Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in the south of France in a small town called Grasse, the self-proclaimed capital of perfume. I pursued a Physiology degree in Montreal, followed by a PhD in muscle cell biology, split between Paris, Berlin and Lisbon. From there, I sought to study how cells communicate with one another using bioengineered systems. This led me to Kyoto, Barcelona, Stanford and, soon, Melbourne.
Why did you become a scientist?
I was always drawn to the life sciences in my teenage years, but it was only in university that I gained a deeper appreciation for biology. Perfected by millions of years of evolution, our bodies display levels of refinement and sophistication that exceed any human invention. Studying how this intricate machinery works across scales, from atoms to tissues, caught my interest and has brought a lot of meaning to my life since.
How would you explain your work at a dinner party?
We use our muscle so naturally to move around that we tend to forget how important they are and how much mechanical load they endure. This stress and strain makes our muscles prone to damage, which needs to be repaired. I identified a new way by which muscles can repair themselves. By better investigating this process, we hope to protect muscle against injuries and help preserve muscle function in diseases, ageing and exercise.
Which unresolved question would you most like to answer?
I believe we’re entering a very exciting era of tissue biology. Within this burgeoning field, how cells communicate to organise the architecture of tissues will be central. I’d really like to understand all the ways cells can communicate with one another and elucidate the mechanisms of how that information is transmitted.
What has been a highlight of your research career to date?
The highlight of my career has been to discover, through the lens of a microscope, a nucleus moving towards a muscle injury to repair it. There was the initial thrill of being the first person to ever see something, but the excitement of how it all works, how to investigate it and what impact it could have, rapidly took over. It is all I thought about for several days. I would be lucky to go through such an experience again, but I am also looking forward to other longer-term achievements, such as mentoring the next generation of scientists.
Name one tool you can’t do without.
Microscopes! I am a very visual scientist and am fascinated by seeing biology unfold in front of my eyes. In recent years, many tools were developed to watch cells and their behaviour in unprecedented ways, and in beautiful colour displays.
What advice would you give early-career researchers in the current climate?
Research is hard. Between failing experiments, roadblocks and busy schedules, it is important to manage your science, as well as yourself. I was lucky to have an advisor who gave me the freedom to use my PhD as a platform to develop skills and identify the type of research I enjoyed. I learned a lot about myself through my science, and this helps me in managing the balance between scientific productivity and personal happiness.