Astronomer and black hole specialist, visual artist, mountain climber; Stéphanie Juneau has a full CV at only 42 years old. The one who was born in Sainte-Victoire-de-Sorel and who lived there all her youth thrives and lives all her passions on the other side of the border.
“I really like what I do. I grew up in Sainte-Victoire in the countryside and I always found myself outside running around with bare feet. I loved this freedom. I find her a bit in Tucson, Arizona, but differently, ”says Ms. Juneau.
A glorious journey
Stéphanie Juneau has a full career. After studying at Sainte-Victoire school in elementary school, Fernand-Lefebvre high school in high school and then at Cégep de Sorel-Tracy in natural sciences, she went to McGill University in physics. After her first year of university, an internship then brought her to Victoria, British Columbia. It was here that she got a more intensive taste of astronomy for the first time.
“At the Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria, when I got there, I didn’t even know what a supernova was (laughs). I was a curious girl, I observed the moon and the stars, but I didn’t even have a telescope. Except that I really wanted to know how it worked, I wanted to understand everything. The set-up was perfect there, with an observatory on a hill. Just trying that and doing a professional research with the computer, it turned me on, ”she says.
After her internship, Stéphanie Juneau returned to McGill for a second year in physics. His second internship took place at the same institute, but in Edinburgh, Scotland.
“I participated in the design of a spectrograph, the GMOS (Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph) which is still in operation today in Hawaii. I took care of the final phase, which is to make sure everything works. It was really rewarding. I even took a year off after my internship to focus on GMOS design, ”she explains.
After that one more year in the UK, the original Victorian completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Montreal. She made trips to the Victoria Observatory again, where she discovered mountain climbing.
“I used to do it a lot in British Columbia, but it’s not ideal with the weather. When it came time to apply for a doctorate, I wanted to find a place where I could combine my two passions. Either I was going back to the UK or the US, but I opted for Arizona. When I visited the place, the landscape immediately spoke to me! », She indicates.
Stéphanie Juneau therefore moved there in 2005 in order to complete her doctorate until 2011. For her post-doctorate, she chose to settle in France.
“I lived for five years in Paris and I could have stayed there for the rest of my career! But I missed the North American side, that’s why I came back to Arizona afterwards. My passion for climbing was strong and I really liked Tucson for it. If I could make a copy of myself, one would live in France and the other in Tucson (laughs). “
Today, the 42-year-old woman works full time as an associate astronomer at NOIRLab, a laboratory specializing in black holes.
“This is one of the first subjects that made me think about astronomy. A black hole is nothing like what you find on Earth. I like it to be a challenge to imagine it. We say black hole, but it is not a hole, it is a mass which grows larger the more it sucks elements due to gravity. It’s a mysterious aspect and I love the mystery, but not the sci-fi genre. I love the real mysteries! », She evokes.
Stéphanie Juneau thrives in all spheres of her life. In addition to her job, which has changed somewhat due to the pandemic as she has to work from home, she indulges in her two passions evenings and weekends: visual art and rock climbing.
“The mountain connects me with nature. I have a 9,000-foot one 45 minutes by car from my house and the advantage here is that you can do it 12 months a year. It’s very hot in the summer, so I climb it to the top. Then in winter, I leave from the bottom of the mountain, ”she describes.
What about art in all of this?
As for her artistic approach, she qualifies it as language. “My art is my language! It’s a way of expressing yourself. In fact, it’s the only way I know of to express myself. Certain feelings, certain expressions are reflected in my works ”, she imagines.
Stéphanie Juneau has also carried out some artistic courses at the University of Arizona to improve her skills. She sees a close correlation with her work.
“Science and art go hand in hand for me. Art made me understand things in physics and vice versa. For example, I had taken a long time to make a more complicated end in a canvas and a teacher told me to take it off because it swore with the rest. However, I had taken a long time to do it. When writing a scientific article, I had taken a long time to write a piece of article that had nothing to do with the rest. So I chose to remove or modify it, even though it had taken me a long time to do. Art gave me a lesson in life and brings me a lot in science, ”she says.
Before the pandemic, Stéphanie Juneau returned to the region at least once a year to visit members of her family who, for the most part, still live in the region, including her father in Sainte-Victoire and her mother in Saint-Robert. She also enjoys visiting her 91-year-old grandmother who lives in the area, alone in her house. “One of my favorite places when I go to Quebec,” she concludes.