Spotlight on Young Researchers: Svenja Bourone


Svenja Bourone is a chemist who has always had a fascination for natural sciences. During her master studies at RWTH Aachen, she became captivated by functional nanomaterials and as chance would have it, a doctoral position opened up in just that field. During her AFR PhD, Svenja developed a new protocol to help with the synthesisation of gold nanoparticles, which she is now putting to use in her work as a Postdoc. The Luxembourg national has a strong desire to return home to the Grand Duchy to continue her work on nanomaterials.

Nanomaterial is a material with particles or constituents of nanoscale dimensions, or one that is produced by nanotechnology. To put the scale of this in to context: A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometres thick, it is therefore safe to say that any work in this field requires a potent microscope.

Nanotechnology brings together a diverse field of sciences, such as physics, chemistry, biology, materials science, and engineering. Overall, Svenja’s work falls into the materials science part. But how did Svenja, a passionate chemist, end up as a Postdoc working with nanomaterials?

“I am thrilled with the conception, preparation and investigation of advanced materials presenting unprecedented properties. Therefore, I put the focus of my doctoral and postdoctoral studies on nanomaterials- and technology,” Svenja explains.

Investigating ways to characterise gold nanoparticles

It was during her Masters studies at RWTH Aaachen that Svenja went to a course about functional nanomaterial run by Prof Simon, who would later play an instrumental role in Svenja’s PhD studies. Instantly mesmerised by the topic, Svenja joined Prof Simon’s group to complete her Master studies, investigating possible ways to characterise gold nanoparticles – miniscule parts of gold that can be as small as 5 nanometres. This work led to Svenja’s PhD, as she explains:

“Prof Simon offered me to continue working in his group for my PhD thesis, I readily accepted, as he proposed that I should probe the relation between the composition of gold nanoparticles and their electrical properties, which was exactly why I chose to become a chemist in the first place.”

Svenja explains that nanotechnology “pursues the goal of assembling devices exhibiting unprecedented properties from components so small that they have size-dependent characteristics, which diverge from those of the bulk material. This observation also applies to gold nanoparticles”.

“That is the reason why I develop protocols to synthesize gold nanoparticles presenting an asymmetric structure owing to the molecules on their surface. They can be used as functional elements in electronics, for the detection of biomolecules or drug delivery.”

In order to realise these applications, their asymmetry has to be validated. This presents a challenge, because a tiny number of molecules have to be selectively detected – and this reaches the bounds of current technical feasibility. But Svenja did not let that faze her:

“I accepted this challenge and was able to develop a new protocol, which allows proving the asymmetry of the particles I synthesize. I now use it on a daily basis and investigate the electrical properties of asymmetric gold nanoparticles.”

“During my PhD studies, I got accepted to give a talk at the Pacifichem Congress, which is one of the largest chemistry conferences of the world and is held only every five years. It takes place in Honolulu (Hawaii, USA) and gathers approximately 18˙000 scientists.”

“At this congress, I presented my results about the successful characterization of asymmetric nanoparticles to a broad and international public.
I met scientists from all over the world and discussed my findings as well as the technological progress of nanotechnology with experts in this field.
Of course, by the end of the day, stepping out of the rather dark conference rooms directly onto Waikiki beach was a sublime highlight for itself.”

“Luxembourg’s R&D landscape is developing at a breath-taking pace”

Svenja’s main goal as a researcher is to satisfy her natural curiosity – using scientific studies as a mechanism to better grasp how different factors influence each other – to ultimately gain a better comprehension of the world’s complexity. And she is looking to continue this work in her home country Luxembourg, in the domain of advanced materials – which falls into Luxembourg’s priority research domains.

Being of Luxembourgish nationality, I am determined to return to Luxembourg since I feel deeply connected to it” Svenja says, adding:

“Therefore, I am all the more pleased that in the last years the Grand Duchy has put a lot of effort in attracting outstanding scientists and establishing a renowned R&D landscape, it has developed into an attractive working place for top researchers.

“Luxembourg’s R&D landscape is developing at a breath-taking pace and new opportunities open up every day, so that there seem to be practically no limits to its evolution.”

Svenja adds that she has in particular set her sight on what is happening in her domain at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, and hopes she can become a part of it:

“At the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), a research unit focusing on the use of nanomaterials in practical applications has been founded. Consequently, one of the long-term goals regarding my career is to be part of this establishment of nanoscience and -technology with their exciting opportunities in Luxembourg’s R&D landscape. I strongly believe that they will have a crucial impact on the future technological progress of our society.”

Published Thursday, 15 June 2017

Svenja Bourone


About Spotlight on Young Researchers

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 15th in a series of around 25 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: The hidden half of plants

The hidden part of plants – the root systems – play a vital role both in plant survival, and in our ecosystem, as plants store carbon in the soil. Scientists are working to understand how roots are affected by changes in water availability, but how do researchers even approach the study of roots?

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Nature does it best

What is the connection between the gut of a termite and renewable energy? What binds them is anaerobic digestion, the process by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material without oxygen. We speak to four young researchers in the Biosystems and Bioprocessing Engineering group at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) about how understanding the termite gut could help unlock the full potential of anaerobic digestion, and the associated benefits for green and cleantech.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Turning up the heat on solar absorbers

Using solar absorbers for collection and storage of heat from the sun is an environmentally friendly way to generate heat, yet only 16% of heating is generated from renewable energy. Material scientists are looking for ways to boost this number by making the solar absorber coatings more efficient.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Anna Schleimer

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.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Konstantinos Papadopoulos

During his computer science studies, Konstantinos Papadopoulos realised how many unexplored areas there are in the field and his desire for becoming a researcher was born. Now in the 2nd year of his PhD at the SnT at the University of Luxembourg, the Greek national works on developing innovative new approaches to security surveillance.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Glioblastoma and the challenge of getting cancer drugs to reach the brain

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Spotlight on Young Researchers: Paulo Carvalho

Having started his professional career 16 years ago, Paulo Carvalho did not plan any major career changes. Then an opportunity came up that would change work life as he knew it and a few years later, the French/Portuguese national is completing his PhD at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST).

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Harnessing the potential of the Internet of Things and satellites to make smart agriculture a reality

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Spotlight on Young Researchers: Understanding our immune system

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Spotlight on Young Researchers: Noémie Catherine Engel

Noémie Catherine Engel has just begun her researcher journey – and she has found her niche already: As part of her AFR PhD at the University of Bath, the Luxembourg national investigates the evolution of sex role traits in a small shorebird species in Cape Verde.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Dominique Santana

After completing her master’s degree, Luxembourg national Dominique Santana decided to spend time in her mother’s birth country Brazil. While there, she became intrigued by Brazil’s communities of Luxembourgish nationals and wanted to investigate further. Now in the first year of her AFR PhD at the C²DH at the University of Luxembourg, Dominique is examining the paths of Luxembourgers who emigrated to Brazil from 1920 – 1965, which has already rekindled old friendships.

Spotlight on Young Researchers – revisited 5 years later: From Luxembourg to Australia

When we wrote about Chetan Arora in the 2017 edition of Spotlight on Young Researchers, he was a Postdoc working in requirements engineering at the SnT, having just completed his PhD. 5 years later, Chetan is on the other side of the world working as a Senior Lecturer and Academic Director for coursework research. We spoke to Chetan about how he is still a “houfreg Lëtzebuerger”, what he is working on now, and why after working both in industry and academia, he found his heart to be in the world of research.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Antoun Al Absi

Antoun Al Absi has been fascinated by microscopes ever since his parents gave him one as a child. Unsurprisingly, the Syrian-French national cherishes the long hours spent on the microscope as part of his AFR PhD at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), where he investigates how tumour cells escape the ‘immune surveillance system’, enabling them to spread to other parts of the body.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Guillaume Nataf

“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.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Isabel Z. Martínez

Isabel Z. Martínez has been interested in how policies are put in place and how they affect people’s lives for as long as she can remember. After completing her Masters in Economics, she realised that academia was the ideal way to quench her thirst for analysing large data sets and finding answers to questions addressing people’s well-being and policy decisions. The Swiss-Spanish national has been studying income and wealth inequality in Switzerland for years and has now come to Luxembourg as a Postdoc at LISER to expand her research to the Grand Duchy. We spoke to Isabel about life as a research economist, and how it has already enabled her to travel across the globe, as well as work with some of the foremost researchers in her field.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Bella Tsachidou

Excessive use of fertilisers in agriculture has led to nitrogen pollution, and calls for bio substitutes are getting louder. PhD candidate Bella Tsachidou from Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) gathers scientific evidence on the benefits of biogas residues and their suitability as biofertilisers, while providing support for the modification of nitrogen-policies on European and global level.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Pier Mario Lupinu

When one thinks of banks and financial institutions, the word ‘research’ may not come to mind. However, research has much to offer these institutions, for example new tools to help with delivering critical services. As part of his PhD at the University of Luxembourg, Italian national Pier Mario Lupinu researches issues related to post-resolution in banking and finance.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Are you what you eat?

Cardiometabolic complications threaten health and reduce life expectancy. In Luxembourg, 1 in 3 people have metabolic syndrome, as a risk factor for cardiometabolic complications such as obesity, high blood sugar and cholesterol, as well as hypertension. Science has shown a link between what we eat and our health – nutritionists are now investigating how dietary strategies could prevent these health complications.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Michel Thill

For his part-time AFR PhD in Political Science with Ghent University’s Conflict Research Group, Michel Thill researches a little-studied subject: everyday policing practices and interactions between police and people in Bukavu, a provincial capital in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We spoke to the Luxembourg national about insatiable curiosity being a virtue for researchers; the experiences gained during his PhD; and why his research subject is important.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Toward a risk assessment system for natural and biological systems

Is it possible to use mathematical indicators to alert about natural disasters and help in the early detection of disease and health issues? Over the past 15 years, scientists have been working on bridging mathematical theory and empirical evidence to do just that. To move the science forward, a key challenge is the underlying mathematical problem, as well as determining how the indicators should be applied.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Towards predicting ageing-related diseases

A rapid increase in both life expectancy and global population size has led to a rise in the prevalence of chronic ageing-associated diseases. Brain and heart age-associated diseases including hypertension, stroke, heart failure, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases are leading causes of mortality and disability worldwide. Researchers are working on much-needed ways to predict these diseases.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Yamila Mariel Omar

As part of her Industrial Fellowship – a collaboration between the University of Luxembourg and company Husky – PhD candidate Yamila Mariel Omar helps industry to monetize their proprietary data by means of big data analytics. We speak to the Argentinian national who also became a mother during her PhD.

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: Understanding brain mechanisms behind eating disorders

Eating disorders affect up to 5% of people. At the University of Luxembourg, Dr Annika Lutz and Lynn Erpelding study the brain mechanisms that help form body image, and want to understand how eating disorders develop. Using a multidimensional approach, the team’s ultimate goal is to improve treatment for people suffering from eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Thomas Elliot

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.

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