A few years ago, I fell out of research due to a combination of personal and structural reasons. Now, it is time for me to give it another try, and I will therefore be a lot less active on the commons activities. But I will keep an eye out and report if I see something relevant. I also remain available to discuss.

The story of my relationship to Science, in a few episodes. Today, episode 1: Roots story.

I was shouting around “I left guys, and I will never come back”. My reasons were good enough. Everybody understood. But I kept on receiving the table of content of Science, Nature and Nature Geoscience every week, asking my husband to download papers for me. I listened to a radio show in French, a “storification” of scientific discoveries. And my little heart was quivering. I was moved. And at some point I thought “what a great thing to contribute to that ongoing story, to understand the world around us and why we are who we are”. That took me back to the roots.

A story of dead people and big mammals

Ten years old or less, I don’t know. In the countryside in France, a classroom is gathered around an aquarium. Inside a reconstruction of the living environment of our ancestors, Cro-Magnon. A model, small people, trees, animals, cave. And someone explaining that if we look into the earth around the skeletons of our great-grand fathers and mothers, we find pollens who tell us which trees there were in the surrounding. We can look at what they ate and know which animals there were. And all that tells us which type of climate there was. I have a very bad memory of my youth, but that I remember very clearly.

A few years later, around twelve-thirteen years old, I was obsessed with whales. I knew everything about them. I had many books, I drew some and I remember a presentation I gave in our French lesson about whales. I explained to the other kids what was Greenpeace and what they did to raise awareness. I wanted to become an oceanographer. Very romantic: work on a sailing ship and study whales. Later, in my first years of university, I discovered that studying biology meant cutting living animals to see how their nervous system react. I decided to switch to geology. Even split in two by a hammer, rocks don’t scream.

The magnet and the compass

At the end of my fourth year at University, I went to apply to the CEREGE for a Master’s thesis. While visiting the lab, my future supervisor asked me how I came to Science and I told him that story. He told me later that it decided him to take me onboard, more than my good grades. For this thesis, I was going to look at how the Earth’s magnetic field changed in the past. At some point in the geological past, the North on your compass would have been at the South pole, or wandering around the Earth. And we can look at that using sediments that are deposited on the seafloor. So, my boss also told me his story during this visit of the lab. When he was a kid, he had a compass and a magnet. His treasure. So he put them together in his closet, on the same board. At some point, the compass stopped working, for no reason. He was devastated and promised himself to understand why. He became a paleo-magnetician (sometimes referred to as paleo-magician) and he knows now that what happened: a remagnetization of his compass by the magnet. The compass, made of a rock that recorded the magnetic North, had lost the memory of this initial direction and acquired a new magnetic direction: the poles of the magnet.

It’s also with him that I learned how to reconstruct climates and environments using marine sediments, basically a combination of my two loves. And recently, I understood why being a scientist, with all the difficulty that it encompasses is so good: you are allowed to still be a kid. And that’s why I want to come back.

 

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