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Stories : Nicolas Baker

n-bakerNicolas Baker: spreading the word about French scientific progress

Nicolas Baker is American. He has studied biology and journalism in France before working in French media like France 24 or Arte. He is now 32 and has just joined the CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research), where he is chief editor in the audio-visual department.

What has driven you to France?

My birth! My parents are American, but I was born in France. We went back to the United States, in a Washington suburb, when I was 9. I went to the French high school there. Then, we moved to Brussels, where I passed my baccalaureate. I then decided to study biology in Grenoble, and then I went to the ISCPA in Lyon to become a journalist. After I graduated, I worked in Kabul, Afghanistan, for France 24 and Arte. Then, I moved to Madagascar, where I became a correspondent for France 24 and Réunion 1re. Back to Paris, I kept working for France 24 as a photojournalist. A few weeks ago, I was recruited in the CNRS as the audio-visual chief editor.

What have your studies in France brought you?

I particularly appreciated that the French education system is primarily based on knowledge: it seems critical to me that an education system should not only teach you an occupation. It's far more rewarding. Today, I really feel like I belong in a large French-speaking community, with common values and a cultural base, but also a French way of conceiving information. After my studies, I was feeling attuned with the French way of living. I decided to start legal processes to become French.

What is your role in the CNRS?

A few months ago, the CNRS decided to open its magazine to the general public through a Website. Until then, it was an internal publication. The aim is to present the main French scientific progresses to the general public. This implies the creation of contents accessible to all, and to make the most of all opportunities offered by this new media. As chief editor in the audio-visual department, I'm in charge of coordinating the production of short videos to present the activities of the Centre to the general public.

The economic crisis and the global political environment tend to hide away the magic of science in the background. We forget how much science has made mankind progress, and it should make people dream. It's probably the major human enterprise and I'm proud to contribute to its promotion.

What does the fact of working for a French institution like the CNRS represents for you?

I like the way France, and particularly the CNRS, conceives research. When the electron was discovered, it was fundamental research. It wasn't cost-efficient in the short term, and nobody knew what it would be used for. Today, our whole civilization is based on the electron. There's beauty in this fundamental quest of knowledge to understand the world better. And France still manages to be positioned on these matters by accepting that cost-efficiency must stay a side issue.

Do you feel more French than American today?

I'm lucky to belong to two very different cultures. I lean more towards my adoptive land regarding issues of everyday life: education, secularism, public health, etc., but also the importance of eating good bread! But I clearly feel American when I need to look ahead with a firm belief that everything is possible.