Xavier Fernandez has two passions: chemistry and teaching. At the Université Côte d’Azur (UCA), where he is Coordinator of the Arômes, Parfums, Cosmétiques university degree program, Director of the FOQUAL Master (Formulation, Analysis and Quality), and the impetus behind the MSc Management of the Flavor and Fragrance Industry Master’s degree project, his daily objective is seek, explore, and mine knowledge so as to bring it to others and help them understand it.
Though he had intended to pursue a career as an engineer at a private company, “an unexpected professional encounter” changed his calling, along with the topic of his doctoral dissertation. His PhD work in the field of organic synthesis of food flavoring revealed an inner passion for research, but also gave him an opportunity to teach. This combination of pursuing and imparting knowledge naturally led him to a university career.
In 2002, after a year-long contract as a professor and researcher, he was hired as a lecturer at the Université Nice-Sophia Antipolis to join a team exploring natural products. He very quickly became part of the management team of the FOQUAL advanced studies degree that he managed starting in 2004 (when undergoing the DESS Master). He was accredited to supervise research in 2007 and was recruited as a professor in 2012.
Working with the Club des Entrepreneurs du Pays de Grasse on founding a business, research, and networking hub focused on natural ingredients (the Observatoire Mondial du Naturel, Natural Products World Observatory) and with this FOQUAL Master in particular, Xavier returned to the world’s perfume capital on a part-time basis: “Students have the good fortune to be in contact with local businesses as part of their education, and that’s very convenient,” he shares. And there is no lack of topics for applied research. In the J-L Lions building, students have been earning this degree year after year for nearly a decade.
What’s more, since the skills related to perfume in our region were listed in 2018 as part of UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage of Humanity, an effort to which he contributed enormously, he has submitted a proposal for a UNESCO University Chair that would bring together 15 universities from around the world.
While waiting for this latest dream to become an adventurous reality, he continues along his career path: “I got into the industry through synthetics, but what I like most is naturals. I ended up in perfume by happenstance.” says Xavier.
He admits to being “fascinated with chemistry and natural ingredients, their complexity, even their mystery. There’s always the chance of another discovery.” As he meets with like minds, he gleans knowledge from his mentors, aware that he wants to share what he learns with others while continuing to work as a researcher.
And that’s why, when he’s not researching, he’s teaching! When standing before his students, stage fright energizes him and “lessens with time” – which is not the case for his enthusiasm !
“Research has an impact on society.” he says. “It’s a cutting-edge realm that deserves to be explained, understood, and passed on to others. Over the course of a five-year program, students are transformed in terms of both knowledge and interpersonal skills. We help make that transformation happen, it’s part of our role as citizens.”
That interpersonal dimension is equally essential in research and teaching. Xavier is involved, invested, passionate, devoting his energy to the students, and they make their appreciation clear: “It makes you feel useful, and their acknowledgement of that is stimulating.” he admits.
It’s work he likes to perform as a team with his fellow researchers and engineers, collectively and across specialties, as well as with everyone in the industry.
And that includes the members of Grasse Expertise. “Helping to compile the dossier to have Grasse perfume-making skills recognized by UNESCO was a chance for me to come into contact with people, professions, and talents I’d never encountered before. I reconnect with them through the network; we’re well aware that we have a potential goldmine here and we need to promote these precious materials. We’re on the right track!”
What’s more, in 2020, the Université Nice Sophia-Antipolis, the Alpes-Maritimes’ key institution for higher education, will give way to the Université Côte d’Azur (currently Communauté d’Université of which Université Nice Sophia-Antipolis is a member). The creation of this great university will present challenges, many of which are related to Grasse and its actors. The future looks promising indeed.