’s what I’m trying to do with some projects that I collaborate in and also with colleagues in terms of pure research, so that’s the goal”.
The potential of multi- and interdisciplinary research could be world changing, but with communication as the greatest challenge; finding common methods, ways to interpret results and common research interests.
So, what are Luigia’s future dreams? Due to the pandemic, she had to teach fluid mechanics through zoom in 2020. “It was a nightmare!” she says laughingly, recalling trying to write complex equations and perform small experiments with props through a small size screen. “That was the driving force to finally doing something that I had had in mind for quite some time. I wanted to use movement, dancers, to represent – visualise – fluid mechanics equations.” Together with the head of bachelor’s at the School of Circus she did a pedagogical experiment, in short having circus students interpret fluid mechanics concepts in performances. The students loved this different way of learning, and this made Luigia want to further explore unconventional teaching methods in engineering: “I am going now towards that direction, as a satellite research topic”, she says with anticipation.
I ask finally if she has any advice for future students wanting to get into hydraulic engineering. “I think everybody can claim that their research field has an impact on society, but what I think is interesting for the hydrology or the hydraulic engineering field is that you can explore that in different ways. Exchanging knowledge with others that analyse the same research topics from other perspectives, is what I think can advance science even further”.
The conversation has come to an end, with only a glimpse into the creative world of Luigia Brandimarte and her research. To sum up her barrier breaking mind-set, I use her own wise words: “I think as long as you learn as a scientist, you advance”.
Something that is true for us all.
Text: Isabelle Johannesson
Link to article on the pedagogical experiment between KTH and Uniarts: