Didier Bourlès has left us, too fast and much too soon. It is a trying time for CEREGE, with the loss of a friend and colleague.
An exceptional teacher and scholar, he brought the contagious enthusiasm that we know so well to his teaching, his research and even his administrative responsibilities. He had a passion for teaching and his students returned that passion, sometimes literally applauding his lectures.
Above all else he was an exceptional and brilliant researcher, with a remarkable career trajectory that brought him from physics to the geosciences. Early on he made the first measurements of 10Be using a low-energy accelerator, working with the CSNSM group at the Tandetron in Gif sur Yvette, and over time he became a national and global leader in the analyses of cosmogenic nuclides.
He was recruited to CNRS as a researcher at CSNSM in Orsay in 1982. After completing his “thèse d’Etat” in 1988 he spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow at MIT. In 1994 he received the CNRS Bronze Medal and in 1998 he was recruited to a professorship at the university that included an appointment at CEREGE.
Piece by piece he developed the ASTER project at CEREGE, establishing an exceptional laboratory that has developed innovative and fruitful collaborations across France and around the world. As head of the National Cosmogenic Nuclide Laboratory (LN2C, comprised of the ASTER AMS facility and the ASCHIM preparation laboratory) he continued his work on innovative applications of cosmogenic nuclides in geosciences while training a generation of students who now form a research network across diverse areas including sedimentology, tectonics, paleoclimatology, and anthropology.
To assure that ASTER would retain its position at the forefront of research even after his retirement, in 2018 he convinced CNRS and local and regional governments to fund a new analytical line for 26Al, which is now installed at ASTER.
His energy, curiosity and passion made him driving force in French geochemistry and in the use of cosmogenic nuclides for quantitative studies of the dynamics of earth processes, of natural risks, and of climate. He had a sense for selecting successful projects that led to scientific innovations. His energy and his taste for research made him a pioneer in addressing the grand challenges posed by cosmogenic research.
His departure is a real loss to the geoscience community. Didier was a remarkable researcher, passionate about science, rigorous in his work, convinced of the importance of public research, and convincing in presenting his research. In addition to losing an emblematic personality, CEREGE has lost one of its most efficient and effective scientists. ASTER and CEREGE will not resonate in the same way. His early departure will not permit the full expression of his art during his retirement, which he intended to devote fully to his research.
Nevertheless, his legacy is that his students and colleagues now form a “cosmo school”—the Didier Bourlès school—that will take the torch that has been passed to them. His closest collaborators, now greatly saddened, will honor him by continuing to build on his work.
Didier made a mark in science, but not only there. We will remember him as a charismatic colleague, but also as an enthusiastic, kind, and supportive friend. Our laboratory and our community have suffered a great loss.