PI for WHISPER until 2007
Nationality: French and Swiss
Dr. Decreau was born as Pierrette Prior in Paris, France. A graduate in Engineering at the Ecole Supérieure d'Electricité, and in Physics at the Université Paris VI and the Université d'Orléans, she has devoted her career to studying the Earth's magnetosphere and the plasmas (gases composed of electrically charged particles) in the near-Earth environment.
Her first research position was in the GRI (Groupe de Recherche Ionospheriques) at St Maur des Fossés near Paris, designing particle analysers.
After moving to Orléans in 1971, she took up a teaching position at the Université and began to conduct research at the Laboratoire de Physique et Chimie de l'Environnement in C.N.R.S. Orléans.
Her research centred on studies of the Mutual Impedance technique, an active radio frequency probe which involved experimental work in a plasma chamber. She was soon responsible for the Mutual Impedance instrument on the GEOS 1 and 2 satellites. This studied the thermal population in the region surrounding the Earth known as the plasmasphere, and led to the discovery of 'cold' electrons which are hidden to particle analyser techniques.
In 1984 she spent a year in Huntsville, Alabama, continuing her research into the behaviour of thermal plasma. On her return, she worked as a Co-Investigator on the Swedish Viking mission to study thermal plasma in the Earth's magnetosphere.
This was followed by her appointment as P.I. for the WHISPER instrument on Cluster in 1987. Today, she is Mantre de confirences at the Université d'Orléans. Apart from being involved with her teaching at the University and the Cluster project, she is also a Co-Investigator on ESA's Rosetta mission to Comet Wirtanen.
Even today, few women take up careers in science and technology, so how did she get interested in particle physics and space exploration?
"This is a mixture of being a dreamer, being born in a favourable environment, and chance circumstances," she said.
"I've always been fascinated about the mysteries of our world, and may have inherited the spirit of exploration. Science and technology seemed a good route to follow."
"I was indeed baffled to discover how few (3!) girls were among my companion students in engineering (numbering 300!). Nowadays, this terrible situation is improving for the best."
So why space?
"I need the beauty and soothing of Nature. I thought about oceanography, mining or petroleum research. Finally, I was tempted to look high above us, where the 'sprites' of electricity are playing."
"I particularly appreciate the spirit of international collaboration needed in the field of space science," she added.
||PI for WBD until 2006
||PI for STAFF until 2011
Last Update: 07 Feb 2013