ULiège, Factory of Possibilities

Catherine Henrist: instilling hope and raising awareness among the younger generation

Already involved in research focused on energy and the environment, chemist Catherine Henrist decided one day to take her sustainable development values to the next level and infuse them more broadly throughout the University.

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It is with great enthusiasm that Catherine Henrist, a researcher in materials chemistry at the Faculty of Science, addresses the future of our society. i don't feel paralyzed by a form of eco-anxiety," she smiles. On the contrary, the current context stimulates me and makes me want to move the lines

Neither worry nor anger, for this chemistry teacher who confides that she has "quickly protected herself from the speeches that describe the extent of the coming catastrophe. I don't watch television anymore, I don't listen to the newspaper... From now on, I only feed myself with the inspiring stories of people who are creating solutions," she says.

Catherine Henrist regularly comes to watch these stories at the Sauvenière, the cinema in the center of Liège that is part of the Grignoux, a social economy ASBL, from where she wanted to talk about this Fabrique des Possibles. For her, "this place integrates all the dimensions of sustainable development, including both arts and culture, but also food, local economy, the right to employment for all." She has even organized meetings for students there, with great success. "The objective was to bring them together around stories that give them energy, like the film Animal, by Cyril Dion," says the chemist.


Mobilizing students is definitely a story that comes up often in Catherine Henrist's story, and for good reason. Initially a researcher working on solar energy production, she got closer and closer to classrooms and lecture halls. i was already teaching general chemistry, but during the lockdown, I thought about how to use the time I had," she recalls. So I designed a materials chemistry and sustainability course, focusing on the latter."

Catherine Henrist hopes to develop this course, which has been particularly well received by students, and to extend it to other sections. At the same time, she hopes to convince her colleagues that the chemistry curriculum should be overhauled into a "sustainable chemistry" version, "so that our students are able to develop new products that are compatible with the world of tomorrow

A future that the researcher perceives above all as dependent on the issue of the scarcity of resources. whether we like it or not, oil and mining resources are running out," she says, "and we have an obligation to design products that can be dismantled at the end of their life so that they can be recycled efficiently

As such, Catherine Henrist believes that we can not do without a real reflection upstream. "We must first rethink our real needs and not just substitute one product for another. We must also move towards materials that may be less efficient, but above all less expensive and more abundant," she explains. The race for performance is not the only solution. I usually tell my students that photosynthesis changed the face of the globe with a 4% efficiency!"

... and promote

In addition to her teaching activities, Catherine Henrist is also very active in the Green Office of the ULiège. i met Cécile van de Weerdt, its coordinator, when I was looking for more meaning in my work," she says. It was a beautiful meeting, followed by a strong collaboration, bringing many projects by and for students, and aiming to convince the need to instill transition within the University."

Of course, it is impossible that such an investment around these future issues would have no connection to his family life. in fact, that's how it all began," says Catherine Henrist. At first, it was about waste, then, one thing leading to another, we became interested in what we ate, how our food is produced, how we travel and how we consume. Today, every aspect of our lives is being transformed!"

If she has succeeded in fabricating new possibilities in her personal life, the researcher hopes to convince her students to do the same. "It's even our role to help make them citizens who can contribute to a better society! And I have the feeling that with the new rectoral team, a wind of change is blowing through the university. I hope that this wind of change will grow so that everyone will take hold of it, and that a courageous change will finally take place



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