YANNICK, 28 years old
Researcher-Engineer in Industrial Risk
EDF Research and Development.
How he became a mathematician
“I started with a general academic studies degree in MIAS (applied maths and computer science); I was more or less planning to become a teacher. Back then, what I liked most about maths was its pedagogical side. While doing my licence, and then my master’s, I discovered applied maths and their role in industry. I suddenly became passionate about these aspects of the discipline. As a result, I pursued a master’s of advanced study in applied maths, specializing in “analysis and stochastic systems,” at a university that maintains close ties to industry (notably EDF). And so I did my internship with this company, followed by a thesis under CIFRE (the Industrial Research Training Convention), which permits one to complete a thesis under the auspices of a company, rather than a university. My thesis was on evaluating the reliability of systems based on that of its basic components. After completing my doctorate, I was hired. What interests me about the reliability of industrial systems is confronting chance, while trying to identify its rules and linking maths to other disciplines, such as physics.”A specialist in probabilities and statistics, the engineer–researcher calculates the likelihood of accidents. His goal? To master industrial risks despite the uncertainty surrounding the physical phenomena in play.
How mathematics comes into play in his job
“My job consists in applying probability theory to physical and statistical observations in order to predict the industrial risks incurred by production infrastructure such as nuclear or coal-based power plants, dams, wind farms, and so on.
“For example, in order to establish the unreliability curve for a river dike (that is to say, the probability that the water height will exceed that of the dike during flooding), I start by analysing long-term data on the different physical parameters of the functioning of the watercourse: its flow, the state of the riverbed...
“For each parameter, I can determine a frequency curve for the observed values. Then, I use probability theory combined with a physical model of the watercourse to aggregate these pieces of information. In this way, I obtain a global curve, based on which I can calculate the probability of the water height of the river exceeding that of the dam.
“As an engineer, I respond to concrete problems such as, for example, the maintenance schedule for a component of a nuclear power plant. This part of my job generally consists of short- to medium-term studies.
“As a researcher, I work on longer-term questions such as looking at the impact of wear and tear on the reliability of a structure. This part of my job involves studies that are much more complex from a theoretical point of view; they’re more or less similar to those conducted by a researcher with the CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research), even if their goals are industrial. In this area, R & D collaborates with universities and research institutions in working towards scientific breakthroughs related to theory.
“Once it has been synthesized in the form of notes and reports, my research provides decision-makers with tools for estimating and optimizing costs, all the while keeping an eye on safety; they are also used by heads of infrastructure in implementing the interventions that I have been led to advocate.”
What are the qualifications?
Bac + 5, with a master’s in applied maths, or a diploma from an engineering school, or Bac + 8 with a doctorate.
Translation: David Kramer