Mimicking the formation of planets
Understanding the mechanisms that created the planets of our solar system is one of the challenges faced by the scientific community. With his project, geophysicist Bernard Bourdon is on an unprecedented mission to further our knowledge. A CNRS research director at the Lyon geology laboratory (LGL), he is one of the 277 European laureates of a 2015 Advanced grant awarded by the European Research Council (ERC).
“When I was young, I loved volcanoes,” Bourdon modestly says from his office at the ENS de Lyon’s geology lab. The scientist, who has already been able to travel to Java, chose to explore the topic as part of his thesis: at what speed does magma come out? How does it evolve? How much time does it take for lava to crystallize? Bourdon works with mass spectrometry, a very useful tool in geochemistry. The idea is to measure the presence of isotopes in rocks to understand how they formed. Some of them disintegrate and the state of their degradation can help date the samples. Others are stable and the proportion of different isotopes within the same sample acts like an identity card.
Thanks to the ERC grant, Bourdon will be able to develop a groundbreaking tool: a machine that will recreate in the lab the conditions of the solar nebula. It will submit the matter to extreme conditions in order to measure the isotope fractionation associated to these balances. One of the aims of the project is to understand the thermodynamic conditions of the solid and the vapor in the protoplanetary discs.
Bernard Bourdon: short bio
- 1994: doctorate, Columbia University, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
- 1999: CNRS researcher
- 2000: professor at the Institute of Earth Physics of Paris
- 2005: professor at ETH Zurich, isotope geochemistry chair
- 2010: CNRS research director at the Geology Laboratory of Lyon - Earth, Planets, Environment (LGL-TPE)
Picture: Vanessa Cusimano-CNRS
Geology Laboratory of Lyon - Earth, Planets, Environment (LGL-TPE)
Bernard Bourdon's personal website