“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: 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.
Postdoc Damien Brevers has a passion for studying self-control abilities in humans. Having spent time in Belgium and the US building expertise in areas including clinical psychology, sport psychology and brain imaging, the Belgian national has just joined the University of Luxembourg and embarked on a project looking at gambling addiction in the age of online betting.
In industry, computer simulations and optimizations are established approaches to inform and improve engineering designs. As part of his Industrial Fellowship, Postdoc Martin Řehoř works on numerical solvers that could help solve design problems that involve the processing of fluids.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Assessing the sustainability of Luxembourgish agriculture
Deforestation and soil degradation is one of many consequences of climate change. Food production systems alone are responsible for around a quarter of annual emissions. Researchers in Luxembourg are working with local actors to create models to help assess the sustainability of Luxembourgish farms.
When Katharina Baum was a teenager, her mother took her to a presentation about the Human Genome Project. Fascinated, she stood up and asked what she would have to do to be able to study genes. Some years and a degree in mathematics later, the German national and mother of two children now splits her time between Luxembourg and Berlin as part of her two postdocs. In her work at the Luxembourg Institute of Health, Katharina combines computer science, maths and biology to identify faulty regulatory mechanisms in cancerous cells.
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.
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.
Anna Scaini’s appetite for becoming a researcher was stirred at University, stemming from a desire to ‘save’ the last natural river in Europe, which runs close to her home town and causes dangerous local flooding. The Italian national is taking the first step towards pursuing her goal as she prepares to complete her PhD thesis in Hydrology at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST).
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Identifying environmental pollutants
Nobody is untouched by environmental chemical pollution, but most are unaware of how they are exposed, what to, and the possible health consequences. With over 350,000 registered chemicals in use, an important first step towards assessing their environmental impacts is to make chemical information more machine-readable and open. Environmental Cheminformatics is on the case.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Collecting individual and personal stories of the war generation in Luxembourg
Over 10,000 Luxembourgish women and men wore German uniforms during WWII in armed forces and civil organisations – many were drafted by the Nazi German authorities – and behind each name is a story waiting to be told. A team of researchers has been working with families in Luxembourg to piece together the personal stories of the war generation in Luxembourg.