From Damascus to ULiège, from master to research career

Categories: Meet the researchers


Mohammed Allan, a Syrian who arrived in Belgium in July 2008 to start a Master in geology, has come a long way since then. He obtained a PhD and is now a researcher in the AGEs laboratory. Interview

What is your background?

After my Bachelor in Applied Geology at the University of Damascus, I was hired as assistant researcher at the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission (SAEC). Two years later, I got the opportunity to study in Belgium. Thanks to a grant from the Syrian government, I was able to study for a Master's degree in Geology at the University of Liège. On arrival in Belgium, I immersed myself in French lessons for two months so as to be ready for the start of the academic year and two years later, I graduated with high distinction.

Professor Nathalie Fagel then agreed to supervise my doctoral thesis. The aim was to reconstruct the paleo-environmental changes that occurred in Belgium during the Holocene (the last 10,000 years) through a comparative study of two archives: speleothems (calcium concretions) and peat bogs (soils rich in organic matter of vegetable origin). After I obtained my PhD in September 2015, I had the opportunity to pursue my research career thanks to an FNRS project.

Could you say more about your research?

The results of the simulations obtained from the different climate models show an increase in the average temperature at the terrestrial surface of 1.5 to 6ºC as well as variations in rain regimes. Our knowledge of future climate change is mainly based on predictive models. However, simulating natural climate variability, and thus providing reliable climate predictions at the decadal scale, remains a challenge due to the complexity of the climate system. In this context, our goal is to target the annual climatic changes that have occurred in Europe, and in particular in Belgium. Our strategy is based on a comparative study of two continental archives of the same region. We shall then carry out paleo-climatic modeling in order to document the modes of climatic variability, in order to reconstruct the evolution of temperature and precipitations in Belgium. We can thus link this information to data collected from other geological archives. Our data will complement information on rapid climate change and regional variability across Europe obtained by European research programmes such as Holivar, ACCROTELM or Past4Future.

A memory?

On the day of my arrival, the train in which I was traveling separated at Landen, one part continuing towards Liege, the other towards Hasselt. The information did not catch my attention; I had my big suitcases. There, people spontaneously came to help me leave the train to find my way. It was a beautiful first meeting.

How do you describe your mobility experience?

It is often said that the first cultural shock remains forever a favorite ... In Liège, I feel at home now. And despite all the scientific trips I've had the chance to do in recent years, this is where I feel best. If I'm here today, it's thanks to my parents, my wife, my friends and Nathalie Fagel. From the beginning, she helped me find the right path.

What is your view of the future?

In 2014, I made the decision to stay in Belgium. The war was tearing Syria apart and here my eldest child was about to start the first year of primary school. That same year, I began the process of obtaining Belgian nationality and, to my great joy, my application was accepted. With my wife, we then bought a house. In the future, my dream would be to develop my lab to continue working in the field of environmental geochemistry (pollution, climate change).