In 2012, a problem confronted Valérie Paret. Her oldest son began studying Taekwondo a year earlier, but there was nothing she could do to help him improve when he asked her.
His sensei, his martial arts teacher, proposed that Valérie try the sport. Her reply was simple: “C’mon, at 39 years old?” He answered, “why not.” And Valérie followed his advice.
Now, Valérie Paret, Ph.D., will soon add a new title to her name – black belt.
Valérie is the Custom Designed Solutions Manager for the Research and Development Division of HORIBA FRANCE SAS in Palaiseau. She is responsible for creating and installing custom spectroscopy systems for institutions and industry.
Her martial arts background comes in handy at work.
“Originally from Korea, Taekwondo - literally ‘the way of the feet and fists’ - is a martial art to acquire a strength of development and cultivate an open mind.
“Practicing Taekwondo means constantly seeking a personal balance to live in harmony with one's private or work environment, very useful when you have difficulties at work such as the custom solutions in a research and development department,” she said. “Building the required custom instrument with good specifications, in a short time while maintaining costs is sometimes very stressful.”
It was difficult when she started Taekwondo, which is a very dynamic sport. After three babies, she said she was out of shape. But as she trained, Valérie quickly felt better, healthier, more dynamic, and strangely, calmer.
“If you want to practice good Taekwondo, you must develop your concentration, your technique, your posture, your patience, everything that you apply every day in your private life and at work.”
It was the same motivation that carried her through her schooling. Valérie was curious, always loved science and physics, and the interaction with optics and materials, astrophysics, x-rays, lasers, and so forth.
“So far as I remember, I was very good in physics and mathematics at school, and decided very early that I wanted to learn physics and that I would become a physics researcher,” she said.
Valérie studied at the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris VI and earned her doctorate in physics, specializing in optics and photonics. She graduated in 1999 with honors. She was a Research Associate in the University of Cambridge, in the United Kingdom after her Ph.D. She left the academic institutions at the end of 2000 to join the optical industry.
Valérie joined HORIBA in 2011 as a research and development project manager to develop a vacuum ellipsometer, working from the VUV (145nm) to the NIR (Near Infra-Red)) spectral range. She quickly became involved in a more important project; to develop a VUV Ellipsometer and a Raman system working under high vacuum for 300-millimeter wafers for the National Research Center CEA-LETI at Grenoble. The two instruments were delivered in 2013.
Next, she joined a project in the components division to develop a new custom grating fabrication platform for gratings higher that one meter by 450 millimeters in size.
“I was the supervisor of the project for two years, helping the company build a new clean room adapted for the new production line,” she said. “I helped the team choose new suppliers, and worked on projects for the evaporation system and the ellipsometer for measuring gratings with size up to 1.5 meters to 700 millimeters. The full project was completed in 2015, with the delivery of nine metric gratings for the ELI project in Romania.”
ELI stands for Extreme Light Infrastructure, and the Romania project was the laser-based nuclear physics pillar of the effort.
As the manager of custom solutions, Valérie is responsible for vacuum systems such as VUV monochromators. She is also responsible for the Optical Spectroscopy Division systems, VUV ellipsometer, ICP (Inductively Coupled Plasma) spectrometers for nuclear companies, and vacuum Raman systems such as the LabRam HR, adapted on high vacuum or ultra-high vacuum chambers for semiconductors research center or industries.
Although these systems are more or less complete when these leave the manufacturing facility, the instruments sometimes need to be installed at the customer site. Valérie enjoys the customer contact that comes with the job.
As a woman in science, Valérie faced barriers at every level - in school, at the university and in the different companies she joined, since, she said, physics is mainly a man’s world.
“Most of the time, in a meeting, I am the only woman, and I feel that I need to prove twice as hard that I can do the job,” she said.
She believes women must fight the stereotypes that tend to say that girls are less talented in science than men.
“Girls have their chances and they should not lose their confidence in their ability to be as powerful as men in science,” she said. “They can also manage to accommodate a private life and a business life together. I have three children and I can deal with that.”
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