“A well-rounded scientist”, this is the sentence that describes how I felt when I read Thierry Belmonte’s answers for the interview that he provided to The Science and Engineering Café.
Thierry talks about keeping an open mind in expanding knowledge, the French plasma community and his latest work. I am very excited about his new work on additive manufacturing of nanometer-sized metal structures!
Thierry- let me know when you are ready to come to Silicon Valley to present your novel MEMS research!
Dr. Thierry Belmonte’s interview to the Science and Engineering Café
1) What is your personal motto?
It is a sentence by Saul Bellow, one of my favorite writers: “A man is only as good as what he loves.” Choosing is probably the oddest challenge in life. You have to close doors once and for all without knowing exactly what is behind. And this happens all the time! There are so many lives that would have deserved being lived. As a scientist, you must be curious. Deciding on purpose not to look at the other side of things to better concentrate on one main objective is something I have always been reluctant to. I am just starting to understand the importance of this process, which probably denotes a certain inadequacy of who I am to this world. Being a scientist today means making drastic choices. Embracing the world’s knowledge like Jean Pic de la Mirandole did in the fifteenth century is, for sure, an idea of the past. But refusing all the time tempting invitations to discover new facets of life simply because they are not straightforwardly matching the Great Work of your life makes you kind of unpleasant and a bit narrow-minded.
2) What made you choose plasma as your field of study?
Cold, i.e. low-temperature, plasma science was deeply grafted in the French scientific community when I started as full-time researcher. It was really fun to see how many people at that time were keen on studying basic plasma physics. As typical French guys, we were complaining as usual – the trait of our personality I enjoy a lot – about the system but it was really the most enthusiastic period of my carrier. All the studies carried out during those blessed years of science in France were so theoretical that the French plasma community was urged to find applications for industry, the holy grail of modern science… Today, people who are still committed to cold plasma physics are exceptions rather than the rule. Plasmas are used in so many different application fields that I’m not even sure I can cite half of them. I’m still inspired by these complex media. By working on very high pressure plasmas, I’m still discovering new aspects of this discipline almost every day. It’s really fascinating. The fourth state of matter, it’s a gas (if I may plagiarize the Rolling Stones)! Of course, I like others are looking for applications in the field of energy for my concern. That’s the only way to get funded. But what I love far beyond anything else is diving into an ocean of electrons and ions moving back and forth, emitting light, dissipating heat to create fleeting moments during which a little star emerges from the dark, lives and dies.
3) What message would you like to send to the followers of “The Science and Engineering Café”?
I don’t like giving pieces of advice. It makes you look like an old preacher. Besides, nobody cares. And that’s perfect. Experiencing is the only way to know. That’s where math and physics differ. And I’m a physicist.
4) Describe your latest research work.
I’m working on the synthesis of nanoparticles by discharges in dielectric liquids. In fact, I should say: “I’m working on discharges in dielectric liquids and it turns out that this process also produces nanoparticles at high rate, which might be interesting for some applications”. Recently, I’ve seen several optical phenomena that are not so common. For instance, although I knew this existed, I could observe “edges” in background emission of light, which in our conditions is mainly due to the recombination of electrons and ions. This was possible because we used liquid nitrogen as dielectric liquid. I could also observe zinc optical transitions that are not symmetrical in wavelength, certainly because of the so-called quadratic Stark effect. I’m trying to model both phenomena to provide basic data, which could be useful to the astrophysical community, for instance.
I have also developed a new additive manufacturing process. The resolution is as low as 100 nm, a world record. I’m quite proud of that, although it is more technology than science, but today it is sometimes difficult to have one without the other. We made our first dots and lines of silicon, carbon, gold, silver, etc. and we have just started building 3D objects. I hope we will be able to propose our first MEMS by the end of next year…