Singapore Scientist Wins Prestigious Danish Award

Guillaume Drillet works with copepods. He looks at them under his microscope, millions of little crustaceans, swimming around themselves and each other and he writes down what they do, how they look, how they looked yesterday, what happens to them when they are disturbed. He is an experimentalist so he spends time in lab, and does not particularly care for the prestige in being a top scientist. Mainly he just likes to research his copepods and further their environment in the water, so they can be stronger and more fit. 

Denmark – and more specifically the Danish Agency for Science and Innovation – thinks that’s a splendid way to spend his time.

That is why, the French scientist, based in Singapore, last week got one of the most prestigious Danish Awards for his projects with the organisms: The Sapere Aude Young Elite Scientist Award and with that 3,371,040 kroner to continue his research.

“I have never been pro-elite! And now I am apparently part of the the elite,”  is the 32-year-old’s first reaction, accompanied by a trademark of Drillet – a big laughter. He has a very clear idea of what it is to be a scientist: “ I take it as a big honor. But the prize will not make me smarter and the world Elite may make a scientist become proud and forget his real task – doing science, “ he explains.

He is, of course, happy to have his research funded and he is already mapping out how the money can benefit his copepods. 

Stressed little creatures
What bothers him is that copepods have a tendency to get stressed. When they stress they lay eggs that do not hatch proper and that may cause problems for the fish farmers using copepods as live feed. 

Copepods – and other microorganisms – serve as fish food in hatcheries. In order to have healthy systems and a good fish development, it is important these organisms fit perfectly to the need of the fish and that they can be produced in large amounts. But they are fragile and apart from getting stressed, copepods are not easy to grow in larger scales. It is these two problems, Drillet is researching.

“Copepods are very complicated organisms and there are so many unknown factors.  They get stressed in high densities and then they die – I need to find out what stresses them,” he says.

Of course there is an economical perspective too – if the fish does not have proper food, they don’t get fat and delicious and then the farmers have to sell them for less. That perspective does not worry Drillet very much.

“It is just how it is, right? Science is to be curious and I get to fulfill my curiosity by examining the copepods and understand how they work. The business is business, it is another part of it,” he says.

A logistical nightmare
Guillaume Drillet has been working on aqua-environmental research for ten years – in 2003 he moved to Denmark to start his research at RUC and later he took his ph.d from DTU in Copenhagen. Recently, though, he decided to pack his bags and move with his wife and son to Singapore to work for the Danish Company DHI Water & Environment. By then, he had researched for seven years on his copepods without much recognition.

“I had applied for research grants along the way, but no money was pouring in and I was a bit tired of it. As a family, we need a bit of stability. So when I got offered a job in Singapore that fit my profile, I said yes,” he says. When he made the move, he had been going on small jobs, study grants and other short-term solutions for years. But then:

“I moved to South East Asia. Then I learned all my projects were granted,” he says and laughs again.

Luckily, his current job is in the same area as the grant proposal, so Drillet will continue to be affiliated with RUC, where the money has been granted to, while keeping his research in Singapore current.

It is all a bit messy at the moment, honestly…and I just want to play with my copepods! he says. Logistical problems aside, though, Guillaume Drillet’s life just got a whole lot easier – and so did millions of other lives. Copepod lives, that is. 

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