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.
“I decided to become a researcher to be at the edge of human knowledge, right where things are about to be understood for the first time. I love navigating and exploring this grey zone, the feel of freedom is very exciting,” Léon-Charles Tranchevent says, adding:
“My motivation has always been to better understand how things work, whether that is the universe and the stellar bodies or the human body and the genes. I found in research the perfect job since I contribute to better understand biological mechanisms, which is a first step towards developing better treatments, for instance.”
Léon-Charles explains that another reason for why he chose the path of research was that he wanted to apply his computer science skills to something that he felt would be useful and make a difference. Despite still being early in his career, Léon-Charles has already fallen in love with the career path he chose:
“I love research because there is no such thing as a typical day, every day is different and I have the freedom to decide what I want to do. Of course, there are times when some tasks need to be performed but most of the time I feel I can decide what to do, and when.”
A computational approach to medical questions
Computers have become essential in modern biological research. Léon-Charles uses his expertise in computer science and software development to tackle medical and biological questions. For his current project, he is analysing large amounts of data from cancer patients, with the aim of getting a better understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms of cancer. Léon-Charles explains:
“Nowadays, it is possible to extract a lot of information from a tumour sample – my work is to develop strategies so that we can fully make sense of it. This huge amount of biological data is represented as networks and I develop methods to analyse these complex networks.
“In a broader context, a long term goal is to improve the way we treat patients by, for instance, proposing personalized treatments for each patient, or by proposing novel therapeutic strategies.”
Science, a cross-border human endeavour
Léon-Charles came to Luxembourg for his Postdoc. We asked how come he chose Luxembourg – Léon-Charles says the main motivation is the project itself and adds “The research question is very exciting and matches my expertise. Also, I knew beforehand the research group I would be joining and hold it in high esteem.”
Léon-Charles’s Postdoc fellowship sees him mainly working on his project at the Luxembourg Institute of Health, but he will also be going to Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore as part of the project. An internationally collaborative project is a great fit for Léon-Charles who considers science to be “a cross-border human endeavour”. He adds:
“My project is a FNR bilateral project between Luxembourg and Singapore, which will allow me to spend some time in Singapore to discover yet another research environment. In addition, this funding program is associated with training opportunities to advance my career towards becoming a fully independent scholar, which I appreciate very much.”
“Altogether, and after 6 months in Luxembourg, I believe I have made the right decision and Luxembourg looks like a nice place to perform research, with strong institutes and more than decent funding opportunities.”
Increasing knowledge, training the next generation, and perfecting practice
Léon-Charles already has a clear idea of what he wants to achieve during his career as a researcher, which he has divided into three objectives. Not only does Léon-Charles – as is in the nature of a researcher – want to push the knowledge in his field, he is also thinking about future generations of researchers, and wants to perfect the way research is done.
Léon-Charles elaborates on his goals:
“The first one is to increase the knowledge we, humans, have about how nature works. I believe that research is by nature incremental and collaborative, so I would rather contribute by making several small steps towards that objective rather than trying to make, for instance, a single major breakthrough.”
“The second objective is to contribute to the training of the next generation of scientists. I feel it is my duty to make sure other people will have the desire and the abilities to perform research in the future. The knowledge we currently have is not much use if nobody builds on it.”
“The third objective is to change the way we, scientists, perform our research. Like any human endeavour, research has its own flaws and problems. We need to enhance the way we do research if we want society to trust our results, and our results to impact society at large.”
 View the abstract for Léon-Charles Tranchevent AFR Bilateral project ‘New tools for the prediction of influential nodes and links in multi-level cancer-related networks’
Published 26 May 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 12th 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 challenge of getting autonomous systems to work together seamlessly
An increasing number of systems are now controlled by artificial intelligence (AI): Autonomous vehicles – such as drones or satellites – can be deployed in difficult to access places and used to gather information in real-time. Autonomous systems can also be used simultaneously and cooperate to reach better performances compared to using only one device – but not without challenges: it is no easy task to programme these entities to behave collectively as we want them to. We speak to computer scientist and researcher Florian Felten about his research in this area and the associated challenges.
Spotlight on Young Researchers – revisited 5 years later: A post-PhD life in finance
When Eric Finn Schaanning was featured in Spotlight on Young Researchers in 2017, he had just defended his AFR PhD on fire sales and systemic risk in financial networks at Imperial College London. In 2017, Eric attended the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting and in 2018, won an FNR Award for his PhD thesis. 5 years after his PhD, we catch up with Eric, who has been working on cyber risks, financial and regulatory stress tests as well operational risk management – a career spanning Norway, Frankfurt and Zürich – and reflect on the value his PhD has added.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Improving how industrial plants are engineered
Current engineering systems have an issue: It is fragmented – process, Piping and structural design are carried out by separate teams and involves an error-prone exchange of data. A research collaboration involving public research and industry is tackling this issue by creating a unique central data hub of a plant to which all teams have access, with promising effects on efficiency.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Understanding the impact climate change has on crop-threatening insects
A type of insect known as whitefly spreads plant viruses and has devastating effects on the vegetables that we depend on and thanks to climate change their negative impact on agriculture is set to increase in the future. Current methods to protect crops depend on delicate relationships between whiteflies and their natural enemies, our crops, and microbial communities, a delicate balance threatened by climate change. Researchers are working with a ‘climate in the lab’ to get a better understanding of what could happen, with the ultimate goal to generate solutions to protect food security.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Taking disruptions into account in life cycle/sustainability assessment
Global supply networks are more complex than ever, and recent global events have shown how susceptible society is to unpredictable disturbances. Scientists are working to understand the effect disruptions have on the sustainability of productive systems with the goal to provide solutions to support decision-making.
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: Neighbourhood characteristics as determinants of health
Unhealthy lifestyles – unbalanced diet and physical inactivity – are the main factor in the leading cause of death in the world: cardiometabolic disease. Our socioeconomic environment plays a role in these lifestyle choices. Over a 9-year period, researchers are looking at how socio-economic and physical environmental characteristics of residential neighbourhoods shape our physical activity, nutritional behaviour and cardiometabolic health.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Shedding light on female writers in Luxembourg
Always has literature played a major role in the construction of any national identity – yet, Luxembourgish literature is very little known. Researchers are exploring the country’s literary identity, from a Francophone and a gendered perspective, with a particular focus on female writers.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Dark patterns and the battle to free the web from manipulation
Online services are designed to offer great user experiences and accommodate our needs. They can also use manipulative design strategies to push us to disclose our personal information, purchase goods and subscriptions or spend an excessive quantity of time on apps and games. Learn about ‘dark patterns’ and an interdisciplinary research effort to free the web from manipulation.
Spotlight on Young Researchers – revisited 5 years later: From drones to space robotics
When we wrote about Miguel Olivares Mendez in the 2017 edition of Spotlight on Young Researchers, the researcher was working on an FNR JUMP project, focussing on developing algorithms for autonomous drones. The robotics scientist has continued to build his research career in Luxembourg – 5 years later, Miguel is a Professor leading a research group with a focus on space robotics.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Environmental factors and their role in Parkinson’s Disease
An estimated 10% of Parkinson’s Diseases cases are due to genetic factors – in the search for answers as to what could cause the other 90%, research is increasingly finding evidence pointing to environmental factors. To paint a clearer picture of what role chemicals could play in the disease, researchers are for example looking for ‘fingerprints’ of chemicals in biological samples.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Harnessing the potential of the Internet of Things and satellites to make smart agriculture a reality
Lack of access to fast and reliable Internet in rural and remote areas is a [multi-step] challenge that must be addressed to pave the way for smart agriculture and precision farming, a vital step toward ensuring food security in a changing climate. In the quest for smart agriculture, researchers are working on solutions for connecting Internet of Things (IoT) with satellite communication (SATCOM) systems.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Membranes for clean water
As the global population sharply increases, so does the demand for clean water. At the same time, freshwater is gradually being depleted. Combine these two factors, and we have the potential for widespread water shortages – it is estimated that half of European basins will be experiencing water stress by 2030, and that 6 billion people will suffer from clean water scarcity by 2050. Researchers are working on cost-effective practices to address this impending crisis.
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.
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: The human gut microbiome and the clues it holds
Research is steadily painting a picture revealing the significance the human gut microbiome plays in health and disease. From gastrointestinal tract disorders to the beginnings and treatment of Parkinson’s disease and beyond, the gut microbiome is a treasure trove of clues for researchers. We speak to three women in science – a biomedical scientist, a microbiologist and a bioscience engineer – about organs-on-chips and restoring an imbalanced microbiome.
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.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Nature’s shapes as mathematical challenges
In nature, we see hyperbolic forms in corals, flatworms, and many other species of reef organisms, such as sponges and kelps. The hyperbolic spaces are also of interest for mathematicians, who are looking to prove the solvability of invariant systems of differential equations in unusual spaces such as these.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: An algorithm to allocate satellite resources
When the first satellite was launched in the 1950s, earth orbit was a lonely place. Since then, more than 11,000 satellites have been launched into space and over 3,000 are still in operation. Estimates suggest an exponential increase in satellites in the next years, creating a challenge for the effective allocation of the needed bandwidth and power. Researchers are developing algorithms to more effectively allocate the resources where and when they are needed.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Dementia in neurodegeneration – defining the role of microglia, the brain’s immune cells
An estimated 55 million people in the world suffer from dementia, with the number estimated to increase to 78 million by 2030. In Luxembourg, more than 10,000 people suffer from dementia, including patients affected by Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia with Lewy Bodies. These incurable diseases have an increasing socio-economic impact along with the burden on patients and caregivers. One of the approaches researchers are taking is studying microglia, immune cells in the brain.
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: The historical relationship between the European Community and the Soviet Union
As war rages in Ukraine, the topic PhD candidate Claude Ewert has been researching for the past three years is perhaps more relevant now than ever: the relationship between the European Community and the Soviet Union. The historian is gathering valuable information on the EC’s early foreign policy and the obstacles that had to be overcome to try to make the Community speak with one voice.
Overcoming antiquated ideas about history
To many, the Middle Ages are synonymous with the term the ‘Dark Ages’ – a time of decline. The term was coined hundreds of years ago by the era referring to itself as the ‘Renaissance’ – a rebirth of norms and standards. There is in fact much more to the complexity of the Middle Ages and historians are working on overcoming these antiquated ideas. For this research, Dr Christa Birkel won a 2021 FNR Award in the category ‘Outstanding PhD Thesis’.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: A fully automatic flood mapping algorithm
Flooding presents a major hazard in both rural and urban areas. Luxembourg was also affected by the significant floods that devastated parts of Germany in July 2021. With the goal of predicting areas that will flood, scientists are working on various aspects of flood-mapping using satellite data.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Increasing the diversity of plant species used for vegetable oil
Vegetable oil – mainly palm oil – is heavily relied upon in the production of food, cosmetics, and biofuel. The increase in droughts also affects the standard cultivation of palm oil – alternatives are needed. Agricultural scientists are investigating the potential of a new alternative drought-resistant source for the most widely-used kind of vegetable oil.