The physicist Pascal Hersen, new director of the Curie Physical Chemistry unit


Pascal Hersen, CNRS director of research in biophysics, has taken over as director of the Curie Physical Chemistry unit (UMR 168 CNRS/Institut Curie). Following a call for tenders, his application was supported by an international recruitment committee and by the Scientific Advisory Board of Institut Curie, and approved by the director of the Research Center. He replaces Axel Buguin, interim director of the unit following the sudden death of Maxime Dahan in 2018.

Until now, Pascal Hersen (PhD), 42 years old, headed an interdisciplinary team of around fifteen researchers at the Laboratoire matière et systèmes complexes in the Physics Department at Université Paris Diderot. His work is in a new field of research – cybergenetics – which involves determining how cells process information, how they adapt dynamically to changes in their environment and to what extent it is possible to control the cellular processes. This physicist joins the Institut Curie Research Center to head up the Curie Physical Chemistry unit (UMR 168 CNRS/Institut Curie).

The work of the Curie physical chemistry unit, whose aim is to propose a physics-related vision of the fundamental processes at work in living cells, using methods and concepts from experimental and theoretical physics, and the work in the field of cybergenetics conducted by his team joining the unit, will be mutually enhanced. “We are developing computerized feedback loops to control the level of gene expression in real time at the single-cell level. This new technological approach combines microfluidics, microscopy, synthetic biology, optogenetics and theory of control,” he explains, “and we are looking to determine whether or not to apply this approach to a variety of contexts from controlling gene expression in single cells to spatial orchestration of multicellular dynamics.”

“Within the unit, and without prejudice to the interactions with the other research units, a great many collaboration projects are taking shape,” comments Prof. Axel Buguin, interim director of the unit since the death of Maxime Dahan last July. “The research subjects perfectly match those developed in the unit involving quantitative biology. They will benefit from our involvement in the Institut Pierre-Gilles for microfluidics.” For one year, Prof. Buguin, who was deputy director alongside Maxime Dahan, worked tirelessly to manage the transition and prepare for the future of the research unit and the some 120 people working there. It has been decided that Mathieu Coppey, head of the Cellular organization and imaging team (LOCCO), will be the unit’s deputy director.

Encouraged by meetings with team leaders in the unit, as well as with most of the research unit directors on the Paris site of the Research Center, the new unit director was able to observe the “wonderful interdisciplinary and collaborative approach, as well as a rich ecosystem of resources and researchers. Within this exceptional context, the unit will strive to contribute to the Curie research-care continuum model by developing innovative research projects focused on the physics of cancer, from understanding the elementary behavior of cells and tissues, to the medical applications.”

Pascal Hersen has authored over 40 peer-reviewed publications, filed two patents and helped create a start-up. He is the beneficiary of an ERC Consolidator grant (SmartCells). He was involved in founding the Centre de recherche interdisciplinaire (CRI), today attached to the University of Paris, and was auditor for the Institut des hautes études pour la science et la technologie (IHEST).