Tristan Gilet / Assistant Professor

University of Liege / Engineering / small-scale fluid mechanics applied to biology

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We must change, quickly, as soon as we know…
I studied engineering physics at the University of Liège, and aerospace engineering at ISAE (Toulouse). I even obtained a Private Pilot Licence. I learned that the energy needed to transport 300 people across Atlantic ocean would always be orders of magnitude higher than what a solar-powered aircraft could offer. Flights are now cheaper than ever since they are not taxed in proportion to their carbon emissions. Now, as a scientist, I shall attend international conferences to learn from other’s work and publicize mine. Since I realized that our consumption of flights was not sustainable, I progressively shifted the epicenter of my scientific network to Europe, and I now travel by train as often as I can. To save on energy, I also chose a house close to my workplace and I drive a small car.
My current research focuses on microscale fluid dynamics. I have been studying how raindrops splashing on plant leaves act as a major vector of disease transmission in crops. Previous studies have shown that pesticides and GMOs, besides being highly debated for their potential effects on environment and health, were not as efficient as promised to mitigate foliar diseases. I now think that confining pathogens to a few plants by first understanding how they travel between neigbouring plants is a more promising avenue. Polyculture does just that: varieties with different susceptibility to pathogens are mixed, so the most resistant act as a barrier that protects the others. At home, most of our food is organic and local. We started growing vegetables without any phytosanitary treatment, according to some principles of permaculture. We have also considerably decreased our waste water by installing a dry toilet. With minimal effort (15’/week), we produce compost instead of irreversibly spoiling water.
Understanding microscale fluid dynamics offers another promise. Nowadays, a huge amount of disposable plastics is used in life science, medical and pharmaceutical research, mostly to handle liquid samples and reagents. In my lab, we develop microfluidic chips that manipulate fluids at the micrometer scale. They are still made of 3 cubic centimeters of plastics, but they can each perform millions of individual assays and potentially save millions of plastic tips. Consistently, we also try to decrease our plastic consumption at home: we switched from wrapped to loose goods, and we cook much of our food from culinary ingredients.