Eric Karsenti

Friday 12 March 2010, 14:00 Large Operon

Eric Karsenti, EMBL Heidelberg

A dream comes true

About 10 years ago, after reading Darwin’s book, The Voyage of the Beagle, I thought it would be nice to redo an expedition around the world and use the voyage as a red thread to popularise modern biology, ocean science, life and evolution. I really started working on the concept about five years ago after talking to scientists and friends like Marcel Dorée, Michel Bornens and Russ Hodge, who all got very excited by the idea. Then the horror started…. Versions after versions the project evolved, we worked hard with several colleagues at EMBL, and…. The whole thing collapsed. In the first part of the talk I will go through this phase.

However I never give up, so in April 2007 I told a friend with whom I worked on the project, Didier Velayoudon, a former sailor in the America’s Cup: “If we don’t find a boat in the next three months and if we don’t organise a serious scientific programme, we better give up now”. In fact I knew which boat would make it. It was TARA, a 36 meters, 120 tons schooner equipped for scientific work. But, TARA was stuck in the ice of the North Pole, redoing the Nansen’s drift. However, Didier knew the logistics director of TARA expeditions, Romain Troublé (also through the America’s Cup connection). I asked him to contact Romain, who said "Why not?" Fortunately, TARA got out of the ice early (about 6 months earlier than expected due to global warming) in January 2008. We therefore started to work on a project with the team of TARA expeditions and we started to really structure the project in September 2008. I collected a good group of oceanographers and marine biologists, and we started to look for money. In the second part of the talk I will present this part.

Since then we have been working on the scientific project, on the media and education aspects of the project, on the equipment of the boat, on the logistics etc., and we left on 5 September 2009, exactly one year after the kick-off meeting of the project in Villefranche in September 2008. A world record in terms of expedition preparation! So the dream came true but at what price? From a nice romantic idea, this had turned into an enormous scientific and mediatic machine. A huge amount of work, incredible risks and stress. Was this worth it? YES. Why? Because the scientific project has people who have never worked together in the same boat (from cell and molecular biology to hard core oceanographers), it has scientists to work with the sailors on the boat and with media people, and the first part of the voyage has been an incredible success at stopovers where hundreds of kids from completely different countries have already visited and dreamt about the expedition. I will show a lot of images and movies about the expedition in the 3rd part of the presentation.