International Francqui Professor: a boost for materials chemistry

From January to July 2018, Professor Clément Sanchez (Collège de France, Paris) will hold an International Francqui Professor Chair, allowing him to reside in Belgium to collaborate with our researchers and deliver public lectures. During this semester, researchers at three host universities – UCL, the University of Namur and KULeuven – will have the opportunity to interact on a regular basis with this major figure in materials chemistry.

The goal of an ‘International Francqui Professor Chair’ is to have the communities of host universities – in this case, UCL, the University of Namur and KULeuven – benefit from the presence of a world-class expert. ‘What we organise via this chair is clearly oriented toward researchers, with the idea that a figure of Clément Sanchez’s stature can provide them with a fresh point of view, new opportunities to develop their projects, and new project ideas and collaborations for Belgian sponsors’, explains Professor Damien Debecker of the Institute of Condensed Matter and Nanosciences (UCL). Professor Johan Martens (KULeuven) adds, ‘Clément Sanchez has an exceptional career profile, spanning all levels from Rhône Poulenc technician to engineer to CNRS researcher and finally professor at the prestigious Collège de France. This unique background explains why he is a pragmatic and visionary scientist, a guide highly appreciated by students, and a source of inspiration.’

His residency will begin with an inaugural lecture entitled ‘Learning from Nature: Towards a bio-inspired materials science’, at KULeuven on 11 January. Next, five lessons will be organised during the term at UCL (calendar and details). On 19 July an international closing symposium will be held in Namur, with the participation of major figures in materials chemistry, including 1987 Nobel Prize Laureate Jean-Marie Lehn.

‘Beyond these academic activities,’ Professor Debecker says, ‘our intention is to involve Clément Sanchez in our laboratories and impart his expertise to researchers. We will organise workshops with researchers from KULeuven, the University of Namur and UCL, led by Clément Sanchez and allowing researchers to present and discuss their work. The workshops will give Clément Sanchez the opportunity to suggest the most relevant research avenues and to guide researchers, propose collaborations and initiate projects.’ Workshops will be based on four major themes:

  • the future of porous materials for catalysis;
  • challenges and opportunities for chemists regarding CO2;
  • cutting-edge characterisation tools for catalysis;
  • biominerals.

Professor Sanchez will work even more closely with some researchers, serving as their ‘temporary supervisor’. PhD and postdoctoral students from the three institutions have the opportunity to register for a personalised guidance programme. During the six months of the Francqui Chair, Professor Sanchez will supervise these researchers via one-on-one meetings, discussions on objectives, monitoring strategies to adopt, interpreting data, etc.

Professor Sanchez’s research focuses on materials chemistry: thin films, batteries, catalysts, sensors, nanomedicine, polymers, photovoltaic cells, biomimetic materials, etc. In particular, according to Professor Bao-Lian Su (University of Namur), ‘Clément Sanchez is a pioneer of hybrid materials chemistry, and his exceptional contributions have created prospects for applications in the fields of ceramics, smart therapeutic carriers and catalysis.’ ‘Hybrid’ refers to materials that contain both an inorganic and an organic component. The proposed chemistry is generally based on a ‘bottom up’ approach (building the material brick by brick), in relatively mild conditions (and thus potentially greener results). The possibility of combining inorganic and organic components in materials opens the way to many properties and applications. For example, combining the rigidity of the inorganic material with the compatibility of the biological material in order to make implants.

Professor Sanchez is widely recognised in the scientific community and beyond. He is in the top 1% of the most cited researchers in materials chemistry (Clarivate Analytics). He has registered 65 patents and published more than 500 research articles that have attracted more than 45,000 citations. He has received numerous prizes and is a member of the French Academy of Sciences, the European Academy of Sciences, and Academia Europaea. Professor Debecker attests, ‘I did a postdoc research residency as a member of his team six years ago and since then I’ve stayed in touch and we collaborate on various projects. I hold him and his work in very high esteem. He’s full of enthusiasm, just an idea machine, super productive and those who work on his team also excel in their respective fields. Clément has a vast network and excellent knowledge of the scientific community, which is crucial for starting new collaborations and advancing projects.’

At UCL and the two other partner institutions, there are many laboratories and teams working in materials chemistry, with cutting-edge expertise in various fields. For example, heterogeneous catalysis is a well-established subject at UCL and the teams of Professors Gaigneaux, Debecker, Hermans and Devillers will certainly benefit from Professor Sanchez’s presence. ‘But other teams working on batteries, gas capture, separation processes, surfaces and biointerfaces, biomaterials, etc., will also benefit. Researchers will be able to expose their projects to Professor Sanchez’s keen, holistic vision. New ideas will emerge. In pragmatic fashion, researchers are quite frequently stuck at a certain stage of their project: a faulty experiment, unanswered questions, inferior or defective equipment, top expertise from another field is required to advance the project. Professor Sanchez will be able to make suggestions, tap his vast network and tell researchers where to go to acquire expertise from colleagues who in return ask only to interact and that science advances.’

More information:

Published on December 18, 2017