Adrien Heymans, 'EC' postdoctor, on a hiking track in an open landscape with mountains in the back. He is wearing a backpack and turning his face into the camera. Adrien Heymans, 'Excellence of Choice' postdoctoral fellow, started his postdoc at UPSC in August 2023. Photo: Amélie Hidvégi

Adrien Heymans from Belgium was given the chance to start an 'Excellence by Choice' Postdoc fellowship with Stéphanie Robert and Stephane Verger at UPSC. He is studying the theoretical relationship between plant epidermal cells and their superstructures to mechanical stress, mostly with computational models and image analysis tools.

The 'Excellence by Choice' Postdoctoral Programme is coordinated by Umeå Centre for Microbial Research (UCMR). Text: Ingrid Söderbergh, UCMR & Umeå University

What is your academic background?

"I did my PhD from 2018 to 2022 at UCLouvain in Belgium, where I delved into the fascinating "in silico" realm of root hydraulic anatomy under the guidance of Guillaume Lobet. My curiosity led me to explore further the hidden half, as I embarked on two short postdocs at UCLouvain, the first on root plastic response to heterogeneous soil conditions, and the second one on a new paradigm of water transport at the root cross-section level."

How did you end up in Northern Sweden and at Umeå University?

"Having visited Sweden a few times, I liked the global mentality of its people, both welcoming and straightforward. Aware of the excellent plant research community in Sweden, it felt like a good environment to expand my curiosity about plant functions. When presented with the research topics in the ‘EC’ call, Stephanie’s and Stephan's proposal particularly caught my attention. Recognizing it as a great opportunity to shift my focus from root anatomy to leaf anatomy and gain a fresh perspective, I embraced the chance for this exciting transition."

What is your research focusing on?

"I am studying mechanical stress on plant epidermis, focusing on cell shape due to external and internal constraints. This consists mostly in trying to figure out how mechanical properties at the cell wall level influence the stress localisation with models. From image analysis tools and finite element modelling tools, I try to predict stress hotspot and potential cell-to-cell adhesion failure within a cell network."

What is challenging and rewarding respectively with being a researcher?

"One of the challenges of doing fundamental science is sensing how the science we do transfer to a tangible impact on society. I was lucky enough that, recently, one of the tools I developed three years ago led to valuable insights on Maize domestication and potential crop adaptation to local pedo-climatic conditions. It reinforced my determination to push the boundaries of knowledge in my field and on the importance of having an open science approach."

Where do you see yourself in five years?

"Having a permanent position as a researcher in a plant science centre, would be the dream. I like the freedom offered in academia, but I am aware of the difficulties of finding funding. It would be great if I can manage to connect my different study on roots and what I am doing in Umeå on leaves."

What are your first impressions of Umeå and its universities?

"I love the wilderness, the hikes, the nature, and also its people's mind. I really enjoy how uncomplicate people are and get along really nicely. At the UPSC, I was first very surprised by the equipment quality and by how many people were working on similar subjects, on arabidopsis and poplar trees with such collaborative philosophy. As soon as I arrived, other postdocs and phd student were always there to help me feel most welcome. I am very grateful for their kindness."

What do you like to do in your free time?

"During my free time, I like to run, do board game afternoon, play with my kids, and draw landscape sketch on holidays."

Short facts about Adrien: 
Coming from: Belgium, a bit south of Brussels
Me in three words: Dreamer. Grounded. Curious
Exciting with the plant cell: The dynamic of cell growth that forms a seemingly regulated jigsaw pattern from countless biological pathways and physical signaling.
Reading: Sci-fi and epic adventures, such as Dune
Streaming: Mostly Sci-fi, such as Westworld
Listening to: Smith and Tell, Oak Brothers, First aid kit, …
Unexpected talent: I used to be fluent in Indonesian
Swedish language sounds: “bubbly”, and Fika, of course, is the first thing I learnt!
Wanted to become when I was a child: Architect
Makes me laugh: absurd stuff arranged nicely

More information about the 'Excellence by Choice' Postdoctoral Programme