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w 16 | Rubrique Profile cnrs I international magazine Nomination The mathematician and former CNRS senior researcher Jean-Pierre Bourguignon has been named president of the European Research Council (ERC), the EU’s frontier research funding agency. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon New Head of the ERC BY Jean-Philipp e Braly When his nomination as president of the European Research Council (ERC) was announced in December 2013, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon was visiting Stanford University (California, US). He was soon inundated with phone calls and e-mails from around the world. At 66, the French mathematician takes over from Austrian sociologist Helga Nowotny as head of the European organization, founded in 2007 to finance scientific frontier research through a strictly bottom-up approach. “I am very satisfied with this excellent choice,” says Nowotny. “With his highly-distinguished and international academic profile, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon will be able to build on what has been achieved so far ….” When asked how he first became interested in mathematics, the renowned French researcher recalls his teenage years in Lyon (France), where he was born. “I was lucky enough to have had an excellent but very strict math teacher who had the laudable habit of asking the best students to help classmates who struggled,” he says. “This strengthened my overall knowledge.” His final year of secondary school proved decisive, with the help of another rather extraordinary teacher. “He was a real mathematician, but a poor educator,” Bourguignon recalls. “He talked about a lot of things that went beyond coursework—he was fascinated by science. I’ll never forget that he gave me 0.5/20 on my first assignment!” The young Bourguignon, who until then had been more interested in literature and philosophy, took up the challenges and began making a serious effort in math. After earning his “baccalauréat” (high-school diploma), Bourguignon entered the reputed two-year undergraduate curriculum that prepares for top-level higher education institutions in France. While he thoroughly enjoyed the first year, the second year, which culminates with the competitive entrance exams, was much less enjoyable—again, because of a teacher. “The man who taught us math that year had an unusual marking system: he assessed us according to what he thought we could do. Average students would thus get good marks as long as they turned in something acceptable, but if he expected more from you, your work had to be outstanding—and could still be marked down!” In 1969, after completing an engineering degree from the École Polytechnique, Bourguignon joined the CNRS. “Since I had secured a somewhat stable position at just 21, I was immediately able to work on difficult mathematical questions, instead of running from The European Research Council Since its creation, the ERC has received more than 40,000 proposals and backed some 4000 projects by researchers including eight Nobel laureates and three Fields Medal winners, resulting in citation in no fewer than 20,000 publications in high-impact scientific journals. This impressive record is largely the result of a three-pronged strategy that rapidly ensured the council’s success: relying on quality as the sole criterion for selection, granting researchers total freedom to choose their fields of investigation (“bottom-up” approach), and financing innovative projects and frontier research. Furthermore, the ERC is financially secure, with a sizeable budget of €13.1 billion already in place for 2014-2020. In other words, its new president is “inheriting” a dynamic and flourishing, forward-thinking organization. 6 key dates 1947 Born in Lyon 1969 Joins the CNRS 1994 Becomes director of the IHÉS 2007 President of the CNRS Ethics Committee 2013 Retires from the CNRS 2014 President of the ERC


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