"My interests widened as I discovered new fields, art forms and cultures."

Lea Bonnefoy '15

Major: Physics

Hometown: Mexico City, MEX; Brussels, BEL

Why did you choose Cornell?

I chose Cornell for two very ironic reasons : I thought that it would be warm (compared to Canada) and that the workload wouldn't be too heavy (compared to the classes préparatoires in France). I was obviously quite wrong in both cases. Today, I would chose Cornell again primarily for the amazing opportunities it offers in research, friendships, and all sorts of cultural endeavors.

What is your main Cornell extracurricular activity -- why is it important to you?

As treasurer then president of the origami club, I participated and ran a number of outreach events, teaching origami to groups of all ages, as well as setting up a meeting with world-famous origami artist Robert Lang. For me, origami is a good way to relax while creating beautiful objects: I like concentrating on the sequence of steps and appreciating the ingeniousness behind each origami design.

What was your most profound turning point while at Cornell?

During my toughest semester at Cornell, I missed three weeks of class because my passport was stolen while I was abroad. This gave me the opportunity to reconsider my Cornell life from a different perspective. I finally realized that I was overworked. So I learned to balance things a little better.

What accomplishments/activities are you most proud of while at Cornell?

Surviving four winters at Cornell is an exploit I will forever be proud of. I am also proud of the research I did during my whole undergrad, including internships at the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale in France and at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

What, if any, research projects did you participate in at Cornell?

I first did research for a year and a half with Prof. Gordon Stacey in the Submillimeter Astrophysics group working on the installation and control of 4 motors within the grating spectrometer ZEUS-2. I then refocused my interests to planetary science, and started working with Prof. Alex Hayes. I got the opportunity to meet and work with experts in my field, travel to California for a summer internship at JPL, present my research at the Titan workshop and in Cornell, and I recently submitted a paper on the composition of the dunes of Saturn's moon Titan.

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?

Walking in a summer dress with my friends under the blooming magnolias, at the beginning of the second week of May. Impossible to appreciate warmth and flowers as much as after a Cornell winter.

Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most? How or why?

The book Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson, which I unexpectedly found in a cardboard box saying "free books." This stunning novel introduced me to the worlds of science fiction (which i now spend half my free time reading) and planetary science (which is now my career). The Red Mars series is the reason that I redirected my research and career interests to planetary science.

How did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?

Through daily interaction with people from different backgrounds, I became a lot more accepting of other people's beliefs. My interests also widened a lot as I discovered new fields, art forms and cultures. Yamatai's concerts, for example, were mind-blowing.

What do you value about your liberal arts education?

One day at the beginning of my sophomore year, I impulsively enrolled in a Russian class. This decision led me to explore the Russian language, culture, cinema and literature for the next three years thanks to the amazing Russian department at Cornell. Learning Russian has been the изюминка in my astrophysics degree: an unexpected detail that has made my Cornell education unique.

What are your plans for next year; where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Next year I will be doing a Masters in Astronomy in France before going on to a PhD. In 10 years, I hope I will be working on the development of or data from exciting new planetary missions (I do hope we send some new spacecraft to the Saturn system - Titan and Enceladus are fascinating).

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