Schools and University in France, and then UCD in Ireland
BSc, MSc, PhD, DSc
In Dublin, Texas, Paris, and Galway.
Professor of Applied Mathematics
Favourite thing to do in science: Solving equations and predicting how things will turn out in an experiment
I am a French Applied Mathematician with a background in Physics and Engineering.
I’ve always liked physics, but only after moving from France to Ireland did I realise that you could just solve the equations of physics without having to do the experiments yourself. I was bad at experiments and labs, things never worked out the way they were meant to! In Ireland you can do “Applied Mathematics” and that’s what I specialised in eventually. It has been a long journey.
I repeated my second year at university (got distracted);
Then I studied Physics to become a secondary school teacher;
Then got tired of studying and took a 3 year break;
One year in Dublin working in Eddy Rocket’s, two years in the South Pacific to do my National Service;
Then finally did a Masters + PhD in UCD and looked for a job (went to Texas, Paris, Dublin and now Galway).
I’m finally settled and enjoying life on the West Coast, with my family (wife + 2 daughters). I’m good at cooking and movies. If you ever want to organise a dinner party or take part in a table quiz, let me know!
The hardest things have done since I’m a scientist weren’t discovering new things or coming with new ideas and write scientific articles. You get good at that with practice. The first hardest thing was to work as a science journalist at The Irish Times in August 2014. Boy I sweated over those assignments! Science is a piece of cake compared to journalism. The second hardest thing was entering the final of FameLab last year. I had to talk to an audience about a scientific topic for three minutes exactly. How I got through this alive I honestly don’t know.
I try to model, describe and predict the mechanical behaviour of soft solids such as gels and soft tissues, including the skin and the brain.
Of all the physics/applied maths subject I’ve studied over the years, I’ve always enjoyed Mechanics the best. Apparently Leonardo da Vinci said “Mechanics is the paradise of the mathematical sciences, because by means of it one comes to the fruits of mathematics.” It’s true! It’s just amazing to realise that a technique you learnt in maths can be used to explain and predict the motion of an object.
I particularly enjoy working on the mathematics and mechanics of soft solids, using the theory of elasticity. For example I used testing experiments in the lab (but I asked someone to do them for me!) to figure out how soft brain matter really is, or how is the skin stretched in our body. I used and modelled forces to deform them and also launched elastic waves (like the waves launched in the Earth mantle by an earthquake, but much smaller!) in them and measured their speed.
If you have three spare minutes you can take a look at my FameLab Talk below where I explain more about the skin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSxnfGzq1jk
My Typical Day
Think, write, collaborate, teach, mentor, solve, compute, drink tea, think some more, stare at a screen/equation
Typically I start at 9 am in the office. It takes off quickly and never lets down until 6 pm when I force myself to go home to my family. Even then I often keep thinking about some equation or problem that is stubborn and doesn’t want to be solved. I often have ideas while cycling or walking or travelling or falling asleep (thankfully I remember them in the morning). Most of the time it’s just me and my paper/computer, calculating and writing. Not so exciting to look at!
Now and again I interact with experimental scientists, such as engineers, physicists, biologists, doctors and surgeons. I even worked with Marie Cassidy the State Pathologist for a while, trying to figure out how much force was required to pierce skin. That was quite exciting!
I also have other scientific responsibilities such as being an editor for several scientific journals, writing grant proposals and administrating the successful ones, mentoring final year Undergraduate students, PhD students and postdoctoral fellows, going to conferences to present my work and discover that of others, etc.
Beside doing science proper, I also deal with email, paperwork, preparing and delivering lectures, writing and grading exams, visiting schools and taking part in outreach activities such as this one!
What I'd do with the money
I would donate it to the Maths Enrichment Programme, a fantastic way to reach out to maths-oriented pupils from the West of Ireland.
Every year the School of Maths at NUI Galway runs a “Maths Enrichment Programme”. TY and LC students come from all over the West of Ireland to explore their interest in maths and challenge themselves with problem-solving quizzes and lessons. they come on Saturdays, sometimes taking a bus by themselves from far away. But the programme is run on the goodwill of a few colleagues who are getting tired and need some fresh blood. So I would donate the €500 to bring in university students and help them. Maybe the students will go on to type their lessons and quizzes or buy some equipment to make the lessons more fun. The idea is to make the programme more sustainable.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Committed, Curious, Creative
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Raising my two daughters
What did you want to be after you left school?
A physics teacher
Were you ever in trouble at school?
What was your favourite subject at school?
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Proved that brain is softer than jelly
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
Thought it would impress girls
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
A teacher probably, or a cook, or a journalist
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To have more wishes
Tell us a joke.
Roman walks into a bar, holds up two fingers and asks “Five beers please!”