On the trail of the past

Ninon Robin is interested in palaeontology and the origins of life on our planet. With a Master’s degree in natural and social sciences, she studies the fossils of certain invertebrates to try and unravel the mystery surrounding the symbioses of the past, some of which served as templates for species that exist today. Sylvie Crasquin, Head of Research at the CNRS, underlines the importance of her work: “Ninon Robin’s work makes a significant contribution to knowledge about life on our planet in ancient times.”

How did you become interested in science? Were there any triggers you’d like to tell us about?

At secondary school, I was more inclined towards literature. But I’ve always had a strong interest in nature, particularly living organisms and fossils found around our coastlines. As I got older and discovered that nature has been changing over millennia, I was fascinated by the idea of being able to know what life was like in these different periods, so much so that I pushed myself to the limits of my abilities in science at school. There wasn’t really a trigger as such; it’s just something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

What would you like to say to young people interested in science?

In geology, women are particularly in a minority, so I’d like to speak about how rich this branch of science is. I’d like to present the variety of jobs and subjects that this discipline offers, to girls certainly, because there are so few of them in the field, but also to boys, to promote a science that is too often relegated to a secondary role behind cell or genetic biology in the school science curriculum. I would also advise the most enthusiastic among them to remain open to what they might discover during their university studies, without losing sight of what motivated them in the first place. We discover a lot in university.

What aspects of your work do you particularly like?

I particularly like the way it allows us to interpret our environment so that we can always look at the problems faced by human beings and societies with a certain degree of objectivity. I like the fact that it involves going out into the field – albeit rarely – to collect one’s working material – fossils. And lastly, it’s quite simply that rare kind of job that’s also a passion.

Do you have a dream, a kind of miracle that science could realise?

Not really anything that could actually happen, but if we’re talking about a miracle, I would definitely have liked, like any palaeontologist, to be able to see some of the animal groups I study – which died out millions of years ago – evolve before my eyes. 

Ninon Robin received a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship in 2014.

For Women in Science

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