Sunday, May 26, 2019
Home World For the Czech physicist Lenka Zdeborova, "science is part of the European...

For the Czech physicist Lenka Zdeborova, "science is part of the European identity"

Europe has played and still plays a central role in science. For the 28 current Member States, but also to constitute a critical mass, a European action force within the international scientific community.

I met Europe in stages and by chance. On the one hand, a student in theoretical physics at the Charles University of Prague (Czech Republic), one of my professors advised me to go to France to prepare my doctoral thesis as part of a cotutelle between the Charles University and Paris-Sud University. On the other hand, during a European conference, I met my future husband, also a theoretical physicist, at the time a postdoctoral fellow in Rome, and eager to return to France. The conjunction of the two events made me realize my thesis in the theoretical physics laboratory and statistical models of the Paris-Sud University in Orsay, in physics applied to algorithmics.

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Coming to work in France was already a great source of satisfaction for me. Having lived in western Czechoslovakia, a communist country, I had an image of inaccessibility of Germany and Europe until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. I felt a bit European: I spoke English and a little German. But I had to take intensive French classes at the Alliance Française.

The diversity of our origins is an extraordinary wealth

In Saclay, we already live in a European atmosphere because of the constant passage of professors or researchers from all over Europe and even the world. But it was in 2016 that the great European trigger took place: I was laureate of the European Research Council. A distinction which allowed me to receive 1.35 million euros, to recruit five young men and two young women (three Italians, two French, a German and a Belgian) in master, doctorate and post-doctorate.

Working in a European team has more advantages than defects. In the laboratory, we speak a little Italian, or German, or French. But, most of the time, we speak English: with a vocabulary of 5,000 active words and 10,000 passive words, we understand each other. We will never master Shakespeare, but it does not matter. We can talk about the same thing, even if it's not quite the same language. Especially in physics, maths and computer science, equations help us quite often.

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As Europeans, the diversity of our geographical, cultural, educational, even philosophical and spiritual origins is an extraordinary wealth. To have good ideas, even if they were sometimes utopian, to make progress, new discoveries, it is necessary to leave the usual frame, it is necessary to avoid the purring, and to agree to be a little jostled. The youth and diversity of your teammates can only help you.

In everyday life, at conferences or family trips, we realize that Europeans have a lot in common. Between Czechs, Spaniards and Swedes, we feel acquainted, often more than with people from another part of the world. So why not rejoice, and put it forward vis-à-vis "Skeptics of Europe"? If there had not been Europe, if I had not come to France to continue my research, I will no doubt remain in the Czech Republic. And I would have done something else …



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