Extraordinary Conference at UGA: K. Thorne, the Physics Nobel Prize behind Interstellar and the gravitational waves discovery

Kip Thorne, 2017 Physics Nobel Prize winner.

Since 2012 the Université de Grenoble Alpes (UGA) is inviting first class scientists and personalities to expose their work to students of every field and school of the university through ‘’extraordinary conferences’’. As part of the science week 2019, an extraordinary conference was held by Kip Thorne, not only to explain his forty years of research on gravitational waves but also to present a new scientific price: the Cécile DeWitt-Morette award.

As a matter of fact, gravitational waves (GW), space bending and black holes are deeply linked to science fiction with many pieces of art like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stargate, Planet of the Apes or Startrek. These principles has been for a long time considered as ‘’Sci-Fi’’ culture myths, however on 14th of September 2015 gravitational waves were detected on earth for the first time in human history, confirming 50 years of theories and opening a full new display of our universe. These waves, particles moving back and forth, stretching and squeezing the space, aren’t emitting light, electricity nor magnetic fields, making their detection a lifetime challenge. This waves breakthrough has been directly led by K. Thorne, and thereby Cécile DeWitt-Morette.

« Conférences d’exceptions » 2019 at Amphi Weil, UGA .

Even though A. Einstein mentioned gravitational movements’ theory in 1916, it all started few years after World War 2 as Cécile decided to make the old and low french scientific field flourish again. Along with his husband and numerus acquaintances, she created the Ecole de Physique des Houches in the Alpes, a school bringing many scientists together for summer and winter sessions every year in order to discuss world’s future. Kip Thorne attended one of the first session, such as many other future Nobel Prize owner like famous Fermi, Pauli, Dyson, Hawking and many others. Gravitational theories started there, with discussions of the brightest minds of the world, in a tiny house lost in the Haute-Savoie Mountains. Many of these gathering sessions gave birth to highly theoretical and precursor books: Relativity (1963), High energy physics (1966), Black Holes (1972) and Gravitational Radiation (1982). It marked the beginning of the Golden Age of gravitational and quantum research, the 70’s concluding with the prototype of the first Gravitational Interferometer, not working yet.

Despite the lack of concrete observation (mostly due to the wavelength of GW: 10-21m), Les Houches studies convicted the scientific field of the possibility of gravitational movements and waves As much as half a dozen laboratories where built onto kilometres long interferometers (UIRGO Europe, PTA, LISA, Caltech), imagined by the 1980 model of K. Thorne and R. Sacks. All of these leading finally to the first ever gravitational waves detected in 2015.

Gravitional Waves bending space and time around two black holes.

1.3 billion years ago, two black holes circling around, items that aren’t made of matter, went colliding. As black holes are bending space and time around them, their collision created only ‘space-time’ gravitational waves. These waves travelled through space until reaching Earth on 14th September 2015, where the first ever gravitational distortion waves detections has been achieved, confirming all of K. Thorne’s life work. Since then, 10 other events creating gravitational waves have been detected, five of them being Black Hole-Black Hole collision, but also two Black Holes swallowing neutron star, two Black Holes swallowing something identified, and one collision between Neutron Star. This explosion was seen by over 20% of world’s astronomists making it the biggest energy blast calculated since Big Bang and the most observed event in space research history. Even though this explosion is detected due to X-Ray, UV, IR and electrical emissions, we have now found out that gravitational waves are also made in biggest physical explosions.

Recent year’s breakthrough, as well as future year’s science evolution, around black holes, time travel and space bending have been initiated 50 years before by Kip Thorne and many scientist at Les Houches School right in the middle of the Alpes. Today, these subjects are massively developed in the Pop/Sci-fi culture which is inspired by K. Thorne, who directed the scientific part of Interstellar about singularities, birth of galaxies and time travel. The Nolan’s super production is now an iconic movie and continue to show how much Sci-Fi culture is the greatest mean for scientist community to spread cultural knowledge, as much as this culture use them to make people dream.

The Interstellar scientific team has been led by K. Thorne, who created the accurate model giving birth to the famous Black Hole.

For her involve, hard work, brilliant mind and personality, Cécile DeWitt-Morette is now honoured by the ‘’Prix Cécile DeWitt-Morette, Ecole des Houches’’, a freshly new award rewarding a scientist aged less than 55 years old and still researching to promote him and give him visibility. This extraordinary conference has been greeting the first ‘’Prix Cécile DeWitt-Morette, Ecole des Houches’’ nominee: Francesca Ferlaino, from Patrick Levy and Kip Thorne hands.

Interview of Mr Promayon – The head behind the TIS department

Well, to begin with, I had the pleasure to interview one of the veterans of this school and one of the pillars of the Health Technology Information department, Mister Emmanuel Promayon. He’s a computer science teacher in this department and throughout this interview, he will introduce you to the TIS department and its evolution over the years. But first who is M. Emmanuel Promayon you may ask?

By the way, I recommend you finish reading the article, there is a small interesting fact at the end. 😉

1)   Who is M.Promayon?

Promayon is a computer science teacher in the TIS department but besides teaching in Polytech, he’s a researcher in a laboratory near the University Hospital of Grenoble. His research consists mainly of modelling behaviour on the body, also called biomechanical modelling, and developing software tools useful in the development of new products used in the clinical environment. His story with Polytech began in 1999, just a year after finishing his PhD, and he was recruited to work on the project of implementing a new department which became the Health Technology Department that we know today.

2)   The origin of the TIS department…

The person behind the creation of the Health Technology Information was Pierre Baconnier and others were involved in this project such as Catherine Berrut, Pierre-Yves Gumery, Sylvie Charbonnier and Emmanuel Promayon, who all still teach in Polytech. The reason behind its creation was to take into account the development of the health industry, especially with medical instruments and devices, as health science really started to open to IT. Also, at the time, to have the same competences as the TIS graduates, you needed to have a computer science background and have worked with health professionals for many years so that they understand their needs and finding adequate tools to help them. In order to get the project started, they implemented a competency list so that they could track what they need from an engineer coming from this department and opted for a single option, which resulted to adding up two other options nowadays, in the final year before graduating. After all these implementations, they began recruiting in 2000. In the beginning, the industry didn’t have a specific type of need while the new engineers entered the market but things have changed today.

Interviewing Mr Promayon
3)   …till its success nowadays

Promayon was the director of the department 2 years ago, where he had a 5-year time span where he managed the TIS department and developed new ideas that could benefit the department. At the end he just thought that the position needed some fresh air. Today, he is really satisfied with the result and of what his colleagues and him achieved throughout the years. In fact, the department responded clearly to the need of the industry where the new graduates have a clear profile of being intermediates between the technology part and the health professionals. Furthermore, some companies didn’t know this kind of profile was needed which explains the fact that most of the new engineers get a job right after their course. Even though everything has been settled, new challenges are still yet to come…

4)   His vision on the future

While the department is well established, he still thinks that huge challenges are still to come due to the constant evolution of technology and health and companies looking for new specific profiles so they always need to think ahead for what’s coming in the future. In addition to that, they need to have an idea of the tendency of the job market to change some implementations and adapt to the need of the industry with their new criteria. Despite these challenges, he’s very confident about its future, especially how it is well-organised in order to get all the inputs needed in the real world.

5)   His advice for the future upcomers

Studying hard was one of his pieces of advice obviously but most of all to enjoy the student life as much as possible, especially with the diversity that the departments of this school has to offer. In fact, particularly in the TIS department, newcomers have widely different backgrounds so it’s a challenge for both sides, for the students and the teachers, to adapt and to understand despite the difference of levels within the class.

To finish this article, I want to thank M.Promayon for this opportunity and his interesting point of view that I wanted to share in this work and we wish him all the best in his future.


Mr Promayon has a very exquisite knowledge of English mainly because of his Irish wife and his two children, all bilingual, so they tend to speak mainly English. His children even correct him whenever he makes a mistake. LOL!

Interview of Guillaume, member of the BDSM (Mountain Sport Office)

⇒ Hi Guillaume! So, can you introduce yourself to those who don’t know you yet?
Hi! Of course!
My name is Guillaume Colin, I am a GCC student and the Material Manager of the BDSM.

⇒ And you are also a high level athlete, aren’t you?
Yeah, in rock climbing, I won the University French Championships and I participated in a World Cup in Chamonix last year.

⇒ So, can you tell us about the BDSM, what are the purposes of this organization?
The BDSM was founded by Thomas Bioud and Marylou Pellerin, which are currently president and vice-president of the office.
The idea of creating this organization emerged in the spring of 2018 :
the main goal was to provide the opportunity for students to meet new people and to go hiking, skiing and climbing around Grenoble.
We recruited the office’s members in the different sections of Polytech, and we started the administrative steps quickly, so that the association could be ready for the school startin September 2018.
The other purpose of the BDSM is the equipment loan : we provide members with mountain equipment.
The school management was rather against this idea, mainly for responsability’s reasons, that’s why I made a training, provided by the FFME (French Federation of Mountain and Climbing), in order to be able to manage the material.

⇒ Can you tell us about the events you have already organized, and those you planned to organize?
The first event we oragnized was an aperitif at the top of the Moucherotte, over the 60 participants, 50 of them took their BDSM membership after this event.
We also organized a DVA (Detecting and Locating Avalanche Victims) formation.
For the end of the year, we plan to organize a barbecue at Fort St Eynard, and for the next year, we want to organize a week end in the Callanques with the collaboration of Polytech Marseille!

⇒ Okay, thank you for your time and I wish you all the best for your exams!

Interview of Lucas, an Italian student

Hi Lucas ! So you come from Italy, can you tell us from where exactly ?

Hi ! Yes, of course ! My hometown is called Case Rosse, it’s situated just next to Rome.

For how long have you been in France ?

I’m in France since September, so it’s been 4 months if we take out December considering I took a one-month break at Christmas.
I’m here in order to pursue my studies abroad. I’m a PhD student in philosophy and I can get (at most) half of my lessons outside of Italy. So I can take this full year to travel in France and I will see for the first semester of next year.

Why France among all ?

I came in France 2 years ago for a week on my holydays, and I noticed that being in a French country suited me much more than an English one. English is for me a very useful language even here in France, but I am much more motivated to learn French.

However French doesn’t seem as easy as English to me.

You’re right, French isn’t that simple but as an Italian I still manage to understand quiet well and to express myself more or less properly, simply because Italian is very close to French and in addition, since I’m studying Latin, it’s even easier. But of course, it doesn’t work everytime, for example, to stop is “fermarsi” while it is “arrêter” and not “fermer” in French. Still, French is far from being a barrier to me.

How do you feel in France now that you live here ?

I must admit that life seems more comfortable from my point of view in France rather than in Italy. For example, just take the transport system. Either you take your car or public transports, it’s a mess in Rome. You have access to only 2 underground lines in a city bigger than Paris. Also, weather is more pleasant here.
But more importantly, current Italian political life and job market aren’t at their best. So, for the moment, I feel better in France.