29 March 2010

Jean-Baptiste Blanchard

Nationality: French

JB and Eve

If you call Jean-Baptiste Blanchard by his full first name, try it the French way and drop the ‘p’. But he generally goes by JB.

JB has been a musician since he was just seven years old. “My parents wanted me to play piano, and I also wanted to play something else,” says JB. He would have chosen the bagpipes, but without a teacher available, he settled for the trumpet. “Just because it was loud and shiny,” he recalls.

But didn’t follow in his eldest brother’s footsteps, who became a musician – JB gave up music for sports in his last years of high school, participating in handball, judo, and swimming. Perhaps influenced by his parents, both elementary school teachers, his plan was to become a physics teacher by the time he graduated.

He stuck with this plan through the early years of his Bachelor’s degree until what he calls “a twist of fate”. His first research placement was at Orsay’s Linear Accelerator Laboratory, and it changed his mind. “Particle physics is something I had always liked, but was kind of strange and far, and after doing the internship it became concrete.” He was studying backgrounds in NEMO-3, located at the French-Italian border, an experiment to find out whether the neutrino is its own antiparticle.

The next spring, he took another internship with NEMO-3, and in the summer, he found his way to CERN as a student researcher on LHCb. As much as he enjoyed the physics, he enjoyed the proximity of the mountains at least as much. “This is a good reason to go to CERN,” he remarks. He and the other students hiked on the Salève and Jura.

JB’s family likes to take more serious hiking holidays, however, travelling into the Alps, Central Massif, and Pyrennées once a year.  Lately, they’ve been going further afield, such as Norway. “It was always hiking on mountains between two fjords,” he says of the treks near Bergen. “That’s what’s really impressive about the fjord region.  It’s really beautiful because it’s mixed up between mountains and ocean, and it’s really green because it’s pouring rain.”

His family is of hardy stock: they were rained on, but not rained out. Luckily, they had a car they could retreat to as well.

JB isn’t a major fan of big cities. He comes from Jargeau, population 4000, not far from Orléans. “It’s just near the Loire,” he says. As a child, he enjoyed the freedom of biking through the town and in the nearby forests.

Acclimatised to small-town living, he prefers Orsay to nearby Paris, which is also convenient as he completes his PhD with LAL Orsay. “It’s more like the way I was used to live.  At least here, they’ve got forest,” he says.

But apart from holidays, JB finds time to walk through forests hard to come by. “The problem is my girlfriend is also working in ATLAS as a PhD student, so we are kind of always speaking about work, thinking about work…” Both he and his girlfriend, Eve Le Menedeu, are student lecturers. JB reckons that half of what would be spare time is taken up with lecture preparation and correction of assignments.

He considers the rest of his activities fairly pedestrian: enjoying restaurants, cinemas, museums, and concerts. But as a member of Afreubo, a student run orchestra, he also plays in concerts. He picked up the trumpet again, after a decade break, to join last year. “They’re kind of strange,” he notes. “The rule is to play with the most awful hat you’ve got.” Eve introduced him to the group, a flute player herself.

The two of them also like to hike together, and JB plans on bringing his boots to CERN when he visits this summer.  He can do most of his work on the W mass, the software package for W decays, and Liquid Argon temperature analysis from Orsay. But every two months or so, he comes to CERN for ATLAS Weeks, Liquid Argon weeks, or just to meet up with people on the same projects. Before long, he’ll have shifts to take as well.

And even if he finds he’s too busy to visit the mountains around CERN, his family is thinking of a visit to the Scottish highlands this summer…




Katie McAlpine

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