30 international PhD students at the top!

30 international PhD students at the top!

By Elisabeth TINSEAU

The three cohorts of the EDENE European doctoral programme in Energy and the Environment, accompanied by the director of the SEA doctoral school, Christophe Dicharry, the EDENE programme coordinator, Gilles Carbou, the EDENE programme manager, Elisabeth Tinseau,  Education Manager of the Centre for Doctoral Studies, Richard Lacroix, met on 4 and 5 December 2023 at the Observatory of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre - OMP.

After boarding the Pic du Midi cable for a spectacular journey to the summit, which rises to 2,877 metres, we were treated to an uninterrupted 360° view over the Pyrenees chain, the plains of the South-West and the foothills of the Massif Central - Breathtaking panorama for the 30 international PhD students, with 20 different nationalities!

During these 2 days, the group was guided by astronomer Frédéric Pitout, a specialist in the solar instruments of the site, in particular the coronographs, and head of the OMP's educational service, and by Olivier Espagnet, teacher in charge of the OMP's educational service, and his colleague Léa Robert.

Coronographs, invented in 1930 by Bernard Lyot, make it possible to observe the solar corona, a place of intense activity where ejections of coronal masses responsible for geomagnetic storms and polar auroras occur. Then the group had the privilege of accessing the domes of the Bernard Lyot-TBL telescope, the largest optical telescope in metropolitan France (diameter of 2m), and coronographers. Following in the footsteps of the Observatory's founders, Charles Champion du Bois de Nansouty and Célestin-Xavier Vaussenat, the PhD students got lost in the maze of underground tunnels, leading to the scientific installations but also to the dormitories of the Dauzère building, that they were able to inaugurate, and in the canteen, shared with technical staff and professional astronomers. Finally, they ventured on the pontoon in the sky, a 12 m long metal walkway suspended 1,000 m above the void, reaching up to the clouds for a dizzying view. 

Unfortunately, the weather did not allow for night-time observations, particularly on the T50, the telescope used by the astronomy students, and on the TBL, but access to the planetarium, installed in the Observatory's historic dome, made up for it! Off to the Milky Way! The group was invited on a great journey into space, seen from the sumptuous landscapes of our own planet. These grandiose sessions took us back in time, through the Milky Way and beyond... At the end, the existential questions took on their full meaning: what is the place of the Earth in the Universe? Are there other inhabited planets in this swarm of stars? How to imagine the immensity of our Galaxy? At the heart of the space of experiments, the PhD students were finally trained in the universe of the Pic du Midi. The journey begins with the scientific adventure, continues with the discovery of the Pic du Midi International Dark Sky Reserve and ends with the historical instruments and objects used at the Pic.

Back on Earth with the presentations of the objectives and specificities of the EDENE program as well as the doctoral training and the major stages of the thesis, which came to complete these two days of «team building» experienced as a "an exceptional and rich experience, at all levels, that brought us together". Everyone was able to take a step back from their research and realize the privilege of having access to this grandiose and inspiring site, a major place of human and scientific activity for 140 years, and which so rightly candidate to appear on the list of sites inscribed on the World Heritage of UNESCO.