“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: Eric Finn Schaanning
Eric Finn Schaanning was drawn to research by a thirst to understand what mechanisms drove the financial crisis. He has just defended his AFR PhD at Imperial College London, during which he developed an operational ‘stress test’ model that is already being used by two European Central Banks. The half Luxembourg, half Norwegian national is now a Senior Advisor at Norges Bank, where he continues to analyse and help improve understanding of how financial institutions react to economic shocks.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: AI for ethical and legal debates
Looking at popular culture, big tech and ongoing societal debates – technological progress in Artificial Intelligence (AI) affects us all. Researchers from numerous scientific fields are working on the best way to bring AI forward, including the study of systems able to autonomously reason over arguments – calculators for philosophical, ethical or legal debates.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Foni Raphaël Lebrun-Ricalens
Quantum computing is one of the hottest topics in physical sciences. As part of his AFR PhD at the University of Sussex, Luxembourg national Foni Raphaël Lebrun-Ricalens works on developing a quantum computer – a technology that has the potential to revolutionise computing. Recently, he was also asked to evaluate the science behind the ‘quantum realm’ in the final ‘Avengers’ film.
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.
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.
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.
Ernesto Gargiulo has always had a curious and inquisitive disposition, which as a child saw him spending hours outdoors, in a quest to discover. At University, Ernesto’s attention turned to oncology. Set on applying and strengthening his knowledge, the Italian national embarked on a PhD at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), where he works on characterising exosomes, small extracellular vesicles, linked to cancer development, progression and chemo-resistance.
Silvia Girardi is a sociologist with an interest in studying policies that aim to contrast poverty. As part of her joint PhD at Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER) and KU Leuven, the Italian national looks at the social policies that support low-income households in Luxembourg, taking the perspectives of the citizens on the receiving end, and the social workers involved in implementation.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Understanding how language manifests in the brain
At KU Leuven, Luxembourg national Jill Kries is part of a research team driven by understanding how cognition and brain structure develop over time in language-related disorders and how this knowledge can be applied in a clinical or educational setting. We take a closer look at the work of the young team.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Léon-Charles Tranchevent
Léon-Charles Tranchevent says he has found the perfect job in being a researcher. Cherishing the freedom and unexpectedness of his line of work, the computational biologist also feels it’s his duty to contribute to the training of the next generation of researchers. The French national has recently begun his AFR Bilateral Postdoc at the Luxembourg Institute of Health in collaboration with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore.