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Excellent Doctoral Thesis Awards 2020 in science

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Published on Friday, 22 January 2021

The Doctoral School of Science and Engineering (DSSE) at the University of Luxembourg has recently awarded nine doctoral candidates for their outstanding doctoral thesis. The research topics included masonry walls, IT security, geometry, large scale modeling, causes of Parkinson’s disease, light-matter interaction, laser welding, system protocols and voting procedures.

During the eligibility period for the award nomination which stretched from autumn 2019 to autumn 2020, 79 candidates graduated from the DSSE. The DSSE is the joint doctoral school of the Faculty of Science, Technology and Medicine (FSTM), the Luxembourg Centre for Science in Biomedicine (LCSB) and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT). Besides having achieved outstanding research results, the academic excellence of the 9 awardees is also reflected in the fact that all of them maintained a career in research & development and that most of them moved to academic institutions within and beyond Europe.

Gael Chewe Ngapeya, Diego Kreutz, Filippo Mazzoli, Hugues Meyer, Anna Sophia Monzel, Fulvio Paleari, Marc Schiry, Ivana Vukotic and Marie-Laure Zollinger, coming from different places all around the globe (Brazil, Cameroon, France, Germany, Italy, Montenegro) share their experience as doctoral students at the University of Luxembourg. 

Why did you choose to do a doctorate at uni.lu?

Gael: “When I completed my Master degree at the University of Lorraine, I was selected for a PhD research both at the University of Luxembourg and at “Ecole Supérieure d’Ingénieurs des Travaux de la Construction”. I chose the University of Luxembourg because it was offering me a very competitive and multicultural environment of research in which I was expecting to improve my hard and soft-skills.” 

Diego: “I chose the University of Luxembourg because I wanted to do my PhD under the supervision of Prof. Paulo Esteves-Veríssimo.” 

Filippo: “I really enjoyed the study of hyperbolic geometry as a student, and I was interested in moving abroad to meet new people in the academic environment. Prof. Jean-Marc Schlenker is an esteemed researcher in the subject at the University of Luxembourg and my Master thesis advisor recommended me to apply for a PhD position under his supervision.” 

Hugues: “Being originally from Nancy and highly interested in soft matter physics, I applied for a research internship to Prof. Tanja Schilling in the physics department of the University of Luxembourg. The internship went on so well that in the end she offered me to come back for a PhD once I was done with my master degree.” 

Anna Sophia: “I came to Luxembourg for a Master’s programme and continued with the PhD afterwards. I was drawn to the University of Luxembourg and in particular to the LCSB because of the interdisciplinary research approaches and the cutting-edge technology used. Also, there is a special motivating spirit emanating from the university.” 

Fulvio: “While doing interviews for a PhD position, I was referred to the Theoretical Solid-State Physics group at the University of Luxembourg. Thus, I came to Luxembourg to give a talk about my previous work and I got to meet Prof. Ludger Wirtz and the various group members. I had a very good impression of them and of the topics they did research about. In the end, I decided to join them!” 

Marc: “The main reason was the multicultural environment within the university. Additionally, the strong industrial oriented research within the Department of Engineering was also an important aspect of my decision.” 

Ivana: “I got an offer to write a PhD from Professor Paulo Verissimo, one of the top researchers in the area of resilient distributed systems. Moreover, the topics were very interesting. On top of all of this, I believed that conditions to write a PhD at University of Luxembourg were excellent.” 

Marie-Laure: “I had the opportunity to move in Luxembourg and in parallel, I was not satisfied with my work in industry (security engineering). I always had the idea of doing a PhD and when I contacted the Applied Security and Information Assurance Group, Prof. Peter Ryan convinced me and I applied for a position.” 

What did you like the most during your PhD?

Gael: “I greatly appreciated the fact of having access to a very large scientific database, which allowed me to quickly train myself in fields where I still had few experiences and/or knowledge. I also strongly appreciated to have the help of an experienced technical support team for the designing, running and monitoring my laboratory tests.” 

Diego: “The international outlook of the University of Luxembourg is one of the things I liked the most. Interacting and exchanging ideas with bright students and researchers from all over the world are highly motivating.” 

Filippo: “I had many opportunities to travel and to meet other students and researchers in my field of study. The possibility to learn from them and to discuss about research has been an essential part of my personal and academic experience in the past years.”

Hugues: “The best part of my PhD was probably to be able to interact with so many different researchers from various research fields. I was in a joint supervision, both in the physics department of the University of Freiburg and in an engineering group in the University of Luxembourg, and I very much enjoyed interacting with people from different scientific communities.”

Anna Sophia: “First and foremost I enjoyed the collaborative environment at the university. During my PhD, I was able to use a wide range of state-of-the-art technology, and I learned many new techniques from experts in my field. As a member of the doctoral school, I could attend a great variety of courses, workshops and conferences, which were highly relevant for my personal and professional development.”

Fulvio: “I particularly enjoyed the cooperative atmosphere within the group. The willingness to discuss and share expertise was very formative during my first two years. In addition, I immensely appreciated the opportunity to travel and present my work at several international conferences.” 

Marc: “Due to the collaboration with a Luxembourgish company, I had the chance to see a direct impact of the scientific results on industrial use cases. I really appreciated this direct interaction with local industry.” 

Ivana: “I had a chance to meet quite some number of interesting people. With some of them I still maintain contact.” 

Marie-Laure: “The trust and respect that my supervisor had in my work from the very first day. I really felt empowered during my whole PhD.” 

What is your thesis about? 

Gael: “My PhD thesis deals with the construction of masonry walls without mortar layers, the improvement of the load-bearing capacity of such walls and the development of a design process for engineering offices.” 

Diego: “My thesis is about ensuring the security of network infrastructures. As specialized reports have been showing that insider threats are responsible for more than 40% of the security incidents, one of our main assumptions is that we cannot blindly trust all network or system administrators. To address several security issues of networking infrastructures, we propose the logical centralization of security services and the enforcement of agreement protocols.” 

Filippo: “My thesis concerns the study of 3-dimensional hyperbolic manifolds. We are used to look at the world that surrounds us as following the rules of Euclidean geometry or, in other words, as being flat. These rules do not apply anymore once we start to travel extremely long distances, being the surface of the Earth a sphere, which mathematicians would say is positively curved. In my thesis I studied certain notions of volumes, mainly the dual volume, for a flexible class of hyperbolic manifolds.” 

Hugues: “The main question of my thesis was: how to describe mathematically a complex process on a large scale (e.g. the freezing of a glass of water) if one only knows the equations that govern the microscopic scale (the motion of water molecules here)? I developed a mathematical and numerical method that tries to address this question in a general way.” 

Anna Sophia: “My PhD project revolved around the neurodegenerative disorder Parkinson’s disease and the development of models that help us to understand the mechanisms underlying the disease. Traditionally, animals such as mice have been used, but they lack key features of the human brain. Hence, a better approach was needed. In my PhD I developed a human stem cell-derived 3D model of the brain region that is compromised in Parkinson’s disease - the midbrain.” 

Fulvio: “My thesis is about what happens when light interacts with matter at the microscopic scale. We know that a solid is composed of atoms: at the microscopic scale, we can distinguish between atomic nuclei and their surrounding electrons. Therefore, we need to apply quantum mechanics to many-particles systems, and this is what I did both theoretically and with the aid of highly advanced computer simulations.” 

Marc: “My PhD thesis is about the laser welding of hard metal grades to steel for tool manufacturing. The scientific focus was on the influence of metallurgical phase formation on the mechanical properties of the joints and their improvement for industrial applications.”

Ivana: ”We developed a framework that can be used for proving correctness of protocols which are used in systems that can tolerate any kind of faults, including malicious ones.” 

Marie-Laure: “I worked on voting procedures from a security point of view. I took a holistic approach by studying the security properties of the voting systems, but also by evaluating the user experience with the system and the voters' understanding, as security might bring complex interactions. It is important that both security and usability are satisfied for a system to work.” 

What are you doing now?

Gael: “Currently, I am doing a PostDoc research still at the University of Luxembourg. However, from February 2021, I will work as structural engineer for Simon-Christiansen & Associés in Luxembourg.” 

Diego: “I am an assistant professor and researcher at the Federal University of Pampa in Brazil.” 

Filippo: “I am currently working at the University of Virginia as a post-doctoral fellow, my mentor here is Prof. Sara Maloni. I am continuing doing research in my field of study and teaching Mathematics at the university.” 

Hugues: “I have started a postdoc position in Saarland University in October 2020, in the group of Prof. Heiko Rieger, working on biophysical problems.” 

Anna Sophia: “I am working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, New York. I am interested in understanding how health-relevant psychological and metabolic stressors influence mitochondrial behavior and predispose to late-life functional decline.” 

Fulvio: “I am pursuing my studies as a postdoctoral researcher at the Italian National Research Council in Rome. I am still working on light-matter interaction, this time focusing on quantum processes which are out of thermodynamic equilibrium. 

Marc: “Currently, I am working as a specialist for destructive and non-destructive material analyses and testing at a company in Germany.” 

Ivana: “I am developing software for a Luxembourgish company called Talkwalker.” 

Marie-Laure: “I started as a Research Associate at the University of Luxembourg, still in the APSIA group. I continue my research on voting systems.”