The following is an excerpt.

Maria Jesus Perez and Borja Erice are leaving CASA and settling down in Spain. The couple takes on new positions at the Mondragón University in The Basque Country.

Finishing up. During their last days before leaving CASA, the couple did several high-speed compression tests on low-strength steels in the Split-Hopkinson pressure bar at SIMLab. Here in engaged discussion with senior Trond Auestad and PhD candidate Einar Schwenke (to the right). (All photos: Sølvi W. Normannsen)

«The period at SFI CASA has been fantastic for us. Seriously, you have a lot of freedom to do research here because of sufficient funding. We have very much enjoyed the openness and the mentality of the group. It gives a relaxed working environment. You can always knock on doors. People are open and sharing», says Borja Erice.
Maria Jesus Perez adds:
«For me, this is a place that really allows you to love research».


For the last year and a half, she has had a post-doc position at SFI CASA, while Borja Erice has been employed as a researcher. Last autumn, the Basque Foundation for Science (Ikerbasque) granted him a Research Fellowship at the Mondragón University.
At the same time, the University wanted Maria Jesus Perez to take on a position as a researcher. It was a golden opportunity that came their way, so the couple made their choice. It was time to return to Spain. Since they left family and friends in the Summer of 2013, they have lived in Paris, Zürich, Oxford and Trondheim.
«Honestly, we were seriously considering settling down in Norway. We saw each other staying here», Perez says.


Their new employer, Mondragón University, has a contract with Ikerbasque, the Research Council of the Basque Country in Spain. Ikerbasque was launched by the Basque Government in 2007, to help develop scientific research by attracting outstanding researchers and recovering talent for the region.

Currently, it employs over 270 scientists from 26 nationalities. Among these, there are now 24 European Research Council (ERC) grantees – and Borja Erice. EU also co-funds Ikerbasque calls, such as the 5-year Research Fellowship that Erice was granted.
The application process is like passing the eye of a needle: 170 independent evaluators from 25 countries participate in the evaluation process of Ikerbasque calls. The applications are reviewed on scientific merit and research track, on the relevance of research topics and their latest publications. Also, concordance with Basque research capabilities and added value to the research organisation and the Basque Science System is essential.


Borja Erice passed the needle´s eye. Now he enters a Tenure-track. If everything plays out well, the process leads to a permanent contract as an Ikerbasque Research Associate, and finally, a Research Professor.
The Faculty of engineering at Mondragón has 16 proprietary research groups, structured in 6 research units. Maria Jesus Perez will work as a researcher in the High-Performance Machining Group. What made her attractive to the group was her excellent knowledge of the mechanical characterisation of materials.
Her understanding of their behaviour during dynamic loadings such as impact or blast was important.
«I sort of fill in a gap they have in the group», she says.
To start with, Borja will attend a research group named Advanced Material Forming Processes. Then he will soon begin to establish a new research group.

«For me, this is a place that really allows you to love research»


During their last days before leaving CASA, the couple did several high-speed compression tests on hot-rolled low-alloy steels in the Split-Hopkinson pressure bar at SIMLab. «We are finishing up our projects now. These are mainly focused on understanding the mechanical response and fracture mechanisms of the different steel families used in the offshore and automotive industries with reliable industry partners such as Equinor or SSAB», they explain. These activities also involve two MSc students under the primary supervision of Professor Odd Sture Hopperstad. Maria also spent some of her last working hours in Trondheim in the scanning electron microscope (Photos above and left). Task: «Fractographic study on the ductile-to-brittle transition due to self-contacting surface defects observed when reverse straining largely compressed pipeline steels into tension».

READ MORE: From Wrinkles and Creases to Possible Catastrophic Failure


The Basque Country puts a lot of interest in research, and Perez thinks the close cooperation between research and industry differs from what happens in Norway. «Mondragón University and Ikerbasque have a strong orientation towards the industry. The research here is very applied, and the industry is very active in requiring results that could be put to use», says Maria Jesus Perez.
The University itself states that one of its main characteristics is a «close and permanent relationship with the working world, enabling us to outline our educational offer by adapting it to the needs of companies and organisations». Among others, they have a relationship with Mondragon Corporation – which contains 257 companies and institutions and more than 74,060 workers in the region.


Even if this last part is different, Perez and Erice also find many similarities between the Basque and the Norwegian culture. The Basques are well-known for having a social lifestyle with a strong mentality of sharing. According to the couple, this is also characteristic for SFI CASA.
During the last couple of weeks, the couple´s rented apartment in Trondheim is emptied. Their stuff is loaded onto a truck and transported to Spain, where it will be stored in a container until they find a new home in the Basque Country.
If not cancelled due to the outbreak of Covid-19 Virus, several people fram CASA are planning on attending a conference in Madrid in May. Some of them also plan to pay a visit to Mondragón. According to Erice and Perez, who will act as the visitor´s personal guides, this could be an excellent opportunity to discuss further collaboration between Mondragón and CASA at NTNU.

Borja Erice completed his PhD in 2012, while Maria Jesus Perez defended her PhD thesis in 2017. Both of them graduated at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM, Spain).