A cockroach for victory

From 1 – 5 July, CERN had the pleasure of welcoming Céline, Fanny and Ophélia, the three winners of the special EIROforum prize donated by CERN in the EU Competition for Young Scientists 2012 (EUCYS). Between visits to the installations and meetings, the young French women had a memorable week.


Fanny Risbourg, Ophélia Bolmin and Céline Lay (from left to right), alongside their CERN guide, Marc Goulette.

The rules of EUCYS, organised by the EU since 1989, require all candidates to have first won a scientific prize in their own country. That’s easily said… and done for these young scientists, who have won two! After coming first in France’s Engineering Science Olympiad in 2011, they then took home the top prize in the C. Génial competition the following year.

“It all started three years ago, with our travaux personnels encadrés (supervised project),” Fanny explained. “Céline, Ophélia and I then decided to focus on applying biomimetism to robotics, a field in which we were very interested.” In order to successfully complete their project, which was based on the problem “How can a robot imitate a hexapod and be energy efficient?”, the young women of course relied on the help of their professors but also called in some international support. “We contacted the Biomimetic Millisystems Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley, where they are working on robotic systems based on biomimetism,” said Ophélia. “The researchers at that laboratory helped us a lot, in particular by sending us videos of insects and of their own robots.”

Using these files as the basis of their work, Céline, Fanny and Ophélia succeeded in creating their first prototype out of cardboard. “We did a lot of research into what material to use,” Céline emphasised. “After the cardboard prototype, we tried polypropylene, polycarbonate and, finally, carbon.” The result was a robot measuring 10 cm by 8 cm, weighing barely 20 g and as agile as… a cockroach!

This project, which they presented at the 24th edition of EUCYS in Bratislava in September 2012, won them the special EIROforum prize donated by CERN – a prize that brought the three young women straight to the Laboratory. In one rather intense week, they managed to fit in visits to the Universe of Particles exhibition, the LHCb, ATLAS and AD experiments, the CERN Computer Centre, the CMS crystal laboratory, SM18, AMS and CERN’s central workshop. “This visit to CERN has been a pleasure,” Ophélia told us, “it was nice to be able to talk to the researchers.” “We even had an introduction to the Standard Model,” added Fanny. “It was really interesting!” “CERN is a really friendly environment. Everyone has been happy to answer our questions,” was Céline’s verdict. In September, the young scientists will start their second year of l’école préparatoire in engineering – a field that could well lead them back to CERN...

To find out more about the 2010 and 2011 winners of CERN’s special EIROforum prize, have a look at Bulletin editions No. 31-33/2011 and No. 32-34/2012.

by Anaïs Schaeffer