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.

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.”

Guillaume (4th left) with supervisors FNR PEARL Prof Chair Jens Kreisel (3rd left) and Nick Barrett (CEA, 2nd right) after Guillaume’s PhD defense at LIST

Published 13 April 2017

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 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: Michel Summer

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Spotlight on Young Researchers: Xianqing Mao

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