“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: Adham Ayman Al-Sayyad
Adham Ayman Al-Sayyad is a PhD researcher working on multidisciplinary cross-border project. In our article, we explore the Egyptian national’s research around the topic of laser beam joining; why his next step post-PhD would be to spend some time working in industry to understand his research topic from new angles; and his passion for bridging cultures to bring people together.
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.
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.
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: Taking language barriers out of the equation
Luxembourg nationals Max Greisen and Véronique Cornu have many things in common: They are both educated in the field of psychology, they are both PhD researchers at the University of Luxembourg – and they both work with language-free approaches to early mathematical development of multilingual children. Max develops and implements animations that help assess early numerical competencies, while Véronique develops training methods to help overcome language barriers in early math education.
Pit Ullmann’s interest in natural sciences was piqued in high school. The Luxembourg national went on to study molecular biology at the University of Innsbruck and then found himself desiring a job that would be both interdisciplinary and diversified – fast forward and Pit is now completing his AFR PhD at the University of Luxembourg, where his research group studies why and how colon cancer develops and spreads.
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.
Hussein Rappel uses a mathematical learning approach to try to predict and simulate physical phenomena. The Iranian national came to Luxembourg in 2014 to join the team of Prof Stephane Bordas at the University of Luxembourg, where he is now in the 3rd year of his PhD in Computational Science – and sees great potential in Luxembourg as a research destination.
Zhe Liu’s passion for research grew from a desire to find out how things work and why. Considering himself as a ‘Luxembourg-made Chinese researcher’, Zhe came to Luxembourg in 2011 for his AFR PhD, a project for which he later won an FNR Award for ‘Outstanding PhD Thesis’ in 2016.
Paul Hauseux was always interested in science, but only recently settled on the researcher path. Before that, his career ambitions stretched from working in sports or music to teaching science. Some years and a PhD later, the French national has come to Luxembourg for his computational engineering Postdoc in the team of ERC grantee Stéphane Bordas at the University of Luxembourg.