How long have you worked at the university? What does your role involve?
I’ve been at the University since September of ‘99. So that's going to be 23 years in September. I joined as a postdoc and then I was made “an offer I couldn't refuse” and I became a lecturer in the Department of Physics.
I'm currently a senior lecturer. I teach in Physics and in Natural Sciences, and my research is about remote sensing, mostly in the oceans. For that we use sonar, to map marine habitats, and hydrophones, to listen to sounds underwater. Originally, my PhD was about radar imaging of Venus, and I teach planetary physics now and do research on space debris, so I still have an interest in the field. I have written several textbooks, including the only textbooks on sidescan sonar. Most of my work is looking at the effects of climate change, measuring the risks of marine renewable energy (very low, fortunately), and looking at the impacts of human activities on marine ecosystems, in particular in the Arctic.
It is very nice to see how Physics can be used to explore all these different things and give answers to all sorts of other disciplines. I've worked with chemists, biologists, oceanographers, I worked with engineers, sailors and naval personnel, and they all need people doing Physics. So I'm very happy to be able to work with them. It's very interesting. I have sailed in all oceans except the Antarctic. I'm not losing hope for that one… someday. I've been working in waters from 50 centimetres to 4,000 metres deep. It's also nice to assist with commercial products, for example with Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, and see the impact of our research on the world outside.
What would you most like to achieve whilst at the university?
Like everybody else, I would like to be a professor! The serious answer would be that the university work that we do has two facets. One is research, the other one is teaching. In terms of teaching, I want to carry on being proud of our students and what they do after graduation, whether they carry on doing Physics or if they do something totally different. The ones I stay in touch with always make me very proud to have participated in their teaching. In terms of research, I want to show how physics and acoustics help us understand the world around us, explore it, but also address all the big problems that we have now, like climate change, human impacts, pollution. How we can use acoustics in the oceans to explore the three quarters of the world that we cannot access directly ...
Can you tell us some background about where you're from and where you grew up?
I'm a pure product of the French education system, as you can guess from my accent! I'm from Normandy, just the other side of the channel. It is very much like Somerset: it has trees, hedges, green fields, cows, cider, and cheese! The mentality of people is the same as well. So people are friendly, but to get real friends with them, it takes quite a few years, but after that, that's for life. So that's always nice. When I come back from France, I bring French cheese with me, and when I go to France, I have to bring English cheese with me because my family likes English cheese and they have discovered all the different varieties.
My first university was in Rouen, Normandy. After that, I went to do Quantum Physics and Electronics at Paris Orsay and I did my PhD in a planetary geology lab. We had programs with NASA getting the first high resolution images back from Venus and trying to find out what it told us about the evolution of the planet. The big question at the time was the potential for plate tectonics on Venus. Earth is the only planet that we know with plate tectonics, but the images we had with radar from Venus are very similar to images we get with sonar from the Earth, where we have very good examples of plate tectonics. So I got in touch with a lab in the US, in Seattle, who were working with sonar on plate tectonics and after a while they said, would you like to work with us for a postdoc? I thought, OK, that's a nice idea. I'm going to learn new skills, move from radar to sonar, and work in the US. I always wanted to do that. So I joined them and I went from a rainy grey November in Paris to Barbados, where I spent two months in the middle of the ocean, gathering lots of exciting data, being very seasick as well, but learning lots of things. There I met a British scientist who told me, oh, we need someone with your skills, would you like to come to work with us and I said, no, I'm staying in the US. I haven't even been to my office yet! But after a year and a bit, his offer was getting more interesting. I knew I was feeling more European than just French. And I thought, OK, it's a nice way to go and explore another country and go back to Europe. So I accepted the offer, and that was back in ’94, and that was at the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences. 27 years later, and I am still in the UK: I settled in Bath, which is a great place to live in.
I stayed there until ‘99 when I had a very interesting offer from Nick Pace at the University of Bath, to learn more instead of just gathering data. That work was to design new sonars, understanding how they work and looking at other applications. So before that, it was a lot of mapping of mid-ocean ridges, continental shelves, shipwrecks. At Bath we did do mapping, looking at mine-like objects, traces of past tsunamis and marine habitats, but also designing new sonars. Now, I work with glaciers in the Arctic listening to the sounds of climate change, because as the ice melts, it creates some small noises that we can interpret. We look at the noise from weather, from waves, from all sorts of things. I also work with British Standards to design the new guidelines for monitoring sounds underwater.
What do you miss about France?
What I miss the most is my family; my parents, my brother, but as you live abroad for longer and longer, hopefully you get settled in the country. So when I'm in the UK, I miss some French things. And when I'm in France I miss some British things. My big pleasure when I get back is to have a sandwich with cheddar cheese and pickles with a cup of tea, but when I'm here I miss ready access to nice French wines without costing an arm and a leg.
Can you tell us about your experience of getting either settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS)?
Stressful. We didn't know anything about how it would work until the settled status was announced at the end of 2018, so two years and a bit in the process. The app only worked on the newest mobile phones (not mine, then, but I could borrow one). It was very fortunate that the University was a pilot into this scheme, so at least I could apply for myself, if not yet for my family. HR was paramount in supporting us as soon as the pilot scheme opened. It all worked out in the end, so we all got settled status, and that's good.
What would your advice be for anyone who hasn't applied to the EUSS yet, but is thinking about applying?
Get started as soon as you can! And do not underestimate the time it may take (I had to send my passport and it came back several weeks later, luckily). I would like to make a plug for The Three Million because they have all sorts of help for people to apply.
What is your favourite saying?
I think a quote from Edmund Burke is rather appropriate for our time: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."