Journey to the center of the Universe

Philippe Gillet

Philippe Gillet

Vice-president of the school since the Spring, Philippe Gillet is also a renowned teacher and scientist in the disciplines of material physics and extraterrestrial matter. He gave his inaugural lecture on Monday, the 4th of October.

Telling the story of the formation of the Earth in the style of a detective inquiry, following various clues and scientific theories: this is the approach Philippe Gillet chose for his inaugural lecture. Titled: “Birth and Evolution of a Planet”, it was delivered on the 4th of October at the Polydome.

This Frenchman, 52 years old and at EPFL for four months now, is not only the new Vice-President of the school. He is also a renowned teacher and scientist, specializing in geology and covering a variety of domains, such as the physics of high-pressure minerals, interactions between bacteria and minerals, and the study of meteorites and planet dust. He is interested in both the materials that make up the Earth, and those of other objects in the solar system.

Stardust and meteorites

In his research work, Philippe Gillet is determined to understand the nature of the center of our planet, situated at 6400 kilometers from the surface. In particular, he has worked on an instrument that enables laboratory simulation of the center's pressure (3,600,000 times higher than atmospheric pressure). “This instrument allows us to go on a virtual journey to the center of the Earth," he says.

Another aspect of his work consists of studying extraterrestrial matter, which includes meteorites, cosmic debris and stardust, such as that brought back in 2006 by the mission of the same name. The goal of this mission was to collect samples emanating from the tail of the Wild 2 comet. “Terrestrial and extraterrestrial matter are not different”, comments this expert. “They come from the same source, and allow us to better understand our history. They also show us that we’re not so special.”

Author: Sarah Perrin
Source: EPFL