Hannelore Derluyn, winner of the ERC Starting Grants 2019

Hannelore Derluyn, CNRS research fellow in geomechanics and porous media at the Laboratoire des Fluides Complexes et leurs Réservoirs (IPRA-LFCR), has been awarded the prestigious ERC Starting Grant in September 2019, funded by the European Research Council (ERC) . This grant gives him five years to complete his project PRD-Trigger: Precipitation triggered rock dynamics, the missing mesoscopic link which will start in 2020.

Established in 2007, the European Research Council awards individual research grants to talented scientists each year. It is particularly aimed at young researchers who have completed their thesis two to seven years before the application year.

Hannelore Derluyn, who studied civil engineering at the Catholic University of Leuven and then at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is one of the most promising candidates.

How does one obtain an ERC Starting Grant?

I think it's a combination of my CV and the originality of the project. The jury expects the project to build on strong previous skills, but at the same time to present a break with the field of research. My research focuses on crystallization-induced damage in porous rocks. Afterwards, you have to prepare well for the competition in order to convince the jury of the uniqueness and relevance of your project.

What does the PRD-Trigger project consist of?

Under the effect of water evaporation, a salt solution crystallises. In a rock, the growth of the salt crystals thus formed exerts increasing pressure on the pore walls, causing cracks and fractures. The challenge of PRD-Trigger is to understand how salts attack rocks, to identify the parameters involved: temperature, wettability, concentration, etc. To do this, I am going to work at the mesoscopic level, i.e. at the pore network level, using X-ray tomographic imaging.

What is at stake?

Salt-induced rock damage occurs everywhere: in stone walls, historical monuments, on the coast where cliffs are eroding, underground, etc. Beyond the scientific challenge, predicting the probability of this damage would make it possible to provide solutions to combat and control it. This would open up new avenues of research for the conservation of rocks, both natural and constructional, but also for improving CO2 storage or geothermal production, for example.

How did the selection process work?

I first sent in an application in October 2018 and was then called to present it orally in Brussels in June 2019. This was the most difficult exercise. I had five minutes and five visuals to convince. Fortunately, I benefited from the precious support of E2S UPPA and the CNRS. Upstream, E2S UPPA financed a firm to help me put together the dossier. As for the CNRS, it had my application reread by the EU unit of its Aquitaine delegation and assisted me with the provisional budget. Then, for the oral, the firm financed by E2S UPPA revised my presentation and the INSIS institute of the CNRS organised several mock orals in Paris to advise me and make me repeat the exercise.