UCLouvain honorary doctors: broadening our horizons

Breaking down barriers. Building bridges between cultures and continents. Exploring new spaces. Making knowledge accessible. In this year of LouvaInternational, UCLouvain will give its highest distinction on 4 February to three extraordinary, inspiring individuals who invite us to become citizens of the world in order to move humanity forward.

Barbara Moser-Mercer: field training with refugees

In an emergency, the interpreter’s role is crucial. It can skew communication by simply introducing slight nuances in intonation. Barbara Moser-Mercer is a professor at the University of Geneva, where she directed the Department of Translation and Interpreting for 20 years. In 2005, mandated by the International Organization for Migration to train interpreters working in Iraq, she founded InZone, a centre that develops innovative training to meet the needs of multilingual communication in communities affected by crises and conflicts. Active in refugee camps in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and Europe, InZone is today a pioneer in educational innovation, offering both Learning Hubs, which are mobile devices that allow interpreting candidates to acquire the essential principles of the profession in emergency situations, and e-learning programmes for refugees.

Her sponsors: Emmanuelle Rassart, a language instructor at the UCLouvain Language Institute (ILV), and Hani Al Helwani, a student in the Faculty of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, who attended the Access2University programme.

Claudie Haigneré: exploring the possibilities of a giant leap for humanity

‘This is our Wonder Woman’, Le Parisien headlined on 10 December 1985. At 28, after a rigorous selection process, Claudie Haigneré was chosen to be the first – and to date only – French woman in space. A doctor and rheumatologist, she conducts research in human physiology at the CNRS, and specialises in aviation medicine. On 17 August 1996, after 10 years of training to keep in Olympic form, she took part in the Cassiopeia mission, her first aboard the MIR station. She then joined the European Space Agency (ESA) and in 2001 became the first French individual to fly to the ISS, where she conducted unprecedented experiments during the Andromeda mission. Returning to earth ‘with a new faith in humanity’, she entered politics and became Deputy Minister for Research and New Technologies in the Raffarin government, then Deputy Minister for European Affairs. Today advisor to the Director General of ESA, she plays a key role in promoting science and technology on a European scale, especially for young people. Her vision for the future? A ‘moon village’ that respects the lunar environment.

Her sponsors: Jean-Louis Thonnard, a professor in the Faculty of Motor Skills Sciences and member of the Institute of Neuroscience (IONS), and Ariane Sablon, an FNRS PhD candidate at the de Duve Institute and member of the 2018 UCLouvain to Mars team.

Neil Turok: the next Einstein will be African

To train a new generation of African scientists – that’s the challenge taken on by astrophysicist and mathematician Neil Turok, a former University of Cambridge Mathematical Physics Chair and the director of the Perimeter Institute. Born into a South African family forced into exile for their resistance to apartheid, Professor Turok set up a long-term strategy for the scientific and technological development in Africa.
His project, the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), is a network of institutes of academic excellence and research across Africa,. Supported by scientists, renowned institutions and governments, the network now has six centres (South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon, Tanzania, Rwanda) and will aim to establish a total of 15. Nearly 1,500 young African scientists, men and women, are trained by renowned academics from Africa and around the world, offering them a springboard for a career in science and technology on the African continent.

His sponsors: Jan Govaerts, a professor in the Faculty of Sciences and a researcher at the CP3 Center of the Institute for Research in Mathematics and Physics, and Benoît Thirion, a subeditor of the Revue philosophique de Louvain and member of CORTA.


Barbara Moser-Mercer, Claudie Haigneré and Neil Turok will be awarded honorary doctorates of the University of Louvain on 4 February 2019 during a ceremony at the Aula Magna.

Published on January 14, 2019