“Would matter be perfect, it would be boring” says Guillaume Nataf, who has an oozing passion for physics and teaching fundamental science. The French national did his PhD in the group of FNR PEARL Chair Jens Kreisel at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), in collaboration with the French Atomic Commission (CEA). We spoke to Guillaume, who has just started a Postdoc at the University of Cambridge, about life as a researcher.
Why did you decide to become a researcher?
“A researcher is free! Free to work on the topic he wants, free to choose the amount of time he can dedicate to it, free to build partnerships with the researchers he values. These are the basics of why I decided to become a researcher. And even if reality is more complex, and restraints numerous, these motivations are still at the heart of my research work.”
What is your research about?
“Would matter be perfect, it would be boring. Many intriguing and powerful properties – such as superconductivity, piezoelectricity or magnetoelectricity – can be optimized by engineering microstructures and defects in materials. This explains my passion for microstructures and defects in ferroic materials.
“I image ferroic single crystals at different length scales to understand how their micro- or even nano-structures can be (i) electrically conductive while the material is an insulator, (ii) polar while the material is non-polar.
“A better understanding of these phenomena is of interest for fundamental science, but several applications might also come out of it, such as new piezoelectronic devices controlled by applied stress.”
Is there a typical day for you as a researcher, and what would that look like?
“During a PhD, every day is different. However, if I could perform in a single day everything I did during the three years of my PhD, I would begin by reading a lot of scientific articles to understand what has been done before and what are the remaining challenges.
“Then, I would start experiments. Of course, they would be unsuccessful at the beginning, and I would improve them again and again until I get interesting results. I would analyse these results in details and compare them with findings of other scientists.
“Finally, if an interesting fact pops up, I would spread it abroad with a scientific article and in an international conference.”
In terms of your career in research / science, is there anything you would like to achieve?
“I have a passion for research that relies on understanding the microstructures of materials. Every fundamental progress I make in this direction is an achievement.
“However, I would like to see how all these achievements sum up to provide novel technologies. I also have a passion for teaching fundamental science. Therefore, I am particularly enthusiastic about the wide range of supervising and teaching opportunities on offer during a researcher career.”
You came to Luxembourg to do your PhD, even though you have now moved on to England to do your Postdoc at the University of Cambridge, what is your impression of Luxembourg’s potential in research?
“Luxembourg has borders with France, Belgium and Germany, and is close to the Netherlands and Switzerland. In Luxembourg, there is an unbelievable melt of cultures and knowledge, which are key ingredients for successful research.
“Furthermore, when I looked for a PhD position, I found out that Jens Kreisel had been awarded an excellence award (FNR PEARL). I knew that this award was the guarantee of solid funding to buy samples, build new experiments and travel. During my PhD under the supervision of Jens Kreisel and Nick Barrett I found out that this award was even more since it gave me the opportunity to observe the growth of a new group and research topic in Luxembourg.”
Spotlight on Young Researchers is an FNR initiative to highlight early career researchers across the world who have a connection to Luxembourg. This article is the 6th in a series of around 20 articles, which will be published on a weekly basis. You can see more articles below as and when they are published.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Dementia in neurodegeneration – defining the role of microglia, the brain’s immune cells
An estimated 55 million people in the world suffer from dementia, with the number estimated to increase to 78 million by 2030. In Luxembourg, more than 10,000 people suffer from dementia, including patients affected by Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia with Lewy Bodies. These incurable diseases have an increasing socio-economic impact along with the burden on patients and caregivers. One of the approaches researchers are taking is studying microglia, immune cells in the brain.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Glioblastoma and the challenge of getting cancer drugs to reach the brain
Glioblastoma is the most aggressive form of brain tumours in adults. The incidence is about 4 per 100.000 people and the average survival after diagnosis is about 14 months with current treatments. The tumour’s location represents a major challenge – few drugs make it past the blood brain barrier. Researchers are working on designing a novel kind of drug that could help do just that.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: How is scientific quality fostered by research collaboration?
In the last decades, how research is conducted has been profoundly changed by ICT, and there has also been a shift from the ‘sole genius’ towards teamwork and especially interdisciplinarity: Today, millions of researchers worldwide collaborate across organisational, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries, extending the possibilities of new scientific discovery. This, and the associated data, has paved the way for the scientific field Science of Science, where one key question is understanding exactly how scientific quality is fostered by research collaboration.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Steve Dias Da Cruz
While machine learning and deep learning have come a long way, they are not yet at a stage where autonomous vehicles can handle unexpected situations. As part of a public research-industry collaboration, early career researcher Steve Dias Da Cruz investigates possibilities to reduce the amount of data needed to train reliable deep learning models for safety critical applications in the automotive industry.
When Thomas Elliot (Tom) cycled from Indonesia to London, he witnessed many people living in hardship. Motivated to research how consumption affects social and environmental justice in a bid to help reduce the hardship witnessed, the New Zealand national applied for an open PhD position at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), where he now works on a project that fuses urban metabolism and ecosystem services.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Measuring the environmental impact of investment funds
Sustainable capital market investments are expected to reach 53 trillion USD – about 1 in every 3 dollars invested – by 2025. Meanwhile, a much lower level of funds are going directly into climate-related projects, leading to an increasing concern of greenwashing in the market. Researchers are developing science-based tools to measure the environmental impact of financial investment decisions.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Maciej Piotr Chrzanowski
Maciej Piotr Chrzanowski never thought he would become a researcher, but a successful attempt at applying for a PhD changed all of that, and the Polish national found himself moving to Luxembourg. Now in the 3rd year of his AFR-PPP PhD, Maciej is embedded both at the University of Luxembourg and in R&D Application Department of steel manufacturing corporation ArcelorMittal, where he works on development of new solutions for structures.
In school, we are taught three states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. The focus of University of Luxembourg PhD candidate Anjali Sharma’s research lies between solid and liquid: liquid crystal. She studies them in unusual shapes that are no larger than the width of a human hair, yet they are considered as large by the scientists of the field. As part of her research, the Indian national got an opportunity for a rare experiment: Taking her research into a zero gravity environment.
To many, the Middle Ages are synonymous with the term the ‘Dark Ages’ – a time of decline. The term was coined hundreds of years ago by the era referring to itself as the ‘Renaissance’ – a rebirth of norms and standards. There is in fact much more to the complexity of the Middle Ages and historians are working on overcoming these antiquated ideas. For this research, Dr Christa Birkel won a 2021 FNR Award in the category ‘Outstanding PhD Thesis’.
In high school, Anna Schleimer thought everything there was to know in science was already known. When she discovered how many unanswered questions there still are, curiosity drove her to become a researcher. The Luxembourg national is now in the 1st year of her AFR PhD, in what is not your most common topic: As a marine biologist, Anna studies fin whales as part of her joint PhD at University of Groningen and University of St Andrews.