When Anaïs Orsi joined 649 other young scientist this summer at the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting the sunny weather was a welcome change to the conditions she usually faces during her regular research work investigating climate change in Antarctica. For her scientific work and her role in promoting gender balance in research she was now awarded the prestigious Prix L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science. Since 1998 the UNESCO partners with the L’Oréal Foundation to award outstanding female researchers in life and material sciences. Nobel Laureates and Lindau regulars Elizabeth Blackburn and Ada Yonath are among the previous prizewinners.
Do you enjoy your research? What do you enjoy about it most?
I enjoy my research, of course! I am very interested in my subject matter, which is to understand how climate changes. I am always curious to read about other people’s findings. Besides the subject matter, I particularly enjoy that my work includes many different scientific disciplines and activities. I process geochemical samples in the lab, I write computer code, I organize the logistics of field experiments. Sometimes, I spend the whole day digging snow in Antarctica, and other times, I present my results in front of a large international crowd at a meeting. What I do involves basic physics and chemistry, but also knowledge of glaciology, oceanography and atmospheric dynamics. It is also very international, and my closest collaborators are in Europe, the USA and Japan. Being at this interface is very stimulating.
Is there any next project for you?
There are a lot of next projects. They involve producing new climate records of the recent past from Antarctica, to go deeper into the topics I have been working on. They also include the development of new paleo-climate proxies using noble gases. I try to balance really risky projects with safer ones.
Do you have any scientific role models?
In my scientific community, I am very impressed by the women that have come before me, in particular Dorthe Dahl Jensen and Valerie Masson Delmotte. I have learned a lot from my PhD advisor Jeff Severinghaus. In particular, he would never complain about things that cannot be changed, and he was always encouraging. I would systematically come out of a meeting more hopeful than when I got in.My favorite scientist of all time is probably Frijtof Nansen, the Norwegian. He has done many different things in his life and is there to demonstrate that we don’t need to think that our career should be one straight railroad track.
Did your participation in the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting contribute to your own research or your interest in science?
Attending the Lindau meeting broadened my view of how science is conducted. I realized that chemists working on developing nanotechnologies have a very different experience of science than I do. But I also found out that astrophysicists are very similar to climate scientists: new knowledge comes from new observations.
What does winning the Prix L’Oréal change for you?
In the short term, the l’Oreal prize gives me the opportunity to develop my network of collaborators internationally. It is precious, because it gives me more independence as a young scientist. It also gives me more visibility as a female scientist, and gives me a chance to share my passion with girls who may be hesitant to embrace science careers.
Talking about woman in science, is a female researcher exotic in the wilds of Antarctica?
It is somewhat exotic, but women are always welcome. If they have a choice, guys prefer to have more women around in a field camp. I was worried at first that I would not be strong enough, but strengh is far from being the most important skill. First, comes a positive attitude: high spirits and the ability to keep the crew motivated in spite of the cold for months is a better predictor of productivity than strength. Second comes good communication, so that everyone feels involved and understand how decisions are made. Women are as good as men in both of these things, and there is no reason to doubt that. I just wish that one day, there will be enough women doing polar field work that logistics would issue us field clothes fit for women!