“I’m eager to see some of the scientific advances on the horizon”

In France, 75% of our electricity comes from nuclear power, a figure that underlines the importance of research to improve the safety and efficiency of nuclear plants. Polish-born PhD student Julia Wiktor, who holds a master’s degree in applied physics from the Gdansk University of Technology, researches these topics at the Fuel Behaviour Law Laboratory. She took some time out to tell us more.

Could you tell us a bit about your research topic?

Advanced materials are part of our daily lives. All branches of industry depend heavily on the development of new compounds and methods for determining their properties. My research helps interpret the results of positron annihilation spectroscopy, a technique that is making headway in determining more accurately the essential properties of materials used in the nuclear industry and other fields. Our short-term objective is to master this technique, with the ultimate goal of combining the results of different methods to establish a detailed understanding of advanced materials.


Science has the ability to amaze us with its advances and new technologies. Do you have any such examples that you would like to share?

I’m eager to see some of the scientific advances on the horizon, in particular the ability to harness energy from nuclear fusion. It’s one of those great developments that was initially written off as an outlandish theory, but has the potential to soon have a real-world application. I would be very pleased to see this type of technology in use.


All too often, we see stereotypical representations of bespectacled scientists in white coats. What can be done to change this perception?

I think that one of modern society’s major flaws is that science does not get the attention it deserves. We should encourage young people to choose a career in science. We have to show students why it is one of the most interesting professions and that it can be very rewarding.


What can we currently do to improve the situation of women in science?

There is a lot less sexism in science than in the past, but women are still underrepresented in scientific fields, a problem that does not come down to discrimination alone. I think that women have less self-confidence than men. Women often have doubts about their potential and skills, which are much less common among men. In addition, many women wait until they have a stable career to have children. For women in scientific fields it can be relatively late, after their doctorate and post-doctorate. It is comparatively less difficult for men to become fathers for example during their thesis. For this reason, I think that an effort should be made to support women who want to start a family while they pursue their scientific work.


As a woman in science, what would you like to pass on to the younger generation?

People are afraid of the unknown. If young girls never come into contact with women scientists, they will never get a feel for what it is like to be a researcher. Meeting a woman scientist and hearing her speak about her work could make a difference. It is very important for us to share our passion for science with young people. Not only would I like for more girls to choose a career in science, I would like to promote a more curious, scientific mind-set among them. 


Julia Wiktor received a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship in 2014.

L’Oréal–UNESCO
For Women in Science

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