The "actions blanches" programme supports a ULB researcher or research team to develop a new and original theme.


Actions blanches 2022
Diversity policies within the world of Belgian police

Over the past decade, the demographic reality of Brussels has undergone profound changes. One of these developments concerns the ethnic diversity of its population since, according to Statbel, the number of Belgians of foreign origin has grown by nearly 31% between 2010 and 2021, which therefore places the region far ahead of the other regions of the country in terms of ethnic diversity. According to Geldof (2019), this has earned it the category of a "superdiversified" city, which implies the emergence of a new normal and with it, the appearance of major social challenges that need to be addressed (Vertovec, 2007). In this context, the police institution does not escape questioning of its practices and representations vis-à-vis minorities.

In a resolutely participatory approach to the police institution, this project proposes to focus on people of migrant descent within the police, or their significant absence. From a socio-anthropological approach, the objective of the research will consist in questioning the implementation of the various public policies centred around ethnic diversity in the police authorities of Brussels.

Supervisor: Maïté Maskens - Department of Social and Labor Sciences, Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences

Epigenetic causes of phenotypic plasticity in social Hymenoptera

Faced with environmental conditions, living organisms (plants and animals) are endowed with remarkable plasticity in their morphology, physiology and behaviour. This ability to modify their phenotype allows organisms to adapt to ecological constraints and increase their chances of survival and reproduction.

This research project aims to identify epigenetic DNA markers and analyse their effects on gene expression and their impact on the phenotype. It is based on the acquisition of a modern and efficient method of molecular biology , making it possible to identify the methylation of nucleotides in the DNA of organisms.

The social Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps) constitute a unique model in this respect, since genetically identical females present considerable phenotypic differences.

Supervisor: Serge Aron - Biology of Organisms Course Unit; Chair, Faculty of Sciences

Let them play! Development of a game as an instrument of sustainable and inclusive participation in public action

This research project is based on an entirely original approach that aims to develop and test a prototype game as a tool for framing participatory processes within the framework of a public decision-making cycle.

The theoretical ambition of the project is to test whether the use of games as a tool in this context makes it possible to overcome certain shortcomings of more traditional participatory processes, and to develop better and more efficient public policies and decisions. In particular, the objective is to verify whether the game makes it possible to generate a more sustainable participation of the participants throughout the cycle, one more inclusive with respect to the public remote from political life.

Supervisor: Emilie Van Haute - Department of Political Science, Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences

Leading or guiding the Living Labs? The critical role of researchers in co-producing knowledge for climate change adaptation

The floods and heat waves of summer 2021 highlighted the fact that European cities and inhabitants have no choice but to adapt to climate change. To date, climate-related disasters across Europe have affected the ecosystems and livelihoods of millions of people and caused over €400 billion in economic losses between 1980 and 2013 (EEA, 2017). 

As a response, in a growing number of European cities, Living Labs have sprung up, involving citizens, civil society organizations, researchers and public authorities in the implementation of local solutions (for example, blue and green infrastructures) to create built environments that are more robust and resilient. In this context, the role of researchers expands: from observers of a phenomenon, they become engaged participants who trigger and support change. Even though this new research environment demands different skills and abilities from researchers, we still have a reduced understanding of what these changes imply in research practice. 

Our research proposal aims to explore the role and practices of researchers in living laboratories for the adaptation to climate change.

Supervisors :
Luisa Moretto - Academic Teaching Department - Faculty of Architecture
Catalina Codruta Dobre - Urban Planning, Infrastructure, Ecology and Landscape Laboratory (LoUIsE), Faculty of Architecture. 
Giuseppe Faldi - Academic Teaching Department, Faculty of Architecture

Development of computational and experimental methods to predict and characterize ligand-olfactory receptor pairs

From a molecular point of view, the study of olfaction is very complex and few predictive computational tools exist in this field.

Olfaction relies on protein receptors expressed by olfactory neurons. The relationships between odourant molecules, olfactory receptors and odour perception are complex and little known. Furthermore, it has been shown that some olfactory receptors are expressed in tissues other than the olfactory epithelium and may have a therapeutic role.

This project aims to design artificial intelligence approaches to create molecules capable of activating a given olfactory receptor. These computational approaches are coupled with the development of a pipeline to experimentally analyse ligand-olfactory receptor interactions.

Dimitri Gilis -3BIO-Bioinfo, Brussels School of Engineering.
Ingrid Langer - IRIBHM, Faculty of Medicine

Actions blanches 2021
Searching for the oldest ice on earth - QUOI, Quest for the world’s oldest ice

Understanding past climate change is essential to better predict how our future climate may evolve.
An original approach to finding very old ice (> 1 million years) is to collect ice in blue ice areas (BIAs).
However, there is an obstacle: it is necessary to be able to identify the blue ice areas that contain old ice.

The “QUOI” project aims to analyse samples of blue ice collected around the Princess Elisabeth station in Antarctica, and to combine these results with numerical models of the polar ice caps in order to define these areas which contain old ice.

Supervisors: F. Fripiat, F. Pattyn, H. Zekollari, P.-H. Blard et V. Tollenaar – Glaciology Laboratory, Faculty of Sciences

Long-term evolution of bacterial toxin-antitoxin systems

Toxin-antitoxin systems are small genetic modules and are very abundant in bacterial chromosomes and mobile elements.
These systems are very diversified, indicating that they are subject to intense and rapid evolution. However, the forces driving their evolution remain mysterious.

This project aims to assess the long-term evolution of bacterial toxin-antitoxin systems; in vitro experiments on the E. coli model will shed light on their evolutionary trajectories.

Supervisor: Laurence Van Melderen, Cellular and Molecular Microbiology, Faculty of Sciences

Does unicellular analysis of the naked mole-rat immune system provide insight into longevity? Focus on γδ T cells

The naked mole-rat remains healthy until death and is resistant to age-related diseases, such as cancer.
To explain this resistance, researchers hypothesize that the naked mole-rat's immune system contains unique characteristics, making it capable of cancer immunosurveillance.

γδ T cells play an important role in anti-microbial and anti-tumour immunity.

The project aims to study the immune system supposedly centred on γδ T cells in naked mole-rats. This better understanding could generate new questions about cancer immunosurveillance.

Supervisor: David Vermijlen, Faculty of Pharmacy

Bacteria as designers of 3D engineering living materials

Tissue engineering aims to develop functional constructs to replace or improve damaged tissues or organs.

In this project, live microorganisms (bacteria) are used for the manufacture of living hydrogels (ELM) with desired physicochemical properties.
Using this new strategy, the researchers hypothesize that bacteria will make it possible to design 3D engineering living materials.

Supervisor: Amin Shavandi, Brussels School of Engineering

Development of translational research projects in oral health

Oral health is often restricted to dental practice and underexplored as a field of research. However, dental caries is the pathology most frequently encountered in humans. And more and more systemic pathologies are directly associated with oral and stomatological disorders, such as endocarditis, neurodegenerative pathologies, and even postural disorders. Understanding and properly treating these dental disorders will therefore have an impact on overall health.

This project will proceed along several lines: the study of the dental pulp vascular structure in healthy and decayed teeth; the study of dental pulp in patients with genetic mutations associated with cardiovascular pathologies; the study of pulp remodelling and dentinal repair in response to bioactive compounds; the development of new biomaterials; and the study of the oral microbiota in patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

Supervisor: Nicolas Baeyens, Physiology and Pharmacology Laboratory, Faculty of Medicine

The causal role of the different motivational factors to read on the amount of exposure to writing and on reading efficiency

One in four 15-year-old students lacks the skills needed to understand, use and evaluate texts effectively, even though they have mastered the basics of deciphering and recognizing words. Despite this observation, the reading skills of adolescents are very little studied compared to those of beginning readers, even though the conclusions of studies carried out with younger students cannot be transposed to older students.

This project focuses on the development of reading skills in adolescents at the end of secondary school and in very young adults. It tests the virtuous circle hypothesis that developing motivation to read increases the amount of reading and exposure to the written word, which in turn improves neurocognitive reading processes, increases reading efficiency, and enriches the knowledge of the world and emotional life

 Supervisor: Fabienne Chetail, Center for Research in Cognition & Neurosciences, Faculty of Psychological Sciences and Education

Read the city and connect its stories. Creation of a historical geolocation tool and its contribution to the geoliterary analysis of Brussels

How to create an effective and easy-to-use transhistorical geolocation tool that meets the needs of researchers in the human sciences?

The richness of reflections and discoveries emanating from the spatialization of varied and numerous spatial datasets, resulting from collaborations between geographers, historians, literary historians, musicologists, and architects, has imposed itself on several interdisciplinary projects developed at the ULB. However, the extremely time-consuming nature of locating historical addresses is a major pitfall.

This project concerns the finalization of an original cartographic tool, developed within the IGEAT over the last five years and called the Brussels Historical Geographic Information System (BHiGIS). The second part concerns the geographical data used to test and calibrate the tool. In order to promote the work undertaken and the expertise of the ULB in the field of literary geography, as well as the Bruxelliana texts database (digital library), the tool will be tested through the processing of hundreds of addresses collected in Brussels novels from different eras. This literary genre is the one that uses the most spatial references, and it has the advantage, in order to test and enrich the database associated with BHiGIS, of mixing real, fictitious, transposed, and named places.

In doing so, the researchers aim, from the production and discussion of the maps, to bring out an analytical framework that can be transposed to other literary genres (theatre, poetry, correspondence, etc.) and discuss space, including contemporary space (urban marketing, tourist literature, etc.). Finally, BHiGIS and its potential in terms of the production of spatial and historical knowledge are part of the development of digital humanities at ULB.

Supervisors: Jean-Michel Decroly, Institute of Environmental Management and Land Use Planning, Faculty of Sciences,
Laurence Brogniez, Faculty of Letters, Translation and Communication

Updated on July 20, 2022