1 febbraio - 19 maggio

CNRS Institut de Physique Nucléaire de Lyon, France


Q: Please send us a short presentation of you including, if possible, a picture.

See attached photo. Now I am a bit older with grey hair.

Q: What are you working at now and what are your ambitions or expectations?

I am working on two programs:
- the first one, which is the most time consuming, consists in developping an imaging system to monitor ion-beam therapy: we measure the prompt gamma issued from nuclear fragmentation during the treatment of cancers by means of ion beams. This is a reasearch and development program applied to health sciences.
- the second one is more fundamental physics: we perform "channeling" experiments of charged particles in oriented crystals. the atoms in a crystal are aligned along rows and planes, and shooting very fast particles parallel to these alignments influences their trajectory in the crystal. This opens the way to original experiments like resonant coherent excitation of projectiles by the periodic potential of the target atoms.

Q: How and for what reason was your interest for physics born? Which characters have influenced this choice? What is the most beautiful memory of your life as a student?

I have always been interested in trying to understand the surrounding world. Inert matter seemed to be easier for me to understand with simple rules than human behaviors or even living matter. I was more interested by mathematics than physics at school, but at one point I felt better with dealing with real objects.
I have of course been influenced by very exciting teachers and professors.
Curiously, I try to find out my best memories as a student, but I can't find the big one. Perhaps it is due to the pressure we have with exams, which prevents many students from being fully enthousiastic. But anyway I have been very interested by many lectures and courses, at all levels of my education.

Q: Which difficulties did you have to deal with in your career? What has given you the strength to carry on? Which was the most significant event of  your career?

The most interesting side of the researcher's work is also the most inconvenient: we are free to do the research we want. But at one point, if we are not working on the "right"  topic, we are facing problems. If we do some research  on a topic  that is not well established, with many other participants, or without possibility to transfer technology, we expose ourselves to be criticized by people who don't understand the interest of your work. I have suffered from this at a period of my career. Now I try to have at the same time well supported activities (the one usefull for cancer therapy) and others in parallel, where I have personnally more scientific satisfaction.

Q: Which do you believe will be the next discovery in physics, and how this might contribute in changing our lives?

I am modest enough not to be a prophet on that. But I guess if one understands what is composing the 95% of unknown matter in the universe, that would be great!
Probably this would not change so much our lives. However, having a better knowledge of anything can just make humans better. This is not true only for physics, but for all sciences, as well as litterature.

Q: In your opinion, what has been the biggest discovery in physics and who has been your "reference-scientist"?

I think all the people who, at one point, changed the way of common-human thinking can be considered as reference-scientists. This is true for Gallilei, Newton, Einstein, and others.

Q: What characterizes research workplace and how is scientific collaboration organized?

Well, my office is a mess, but what comes out has to be well organized! In other words, we do not care too much about our material conditions, but we are very carefull about performing rigorous scientific work. I am working on experimental physics with particle accelerators (mostly outside my laboratory), within relatively small collaborations (less than 20 persons). We are a real collaborative team, where each one has some skillness on each topic (computing, electronics, ...) to complete the others. We discuss a lot (this is the way to make ideas progressing). The collaboration with external groups depends on the kind of experiment. Generally we collaborate with teams that are complementary to ours in terms of skillness. This is always on the base of mutual trust. Relations between collaborators are often the key point to succeed.

Q: Considering the crisis of inscriptions in scientific faculties, which do you retain are the reasons of the gap between young people and scientific studies and what may the world of research do in order to change this trend?

Science is like music, or even high level sport: you need to train a lot before being performant. For that we need volonteers who really want to make some efforts with their muscles (sport) and brains (science)...
Of course we need to be attractive, and therefore we show the nice aspects of science.
But, from my personal point of view,  the real problem is a problem of society: the intellectual effort and the scientific way of thinking are not at all encouraged.
One is not supposed to face problems, all answers are given by money, TV, and consuming.
One should first educate citizens to be able to analyze and criticize their world. The science is part of this.
If all of us start considering that intellect is more valuable than money, then we do not anymore have problems to attract young scientists.

Q: How can a scientist be defined and how do talent, intuition and study influence his profession?

A scientitist needs to be a very good student with good marks at the exams. But this is not enough of course. First, he also needs to be curious of everything. Second, he needs to be creative, like an artist: there is little need to repeat what has been done before by others. A scientist is always thinking about the originality of his work, in view of what is already done by the others.
Now most of the science is made not by a single person, but by collaborations. Then a quality requested is the ability to work and communicate with collaborators.

Q: How do you spend your free time?

Well I am like many other people. I like reading books, playing sport (tennis or jogging), spending time with my wife and childrens. I also watch TV, go to theater or cinema... Nothing exceptionnal.

Q: In this period of economic crisis, how do you see the future of research and what do you think about the employment of nuclear energy for energetic aims?

I know the evolution of research in France, but I fear it is not much different in Italy. The governments try to push the scientists to make the industrial research - with short term applications - instead of fundamental research. Of course this helps the industry, and people feel that scientists are usefull because they invent faster computers, higher capacity hard-disks, safer cars. But both fundamental and applied sciences are necessary. The long-term innovations will be killed by such a short-term view.
As for nuclear power, it is probably one of the most promising source of energy in the long-term. If the control is rigorous it is safe, and new nuclear fuels (not only 235 uranium isotope, but for instnce uranium 238 or thorium) are abundant enough to provide energy for many years, according to the development of emerging contries. But at the same time, small production units of alternative energies  have to be developped as complementary resources, like solar, wind...