Paleontologist Eclaron, published in Science on March 31.

PORTRAIT. On March 31, the prestigious American journal Science published an article by paleontologist Ornella Bertrand. A big reward for this Eclaronese, who was advised by Professor Bragard to study … literature.

It is one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world. On March 31, the American journal Science published an article on the development of mammals after the extinction of the dinosaurs. The article is devoted to the research of the paleontologist Ornella Bertrand, originally from Eclaron, who is now working at the School of Geosciences of the University of Edinburgh. Great reward, but also “great revenge”.

“Some teachers advised me to study literature because I didn’t get good grades in math. »

Ornella Bertrand Paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh.

“I was never the best in my high school career, at Eclaron, then at La Nue College and then at Saint-Exupery High School,” recalls the paleontologist. “Some teachers advised me to study literature because I didn’t get good grades in math. But Eclaronnaise prefers science. “I’m from the Jurassic Park generation. I have always been passionate about science. As a child, I subscribed to a whole bunch of scientific journals. “So she fought, encouraged by her mother and the SVT teachers from Saint-Exupéry High School, passionate teachers who made me love the subject. It was hard for me, but I still got Bac S.”

“Mom thought they would eat me! »

In 2004, Ornella Bertrand began her studies at the University of Nancy. “I really liked animals and their behavior. The work of an ethologist interested me very much. I wanted to go see the tigers, much to the dismay of my mom, who thought I was going to be eaten! “She has a bachelor’s degree, she has two options: a master’s degree in ecology in Paris or a master’s degree in the history of species of the past in Montpellier. “I was accepted to Paris, but, I don’t know why, I refused and chose paleontology. »

“I had to take several licensed courses again because I didn’t have a level in some subjects. And then we had to choose a topic. I didn’t want to study small mammals. They seemed less interesting to me, ”the paleontologist admits. “For my Master 2, no matter what, I went for family relationships in rodents. And little by little I began to like these little rodents … “

New York, Toronto…

While everyone seems to be smiling at Eclaronez, a new trap is thrown in her way. “I didn’t have enough grades to write my dissertation, so I went home with my master’s. However, Ornella Bertrand, showing perseverance, was able to recover. “I learned that at the Museum of Natural History in New York, a researcher was working on rodents. I emailed him the best I could because my English level wasn’t very good! »

And it worked! The paleontologist won a research grant and flew to the USA. Revelation. “This is really the beginning of my journey. There she met her future supervisor, who invited her to work on the brain of rodents. “I didn’t know much about it, but it’s not just knowledge that matters in research. Motivation and hard work allow you to learn. Went to Toronto, Canada to work on her dissertation.

“I have a project for you”

Then began publications in scientific journals. Then the first hours of training in California. “It was then that I received an email from a professor who specializes in dinosaurs. He told me: “I have a project for you. We would like to know if it was the intelligence of mammals that allowed them to survive the extinction of the dinosaurs. The paleontologist began her work on the subject in 2017 and joined the University of Edinburgh the following year.

Steve Brusatte of the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh assisted paleontologist Ornella Bertrand in her research. (Photo DR)

His research, supported by the Marie-Curie Fellowship of the Council of Europe, allows him to find that mammals that survived the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs gained body mass faster than their brains. Therefore, they did not survive the extinction due to their intelligence, as scientists had previously believed.

“I want to go back to France”

Since 2020, the paleontologist continues to study the relationship of these Cretaceous mammals with modern ones. Work to be completed in October. And after ? Nothing has been done yet. “I would like to return to France, and why not to Saint-Dizier,” concludes one who would like to eventually create his own research laboratory. “I know the Saint-Dizier Museum well. I used to go there often when I was little. The mummy scared me, but at the same time I couldn’t take my eyes off her. And then there are fossils. And iguanodon! It would be nice to be able to develop the Museum’s paleontological collections. If they need help with this, I’ll be there! »

P.-J.P.

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