“How to do science and keep innovating, while changing the way we do things to reduce pollution and waste of energy and resources?”.
Please tell us about your professional background and your present job.
My scientific career has been centred on using pulsed lasers: I study laser-matter interaction, laser micro-machining, and build prototypes related to these subjects. After my engineering degree in micro and nanotechnologies, I did a PhD about laser processes applied to the field of plastic microelectronics, and I’ve been working with lasers ever since. I am currently working as a research engineer in the applied photonics department of the Multitel research centre in Belgium. I’ve also chosen to diversify my impact on the world by training as a counsellor, and now practice existential psychotherapy in parallel to my engineering position.
When did you decide to dedicate to scientific research?
I think I’ve clearly been attracted by science from early on, both to the engineering side (building and creating) and to the research side as well (understanding). As a teenager, I was really into quantum physics. Then doing engineering sciences in high school gave me a taste of the more applied sides of physics and that definitely orientated my choice of a physics engineering school. Looking back, I think my career has been a combination of opportunities and choices. For example, it’s the choice of my PhD that started me on the path of lasers. It’s interesting to notice that my career could have been quite different, had I chosen another subject. Retrospectively, I’m happy at my choices because I love the combination of the more fundamental physics and the very applied engineering sides of my job.
In your opinion, which are the most exciting challenges to come in your field?
From my perspective, lasers have a lot to bring to industrial actors in many fields, especially since, as mentioned by my colleagues, pulsed lasers are ever evolving (more power, more functionalities, etc). Working upstream from the industrial applications, there are numerous exciting projects that are coming through that aim at exploiting the power of lasers. For me, this diversity is a rich source of new challenges to be solved. For example, surface texturing seems to be a hot topic at the moment. Another exciting development for me is the use of Artificial Intelligence in the field of laser micro-machining.
But zooming out a bit, I’m both concerned and hopeful about the ecological impact of the industry on the planet. The industry seems to have been good at improving short-term living conditions in specific areas while undermining our long-term living environment. For me, the question is: how to do science and keep innovating, while changing the way we do things to reduce pollution and waste of energy and resources? Changes are pretty (too?) slow, but as I said, I’m hopeful because ecological factors seem to increasingly be a priority for funders of research projects.
Multipoint is a research project funded by the European Union. Have you ever participated in more projects funded by the EU? How do you evaluate them?
The research projects that I worked on during my PhD and my first post-doctoral position were both funded by the EU. From my perspective, European projects are a great way to do research. On the downside, building a project and having it funded is challenging, and dealing with European bureaucracy can be tedious at times. But the upside is that these projects are well-organized, provide interesting challenges, and stimulating cooperation. I very much enjoy being involved in European projects because it’s a good opportunity to team up with international partners and share expertise and know-how, to a certain extent. For me, it’s like coming together with individual specific skills and building something no-one could have built by themselves.