Seven young women researchers from Université Paris-Saclay member institutions have been awarded a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship this year.
“Young researchers with outstanding experience and brilliant and promising work”. This is how the L'Oréal Foundation chose to describe the 30 PhD students and post docs who have been awarded a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship, in partnership with the French Académie des Sciences and the French National Commission for UNESCO. Among the researchers “who, every day, contribute to building tomorrow’s science”, seven are carrying out their research in Université Paris-Saclay member institutions.
The jury, presided by Professor Sébastien Candel, President of the French Académie des Sciences, selected the 20 PhD students and 10 postdocs from among over 1 000 candidates, in a range of science fields, grouped into 4 themes:
- The mystery of our origins
- Science serving humanity
- Connected science
- The search for new treatments
The young researchers will present their work to a full house on 11 October 2017, when the fellowships are awarded. A task made less onerous thanks to training in public speaking and science popularization provided to the fellowship winners, in addition to the grant that recognizes the “excellence of their project”. The only objective for all those present will be a double one: “debunking preconceptions and inspiring young women to pursue science careers". To change the world.
Laboratoire Leprince Ringuet (CNRS, École polytechnique), P2IO
Back to the Big Bang. A few microseconds after the Big Bang, the Universe consisted in a plasma of quarks, observable elements of matter, moving freely in an extremely hot environment, at around one thousand billion degrees. As the Universe expanded and the temperature decreased, the quarks were grouped in nucleons (protons or neutrons) which, together, form the nucleus of atoms. Emilie Maurice, a postdoc at the École Polytechnique Leprince Ringuet Laboratory, is studying quarks in a state of free movement, as they were at the time of the Big Bang. To do this, the young researcher uses the collision of high-energy heavy nuclei which take place at, amongst other places, the LHC, the biggest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world. “It enables us to recreate droplets from this state of matter and to explore the earliest moments of the Universe”. The young researcher, who always likes to push boundaries, aims to improve the knowledge of quark plasma to gain a better understanding of how the Universe was created, while at the same time training for her first trail run.
CNRS, CEA Paris-Saclay
Galaxies’ "decadence". What switches stars on? Why do they have different colors? When she was young, these were the first questions that triggered Laure Ciesla’s passion for astrophysics. Since then, she has always angled her studies and research towards understanding things. Especially understanding how galaxies evolve, from their birth to their death, which is the precise moment when they stop producing stars. “It was a huge stroke of luck for me to start my PhD at a key moment in extragalactic astrophysics, when Herschel, the infrared space telescope, was launched.” That was a real boost for the postdoc, who at the time was working towards her doctorate. Laure Ciesla was able to gather large amounts of data she is currently using during her second postdoc post at the CEA Paris-Saclay Astrophysics Department. The objective of the young scientist, who has a young daughter, is to develop a method for the identification of galaxies at the moment when the process that inhibits the formation of new stars is in action. To that end, Laure Ciesla is studying an indicator of recent stellar activity: the light emitted by the galaxy, in its full spectrum. “I will be able to offer a clear picture of the mechanisms that cause the death of galaxies.” Another step towards explaining how the Universe, the Earth and Humankind were created.
“Green” chemistry for tomorrow’s drugs. Chemistry, a pillar of industrial progress, plays a crucial part in the design of drugs, especially during the preparation of the active agent, known as synthesis. 80% of drugs contain at least one heterocycle in their formula. Lucie Jarrige, a Université Paris-Saclay PhD at the Institut de Chimie des Substances Naturelles (Chemistry of Natural Substances Institute), is focusing her doctoral research on developing new strategies for synthesizing heterocycles. To achieve this, the young researcher has designed a chemical reaction involving several components, so as to obtain complex molecules from very simple components in a single step. An advantage of this reaction is that it is catalyzed, therefore accelerated, by light energy, which is cheap. Another reaction developed by Lucie Jarrige has the advantage of generating zero waste, as all the initial reactors are incorporated into the final product, in a single step. The great ease of implementation of this second reaction paves the way for the possible industrialization of this process. “These new preparation methods are innovative and unique, thanks to the very short synthesis pathways, zero waste, and non-toxic chemical reactions.” Over time, the objective is to be able to develop preparation methods for future drugs that are cleaner and more mindful of the environment. It was after facing bone cancer in the knee at the age of 15 that Lucie Jarrige, 2016 paraclimbing world champion, decided to pursue a scientific career in the hope of contributing to future medical advances.
Laboratoire de synthèse organique (ENSTA ParisTech, CNRS, École polytechnique)
Producing cheaper and greener drugs. One of the key challenges for society is the cost of drugs, in both a financial and an environmental sense. Preparing the active agent of a drug generally requires many synthesis steps. Each step represents the use of reactors and the generation of waste. The process can be very long, costly and generate considerable pollution. Aude Nyadanu, a PhD student at the École polytechnique Laboratory of Organic Synthesis and at the ENS Paris PASTEUR Laboratory, is focusing on how to decrease the number of steps required to produce these molecules. “I’m working on developing multi-component reactions.” These reactions enable several fragments of molecules (or components) to be assembled, without using toxic metals. The advantage lies in the resulting easy access to a wide range of complex modules. By changing the components one by one, a large collection of molecules can be built up; their effect can then be tested on cells infected by diseases and potential treatments can be identified. The young scientist’s research is to develop innovative technologies that accelerate the discovery of new therapeutic molecules and to produce these with a low cost and eco-friendly approach. Which is a challenge the young researcher would like to take up. As a child, she already dreamt of caring for people, like her mother, who is a nurse actively involved in humanitarian work with Doctors Without Borders.
SATIE (CNRS, ENS Paris-Saclay)
New magnets all the way for eco-friendly cars. Electric vehicles have been designed to address some of the environmental issues we face. Yet paradoxically, these cars require the use of magnets made of rare earth, a mineral matter with extraordinary properties used especially in the manufacture of electric motors, the extraction and refining of which generate high levels of pollution. Muriel Tyrman is a postdoc at the ENS Paris-Saclay SATIE Laboratory and a car enthusiast and one of her objectives is for electric vehicle manufacturers not to use rare earth magnets, by developing a new type of magnet made of more easily accessible metals and therefore more environmentally friendly: manganese and aluminum. The young researcher’s work focuses on improving the magnetic behavior of these materials: “I’ve increased resistance to demagnetization by 40% with a manganese-aluminum alloy magnetic field”. These promising results, the fruit of original and pioneering work, will make it possible to use these new magnets in the manufacture of electric vehicle engines, so that France can keep its technological advantage in the low-carbon vehicle sector.
C2N (Université Paris-Sud, CNRS)
Light on graphene. Graphene (the discovery of which in 2004 was recognized by the 2009 Nobel Physics Prize) is the best conductor of electricity known to date. This new category of extremely thin materials consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms has remarkable electronic, optical and mechanical properties, which can potentially revolutionize the world of microelectronics. However, these innovative materials that fascinate physicists remain difficult to manipulate in a lab because their study requires experimental resolution on an infinitesimal scale, the atomic scale. Marijana Milicevic is from Belgrade in Serbia and currently a PhD student at the Nanoscience and Nanostructure Center in Marcoussis; she has chosen to recreate this material in a new way, by using light, in a photonic simulator. Using this tool aims to use photons, the constituent particles of light, to recreate graphene in a lab, so as to study it under more controlled conditions. “The simulator’s photons are confined in micrometer-sized structures, so as to equal or exceed the specific electronic properties of this material.” Remarkably, Marijana is studying the specific properties of graphene called “edge state”, which are intrinsically very stable, ensuring that transport can occur without energy dissipation. This discovery could lead to very high performance IT systems (servers and computers), that are more solid and stable and faster.
Laboratoire de physique des solides (CNRS, Université Paris-Sud)
Electronics of the future. In a society that is hyper-connected and led by the speed of interactions at a global scale, the improvement and optimization of electronic tools knows no limits and represents one of today’s key challenges. The study of new materials with exotic and unique properties, potentially improving the performance of electronics, is currently stimulating many research projects. Which is the case for Émilie Tisserond, a PhD student at the Université Paris-Sud Solid State Physics Laboratory. She is working on an organic material with surprising properties: a-(BEDT-TTF)2I3. When subjected to very high pressure, the structure of this material is altered and “it behaves like superimposed layers of graphene free of impurities” explains the young researcher. “The electrons move in these parallel planes, all at the same speed, very fast and with no dispersion, like light particles” she adds. Understanding today the properties and processes at play in this new physics from a fundamental point of view, through both experiments and theoretical analysis, means being able to harness them in the future; this could lead to innovative applications in the field of ultra-rapid electronics. Émilie Tisserond, who is passionate about disseminating scientific knowledge, teaches medical and fundamental physics students in addition to her research work.
More information : see the website of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship