Denis Bonheure, a mathematician without borders
Denis Bonheure lives in Brussels and is a member of the MEPHYSTO research team at INRIA Lille - Nord Europe. Well accustomed to travelling from one country to another, he sees mathematics as an international language that transcends all borders.
What is the subject of your research?
During my university years, I became fascinated by gravitational models and Einstein's equations and quickly came to realise that what interests me the most is mathematics applied to physical reality. Today, I work on partial differential equations that serve as models in various fields such as quantum physics, biology and electromagnetism.
Could you briefly describe your career path?
It is rather conventional. After completing a bachelor's degree in mathematics at Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), followed by a postgraduate degree and doctoral thesis at Université Catholique de Louvain, I became a postdoctoral research at FNRS in 2005. After three years, I returned to ULB as a professor and researcher. Since 2012, I am also a member of the MEPHYSTO research team at INRIA Lille - Nord Europe.
Why did you choose to join a French research team?
When I was invited to join the MEPHYSTO team, I accepted without hesitation. I saw it as a great opportunity to allow my research to benefit from greater visibility and better funding. INRIA's research infrastructure is also appealing, as it allows researchers the opportunity to focus on core activities. The team is based in both Lille and Brussels, so I travel from one city to the other on a regular basis, even though I must admit that French team members come meet me in Brussels more often than the other way around. The team leader, Antoine Gloria, is French but also teaches at ULB.
What are the main differences between French and Belgian research institutions?
In France, support for research is more important than in Belgium. There is a genuine research tradition. At INRIA in particular, there is a clear objective to operate at the top European and worldwide level, and you are given the means to achieve it. This is extremely stimulating and bears no comparison with the situation in Belgium. As far as partnerships with industry are concerned, France and Belgium have adopted a fairly similar approach, striving to establish a balance between theoretical and applied research.
Should this balance be modified?
Although it is clearly extremely important to increase communication between researchers and industry leaders, I remain convinced that research must be partly fundamental in nature. Innovation is only possible through development of new theories to expand fundamental science. In Belgium, a proposal was made in 2013 to include 'potential societal impact' among the selection criteria for fundamental research projects. The proposal met with strong opposition and was finally rejected.
Why did you choose teaching as a career?
I enjoy being able to convey my passion through classwork, not just conference lectures. In addition, thinking about the best way to help students understand difficult concepts is a fascinating intellectual exercise. I value this pedagogical aspect and strive to make my lectures both dynamic and up-to-date. This in turn allows me to better synthesize my own research. I currently teach bachelor's and master's degree students in mathematics and physics, but also economics. The finance sector is extremely dynamic and requires increasingly powerful mathematical tools. This need will continue to grow, so I'm convinced that there's a bright future for mathematics as a career!
Your work allows you to meet people from all over the world…
My research focus is very international. I collaborate with people based in Lisbon, Marseille, Milan, Turin, Rome, as well as Latin America. In addition, I supervise a small team based in Brussels, composed of three thesis students (from Belgium, Portugal and Brazil) and four postdoctoral fellows (Italy, France, Slovakia and Mexico). The advantage of mathematics is that it requires no physical equipment. Simple videoconferencing tools such as Skype are sufficient to ensure efficient remote collaboration, even through I spend 12 to 15 weeks a year in foreign universities! Mathematics is truly a science without borders. Another positive aspect is that all these collaborations are also very enriching on a personal level.
Denis Bonheure is a 37-year old Belgian researcher and professor. He teaches at Université Libre de Bruxelles and is a member of the MEPHYSTO research team at INRIA Lille Nord – Europe. Denis travels throughout the world on a regular basis and, although he admits enjoying the Brazilian sun, he can often hardly wait to his son, daughter and companion again back in Brussels. Despite the French penchant for Belgian jokes, he appreciates his neighbours and their wine in particular, which he prefers to beer.
2004: Doctoral thesis
2012: Received the Jacques Deruyts Award from the Belgian Royal Academy
2014: Awarded an incentive grant for scientific research, with substantial funds provided by FNRS