Welcome, Prof. Fußeis!


Exchange Arthur's Seat for Laacher See....

Foto of Florian Fußeis Copyright: © Florian Fußeis

Dear Mr. Fußeis,
congratulations! On October 1, 2023, you will take over the teaching and research area "Applied Structural Geology" (formerly "Tectonics & Geodynamics") as successor to Prof. Buiter, who has been appointed Scientific Director of GFZ Potsdam. What exactly is your new professorship about and what challenges do you expect - apart from the risk of confusion as the fourth professorial Florian in Aachen?

The structural geology professorship at the RWTH was significantly shaped by Janos Urai in the last decades, and I hope to develop in Aachen in a similar way as Janos did in his time. This means that I will be doing structural geology from the nanometer to the terrain scale, I will be doing innovative basic research, and I will also always be looking to be close to applications, especially in times of the energy transition, we can make an exciting and important contribution here. I will not lack inspiration in Aachen - the many great colleagues and talents at the university, and also the many industrial and institutional partners in the RWTH environment guarantee a very exciting breeding ground for great research and almost endless possibilities. The thing with the many Florians is indeed a funny coincidence and probably due to a hype of the name in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Hopefully that won't lead to too many misunderstandings. When in doubt, I'm the one from Austria.

  Photo of Prof. Fußeis in the field Copyright: © Florian Fußeis

You studied geology at the University of Vienna from 1995 to 2001 and subsequently moved to the FU Berlin as a research associate. You completed your PhD there in 2006 on the topic of "Strain localization and shear zone formation at the brittle-viscous transition, Cap de Creus, Spain". Where did your enthusiasm for the geosciences come from and what made you decide to pursue a career in science?

I stumbled into a scientific career, just as I did when I studied geology in Vienna. However, at the latest after my first excursion abroad to southern Italy, I became addicted to the fact that the geosciences literally open one's eyes to the world. I can also remember well when, during my diploma thesis, I first uncovered previously undiscovered knowledge and left my own first small footprint in science. If I can help my master's students have a similar experience, I've almost done my job.

Today, I think the geosciences are great mainly because they have a special position within the otherwise often so precise natural sciences. To understand the bigger picture in the geosciences, we should ideally have a basic knowledge of all other natural science disciplines. And beyond that, the vast majority of the geosphere is inaccessible to us, the deepest borehole is just 12 km deep, and most geological processes are far too complex and often far too slow to be truly accurately mapped. The scales are huge, and yet processes on the micrometer scale often play a crucial role. Despite all these difficulties, it is incredibly important for all of us to be able to navigate the societal interfaces with the geosphere. That is the task of the geosciences. In doing so, we are permanently confronted with a data situation that is actually insufficient, we have to understand complex interrelationships, we have to live with uncertainties in our statements, and yet we have to arrive at reliable forecasts. This requires a broad background knowledge, a lot of creativity, ability to combine, intuition and experience, but also to recognize the limits of resilience. Geoscientists have these very special skills, and I find that totally exciting.

  Prof. Fußeis in front of a rock record Copyright: © Florian Fußeis

After completing your PhD, you moved to the University of Western Australia in 2007 as a Research Fellow and Assistant Research Professor before accepting a Junior Professorship in Endogenous Dynamics at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in 2011. In 2013, your path then took you to Scotland as Senior Lecturer and Reader at the University of Edinburgh. To what extent do the different university and science systems differ from each other and what do you take with you from these systems for your new position and what do you leave there?

In Australia and the UK, universities are now very much run as 'service providers' who make a lot of money from educating students. I'm happy to leave that there, I'm happy to now be back working in a system where world-class university education is also equally accessible to all. What I bring back from Scotland, though, is the ambition that our graduates from RWTH should be among the most sought-after in the sector, and that we equip them in teaching with everything they need to succeed in their careers. In Edinburgh, I have also led a project in recent years to modernize the 'Geology' degree program and make it more relevant to the future needs of graduates. The resulting 'Earth Sciences' course is just starting this September, and we have already been able to increase our student numbers by 50% in the first year, so the course seems to be well received by first-year students. I am happy to bring the experience I have gained in this project back to Aachen.

In both Australia and Scotland, I was fortunate to be able to learn from outstanding colleagues who, despite all their international success, did not forget that there is also a life beyond publications and third-party funding. Edinburgh in particular has a very nice academic culture, where many smart people exchange ideas on all kinds of topics and inspire each other. I hope for the same in Aachen. From my time at these universities, I also bring with me a very extensive professional network in Europe, the U.S. and Australia, which I benefit from every day in my research.

  Photo of Prof. Fußeis in the field with students Copyright: © Florian Fußeis

Your teaching focus in Edinburgh included structural geology, tectonics, nuclear waste disposal, and especially terrain education. What will students expect in teaching and what do you expect from your students?

With my team, I will cover structural geology in all its facets in a series of courses, and in the medium term I will also offer a lecture on applied structural geology. However, I would also like to continue to be involved in teaching about the final disposal of nuclear waste, which I find to be a red-hot topic that I have been dealing with for several years now. One focus of my teaching, as you mentioned, will be field education, which I already played a major role in shaping in Edinburgh. My field education at RWTH will be very 'hands-on', covering classical but also modern methods, and equipping students with everything they need to do structural geology, including applied. Terrain work is fun and the thought of it should not scare anyone away, on the contrary. At the same time, it should be accessible to all, that's important to me. Two topics that are very close to my heart are analytical thinking and science communication, these are both extremely important skills, especially nowadays, and this is definitely the direction I will be teaching in. I hope that students will be aware of the privilege of studying at a top university and actively pick up the extensive knowledge that is available to them there.

  Prof. Fußeis in the laboratory Copyright: © Florian Fußeis

During your time in Australia, you conducted research in the field of geothermal energy. In Scotland, you established an internationally networked research group on 4D X-ray imaging. What will be the focus of your research in Aachen? How do you explain the importance of your research area for society to a layperson?

In Australia, geothermal was actually even more of a mantle for my interest in porosity. In fact, it was in Australia that I began to explore 3D and 4D (3D plus time) X-ray imaging, or X-ray tomography, in depth. The method is ideal for studying pores in rocks and, in experiments, also how these pores change as the rock deforms and reacts. In the Earth's crust, pores are normally filled with fluids and gases, and these fluids are what matter in CO2 storage, in geothermal energy, in the formation of hydrothermal ore deposits, and also in the final disposal of nuclear waste.

These fluids are also central to many tectonic processes. But to understand how a fluid behaves in a rock, one must first also understand how the pores that house the fluids evolve in different scenarios. The pores control where a fluid can interact with a rock, and where it moves. And that's what I study both in deformed rocks in the field and in experiments. By the way, we mostly do our experiments at synchrotron particle accelerators in France, Switzerland, the UK, and the US, where we use the extremely bright X-rays to observe our rock samples even through relatively thick-walled experimental setups. In Aachen, I will of course continue this, and hopefully be able to contribute my methods to many collaborations. In the medium term, I also plan to set up a rather unique research facility at RWTH where long-term experiments can be performed in an X-ray tomograph, 16-20 at a time!


You have already supervised post-docs and doctoral students in Scotland. What guidelines are important to you in the training of your young scientists and how do you plan to implement this in your professorship?

I am always happy when someone decides to work with me. Ideally, this leads to a lively intellectual exchange. My goal is to provide the environment in which young scientists can develop and really want to get started. To that end, I am a mentor, a provider of ideas, sometimes a teacher, one who makes things happen, and always loyal. The kind of research we do is often complex and requires a lot of specialized methodological knowledge, which inevitably makes it a 'team effort'. So there will also be a lot of collaboration between everyone in my group. I'm looking forward to that.


And one final question: What are you most looking forward to in Aachen?

After having to witness the Brexit from the front row as a convinced European in the UK, which cost me a fair amount of nerves, I am honestly looking forward to landing back in the center of Europe. I am looking forward to discovering the wider tri-border area both in my private life and through my work. In Aachen itself, I find the contrast between its eternally long history and the hypermodern technical university exciting. And in moderate doses, I'm happy to have a few Printen.