EducationA highschool in the French Alps, King's College London for my undergraduate degree, Cambridge for my master's and Sheffield for my PhD (finishing soon!)
Qualifications2012: French Baccalauréat 2015: BSc in Physics and Philosophy 2016: Master's in Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics 2020: PhD in Experimental Particle Physics (hopefully!)
Work HistoryI took part twice in the CERN Summer Student programme during my undergrad, and I'm working there part-time for my PhD. I also did a brief stint working in a laser lab, but that wasn't for me.
Current JobI'm a PhD student at the University of Sheffield, finishing in a month or so... scary. I'm hoping to start a research job in Scotland soon - seeing as I keep moving up north, I might end up an old professor in Iceland...
The University of Sheffield
Favourite thing to do in my job: Understanding something new in my own way and being able to share it with others
About Me: I'm a Franco-Swiss physicist with a passion for dogs and science, in that order. Cooking is a close third, and an excellent way to relax after a hard day colliding particles!
My Work: When you smash particles together at very high speeds, it turns out you can create other particles. Are any of these new and exotic? Can we make Dark Matter in the lab? I don't know - but I sure am trying to find out!
My work in one picture:
What’s going on here? This is a computer model of our magnificent beast of a detector, the ATLAS experiment at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. It’s a 46 m long, 25 m high, 25 m wide, 7000-tonne machine that takes “quantum pictures” of fundamental (much, much smaller than an atom!) particles. “Where do these particles come from?” I hear you ask in the back; well, the answer is what got me properly interestd in physics when I was in highschool.
Growing up near Geneva myself, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics, take a tour of the machines and talk to scientists there. They explained to me, very casually, that “all they did” was get a bunch of regular ol’ protons (you can find those in every atom, how convenient!) and accelerate them along a 27km ring up to 99.9999991% the speed of light. That’s an absurdly large speed! “How” they do that is quite interesting, but “why” is really the kicker: because the faster these protons go before they get smashed into each other, the more energy they pack. Nothing new here. But the beautiful thing is that you don’t need a degree in physics to understand what that means, if you’ve ever heard of a little equation by a certain Albert…
Everyone’s seen or heard this before, even if they don’t quite realise what it means! If you have mass, the “m” on the right-hand side, this is equivalent to having energy! (the “E” on the left). But, and that was truly mind-blowing to my younger self, it also means that if you have enough energy, you can create mass! you can create matter!
And smashing protons in a humongous collider achieves just that.
Fortunately, us physicists were smart enough to place our big ATLAS detector just around the collision point, so we could capture (almost) all the particles that we made. If you go back to the picture at the top, it should make more sense now: you can see the (grey) tubes carrying the high-speed protons to the collision point, from which a whole bunch of new particles emerge (orange lines) and are captured and measured by our detector (in blue).
My job is to sift through billions (yes, litteral billions) of these pictures (using fancy computer code, of course!) and try to tell what the particles we produced were. Most of the time, it’s uninteresting junk. Sometimes, it’s cool, heavy particles that don’t normally exist in nature. Once in a while, you might even get the so-called Higgs boson that won a nobel prize to its namesake Peter, back in 2012. But my hope is that, even more rare and hidden amongst all this data, are the elusive new, exotic particles I (and many others) are after. More on that in the chats…
PS: the picture above shows a real collision event! Taken on June 4th 2015, it is one of these interesting events I’m studying, and almost the 20 millionth collision at that time.
My Typical Day: I wake up, procrastinate a bit, have a tea or coffee and get on with smashing particles together! Sometimes I get distracted by real life.
My typical day varies quite a lot. And that’s good, because I’m one of these people who struggle to keep a routine… I usually wake up late, because most of my meetings are in the afternoon and I enjoy working in the later hours (that’s when I get my best ideas!). Tea or coffee, depending on the mood of the day, are consumed at regular intervals to facilitate the transformation of these ideas into computer code I can actually use to study my little particles.
There’s a lot of talking too. Whether I’m presenting the results of a project, discussing with colleagues or chatting with friends in the break room, we’re constantly bouncing ideas off each other. Modern science is all about working together – I’m only one of 3000 physicists working on my experiment alone!
Most of the time I’m listening to music and that helps make the more boring aspects of my job (e.g. paperwork…) seem almost interesting. I’m always excited when I know I’m going to teach later in the day, sometimes to the point of making it difficult to focus on other tasks. It’s a wonderful way to share hard-earned knowledge and realise that, after all these years, I know one or two interesting things about physics!
I’ve been trying to get back to doing sports in the evening (I was a keen cyclist and rower), but I find cooking also relaxing. Working with dough (bread, pasta, pizza, you name it) is very therapeutic, and I enjoy sharing a meal with my housemate after a long day.
What I'd do with the prize money: I actually have two potential ideas: one is to launch a series of instagram videos, the other to have proper discussions on the place of science in society.
I’ve always been enthusiastic about outreach, and there are two particular themes I’m attached to.
The first is the fact that scientists have personal lives and experiences beyond being a scientist. In the same way, no two scientists got to where they are now following the same path or for the same motivations. So why not go ask them about these things? and we might learn something or two about what makes them excited about their science along the way. For this project, I imagine a series of short videos, Instagram-style; inspire, share, teach.
A second project would be organising a series of debates between physicists on the one hand, talking about their latest research, and philosophers/economists/policy experts/… on the other, discussing the impact of this work in society. It’s easy to think of scientists as confined to their labs, but when breakthroughs have such a wide impact (think Internet, self-driving cars, GMOs…) it’s important to bring STEM and humanities together.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
bad at following directions.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
that first time I visited CERN as a kid. just wow.
What was your favourite subject at school?
physics (philosophy a close second)
What did you want to be after you left school?
a blackboard-and-chalk physicist. Turns out I need to use a computer instead (my only disappointment)
Were you ever in trouble at school?
School can be challenging, especially with the lack of perspective on life beyond it.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I would open a French restaurant in the Peaks, probably
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Oh, it changes all the time. This week it's Mark Knopfler ("Boom, like that")
What's your favourite food?
Pasta goes with everything. Change my mind.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Rowed in a boat race where you had to bump into other boats to eliminate them. There was a real-life cannon shot to start the race, and we ended up making another team capsize. Not a bad day :)
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) get a job that allows me to have a dog, 2) get the dog in question, 3) get a second one as well
Tell us a joke.
Did I already do my déjà vu joke? (check out Stewart Francis!)