A Passion for Early-Universe Cosmology and Epic Bike Trips

Meet Laurence Perreault Levasseur, 24, one of the up-and-coming physicists attending this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

Name: Laurence Perreault Levasseur
Age: 24
Born: Quebec City, Canada
Nationality: Canadian
Current position: Ph.D. student, University of Cambridge
Education: B.Sc. (Hons) and M.Sc. from McGill University
What is your field of research?
I am interested in early-universe cosmology, in particular in how the study of the earliest moments of the universe can give us a better insight about fundamental physics. My current research interests are focused on the mechanisms for generating the primordial fluctuations and on preheating/reheating. Recently I have also been interested in theories of modified gravity, such as Galileon theories, and their application to models of the early universe.
What drew you to physics, and to that research area in particular?
From as far back as I can remember, my favorite question of all has always been “why?”. An inextinguishable curiosity about the world around me, and a deep feeling of awe as I was discovering it, has always lived in me. I have always been fascinated by the mysteries of the universe, by the perfection and beauty of nature. Throughout my academic formation, I learnt that theoretical physics was the path I should take to seek answers to my questions. Very fast, my fascination for the origins of the universe and its enigmas have drawn me toward cosmology, in the hope of getting a deeper understanding of some of the most fundamental questions.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’d really love to have the opportunity to dedicate my time and energy to the branch of science that I am pursuing now. I’d like to be a full-time researcher at a research institution and be actively involved in research and also teaching. I also really hope that I can start an international program through which pure sciences could be spread to the parts of the world with less opportunities for such fields. I have started this path by taking part in a teaching abroad program this summer where I teach physics inflation and early universe cosmology to undergraduate students in developing parts of China. In the long term I hope I can motivate the scientific community to take united measures to actively spread and promote pure sciences to developing regions of the world.
Who are your scientific heroes?
Hubert Reeves has definitely had a lot of influence on me wanting to become a physicist during my teenage years. He is a now-retired nuclear physicist from Quebec who wrote a lot of popular science in French, and is very famous among French Canadians. Reading his books were definitely very inspiring and made me believe it was possible for someone like me to become a leader in science at the international level, if I was aiming far enough.
Marie Curie and Emmy Noether are also role models for me, first simply because they are females in a highly male-dominated field and opened many doors at a time when there were very few opportunities for women, and second because they are world-recognized experts who have had a gigantic impact in their respective fields and in science in a more general sense.
What activities outside of physics do you most enjoy?
I am an avid biker. I particularly like traveling with my bicycle, and usually I go for epic adventures. For my first journey, two of my friends and I went from Montreal to Florida in one month, for a total distance of about 3,000 kilometers, with nothing but three bicycles, a tent and camping material, little money, and a lot of enthusiasm. The year after I traveled in Italy for a summer school in Trieste and I brought my bike along. I went for day trips in Slovenia, and after the school I went from Bologna to Nice in France and back. Last year I went in biking in Belgium and Germany, and this year I will go around Portugal. My big and crazy dream is one day to travel from Paris to Beijing on my bike. We’ll see how that goes, and if I manage to do it before I turn 80 years old!
Apart from that, something a bit less extreme that I like to do is cooking. I love spending my Sunday afternoon making my own bread while listening to the radio (I am very old fashioned for that!), baking some banana cakes for my husband, preparing some good dishes for the week and trying lots of new recipes and tastes.
What do you hope to gain from this year’s Lindau meeting?
Throughout my career, I have learnt to appreciate the importance of collaboration in research, as well as the richness of international interactions. My first contact with advanced physics was through the International Summer School ISSYP (Perimeter Institute) in 2004, an experience through which I was exposed to first-class scientists and international researchers, giving me a chance to share my passion for science. This conference profoundly modeled my view of the scientific world.
Such conferences are precious opportunities for the larger scientific community to share cutting-edge scientific activities, discuss their vision and opinions about the general direction of the field, and make deep interpersonal connections which will lead to great long-term collaborations.
I have been privileged to have many opportunities to attend such conferences, which has resulted in productive international collaborations which I am a part of. From these unique exposures, I can assert how inspiring interactions with senior and fellow junior scientists are, which motivates me to attend the 2012 Lindau conference.
Are there any Nobelists whom you are particularly excited to meet or learn from at Lindau?
I am very excited to meet George Smoot and Brian Schmidt, because they are two cosmologists/astrophysicists/astronomers who have revolutionized the field of cosmology and contributed to shape it and define the questions we are striving to answer. I would really like to know their views on the future direction that this field of science should take in order to answer today’s fundamental questions in cosmology.
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