Nathalie Palanque-Delabrouille

Meet Nathalie Palanque-Delabrouille (pronounce), a well-known cosmologist who joined the Lab at the end of August as Director of the Physics Division. As a child near Paris, France, Nathalie loved investigating things and was drawn to math and science. Getting a Ph.D. in physics was one of the most wonderful things that happened in her life. Today, she is happy to continue pursuing her passion for science at Berkeley Lab. She shares a few thoughts about these new opportunities and her interest in public outreach.

What drew you to Berkeley Lab?

I came to Berkeley Lab as a visiting scientist eight years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the Lab. I thought it was the most vibrant, most exciting research center in the world. So I was thrilled when I had the opportunity to come back. This time I’ll get to know the Lab from a different perspective and get to take on a new challenge of leading the Physics Division.

What has surprised you about Berkeley Lab and the Physics Division?

Before I joined the Lab, I didn’t fully realize the extent of the close connections between the Lab and the UC Berkeley campus. It goes beyond sharing work through seminars; scientists have a much closer collaboration that allows them to fully benefit from the strengths of both institutions. And this happens in a range of fields, from cosmology to dark matter to particle physics.

I am also very impressed by the depth and breadth of our work. I recently got to tour our facilities as part of the Physical Science Area Safety Week and was able to visit many of our physics labs. There is so much going on from a research and development standpoint, and in the development of cutting-edge techniques.

I understand you often engage in public outreach on science topics. Can you share any tips on how to engage the public in science? What topics in physics do you wish more people understood?

I really enjoy public outreach, whether it’s through podcasts, presentations, or science festivals; I want to share my enthusiasm for science with others. One thing I learned was to get people to participate in science, not just to be a passive viewer. For example, I’ve shared photos in which I ask people to try to find a supernova, kind of like a “Where’s Waldo” exercise. I also like to tell a story, starting with the questions you want to answer, and then following with the how. Science is like a story, with a beginning that grabs people’s attention, a middle where you talk about what went wrong and what worked as the scientists try to answer the question, and an end. It’s like a book with an exciting plot.

What I want people to understand is that science is the accumulation of facts and theories over the centuries. It’s not just the opinions of one person, but rather a solid knowledge base that many scientists have contributed to. I want people to have faith in science and to take the word of scientists seriously.

For more information:

On Oct. 11, 2021, Nathalie was inducted into the prestigious French Academy of Science:

(Nathalie’s five-minute talk at 2:39:08)