- Success stories - Zurich 1991
Her project was titled "The effects of climatic and astronomical
conditions on the metabolism of a deciduous leaf in autumn".
She reached the EU Contest after winning the science competition
of the European Schools that very year.
She had been working on it for the last three years of her
schooling. It consisted of a biochemical investigation into
the processes that take place when leaves become old. She
assures that "I was not a miniature mad scientist who set
up a chemistry laboratory in my family's kitchen. Instead,
the project I began to work on was inspired to a great extent
by the suggestions and practical help of my chemistry teacher
at the time, who kindly made the school laboratory and chemical
equipment available to me. Although the tests that I carried
out on the leaves were chemistry of a basic sort, the questions
we were asking made me start thinking about leaves and indeed
about all living organisms in a different way.
From the EU Contest in 1991 she remembers how she enjoyed
meeting other teenagers with an earnest interest in science:
"By talking to other participants and learning about their
projects, I also started picking up a few of the vital ingredients
of good science, such as formulating a clear hypothesis, studying
one or a few variables at a time, and so forth".
that it is not the competitive aspect of these so-called science
"contests" that is important, but that there are many other
valuable lessons to be gained from such an experience for
a young person.
she says, "the EU Contest for Young Scientists has helped
recruit and encourage at least one scientist, not so young
anymore, to embark on the great adventure that is molecular
biology in the era of the complete human genome". The month
after her participation at the EU Young Scientists contest,
she sent off her application to study Biochemistry at Cambridge
University. Specialising in computational molecular biology
for her PhD, in particular the study of protein evolution
by analysing genomes, she won the Max Perutz Prize of the
Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in
Cambridge. Then she was awarded a Beit Fellowship to do research
at University College London for the next few years and a
Trinity Research Fellowship to do research back at the MRC
Laboratory of Molecular Biology after that.
research that won her all these awards was based on the study
of protein and genome evolution by analysing completely sequenced
genomes. She explains that "this is something that has only
become possible in the past few years with the completion
of the first genome projects. Most of the completed genome
projects are bacteria, as well as yeast and worm. My PhD work
was concerned with analysing the sequence data from these
projects in terms of the structural protein families in the
different genomes. Since all organisms are built from a limited
repertoire of protein families, genomes evolve to a large
extent by simply duplicating and modifying the same set of
genes. Investigating these duplications and the evolution
of individual protein families was the main focus of my thesis."*
Prize for his work on "Oscilating systems of chemical reactions",
alongside with Henk Hoekstra.
as a PhD student at the University of Groningen in the Department
of Polymer Chemistry. His PhD research relates to the structure
formation in complex polymer systems.
with Christiaan Kok, Henk won a Second Prize at Zurich 1991
for a project on "Oscilating Systems of Chemical Reactions".
the social events during that Contest as "my first big meeting
with scientists from many countries". He assures that it did
not feel like competing for a prize; the same is also true
for his current life as a scientist: "although various groups
compete, there is always this common interest to increase
our understanding of nature by helping each other. In that
respect the EU Contest id a good image of the interactions
between senior scientists". Because of the EU Contest he got
involved in the organisation of the Dutch National Contest,
and this has been "very instructive" to him.
now doing a PhD in Astronomy at the Kapteyn Institute of the
University of Groningen (the Netherlands): "I will have to
defend my thesis in June. Currently I am already applying
for Post Doctoral positions in Canada and the United States.
I really expect to hold a good position after next summer;
I think the prospects are good". Henk's thesis deals with
massive structures in the universe, which he studies by means
of this procedure: "thanks to the bending of the rays of light
produced by mass all along the line of sight, we are able
to obtain a direct measurement of the projected mass. As most
matter in the universe is invisible, the so-called dark matter,
this system provides a powerful way of seeing how it is distributed.
It is a very new field, and the breakthrough came up only
less than a decade ago". He finds it very challenging "because
the signals are extremely vague, and many posterior corrections
must be implemented. The subject is also enthralling because
it includes both theoretical and observational work. We have
obtained many data from the Hubble Space Telescope as well
as from many ground-based telescopes. Furthermore, astronomy
is a very international science, and as a result I have been
travelling a lot". He has been three times, for instance,
to the European Northern Observatory in the Canary Islands,
in order to carry out the necessary observations for his thesis.
van der Aa (B)
Prize for his project on "The Flight study of a micro-rocket",
alongside with Nicolas Bouche.
recalls how interesting it was to meet other young people
interested in science. He believes his success at the EU Contest
in Zurich encouraged him very much in order to continue his
scientific drive, particularly for physics. He admits that
"I realised it was possible to understand more deeply how
things work when using a scientific method. We were enjoying
ourselves with rockets but it was not enough, somewhat we
wanted to understand more, and the only way to understand
more is tu use physics".
Concerning their project, he points out that they were not
only keen on the equations describing the flight of a rocket,
but also on measuring parameters that could be used to determine
the characteristics of that flight.
is now doing his PhD thesis in the field of high-energy particles
at the Université Catholique de Louvain (Belgium). There is
a new colliding system at CERN (European Laboratory for Particle
Physics) which will improve the way proton's collision is
measured: "this will make it possible to study new phenomena
predicted by models that are beyond the standard model". He
explains that "there will be two detectors set up to study
the result of those collisions between protons. One is called
CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) and it is in the CMS development
that I am working at. There is a huge challenge to be met
concerning these experiments. We try to identify the new face
of physics at the point where a great number of particles
are produced, right after collisions. The core of my work
consists of developing algorithms that allow us to recognise
events that are interesting from the point of view of physics.
This new way of studying physics will surely help us to understand
better what matter is constituted of".
won a second prize in Zurich 1991. He and Olivier van der
Aa represented Belgium with a project titled: "Flight Study
of a Micro-Rocket".
Contests was a great experience for him: "it was probably
the first time I had to talk in English with colleagues. The
presentation of the project was in English as well. At that
time it was a real challenge, but Olivier and I managed to
make us understandable. It certainly boosted my English skills
and my confidence, and that is important in order to live
in the United States". He is very thankful to Olivier and
his advisors at College Cardinal Mercier de Braine-l'Alleud,
Mr. Palamin and Mr. Vanlaerebeek.
He particularly recalls the relaxed atmosphere reigning over
the whole organisation and development of the Zurich Contest.
He was specially shocked by "the amazing visit to the top
of the Junfraujoch peak". He thinks that "the EU Contest certainly
reassured me to stay in the natural sciences and probably
helped me to be accepted by this institution. Before that,
I had graduated in physics at the Université de Louvain-La-Neuve
now pursuing the career he really wanted to do at the time
of the Zurich edition of the EU Contest: astronomy. More precisely,
he is doing a doctoral programme at the University of Massachusetts,
a research that is particularly two-folded. Firstly, he is
involved in a project that investigates the large scale of
the universe. This involves studying several galaxies and
their clustering. From that observation one can infer the
density of the universe, which will tell us whether the universe
will expand forever or collapse back. This part of his research
entails utilising the 2MASS (two-Micron All Sky Survey) developed
by the University of Massachusetts; this allows Nicolas to
obtain infrared apparent luminosity from thousands of galaxies.
When combining this picture with radio data, the so-called
Tully-Fisher linear relationship is built up, which means
that it is possible to know the distance to every single galaxy
by comparing apparent and absolute luminosity.
Nicolas observes a specific Quasar by means of the Hubble
Space Telescope images: "we know from the spectra that there
is something between that Quasar and us, but no one has found
it yet, neither have we. These observations are really on
the edge of the Hubble Telescope's capabilities". One of these
two projects will become the topic of his thesis, but he has
not decided yet.