STEMinist Profile: Stéphanie Couvreur, Physics PhD Student

Stéphanie Couvreur

Physics PhD Student

Université Paris Diderot – Matière et Systèmes Complexes Laboratory

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I think curiosity was my main motivation to pursue a career in science, the curiosity of understanding the world around you. As a child, I had always wanted to become an archaeologist. When I grew up, I participated in excavations and during the same time, at school, I was really enjoying maths and physics, their way to explain phenomena. So I decided to study science and more specifically physics in order to work at the frontier between science, archaeology and art history in datation and scientific analyses.

I was very lucky to work in this field during an internship in the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France (Research and Conservation Center for French Museums). But finally, during my physics studies, I enjoyed more and more hydrodynamics, a field where you directly “see” what you study. I particularly appreciated the beauty of the phenomena, and how you can often observe them in your daily life! For me, understanding them adds a form of beauty to life. That is how I decided to pursue a career in physics and to do my PhD in hydrodynamics.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
During my studies and now as a PhD student, I worked as a science explainer in this amazing science museum in Paris called Palais de la Découverte. The particularity of this museum is science shows: there are about 60 of them every day in many different topics! In the physics department, we deal with various subjects, from basic electrostatics to superconductivity, passing by sound waves. We have the opportunity to use impressive facilities like a electromagnet which reproduces a magnetic field 10 000 times bigger than the Erath’s one, using a current of 500 Ampers!

In this museum, you surprise the public with phenomena they don’t expect, their eyes are shiny and they have an expression of interrogation on their face. Then you explain the science and you make the public happy by explaining to them what is going on. For me, it is amazing to make discovering physics to people in a way they like it. I just want to increase their curiosity towards science. I went to this museum as a child, then as a teenager and now as a physicist and I have always learned so many things there. In particular, interacting with the public brings you a lot of questions, about the pedagogy of course but also about the physics itself.

Role models/heroes:
Sophie Germain was one of the first women mathematician. She had to pretend to be a boy to follow science class in the “École Polytechnique”. She exchanged many letters with Gauss.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love observing phenomena in my daily-life in a new way. For example, at breakfast, when you let flow honey from your spoon to your muffin, the honey spins when hitting the bread; then you mix your cup of tea and tea leaves go in the center of your cup; whereas some tea leaves stay at the surface of the liquid and aggregate…in all these current phenomena, there are some beautiful physics inside. It makes me see the life with another look! :-)

Advice for future STEMinists?
Go for it, I am sure you will enjoy it! :-) For now there are few women in some fields (as physics for example) but don’t be afraid about that, just show you are as smart as a man!

Twitter: @stephaniecouv