ULB welcomes "Marie Curie" researchers

Patricia Bonnavion, Laboratory of Neurophysiology, Faculty of Medicine

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) are now one of the most common psychiatric disorders among children. Those affected experience chronic difficulties with staying focused, but also with controlling their movements (motor hyperactivity), behaviour (impulsivity), and sometimes emotions (emotional hyperreactivity). The first step in treating ADHD is behavioural therapy; however, medication using psychostimulants is very often used. While this form of treatment may considerably reduce ADHD symptoms, they also have an effect on children who are treated while in school, and could potentially result in addictive or psychotic disorders in the longer term. Such impacts, and the absence of therapeutic alternatives, highlight the urgent need to better identify the causes of this pathology, how it affects the brain, and how psychostimulants work — as this is still largely unknown at this point.

The ADHD-Lightup project, led by Patricia Bonnavion, a member of Dr Alban de Kerchove d’Exaerde's research team in Professor Serge Schiffmann's Laboratory of Neurophysiology, combines optogenetics, neural activity recording, and behaviour analysis. The project's goal is to assess the role of certain neurons that could be causing cardinal symptoms of ADHD, and treat these symptoms by adapting these neurons' activity, based on models of ADHD mice.

Mathieu Bourguignon, Faculty of Psychology and Education

Dyslexia is a developmental disorder that affects 5 to 12% of children and young adults. Those affected by this language disorder have specific difficulties that are not related to vision problems or low intelligence. Most have trouble perceiving the sounds involved in speech, especially in a noisy environment.

The goal of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie ‘DYSTRACK’ project, led by Mathieu Bourguignon, is to better understand the processes involved in treating oral comprehension against a noisy background, in order to develop new methods to identify dyslexia and treat it at a lower cost. Mathieu Bourguignon will join the team of Jacqueline Leybaert (CRCN, ULB Neuroscience Institute) and Xavier De Tiège (LCFC, ULB Neuroscience Institute, Faculty of Medicine). He will place children in environments with varying levels of background noise and visual stimuli, and determine to what extent their cortical activity can predict their reading ability. This will be made possible with magnetoencephalography (MEG) recordings, a technique only available in Hôpital Erasme in Belgium, and using cutting edge signal analysis processes.

The team will also attempt to determine whether neurofeedback can help participants get into a mental state conducive to speech therapy. The experiments will be conducted on adults first, then similar experiments will be extended to children if the results are promising.

Eduardo Castello, Brussels School of Engineering

Autonomous robots will soon be part of our everyday lives. Large groups, or swarms, of robots, will carry out all sorts of tasks, often cooperating with humans. This means we must think carefully about how to program these robots in such a way that they can be trusted. In other words, we must ensure that robots fulfil their role and that any harmful behaviours can be easily identified, or prevented entirely.

As a part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie ‘BROS‘ project, Eduardo Castello will join the teams of Marco Dorigo (IRIDIA) and Alex Pentland (MIT Media Lab), where he will take part in developing robotic systems whose behaviour can be certified using the Blockchain technology. The basic concept is to use ‘smart contracts’, one of this technology's most innovative tools, in order to manage interactions between robots and look at how they these smart contracts can produce ‘safe’ robotic systems. The BROS project, which will last three years, will be carried out in close collaboration with cryptography and cryptocurrency experts from the MIT Media Lab and experts on swarm robotics from the IRIDIA laboratory.

Agnès Chetaille, Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences & STRIGES, MSH

The project MIGREMOV (Movements, Migration and Emotion: East/West Mobility, Transnational Bonding, and Political Identities in Polish Activists' Biographies) aims at studying the role of migration and transnational connections in building political identities and developing social movements: how does moving physically and mentally between geo-political and cultural contexts influence the process of becoming and being an activist? Does activism create specific opportunities and paths towardtransnational lives? How do national identities and political ones intersect, and transform over time, in such contexts?

Agnès Chetaille has joined the team of David Paternotte (Atelier Genre(s) et Sexualité(s), Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences & STRIGES, MSH). Her research focuses on Polish activists from the LGBTQ movement, the women’s/feminist movement and the Jewish movement. It aims at reconstructing these activists’ trajectories throughout the post-socialist period (1989 to the present), with a special attention given to the role of emotions attached to specific places or periods.

Deborah Gatti, Faculty of Pharmacy

Gamma delta (GT) T lymphocytes are peculiar in that they can fight infectious agents during the fetal stage of human development. The team led by David Vermijlen (department of pharmacotherapy and galenic pharmacy) has also found that some of these lymphocytes, which express the Vg8Vd1 receptor, also react to cancer cells.

These Vg8Vd1 GD T cells are present in all individuals, could therefore be of interest when studying the development of cancer immunotherapies. However, one of the conditions for this is to determine what stimulates these cells. This is the goal of the new Marie Skłodowska-Curie ‘GD TCR Ligand’ project, led by Deborah Gatti: finding the ligand for the Vg8Vd1 receptor, in order to better understand the role and functioning of GC lymphocytes and might trigger an anti-cancer reaction.

Guangfeng Liu, Faculty of Sciences

Field effect transistors are essential components of our computers' circuits: they act as switches that either block an electrical current or let it through, which enables logic operations. In order to reduce energy consumption, two types of transistor can be used: those that let positive charges (holes) through, and those that control the flow of negative charges (electrons). Current transistors rely on semiconductors, whose electrical conductivity is between that of conductors (metals) and insulators (plastics).

The goal of the PARADA project is to invent a new way to make transistors from molecular semiconductors, which can also transport either holes or electrons. Built using organic compounds, these ‘molecular transistors’ are much cheaper to produce. A key step in the manufacturing process is the controlled crystallisation of the molecular semi-conductors: working in Yves Geerts’ team (polymer chemistry laboratory, ULB Faculty of Sciences), Dr. Guangfeng Liu will call upon his unique expertise on crystal growth, which he developed at Shandong University in China and Nanyang university in Singapore.

Ov Cristian Norocel, Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences

The European crisis has enabled radical right-wing populist parties to consolidate their presence on the EU's political landscape. These parties often base their positions on the concept of the ‘other’, a generic and vaguely-defined group that includes migrants, ethnic minorities, radical groups, or any person with an alternative lifestyle. This distinction is brought up especially during debates on social security, with certain populist parties suggesting that these ‘others’ should have different rights from natives.

This concept of ‘other’, however, is seldom mentioned in studies on populism and welfare. The Marie Skłodowska-Curie ‘INWELCHAV’ project intends to provide insight into this conceptual distinction. Joining the team of David Paternotte (from the workshop on gender and sexuality, Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences / STRIGES, ULB Institute for Human Sciences), Ov Cristian Norocel will explore and examine the (de)construction of cultural identity and the issue of national belonging through the discourse of radical populist right-wing parties.

The researcher will focus mainly on 3 cases: the Finns Party (FP or PS), the Greater Romania Party (GRP), and the Swedish Democrats (SD). He will also look at how issues related to national identity and welfare in these three countries are approached in their respective parliaments, as well as in the context of the EU, especially in the European Parliament.

Charlotte Sleight, Faculty of Sciences

Charlotte Sleight is in Marc Henneaux’s Theoretical and mathematical physics Service since October 2016. With her Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant, she will spend two years in the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, United States, before coming back for another year in Bruxelles. The project "InflaBoot" is focused on the theory of cosmic inflation. Inflation provides a remarkably successful description of the data extracted so far from observations of temperature fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background radiation. However, researchers are currently lacking a concrete realisation of inflation in a fundamental theory of particle physics, while it is almost certain that the inflationary epoch, shortly after the big bang, involved new high energy physics beyond the Standard Model.

InflaBoot aims to derive the theoretical signatures of new high energy physics during inflation, within the cosmic microwave background radiation, in order to improve future observations. Charlotte Sleight will focus specifically on the signatures of higher spin particles, described in string theory -- one of the most promising candidates for a quantum theory of gravity.

Massimo Taronna, Faculty of Sciences

Massimo Taronna has been a researcher at the department of theoretical and mathematical physics, led by Marc Henneaux, since 2015. He was just awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie EU scholarship, which will let him spend two years at Princeton (USA) before returning to Brussels for one year.

His research studies the fundamental forces of nature (electromagnetism, strong and weak nuclear forces, gravitation), aiming in particular at understanding how to develop a consistent quantum theory of gravitation: this is one of today's main challenges in physics. For his TcCFT project, he follows an approach based on string theory and on higher-spin gauge field theories. Using holographic correspondence, Massimo Taronna will shed new light on the problem of coherent interaction and of locality in higher-spin gauge field theories, which are crucial topics for the development of an adequate physics theory.

Amandine Van Rinsveld, Faculty of Psychological Science and Education, ULB Neuroscience Institute

Mathematics is a very common source of learning issues in children. The ability to approximate large quantities has been identified as one of the possible bases of mathematical skill, although the specific mechanism by which numerical quantities (i.e. numerosity) are extracted from one's visual environment are still debated. Most authors agree that humans have a cognitive system for numerical approximation, which is dedicated specifically to processing numerosity. According to an alternative theory, numerosity is extracted by weighing the continuous properties of objects (e.g. size).

The Freq4Num project aims to distinguish between cerebral reactions that are specific to numerosity, and those that relate to these continuous properties. Working with teams headed respectively by Alain Content (research centre on cognition and neurosciences – CRCN, Faculty of Psychological Science and Education & ULB Neuroscience Institute) and Xavier de Tiège (functional brain mapping laboratory – LCFC, Faculty of Medicine & ULB Neuroscience Institute), Amandine Van Rinsveld will use an innovative approach based on neural synchronization on stimulation frequency. Used in tandem with other electroencephalography techniques, this approach will enable the researcher to measure neuronal correlates that are specific to numerosity and continuous properties, as well as their potential interactions.