An interview with Baptiste Chide a PhD student at ISAE-SUPAERO working on a microphone to study Mars

Available online :

Can you tell us about where you are coming from and what is your academic background before the PhD ?

"I grew up in Le Mans, and I have always had a passion for space exploration. When I got into ISAE-SUPAERO after my years of preparatory class studies at Lycée Montesquieu in Le Mans, I wanted to transform my passion directly into a career project. I made sure that I got into the space field as quickly as possible by choosing the right options. That gave me the technical knowledge I needed to understand the complexity of a mission and scientific instruments."

Why did you decide to enter a PhD program and why ISAE-SUPAERO?

"During my years at ISAE-SUPAERO, I’ve had several internships at research laboratories on subjects related to the planets in our solar system: the upper atmosphere of Jupiter, wind on Mars, etc. The highly communicative passion of my internship supervisors and the laboratory environment confirmed by desire to pursue this route, but now closer to the surface, working on the Martian Microphone, which will listen to sounds on the surface of Mars for the first time in 2020. This thesis, combining engineering and planetary sciences, was the perfect subject for me.

I wanted to pursue my studies with a thesis because I wanted to learn even more about these subjects, which were my passion, and to dedicate 3 years to this very precise subject in order to exploit every aspect of it. A thesis entails a lot of personnel work requiring a great deal of precision, ideas and curiosity, and I wanted to take up the challenge!".

Can you briefly explain the topic of your thesis ?

"In 2020, NASA will send the Curiosity rover’s successor to Mars, where it will look for traces of past life on the red planet. On board, the SuperCam instrument developed at the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology of Toulouse will take charge of analyzing the chemical composition of rocks by ablating them using a powerful laser. ISAE-SUPAERO is in charge of developing a microphone to listen to the sound of these laser impacts on the Martian rocks.

The objective of my thesis is to study all the scientific return from the microphone – will we be able to use it to deduce information on the hardness of the rocks? The microphone will also be able to listen to the sound of the wind, the noise that the rover’s wheels make and, why not, the noise made by the Martians! In any case, in 2020 we will finally be able to put sound onto the superb pictures coming back from Mars!"

How about life in Toulouse ? Any recommendation to see, go there ?

"Life in Toulouse is great. It is a young, vibrant city where the living is good and where you don’t get bored on the weekends. Newcomers should go and see a Stade Toulousain rugby match at Ernest Wallon stadium!"

The best/worst moment in your thesis ?

"I took part in my first international conference in Texas in March to present the initial scientific results of the Mars Microphone. It was the Mecca of solar system exploration and all the latest mission results were presented! I met scientists whose papers I’d read and I took part in the SuperCam instrument monitoring meetings with my American colleagues. It was also my first trip to the United States and a total immersion into Texan culture. Quite the culture shock!"

What do you plan to do after your PhD thesis ?

"In 2020, when I finish my thesis, Mars 2020 will be on its way to Mars. Obviously, I hope to be involved so I can hear the first data. In the long term, I hope to definitively pursue academic research – designing scientific instruments for doing the science of tomorrow and exploiting their data to find out more about our solar system. Positions are few and far between, but I am totally motivated to continue in this direction."

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