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.
Nanomaterial is a material with particles or constituents of nanoscale dimensions, or one that is produced by nanotechnology. To put the scale of this in to context: A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometres thick, it is therefore safe to say that any work in this field requires a potent microscope.
Nanotechnology brings together a diverse field of sciences, such as physics, chemistry, biology, materials science, and engineering. Overall, Svenja’s work falls into the materials science part. But how did Svenja, a passionate chemist, end up as a Postdoc working with nanomaterials?
“I am thrilled with the conception, preparation and investigation of advanced materials presenting unprecedented properties. Therefore, I put the focus of my doctoral and postdoctoral studies on nanomaterials- and technology,” Svenja explains.
Investigating ways to characterise gold nanoparticles
It was during her Masters studies at RWTH Aaachen that Svenja went to a course about functional nanomaterial run by Prof Simon, who would later play an instrumental role in Svenja’s PhD studies. Instantly mesmerised by the topic, Svenja joined Prof Simon’s group to complete her Master studies, investigating possible ways to characterise gold nanoparticles – miniscule parts of gold that can be as small as 5 nanometres. This work led to Svenja’s PhD, as she explains:
“Prof Simon offered me to continue working in his group for my PhD thesis, I readily accepted, as he proposed that I should probe the relation between the composition of gold nanoparticles and their electrical properties, which was exactly why I chose to become a chemist in the first place.”
Svenja explains that nanotechnology “pursues the goal of assembling devices exhibiting unprecedented properties from components so small that they have size-dependent characteristics, which diverge from those of the bulk material. This observation also applies to gold nanoparticles”.
“That is the reason why I develop protocols to synthesize gold nanoparticles presenting an asymmetric structure owing to the molecules on their surface. They can be used as functional elements in electronics, for the detection of biomolecules or drug delivery.”
In order to realise these applications, their asymmetry has to be validated. This presents a challenge, because a tiny number of molecules have to be selectively detected – and this reaches the bounds of current technical feasibility. But Svenja did not let that faze her:
“I accepted this challenge and was able to develop a new protocol, which allows proving the asymmetry of the particles I synthesize. I now use it on a daily basis and investigate the electrical properties of asymmetric gold nanoparticles.”
“Luxembourg’s R&D landscape is developing at a breath-taking pace”
Svenja’s main goal as a researcher is to satisfy her natural curiosity – using scientific studies as a mechanism to better grasp how different factors influence each other – to ultimately gain a better comprehension of the world’s complexity. And she is looking to continue this work in her home country Luxembourg, in the domain of advanced materials – which falls into Luxembourg’s priority research domains. “
Being of Luxembourgish nationality, I am determined to return to Luxembourg since I feel deeply connected to it” Svenja says, adding:
“Therefore, I am all the more pleased that in the last years the Grand Duchy has put a lot of effort in attracting outstanding scientists and establishing a renowned R&D landscape, it has developed into an attractive working place for top researchers.
“Luxembourg’s R&D landscape is developing at a breath-taking pace and new opportunities open up every day, so that there seem to be practically no limits to its evolution.”
Svenja adds that she has in particular set her sight on what is happening in her domain at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, and hopes she can become a part of it:
“At the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), a research unit focusing on the use of nanomaterials in practical applications has been founded. Consequently, one of the long-term goals regarding my career is to be part of this establishment of nanoscience and -technology with their exciting opportunities in Luxembourg’s R&D landscape. I strongly believe that they will have a crucial impact on the future technological progress of our society.”
Published Thursday, 15 June 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 15th 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: 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: 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: Silvia Girardi
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: Towards predicting ageing-related diseases
A rapid increase in both life expectancy and global population size has led to a rise in the prevalence of chronic ageing-associated diseases. Brain and heart age-associated diseases including hypertension, stroke, heart failure, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases are leading causes of mortality and disability worldwide. Researchers are working on much-needed ways to predict these diseases.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Cyrille Thinnes
In 2015, Cyrille Thinnes was featured in our campaign ‘Spotlight on Young Researchers’, which highlighted early-career researchers with a connection to Luxembourg. At the time, Cyrille was at the University of Oxford doing a DPhil (PhD) in chemical biology. One year on, we caught up with Cyrille!
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Paul Johanns
Paul Johanns works in a research field one does not read about every day: knots. As part of his AFR PhD at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the Luxembourg national combines high-precision model experiments, computation and theory to untangle the influence of topology on the mechanics of complex knots, particularly those used in surgical procedures.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: How is scientific quality fostered by research collaboration?
In the last decades, how research is conducted has been profoundly changed by ICT, and there has also been a shift from the ‘sole genius’ towards teamwork and especially interdisciplinarity: Today, millions of researchers worldwide collaborate across organisational, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries, extending the possibilities of new scientific discovery. This, and the associated data, has paved the way for the scientific field Science of Science, where one key question is understanding exactly how scientific quality is fostered by research collaboration.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Glioblastoma and the challenge of getting cancer drugs to reach the brain
Glioblastoma is the most aggressive form of brain tumours in adults. The incidence is about 4 per 100.000 people and the average survival after diagnosis is about 14 months with current treatments. The tumour’s location represents a major challenge – few drugs make it past the blood brain barrier. Researchers are working on designing a novel kind of drug that could help do just that.
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: 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: Maria Pires Pacheco
Maria Pires Pacheco is a problem solver with a fondness for coding, who was always drawn to the scientist in a group of heroes, rather than the classic hero. During her AFR PhD, the Luxembourg national worked on building tools that help simulate the metabolism of a cell, tools she applied to cancer research during her postdoc.
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: Empowering critical digital humanities practice
Digitisation has had a significant impact on humanities research: not only has it changed how many scholars conduct their research, it has also led to completely new fields of research, such as digital humanities, a highly interdisciplinary science. Linguist Lorella Viola is interested in how software can enable critical digital humanities practice.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Antonio Ancora
In the current situation of legal uncertainty, PhD candidate Antonio Ancora’s research at the University of Luxembourg aims to improve tax certainty in the context of state aid investigation on Transfer Pricing transactions among multinational enterprises.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Understanding our immune system
Stemming from Italy, Indonesia, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain, the members of the Experimental & Molecular Immunology Group truly are an international team. In the group of FNR ATTRACT Fellow Prof Dr Dirk Brenner at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), the team of young researchers investigates different aspects of the immune system with one common goal: Understanding how our immune system is regulated by different mechanisms – and how this knowledge can be used to combat disease.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Nathasia Mudiwa Muwanigwa
Growing up in Botswana and Zimbabwe, Nathasia Mudiwa Muwanigwa did not see science as a career option. Fast forward a few years: Nathasia is studying Parkinson’s disease as part of her PhD at the LCSB at the University of Luxembourg, and has co-founded a STEM initiative that was featured in Forbes.
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: Hussein Rappel
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.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Ernesto Gargiulo
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.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Laurie Maldonado
Laurie Maldonado’s research focuses on single-parent families. After suddenly becoming a single parent herself, she experienced first-hand how quickly single-parent families can fall into poverty in the United States, not knowing if she could continue her research. Then Laurie secured an AFR PhD grant, conducting her research at the LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg and at UCLA. A few years and a successful PhD defence later, we talked with Laurie about her journey and her close-to-home research.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: A hazelnut quality forecasting system
Can we predict the likelihood of a hazelnut tree becoming sick? Or what quality defects, and in what percentage, will be present in the final harvest? Science could soon make this possible, thanks to a hazelnut quality forecasting system based on a combination of machine learning and simulation models.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Michel Thill
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.
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.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Charles de Bourcy
Charles de Bourcy decided to become a researcher on human health when he realised the human body is not invincible. After completing his undergraduate studies at University of Oxford, the Luxembourg national secured one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world and embarked on a PhD at Stanford University. Now in the final year of this PhD in Applied Physics, Charles is taking his first steps towards his goal of building technologies to help ease the burden of global disease.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Multiple nationalities, one goal
What do a French, a Spanish, a Brazilian and an Algerian researcher have in common? In the case of Adeline Boileau, Antonio Salgado Somoza, Clarissa P. C. Gomes and Torkia Lalem, it’s that they are all early-career researchers who came to Luxembourg to join forces in the Cardiovascular Research Unit (CVRU) at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), which aims to identify new personalised strategies to diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease.