The tower of Babel


The FibreNet project gathers around 20 different nationalities, i.e. many different languages.

Yet, this title does not refer to our skills in communicating in foreign languages. We all speak English. Or, at least, we try to exchange concepts, ideas, research methodologies expressed in the language of Shakespeare. I must admit I’m impressed by the excellent English of our ESRs. As a senior French-speaking scientist, this is still a hard task for me. I’m French, no surprise.

No, this title actually refers to the difficulty of sharing knowledge with peers who are not familiar with your scientific field. Every community seems to have its own terminology, sometimes shared with another community but with different meanings, triggering many misunderstandings and misconceptions.

Let’s take 2 examples:

  • In the composite community, the microscale refers to the fiber level, the mesoscale to the yarn or tow level, and the macroscale to the ply scale. Clear and simple. In the nanoscale modelling community, the mesoscale usually refers to a scale (time and length) above the nanoscale. But certainly not to the mesoscale of the textile community. And I do not dare to discuss about the phase field simulation technique known as a mesoscale technique.
  • Pore sizes, micropores are below 2 nm, mesopores, between 2 nm and 50 nm, and macropores are larger than 50 nm. No way this classification corresponds to my definition of what is micro, meso, and macro. By the way, where are the nanopores?
  • And a cellulose fibril, is it a micro or nanofibril?

Honestly, this list is endless.

What can we do to move away from this chaos? I have no magical recipes but when preparing a presentation, writing a project proposal or a paper, I keep in mind the words of Prof. J. De Coninck who was my PhD supervisor (a long time ago). In short, he kept on saying that you do not give a presentation for yourselves or your supervisor but for the people who know nothing about your work. You should prepare your presentation as if you know nothing about your own topic. This is extremely difficult but I’m convinced this is the only way to communicate efficiently to “scientific” foreigners.



David Seveno, Associate professor, PhD

Composite Materials Group, KU Leuven