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Dr. Isaac Rodriguez-Ruiz - Hydrometallurgical Processes and Nuclear Waste Treatment

​Dr. Isaac Rodriguez-Ruiz is a Spanish researcher, specialized in chemical engineering. He has been granted a 36-month Enhanced Eurotalents fellowship to carry out a research project entitled: “Photonic lab-on-a-chip for precipitation screening in hydrometallurgical processes”. He kindly agreed to share his experience as a postdoctoral researcher at CEA-Marcoule. 

Published on 16 December 2016
  • ​What is your academic background and professional experience before coming to CEA?

I started in 2009 as a PhD student at the Laboratory for Crystallographic Studies of Granada, Spain. My research topic was the study of nucleation in small volumes and confinement, covering a wide range of different backgrounds, from nanoparticle synthesis for biomedical applications to biomineralization and small molecule crystallization. From this period, I started developing my own microfluidic tools to handle the small volumes required for my studies. For that purpose, during my PhD, I performed several internships in well-recognized international research institutions, such as the “Centre Interdisciplinaire de Nanoscience de Marseille”, the “Dipartamento Chimica C. Ciamician, Alma Mater Studiorium” from Università di Bologna, Italy, and the “Institut de Microelectrònica de Barcelona”, Spain. From this last internship, I started collaborating with the “Chemical Transducers Group” of the IMB-CNM in the development of lab on chip systems with integrated photonic detection and its application in crystallization studies. This collaboration continued with a two-year postdoctoral researcher position in which I acquired expertise in microfabrication techniques and clean room processes to be applied in the development of photonic lab-on-a-chip platforms (implementation of micro optical elements and photonic detection systems in microfluidic structures) using silicon and polymer technologies. During my last year in this position, I was contacted by Dr. Sébastien Teychené, from the Laboratoire de Génie Chimique de Toulouse (Toulouse Chemical Engineering Laboratory) and Dr. Sophie Charton from CEA Marcoule (, and they offered me to build up a project together that finally ended up in this Incoming CEA fellowship.

  • Could you tell us about your research project? (Topic, team, equipment, progress…)

I work for the Laboratoire de Génie Chimique et Instrumentation (LGCI – Laboratory for Chemical Engineering and Instrumentation) belonging to the Departement de Technologie du Cycle du Combustible (DTEC – Fuel Cycle Technology Department), at CEA-Marcoule, in a cooperative project (together with Dr. Teychené and Dr. Charton) with the Laboratoire de Génie Chimique de Toulouse (LGC-CNRS). The project aims at developing novel photonic lab-on-a-chip platforms and methodologies for the study of precipitation and growth kinetics of rare earth salts, involved in hydrometallurgical processes and nuclear waste treatment. The miniaturization of the current methodologies presents a series of important advantages, from the reduction of sample consumption (interesting from both economical and safety points of view when working with high-value reagents and radioactive materials) to the possible increase of analytical performance in terms of precision, sensitivity and limit of detection. Although the main team is made up of 3 people, we all collaborate with other members at CEA and other international academic institutes.

  • What do you think about the quality of CEA’s facilities and equipment in relation to your project?

In a first stage of the project I am displaced working in LGC – Toulouse and taking advantage of their facilities for the fabrication and operation of the microplatforms. During next year 2017, CEA will acquire all the necessary equipment to set up a whole microfluidic laboratory which would allow us to continue with my work at CEA-Marcoule facilities.

  • ​ What are the strengths of your stay at CEA? 

There are many positive points to mention here! First, the possibility of developing this project for 3 years, in contrast to normal 1-2 year postdoc positions, increases the chances to go deeper and enhance my scientific productivity. Second, the multidisciplinary environment in which this fellowship is evolving, especially at CEA-Marcoule where I am in relation with both researchers and engineers involved in chemical engineering, fluid mechanics and optics studies,  and the fact of being "split" into two laboratories at the moment is allowing me to make valuable contacts to spread my professional network. In this context, I feel that my expertise perfectly fits the requirements of the project, and that I can always leverage my experience for the rest of the team and collaborators, which is certainly gratifying. Additionally, it is worth mentioning that this is my first international postdoctoral stage, which is also important for my CV.

  • ​Do you think that your status of international researcher brings value to your laboratory? To your career? 

In my opinion, researcher’s mobility is of vital importance from a scientific point of view. Every time you move from one laboratory to another, you are bringing knowledge with you to be shared. Similarly, wherever you go, you acquire new skills and ways to approach new problems. This is a maxim I try to take advantage of since the beginning of my PhD. In this sense, my international status is definitely bringing value to both, my laboratory and my career, strengthening already existing academic collaborations and offering CEA new opportunities of international collaborations as well.

  • ​How are you enjoying your professional and cultural life in France so far? 

Though it is not my first scientific stay in France, due to the 3-year scheduling of the fellowship I’m having an exceptional opportunity to finally learn French language and get immersed in French culture.  I appreciate and enjoy every opportunity that I have, travelling and discovering new landscapes, people and villages, but I must say that I am also enjoying very much my daily work at the laboratory, and this is in great part due to the marvelous colleagues I work with!

  • Would you recommend the Enhanced Eurotalents programme? Why?

Absolutely. There are good reasons to do it: exceptional professional environment, great economic and personal support, and the possibility of developing a long-term project and to establish international scientific collaborations… I would definitely recommend the programme to any postdoctoral researcher looking for an international experience.